Friday, 30 December 2011

British Birding Highlights 2011

In birding and twitching terms 2011 was a very good year for me, the year got off to a very good start where I added Coues’ Arctic Redpoll to the year list on the 1st of January, I continued to see ‘Arctic Rolls’ right up until I saw my last of the year on the 26th of February. January was far from quiet and I saw some brilliant birds, I dipped the putative adult Slaty-backed Gull at Rainham Marshes RSPB on the 15th however this blow was softened by my first Caspian Gull (at the time were hard birds to see in Durham). February was fairly productive and the month started off with a pilgrimage to Norfolk for the Northern Harrier which performed well, I also added Ferruginous Duck to the life list. Toward the middle of the month I again dipped the Slaty-backed Gull but was slightly more successful and managed good views of the Oriental Turtle Dove in Oxfordshire the same day, this bird was a welcome and unexpected addition to my British List. April saw things liven up and mid month I added a stunning male Subalpine Warbler which spent 2 days on Holy Island to my life list. A few days later I was back up near Holy Island at Bamburgh to see a male Black Scoter, another bird I had not expected to see in the UK so soon. May saw a Stone Curlew down at Teesside, this bird possibly more than most others on the British List is a species I never anticipated seeing in Durham. The bird was the first twitchable in Durham after previous record was a one observer and the previous two were shot in 1800’s and early 1900’s. A male White-winged Black Tern mid month was a truly stunning individual at East Chevington NWT and performed well if not a little distantly. A trip back down to Norfolk and Suffolk toward the end of May allowed me good views (for species and location) of Golden Oriole in Suffolk, the same trip saw me adding 3 Red-necked Phalaropes; two in Norfolk and one in Lincolnshire. A Purple Heron at Minsmere was only my second in the UK and encouraging seeing this stunning bird making regular appearances at Minsmere RSPB. On the same trip I added a slightly more that ‘dodgy’ male Golden Pheasant at Sculthorpe Moor NR; however this bird wasn’t added to my BOU list. I finished the trip to Norfolk and Suffolk by retuning on the evening of the 29th of May and driving to Low Hauxley NR to add Terek Sandpiper to my British List after having missed two birds previously in Durham over subsequent years.

 (Coues' Arctic Redpoll - © A Certain Stringer)

(Terek Sandpiper - © Andrew Kinghorn)

June got off to a bang with a cracking male Surf Scoter added to my British and Durham list, this individual was the first twitchable Surf Scoter in Durham. One of the highlights of most birders years turned up in early June; the female White-throated Robin was undoubtedly a highlight for many birders including myself. Only the third for the UK and the first ever twitchable bird, it proved very popular and most people managed to connect with this special visitor. Made more special for me as it also doubled up as a county Durham tick! A visit to Wykeham Forrest in North Yorkshire produced at least 3 different Honey Buzzards with males showing amazingly well flying over the crowd looking down on us! Also seeing the display flight was very special, a highlight of the year for me. Mid June produced a first summer drake White-winged Scoter on the sea off Murcar Links Golf Course in Aberdeenshire, although not the most handsome of birds it provided for an exciting twitch with the difficulty of picking the bird out amongst the thousands of the accompanying scoters. The scoter was a first for the UK and perhaps long overdue, lets see if it returns in 2012 to allow those who missed it in 2011 a chance to see this educational bird. First day in July brought a summer plumage White-winged Black Tern to Teesside, sadly this bird was a one evening wonder and wasn’t present for the masses the next day. The bird was a Durham tick for me and the first one for a few years. Mid June produced my 300th BOU bird in Britain in the form of a popular Marsh Sandpiper at Blacktoft Sands RSPB in East Yorkshire. This bird was pretty obliging and allowed for good views and a chance to study the bird. A few days later a White-rumped Sandpiper turned up on the causeway at Saltholme, no doubt to the delight of those who missed the one evening wonder the previous year. The end of July saw and unprecedented passage of European Storm Petrels along the East Coast of England with Durham racking up the highest totals, on the 26th an incredible 358 passed by Whitburn Observatory a new East cost record held by Durham. Thankfully I was around to witness the event and saw 42 of these birds that day, including the 300th bird to go past. The month ended on a high with a Semipalmated Sandpiper at Saltholme, again on the causeway. This was a county tick for me and showed well with a Temminck’s Stint in summer plumage, a plumage we are not used to seeing in Durham.

 (Marsh Sandpiper - © Andrew Kinghorn)

 (Honey Buzzard - © Adam Williams)

 (White-throated Robin - © Andrew Kinghorn)

 (Semipalmated Sandpiper - © Ian Forrest)

(White-rumped Sandpiper - © Ian Forrest)

The start of August was fruitful and produced a returning Bonaparte’s Gull at Whitburn Steel in Durham; thankfully this bird was slightly earlier in its return this year and had retained much of its stunning summer plumage. A Wilson’s Phalarope mid month was a more than welcome addition at Greatham Creek down Teesside and constituted to the only bird in the UK this year, I had missed one previous bird and dipped another, so I was a little more than pleased at the arrival of this bird. Another White-winged Black Tern a few days later at Saltholme was moulting out of summer plumage but was still looking fairly stunning; this was my third in 2011! On the same pool it was favouring was an eclipse Blue-winged Teal, although it may seem unkind it was certainly one of the most uninspiring birds of the year. I ended August with my first ever Long-tailed Skua flying south past Whitburn Observatory in Durham, although very distant the bird was a lifer. August got off to another great start with an American Golden Plover putting on a great performance at Whitburn Steel in Durham; the bird had still retained some of its summer plumage and was therefore fairly attractive. A few days later and a nearly full summer plumage Sharp-tailed Sandpiper spent a day at Greatham Creek in Teesside, again this was almost certainly the same returning bird from last year and due to the earlier arrival it was in pretty much full summer plumage making it a very attractive looking individual. Mid September saw an American Black Tern turning up at Covenham Reservoir in Lincolnshire, this provided to be a very obliging bird and I managed brilliant views of the species both in flight and on deck. The end of September provided me with another really unexpected bird in the form of a Sandhill Crane at Loch of Strathberg RSPB in Aberdeenshire. After having missed the Orkney bird 2 years ago I was sure that my chance with the species in the UK had all but gone. The bird later headed down the coast and was seen in Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk. Sadly I narrowly missed it in Durham.

 (American Golden Plover - © Adam Williams)

 (Sharp-tailed Sandpiper - © Andrew Kinghorn)

 (Bonaparte's Gull - © Andrew Kinghorn)

 (Sandhill Crane - © Andrew Kinghorn)

 (Wilson's Phalarope - © Ian Forrest)

(White-winged Black Tern - © Andrew Kinghorn)

Yet again October got off to an amazing start with the North of England’s first ever Solitary Sandpiper which performed well in a farmer’s field in Lancashire. Although occasionally hard to observe at a distance it was still identifiable at the range it was being viewed at. A Red-breasted Goose of unknown origin turned up at Scaling Dam in North Yorkshire and at the time of writing the birds origins are still under dispute and it is present at Harewood House in North Yorkshire at the present, not the best place to go to give a bird the best credentials! A trip to Dumfries and Galloway allowed me to add Long-billed Dowitcher to my British list, making up for regret of not twitching the long staying Port Carlisle bird two years ago. Only days later a Lesser Scaup turned up in the Tynemouth area of Northumberland and although at first mobile it settled down to winter at Marden Quarry. It was not middle of October an a Red-flanked Bluetail at Whitburn Costal Park was a welcome addition to the county life list and was one of three in Durham in 2011. The pain of dipping the Norfolk Rufous-tailed Robin was eased by bagging a Glossy Ibis and four Snow Geese at Saltholme on the way back from the dip, both birds were county lifers. Only days later Durham was treated to its first Pallid Harrier, and a truly stunning juvenile to be a first, it spent most of its stay at Dorman’s Pool and wandered around the area for the next few days before moving on altogether. I finished the month of nicely with the addition a more than welcome juvenile Purple Heron to my county life list, I had missed the previous two and the last one by a matter of minutes.

 (Glossy Ibis - © Ian Forrest)

 (Lesser Scaup - © Derek Charlton)

 (Pallid Harrier - © Ian Forrest)

By November I was expecting things to calm down a bit but it was not to be, the first week had me driving to Spurn to see an Isabelline Wheatear, the bird performed well if not a little mobile during its two day stay. The next day a long drive down to Sheffield and then Shropshire produced excellent if not a little distant views of my first Steppe Grey Shrike, a bird I feel surely deserves to be given full species status soon. Only a few days rest and it was back down to North Yorkshire again to see a Desert Wheatear, another first for me and the bird put on a nice little show allowing for close study and enjoyment. A Hume’s Warbler a few days later at South Gare was another welcome addition to my British list having not been able to go for the previous bird that wintered in the village of Norton. This bird performed amazingly well and allowed again for close study. The next day was fairly hectic and produced amazing views of my first Greater Yellowlegs in Northumberland, along with a Grey Phalarope which at the time was also a lifer (I know, embarrassing!), the day proved to be truly memorable with great views of a fairly sizeable flock of Tundra Bean Geese at Hurworth Burn Reservoir along with another juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper at Greatham Creek down at Teesside. The following weekend I was up on Holy Island enjoying an Eastern Black Redstart which was a little more than lost, if it hadn’t of been for the Kent bird in 2011 this bird would have no doubt been far more popular.

 (Desert Wheatear - © Andrew Kinghorn)

 (Eastern Black Redstart - © Adam Williams)

 (Greater Yellowlegs & Grey Phalarope - © Andrew Kinghorn)

(Hume's Warbler - © Adam Williams)

December was not the quietest month but did allow for my wallet to recover slightly! A Siberian Stonechat conveniently turned up months after it was split by the BOU as a separate species, fortunately I was no further than 5 minutes from where the bird had been found and I had some pretty good views of the bird before it went to roost. It was seen the following morning but sadly went missing; death was sadly a possibility for its sudden disappearance. The following morning saw me at Wolferton Triangle in Norfolk where I had some very brief views of a male Golden Pheasant a BOU tick and a slightly less dodgy bird than the first generation Sculthorpe birds I ticked on my personal list earlier in the year. Later in the morning I went for what I was truly after; a Western Sandpiper at Cley Marshes NWT. The bird performed very well and both short and long distances and allowed me to observe the fiery red fringes to the scapulars and tertials, along with the sewing machine like feeding action. Toward the end of the month I was able to observe my first first-winter Caspian Gull down on Seaton Common in Teesside, I saw several during the month but the first bird was a county tick for me. The end of the month allowed me brilliant views of a male Desert Wheatear at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea in Northumberland, the same day I had amazingly close views of a photogenic Iceland Gull at Amble harbour. The end of the month allowed for one final highlight in the form of my favourite bird; 2 immature White-tailed Eagles at Vane Farm RSPB in Perth and Kinross. They are still rare birds on the East Coast of Scotland and Loch Leven is looking like the first location where the birds may attempt to breed on the east coast.

 (Desert Wheatear - © Andrew Kinghorn)

 (Siberian Stonechat - © Ian Forrest)

(Iceland Gull - © Andrew Kinghorn)

If I was asked to pick a bird of the year I don't think I would like to assign it to one bird in particular, so this year I am going to have birds of the year. The two winners are Sandhill Crane & White-throated Robin. Both birds performed really well for me and I very much so enjoyed seeing them, definitely my highlights.  

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

* Merry Christmas *

This will be the last time I update my blog before Christmas Day, therefore I would like to wish all my blogger readers a very Merry Christmas.

Every year I share a video, so this year I have decided to use Once in Royal David's City:

(Above is the spot believed to be the exact location of the birth of Jesus Christ - Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem - © - Andrew Kinghorn)

He came down to earth from Heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall:
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

" Merry Christmas "

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Embarrassing Grebe..

On Saturday gone I was down Teesside again and my first port of call was Seaton Common where on arrival Dave Foster had found a 2nd winter Caspian Gull on view, I studied the bird for a while before it took flight and was lost amongst the gulls. Sadly I didn’t see another during the morning Gulling session. I decided that I would have a dodge along to Hartlepool Headland and try for the Glaucous Gull; it had now been located at the Fish Quay at the Headland. It took a while but eventually I saw the bird and then a few other times, however all sightings were brief as it disappeared out of view as the Fish Quay is inaccessible for the general public. It was a good day and an enjoyable couple of hours.

Today I went back down to Teesside with the hope of seeing the Slavonian Grebe; very embarrassingly this was a county tick for me. Having never found my own or twitched one in Durham before, this bird showed well and what a nice bird to have as my first. Whilst at the Headland the other highlights included Purple Sandpipers and at least 2 Mediterranean Gulls. One of the birds with nearly its full summer hood as the pictures below will show. Sadly no sign of the Glaucous Gull today but it didn’t appear that much action was going on at the Fish Quay today so it was probably either out at sea with the trawlers or sitting on a rooftop in Hartlepool somewhere. 

 (Rock Pipit -  © Andrew Kinghorn)

 (Red-throated Diver - © Andrew Kinghorn)

(Slavonian Grebe - © Andrew Kinghorn)

Also the two different Headland Mediterranean Gulls:

 (Mediterranean Gull - © Andrew Kinghorn)
Note that on this bird its retaining quite a lot of its summer plumage.

(Mediterranean Gull -© Andrew Kinghorn)
This is clearly a different bird, the hood is not as obvious as in the bird above and P9 & P10 appear to have thin black fringes to the inner webs.

I decided to have some lunch and then head on down to Seaton Common for some afternoon Gulling, after 2 packets of crisps and some chocolate (healthy living) I made my way to Seaton Common. I scanned the gulls with by bins from the car but no sign of anything jumping out at me, I decided that I was just wanting to stay in the warmth of the car so manned up and got out, set up my scope, and started scanning. After a few minutes I turned to the two guys to me left and said "I think I've got a Casp", waited a while and got a better view; it was a Caspian Gull. Sitting down it was still a fairy distinctive bird:
  • Nice white head with small beady eye and a mask around the eye.
  • The shawl like markings were present on the hindneck.
  • The bird overall looked like a miniature Great black-backed Gull, which I believe look similar.
  • The bird looked long in the body with long primaries and a fairly deep chest, this was easily discerned even thought the bird was at first sitting down in the grass. 
  • The tertials were solidly brown with fairly broad white fringes.
  • Long parallel sides bill was obvious even at range.
  • The upper scapulars and mantle is grey with dark markings throughout, making the bird look quite smart and fairly handsome.
 (Caspian Gull - © Andrew Kinghorn)

(Caspian Gull - © Andrew Kinghorn)

(Caspian Gull - © Andrew Kinghorn)

Sadly the gull got lost amongst the flock after about 10 minutes and another 30 minutes or so gulling produced nothing much out of the ordinary, I therefore took and long and fruitless walk from North Gare to Seaton Carew and back looking for Snow Bunting but yet again didn't see any. When I got back to the car a Short-eared Owl had just come out of roost and was hunting the common allowing for some fantastic views and got this poor video:

(Short-eared Owl - © Andrew Kinghorn)

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Monday, 19 December 2011

A Grand Day Out

A good day out today, first stop was Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, a short walk along the beach provided some cracking views of Sanderling. But it wasn't long until I spotted the Desert Wheatear on the bank, I had heard this bird was really obliging and wasn't bothered about people. The below photo will testify that! Was a lot more obliging that my first last month at Loftus in North Yorkshire. I think these are stunning little birds and I enjoyed watching and photographing this fantastic little bird. I thought to be honest this bird would be really struggling so exercised some caution, however it was catching loads of flys the 15 or so minutes whilst I was there. It did catch a few insects at my feet whilst I was there and remained active, here's hoping the little gem survives the winter months as it looks in good health. A check of the beach at Newbiggin revealed 2 Mediterranean Gulls.

Next stop was Cresswell Pond NWT which was fairly quite however a flyover Peregrine was nice, a couple hundred distant Pink-footed Geese, and a male Red-breasted Merganser were nice to see.

(Desert Wheatear - © Andrew Kinghorn)

After lunch a check of BirdGuides revealed an Iceland Gull had been found at Amble harbour so I went up to see if it was still there. It showed really well whilst I was there, as did the other local gulls. But it was fantastic to get some cracking views of this stunning species.

 (Iceland Gull - © Andrew Kinghorn)

 (Iceland Gull - © Andrew Kinghorn)

 (Iceland Gull - © Andrew Kinghorn)

(Iceland Gull © Andrew Kinghorn)

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Redpoll Identification

The following is a small article I wrote that should help with the identification and separation of the following Redpoll species:
  • Lesser
  • Mealy
  • Coues' Arctic
  • Hornemann's Arctic
Feel free to distribute it as you see fit if you want to do so. You can simply read it here on Blogger or you can Download it below. If you have any comments or  think there is something I have missed out or some information that you deem to be not factual then please get in touch. Other than that enjoy! 

Redpoll Identification

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A morning out and about

Spent the morning down at Hartlepool Headland in the hope I would catch up with the Great Northern Divers which had showed up mid-week ish and also get some better views of the Grey Phalarope. Sadly the latter species was conspicuous by its absence. Was good to catch up with some local and not so local birding mates. As is regular a good bit laugh was had, and during the conversations the Slender-billed Curlew crept in as did the "rokerjoker". 2 Great Northern Divers put on a really good show as did a Red-throated Diver and the local Gulls were a constant source of entertainment. Nothing really out of the ordinary apart from a Glaucous Gull, it put in a very brief appearance by flying over the pub next to the Andy Capp statue before flying out over the town and being lost to view. A self-find for me and Chris (Northumberland birder, can't remember your last name. Ooops), spotted the bird at pretty much the same time. Was quite a humorous moment when we both went "Glaucous" at the same time.

A very nice morning out. Great Northern Diver takes me to 240 in Durham for this year.

(Great Northern Diver - © Ian Forrest)

Until next time, Foghorn out!

Monday, 5 December 2011

You've come a long way! Both of ya'

Saturday was spend down on the North Tees Marshes and to be specific at Seaton Common. On arrival it was clear the Gulls were just not playing ball and most of the birds were not roosting on Seaton Common itself so interest turned to Geese. Had brilliant views of the European White-fronted Geese that seem to have taken up a form of residence here. I was checking North Gare for the second time that day looking for Snow Bunting and Lapland Bunting when I received a phone call from Chris Bell (cheers again Chris) to say a Siberian Stonechat had just been found at Zinc Works road! It would appear I had missed the bird but then the call went up and someone had it. I managed to get views of the bird in flight and some cracking views of the bird perched up nicely. A bit of a stunner! This was a British tick for me, it has just recently been split from European Stonechat and is therefore now classed as a full species. Its not to difficult to see why! The photos will ofcourse confirm this. Bit unfortunate the bird appears to have now gone as I would have liked a better and more prolonged view as I saw it just before it went to roost, but not to worry. There should be others in Durham in my life time (I hope!)

 (Siberian Stonechat - © Ian Forrest)

 (Siberian Stonechat - © Ian Forrest)

Sunday was a busy day and I headed on down to Norfolk for the Sandpiper that was clearly doing most peoples heads in! It was first put out a Semipalmated Sandpiper and then re-identified as a Western! I has looked at this bird from the minute news broke it might have been a Western and at first I was firmly in the Semi-p camp from the photos I had seen. However as the week went on new photos emerged showing some key ID criteria and some interesting features that pointed toward Western Sandpiper. Some photos were uploaded showing the fringing to the mantle feathers and the lower scapulars, plus the fact the bill looks to long for Semi-p I was convinced (like many others) this bird was indeed a Western Sandpiper and not a Semipalmated. Went down to Norfolk with Tom Middleton and we headed first to Wolferton triangle, after a while I had my first ever tickable BOU Golden Pheasant, it was a male aswell! Poor views but was still a BOU tick after having seen the fairly dodgy birds at Sculthorpe Moor, these birds are less dodgy than the Sculthorpe birds (apparently). We then headed on down to Cley Marshes NWT and we headed straight for the hide where the Western Sandpiper was. It was still present and showing at really close range just outside the hide! We had distant views of the bird aswell, most of the time it was fairly close allowing us to study and enjoy the bird. Here are my comments on the bird having seen it in the flesh:
  • Can appear occasionally short and dumpy.
  • Has this habit of running like a Sanderling when feeding. Not too dissimilar to the feeding habits of the Dunlin's it was associating with.
  • Its feeding action is mainly probing, with a drill like motion. Fairly distinctive, and cannot recall having witnessed Semipalmated Sandpiper feeding like this with the birds I have seen. 
  • White underbelly that extends onto the 'shoulders' making distinctive oval like markings on this area.
  • Bill was long and obvious, bill was a good size for birds size.
  • Crown was a dark rufous colour, contrasting with rest of the head.
  • Legs were not dissimilar to Semipalmated Sandpiper or Dunlin. However photos do show palmations between the toes eliminating runt Dunlin
  • When alert the bird looks very Dunlin like indeed! Pictures are not good to go off when making a judgment on this bird. See it in the field and I believe it is fairly straightforward and points way more to Western Sandpiper than Semipalmated.

Brilliant bird and a brilliant day! Got home extremely tired, but was it worth it? Ofcourse it was! 3 lifers in one weekend in winter...wasn't expecting that. But the numbers don't really matter(?) what matters is I enjoyed the birds I saw. The thought of where the Western Sandpiper was from and its rarity really appeals, and I love waders!

 (Western Sandpiper - © Dave Barnes)

(Western Sandpiper with Dunlin - © Dave Barnes)

(Western Sandpiper - © Andrew Kinghorn)

Until next time, Foghorn out!