Monday, 30 April 2012

Sylvia, borin and otherwise

Was already cycling down to the Nunnery Lakes when a text came through from Neil Calbrade about a Lesser Whitethroat (136) that was awaiting my arrival; whilst we were trying to get more than a glimpse of it, an equally uncooperative Garden Warbler (137) piped up. A nice male Wheatear on the adjacent fields didn't have any obvious brown tones in the mantle or a particularly conspicuous white supercilium...

Percentage of target to date - 88%
Distance cycled - 291.5mls / 469.1km
Latest addition - Garden Warbler (137) 30 April

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Chatting about (in) the weather

Given that Saturday was supposed to offer the best weather of the weekend, I chose to ignore the fact it was cold, grey and looking sure to rain at 6.30am, and bike up to our ringing site near Santon Downham. Nice mix of Siskin (including several juvs), Lesser Redpoll and other common finches caught, though the 20-odd Crossbill that kept bombing over refused to drop in.

Rain stopped play by 10:30am but I decided pushed on anyway. 20 miles later and I'd somehow managed to scoop up all three of my targets, despite the conditions: Nightingale (133), Tree Pipit (134) and Redstart (135) - a fairly decent return, all things considered!

Percentage of target to date - 87%
Distance cycled - 291.5mls / 469.1km
Latest addition - Redstart (135) 28 April

Friday, 27 April 2012

Bonxie x Ant-thrush = ?????

Remember I asked you what you get when you cross a Bonxie with an Ant-thrush? Here's the answer - Brown Dipper! Swifts now back - but I'm in Winchester, 28 miles from my circle....grrrrr!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Swift walk

With ominous rain clouds gathering and wind speeds hitting force 7, I made a lunchtime dash for the (now aptly-named) flood on the west side of the Nunnery Lakes, over which 2 Swift (132) were doing their thing - exhilarating!

The high water levels were probably responsible for a P.B. in the form of 3 Little Egret, the most I've seen together on the reserve. Cue reminiscence about when I were a lad, men were men, birders were birders and Little Egrets were as rare as rocking horse shit.

Percentage of target to date - 85%
Distance cycled - 266.1mls / 428.2km
Latest addition - Swift (132) 26 April

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Percentage of target to date - 85%
Distance cycled - 266.1mls / 428.2km
Latest addition - Cuckoo (131) 25 April

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Skip post below...

... just read this.

AE, not A&E

So yet another low pressure system pushes through and a certain globe-trotting angel appears at gravel pits across England on the back of it. John Marchant nipped down to Lackford at lunchtime, scoring 9, whilst I held out for the predicted arrival at Livermere - sure enough, by 3pm the news came through and after a post-work record-breaking dash, Arctic Tern (129) now graces my list - and 20 of the sumptuous beauties at that! I believe my text to Mr Mills may have included the word bitchin'. NB: I would have found 'em, Pete, had they chosen to do what they never do and appear at the weekend - predicting from my desk then hitting the tarmac at the first available opportunity was the next best thing though!

A casual glance at the sky then paid off as a typically Corvid-harassed Short-eared Owl hove into view, my 3rd non-motorised one of the year (this one being entirely self-found, Pete!). And having been greeted on my arrival by a hunting Barn Owl, I finally got directions to the regularly-mentioned 'stunted oak between the 2 plane trees' (easy to find - when you know where to start looking!) for a 3-owl evening, thanks to the resident Little Owl (130).

What's the post title all about though? Well for the infidels among you, AE = Arctic Tern in BTO 2-letter code. The potential irony of ending up in A&E in pursuit of AE didn't escape me (again I find myself thinking back to those quiet Abu Dhabi dawns and wondering if a gentle cycle over to the Mushref Palace Gardens, via the back streets, of a Saturday morning is any worse than - or even remotely comparable to - running the weekday evening rush-hour gauntlet down the A134...). Other post title options included "Livermere or Die" [all hail Jonny Rankin].

Percentage of target to date - 84%
Distance cycled - 266.1mls / 428.2km
Latest addition - Little Owl (130) 24 April

Reeling 'em in

Took the kilometres pedalled past the 400 mark yesterday, thought the target bird (Sunday's Redstart) failed to oblige. Hardly surprising really, given that it was a lunch hour blast up to East Wretham, leaving me <10 minutes to try to locate the bird(s), and in a stiff breeze at that. Another time.

A very damp mooch down to the flood (of dipped Whimbrel fame) this morning revealed more activity than the weather might have predicted, including several Whitethroats finally finding their voices, and a Grasshopper Warbler (128) barely finding his.

ps Simon - are you reelly telling us that gropper isn't annual in your circle?!

Percentage of target to date - 83%
Distance cycled - 249.7mls / 401.9km
Latest addition - Grasshopper Warbler (128) 24 April

Monday, 23 April 2012

Aden express…

…hits 5th gear. Generally the best thing to do when things slacken off a bit, as they inevitably do after a run like last Saturday – Sunday is to find somewhere else to point your bins. So I did that at the end of the week and had a late start on Saturday after a 20-hour day away on the Friday. However my glamorous assistant had been out keeping an eye on things for me in my absence and found what sounded like it had to be a White-throated Robin on Friday morning, albeit best seen from the back of a horse. Even as late as 0930 next morning, a stealthy approach on foot was tolerated and that was Saturday’s first, if not quite best, bird well and truly in the bag. Another one followed Saturday late afternoon, and a third on Monday morning; I’ve now seen more of these this year than in all springs 2007-2011 combined, bar 2008 when, at exactly the same time, we had a glut, reaching up to 5 per day.  These robins were part of a real flood of birds to hit the island this weekend, with some marked surges in numbers: Ortolans and Nightingales suddenly becoming common after a very lean spring so far, lots of Sylvia warblers, including several Barred singing daily, over 10 Rock Thrush in the last three days and Spotted Flycatchers really getting going, plus the season’s first Roller, Whinchat and Common Whitethroat. Shrike flavours have reached 7, with the first Lesser Grey and Red-backed overlapping with late a Woodchat and Steppe Grey. Along with the robins, there has been a fair sprinkling of local scarcities: another Cuckoo (grey this time), Turtle Dove (I still have less than 10 island records for this one), Wryneck (4th this year: more than ever) and even a Wood Sandpiper – fairly straightforward in autumn but very sparse in spring. Best of all was a female Quail that I found gliding in over the canopy and then had at 10 feet for 15 minutes and second male Semi-collared Flycatcher, present 3 days and counting. 

Proof that I could do no wrong came on Sunday afternoon, chasing the flycatcher, I ran into two Red-whiskered Bulbuls, a celebrated local denizen of Category C that would have been declared extinct at least a year ago had one not mysteriously been seen once last October. But not again until now; these were my first since May 2009. It was on my target list, but only with some misgivings. But with Baillon’s Crake and even a Radde’s Accentor appearing on the lawns in Dubai in the last week or so, there has got to be something out there more monster than this, or any of the above, with my name on it…


Total so far - 160 (91%)
Last addition – Whinchat (22nd April)

Strange hybrid

What do you get when you cross a Bonxie with an Ant-thrush? Answer to follow.....


And a quick check of the spreadsheet tells me I'm actually on 134 - I ticked Whooper Swan for the 5km list, but not the main NMYL list! So now I'm on 81%, with some "easy" migrants to find in the next few days.

The Jetlagged Commando

Back from Hong Kong at 0650 this morning, home by 0900, feeling pretty grim from two long haul flights (highlights: Fight Club and Shutter Island - one good, one not very good), in the field at 0945 after a text message from Simon Ingram - needed to get up to Ibsley Water. Unfortunately, I had just put all (and I mean ALL) my pants in the washing machine - so it was either do a David Beckham and borrow some of Julia's, or.......GO COMMANDO (also this....). Well, guess which I did. In heavy rain and freezing cold. Mai Po Blashford ain't, but I did quickly lock my heat-seeking surface-to-surface bin sights onto the required target acquisition asset: Black Tern (129). Nice.

Also to be had today were another four year ticks - House Martin, Garden Warbler, Dunlin and Common Tern (130-133). Back in the swing of things, then (not referring to the contents of my shorts) - and now I'm going to bed for a bit.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Jack of Diamonds

It's a funny old spring. March more like July, April more like February, migrants conspicuous by their absence. A few better-late-than-nevers notched up in my circle this weekend (namely Tree Pipit, Nightingale, Cuckoo and Redstart) but with sister, bro-in-law and their nipper staying, all 4 were carbon-fuelled. I was just mustering the enthusiasm for a late afternoon shower-dodging pedal somewhere or other, to try to make non-motorised amends, when Richard Thewlis rang to say he'd pulled something special out of the bag down at the Nunnery Lakes. 10 minutes, 1.2 miles later and I was scoping the following:

...or to make it a little easier:

Like Chris, I can now officially hang up my wellies! Fantastic Jack Snipe (127) OML - altogether more 'winter' than 'spring' but no complaints here!

Percentage of target to date - 82%
Distance cycled - 238.2mls / 383.3km
Latest addition - Jack Snipe (127) 22 April

Back out again at last!

Well after a trip to Wales in late March for 3 days  & then a m10 day tour in Extremadura, most of early April disappeared without a chance to cycle or post anything! I did sneak out on the 22nd March - a lovely Red Kite (105) from an unmentionable location!

Earlier in the week the first returning Swallow (106) graced out television aerial.

Anyway a steady bike ride this morning produced a host of summer arrivals! The first was Willow Warbler (107), the next was less than expected as I have been on the coast all week without hearing or seeing a Lesser Whitethroat (108), but the first of the year was singing from hedgerow as we cycled along the lanes not far from home. At Guist the  Marsh Harriers are back & I am pleased to say look as though they are nesting again this year. Also here - 2 House Martin (109), plus Cuckoo (110), several Blackcap (111) & 2 Whitethroat (112) were then noted.

Friday, 20 April 2012

You know I'm born to lose, and gambling's for fools, but that's the way I like it baby, I DON'T WANNA LIVE FOREVER!

In the absence of my email at the moment (bloody server) I shall heretoforth and henceunder say - FUCK ME! MAI PO ROCKS! (Sounds a bit like "Hanoi Rocks", don't it?)

We've just had two days at the mother of all wader spots - utterly, utterly unreal - Black-faced Spoonbill, Saunders's Gull and 36 species of wader: highlights being - Nordmann's Greenshank, Asiatic Dowitcher (plenty), Great Knot, Mongolian, Lesser and Greater Sandplovers, Tereks, BBSands, gazzilions of Red-necked Stints and Curlew Sands, Long-toed Stints, Marsh Sands by the bucketload, Oriental Prat, Tringas of all types by the shedload and......drum roll....after apocalyptic thunderstorms flooded out the mudflats just after high tide (so the "tide" actually rose again!), and the whole wader flock stayed close in for about three hours longer than they were supposed to....another drum roll....THE ACE OF SPADES! I have offically now soiled my pants - a nearly summer-plumaged adult Spoonie did its thing for us for a full hour in front of the northernmost floating hide - unbe-effing-lievable.....!

Here's the actual boy (not my photo):

What a moment - what a bird. How many people get to see the "holy trinity" of mega rare Asiatic waders in one day, in one place, plus Saunders's Gull, BFSpooner and all the rest. Unbelievable. And we also ticked Annika Forsten in the hide with us. Great days, mates......

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Despite a slew of Arctic Terns at inland sites around England earlier today, the best a lunchtime stroll round the Nunnery Lakes produced was a chuntering Reed Warbler (125). Cuckoo in the morning, then?!

Edit: Just shamelessly twitched a Whitethroat (126) during coffee break - partly because I was annoyed that John Marchant and I managed to walk past it at lunch time, mainly to take away the sickening taste left by the following message on the local bird forum:

One Arctic Tern at Livermere c1400 but chased off by BH Gulls & flew North. [Or in other words, right over the Nunnery Lakes, approx. 30 mins after we got back to our desks?!]

Percentage of target to date - 81%
Distance cycled - 235.2mls / 378.5km
Latest addition - Whitethroat (126) 17 April

Monday, 16 April 2012

Black and white minstrel…

... was a pretty appropriate prize for 150, which I spent 20 minutes with in the MPGs on Sunday evening. Three others have turned up in the UAE today, so this was the first of a reasonable arrival. This was Steve’s payback for last week’s Cinereous Bunting; I had initially missed it by 40m, being distracted by a nasty female wheatear on the Heli fence, which see. Otherwise, no major developments but my second Blackcap of the spring, Barred Warbler singing and a new Masked Shrike found today were all reasonable enough. There was a count of 100 Turkestan Shrikes at one site on the East Coast yesterday; no reflection of that over here on the Gulf side with just 6 today for me, including one rather awkward one that stuck about for photos.


Total so far - 150 (85%)
Last addition – Semi-collared Flycatcher (15th April)


Back in the land of the non-motorised, things are finally showing signs of picking up: A couple of House Martin (122) with 30-odd Swallow (123) over the Nunnery Lakes in a biting Northerly yesterday, and despite a sharp frost, a Sedge Warbler (124) singing away this morning.

To illustrate just how slow/late things have been this year, my 2011 Nunnery / Nunnery Lakes list hit 107 on 12 April; this year I'm on just 96 for these 2 sites as of today.

My Nunnery / Nunnery Lakes species accummulation during the TEAL Cup

Missed a Peregrine over the Lakes yesterday - that's one of 5 motorised-only species in my circle this year that are yet to fall to the only list that matters, the others being Marsh Harrier [fair chance], Merlin [tough], Golden Plover [fair chance] and Green Sandpiper [straightforward].

Percentage of target to date - 80%
Distance cycled - 235.2mls / 378.5km
Latest addition - Sedge Warbler (124)

Saturday, 14 April 2012

On fire

The good thing about going migrant-hunting for a week and seeing very little is that (a) you become disproportionately grateful for even small mercies (Golden-backed Weaver; still feel a bit guilty about that one – probably should only count for 0.5) let along big ones (Cinereous Bunting) and (b) your internal Geiger counter becomes very sensitive to even the smallest fluctuation in background noise. Hence suddenly 6 Isabelline Wheatears and 5 Ortolans on Friday morning, after none all week and backed up by the first decent Yellow Wagtail gang of the spring (including one lutea) really piqued my interest. I was even more intrigued on getting up at 0530 on the Saturday morning to find puddles everywhere and lots of grey cloud with a fresh easterly blowing up from nowhere. An hour later a beachhead had been established on Lulu and by 0700 I had reached a total of, er, 3 migrants. However, the third was a female White-throated Robin, a species which should really should be worth two, especially the delectable creamy male at 12 feet which I had located by 0900. With my first ever April Hypocolius appearing in between, this was looking like it could turn into a good day.  Indeed it did with other good scores including 6 Rock Thrush, 10 Turkestan Shrikes, 2 Masked  Shrikes, 2 Barred Warblers and 10 wheatears of 3 species. The apogee (probably of the year…) came as I enjoyed a swarm of European Bee-eaters and Swallows circling against the skyscrapers of the corniche as they were backing up at the north-east end of the Island. They were clearly wondering what to do next  and daring one another to make the hop across the channel when a male Pallid Harrier, having no doubts, sailed straight through and showed them the way. This was an Abu Dhabi first for me and a very rare local example of a monster raptor located purposefully migrating across the island and onwards. Knowing I was in the money, I stopped at a few places on the way back, adding, amongst a fair drizzling of other stuff, a bang-on-time Common Nightingale for the year alongside my earliest ever Spotted Flycatcher (albeit by only two days; first date has been 16th-21st April for the last 5 years). The sixth stomp of the golf course in 7 days produced another island first for me, in the form of Richard’s Pipit that let me nail it just before it was booted into a touch by golf cart. A very handy comparison after the wintering Blyth’s Pipit that I saw again yesterday and a great year to choose to finally pitch up in. Yeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaa…


Total so far - 149 (85%)
Last addition – Richard’s Pipit (14th April)

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Daylight grippery

Let me take you through a sorry sequence of events:

11 April
0853 - My train arrives back in Thetford
0910 - I plunge into the murky delights that are the Little Ouse near the town centre in a futile attempt to rescue a drake Goosander with copious amounts of discarded fishing line (and float!) in its beak
0930 - I arrive in work, pleased to find that the BTO staff sightings list is devoid of grippage from my week-long absence
1245 - First post-holiday walk down to the flood / meadow on 'my' side of the Nunnery Lakes reserve to check for waders and Ring Ouzel (several of latter on the coast today)
1508 - BirdGuides reports 2 Ring Ouzels at a site we'll call Fort Knox Heath (barred wire, electric fence, multiple 'Get off my laaaand' signs, double-yellows, CCTV(!) and on yesterday evening's motorised reccy, a copper!!)
1930 - No sign of Ring Ouzel(s) - apparently chased off by a Missile Thrush at 1745 - and decision made that it just isn't worth cycling into oblivion on the A11 in the Thursday morning rush hour (a combination that would make cycling in Abu Dhabi look like a gentle stroll in the Mushref Palace Gardens, as I'm sure Oscar will concede)

12 April
0618 - A colleague's husband finds Whimbrel on afore-mentioned flood, 620m from my front door
0740 - My alarm goes off, and a text message alerts me to the above
0746 - No sign of Whimbrel
0903 - Open my email to find:
"Two Whimbrel north calling, over housing estate immediately east of Barnham Cross Common at 06.43, presumably having just left the flood." That'll be the housing estate where my house is, then.

Percentage of target to date - 78%
Distance cycled - 235.2mls / 378.5km
Latest addition - Willow Warbler (121) 1 Apr (NOT Whimbrel, as it would be if life was fair)

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Almost correct...!

 You can’t ever give up during spring out here. After 45 minutes and 4 migrants of 3 species (ok, one was an Upcher’s Warbler that appeared in the tree above us whilst I was gassing with Steve: generally not a good way to find any birds) I walked round a hedge at the racecourse and almost trod on a male semenowi Cinereous Bunting. This counts as a major result in my book: only my 3rd on AD island (the previous two being within 4 days of each other in 2009) and better, only the 6th I have ever seen, anywhere! He gave wicked close views for a good 20 minutes before I felt obliged to go and try to find (again) his much commoner congener on the golf course nearby. Nothing doing there, but Red-throated Pips have now almost reached semi-respectable figures (30).


Total so far - 139 (79%)
Last addition – Cinereous Bunting (11th April)

As you were

Fully expected Oscar and Simon to have passed 140 and 130 respectively in my absence; pleasantly surprised to see that the distinct lack of much happening round here this lunchtime (2 more Willow Warbler and a Blackcap being the only discernible change since I left for SW Portugal on 2 April) has been mirrored elsewhere. Still have 2 hirundines, 2 Acros, LRP and Cuckoo as easy catch-ups on Simon, and miraculously still have the (joint) lead with 78%!

ps By Ace Of Spades at Mai Po, Oscar, I can't decide whether you mean Long-billed and Asiatic Dowitcher alongside each other, or memorable adult male Pied Harrier right overhead, or something altogether more spatulate (and predictable)? ;)

pps When it comes to 4 spectacular sparrers, I reckon 4(!) tussling imm Spanish Imperial Eagle, with a backdrop of displaying Calandra Lark, 55 Black-bellied Sandgrouse and a 'mixed flock' of 5 Great and 1 Little Bustards has to be in with a shout for best Circle Jerker sighting this Easter - though I'm sure Chris'll have a contender or two from Spain in due course... However, given that none of Portugal, Spain or Taiwan are anywhere remotely near our circles, it might be argued that we should all be hanging our heads/bins in shame?!

ppps You know you've done too much world birding when Great Bustard is your 18th bustard sp., Eurasian Eagle-Owl your 11th Bubo sp. and Spanish Imperial Eagle your 10th Aquila sp.!

Percentage of target to date - 78%
Distance cycled - 235.2mls / 378.5km
Latest addition - Willow Warbler (121) 1 Apr

Monday, 9 April 2012

Normal service now resumed

Back in business as from Sunday and, as would be expected after a 2 week lay-off, there are a few birds needing clocking up. First, predictably, was Red-throated Pipit on the first scan of the Officer’s Club grass and I soon followed that up with a Willow Warbler in my White-throated-Robin-any-day-soon grove of trees nearby. Next day was especially prolific, with Barred Warbler and a hepatic Cuckoo – with no radio transmitter – first and then both Barn Swallow and Sand Martin together; not bad at all for an hour’s work. I don’t expect many more hours like that this year! Other than that, there’s been the merest dusting of migrants on the ground; only 3 shrikes in total (but one was Masked) and the only wheatears remaining are a few female Pied amongst a few Tree Pips, wagtails and that’s about your lot. Next up should be Nightingale and / or Ortolan, any day soon.


Total so far - 137 (78%)
Last addition – Barn Swallow (9th April)

PS Simon: we should talk more instead of competing! Hope Taiwan is as good to you as it was to me: I set the bar at any three out of the following: one million fireflies, 70 Black-faced Spoonbills,  40 Collared Bush-Robins or 20 Golden Parrotbills all in one morning as an absolute minimum. And all trumped by the Ace of Spades amongst 10,000 waders at Mai Po and 4 of these beauties sparring in the same bush (Chris, look away now...)

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The last post before the Far East

A speculative early run to Ibsley Water this morning (an Osprey had been seen fishing there last night, but no real chance of it sticking) turned up a new species - a smart male Wheatear (128) on the shingle peninsula. Also a displaying LRP and still two Ruff flying about. More Swallows and Sand Martins about today, too.

Now for my break from the hostilities - off to Taiwan and Hong Kong for a fortnight. Possible intermittent posts/emails to follow....

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

One spring dip, another spring tick

I cycled up onto the western escarpment of the Forest today in search of a Redstart - sadly, none were present in Redshoot Wood (yet) - but I did find a stunning displaying pair of Firecrests, about half a dozen Hawfinches, and a distant singing Cuckoo (127). I suspect not one of Moran's satellite-tagged birds.... Also another Swallow over the road on the way there.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Not summer....definitely!

A pleasant walk in the sunshine to Ibsley Water this afternoon turned into a freezing cold and wet walk home - but one species to the good! Three Swallows (126) were in a sense the highlight, but also a 1st summer Little Gull, a Black-tailed Godwit, 3 Ruff (2 of them showing superbly right by the hide), 60 Sand Martins and a Green Sand to pad the list. Now feeling like a drowned rat.

Sunday, 1 April 2012


Willow Warbler (1). Strictly speaking, another 'twitch', as Neil Calbrade found it this morning and texted to let me know. It was still singing away in the same place when I gave the Nunnery Lakes a thorough bashing this evening (though frankly I'm confident I'll find my own before too long, Pete) ;)

Percentage of target to date - 78%
Distance cycled - 235.2mls / 378.5km
Latest addition - Willow Warbler (121) 1 Apr