Thursday, 13 December 2012


I’m sacking off now. International duty calls for the next three weeks so I have to throw the towel in early. Very reluctantly as you can imagine. Normally we’d have another week to run but they decided that a two week holiday wasn’t enough this Christmas so off we go. No flourishing finale, but a nice full circle loop with two Buff-bellied Pipits showing very nicely at Emirate’s Palace tonight bringing us right back to where we pretty much started on January 10th. Presumably the same birds and easy to find with only 3 Water Pips to hide amongst. Winter birding out here can be pretty much like that –just two shrikes today, but one was Masked, two Phyllos but one being Hume’s and a glimpse of the same Robin despite, still, a near general dearth of Song Thrush or Black Redstarts. A last desperate attempt was made for Starling yesterday to no avail and a hazy, distant glimpse of a presumed Spotted Eagle a few weeks back is now fully consigned to the gruelling near-miss bin, along with that feckin’ Dusky Warbler. Pacific Golden Plover, Glossy Ibis, Egyptian Nightjar, Streaked Weaver, Wood and Garden Warblers complete the list of targets not found, with the former letting me down for, I think, the first year ever. All the rest are fairly unreliable, presumably especially when you really need them and, anyway, there were plenty of stand-ins, including seven new birds on the island for me to take their place. Mind you, I guess it was my stupid fault not deviate off wheatear alley for 400m one afternoon back in March for Steve’s Pale Rockfinches. Good luck Nick; by my back-of-an-envelope calculation you need 172 to call this a tie. Would be a fitting ending, but I then guess we could then go with % self-found if you want to split hairs at the end. To save you reading through the whole blog again, my deficiencies are Robin and Blyth’s and Olive-backed Pipits (98.5%) which we could weigh up against your moral victory anyway…

Simon, don’t be telling us that this gives you an idea for next year…

Final total- 196 (109%)
Last additions – Olive-backed Pipit (23rd November), Eurasian Scops-Owl (28th November) and Eurasian Wigeon (5th December)

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Back in the field - and five species added!

Embarrassingly, a check back through the list revealed two "easy" species which I saw back in the summer which I forgot to add to my NMYL - Sedge Warbler (146) and Common Sandpiper (147). Oops....

More impressively, I have three new species to add, all of them of at least some quality.

First up, I added a species not only to the NMYL but also the (and I say it myself) impressive garden list last weekend, when a Merlin (148, and 108 for the garden - cool!) flashed through at the back of the garden, scattering passerines in all directions.

Yesterday, I pedalled just 3km down the road to the flood just south of Ringwood, adding Glossy Ibis (149) to the list at Bickerley Common, along with the regular local Great White Egret! Positively Donana-eque. In fact, I manouevred myself into a spot where I could get the Ibis, the GWE, Little Egret and Goosander in the same field of view - and then a Kingfisher flew through to put a cherry on top!

And today, a short walk to Snails Lake turned up the male Red-crested Pochard (150) which was found there yesterday, plus two Green Sands and yet another stunning Kingfisher. Nice work.

Lazy bastard that I am, I drove for the White-rumped Sandpiper at Longham Lakes last weekend, and while it's still there this weekend, I simply haven't got the time to spend three hours pedalling over there and back....lightweight.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Helter Skelter

That is what it has felt like in the last few weeks. The longest and most prolific glut of rarity arrivals I can remember here in the UAE is still ongoing, and earning a decent slice of the action hasn’t been too hard – all that’s been needed is to get out birding. Albeit mostly off island, and therein lies the issue. Not only have I been not finding anything fittingly monster locally despite hard grafting (and one very near miss), I am also been lured elsewhere to try my luck further afield, so reducing my time trying here. As a result, Common Starling is now looking very dicey and neither even Taiga Fly or Shikra (two of each far flung elsewhere recently and either a fitting placeholder for my AD 250th!) seem a shoo-in anymore. Hence a little more undignified twitching has been unavoidable, resulting in, after two attempts and much suffering, an ultra-elusive, willow-the-wisp Olive-backed Pipit crawling around under thick hedges (as, consequently, were its would-be observers). Still, these are cracking birds and despite being one that I hit almost annually somewhere in the UAE, in my book total show-stoppers so and so well worth chasing. And all that is quite apart from the fact that it was also my third new pipit on the island this year. Whilst chasing the pip, a Hume’s Warbler starting calling merrily and was soon giving great views (so another semi-hole now filled fully; the one back in March was technically a twitch as I was 20 minutes behind the pace that day) and, on a similar theme a few days later, I heard Red-breasted Flycatcher calling whilst out jogging pre-work. It took me a couple of visits to actually see it but, fired up by its discovery I trawled the island that afternoon to find my latest ever bloody Tree Pipit (i.e. it really should have been my own OBP) and, later, a species that that, whilst a target, I had long abandoned any hope of getting anywhere near at all – Scops-Owl! This was only my 7th in the UAE ever and came as a real bolt out of the blue, suddenly appearing as I investigated a frenetic mobbing party, expecting to find the no more than the usual malignant moggie.

So that was the next wave, but the subsequent trough was deeper than usual. Another 6AM start and another four hours of ultra-professional bush-kicking out on Lulu two days later looked like being the usual tale – some nice birds but nothing to get anyone cursing. Until, that is, my second pass of the lake produced a deliberate soft tekking, again and again. Everything was right – it was 30th November, rares were pitching in everywhere, the habitat was textbook (dense low bushes right alongside standing water) and the call was spot on. Unfortunately, so was the behaviour – two hours later, along a mere 50m of vegetation no amount of gentle imitation, enthusiastic pishing, patient waiting, restrained bush-juddering and ultimately violent thrashing made a blind bit of difference. Dusky Warbler, for that is what it surely was, avoided hitting the back of the net (although it glanced the crossbar once). By the end of all that, over an hour later than promised, I had to leave. However, I guess I achieved one of my regular objectives on each trip out here – there was one person cursing profanely…

Two Wigeon a few days later hardly seemed to count, despite being as statistically rare as Dusky Warbler at least in my experience, over the last five years here. Which would you rather have seen? Yep, me too.

Finally, and more predictably, the usual late autumn back-up case has not been too bad either, with plenty of Hypocolius available on tap, up to three Oriental Honey-Buzzards now in and appearing regularly and the first Pallas’s Gulls suddenly widespread from late in November. But with the latter settled back in, it’s nearly time to call Time, at least from my end.

Total so far - 196 (109%)
Last additions – Olive-backed Pipit (23rd November), Eurasian Scops-Owl (28th November) and Eurasian Wigeon (5th December)

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Spinning Around

5 hours of scrub clearance at the Nunnery Lakes this morning failed to yield the hoped-for fly-over Peregrine, or any other outside chances of an addition to the list. 4 Waxwings did fly over instead but unfortunately they chose to do so when we were wielding loppers rather than bins, resulting in less-than-satisfactory views.

As I wandered, daydreaming, back home in the stunning afternoon light, a phone call from Pete Wilson suddenly shook me into action: he was watching a Grey Phalarope at Livermere!! I believe the phrase is 'Shit the bed!'. It was 2:23pm. I was 15 minutes walk from home, 35 minutes pedal from Livermere. Factoring in 'Lycra-donning' time, I knew this was going to be close! At least it was sunny, so I'd have until 4ish.

Fortunately the morning's exertions - and the run home - meant I was warm enough to face the 15mph windchill factor on a day when the frost still hadn't melted by mid afternoon, and I was at Livermere by just after 3:30pm without getting frostbite. Better still, the Grey Phalarope (167) was performing swimmingly, spinning like a whirling dervish in a circle no bigger than a dinner plate. Awesome!
More phonescoping magic... this time courtesy of Jonny Rankin

Operating on the descretion/valour principle, I decided to leave before 'last knockings' at the gull roost. Saddling up was interrupted by a shout from Jonny though, and - bang! - Peregrine (168) was on the list, at long last!

The ride home was second only to this one in coldness - if any local birders (or anyone else) saw me standing by the roadside trying to warm my hands by shoving them down my cycling shorts, I can only apologise.

ps A little more eclectic musical reference in the post title than some of the offerings we've had this year, though I guess one or two Jerkers may have to Google it!

Percentage of target to date - 108%
Distance cycled - 646.2mls / 1,040.0km
Latest addition -  Peregrine (168) 2 December

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Echoes (a.k.a. Pulling Teeth)

So October came and went, without too much to show for it, unless you count a little flush of quackers that started with Shoveler, exactly as predicted last time round (but only my third on the island and my first addition in 23 days) and culminated in two Ferruginous Ducks along with a grubby Pochard, arriving next day and still present at the time of writing. That latter appears to be the first island record, as far as I can ascertain, and hence rarer than Little Crake, if you take the parochial view. By any standards, November has somewhat stumbled along too, and, despite some great birding and significant finds to be made elsewhere in the country, most of it has passed us by here. So desperate have times become that I am now reduced to having to go chase other people’s birds, but, with seemingly half the BTO breathing down my neck, I can’t be complacent. Hence I sent Steve out to work his magic on Sunday and followed in his slipstream once I could make an early get-away today: I didn’t need his Hume’s Warbler thanks to this (which was a good job, as I failed this time round) so could concentrate on a recalcitrant and grouchy Red-breasted Flycatcher (at last – was starting to think I was cutting it fine on that one) and, miles better, a wicked Robin that, after a lot of teasing, eventually came out to the tape and showed brilliantly. And was still singing half an hour later when I went back through again. This will hardly seem ground breaking if you are based in the New Forest or Norfolk but out here Robins are ethereal, very scarce and near-invisible chats and, being pale, grey-tinged eastern birds, not bad looking either once you finally get to grips with one. My last on AD was September 2008, and I’ve only seen two others elsewhere in the country since. The last was one I found last December in the west, then twitched by Steve for his year list this January, so some sort of faintly resonating justice there in the end.

I guess 20 Hypocolius aren’t too be sniffed at either, and other decent local records have included a few more Spoonbills, another Pintail, Night Heron again (more this year than ever, by some margin), a few late-running Tree Pipits and the first stonechats and Daurian Shrikes back with aplomb.

Total so far - 193 (107%)
Last additions – Red-breasted Flycatcher and European Robin (13th November)

Waxwing lyrical

Whilst out dirty carbon twitching (or dipping, more to the point) on Saturday, I got the inevitable call that there was a patch tick on my doorstep. Abandoning a frankly impossible American Golden Plover somewhere in darkest Cambridgeshire, I was back home in time to jump on the bike, pedal a couple of miles and enjoy 4 fine Waxwing (166), before they disappeared off into the setting sun.

Percentage of target to date - 107%
Distance cycled - 629.5mls / 1,013.1km
Latest addition -  Waxwing (166) 10 November

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Dipper for breakfast

Late autumn has already outstripped early autumn by some margin in the Brecks, as my last 3 posts (and a Dusky Warbler for a very lucky few) show. In the last 24 hours things have got even better. Mid afternoon yesterday, a civilian* but 'countryside savvy' colleague presented a photo of a Dipper he'd taken on his iPhone 915m from my office a couple of hours earlier... without fully appreciating the significance of it! An immediate evacuation followed but the 7 of us who spent our coffee break along the river dipped.

Dawn Balmer and I took our stations at 6:45am this morning... and to my great relief, a dapper Black-bellied Dipper (165) appeared at 7:10am. Several BTO birders saw it over the next 30 minutes, including Mike Toms, who has kindly allowed me to post one of his pics (taken at the last place I saw it, about 200m southwest of Melford Bridge):
Not dipped!

Attempts to keep tabs on it were thwarted by a great show from the local otter(s) - thanks to Neil Calbrade for this one!
Normally the highlight of a walk along the Thet

*There are 2 types of humans: birders and civilians. One type appreciates the significance of a Dipper in Thetford. The other doesn't.

Percentage of target to date - 106%
Distance cycled - 595.5mls / 958.4km
Latest addition -  Dipper (165) 7 November