Monday, 28 May 2012

Not JUST in the UAE...

A bit of excitement to finish the weekend / start the week.

First, a carbon-powered revisit to Micklemere to tackle the plovers again. When I was bins-only, by-bike on Saturday, I'd nailed Little Ringed (2-3 displaying) and 'left' a few other Charidrids that looked suspicious (as opposed to dubius!) but were just too distant to clinch. Later that evening I noticed a local forum post about the same site from a 'scoped' local who'd seen 5 (Tundra?) Ringed Plovers, just 2 hours before I got there! Returning with scope on Sunday evening, 7 Ringed Plovers were immediately obvious (followed quickly by a Greenshank and a Green Sandpiper - where's the justice?!) so after some thought - and a consultation with the boss - I decided a retrospective tick was in order.

Then to follow up on news of a very interesting unstreaked Acro, found on Sunday morning at another local site. By 9pm MARSH WARBLER (146) was 'carbon-clinched' and - YE GODS! - it was showing knee-tremblingly well1 when I arrived again by bike at 5:30am today! And the icing on the cake: another - non-motorised -  Greenshank (147) calling then watched flying off high into the blue.

Keen to cash in on the purple patch, I took the pre-work tripometer to 23 miles by hitting Micklemere too - needless to say, the Greenshank and 2 Little Ringed Plovers were still there, but not a sniff of a Ringed Plover or a Green Sandpiper. Didn't take the shine off a great morning's pedalling though: I'm sure today will be a very strong contender for 'Monday of the Year' (if such a thing exists) - and it's only lunchtime!

1Crippling views, though the knee trembling may have been down to the pre-dawn cycle ride

Percentage of target to date - 95%
Distance cycled - 372.6mls / 599.6km
Latest addition - Greenshank (147) 28 May


25 miles in hot sunshine yesterday produced none of the hoped-for HBs - simply too hot for them to get up and about? Three Goshwaks were still displaying, surprisingly, and there were also Cuckoo, Redstart, Woodlark and the "usual" funny-sounding Chaffinch at ******* (mystery raptor site....) which does a Great Spotted Woodpecker "chink" at the very end of its song, just like Scandinavian birds. Perhaps I'll submit it to the HOS Records Panel (on which I sit - first meeting today as well, thrashing through lots of interesting and soem very duff recrds. We did reject the Golden Oriole in the end, by the way....)

Also a monstrous 2cy female Peregrine over the garden in the afternoon, plus Garden Warbler and Cuckoo in song. Additional garden ticks this weekend were a tiny baby Grass Snake (now in the pond after I rescued it from the cat....) and (for Julia....grrrr) a Downy Emerald on the pond.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Back on top!

Has Oscar been keeping something quiet? Last I heard, he wasn't qualified to comment on what having kid does to your brain... but then he was always a bit of a dark horse! Anyway, back to the business in hand (important or otherwise). After a taking a day off for a S.H.I.Ton Friday (which was only marginally better than Lulu by all accounts: 3 Spoonbill, a late Short-eared Owl and one each of Cuckoo, Spotted Flycatcher, Wheatear and Lesser Whitethroat being the best of it), I hit the road yesterday afternoon.

Being out of the office, I'd missed the local news on Friday - turns out Livermere was having another mini-run of waders. Common Sandpiper (141) didn't put up any resistance, but I was more than a little surprised to find that one of the two near full breeding plumage Knot (142) was still present. Buoyed on by this success (and the glass of rosé that accompanied the fine picnic Becca, Phoebe and another family had brought along!), I decided to head to Micklemere via some likely-looking spots for Turtle Dove, to 'kill time' before chancing my arm with the 2 remaining nocturnal targets.

No joy on the dove front but Little Ringed Plovers (143) were displaying as I arrived at Micklemere, 3-4 Ringed Plover (144) made it onto the list [see 28 May post] and a Barn Owl took my breath away when it landed on a post 2m from the hide where I was sitting, so close that it filled my bins view entirely! I couldn't find the Dunlin that had been reported, and was struggling a bit without my 'scope. A point proved when I read the forum today - someone else had recorded 2 Little Ringed and 4 ('probable Tundra') Ringed Plover there a few hours earlier - looks like a return visit is in order!

Cycling round Kings Forest in the dying light was an interesting experience - deer bounding out in front of me left, right and centre, a dodgy transit van and caravan parked in the middle of nowhere, and countless unseen tyre-destroying objects littering the tracks. I made it through unscathed though, and it was worthwhile: a couple of r(h)oding Woodcock and 4+ Nightjar (145) - 2 seen, plus several churrers and a wing-clapper heard. A noisy family of recently-fledged Tawny Owls on the way home had me convinced they were Long-eareds for a while, until I got stuck into xeno-canto...

Finally staggered in through the front door at 11.20pm, 35.7 miles on the clock and 4 species to the good - but it didn't stop me carbon-birding Lakenheath from 4:55am today, did it Pete?!

1Scolt Head Island Trudge

Percentage of target to date - 94%
Distance cycled - 343.0mls / 552.1km
Latest addition - Nightjar (145) 27 May

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Back in Black

Question: what does having kids and doing a year-list have in common?

I thought I knew the answer to this one, especially after a week like the last one at work but, to be sure, I asked Steve James, who is far better qualified – on both counts – to answer. And, even if he wasn’t, could be relied on to answer convincingly nonetheless. As expected, Steve replied instantly, straight from the hip and with his characteristic supreme confidence. Most unusually, I actually agreed with what he said just for once.2

As further evidence of the veracity of this, I found myself, on 25th May, on Lulu Island. Buoyed up by a Great Reed Warbler before work a few days earlier (only my 5th in spring on the island), it seemed like a good idea the night before; a last chance to sort out Golden Oriole (and so be able to worry about other things come September), flush a Little Bittern from the lake then kick a Sprosser out from somewhere (I saw one in the wild west in early May but this will be the first May I miss them on AD unless…) and, just maybe, following on from last weekend’s bolt from the blue, find a Didric Cuckoo on the back strip and so make up for the near-total dearth of migrants this May on AD in one fell swoop. Well, anyway, that was the plan.  I arrived on cue at 0600 armed with my largest hat and three litres of steadily thawing ice, and, five minutes later saw a Marsh Warbler. At 0845, just before I left, I again saw (the same) Marsh Warbler and in between, absolutely nothing. No migrants, no other birds1, no shade, no clouds, no greenery and certainly no indication that this was anything other than complete lunacy. So I paddled back, seeing Lesser Crested Tern and Socotra Cormorant from the kayak and pretty much sacked off (for the spring). The tipping point was adding insult to injury with a 2-minute boot of a flowerbed alongside the nearby mall instantly producing, er, a Marsh Warbler.

So the moral is… quit while you are ahead. After the May 18th Ye Gods! Calidrid incident, where shurely I used up most of this year’s luck in one go, the writing was clearly on the wall. It said River Warbler? Get real!


Total so far - 165 (93%)
Last addition – Great Reed Warbler (23rd May)

1 With apologies to those four fine Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse.
2 Both totally screw up your brain.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Back on the bike

Far too long without any proper action - fencing, GCSE teaching, laziness, cold May weather - take your pick!

Swift (135) was nailed some weeks ago, and there were Reed Warbler (136) and Hobby (137 - two hunting over the garden) to count, too, but this morning was the time to plug several glaring omissions in the year list.

So it was off and away to Redshoot Wood/Milkham Inclosure in the Forest, and with hardly any trouble at all (after a flyover Hawfinch and some singing Firecrests), the targets fell into my lap. First up were three singing Wood Warblers (138), shimmering their way through the oaks, plus numerous Redstarts (139). Much less easy these days was a Spotted Flycatcher (140), and it was good to find a singing Tree Pipit (141) without too much trouble. The icing on the cake was a Whitethroat (142) down by Highwood - a scarce bird in/near the New Forest, although presumably not too hard when I head west later in the week into the farmland again.

So now up to 86% - and still some summer migrants to find - Lesser Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Honey-buzzard and Nightjar spring to mind - and gallingly Julia had one of the latter feeding over the garden a few nights ago  -when I wasn't here!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

A great Hobby

One perk of walking to work - office fly-overs count! In this case it was a smart, if belated, Hobby (140). Must be something about being the day before I leave for Scotland - did I mention what I added last time I was about to leave for Scotland?!

Percentage of target to date - 90%
Distance cycled - 307.3mls / 494.6km
Latest addition - Hobby (140) 17 May

Monday, 7 May 2012

Daily grind

Well, March exploded and April roared but so far May… is definitely spluttering. As April fizzled out into relative obscurity after an admirable innings that lasted right up to the end (culminating in 3 White-throated Robins in an hour one evening, and a whopping 21 Rollers on the next, plus a handy Sedge Warbler in pretty much the same flowerbed as last year) early May, which can often be really good, is still struggling to get going one week in. There have been good, if short-lived arrivals elsewhere, but 20 Nightjars in Al Ain resulted equated to just one for me on the same morning (and I have only seen one other since, and no Golden Orioles yet) and, although Marsh Warbler turned up on cue on 1st May, an avalanche of them in near-biblical proportions 250km due west of my circle on Friday failed to translate into even one next morning back here. It has also got suddenly really hot, and after a long, deceptively pleasant spring so far and that has made evening birding a bit slow, even though there seem to be lots of Sylvias about: I'm regularly hitting 10-15 individuals of up to five species on morning walks when they are all singing but almost none at the end of the day. I've seen more Blackcaps and Barred Warblers than ever before this spring and the usual late, maverick Menetries’s appeared as expected about 5 weeks after the majority had gone through. Whinchats were also well up in numbers last weekend with up to 7 at one site and a sprinkling elsewhere but almost all have gone now. A final little bonus this evening came from the Golf course lake, very disappointing of late, but boasting a silky-smooth Whiskered Tern floating over it tonight. Only my fourth on the island, and first ever in spring but never mind that: almost seven years ago to the day since your Lakenheath bird, Pete!


Total so far - 164 (93%)
Last addition – Whiskered Tern (7th May)

Friday, 4 May 2012

Parting shot

After a week of pre-5am get-ups for (no) Nightingale and Breeding Bird Surveys - in miserable, cold, grey conditions - plus mountains of work stuff to do before hitting the Speyside trail with the mighty Mr Mills, I was looking forward to a quiet evening in, a bit of telly and maybe a glass of wine. However as I walked in through the door, the a-fore mentioned (all-hail) Jonny Rankin rang me in something of a panic: Dowitcher sp. being watched at Livermere, now!

I lost my cool, jumped in the car and only after safely grilling it for 10 minutes did I wise up, drive home, then wheel out the bike! It took me 2 seconds longer than the Arctic Tern run (there was a stiff northerly that day) but before 8pm I'd swung my 'scope past the full breeding plumage Bar-tailed Godwit (138) and on to an absolutely spanking Long-billed Dowitcher (139). Bitchin'!!

You cud nae script it - a few hours later and I'd have heard about it as Chris drove me hastily in the wrong direction! I'll leave you to savour this one lads... see y'all in a week.

Percentage of target to date - 90%
Distance cycled - 307.3mls / 494.6km
Latest addition - Long-billed Dowitcher (139) 4 May