by Kathy James

Posts tagged “The Biggest Twitch

Not enough hours in a day. Let’s find some more!

It’s almost as if there’s too much to see at this time of year and working really doesn’t help accomplish seeing any of it! Since leaving the RSPB accommodation and moving into Holyhead however, I have started biking to work and this means I get that little bit of outdoors on my way to and from the office. I’m not going to claim any rarities or life ticks, but what I have had are really intimate encounters with some of our more familiar birds, particularly the lovely wrens and robins. It seems they are less bothered by me on my bike than on foot. Is this because I can sneak up to them more quickly?! Not with my squeaky seat and panting breaths. It feels as though I am being serenaded all the way as blue tits, chaffinch, house sparrows and now chiffchaff brighten up my commute. Another added bonus of this new path to work is that I’ve caught up with something I’ve somehow missed before; the beauty of a collared dove. What elegant little fellows they are?! A bit too relaxed about moving out of the way, but stunning nonetheless.

I’m currently sat outside writing this blog, perched on a rocky outcrop near to Trearddur Bay. I love it here. Were it not for the haze in the distance I’d see Snowdonia and the Lleyn laid out before me, but as it stands I’ve got Rhoscolyn beacon and the rocks of Trearddur Bay, glimmering sea to my right and the collection of holiday homes to my right. Down on the water in front of me there’s four oystercatchers having a good old beep and a rock pipit displaying over to the left. It might not be as warm as the past week, but out of the wind that sun’s got some heat in it!

Moving on…I want to transport you back to 3:15am last Monday. Now there aren’t many things worth getting up at this time for, a holiday, (insert hearthrob here), or a Black Grouse Lek. I wonder which did it for me?!

Ken and I left in the black of the night to pick up Etienne from Bangor and joined Brian at RSPB Conwy to go off on one of Alan Davies ‘Biggest Twitch’ tours. By this point I had breakfast on the mind. Arriving at our destination, World’s End (interesting name!), we stepped quietly out of the car to see what we could pick up. Sure enough, from the slope across the valley we heard the incredible sound of Black Grouse bubbling calls echoing across the moor, intercepted by a shrill bark (please ask Alan to imitate this – he does it very well!). With his scope, Alan picked up the white bottoms of the grouse bumbling about in the distance as the sun rose behind us, this was worth getting up so early for.

Just as it was light we headed along the road through the moorland and pulled up in a spot where we were to see six black grouse lekking right in front of our eyes, just thirty metres from the car. Wow! We were able to watch their incredible display for a couple of hours. A few noted observations being, they generally just waltz up to each other and back away before they have to fight, they do this with the appearance of being attached to each other by an elastic band (envisage fencing and the stepping back and forth) and that there were no ladies to be seen!! You have to wonder what the female black grouse think to all this bravado. Etienne, a student at Bangor University, is also a photographer and has very kindly let me have access to his photos from the day. You can see all his work at http://www.flickr.com/photos/etiennelfr/page3/.

On from this spot we stopped in a nearby plantation and headed uphill to see what we could see. There were crossbills at plantation level although it took us a while to each see them. From half way up the hill, Ken spotted something on the far side of the valley perched in a tree – a great grey shrike!!! Now, this bird had been seen in the area but we were all impressed at Ken’s spot that morning – it was so distant! I’ve not been birding very long so to have two great grey shrikes under ‘my belt’ seems a bit too good to be true!

We toddled a few steps further up the hill and I stopped to have a look back at the shrike and spotted something unusual in a tree nearby. I couldn’t pick it up in my bins and asked Alan to set the scope on it. It was a female black grouse!! Alan was so impressed by my spot that gave me an enthusiastic pat on the back which took me and my feet by surprise! I felt happy to have contributed to what was turning out to be an amazing days birding.

Spending a little while longer on the heath we saw stonechats and meadow pipits galore. Watching the meadow pipits chase each other around in their courtship display was like watching butterflies fluttering over the heath.

This is where I have to give Alan’s car a big shout out. It looks a little bit like a spaceship inside and was very comfy, the best bit for me though was the glass roof – I was sat wedged in between Ken and Etienne and yet I had near on panoramic views! Brilliant for looking for those high up birds of prey.

The sun was beaming down on us that day and we took in Grey Wagtails and Dipper at Llangollen, dozens of buzzards and even a red kite on the way back up to the coast.

Next stop Kinmel bay to see if the last remaining Snow Bunting had moved on. Although we didn’t find it, we did have lovely views of some waders. Etienne’s photos tell the story. Here we also saw the most incredible view of a skylark. It sat, bold as brass, on a post just metres from us! I have never had such good views of the species.

I had already been awake for about twelve hours when we took one final stop at Old Colwyn. Here, it has been estimated, there are around 30,000 of the sea duck Common Scoter. At times it apparently looks like an oil slick. I saw nothing at first glance but then the little black dots started appearing out of nowhere, there were thousands of ‘invisible’ birds. Amongst the lot were two drake surf scoters, a few velvet scoters and a long-tailed duck. Velvet scoter and long-tailed duck were new birds for me. I could easily identify the velvet scoter but the long-tailed duck took more pinning down. At this distance it would be easy to say you’ve seen a bird when in fact you could see none of it’s features. Eventually I felt the duck was tickable, but I would like to see one at a closer range.

Phew, we were exhausted. So exhausted in fact, that when we picked up our cars from RSPB Conwy we didn’t stop to look around the reserve, missing a visiting Iceland Gull- doh!

Anyway, great thanks to Alan of ‘The Biggest Twitch’ for an incredible day out – apparently they even put on the weather! You can check out tours with Ruth and Alan at http://www.thebiggesttwitch.com/ . Also, big thanks to Etienne, Brian and Ken for making up a thoroughly enjoyable birding party 🙂

Literally just as I finished typing that last sentence a sandwhich tern flew over the water in front of me and had dived for fish a number of times in Trearddur Bay in the distance. I could get used to this outdoors writing!

And now a cormorant is having a splash.

Thanks for reading,

Kathy x

P.s- as I headed home to post this blog a group of twelve Chough playfully escorted me back to the car. These guys must be the non-breeding individuals as the others are paired up already.


Nature bites back.

Having had an emotional rollercoaster in recent history I realised that getting outdoors and experiencing our wildlife is a great form of therapy. I knew that already, but sometimes I guess we just need reminding. It was also an added challenge to have Spring unfolding all around me and yet to have none of the joys of it. It pained me to see how beautiful everything was, bursting into fabulous life! I’m back on track now and I’d just like to share with you the things that helped break through the gloomy bits.

Along with the wonderful girly fun I had with my friend Hilary, we had a lovely ‘Springy’ moment in the woods at Newborough. Hilary was another volunteer when I donated myself to the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust for a month back in 2010 and this was her first visit to Anglesey. On our way to Llanddwyn Island (always like to impress my visitors with this gem) we stopped for lunch in carpark in the forest where the rangers fill up bird feeders. The birds were not phased by the arrival of my car and continued busying around the feeders. We saw Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpeckers all stocking up. It was really the first moment that it felt like Spring. We looked for Red Squirrels in the surrounding trees but to no avail.

Another ‘spring-euphoria’ moment for me was the day that England played Wales  in the Rugby (I’m sure we don’t need to be reminded of the result), as I buzzed around Holy Island that morning it was like summer! The sun was beating down and I was listening to the tunes in my car. Ken rang me to say he’d spotted a Black Redstart near the ferry terminal and as I was nearby I went, light jacket in tow, to have a gander. The little fella was flitting about the shoreline as a friend of ours and top birder, Robin, sat on the ferry waiting to go to Ireland with his bride-to-be. As I drove down the A55 later that day, birds were flying out from all angles and curiously seemed to be paired up. I found the drive exhillarating as I headed to Menai Bridge to watch the game with company. Even in the carpark I was uplifted by the pairs of Blackbirds, the gaggle of House Sparrows chattering away and…a Great Tit singing “teacher teacher” – spring had most definitely sprung. Those are the moments when I breathe in and feel happy to be alive.

Back in the midlands I spent a day with my Mum and sister at Carsington Water where my sister treated me to a willow weaving course. The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust lent their expertise and we helped to craft a living-willow hide for school groups to use on their visits. Barnacle Geese flew overhead as Lapwings patrolled the shorelines. I would recommend this activity to anyone, the ladies that ran the course were lovely and would have helped to achieve whatever we needed out of the course. I will definitely be doing more of this!

I spent some time with my sister and family in Matlock and was greeted by fantastic sunshine! We ate lunch in the garden and little Jack, now 14 months old, saw his first Ladybird and was fascinated by the bee surveying the honeysuckle.

My Dad was eager to show me around what has now become ‘his patch’ one Saturday morning back in the Long Eaton area, but the weather was not on our side. We drove to a couple of sites where Dad has seen woodpeckers flitting around but they too were not impressed by the weather. We caught up with a Whooper Swan in a field with a load of Mute Swans, a nice comparision to be had. Finally, my Dad wanted to take me to what will be part of the Midshires Way, Hopwell Hall. As we battled the miserable downpour (I had left my sensible coat at my sisters) we were rewarded with a splendid sign of spring. Twenty Skylarks performed to us all the way up the drive to this former stately home. Zooming up into the air and parachuting back down, these singing sensations were our first of the year. Unexpected and warmly received.

My little nephew Jack has been a real tonic. The first installment of his magic was going to watch him at ‘Otter Tots’, he and his friends all try to remain cheery as their Mummies dunk them rhythmically along to nursery rhymes – hilarious. Jack was very pleased to have an audience and would stretch out his arms each time he saw me. It’s nice to be wanted 🙂

After my visit home, my sister Caroline and Jack accompanied me back to Anglesey. Jack is quite the bird expert and loved the noisey seagulls, we did point out that some were Black-headed Gulls like he sees on the duck pond in Matlock and the others were Herring Gulls – poor child. One afternoon we headed down the road to feed the tiny ginger pony I have dubbed “Ginger Jack” – a comparison easily drawn when you see baby Jack’s gorgeous red hair. After the two Jack’s were aquainted, baby Jack added Chough to his 2012 list (he met them on a previous visit when he was five months old!). We also took Jack down to the beach at Porth Dafarch; Caroline and Jack donned wellies and I opted for the ole wet feet option…soggy boots. Here we saw Jack’s awe as he saw seaweed, trickling beach streams and limpets. He also got his pointing finger out for some vocal gulls and another pair of Chough.

This afternoon I said goodbye to Jack and Caroline as they got on the train to go home. Before they did though, we had just enough time for a visit to my fave cafe that i’ve mentioned before, Y Caban near Llanberis. We took Ken along too as he hadn’t yet sampled the delights. Fun and good food was had by all. Siskins on the feeders a personal highlight and perhaps panoramic birdviews the highlight for Ken and Jack.

Nature bit back and has me back on track.

Lastly, a little house-keeping…the winners of the birdrace prizes. Unfortunately, not everyone that took part voted so I have had to use a bit of blog-keepers license in my awards! I figured as there was not actually anyone with multiple votes that I would just go with my intial reaction which I already stated. I am going to award ‘best race’ to John and June from the West Midlands for their inspiring effort, on buses around Birmingham to find three lifers!! Congrats on your efforts guys – prizes donated by Neil Glenn of ‘Best Birdwatching Sites in Norfolk” fame. ‘Best Bird’ I am going to award to ‘Not your avergae birders’ who did their race in Hampshire for their account of the Bearded Tits. Not only are they some delicious-looking birdies, but I loved their account of their experience that day. So well done to you too guys…you will be receiving a signed copy of The Biggest Twitch, donated by the authors and world-record holders Ruth Miller and Alan Davies.

Hope spring has you smiling,

Kathy x


Vote now for ‘best bird’ and ‘best race’!

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! (naturebites.wordpress@gmail.com)


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…

Hi Kathy
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 -:
Feral pigeon
Pied wagtail
Wren
Long-tailed tit
Coal tit
Tree creeper
Jay
Chaffinch
Greenfinch
Bullfinch
Fieldfare
Mute swan
Canada goose
Mallard
Grey heron
Moorhen
Coot
Black-headed gull
Black-backed gull
LBBG
Wood pigeon
Dunnock
Robin
Blackbird
Great tit
Magpie
Crow

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…

Hi Kathy,

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!

Cheers,

Jane.

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!!…

Hi Kathy

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.
Kathryn

Ruth and Alan blazed their way to 100 species in Norfolk…

Hi Kathy
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
2.Little Grebe
3.Great crested Grebe
4.Fulmar
5.Cormorant
6.Shag
7.Grey Heron
8.Pink footed Goose
9.Tundra Bean Goose
10.White fronted Goose
11.Grey lag Goose
13.Canada Goose
14.Brent Goose
15.Egyptian Goose
16.Shelduck
17.Wigeon
18.Gadwall
19.Teal
20.Mallard
21.Pintail
22.Shoveler
23.Pochard
24.Tufted Duck
25.Scaup
26.Eider
27.Common Scoter
28.Velvet Scoter
29.Goldeneye
30.Long tailed Duck
31.Red breasted Merganser
32.Goosander
33.Smew
34.Marsh Harrier
35.Common Buzzard
36.Rough legged Buzzard
37.Kestrel
38.Red legged Partridge
39.Grey Partridge
40.Pheasant
41.Moorhen
42.Coot
43.Water Rail
44.Oystercatcher
45.Avocet
46.Ringed Plover
47.Golden Plover
48.Grey Plover
49.Lapwing
50.Knot
51.Sanderling
52.Dunlin
53.Ruff
54.Common Snipe
55.Woodcock
56.Black tailed Godwit
57.Bar tailed Godwit
58.Curlew
59.Spotted Redshank
60.Redshank
61.Turnstone
62.Black headed Gull
63.Common Gull
64.Herring Gull
65.Great black backed Gull
66.Stock Dove
67.Feral Pigeon
68.Wood Pigeon
69.Collared Dove
70.Barn Owl
71.Razorbill
72.Skylark
73.Meadow Pipit
74.Pied Wagtail
75.Wren
76.Dunnock
77.Robin
78.Blackbird
79.Fieldfare
80.Song Thrush
81.Redwing
82.Mistle Thrush
83.Bearded Tit
84.Long tailed Tit
85.Blue Tit
86.Great Tit
87.Magpie
88.Jackdaw
89.Carrion Crow
90.Starling
91.House Sparrow
92.Chaffinch
93.Greenfinch
94.Goldfinch
95.Linnet
96.Siskin
97.Lesser Redpoll
98.Arctic Redpoll
99.Snow Bunting
100.Yellowhammer
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…

Hi Kathy,
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/.


A weekend of glorious weather! (Shame this one is pretty much opposite!)

This time last week my Dad and his girlfriend arrived for a weekend visit. With a relaxed start to Saturday morning with bacon and egg butties for my Dad and Elaine and crumpets (my absolute favourite!) for me, we joined Ken and Cal (the South Stack volunteer) for a day out.

As mentioned in a few of my blogs now, my Dad is suddenly absorbed in bird-watching and, knowing that he has his daughter so well placed in Anglesey with renown bird expert Ken Croft in tow, decided he’d like a tour of what the island has to offer!

The Fulmars were once again down at Hen Borth, but they were difficult to see as they plunged down behind the cliff edges. From the description I gave of these rigid-winged seabirds Cal decided that he’d also seen these a few days previously near the lighthouse. We visited our usual haunts of Soldiers Point, Penrhos Country Park and then meandered through the centre of Anglsey ending up at Llyn Llywenan. We saw a buzzard circling high above the lake and various waterfowl such as Greylag Geese, Shoveler and Goosander below. As my Dad got to grips with Shoveler in the scope I took the opportunity to get a better view of the Buzzard, now much closer by. It struck me that I rarely get lasting views of the majestic creatures, I normally whizz past them on the A55 or they are far to high for me to make out much detail. It struck me that this Buzzard looked a bit different to how I usually thought of them, it’s head looked odd. It was then that Ken asked if I’d had chance to have a look through the scope at the Shoveler, I said “Yes, I’ve just been watching the Buzzard quartering over those shrubs”. At the word ‘quartering’ and knowing that this was not characteristic flight of a Buzzard, Ken grabbed his binoculars, hurriedly looked over in the direction of the Buzzard and exclaimed “that’s a Marsh Harrier!!”. So, having apparently learnt nothing from Martin Garner and his talk about questioning things that appeared different, I spent a good minute watching an ‘unusual-looking Buzzard!” – idiot!! In my defence, this was a first for me, I’d never encountered a Marsh Harrier before and because of this I will probably always recognise them straight off. The female harrier continued to give us great views as she quartered back and forth, a quality birding experience we all agreed. I shame-faced got back in the car.

Another highlight of the day for me was seeing Yellowhammer, not a bird I had encountered on Anglesey before. They were once commonplace here, but as with other birds that thrived on Anglesey, the once bread basket of Wales, have become virtually extinct with the change in farming practises.

We finished the day off at Benllech sea front with my Dad spotting a Red-throated Diver flying off into the distance and a Guillemot popping up right in front of us. Having worked at South Stack all summer with the 8,000 odd Guillemots I can say that this was the closest I’ve been to one…and luckily I had Dad’s camera with me to show you just how close.

On Sunday we yet again went out birding – we’re insatiable! We completed our haul of Corvids (the crow family) when a Jay flew across the road in front of us as we’d seen a Hooded Crow flying near Hen Borth the previous day. We took in Eider ducks from some distance close to Penmon Point on the far corner of the island (diagonally opposite to South Stack). We totalled 75 species of bird over the weekend (including three new species for me!) and had glorious views of many so I’m hoping Dad thought it worth the trip!?

The following day, yet again, had clear blue skies and glorious sunshine. I took an afternoon trip into Snowdonia to climb Cnicht. A mountain that looks like one you draw as a child, a full-on pointy triangle! I could not quite comprehend that I would make it up there without some serious climbing equipment as I started out, but the ordinary people I met walking back down did enough to reassure me and the school group I could see up ahead (thank goodness for binoculars!). As I rounded one corner I saw an elusive Tree Pipit in the path ahead, but alas the altitude was getting to me and it was Meadow Pipit certainly at this time of year. The mountain afforded stunning views of Snowdonia and down the Porthmaddog estuary. The day was perfectly lit and I was warmed by the exertion, only cooling if I admired the view for too long. Throughout the climb I could see a Raven circling the summit and was pleased to be greeted by it and it’s partner as I reached the top for cheese and pickle sandwiches. One of the Ravens (presumably the one I’d seen circling from below) came really close in to check us out. The wind whistled through it’s wings as it effortlessly soared. Then, a new noise. My ears pricked up instantly. I thought there’s not much it could be up this high and upon my return and after my rendition of what I can only describe as a rattling trill, Ken confirmed it must have been a Red Grouse. I couldn’t see it though. Making our way back down the hill a flock of Linnet flew overhead. Although there are many Linnets at South Stack in the summer months, this was my first meeting with them this year. Right down at base camp, a village named Croesor, was a field full of fieldfare. Along with sheep, that completes the list of wildlife I saw that day and quantity cannot out compete the quality of those encounters. I find mountains (along with the sea) bring out a spirituality in me and sitting on that pinnacle watching a Raven fly around in front of me with a huge drop below is really not a thing which, to my mind, can be beaten.


That evening I had been invited to dinner with Alan Davies and Ruth Miller of ‘The Biggest Twitch’ fame. Alan and Ruth hold the world record for the most bird species seen in a year and ‘The Biggest Twitch’ follows their quest to do so. After a lovely dinner, Ruth showed me their photographs from a recent trip to Botswana, I promptly fell in love with the Black Crake. It fits my ideal description of a bird; yellow beaked, black bodied, long-legged and red legs just for the wow-factor – yes please! I have not yet read Ruth and Alan’s book, but came home on Monday night with a signed copy that I have promised them I’ll read after I’ve finished David Attenborough’s ‘Life on Air’.

One last thing to share with you before I sign off is a couple of photographs of Snow Buntings at Cinmel Bay along the North Wales coast. A beauty of a bird, a year tick for me and an absolute pleasure to watch as they posed on and around a log on the beach.

Kathy x