Tuesday, 28 February 2012

back in the game

Of course, even at the time I knew that this was slight hyperbole; 5 Isabelline Wheatears don’t really constitute spring. But out here in the UAE, 5 Pied Wheatears do, especially when backed up with 2 Woodchats. Those are the smartest two additions in the last 2 days and they are fractionally early; I usually have to wait ‘til the first weekend in March before I start bumping into them anywhere and everywhere. The arrival began a few days ago, but I was slow getting out of the blocks, being hindered by Shoebill in Rwanda, amongst others. Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was handy enough too, although this may well have been lurking somewhere locally all winter. The back-up cast, including single Wryneck and Menetries’s Warbler, the same White-front lingering, plus good scores of Corn Buntings (6), Tawny Pips (5) and Pallas’s Gulls (15) were all welcome as well.

Total so far - 103 (58%)
Last addition – Woodchat Shrike (27 February )

Monday, 27 February 2012

Walking in a white-winged wonderland!

Everyone else seems to have Goshawk on their Nunnery Lakes list. I don't, and in a bid to rectify this, I came to work prepared with bike and 'scope today so as to get as much of my lunch break as possible at my 'raptor watch point' (raised bank round one of the fishermens' carparks - you have to take what you can get in the way of hills in Breckland!).

Only a couple of distant Buzzards ion the raptor front but just as I was about to leave, a ghostly gull loomed into view - 3rd calendar year Iceland Gull (106)! Incredibly it landed on one of the lakes (big gulls tend to be reticent about this as the lakes are fairly small, and quite disturbed), before giving fine 'scope views overhead as it drifted off.

Couldn't quite believe my luck after my 'double dip weekend' with this species. One nagging question remains: can I garden-tick it retrospectively?!

Percentage of target to date - 68%
Distance cycled - 126.6mls / 203.7km
Latest addition - Iceland Gull (106) 27 Feb

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Ups and downs

The first Nunnery Lakes Oystercatcher (104) of the year was in on Saturday morning. I spent much of the rest of the day (and a fair bit of Sun) fighting a losing battle with Leylandii stumps in my garden. Repeated sky-scans failed to yield the hoped-for Red Kite and worse was to come - squadrons of (mainly Lesser Black-backed) gulls over in the afternoon included a white-winger... but I didn't see it til it was right over head and within a second or two, it was a***-end only views, after which it was never to be seen again.

When I was texted about a 4cy Iceland Gull at Livermere today (Sun) I naturally wanted to get even so I put down the axe and hit the tarmac. Missed it by about 45 mins - though friends who'd set off from Thetford by car, 15 mins ahead of me, missed it too which made me feel slightly better. Mediterranean Gull (105) was fair compensation, and 7 European White-fronted Geese were not asleep (unlike the ones I biked all the way to Micklemere for, little more than a week ago!).

Percentage of target to date - 68%
Distance cycled - 126.6mls / 203.7km
Latest addition - Mediterranean Gull (105) 26 Feb

Glorious day, six year ticks

A fantastic, sunny, still day had me heading for the Forest in search of spring-like activity. And I found it. Woodlarks seemed to be singing everywhere across Broomy Plain and the old airfield, as well as a few Skylarks, amusingly my first for the year. A chilly ride it was, but arrival at the "traditional site" for displaying raptors soon turned up the goods - at least three Goshawks circling about, lazily deep wing-flapping, and occasionally dive-bombing each other. A return via Eyeworth Pond did not turn up the expected Mandarin, but I did see a Marsh Tit by the car-park. Further cross-country (using the same route as a massive fun run, alas) across Hampton Ridge, and I fluked a quartering ringtail Hen Harrier, not far from their traditional (but much depleted) roost site - that saves me a ride in the dark sometime!

Feeling my luck was on a roll, I diverted on the way home via the reserve once more, and from Tern Hide jammed in both three Black-tailed Godwits, and now not one but four Ruff - nice moves. Oooh yeah....

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Two ticks and two grips

Back home promptly from the Winchester College Football "Cup Final" (yours truly as referee) - a narrow 39-34 win for Commoners - and just time to whizz up to the reserve on my bike for the last half hour of daylight. Two predictable but very welcome Blashford year ticks soon fell - Oystercatcher (three back on their breeding islands), and the first Black-necked Grebe of the spring, plus a Med Gull. The Red-breasted Merganser was also present, in among about 40 Goosander, many of which are now displaying, as are the now quite numerous passage Goldeneye, and the resident Great Crested Grebes. Sand Martins are just a couple of weeks away. Frustratingly, I heard what I thought was a (non-Meadow) Pipit but couldn't find it - and the evening blog post recorded a Water Pipit from the other hide in the evning, plus a Ruff as well, seen by none other than the illustrious Rob Hume. Grrrr.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

And still they come!

Blimey! A speculative wander round the Reserve after lunch, incredibly, turned up not one, not two, but THREE new species! My first Kestrel of the year (for the circle!) was a bit daft, but it was quickly followed by a juv Iceland Gull on Ibsley Water, where five (very wild-looking) Barnacle Geese were also present. Add on yet another Smew sighting (a redhead on Ivy Lake), and that counts as pretty decent returns.

Species: 93

Percentage: 56%

Three more!

A gentle little trundle round the western escarpment of the Forest this morning turned up three pretty predictable species - Stock Dove, flyover Crossbill and a singing Woodlark.

Species recorded: 90
Percentage: 55%

Friday, 17 February 2012

Dos mas

Succumbed to the temptation of twitching this afternoon... but for 'proper' grey geese just within my circle by bike, nothing dafter! Up to 25 Y-fronts had been kicking around the Lackford area but weren't 'pinned down', so when a bunch turned up at Micklemere, just outside Ixworth, I started paying attention. No news for a couple of days but someone looked this morning and saw 2, possibly 3, so I got back in the saddle this afternoon. (European) White-fronted Goose (102) eventually located, though I had to climb a tree to be sure of all 8 of them!

Took a circuitous route home to try for Golden Plover (no sign, but ample compensation in the form of a roosting Short-eared Owl) and Tree Sparrow (103). Also experienced my strongest anti-farmer feelings of the year as the bridleway I took to reduce the amount of time spent dodging beet lorries on the A134 had been turned into a quagmire, plastering my bike and shoes in liquid pig sh*t. Nice.

Percentage of target to date - 66%
Distance cycled - 110.2mls / 177.3km
Latest addition - Tree Sparrow (103) 17 Feb

Keep yer 'peckers up, lads

With OsCAR temporarily out of the picture, it was time to wheel out the bike pre-work and make a break for the lead. Pedalling past a patch of clear-fell/heath on route to my destination, I picked up the unmistakeable sound of a testosterone-fuelled W(100)dlark, and after a bit of sky-scanning, managed to clap eyes on it. Onwards to the aforementioned spot and an aptly-named target, which actually obliged remarkably easily: Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (101)! Great views of a male calling, drumming and suffering a bit of bullying from a Great Spotted.

4 Goosander, 3 Grey Wagtail, Crossbill, a Kingfisher and a Woodcock made for a pretty decent morning, all in all.

Percentage of target to date - 65%
Distance cycled - 82.6mls / 132.9km
Latest addition - Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (101) 17 Feb

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Over and out

Had a bit of a sweep round the island on the last two afternoons in a half-hearted effort to get fully into three figures before my half-term. No joy; it’s the typical mid February doldrums when even Isabelline Shrikes and wheatears are hard to find. Highlight was a superb total of 20 Pallas’s Gulls off the Officers Club one dusk, half being fully wicked and pristine breeding adults. Other than that, Saunders’s Terns and Lesser Cresties are still easy to find and added a couple more Pale Crags; under a flyover close to work. And that’s your lot. See you in March…


Total so far - 100 (56%)
Last addition – (still) Pale Crag Martin (11 February)

No new species but a cracking morning, Gromit.

It's coming to something when you have Bittern, Smew, Water Rail, Cetti's Warbler and Kingfisher within walking distance of home, and none is a year tick. Oh well.

Not one but two Bitterns were showing right out in the open, at point-blank range, from the Ivy North Hide at Blashford, and the redhead Smew (quite possibly the one I saw a couple of weeks ago elsewhere) dropped in.

A great morning - apart from two utter cretin photographers wrecking other people's enjoyment. I tried hard to embarrass them, and succeeded.

N.B. these photographers are for illustrative purposes only, and are not in any way meant to convey the author's opinion of photographers in general. Note how none of these bastards....er.....gentlemen carries a binocular. I've just had a great idea for a rude joke about the fat bloke's knee pads.....but I won't blow our cover as a clean blog.

Do you want a flake with that?

2 hours on the Nunnery Lakes reserve this morning yielded 55 species and revealed a few signs of spring (can't quite believe it was -13 on Sun!): Singing Skylark, displaying Lapwing and my first Breckland Curlew of the year (99).

Actually I could argue (but won't!) that yesterday's efforts put me on 99.5 - the lunchtime Lakes thrashing produced a gull like none I've seen before - though someone has! Still haven't had a 100% Mediterranean Gull at the Lakes but yesterday's bird was half way there... sadly the other half was firmly in the Black-headed camp. Educational though, if bloody annoying.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Born in the USA

13 February

It is hard life out here, as Chris keeps telling me every time he sees me. So bad I usually spend about 14 weeks a year out of the country, and the second of 2012 is coming up at the end of this week so this could the last post for a bit and spring is really up and running. Birding this weekend was almost totally off-island, but I did unexpectedly fall in with a tick on Saturday afternoon. It should also shut the rest of them up for a bit as it was from a bike. The only tick, I would think, I will get from a bike all year. Nobody with a few interlinking brain neurones, never mind an ounce of common sense, would consider cycling out here; the trucks are massive and roads bigger and most of the drivers are either reckless lunatics or underfed and overworked labourers who haven’t slept properly for days. I can well imagine what one of them shaving past me an inch too close along the Eastern Lagoon would do to my bones, never mind my Swarovskis. So, as you have probably worked out by now, the ‘bike’ was an exercise bike. The bird, also the only tick I can ever recall getting whilst being blasted by loud music (not Metallica this time;sorry Simon) was a Pale Crag Martin that appeared over the swimming pool on the other side of the glass doors. It actually took me a couple of minutes to register that it was #100 (there wasn’t much blood getting to my brain at that point) and then to curse that it had probably flown over the balcony (only 50m to the right) before I got onto it. See, told you it was a hard life.


Total so far - 100 (56%)
Last addition – Pale Crag Martin (11 February)

Two up - one non-annual!

A marginally less cold day, and two intact tyres, saw me checking the local patch for a reported Red-breasted Merganser - and I saw it, in with about 100 Goosanders on Ibsley Water. Slightly more prosaically, but still new for the year, was a single adult Med Gull, almost moulted into breeding plumage.

And here's a picture of a bloke with a massive cock!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A "Tree" from the "House", Sparrow!

Having been away for the last 8 days I may well have missed a Smew or two! There must have been one on my circle somewhere!!?

Anyway, I didn't have to move too far today, for a bonus bird - Tree Sparrow (90) in fact 4 of them on the seed feeders. I watched them whilst sitting, eating breakfast in the house!

Not much chance for getting out locally as I am out guiding for the next 8 days, so will have to hope for a Brambling in the garden - the lawn's laced with seed - in between the patches of snow!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Smews company

Q: What's black and white and sexier than a (distant) Craplover?
A: Drake Smew!
Photo courtesy of Lee Gregory

A speculative pre-work wander round the snow-clad Nunnery Lakes reserve this morning more than paid off, as I stumbled across a pair of Smew (98)! This wasn't entirely out of the blue as there's a huge influx going on at the moment, though Smew are barely annual in Breckland and with a drake to boot, this was a real Brucey Bonus!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Owltastic with London

super_collider fancy seeing "more owls than you can shake a stick at" in Serbia? of course you do... pic.twitter.com/isVHEv9h 0:37 PM Feb 7th via web http://twitter.com/super_collider/status/166863227295248385

Sunday, 5 February 2012

the big 'un!

5 February

A very low tide had me skidding to a halt on the way back from work tonight to try again along Eastern Lagoon for the heady duo outlined right here and so make my 6th effort of the year for the UAE’s number 2 and, er, Common Starling (again). The big guy has got a bit harder in the last few years, generally appearing in lower numbers and even further away than it used to. But today, a fine, cool and crisp dusk meant I could see for miles and, when you are the size of a Crab Plover you need to be really far away to slip the net. So in he went. I was pretty sure I’d find one somewhere at some point this year – I’d never have heard the end of it had I failed to – and it’s kind of a shame he wasn’t #100 but no matter. There were masses of waders and small gulls scattered over the mud and a few Marsh Harriers came by en-route to roost. I thought I was in the money with some godwits right in up to their bellies that looked good for Black-wits (an AD tick for me, no less) but one eventually flapped to reveal… nothing. That left only a Red Fox up to its knees as the final highlight. And that was an island tick!

Total so far - 99 (56%)
Last addition – Crab Plover (5 February)

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Ticking over

I liked 'High Jynx' as a title though this goes one better, in that it has 3 meanings...

Decided to ignore the weather forecast today and pretend I too was swanning around in an air-conditioned 4x4 à la OsCAR. An abortive attempt to achieve this effect involved long johns + Ron Hills + cycling shorts on the bottom half and - in a moment of genuis - my fleece-lined, skin-hugging dive top, under various fleeces etc, from the waist up.

It was destination Lynford (35km return), where I kept the list ticking over with 16 Hawfinch (96) and a pair of Firecrest (97), before braving the exposed and frozen wasteland of Lynford Water, where 45+ Gadwall, 3 Wigeon and a Little Egret were about the best of it. Pretty sure I had another Hawfinch ticking over somewhere near Lynford Stag on the way back but by then I was more concerned with avoiding frostbite.

Wandered round the Nunnery Lakes when I got back, where 5 Goosander, a Wigeon, 13 Gadwall and the long-staying 2cy male Goldeneye were making the most of what little open water remained, and 3 Little Grebe and 3 (or 4) Woodcock were both PBs here.

Fairly sure that'll be my ticking over for the weekend, so I'll sign off with the latest scores (whilst they're still favourable for me!):

Nick 63% (97)
Chris 61% (89)
OsCAR 55% (98)
Simon 52% (85)
Pete ?

Spring's sprung

Given all the whinging going on back in England about the weather, thought it would be suitable to start with the news that spring has arrived out here. Desert Whites lead the way with a significant arrival starting from 2 February, despite a howling north-westerly. These were accompanied by Vagrant Emperors and, more importantly from the point of view here, Isabelline Wheatears: five this weekend after none all January. We also had an over-wintering Steppe Grey Shrike singing this morning, the first I have ever heard doing that. It was an interesting bird too, with a very dark bill and loral area; quite different from the usual bland looking 1w that we usually have.

Other birds in this weekend’s exertions included the pipit-fest continuing, with both Blyth’s and Buff-bellied appearing on cue and a few straightforward additions out on Lulu island: Sparrowhawk and Socotra Cormorant, the latter the only refugee from the massive swell offshore. I did look for mergansers, Herald Petrels and beached Giant Squid as well, but ended up ‘only’ with 32 Hypocolius at point-blank range, clinging onto the Salvadora with everything they’ve got. Less expected than anything was a splendid Rosy Starling, only my 8th in the circle ever and first between late November and late March.

The other major addition this time round was a quick but prolific trip to the Golf Course were two snipe have been causing me trauma since late autumn. Always side-by-side, hunched down fast asleep and giving only the most piecemeal flight views on about 4 scattered visits now, they showed a peculiar mix of characters. Until, that is I found them feeding openly at close range: one of each! Pin-tailed has become a little less reliable than it used to be in early autumn, so that was handy. And educational. With the Bluethroat finally throwing the towel in nearby, that was half an hour well-spent. Roll on 100…


Total so far - 98 (55%)
Last addition – Rosy Starling (3 February) 

Friday, 3 February 2012

Speculatively & spectacularly X-billed

Thursday 3rd

With 8 days away in Scotland, I decided to brave the cold. Cold, it was bloody freeeeeezin'! Anyway, I headed for Swanton Novers with Brambling & Crossbills as speculative possibilities. It was evidently quiet save lots of Thrushes, 50 Fieldfare, 30 Redwing, 15!!! Song Thrush, i guess maybe -37 in Poland has pushed a few things our way! Evidently not any Brambling, I think Nick has them all down in the Brecks this winter.

Anyhow, just as I was starting to wonder what the hell I was doing, only 5 minutes into the wood, the familiar "kip, kip" call of Crossbill was heard, yippee! Result! I then had 3 Crossbill including a fine male sitting atop the conifers, nice eh? Had more Redpoll & Siskin, but no sign of any Tree Sparrows from previously known locations, doh. Full of confidence I tried the recording for Firecrest, that's alternatively referred to as blind optimism!

I cycled around Hindringham & along the very NE border of my raduius staring distantly towards Warham & Wells but no distant geese of any sort! Steady ride back in Easterly breeze & frozen roads, so one more added & 8 days out of the circle bashing.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Owl times 3

Stopped off yesterday when driving home from work and did not know whether to be dismayed or pleased when within 15 minutes I would have added Tawny Owl Teal, Woodcock and Grey Lag had I been on bicycle.
So today, away early straight into bike clothes - note no lycra reached same place as yesterday and waited and waited and waited and also got quite cold. Last night two tawnies were calling continuously at each other by 17.10. Tonight silence. (The teal had been flying down theWissey and possibly with the weather might have relocated)
Then just as the lack of light and heat were telling me it was time to go a L:ittle Owl calls, then a Barn Owl comes across field passes within 20 yards sorry 19m -must remember its the metric age and a distant Tawny calls to be followed by a group of Grey Lag.
All that remained was to cycle back into the wind along a lane that is 10% the width of the roads where Oscar is.
Also seen were threeCommon Buzzards -that were all going in same direction well after sunset. Do Buzzards roost communally? and a Sparrowhawk chased a small passerine across the road infront of me while the passerine its mind obviously elsewhere was nearly impaled on the front when spokes.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Oh, it's kilometers not miles

After heading down to Lynford arboretum from the manor of Necton and having a bonus of a pair of Goosander on Lynford Water and the Little Egret obligingly flew so I did not have to walk to the extreme east end I made contact with Firecrest in two places and most of the expected woodland stuff.
On my return I learn that I was out of my circle when seeing these. Not the greatest of starts.

"Two Tarts"

After studying the roads & feeling the temperature, sense won through. I decided that a quick walk around Foxley wood might be the more appropriate way of breaking up the tedium of admin duties!

I expected not much more than some gentle exercise, but was rewarded with 2 flyover Lesser Redpolls (87) & a Green Woodpecker at last (88).

Looks bloody cold tomorrow but maybe venture out to see if any geese or swans are getting pushed around, especially as that's me out of Norfolk for the next 8 days. Head off to Islay with a group on Friday!