Well it may seem like a long time ago now, but I thought I should finally get around to telling you about my team’s birdrace. I loved it!
Firstly, I got to spend the weekend with my Dad which is always good and secondly, we saw far more bird species than I had ever imagined!
The night before my team (Me, my Dad, Ken and Dave) went for dinner at the Seacroft in Trearddur Bay where we took advantage of their two for one deal – a perk of hanging around these windy shores in winter time. Here we planned where we would head the following morning on our birdrace. We’d already decided that an early start wasn’t the way forward for us, especially as one of our team has a problem with getting up early (uh humm, Dave!) and opted for latter six hours of daylight.
Starting at South Stack and after a hearty breakfast (always), Ken, Dave and I set off down the path from Plas Nico car park down the path to Ellin’s Tower. If you have visited the reserve before, that is the path from the lower car park diagonally through the heath to Ellin’s Tower. If you haven’t visited the reserve before (get yourself over here!), Ellin’s Tower is the RSPB’s lookout over the breeding seabird colony which is open for visitors April through to September – a point of note being the new visitor centre and cafe on the reserve so now you get a warm welcome when visiting any day of the year! I digress, My Dad had headed up the hill in his car where we were going to meet him after our initial pre-eleven o’clock reccy.
Soon our plans were dashed though as I saw a ‘little brown job’ on a telephone wire above the heath. I shouted it out and we were able to pin-point it as a Meadow Pipit (the sort of bird that might craftily evade us on a bird race), as I scanned the heather I saw a female Stonechat standing proud atop a gorze bush. That was it, we just had to start – we couldn’t risk that those two birds would show up again somewhere else. Dad would have to miss them. Sorry Dad! From here we charged along the path to Ellin’s tower as now the clock was ticking. Add Magpie.
From Ellin’s Tower we saw thousands of Guillemots and a rapid scan for Razorbills was to no avail. There were also a couple of Fulmars nestled on the ledges. Tick Tick. Making our way up to Dad on the road above Ken and I saw and heard a Rock Pipit zooming around the cliff tops. Get in. When we got to the top we stopped for a group photo and got Dad up to speed with the cliff-side species adding a Kestrel, Greater Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and a last-minute obliging Chough.
Looking out from the car as we headed back down the hill we saw Starlings and Jackdaws with a Blackbird and Songthrush in my garden.
Leaving South Stack and heading towards Holyhead we stopped to scan the small reservoir on the side of the road and picked up Gadwall, Coot, Tufted Duck, Teal and Pochard. A Black-headed Gull flew over. This is the point at which Dave was mostly lost to the world of Dad’s camera – worked quite well really as we birded and he recorded.
A Blue Tit flashed across the road, only visible to me and my Dad in the front of the car and the House Sparrow bush in Llaingoch did not let us down. In fact, Dad pulled up on the side of the road in this unassuming looking place on the outskirts of Holyhead and found us Greenfinch, Collared Dove, Dunnock, Robin, Carrion Crow and a Mistle Thrush!
A Feral Pigeon flew high above the houses as we drove down towards Holyhead Harbour overlooking the breakwater (1.5 miles long don’t you know?!). Scanning the harbour we were happy to pick up Black Guillemot, Oystercatcher and an unexpected Razorbill.
Quickly back into the car and along to Soldier’s Point, in the shadow of Holyhead Mountain and flanked by the breakwater. Down in the sea we saw a Curlew atop an exposed rock and the usual Redshank – I’m sure he’s the same one…always there by himself. Also down by the waters edge was a Turnstone and there was a Little Grebe sailing the waters. Flitting around in the shrubs were a couple of Goldfinch and Ken spotted a ‘stripey-eyed guy’ for me to have a look at, a Redwing foraging amongst the blackbirds of the horse field. Behind us a Woodpigeon flapped it’s way into the trees. Next, much to my Dad’s embarrassment I announced that “I’ve got Great Tits” (an oldie but a goody and always completely by accident). We pop our heads round the grasses to seek out our familiar Water Rail but he’s a no show. Carrying on down the road we add Chaffinch and Wren. We couldn’t resist searching for our Water Rail again on the way back to car but he’s still not out to play. In his place we find a Grey Wagtail though (!!) and a Bullfinch shows us his rump. Elated with these bonus birds we march onwards. Ken as relentless as ever scours behind us as we near the car and picks up a Moorhen and behind that a Water Rail! There you are!!
Pied Wagtails escort us along the harbour-side where we see Common Gull (new for my Dad I think?), Shag, and Red-breasted Merganser.
I swear by there always being Rook in Morrisons car park so we head there on our way out of Holyhead, none. None in McDonalds’ car park either! “Rook” I scream as one zooms out of everybody else’s sight down Porth Dafarch Road. Damn!
It’s always a relief to pull in at Penrhos Coastal Park as you will always be greeted by some familiar faces, tick Mallard. We use scopes out on the estuary and see Dad’s first Brent Geese as well as Knot, Grey Plover, Curlew, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Shelduck, Goldeneye, Great Crested Grebe and Slavonian Grebe. At this point it suddenly dawned on us that we hadn’t yet been to many of the places on our list and we’d been out nearly two and a half hours. The clock suddenly seemed to have sped up. Not deterred we thought that there were a few key species we might hope to see in the woodland beyond the duck pond. A couple of small dudes zipped across the trees in front of our eyes. They evaded us for a few moments and then we had them again, a Coal Tit and a Siskin! On the otherside of the path a flock of Long-tailed Tits, it’s like the birds knew what we needed on our list. A magical moment in the woods.
Worried about time and having already seen some of the species we hoped to pick up there we ditched Trearddur Bay and headed straight for Four Mile Bridge and surveyed the Inland Sea. A flock of Lapwing overhead was our first of many sightings over the day. With many shore birds ticked off already we had to ignore the vast majority of the birds in terms of the birdrace, although Wigeon finally made an appearance! Using a scope though, Dave sprang back into action asking me who the black and white stripey guys were…his first Ringed Plover and a bird needed for our list. I can safely say that this was Dave’s bird of the day. A Meditteranean Gull was chilling out in the middle of the expanse. Then in the revelry of Dave’s find we nearly missed the Little Egret flying in right in front of our faces – Ken was nearly spitting feathers, how apt.
Passing out snacks around the car we moved on to Valley Lakes, our second RSPB reserve of the day. Almost apoplectic than none of the black birds around were Rooks I shouted up a field of ominous looking fellas skulking in a field beside the road we travelling on. Dad and I hopped out the car as Ken attended to his newly painful foot and tiptoed to look over the hedge (Dad is 6’3” so I’m pretty sure he didn’t tiptoe). Whoo hoo, a Rook. Finally.
Valley lakes is surrounded by the houses and runways of RAF Valley and we pulled up in a lay-by alongside the most accessible lake. As Dad, Ken and I picked up Shoveler (hundreds swarming around and around in a perfect circle), Mute Swan, Lesser Black-backed Gull (bonus) and Cormorant, Dave was being questioned by a man in uniform back at the car! You’d think scopes, binoculars, and loitering by the side of the road in a military area were perfectly normal, surely?!
On our way to pick up some more woodland species we stopped to look across fields close to Valley wetlands for more Geese species and were a tad disappointed to see only lovely Greylags. I desperately tried to put someone on to the Pheasant I could see many fields away but a working description evaded me as no one could see where I meant. But oh, a Raven honked way above us!
A Pheasant teetered by the edge of the road before we checked out the usual feeders at Presaddfed and clocked up a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Reed Bunting! Ken saw it first and we had to wait for it to show above the wall again. I willed a Nuthatch to make an appearance but no such luck.
A buzzard and father and daughter nearly come to blows as I criticise his stop-time. Apparently it has something to do with other road users, but I tried to explain that this was different. It was a birdrace!
A flock of Grey Plover have taken to the skies, but we have already counted these. Amongst them Ken spots a glittering golden gem, a Golden Plover. Hee hee.
Our list is looking pretty impressive by now, but there are more sites on the island we think we can make it to for some of those species we haven’t seen yet. As we wind our way across the island we keep an eye out for Fieldfare and soon see masses in a field. A quick stop and a tick. Then we only went and had a Merlin dashing across the fields to our left!! I was giddy (more than usual).
Ken had a ‘nailed-on’ spot for some Whooper Swans and unlike his ‘nailed-on’ spot for the Shropshire Starlings it was successful (read his Shropshire Starlings write-up in the previous blog)!
We paced on down the island to Benllech to search the sea and I’m afraid to say that I had to dash off with Dave to find a proper loo. I’m all for ‘nature wees’, but in Benllech I think it would be punishable by law. Whilst I was otherwise occupied Dad and Ken scoped out Common Scoter and a Great Northern Diver. Well done boys!
Hang on a minute, where has all the time gone?! There’s only an hour left and we are on precisely the opposite side of the island to where we planned to end up to spend time looking for Hen Harriers coming in to roost… Insert expletive here.
Well, we were here now so we’d thought we go for Snipe at Red Wharf Bay, the pointy-beaks weren’t playing, the Jack Snipe neither. Wasted more time! Full speed ahead across the island. Ken and I had taken full control now and decided that for sake of the race we’d sacrifice our Hen Harrier sighting, clock up some other species and go for the Harriers after our allotted time.
As we approached Llyn Coron near Aberffraw I spotted another bird of prey (I was having a good day!), this time a Sparrowhawk – tick! Ken watched as it zoomed down into the grasses and saw it dash back up as quickly as it had gone down. At this moment a male Hen Harrier emerged from nowhere – wow, wow, wow!!! My first Hen Harrier 🙂 And a stunning male, just as I had imagined and even better, it was still within our race time! What a high?! Unbelievable. We like to think that the Sparrowhawk thought *ummmm that looks tasty* only to be surprised by pouncing on the harrier – who knows??
Llyn Coron gave us Canada Goose and White-fronted Goose, thank you. There was a matter of minutes left in our six hours so we hot-footed it over to Malltraeth Cob. Ken and Dad picked up a Spotted Redshank as I sprinted along the cob. I was embarrassed to realise that I was racing towards Jane and David on their bird race and that I was thumping my way along the path (most un-birderly). Pintails, yes! With seconds to spare. Then I realised I was the only member of my team there…”DAVE!!DAVE!!” I bellowed along the cob (sorry quiet birders), he got there just in the nick of time.
Rejoining Dad and Ken back at the road, I caught up with elegant Spotted Redshank and was suddenly exhausted by our amazing, eventful day.
Dozily, I daydreamed in the car back to Menai Bridge and had time for a quick change of clothes and a cup of coffee before joining other bird racers in Bangor.
I was so pleased to hear how everybody else had gotten on that day in North Wales. Everyone was buzzing and I was so pleased that we had all done it. As mentioned previously, Dan, Nigel and Eddie won the race in our Area, only beaten by the Norfolk birders.
I am immensely proud of all your efforts. Thank you.
Even if you didn’t take part then please take the time to vote for your ‘best race’ and ‘best bird’ from the previous blog.
P.s- just as I’ve come to post this entry I have been sat in the office watching with satisfaction as my washing dries on the line and was fascinated by a Magpie in glorious plumage that swooped down into my garden, pecked around in the grass and then proceeded to hop in manic magpie style over to the bush in the corner. I saw him work his way up inside the bush and come out with a piece of nesting material as long as himself (including his tail), he struggled to get away as his wing got caught on his impressive find. Full of the joys of spring 🙂
As promised, here are the write-ups I’ve received from the bird race attendees… Have a read and vote for your favourite day out from the write-ups and pick your favourite bird also. Please interact as there prizes to be dolled out! There’s plenty to be getting through, but I can assure you they are all worth a read – maybe grab yourself a cup of tea and some biscuits before you sit down to judge!
Vote by “commenting” below the blog.
If you haven’t yet submitted a write-up, but would like to then please get it to me electronically by 5pm on Thursday so I can publish it on here for everyone to peruse! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
On Thursday 2nd, Ken joined Pat and Enid in Shropshire. Here’s what he had to say…
The Shropshire Starlings take on the Naturebites birdrace challenge.
Travelling in the freezer (no heater in my car) I resembled something like an icicle when I arrived in Shrewsbury to join Pat and Enid the other member of the ‘Starlings’ team. After a nice hot ‘cuppa’ we were off, the usual suspects on the rooftops, Starling (our first bird of course), House Sparrow and Jackdaw. We head off to a nailed-on lush field usually white with Swans but today it was green, no Swans! Our disappointment was short-lived when we spot a Buzzard sitting high in some distant trees and another scour of the no-swan field and a dark menacing shape had us reaching for our scopes, a Peregrine with wings spread shielding its kill is revealed, a magic moment!
On we go to Venus Pool nature reserve, a few finches and tit species on the feeders but not the hoped for Marsh or Coal Tits. Looking out from the hide window we viewed an arctic scene with the lake completely frozen and no birds! Not downhearted we move on to the nearby boating lake, a deep lake and ice-free, here we found Great Creasted and Little Grebes, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye. We are hoping to play our trump card next, a huge field that had been planted with all kinds of seed-producing crops to entice finches and buntings to winter here. As we rounded the hedgerow HORROR!! a tractor was ploughing it’s way thru’ the crop having already flattened half the area. Luckily for us the birds had only moved into the hedges and soon we had added Linnet, Goldfinch, Bullfinch plus many Reed Buntings and stunning Yellowhammers! One or two Fieldfare and Redwing plus Stock Dove made this an excellent start to our day.
Driving along I saw a Kestrel thru’ a gap in the hedgerow, we pulled-up but couldn’t relocate the bird, unlucky? maybe not as a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew in as we searched. The River Severn was our next point of call as we parked near Atcham Bridge, a nice group of Goosander on the river and a solitary Snipe at the waters edge.
On we go and a long drive to Ellesmere, a good portion of the lake is frozen but in the clear water a single Pochard is a welcome addition but is a poor return for the distance covered.
Wood Lane NR is nearby and a huge number of gulls are on the gravel-pits, many Lesser Back-blacked Gulls plus Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull all bite the dust. A few Shelduck are standing on the icy pool and Siskin and Goldcrest are found feeding in the alders.
We finish the day at Colemere and score well as we walk the surrounding woodland finding Long-tailed Tit, Treecreeper and Nuthatch and on a single sweep I count an amazing 93 Goosander on the mere, wow!
Three minutes after our 6 hour time-limit is reached 2 Cormorants fly over the car and as we get back to base a pair of Collared Doves are laughing at us from Pat’s roof, another species we had searched vainly for all day but that’s the up and down’s of a birdrace.
All in all we enjoyed a great day’s birding and found 61 species.
On Friday 3rd Neil did a bird race on his lonesome around Norfolk…
When Kathy asked me if I would like to take part in her bird race, my mind immediately clicked into action with a cunning plan (Lord Blackadder would have described it as ‘a plan so cunning you could brush your teeth with it’). I am researching for Edition Three of Best Birdwatching Sites in Norfolk for Buckingham Press, so I could kill two birds with one stone (if you will pardon the rather inappropriate expression). I could visit a few sites to see what had changed from Edition Two and see some birds for Kathy’s race in the process.
My initial plan was to cajole Ken Reeves and Heacham Charlie onto my team to form a formidable Norfolk partnership. Ken had kindly offered to let me use his bungalow in Hunstanton while I was researching, though was worried he would have to fumigate his propery afterwards, How rude! In the end, circumstances meant I had to do the race on my own but after a few days of tanking around the county I was sure I could muster up a decent tally.
Race day came and I drove to Salthouse early. On the way, I noted several birds viewable from the main A149 and hoped they would be there when I headed back that way later on. I kept my eye on the Snow Bunting flock at Salthouse for several minutes in readiness for the clock started to tick at 9.00am, the time I had decided to start my six hour day. The second hand ticked to the vertical and I was off and running with Snow Bunt, Dunlin and Turnstone on the list. A quick scan out to sea produced Red-throated Diver and almost certainly a Black-throated flying behind it, but not seen well enough to tick!
Back down the track, the mixed flock of White-fronted and Greylag Geese were still present and ticked without hardly having to stop! I also paused briefly along the main A149 to tick off Whooper Swan and Black Brant (not tickable) amongst the (Dark-bellied) Brents on Pope’s Mash. I quickly called in at the Cley Marshes visitor centre which affords a superb, panoramic view over the marsh. Over a cup of coffee, I ticked off a displaying pair of Marsh Harriers, teal, one lone male Pintail, Wigeon, Shelduck, Ruff, Avocet and several other species. Things were going well but my next port of call was key to a good tally: Holkham.
The beauty of Norfolk is that one can visit a range of habitats within a short distance and in less than half an hour I was parked by the cottages and scampering into the wood and the cottage’s feeders (after a quick scan of Wells harbour to see if the Red-necked Grebe was at home, which it wasn’t!). Obligingly, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Jay and Great Spotted Woodpecker plus a few common woodland species were all added to the list in very quick time. I was soon driving down Lady Anne’s Road to the pines and saltmarsh. Pink-footed, Greylag, Brent, Egyptian and White-fronted Geese were feeding on the fields, as well as Wigeon, Curlew and Mistle Thrush.
I entered the boardwalk through the pines and heard the Firecrest. It refused to show and I had little time to lose. I marched onto the saltmarsh and saw several people watching what I hoped would be the Shore Larks way to the east. I had hoped the birds would be closer, but never mind. As I route marched across the marsh, Rock and Meadow Pipits were added to the list and then I was soon watching the four Shore Larks. These are fantastic birds and I would normally admire them for longer but I had a race to win. Should I scan the sea from the dunes while I was here? No, stick to plan and do your seawatching from Titchwell (I was beginning to talk to myself by now!).
Back near the car park was a superb bit of land that had produced Barn and Short-eared Owl in the previous few days and there they were, right on cue! I scanned for the Rough-legged Buzzard but ‘only’ added Common to the day’s growing tally. Suddenly, a smaller bird buzzed the buzzard: Merlin on the list! Another Marsh Harrier joined the battle but I had to move on. Just a few hundred yards along the A149 was a viewpoint which produced Lapland Buntings, Sky Larks and the distant Rough-legged Buzzard (+ more Marsh Harriers and geese). A Peregrine dashed through and circled a distant wood. With luck like this I knew I was in with a chance but I needed more of the same at my next major stop: Titchwell RSPB!
Several common species fell by the wayside as I drove along the A149. This is not an easy road to travel along at great speed whilst trying to birdwatch but things like Collared Dove, Blackbird, etc were evident. A quick detour up to Choseley Barns revealed the hoped for Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers, before I parked up at Titchwell for the rest of my race time. This site would make or break my total for the day.
The Arctic Redpoll hadn’t shown recently by all accounts so I ventured away from the waiting group to try and find the finch flock. Sure enough, just along the Fen Trail, the birds were quietly feeding in an alder tree. I picked out a pale bird but it ‘only’ turned out to be a Common Redpoll (Mealy) but then a paler bird with a small, stubby bill appeared next to it. BINGO: Arctic (Coue’s Redpoll)!! I had a quick look in Fen Hide but the Bittern wasn’t showing and I didn’t have time to hang around. I informed a couple in the hide that the Arctic was showing and asked them to pass on the message to the waiting group by the visitor centre! The regular Water Rail put in an appearance in its usual ditch, bless him.
I made my way along the public footpath along the reserve, noting yet more Marsh Harriers. The water level on freshmarsh was quite high and the birds were concentrated in one shallower area. There were lots of ducks here, including the hoped-for female Mandarin. Further along, the lone Spotted Redshank performed nicely, a couple of Little Egrets graced the marsh, one or two Black-tailed Godwits fed close by and another Rock Pipit had me trying to ‘string’ it into a Water Pipit (curse those littoralis race birds!). There were no Twite on the marsh this year so the finale came at the boardwalk by the beach. I asked what was around of the people sitting on the platform and then unsociably walked quite a way down the beach so I could concentrate. If I had stayed with the throng, my natural instinct would have been to go into guide mode and point out anything that passed by. Today, there was a race to win and I needed to be alert!
The beach was alive with waders, including Sanderling, Knot, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and Dunlin. Amazingly, I couldn’t see a Ringed Plover! On the sea, there were several Common Scoters and one Velvet Scoter not too far out. Red-breasted Mergansers and Eiders drifted by, a few Red-throated Divers flew by and then a Long-tailed Duck flew into view: a handsome male.
Just as my time ended, a small flock of Snow Buntings could be seen further along the beach towards Brancaster bringing a symmetrical end to the day: first bird, Snow Bunting; last bird Snow Bunting!! I knew I had a decent total but was surprised at just how many. And if Kathy had let me count ‘heard only ticks’ I would have had Firecrest and Bearded Tit as well. And to add insult to injury, I added Little & Tawny Owls and a Woodcock to my list on the way home. Kathy is a hard judge if you ask me (and no one ever does ask me).
So that was my day; a day in which I posted a total of 108 species, saw or heard another five more and also saw a Black Brant that isn’t countable. Quite how I missed Grey Heron, Sparrowhawk and Ringed Plover is something I don’t wish to go into to…
Most of all, I hope you all enjoyed the race and thanks must go to Kathy for organising this fun event. It added a bit of extra spice to a winter day’s birding and in my case I can still count it as work. It’s a hard life!!
On Sunday 5th Stuart joined in the fun from a remote Scottish Island, Benbecula. I have decided to include his list because his use of ‘yeartick’ added to my enjoyment…
Birdrace Februay 5th, 2012.
Stuart Taylor = The Benbecula one!
List of birds seen.9am – 3pm.
1 = Mute Swan. 2 = Whooper Swan.
3 = White Fronted Goose. 4 = Greylag Goose.
5 = Shelduck. 6 = Wigeon.
7 = Teal. Yeartick. 8 = Mallard.
9 = Tufted Duck. 9 = Eider.
10 = Long Tailed Duck. 11 = Goldeneye.
12 = Red Breasted Merganser. 13 = Red Throated Diver. Yeartick.
14 = Great Northern Diver. 15 = Cormorant.
16 = Shag. 17 = Grey Heron.
18 = Slavonian Grebe. Yeartick. 18 = White Tailed Eagle (3). Yeartick.
19 = Buzzard. 20 = Golden Eagle. Yeartick.
21 = Coot. Yeartick. 22 = Oystercatcher.
23 = Golden Plover. 24 = Lapwing.
25 = Sanderling. 26 = Purple Sandpiper.
27 = Curlew. 28 = Redshank.
29 = Turnstone. 30 = Common Gull.
31 = Herring Gull. 32 = Glaucous Gull. (5)
33 = Great Black backed Gull. 34 = Black Guillemot. Yeartick.
35 = Rock Dove. Real one’s .Not namby pamby feral things!!!!!!!
36 = Hooded Crow. 37 = Raven.
38 = Starling. 39 = Blackbird.
40 = Fieldfare. Yeartick. 41 = Stonechat. Yeartick.
42 = House Sparrow. 43 = Pied Wagtail. Yeartick.
44 = Rock Pipit. 45 = Greenfinch.
46 = Reed Bunting.
Well I did say I wouldn’t win a prize for the most species seen and 46 species in February on a treeless island isn’t to be sniffed at!
On a normal day Song Thrush, Skylark, Collared Dove, and Hen Harrier can all be encountered without too much effort but when you need to see them….
Thoroughly enjoyed me day in the field though and picked up a few yearticks in the process. All birds self found too, so there! All you twitcher types.
All the best Stu
P.s- Forgot to mention (or thought that I should seeing as I only saw a pathetic 46 species) that these islands only hold about 50 species at this time of year, and was alittle embarrssed when I saw my score in print. shame on me.. Would have been better if my staked out Robin and Collared dove had come out to play. They did the day after !!
Ken’s brother and sister-in-law took part from their home in the West Midlands and to my mind had one of the most successful races. June saw three lifers in the Bullfinch, the Treecreeper and the Fieldfare and without an experienced birder there to guide them – I think they deserve extra special credit…
John and i finally got out today (4th) to do our count. Just our luck that every other day ,when i didn’t feel up to going out, was lovely and sunny and today was freezing (literally !!!). We did not expect to see anything much as it was so cold but we were pleasantly surprised. We had only just set off walking when we saw a huge flock of birds fly over our heads and land in the trees in the lane just around the corner from where we live. We didn’t know what they were so we rang Ken and described them to him and he told us they sounded like fieldfares. We looked them up when we got home and sure enough that’s what they were. We carried on down our usual walk to our local park which has a big lake but apart from a small section it was completely frozen. Even so all in all we did not do too badly, seeing 27 species including my favourite the grey heron. Here is our list -:
Hope you team does well (on Sunday) and look forward to hearing from you
Bye for now June.
Not mentioned in June’s write up are the two phone calls I was privy to. I was with Ken on a Chough survey when John rang to describe the fieldfares and it made me so happy to hear the excitement in their situation and the beaming smile on Ken’s face. I thought to myself that that small thing alone means the birdrace was worth while. I got a text from Ken later that day *Just spoken to John & June, they are so excited. 3 Jay’s appeared as I was talking to them and a Bullfinch! Lifer for June. They’re like a couple of kids x* Brilliant.
David and Jane took on Anglesey on Sunday 5th. Here’s a note from Jane…
Just to say thanks for arranging a great day out and laying on the excellent Sunday weather! Also thanks to the other competitors for generously allowing our team score to stand despite my having to request my team-mate to do a ‘stop, start’ whilst I hurtled off the island to collect a stranded daughter. My apologies to said team-mate if I have been responsible for getting him a ‘black mark’ in the process!
Worst moment? Realising that the reason for David’s ‘scope listing badly to one side was that one of the tripod legs had been balancing on a hidden lump of dog poo!
Funniest moment? Watching Kathy trying to urge her team-mate to run down the Cob to score Pintail before they ran out of time!
Best moment? Meeting up with everyone at the end of the day and swapping stories.
Well done Kathy – here’s to the next time!
And yes, Jane is talking about me in her ‘funniest moment’ – I found it pretty funny too once he saw it in our very last minute!
Dan, Nigel and Eddie took North Wales by storm on Sunday 5th in Gwynedd…
6 hour bird race, Gwynedd, Sunday 5th Feb 2012, Dan Brown, Nigel Brown and Eddie Urbanski
Time: 0900-1500; weather – calm, cloudy bright/sunny intervals, max. 6 degrees.
Route: Trawsfynydd (T), Maentwrog (M), Rhyd (R), Pont Croesor (PC), Portmadog (P), Borth-y-Gest (BG), Black Rock Sands (BRS), Wern Woods (WW), Criccieth (C), Pwllheli Harbour (PH), Rhydyclafdy (RC), Cors Geirch (CG)
Species ( seen):
Red-throated Diver – BRS,C
Great Crested Grebe – BG, BRS, C
Slavonian Grebe – C
Little Grebe – P
Cormorant – T, P, BG, BRS, C
Shag – BG, C
Grey Heron – P,PH
Little Egret – P,BG
Mallard – T, PC, P, BG, PH
Teal – T, PC, P, PH.
Wigeon – P, PH
Pintail – P
Shoveler – P
Scaup – T (a pair)
Tufted Duck – T
Goldeneye – T
Long-tailed Duck – BRS (7)
Common Scoter – BRS
Red-breasted Merganser – BG, C
Goosander – T
Shelduck – PC, P, BG, PH
Greylag Goose – P
Canada Goose – BG
Mute Swan – PC, P, PH
Whooper Swan – PC (c.30)
Buzzard – T, PC, P, WW
Sparrowhawk – P
Red Kite – T
Hen Harrier – CG
Peregrine – WW
Merlin – T
Kestrel – T
Pheasant – RC
Moorhen – PH
Oystercatcher – PH, BG, C, PH
Lapwing – T, PC, P, BG, PH, CG
Ringed Plover – P, BRS
Grey Plover – BRS
Golden Plover – P
Turnstone – P
Snipe – P, PH
Woodcock – R
Curlew – P, BG, PH
Black-tailed Godwit – P
Bar-tailed Godwit – BG
Redshank – P, BG, PH
Greenshank – P
Knot – BRS
Dunlin – T, P, BG, BRS, C, PH
Sanderling – T, BRS
Great Black-backed Gull – T, P, BRS, PH
Lesser Black-backed Gull – BG,PH
Herring Gull – all sites
Common Gull – P,BRS
Iceland Gull – RC
Little Gull – BRS (1)
Black-headed Gull – all sites except WW
Razorbill – BRS, C
Guiilemot – BRS,C
Stock Dove – CG
Feral Pigeon – P, PH
Woodpigeon – all sites
Collared Dove – T, P
Great Spotted Woodpecker – RC
Raven – PC
Carrion Crow – many sites
Rook – PC, RC
Jackdaw – many sites
Magpie – many sites
Jay – T, RC
Great Tit – many sites
Blue Tit – many sites
Coal Tit – M, R, RC
Long-tailed Tit – R
Nuthatch – WW, RC
Wren – WW
Mistle Thrush – PC, RC
Fieldfare – T
Song Thrush – several sites
Redwing – several sites
Blackbird – several sites
Black Redstart – C (1)
Robin – most sites
Goldcrest – M, RC
Dunnock – M, P, PC, RC
Meadow Pipit – P,BRS
Rock Pipit – P,BG
Pied Wagtail – several sites
Starling – most sites
Greenfinch – M,,BG, PH
Goldfinch – BG
Siskin – R, RC
Linnet – BRS
Bullfinch – P
Crossbill – R (several)
Chaffinch – several sites
Reed Bunting – R
House Sparrow – several sites
Total seen – 98 species
Species (heard only):
Water Rail – PH
Treecreeper – WW
Dipper – T
Redpoll – R
Perhaps the most surprising omission is Coot, and some disappointment at not seeing Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Skylark, Pochard, Eider, Mediterranean Gull, Green Woodpecker, Stonechat, Hawfinch, or Yellowhammer. However the inclusion of Black Redstart, Iceland Gull, Scaup, Red Kite, Merlin, Hen Harrier, Little Gull, Long-tailed Duck, and Crossbill more than makes up!
The idea of a six hour bird race has been inspirational – thank you Kathy – long enough to accumulate a serious total, short enough to maintain energy and enthusiasm levels and our exit velocity for both was definitely sky high! – planning the route required a subtly different approach to the longer races we have done to date and overall meant a much stricter timetable and adherence to schedule.
The day got off to a magnificent if not chilly start at the southern end of Trawsfynydd Lake where a pair of Scaup presented themselves right by the dam wall, followed by the most obliging Merlin winging its way right above our heads. A Kestrel was the only one all day and Sanderling was a nice addition here, so far inland. The sight of Red Kite just as we were about to leave ensured an excellent start. Maentwrog was less successful with no sign of the hoped-for Hawfinches in the church yard but close views of Goldcrest were some consolation. Up the hill towards Rhyd and a Dan-inspired stop gave us singing Crossbill, Siskins, Long-tailed Tits and a Woodcock, close-flushed from wet birch wood.
Time to drop down to Pont Croesor – again a little disappointing, though the herd of Whooper eventually showed in a dip down river. Portmadog really shone though and by now Dan was on fire – it was a species fest for us with all the waders we wanted and some we hadn’t banked on such as Greenshank. A perched Sparrowhawk was a bonus too.
Borth y Gest provided us with our only Golfdfinches plus a few more coastal species, then on to Black Rock Sands, racing side by side with Ed’s new Yeti across the foreshore. This was another bonanza site with the sea providing 10 new species including a flight of Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter by the hundred, and the thrill of Little Gull winging the breaking waves so adeptly.
Woodland just inland near Wern added to our passerine list and during our canopy search the sound of Peregrine heckling buzzard sent us charging to a clearing to view a much needed falcon.
Criccieth was as ever, memorable. Here Ed promised us Black Redstart – he was confident and while Dan and I sea -watched off he trotted. After a little time the air was pierced by several whistles reminiscent of the sound delivered just before the approach of a hundred mile-an-hour rally car (indeed that is exactly what it does sound like as Ed explained later as it is his special rally whistle) but NEITHER Dan nor I bothered to turn towards the sound, not connecting events whatsoever! Again the whistle blew, this time more anxiously; people were turning their heads our way and then Ed’s way – why they must have thought were Ed’s friends ignoring his desperate attempts to alert us – finally Dan and I woke up and saw our faithful team member gesticulating wildly, his arms pointing skyward – to an absolutely gorgeous Black Redstart preening placidly on the roof angle of the nearby guest house!
With such a beauty under our belt and with our score fast approaching 85 we headed with high hopes to Pwllheli – here surely we would at least see Coot the absence of which was beginning to worry us? And that wasn’t the only omission – Pheasant has singularly failed to make it to the list thus far. No Dipper or Grey Wagtail at Llanystumdwy either but with no time to feel sorry for ourselves there we swept onwards to the Harbour with an hour and a half to go. Some success ensued with species such as Moorhen but no Coot, and Water Rail only heard not seen. We received a phone call telling us that Green Woodpecker was in Ed’s garden just a few miles away so we hastened there – but too late, gone – though Great Spotted showed well and Ed found us a single Pheasant (that’s all you need, efficient). Frantic now, so near a hundred. Iceland Gull , Eddie’s ‘special one’ did not let us down, instantly appearing as we reached Ed’s favourite look out gate, and then a race up the road to Cors Geirch and a pool Ed knows where there might just be a Coot – with one minute left on the clock and hopes almost gone Stock Dove moaned into our ken and Hen Harrier drifted lightly over the marsh to make it 98 seen and 4 heard – cootless in Caernarvonshire we were but at that moment we didn’t care a dam.
Ken (previously named-checked in Neil’s Norfolk write-up) “Mr Fixit” Reeves, Charlie “The Titchwell Toff” Dobbs, Marc “Green Marsh Shank” Almey, Geoff “Loves the Welsh” Busby, and Fred “Hawkeye” Burton did Leicestershire and Rutland proud on a snowy Sunday 5th Feb…
Kathy You’re not going to believe this but I’m sure the pic’s tell the story. Snow, Cold, Fog and Rain and yet Charlie Dobbs travelled from Heacham, Malc Almey from Long Sutton both over 100 hundred miles, Fred and myself just down the road, Geoff Busby didn’t even manage to dig the car out from under 4ft of snow.
Despite all this we managed 79 species ,god knows how but we did, We also had Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming in Burbage Common, heard by all and responding to my I pod . If you let us have this it will be a mind blowing 80.
It’s not often that I beg but to preserve our street “cred” let us have it !!!!
A Big Thanks Ken ( vanishing in the mist) Reeves
First pic is Eyebrook Res, Second is Rutland Water and last is a Skylark? Let us know if you can find it???
Richard and Kathryn couldn’t make the after-race gathering in Bangor but their score was read out from a text and also the news that they’d done the race on their bikes!!…
Sorry to disappoint that we didn’t use our bikes this time. The roads were too icy when we started, otherwise we would have done. Our plan was to focus on a few places and have a good walk while birding, rather than rushing around in the car trying to get a top score, which is not really my scene!
The dipper was definitely our top bird. We only decided to call in on the Dingle at the last minute to see if we could get a few more woodland birds. We parked in Asda and just though we’d have a quick look over the bridge and there was a beautifully marked adult bird sitting on a boulder – magic! It didn’t seem to be too bothered by us and just sat on his rock looking around.
Penmon was also a good stop with a flock of 5 bullfinches in the bushes around the houses and a great view of a peregrine. Richard heard a partridge alarm call, so looked up to see what was around and there was a circling peregrine in the sky above. Watched it far ages. Richard was only mildly disappointed that we couldn’t see the partridge to add it to our list!
Also nice to see a flock of brent geese on the Strait rather than the usual place at Penrhos park.
Good day for sparrowhawks, Richard had 11 separate sightings throughout the day. A pair were displaying over Cefni reservoir.
Generally an excellent day, so thanks for inspiring us to go out.
Ruth and Alan blazed their way to 100 species in Norfolk…
Our score was exactly 100 species on Tuesday 7th Feb. We birded at Titchwell RSPB, Wells, Holkham and Cley NWT reserve. It was bitterly cold with many of the pools frozen solid and many birds pushed out. But it was sunny and calm and we had great fun.
List of birds recorded by The Biggest Twitch in six hours – all seen.
1.Red throated Diver
3.Great crested Grebe
8.Pink footed Goose
9.Tundra Bean Goose
10.White fronted Goose
11.Grey lag Goose
30.Long tailed Duck
31.Red breasted Merganser
36.Rough legged Buzzard
38.Red legged Partridge
56.Black tailed Godwit
57.Bar tailed Godwit
62.Black headed Gull
65.Great black backed Gull
84.Long tailed Tit
We also had a Black Brant sub species of Brent Goose not counted that!
Look forward to seeing all the results.
Alan and Ruth xx
Peter and Wynn surveyed the south-west corner of Anglesey also on Sunday 5th…
Well here it is 52 and very happy with it,
South West corner of Anglesey, Start and end Llangaffo.
Blue tit, House sparrow, Dunnock, Jackdaw, Chaffinch, Great tit, Robin, Blackbird, Starling, Bullfinch, Blackcap, Wood pigeon, Buzzard,
Mute swan, cormorant, Lapwing, curlew, Oystercatcher, Magpie, Herring gull, Redshank, Snipe, Ringed plover, Sandpiper, Sandlings,
Black headed gull, Teal, Tufted duck, Goldeneye, coot, Grey heron, Mallard, Crow, rook, Hen harrier, Fieldfare, Raven, Kestrel, Black back gull,
Pheasant, Greylag goose, Canadian goose, Wren, Thrush, Pigeon, greenfinch, Coal tit, Great spotted woodpecker, Shell duck, Knot, Dunlin.
All in all a very good day we enjoyed it so thank you
Wynn and Pete Johnston x
Also on offer is a fabulous write up from ‘Not Your Average Birders’ who spent the day out in Hampshire. Please include this in your votes for best race/best bird. It can be found at http://notyouraveragebirders.com/2012/02/12/3-0-no-more/.
The wildlife highlight of this week for me has to be an encounter with a Water Rail. I thought my first meeting with these bird might be a winters day down at Valley Wetlands RSPB reserve, however it turned out that I would first meet this gorgeous bird down on the Isles of Scilly. I visited Scilly in October, visiting my very good friend Hilary that I met that there last year as a volunteer for the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust. Whilst enjoying the beautiful scenery, boat trips and the Scilly Disco (legendary!), I also made time for a spot of twitching.
Scilly is the home of the ‘Twitcher’. With it’s extreme South-Westlerly position it acts as a sink for all manner of lost birds and geographically it’s ideal to search, especially with so many dedicated birders to cover the islands.
Just to differentiate, ‘Twitchers’ are those that pursue species of bird in order to compile a list: a year list, a British List, a foreign list or perhaps a life list. There are also ‘birders’ who watch the behaviours and habits of birds from their back garden to the mountain tops. As with all things this is spectral, one can both enjoy the behaviours of birds and also compile a species list – obviously! I just wanted to stress the point that some people are much more towards the ‘Twitching’ end of the spectrum and that a lot of these people end up on Scilly in October.
Whilst I was on St Mary’s in October there was a Northern Waterthrush, an American species, that was a must see. Having spent an afternoon snorkelling around Toll Island, I was inappropriately dressed in flip-flops as I went in search of this beautiful speckly bird. The bird was located behind the dump and I had to trudge through black slude and got flithy! That time, there was no bird to be seen. Undeterred, I returned at sunrise the following morning with birder friend Paul Long (he took me on my very first twitch!) and whilst we “dipped” on the Waterthrush I saw my first Water Rail – I loved it. It was a strange experience because the huge crowd gathered there were disappointed by it’s appearance because they were ‘twitching’ and wanted to see their new species. Well for me, the Water Rail was just that – I went back to cook breakfast with a smile on my face.
The Water Rail I saw this week was just the second I’d seen and an Anglesey first for me. This sighting was particularly exciting because it just ran across the road in front of us – a usually very secretive bird giving us a spectacular view. Ken was in fact driving and had he not been there I might not of known what it was. Seeing it out of context and with the naked eye (as opposed to binoculars) I couldn’t work it out. It was so tiny and so slim, it looked like a shrunken, ironed version of the bird I’d seen on Scilly. It was thoroughly gorgeous!
So, in order to explain the title of this blog – Naturebites proposes a six hour birdrace to see as many different species of birds as you can in your chosen county! If you are a hardcore twitcher or just want to get out and see birds then this is for you. We all have various commitments so all I’m asking is that you pick a day from 1st-7th of February. This is a little way off but I wanted you have chance to get it in your diaries. Please do not be deterred if you are a novice in birding terms, it is precisely you that I want on board. If you cannot hook up with an experienced birder for the event then email me at email@example.com telling me where you are and I’ll see if I can add you to a team. Please also register any teams to the birdrace by email, telling me who’s in your team, when you propose to do it and where. Please click on and read Some (Simple) Rules for the birdrace and I’ve also provided a species tick-list for you to print off to use on the day (isn’t handwritten just so much nicer!?). The list will not be comprehensive and will vary depending on where you undertake the challenge so feel free to add other species to the bottom. And of course, I want to know how you do! So send me your results after the event and we can establish a winning county!
Hope you can join us!