Thursday, 24 May 2012

May 2012

We (Lee and I) had had the birdrace pencilled in for the 2nd for a while as time was running out before I went to Romania. Although weather conditions still looked better for the weekend at least it was dry. We started just after midnight and again made the same mistake as last year by not giving the Forest the attention it deserved before it got light. Our hit rate during the morning was good until we started seawatching which was a waste of time, at this point we knew no records were going to broken so pretty much gave up and only visited a couple of sites afterwards to get Lee some year ticks. We were back at home by 17:30 but none the less finished on a respectable 134 (I think).

Remarkably last months Flycatcher was still available at the South Landing at Flamborough Head, it had been trapped and ringed with feathers collected for DNA analysis, so one way or another this bird was going to get sorted out! Although it still didn't look totally right and it's extremely unlikely to be an Atlas from the recent weather conditions in my opinion, I cracked!! Many people had already been to see it and were bigging it up, so to cover my ass thought I had better go pay it a visit for insurance sakes encase it is ever accepted as a first for Britain. Leaving late morning on the 3rd (once I had recovered from the birdrace), I met up with Rich Bonser near Lincolnshire for an evening assault. On arrival the bird showed well for a short spell and we very quickly hopped back into the car to head south again. Time to wait and see what the DNA results say...(Image provided by Rich).

First thing the following day (4th) I flew out to Bucharest, where I met up with the lads (Paul Mitchell, Dan Sencier, Rob Brumfitt & Ryan Deal) who drove across Europe in the donated Land Rover. We then drove to Ojdula where we met Paul White of the Transylvania Wildlife Project as this was going to be our base for the next 2 weeks. We spent many long days in the field trying to find what we could; large mammal sightings were few and far between, but evidence of their existence in the near area was clear with tracks and scat from Deer, Boar, Fox, Badger, Wolves and Bear found fairly regularly.
It took 12 days before we got our first truly wild (in the sense it wasn't baited etc) Brown Bear sighting. An known young male seen running away from us through the trees where unfortunately only half the group managed to connect. A little frustrating to say the least!! Whilst trying to relocate this bear we stumbled across a very large male about 20 metres away, we were down wind but it still knew we were there and so ran off over the ridge. We tried following it to get some footage and caught up with it very quickly, this time it seemed more aggitated as it swayed its head from left to right. Within a flash it then decided to charge at us, thankfully this was just a bluff as it soon changed direction and ran off through the trees but was enough to make me go weak at the knees. We definitely wasn't going to persue it further!!
 Amongst a good number of woodland species recorded I also managed several lifers including: Lesser Spotted & Short-toed Eagles, Black, Syrian & Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Ural Owl, and Sombre Tit. Highlights such as Black-headed Wagtail, Scop's Owl, Nutcracker and migrating Honey Buzzards were all a joy to see/hear again, while Bee-eaters, Red-backed Shrikes, White Storks, Golden Orioles and Hoopoes were far more numerous. After months of stressful planning, it was great to finally be there, and what an enjoyable experience it was too, with a fantastic group of people! (Also, whilst in Romania I received the DNA results of the Flamborough Flycatcher; surprisingly revealing it to be 100% Pied. Just goes to show the variation of these 'black and white' flycatchers doesn't it?!).
No sooner had I got back through the front door, was I out again (20th). Alan Lewis had managed to find his second Woodchat Shrike in Hampshire in the space of two weeks - anybody in Hampshire would know that that is quite an achievement. The Woodchat Shrike showed well completing a regular circuit around bushes just a short walk from the car park at Martin Down. This was only the second Woodchat I have ever seen in Hants. Note in the video clip how the Shrike manages to keep its head perfectly still from time to time.

Tiredness was taking its toll after I had a sleepless night in the airport the previous night and so as a result I fell asleep infront of the TV. Eventually pulling myself together I made it up to bed where I was hoping for a 10+ hour nap. Within 10 minutes of dozing off I was rudely awoken by the pager's MEGA alert and a phonecall from Dan Pointon alerting me to the discovery of a Cream-coloured Courser that evening in Herefordshire. Well that was it, how could I sleep knowing that was there. I literally jumped straight out of bed, into the car and began driving - teaming up with Dan and Josh Jones enroute. We arrived at dawn where it didn't take Josh long to relocate it on the golf course at Bradnor Hill at 04:45!! There was only 12 people there for the first few hours of light as most had already gone to bed when the news was released and most were probably still in bed while we were watching it. The adult bird looked very unimpressed and abit bedraggled but still what an absolute stunner. Never did I envisage seeing a Cream-coloured Courser just 8 years after missing the Scilly bird, this has made my year already!

Very inconveniently I had an exam in Carlisle on the 25th which coincided with a singing male Baillon's Crake at Malltreath Marsh, Anglesey. The both mornings I couldn't make it the bird was seen briefly, but it didnt show once over the three days I was there despite singing regularly during the evenings and early mornings. None the less it was nice to listen to and spend some time at various seabird colonies on the island with Curlew Sandpiper and Black Guillemot as additional year ticks. Baillon's Crake is very quickly becoming my bogey bird after dipping one previously in Ireland earlier this year, and getting a very brief view of a dark Crake sp on Shetland in 2008 that was more than likely to be one, it looks like I am going to have to be patient and wait for a more obliging individual.

In the meantime I went back over to Sheffield to spend some time with Emma as originally planned, before popping back up to Carlisle again to do my final presentation on Romania (28th). On the way home I popped into Huggin Carr (South Yorkshire), I had been wanting to pay the Hatfield Moors area a visit ever since Emma started Uni at Sheffield but never got round to it, so as Emma has only 3 weeks left of Uni I thought I had better get in quick to see the adult summer plumaged Red-necked Grebe that returns there every year. It showed nicely in the late afternoon sun with 4 Black-necked Grebes and a number of breeding Avocets. Once back in Sheffield I promised Emma a nice day out on Tuesday (29th), this very quickly changed when news of an Orphean Warbler broke at Hartlepool Headland (Cleveland). Remarkably the same place as the White-throated Robin almost a year ago!! This was another extreme mega that got the pulses racing, being the first twitchable individual since the Scilly bird in 1981 so basically everybody needed it. When trapped and ringed the bird was raced as the Western form 'Hortensis' and given a fat score of zero, this was evident on arrival as the bird hadn't moved from the same branch it was released on for 3 hours with its eyes closed and 'catching invisible flies'. Eventually it perked up a little and began to move about foraging for food but I feel a negative outcome was inevitable! Undoubtedly an incredible month - surely June can't keep the momentum going?!

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