Blog

Fri 26th November 2010

Posted on November 26, 2010 at 4:05 PM

birds : I am still very pedestrian on the birding at the moment, not helped by my second cold in just over a month. I have been popping into a few places - e.g, the first Great Crested Grebe of the winter at Grandes Havres, a lingering Common Sandpiper at Pulias Pond. I did squeeze in an hour or so in the Pleinmont area Sunday morning but there was just a few Skylark in the fields and regular Chaffinch passage going on. I did finally make headway in the year listing with a few Siskin in the trees by the garden early morning twice during the week. So very slow at the moment but it always is.

.

I have been looking back at my records whilst sorting out a few of my lists recently and it has hit me that there are some species of birds that I used to see regularly but I haven't clapped my eyes on now for ages and ages. A lot of species that we do not get often here in Guernsey, I have seen on visits to the UK recently, but there are other familiar birds that have become unfamiliar. Some examples:

.

Red-throated Diver - used to be easily the diver I saw most often, as it is the common one off Yorkshire. Not seen since 2002.

Ring-necked Duck - the wandering West Yorkshire 2 or 3 were seen yearly between 1989 and 1998. Not seen since.

Smew - a regular mid-winter visitor to West Yorkshire and Chew. Again, not seen since 1998. 

Ruddy Duck - will I ever see one again?

Cuckoo - last one seen or heard was in the UK in 2003 - incredible!

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - way back in 1997 in Temple Newsam woods.

Marsh Tit and Willow Tit - not since 2003 in the Norfolk Brecks. I used to see the latter in the copses around my home town near Leeds. I wonder if they still live there?

.

 

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Temple Newsam,1993  -  Red-throated Diver, Lowther Lake, 1996

.

nonsense : Not at all nonsense actually, but great news - the States have just voted in favour of re-building our school! So in two years time, we should have a state-of-the-art, brand new building with proper facilities. Our school at the moment is pretty much falling apart - only this week I had to abandon a practical lesson due to a gas leak, and last month the boys changing rooms were closed as part of the ceiling fell through. So I will have a proper Science Lab to teach in rather than at the moment a converted classroom with a few gas taps and 2 sinks shoved in it, with only 24 places to work at (despite 3 of my classes having more than 25 pupils). Also there'll be an astroturf pitch, a swimming pool and a proper gym. Of course the priority is the staffroom facilities and we will be asking for a well-stocked kitchen, armchairs, plasma tv, playstations and waitresses.

.

Howard the Chicken - a frequent sight in our garden (no we are not hillbillies).

Named by Abigail after Howard from Take That.

 

 

 

 

 

Wed 17th November 2010

Posted on November 17, 2010 at 3:55 PM

birds : I have been very restrained with the birding these last two weeks. It would be very bad form, after a week birding away from the family, to be spending time in the field. Also my lunchtime and pre/post-work sessions have been restricted due to extra revision lessons, report-writing, detentions and poor weather. All these ramblings are of course excuses why my Guernsey year list is still 160 and three short of beating my record. So my target for the next month is to get these three species lopped off, which should be pretty straightforward since there are some obvious ones I haven't got yet (I won't say which as this will deffo jinx them!). This week I have been out more often but it has been wet and chilly and there's not a lot of life out there.

.

Little Grebe, Reservoir

.

nonsense : My good friends the Gyr Crakes have brought out a new song and video for your enjoyment.

.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.

.

Sat 30th October 2010

Posted on November 14, 2010 at 4:20 PM

This is the final entry about my birding trip to the UK over half-term - If you'd like to read it from the start, scroll down to Sat 23rd October and work upwards.

.

Scilly Trip 2010 - day eight

.

I had to be at the airport around lunchtime, so I had a few hours to kill, so I thought I would visit the RSPB Reserve at Aylesbeare Common, not least because there had been a Great Grey Shrike there recently. It was quite a large area to cover however and I couldn't find the shrike. But it was pleasant enough with plenty of woodland andheathland birds around - quite a few Dartford Warblers, multiple Jays and Coal Tits, plus a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

.

Aylesbeare Common, Devon

.

Dartford Warbler, Aylesbeare Common

.

I had a breakfast/lunch in a tea shop in Topsham - a very pleasant village - and flew back to Guernsey early afternoon. In the end I had a pleasing trip - one new bird, and I'd say 5 other proper rarities. And the bonus was that there was nothing rare in Guernsey whilst I was away. So the only thing I missed was Rosie and the children!

.

Fri 29th October 2010

Posted on November 13, 2010 at 3:05 PM

Scilly Trip 2010 - day seven

.

And so I packed my case in the room, ready to head across to the pub for breakfast. It was a pig awful day and so it was still dark out, so there was no rush. I hadn't heard news of the Green Heron yesterday and I still could get no internet access on my phone, so I gave Birdline SW a quick ring to see if it was still there.

.

And "Blimey O'Reilly!" - the first message was of an American Bittern, barely 8 miles away from where I was standing!! The last twitchable American Bittern in Britain was in 1991, twenty winters ago. I remembered this well because I saw it! I was still at University and was offered a lift up to Blackpool with one of the local Bristol birders mid-week, which meant skiving off lectures for the day. It was freezing cold but we saw it well in the reeds.

.

So, very exciting indeed, I wolfed down my breakfast and headed off North - quite relaxed though, as unlike most of the other twitchers making their way there, it was already on my list. Parking in the village of Zennor, following the instructions on the message, I set off up the hill towards the higher tops of Trewey Common. The wind was right in my face, and there was wetness in it, making the walk up the slope very difficult - especially for the couple of old geezers I overtook on the way. And very annoyingly, I could see ahead that other twitchers had just parked on the roadside, avoiding the walk.

.

I carried on struggling up the hill and when I got to the top I could just make out a line of birders further along the road. I was just making my way towards them when a large flappy bird caught my eye to my right. I looked through the bins and watched the American Bittern fly past me. I watched it for a good ten seconds or so until it dropped behind an escarpment. A few minutes later and I would have missed it - it was apparently flushed by an over-zealous twitcher but I dunno about that. The old guys I overtook missed it. Not the greatest of views but I was pleased I saw it quite well in flight, albeit against the sky. It appeared more heron-like than a Common Bittern in structure. I decided that staying for another view seemed futile and so I went back to the car, which turned out to be a good choice as it was only seen twice again briefly in flight all day.

.

There was no chance of photos, but with the modern technology of Google Streetview and a bit of Photoshop, I constructed a reconstruction of what I saw (well maybe it wasn't that close!)

.

The weather was still poor and I had driven away from most of the cornish valleys, so I thought I'd make my way up to the Lost Gardens again (it was seen yesterday). On the way I passed the Hayle Estuary, so I gave it twenty minutes or so there, but there was nothing too exciting to report. A Ruff, a Med Gull, and lots of Wigeon and gulls.

.

The Hayle Estuary, Cornwall

.

.

Med Gull, Hayle

.

feeding Wigeon, Hayle

.

So next I made my way back to St. Austell and back to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I had no news from this morning, but I was pretty confident that it would still be there - but would I be able to find it? The lady at the paying kiosk told me that it had just been seen by one of the staff members at the top Jungle Pond, and so I sauntered down the hill to get a nice easy tick.

.

......or so I thought. Straight to the Top Jungle Pond - no sign. Gave it a wee while in case it was just hidden, but no. Tried the other 4 jungle ponds - no. Went down into the Lost Valley and checked those ponds - no. Back up to Jungle Ponds - NO! I was getting major deja-vu - it couldn't happen again could it? I sat on a bench for a rest - I thought "I don't care if they shut at 5 - I am not moving 'til I see it!" - yes, I was getting a bit stressy. There were other birders arriving regularly - presumably on the way to or back from the Bittern - so at least this time there were more eyes.

.

Calming down, I wandered back towards the Jungle and on the boardwalk by the second pond, there was a gathering of birders, I rushed over and looked ahead and . . . . .

.

Green Heron, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

.

So my tick for the trip - it only took me about 5 hours of searching and £20 of entry fees. If you include Guernsey, this is bird number 385 for Britain (374 without Channel Islands sightings). It is also number 526 for the Western Pal. And it was really a nice bird, but very slow moving and it easily disappeared from view.

.

.

.

.

So with the heavy weight lifted from my shoulders, I sped back towards Exeter where I had a room booked at the Holiday Inn. As I approached the city, I realised that there was probably a good hour of light left, so I detoured towards Exminster Marshes. I soon found out that my road atlas was poor and the signage useless and got lost down the Devon lanes, and eventually got to the marshes as it was starting to get dusky. I parked up and checked a few ditches and pools and quickly found that the Glossy Ibis was, rather conveniently, feeding away on the closest pool to the car park. I am surprised I managed any shots in the gloom but here they are.

.

Glossy Ibis, Exminster Marshes

.

.

So, a superb end to the day. Only my second sighting of Glossy Ibis in Britain - the last was way, way back in May 1989 at Fairburn Ings. The hotel room was luxurious compared to the others and they give you two choices of pillows, soft or firm. I went to see another film, but this time at the multiplex type place - it was "RED" which was very enjoyable indeed, although I don't think any Oscars are in the offing. I hadn't eaten any tea at all, so I bought some snacks, which I am loathe to do at these places as they totally fleece you. So I ordered a medium coke and popcorn,and the guy says I could "Go Large!"  for an extra 30p - so why not. And he hands me a cup of coke which must have been about a litre, and a tub of popcorn I could've sailed to sea in! I couldn't even physically hold them whilst I got my ticket from my pocket. No wonder there is an obesity problem when just 30p can turn you from a normal hungry person into some disgusting, gluttonous pig!

.

.

 

Thu 28th October 2010

Posted on November 12, 2010 at 4:30 PM

Scilly Trip 2010 - day six

.

My last day on Scilly was slightly later starting as I had to pay for the guest house and check out. My flight back was not until late afternoon so I had a good six hours birding available. On the cashpoint machine in Hugh Town was a Feathered Ranunculus. The ones here on Scilly are a different subspecies 'scillonea', which are apparently darker, but don't look too different to the Guernsey ones.

.

Feathered Ranunculus ssp. scillonea, Hugh Town

.

With all the positive talk about this tiny accipiter - (which I'm sure must be pronounced 'ackipiter', rather than what most people seem to say 'axsipiter') - last night at the bird log, I suddenly thought that if it does turn out to be Sharp-shinned and I didn't tick it off whilst I was here then it would really be a 'D'oh', kick-myself situation. So with just today left, and nothing new to go see, I decided that if I tramped round the North end of Marys, which is the area it has been seen recently, then I might bump into it. Walking past Porthloe, there were three Pale-bellied Brent Geese feeding in the choppy bay - a Scilly tick.

.

Pale-bellied Brent, Porthloe

.

So until early-afternoon I gave it some welly up North - Golf Course, to Telegraph, to Newford, to Maypole to Pelistry, back to Maypole, back to Telegraph, back to Newford, etc. A Raven over Pelistry was new for the trip, and the obligatory Yellow-browed Warbler called by Newford Duck Pond. At the latter site there was a temporary gathering when a brief sighting was claimed, but I gave it half-an-hour and nothing. So I was happy that I'd put in the effort, but with no success I returned to Longstones Cafe for the last time.

.

I had two more hours before the bus pick-up, so I thought i'd give Lower Moors a final try. Since I had been walking all morning, I thought a bit of wait-and-see birding was in order, so I stayed in amongst the trees for over an hour enjoying the feeding warblers and crests. A Yellow-browed Warbler showed very well right above my head, easily the best of the trip, and a very small hawk zipped through the trees which stood a chance of being the mystery bird, but no chance of being at all sure. I caught sight of a pale Chiffchaff briefly and it soon began to sing oddly, and so I assumed this was the reappearance of the Siberian Chiffchaff. I whipped out the Remembird and managed to get a decent recording despite the now blustery wind whistling past the microphone.

.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.

.

 spectogram of Siberian Chiffchaff song, Lower Moors

.

That this was a Siberian Chiffchaff's song was a bit of a presumption as I really couldn't remember what they were supposed to sing like, but when I returned to Guernsey and compared with recordings, it seemed a pretty good match. The song is much less regular than a typical Chiffchaff, up and down, with many warbling phrases. I did also catch a couple of calls from this bird which also suggest Siberian Chiffchaff.

.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.

.

spectogram of Siberian Chiffchaff call, Lower Moors

.

The calls are quite faint but can be heard at 1 and 2 seconds in. As can also be seen on the spectogram, these calls do not clearly rise like the typical 'hueet' Chiffchaff call, and at about 4.5 kHz are too high pitched. Common Chiffchaffs do give other calls sometimes, but these are usually slightly falling in pitch. I think with the 'sound approach' evidence above, I am happy to call the bird a 'tristis' Chiffchaff. So this is really a subspecies tick for me in Britain. I have seen a couple before almost certain, but I have rarely heard any calls never mind a singer.

.

So at 5 o'clock I was sat in the Scilly Airport terminal ready to depart the islands. Here are some more photos of Scilly I haven't managed to squeeze in yet.

.

Hugh Town main street

.

.

Holy Vale - it's a bit dense in there!

.

.

There are only two teams!

.

.

view from Longstones Cafe

.

.

Porthellick Pool

.

The Chopper

.

Arriving back at Penzance I was hoping for maybe a short while birding at Marazion, but the weather was too dark and dismal. So I drove up to St. Just where I had a room booked for the night, as I planned to give the Cornish valleys a bash in the morning. I was in the Wellington Hotel, an old inn on the town square and as the woman led me through the back door into the yard I thought 'oh no, not another pig sty!'. Well it was a similar situation - perhaps the stables - but much, much better, en suite and a massive bed. I ate a V-burger in the pub and failed to find any wifi in the town. So, I didn't know any info, but I hoped that something had turned up for tomorrow,and more especially that the elusive Green Heron was still about!

.

(post-script : the small accipiter was eventually trapped on Scilly, and was found to be an exceptionally small young male Sparrowhawk - phew!)