Saturday, 31 December 2011

December 2011

I knew way before the turn of the month that December was going to be a ridiculously busy month with a build up of orders at work leading up to Christmas, and uni deadlines that needed to be completed before I broke up. If anything was found that I 'needed', I probably would'nt have been able to find the time to go. I did however have one Saturday (11th) free, where I decided to hit the East coast again. A good day in all; starting with another look at the Greater Yellowlegs at Cresswell Pond before it departed to the North. Followed by a very obliging Desert Wheatear which in time, approached me to less than 10ft allowing fantastic photo opportunities - exactly what I wanted! Returning to the car park a self-found (1w) Glaucous Gull put in a very brief appearance before heading South, a Tundra Bean Goose was near Woodhorn and the remainder of the day was spent watching the regular Great Grey Shrike and 3-4 stunning Short-eared Owls hunt till dusk.Once home for Christmas (20th) I then had plenty of time on my hands so spent the rest of the month loyal to my home county (Hants) cleared up on a few decent local scarcities that had been knocking around a while. First of which was the Cattle Egret at Warblington (21st), Red-necked Grebe flying out of Chichester Harbour and Purple Sandpiper at Southsea Castle (both 24th). Between the 27th and 31st I visited the Pennington area, Blashford Lakes and Beaulieu Road Station multiple times recceing in preperation for the New Years Day bird race. Highlights included Marsh Harrier, Bewick's Swan, Egyptian Goose, Smew, Yellow-legged Gull, Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Dartford Warbler and Hawfinch. Undoubtedly the most unexpected bird was an adult drake Ferruginous Duck on Spinnaker Lake (Blashford) that showed well amongst Pochard on the last day of the year and was infact a county tick for myself.

Almost the last report of the 2011 was of a Dark-eyed Junco in the New Forest, photographed by a non-birder who had sent a photo to the county recorder to identify. It has been there for at least 7 days so fingers crossed this is relocated in the New Year!!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

November 2011

I always look forward to November as in most years it delivers just as well as October and most often or not throws a real mega into the mix. Late on the 4th whilst enroute to Sheffield to see Emma, news came through of an Isabelline Wheatear at Spurn. After being trapped and with this species' past record I didn't bother getting up to arrive at first light. I was quite surprised when I woke to find it was still there. And so a quick dash NE and within 2 hours I was watching this bird feed along a selected stretch of beach where the subtle features could be noted. General birding in the area was pretty good too with the likes of Woodcock and Short-eared Owls in off the sea and also a good arrival of finches and thrushes which included 2 Twite and Brambling. On the way back I stopped in at Far Ings NR (Lincolnshire) and on a very brief visit as the weather very quickly deteriorated, I located the relatively elusive 1w Ferruginous Duck on the pool east of the entrance track.Whilst at work on the 12th, I got a jumbled message of a Greater Yellowlegs in Northumberland. I was in two minds as what to do to with this one, but as it turned out my boss realised that I wanted to be somewhere else - so let me leave. However by this stage the bird hadn't been seen for a fair few hours, so likelihood of connecting was looking very remote. I stopped off at Cresswell Ponds - no sign of it there, and as I made my way to East Chevington (where the bird was seen in the morning) in the hope it would come into roost. But instead it was refound further north at Hauxley NR, unfortunately on arrival I ran to the wrong side of the reserve where the bird could not be viewed and so frustratingly missed the bird.

I slept on Cain's floor for a first light assault on the reserve. And shortly after first light I was watching my biggest bogey bird - having missed birds in Hampshire and Cornwall, and twitching a Greenshank in Northants; all in recent years. But finally the wait was over! This 1st winter bird showed very well on occasions with a Grey Phalorope which followed it's every move. Quite a surreal experience.After spending about 5 hours watching the Greaterlegs; I decided to move on and attempt to find East Chevington. Just before I got there a drake Green-winged Teal was found and was still on view on arrival though very elusive at range. Heading back home I also pulled into Marden Quarry to pay the female type Lesser Scaup (of dubious origin) a visit.Whilst out filming with my expedition group (14th), I jammed into this Great-white Egret at Campfield Marsh (Cumbria) on the saltmarsh pool. We also found a flock of about 100,000 Starlings, and on another night several hundred thousands of Starlings were at Gretna Services. Quite a spectacle on a clear evening.

Untitled from Ashley Howe on Vimeo.

I was hoping the autumn was going to come to an end now, purely for the sake of my bank balance which is clearly lacking funds right now. But it still didn't stop me from heading out to the island of Muck (an island I've never visited before) with Olly Metcalfe and Neil Follows on the 18th via a charter boat from Mallaig. Our query; a Veery, and a very tame one at that. This bird showed extremely well in the slurry pit at Gallanach Farm (on the NW side of the island). I was thoroughly impressed with this bird and even more pleased to have obtained these photographs as it approached me to less than 10ft as I peered over the wall. My camera couldn't even focus on it!!For the past week, I have been incredibly tempted to venture down to Kent for an Eastern Black Redstart - a stunning male that has also been incredibly approachable. I couldn't quite justify the cost and mileage but when this bird was found on Holy Island (Northumberland) I just had to see it. So on the 20th, Myself, Tristan Reid, his daughter Shannon, and Pete Birkett hit the East Coast. As a safe crossing over the causeway couldn't be made till midday we tried to relocate the Greater Yellowlegs that was still kicking around. Unfortunately it couldn't be found at East Chevington, but I managed to pick out a Tundra Bean Goose amongst 200 odd White-fronted Geese on the North Pool and 3 otters were good value. Stunning views were obtained of a male Hen Harrier as we drove through West Chevington which literally flew metres above our car!! Once we got onto Holy Island we instantly connected with the Eastern Black Redstart, which performed wonderfully for a small gathered crowd as it worked the rocky shoreline for flies. The final couple of hours of the day were spent at Cresswell Pond where we finally caught up with the Greater Yellowlegs, not showing as well as it did earlier in the month. It was certainly far more active and unsettled as this leggy bird sprinted from side to side along the reedy fringes of the pond.

From then on I had to commit myself more to my uni work and also to the amounting work in the shop coming up to Christmas so birding has taken a backseat recently. I have occasionally done a relatively small stretch of the River Eden near Uni with nothing more interesting than Goosander and an increasing movement of Geese in the area.

Monday, 31 October 2011

October 2011

In all honesty, I did very little birding this month, no thanks to a near continuous run of uni work. A group of us, from my course are planning an expedition as part of our module to film some of Europe's large carnivores ie Bears etc in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania next spring, as well as doing our bit for charity and drawing awareness to prostate cancer after a team member was diagnosed with it in 2010. Feel free to browse our blog to find out more:
I did however end up on a few pretty good twitches this month.

On heading North from visiting Emma in Sheffield (4th), I couldn't resist pulling into Humblesclough Farm, Lancashire to see my third Solitary Sandpiper in two years. Not as good as the bird on Scilly a couple of week previously but it showed all the necessary features in my relatively short stay.

By the 8th, I was in Ireland again with Dan Pointon, Mark and Ashley Powell for the juv Semipalmated Plover. With help from Rich Bonser it was soon picked out and showed reasonably well in hideous weather. The flock dispersed and we lost the bird, a couple of laps of the beach failed to relocate it until we found it in the same area as before. Of course it didn't settle and flew off down the beach again...another search for it was pointless with dogs running up and down the beach flushing everything in sight!! I was quite surprised at how different this bird actually looked compared to normal Ringo's. Noticeably smaller with a very narrow (unbroken) breast band, obvious pale fringes to the coverts which was the most obvious feature to pick it out amongst adult Ringed Plovers. Good scope views allowed us to see the more subtle features and even the semi-palmations in the feet. Further confirmation came when it flew off calling like a 'distant Spotted Redshank'. The rest of the day was spent at Rossbeigh trying to relocate the possible Western Sand from the previous day to no avail.

The following weekend (15th) the unexpected arrival of a Rufous-tailed Robin in Norfolk would have caused abit of excitement had it decided to stay but as expected - no sign. These sibes are getting easier so I'm sure I'll see one of these boring brown jobs in the next 10 years... Trying to avoid the crowds myself and Olly Metcalfe went to Wells to try and find our own interesting birds. The best I could muster up were two flyby Richard's Pipits heading east along the beach. A reasonable finch movement included 20+ Crossbill, Redpolls and Brambling. A Yellow-browed Warbler was by the boating lake but very elusive. To lift me from my miserable mood and rescue the day it required heading further south to Lowestoft for an elusive Olive-backed Pipit that eventually showed well just before we were going to give up!! Surprisingly this is the first rare pipit I have seen - so hopefully this will open the flood gates for more in the near future.

The last twitch of the month (20-22nd) was spanned over three days...teaming up with Martin Davies and Mark Rayment we made it to Aberdeen for the lumpy overnight crossing to Lerwick; sleeping rough of course. We unnecessarily hired a car to get to Gulberwick and joined the dozen strong crowd for the Siberian Rubythroat, waiting at the gate looking to the far end of the driveway. The bird played ball for the first hour, showing occasionally but then went missing for 2.5 hours before appearing randomly for the next 4 hours. I'm assuming its been aged as a 1st winter because of the pale fringes to the coverts which are visible in the images - though i didn't note this at the range I saw the bird in field where it simply looked like a pristine adult male! And so another fantastic autumn for myself comes to an end :-(

Friday, 30 September 2011

September 2011

The first half of September was nationally poor, so I relied heavily on the home county (Hampshire) to provide the interest. Alot of hours were put in seawatching from Milford and Cutbridge but the rewards eventually came after several days of strong south-westerlies in the form of Long-tailed Skua (10th), Sooty Shearwater (11th) and Balearic Shearwater (12th) amongst other bits and bobs. Other county highlights this month were Grey Phalorope (10th) and Baird's Sandpiper (14th); both of which were at Pennington Marshes. Mid-month and the hurricane season in the States was in full swing, so surely a series of low depressions whipping across the Atlantic were going to bring something. First of all was Greater Yellowlegs in Cornwall (13th) that was dipped my minutes - a Sabine's Gull was a minor consolationThe following Saturday Dan Houghton and I were heading to the west country again when a Northern Waterthrush broke on the Scillies. Unfortunately due to the flight/boat timetables we were unable to day trip and would have to stay until Monday which Dan couldn't do due to work. It was tense times as a Black-and-White Warbler had just been found in the same place. We needed both!! We popped into Drift Reservoir to discuss matters where Dan managed to wangle things with his supervisor and so we were all set to go, but not without seeing the Lesser Yellowlegs first! Flying was the only remaining option so within the hour we were on St. Mary's. It took a couple of hours to locate the 1w female Black-and-White Warbler which fed continuously in sallows. However the Northern Waterthrush was alot more elsuive in thick cover but luckily I managed a brief view at dusk on a small secluded pool but Dan missed it!!
Day 2, and the priority was to get Dan the Northern Waterthrush, after staking out the same pool again shortly after dawn we were treated to a 15 minute exclusive viewing of the Waterthrush which showed a point blank range. The trip continued to surprise and improve with other quality highlights being Solitary Sandpiper and a joint self-found Blue-winged Teal at Newford Duckpond, Bee-eater at Borough Farm, 2 Pectoral Sandpipers at Porth Hellick and 4 Buff-breasted Sandpipers and a juv Dotterel on the airfield.Day 3 drew a total blank with the Waterthrush although it was still knocking about, but gave even better views of the Black-and-White Warbler. A Red-eyed Vireo re-appeared at Lower Platform and a Woodchat Shrike was a late addition to the trip list!! The following day (20th) I dashed across the border to Burpham, West Sussex for an obliging juv Pallid Harrier which was my third lifer that week. My fourth came very quickly afterwards with another visit to the Scillies (21st) for a 1w female Baltimore Oriole at Mourning Point, St. Mary's. And a night time dash across to Weir Wood Reservoir, East Sussex followed only to dip the cock-up that was the Long-toed Stint. The bird has only been wrongly IDed as a Temminck's Stint for 7 days!I had to go back up to University in Cumbria on the 25th which co-incided with the long drive to Loch of Strathbeg, Aberdeenshire for the adult Sandhill Crane which took temporary residence. Despite many quality birds this year - this is my best, never did I think I'd get another shot at this so soon after the 2009 bird on Orkey. Chuffed to nuts!! The adult Black Scoter off Blackdog completed the set for Scoter in Britain and Ireland this year.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

August 2011

I was on holiday in Tenerife with Emma and her family till the 12th. Based in the SW I did manage a few full days birding out there, that included an offshore pelagic for Whales and Dolphins (Bottlenosed Dolphins and Short-finned Pilot Whale were both seen in abundance), a day trip to La Gomera added Bulwer's Petrel and Little Shearwater amongst the hundreds of Cory's Shears from the boat. Laurel Pigeon and Barbary Falcon were seen on the island but Bolles Pigeon eluded me everywhere! A trip up Mount Teide got me Canary, Sardinian Warbler, Barbary Partridge, Rock Sparrow, Blue Chaffinch, African Blue Tit and Canary sub-species of Great Spotted Woodpecker and Tenerife Goldcrest. Other decent birds on the holiday were Bertholot's Pipit, Canary Island Chiff-chaff, Southern Grey Shrike, Pallid Swift and obviously Spanish Sparrows. All in all an enjoyable and relaxing holiday.Highlights in Hampshire the rest of the month were migrant Honey Buzzard over Ringwood, Red-crested Pochard at Ibsley Water (both 13th), Wood Sandpiper at Titchfield Haven (14th), Sabine's Gull over Sopley Pig Fields (18th), Great-white Egret on Ibsley Water (22nd), an obliging Wryneck at Warsash (29th) and Temminck's Stint at Farlington Marshes (31st). An adult Cattle Egret was also seen at Stanpit Marshes, Dorset on the 22nd whilst trying to relocate a Purple Heron on the Avon. 4 Days were spent seawatching in Cornwall towards the end of month over the bank holiday with Olly Metcalfe, Tim Jones and Joe Stockwell. The highlight for myself was a Cory's Shearwater off Porthgwarra on the first morning as this was actually a lifer!! Other birds seen and generally in quite good numbers were: Great (several), Sooty, Balearic and Manx Shearwaters, Bonxie, Pomarine (several) and Arctic Skuas, Storm Petrel (severel), Sabine's Gull (3), single Roseate Tern etc from Porthgwarra or Pendeen. Basking Shark, Harbour Porpoise, Bottlenose Dolphin and Atlantic Common Dolphin were also seen. A Black Kite showed well over The Lizard Village (27th) and a family group of Cirl Buntings were watched in Devon on the return journey (29th).

Saturday, 30 July 2011

July 2011

The summer dundrums arrived and so there wasn't alot of stuff about to see or to find yourself anywhere. Hampshire highlights included Turtle Dove, Nightjars and Long-eared Owls at different undisclosed sites. 4 Spoonbills at Needs Ore (16th), with an Osprey there (23rd) and finally a Black Tern was off Hill Head (24th).

The only bird I left county for was my third Stilt Sandpiper at Lodmoor RSPB (also 24th) which was in pristine summer plumage albeit at range.

I left for Tenerife on the last couple of days of the month for a relaxing holiday with Emma and her family.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

June 2011

After May being such a disappointment, I didn't hold out much hope for June providing anything better. But how wrong could I be!!

Early on the 6th a female White-throated Robin was found at Hartlepool Headland, Cleveland and so with 30 minutes I was bombing up the motorways. It had suddenly become elusive on arrival and so it wasn't until late afternoon that it appeared in the 'Doctor's Garden' where all the excitement begun. In the process of climbing the 10ft garden wall, I managed to cover myself in black burglar grease but thankfully managed a five minute session watching the bird sunning itself in a garden border.To get up to Cleveland that day I had to cancel work and agreed to work a double shift later that week. I was understandably completely shattered come Friday, and so while cutting some short bars with a circular saw at work I managed to do this:Needless to say, I needed an operation which involved a skin graft, but luckily I missed cutting right thru the tendon and bone. I was in bandages for a good month, and required several weeks worth of therapy afterwards. Obviously I was unable to drive. Which seriously messed me up with Britain's first American White-winged Scoter (form Deglandi) that was found off Blackdog, Aberdeenshire. Usually I would have gone straight away but had to wait till the following weekend for lifts with Dan Houghton and Richard Bonser (who is a driving machine!!). On the 18th the bird was elusive in poor visibility but seen on several occasions amongst the mass of Scoter and Eider. At least 2 drake Surf Scoters were in the same flock too. Further up the coast was an adult drake King Eider on the Ythan that was far more obliging. Hampshire highlights were few and far between but included a 1st summer Caspian Gull at Lower Test Marshes (2nd) and Honey Buzzard, Quail, Turtle Dove and Long-eared Owl at various undisclosed sites throughout the month.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

May 2011

Except for a cancelled trip to Bass Rock (due to high winds), that resulted in going to the Farnes for the day. I didn't leave the county once - May was wet, windy and on the whole very disappointing. However the Farnes was as enjoyable as always, thankfully the sun wasn't as bright this time and allowed better photo oppertunities. I spent most of my time photographing the Puffins, to try and better the relatively poor flight shots I got last June.
It was pretty good in county though with a good passage of waders and seabirds; and so several mornings were spent at Cutbridge counting the likes of Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwits being the most numerous. This was by far the most productive I have ever seen Hampshire in terms of numbers - hightlights included: Wood Sandpiper & Garganey at Farlington (1st), Pomarine Skua (3 on 5th), drake Long-tailed Duck (5th) all past Hurst, Roseate Tern off Hill Head (6th), Ring-necked Parakeet & Pectoral Sandpiper at Pennington (7th), Manx Shearwater (several on 26th), poss Balearic (29th) again off Cutbridge, and 2 Quail (30th).

Saturday, 30 April 2011

April 2011

The turn of the month bought particularly nice weather and gave spring migrants the chance to get straight back on breeding territories. By the 9th, I had seen Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin, Wheatear, Chiff-chaff, Whinchat, Pied Flycatcher and Osprey all back on their traditional breeding grounds in Cumbria. However, that was it for me in Cumbria, the term was over and back to Southampton I went...And what good timing this was.The day after my return; 3 quality county birds were up for grabs - all were potential county ticks for myself and many. First was a Whiskered Tern in Stokes Bay, and despite the early morning start there was no sign. Mid-morning and news of a singing Savi's at Farlington Marshes filtered out...on arrival this bird stopped singing and after waiting 2-3 hours; nothing!
I went for lunch with Emma's family...and as with what always happens when you've arranged something - things get worse! The Black Stork seen briefly the week before flying thru the county was seen 2-3 more times in New Forest at early afternoon. Trying to ignore all the messages; the final straw came when it was relocated by Keith Betton sat in a tree at Slufter's Inclosure. On arrival the bird took flight and circled low several times over my head before dropping down a few hundred yards away in cover. Dusk was spent back at Farlington where the Savi's reeled almost continously!! A week long holiday in Cornwall with the family was a nice break and got in some quality birding while enjoying the early summer. Although I didn't find anything good myself except groppers and Turtle Dove. Highlights included: Long-billed Dowitcher at Lodmoor RSPB enroute, 2 male Woodchat Shrikes in the same field by the campsite at Treen, Bonaparte's Gull on the Hayle and a Night Heron on the return leg in Dorset. Oh..and I dipped two apparent Little Swifts over Wadebridge. Other highlights of the month were Pied Fly at Farlington (14th), 2 Lesser Peckers in the New Forest (16th), Pearl-bordered Fritileries near West Dean (25th) and a bird race score of 137 in daylight hours (30th).