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!

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