Wednesday, 31 December 2014

My 2014

2014 was my best ever year for birding. My final UK year list was 285 (my best ever total), but it wasn't only about numbers, it was about quality birds and quality birding. I probably could have made 300 if I'd bothered to go to Shetland or Scillies or even Cornwall, but in the end I gave up birding to decorate during most of the autumn, and chose to take two holidays abroad, Southern Ireland (camping) for nine nights in September and Cyprus for two weeks in December. I also had 15 nights camping in the Outer Hebrides in June and another four nights in Speyside in May. Great experiences all. I ended 2014 with my life list on 404

Eleven species were new to me in the UK in 2014. I've put together my top 10 + 1 of my UK lifers in 2014. Click on the species name to be taken to the full account. 

Happy New Year to all my friends and readers of this blog!

1. Great Spotted Cuckoo, Penally, Pembrokeshire - March

Stunning bird, beautiful location, exciting circumstances! We'd seen the bird distantly and briefly but then it disappeared and was apparently gone, last seen flying out over the sea. We hung around for a few hours to see if it came back, but in the end we left. Thirty minutes down the road and we got a message to say that it was back. We turned the car around and soon were watching the bird at point blank range! What a bird. I even appeared on Radio Wales a few days later to describe the experience.

2. Collard Flycatcher, St Abbs Head, Borders - April

I was the only person looking for this bird in the middle of an East Coast haar at the delightfully named Mire Loch at St Abbs Head. I'd given up hope to be honest, when suddenly it flew onto a branch right in front of me, taking my breath away. What a bird!

3. Crag Martin, Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire - April

The bird was found on Friday but quickly disappeared and was thought to be gone. We decided to go on Saturday just in case it got relocated. By 13:30 it hadn't been relocated so we started on our way to Spurn. Twenty miles down the road we got the message that it was back, at North Landing, Flamborough. We dashed back and had fantastic views of the bird as it flew within a few feet of us.

4. Red-flanked Bluetail, Marshfield, Wiltshire / Gloucestershire border - February

Finally caught up with this beautiful species. A very obliging bird, I didn't expect my first to be in spring or in inland Wiltshire!

5. Purple Heron, Capel Gwyn, Anglesey - November

Another species which I finally caught up with, and another very obliging bird.

6. Short-toed Eagle, Ashdown Forest, East Sussex - June

My 400th species in the UK, this bird turned up briefly all along the south coast from Dorset to Sussex but was very difficult to pin down and see. Finally it was seen going to roost, so we decided to be there at first light the following day. For while there was no sign, then suddenly it appeared from nowhere and perched on this branch!

7. Spectacled Warbler, Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk - June

A great little bird, singing and nest building at close range, in a great part of the country.

8. Masked Shrike, Spurn, East Yorkshire - September

The highlight of an exciting day for migration at Spurn. Despite the occurrence of rubythroat, White's thrush, chimney swift and a couple of American cuckoos during September and October, I can't think of any rarer birds than this in the autumn. This was just the 3rd for Britain.

9. Blyth's Pipit, Pugney's, West Yorkshire - December

A great bonus at the end of the year, seen well and heard.

10. Thayer's Gull, Pugney's, West Yorkshire - December

Was it, wasn't it? Most people who saw it think it was, a handful who didn't don't! A potential first for Britain, this one is pending and hence the reason why it's currently 10th.....

11. Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler, Durham
Probably a really nice bird, but was a right pain in the backside while I was there. No photos, not particularly beautiful location, 11th place for myrtle warbler.

Shotwick Boating Lake, Clwyd

Black-necked grebe 3
Bewick's swan 14
Whooper swan 20
Mute swan 10
Black swan 1
Hen harrier 1 ringtail
Wigeon 20
Shoveler 40
Gadwall 50
Teal 30
Tufted duck 50
Little grebe 15

Not a bad visit to the boating lake. I've seen quite a lot of good stuff here in the past and todays tally continued that trend. The swans were in the fields at the side of the lake, whilst the harrier was hunting over the fields behind the lake.

Black-necked grebes.

Eleven Bewick's swans.

Whooper, Bewick's x 2 and mute swan.

Shotwick boating lake with Burton Mere wetlands behind.

Newchurch Common, Cheshire

Smew 1 1st win male
Wigeaon lots
Shoveler lots
Green woodpecker 1

Marbury Country Park, Cheshire

Bittern showing well in the reedbed at the western end of the mere.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Todd's Canada Goose, Knott End-on-Sea

Todd's Canada goose 2 probable
Barnacle goose 6
Pink-footed goose 5000
Bewick's swan 1
Whooper swan 100
Twite 2
Black-tailed godwit 20

The Todd's Canada geese were in fields behind Knott End library with most of the Pink-feet and five barnacle geese. It was a large flock of geese, with 5000 an absolute minimum, and we were lucky that the Canada geese were in the right place for the sun, because large parts of the flock were straight into the sun making viewing very difficult. Todd's Canada goose Branta canadensis interior is currently considered a race of greater Canada goose. It's relatively smaller with shorter neck than the feral birds we see in our parks, and is browner overall, especially on its breast. It's of particular interest because it's a potential wild vagrant to Britain.

The Bewick's and whooper swans were a couple of miles outside Knott End, on the road to Pilling.

Todd's Canada geese.

Barnacle geese.


Long-eared Owl, Marton Mere, Blackpool

Long-eared owl 2

Year 2014: 285 (Long-eared owl)

One owl.

Two owls!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Thayer's Gull and Blyth's Pipit, Pugney's, West Yorkshire

We had excellent views of both the Blyth's pipit and the Thayer's gull at Pugney's Country Park today. First off we called in for a look at the Blyth's pipit. It showed really well today, on the ground for most of the time, and perhaps due to the icy conditions, it was more out in the open than in previous weeks. I guess that the ice on the pools is allowing it to walk further out or even walk across the pools rather than around the edges,  which means that it is inevitably on view more. We watched it at quite close range for 20 minutes at least. It flew once and called and then landed in a willow tree for a few minutes before returning to the ground to continue feeding.

Then news broke of a Thayer's gull at Mirfield, about 10 miles down the road from Pugney's. When we got to the site, it was quite a depressing experience, an industrial estate, we were basically looking for gulls on the roofs of the units. Most of the gulls were feeding on the ground and  hidden from view except when they flew, many others were out of view on the wrong side of the roof, and those that did show themselves were usually against the bright sunlight. There was no sign of the Thayer's gull, but we did at least see a juvenile Iceland gull here. After about two hours we gave up and headed back to Pugney's in the hope of catching up with a Caspian gull, of which there have been up to three present at the evening roost  in recent days.

It was still quite early when we arrived back, so in an attempt to thaw out we headed first for the café and a cup of tea. We'd just sat down to enjoy the brew and the warmth of the café when news came through that the Thayer's gull had been relocated at Pugney's, barely 100m from where we were sitting! Two quick slurps of tea later and we were out of the door, back into the cold, and dashing up the bank to the small group of birders who were looking out over the water. A few quick directions from them and we were onto the bird, it was sitting half way out on the water surrounded by several herring gulls and a few black-heads. Having seen the bird so quickly and so well, we briefly considered going back into the café to finish off our tea, but decided that was one step too far on the road to "dudeism", and we stayed where we were.

Over the next hour or so the bird swam closer and in the end we got excellent views and were able to compare it to many of the other species of gull of varying ages.

Thayer's gull is a white winged gull like Iceland and Glaucous. Juveniles look superficially like herring gulls, but like the other white winged gulls they moult later than herring gull, and at this time of year all of the herring gulls have moulted their juvenile scapulars to first winter. Thayer's gulls at this time of year still have juvenile scapulars. Other features are the small bill size, the forward position of the eye in the rounded head and the long primary projection. On the water the bird appears to have dark brown primaries, yet when it flaps its wings it has Iceland gull like pale primaries on the underwing. It's also a browner looking bird with little streaking on the breast. The washed out colour of the bird in the photos is a bit misleading due to the fading light at the time, it was in fact a fair bit browner than it appears here.

There's some great photos here.

A great day. We never did catch up with a Caspian gull though....

UK 404; Year 2014: 284 (Thayer's gull)

The worst photo of the lot, but at least the colour of the bird is a bit better.