Sunday, 2 October 2011

Long haul north

September 2009 was memorable for me for a few reasons, most notably because Amy underwent open heart surgery in Leeds General Infirmary. It was a traumatic time for our family but as always with her, she just gets on with it and once again proves what a fantastic little girl she is. We spent just over a week in Leeds and then spent a further week back in Hull before being discharged home. As well as this, I moved my shop into new premises, slightly less traumatic but still quite stressful!!!

The first day we arrived on the ward at Leeds, news broke of a Blackburnian Warbler on St Kilda. Fortuantely it proved to be untwitchable, but to be honest it could have been at Old Moor and I still wouldn't have gone. I've promised myself that one day I'll make it over to St Kilda, one of my favourite ever TV episodes was Monty Halls Hebridean Adventure when he made landfall on St Kilda, awesome place, scenery, birds, everything, oh and there's also this:

St Kilda Wren

News also broke of the Sandhill Crane on Orkney, this was one bird I knew there was no chance of getting to unless it stayed until Christmas!!! Then of course there was the Tufted Puffin in Kent, ridiculous bird in a ridiculous place, proving that anything can turn up anywhere at anytime. As always, when you can't go for a bird, you imagine that everyone else in the country is off seeing it, of course that's never the way. As it turned out the only bird that proved to be twitchable was the Crane on Orkney, only then if you were prepared to invest a bit of money and a bit of time travelling up for it.

When news broke of another Sandhill Crane flying over Dunbar at 8.15am on 16th September, plans were being formulated, but then after disappearing again, I thought it was another one that had got away. Then, while waiting for more news of the Long toed Stint in Sussex on 22nd, news broke that the Crane had been refound in Aberdeenshire at Loch of Strathbeg RSPB. The twitch was back on.

I should have tried to go the next day and been there at first light, but as always I dithered about a bit and finally decided to travel through the night on the Friday. With a few false alarms when it flew off south during the day, the twitch was nearly over before it had even started, but at 11.30pm I started the long haul north. Picking up Jonny and Ellen at Scotch Corner services on the A1, just before 1am, we had a chance to catch up on the last few years since we last twitched together, that was also to Aberdeenshire, for a Barrow's Goldeneye. It was constantly on my mind that we had to be there for first light, just in case it did a flit. So the foot was held down for a bit and after a brief encounter with the local police just into Scotland (just a routine check up!!) and 440 miles later we were pulling onto the reserve car park just after 6am and before it got light. We wandered into the visitor centre and joined the waiting crowd. Amazingly somebody picked it out in the near darkness, saying he could see the red on the forehead, therefore not one of the resident herons, it was a brave call but the correct one. The bird continued to show reasonably well from the visitor centre before flying to it's daytime feeding area in the stubble fields in the St .Combs area.

So we had connected well before 7am and we could finally relax a bit, oh yeah and drive all the way home. But with the pressure off, we took it a bit steadier on the way back south, stopping for the obligatory McDonald's celebration breakfast.

Of course, now that every man and his dog have had a chance to connect with it in Suffolk, it will be several years before it returns to it's true status of being a MEGA, I wonder what the next unblocked MEGA will be?

Old fall plantation anyone?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

What's the twitch?

One for the oldies, any ideas?

Ok, a few clues:

- I was only 9 years old at this twitch
- the bird in question didn't survive the night

Still no idea!

- it was the second species of "Coccyzus" of the day

By the way, you won't see me in the photo as I had pushed my way through the crowd to get some decent views of the bird, leaving my Dad at the back

Answers on a postcard to :The junction of Porthloo Lane and Telegraph Rd, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Looking back and looking forward to.... Autumn

I know Autumn and Spring are the key rarity finding seasons of the birding year, but Autumn really is the most exciting for me. Over recent years things have changed somewhat at home (and are set to change again very soon with our new arrival due in Nov ), so I know that I'm not going to be able to get to see everything. It's just that most days you get a MEGA alert come through on the pager, quite often more than one a day, and with the magical beeps comes the excitement of something amazing from the East or even better, something from the West, namely America. Although we tend to get more records of the commoner species like Swainsons and Grey Cheeked Thrushes, Blackpolls and Myrtle Warblers, there's always the chance of something really special, like another of these little beauties turning up...

Or it's about time I caught up with one of these and unblocked it from Dad so this would do for starters, preferrably on the east coast, on a weekday, no crowds and all that!!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Desperate times... for desperate measures!!!

With the disappearance of last nights Spotted Crake at North Cave Wetlands, came news this morning of one of the commoner birds I need for Yorkshire. With a busy morning ahead swimming with Amy, we took a short drive out after lunch.

Parking at the far end of the lane, we walked straight towards Far Lake where this morning's report came from, but stopping on the way, I scanned through the scattering of ducks on Carp Lake and picked out the 3 Red crested Pochards (243) (2 eclipse drakes and a female).

You can just about make out the red bills on the 2 males - honestly!!

Amy checking for any other additions to her list!!!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Marsh Sand at Blacktoft RSPB

Reading through posts on Bird Forum this morning before Amy's walk to school, I felt a change of plans to the day ahead was imminent. The Marsh Sand was at Alkborough Flats, Lincs, last night and it had been commented on that it could move north over the Humber/Trent to Blacktoft RSPB. Just as I got back from taking Amy to school, the pager went off, "Marsh Sand - Blacktoft RSPB at 9am".

After a quick trip to the other side of Hull for some work stuff, I made the short trip along to Blacktoft, arriving just after 11am. The bird was immediately on view at the back of the Ousefleet Lagoon, often in the same scope view as a Spotted Redshank and Dunlin, with several Bearded Tits feeding at the base of the reeds behind.

I hadn't seen a Marsh Sand since the flock of 3 at Cantley Beet Factory back in 1995 so glad I made the trip and it was another addition to the Yorkshire list. The end of year target of 275 seems a long way off with the summer ahead, just hoping for a decent autumn.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What a read!!!

A few weeks ago, we were awoken with a thud onto the door mat. I knew what it was before we even opened the packaging, "The Birds of Yorkshire - John Mather". I'd been searching online for a while for a copy and had had no luck, the local library only had a reference copy and therefore you weren't aloowed to take it home!! Then I found a copy of it on Amazon for £4!!! Alright, so it's not in mint condition but it's 25 years old, so the odd scuffed corner can be forgiven.

I've always enjoyed scanning through books like this and it's one that I'm sure I'll come back to time and time again. One of my most read bird reference books has to be "Rare Birds in Britain 1800-1990 - LGR Evans". This was then updated with "Rare Birds Where and When (Vol.1) - Russell Slack" in 2009, looking forward to Volume 2 when that's published.

There's some great old pictures in the book, Yellow Billed Cuckoo at Spurn in 1978, Song Sparrow at the obs in 1964 and of course this little beauty......

With a run of 12 records out of 20 nationally being in the county, during the nineteenth century and a further 3 during the 1900s, it got me thinking, when will we get our next record? Must be due, surely.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

So this is what it should look like

After yesterday's post including my feeble attempt at digi-scoping whilst balancing Amy on one arm and the camera in the other, here's a slightly better attempt from Jim Lawrence.

White-Throated Robin - Hartlepool  (Jim Lawrence)

Check out this video on the RBA website of it in the hand, wouldn't have minded being there when the penny dropped.

At least we didn't have to resort to these measures to get the bird!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Teacher Training Days - Aaaaggghhh!!!

That's normally what we say in our house, followed by "Why can't they just fit the training in sometime during the fifteen week long summer holidays (ok, so I might have exaggerated that last bit!!). Today, though, that was all set to change.

This was how it all started:

Cleveland Red Flanked Bluetail Hartlepool Headland - trapped and ringed

MEGA -  Cleveland White Throated Robin Hartlepool Headland - trapped and ringed (not Red Flanked Bluetail)

And that was that. Plans were being formulated in my head, a leisurely Daddy and Amy day was put on hold, swimming was cancelled and Amy was up for the twitch!! She grabbed her pink Mothercare bins and was ready. Only slight problem was that we were both still in our pyjamas, hadn't had a wash or a shave (me not Amy!) and we were still in need of breakfast. Luckily Liz was on hand to get Amy dressed and washed while I did the same and loaded the car, with everything I might need to entertain Amy during the journey north; DVD player, books, toys, crisps, drinks and biscuits - I remember the days when I could be out of the door within 5 minutes of a MEGA breaking, not any more!

Within an hour of the MEGA alert going off on the phone we were on our way and the usual worrying started, would it be seen again after release, would it stick around until I arrived, would the photographers do their best to flush it, plus this time, as with any twitch with Amy, would the site be accessible for her and would she get bored and start screaming, that would go down really well!!!

A very low flying Red Kite was nice as we drove up the A1, but we were setting our sights slightly higher today.

Well, by 11.30, we were on site and all of my fears were dismissed, Amy was a star and behaved well throughout our stay and even managed to make her own field notes of the key features!

The bird showed really well at times, often out in the open on the short turf bordering the inner bowling green, and always better than the pictures below might suggest!!

(Ok, so they won't win any prizes, but I was holding Amy up at the same time as the camera to the scope)

Finally I'd connected with another MEGA in the north-east, having dipped the Eastern Crowned Warbler and the Glaucous Winged Gull and I'd even managed to see it before any of the Norfolk "Big Boys", now that really is something that doesn't happen very often!

It seems that viewing conditions have got a bit worse since we were there, with photos appearing of people standing on van roofs and climbing ladders to see into the Doctor's walled garden, I'm guessing no scope views then!

As always, good luck to everyone going tomorrow.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

What a match!!

I know it's nothing to do with birding but did you see the game last night? I'd been looking forward to it since both teams made the final and it certainly didn't disappoint. Although it's not strictly the done thing, to support the opposition from another country, but hey, they were playing Man Utd after all and being a life long Liverpool fan, I had to go with Barcelona. Barca simply are the best team in the world, no matter what the experts have to say. Right the way through the team, from the manager, to the keeper and right the way through the starting eleven, all of whom would find a place in any team in the Premier League, they were fantastic. Messi was awesome, ok so he didn't have as good a game as he maybe has done in previous rounds of the competition, but you couldn't take your eyes off him, he's simply on a different planet to the rest.
I'm glad that Man Utd finally got what they deserved, they've been lucky this season, ok so they've won the league for a record nineteenth time, but Chelsea threw it away. Look how well they were playing early season and how many goals they were scoring. By sacking Wilkins they made a monumental mistake and paid the price. As for the game last night, apart from the early stages of the first half, Man Utd were outplayed and given the ultimate masterclass from the ultimate team.

 Messi - playing at Anfield next season, I wish!!!

Friday, 27 May 2011

On this day......

27th May
1990 saw the first visit of this little beauty to Jenny's Cove, Lundy... then returned to the same site for the next two years running. It brings back great memories, although it took trips on two consecutive days, to finally connect, this one could take some getting back. Also on the same day and also in 1990, there was a White throated Robin, although untwitchable, on Skokholm, two pretty good birds eh? Well bring on tomorrow.

28th May

Like the one in Northumberland in 1979, another 2-day stay by this bird would go down nicely...

Also wouldn't mind another chance to catch up with one of these either !!!

Eyes to the skies folks!!!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Top 10 Most Wanted

With the lack of oppurtunities to get out birding recently and the 2 MEGAS I needed not available to the masses, the Calandra Lark in Lincs moved on quickly after reportedly being present the night before and the Rock Bunting in North Yorks. never being seen again, I decided to do a bit of day-dreaming - what's new there I hear you ask!!

Listed below are the birds I would most like to see in this country, I'm not too fussy and will take them in any order!

Bridled TernMy most wanted bird with 2 successful dips!! The first of these came on one of my very first twitches back in 1984 and I still remember it as if it was yesterday. We were birding the area around Waxham, Norfolk and decided to check if there was anything about. Obviously before the time of pagers and Birdline so it was a case of phoning Nancy's cafe in Cley. I remember Simon coming back to the car and telling us of the continued presence of the Bridled Tern at Rutland water, Leics and a male Collared Flycatcher in Margate, Kent, what a cracking double that would be. Well, it would have been if we had seen either of them! Arriving at Rutland, we were told that a certain top lister had flushed it and it was never seen again!! Cheers mate, whenever I've seen him at a twitch since, I've wanted to kick the *!*?!$* in the shins!! Anyway, with one dip under the belt, it was onto Kent. Sleeping in the car overnight, we awoke to no sign of the bird. Scant consolation came in the form of ticking Ring necked Parakeets. Collared Fly had to wait until the next year at Holkham and even then I had to wait another 19 years before it was accpeted by BBRC!

The next attempt for Bridled Tern came for the long staying bird at Cemlyn Bay, Anglesey. Again with my Dad, we travelled overnight and missed it as it flew out to sea early morning, no worries though, it did this most days so it was a case of waiting for it to fly back in as it did every other day during it's 3-week stay. Of course, we waited all day on the beach and it never came back and was never seen again.

There's been a few records since those but none that have ever been really "gettable", wouldn't have minded being in on this "little twitch" though.

Belted Kingfisher - Like most of us on April Fools Day 2005, I didn't believe the Belted Kingfisher report at Shugbrough Hall, Staffs, so didn't leave work. Regretted it pretty much ever since. Was there at first light the next morning along with a couple of thousand other birders and no BK. Excitement grew when it came on the pager late morning, only to realise that it was actually now at another site, Eastrington, East Yorkshire and less than 20 miles from my house!! A mad dash back north, found us all dipping the same bird twice in the same day. It was refound, this time much further north in Aberdeenshire a few days later and I couldn't go. I'm sure there'll be another at some point, just hope it's not another 20 plus year wait for it.

Siberian Rubythroat - A massive dissapointment was the twitch for the Rubythroat on Fair Isle in Oct 2005. News broke early afternoon on 23rd October while I was at Spurn. A phone call was made straightaway to RBA to see if there was any interest in a charter flight if I could arrange one. Wasn't expecting much following the popular bird on the same island 2 years earlier. Luckily one of the RBA team still needed it and along with a friend from Norfolk, we made our way to Blackpool Airport early the next morning. There was no sign first thing and just as we were giving up, news came through that it was still there and the twitch was back on! Twenty minutes later we were in the air on our way north. We were met at the airfield on Fair Isle and given a lift to where it was last seen but there were no other birders around so it was up to the three of us to refind it. Time ran out and we had to return to catch our flight home, no consolation whatsoever was taken from the Black throated Thrush or Arctic Redpoll we did manage to see. We left the island thoroughly gutted, with me personally vowing never to return to the "Magic" isle.

I still think it's only a matter of time before we have a twitchable one on the east coast, with Spurn or Old Fall at Flamborough with my tip, so here's hoping!

Steller's Eider - Being slightly before my time, the Male on the Outer Hebrides would have been my idea of the perfect bird, spectacular bird in a spectacular setting. For some reason I couldn't get the enthusiasm for the more recent Scottish female, although I did the see the bird which got a few people's pulses racing between Cley and Blakeney a few years back, could have been an awesome Norfolk blocker but just turned out to be a funny looking Eider, at least I didn't make the journey for this one! Wouldn't mind it being a male like the long stayer Hebridean bird, but would happily settle for another chance at a female.

Little Bustard - With well over 180 records for the UK, probably the commonest bird I still need. Never twitched one so thankfully haven't dipped on one, surely only a matter of time before we get a long stayer that is accessible. Rumours of one photographed in Norfolk last year are intriguing, but are hopefully just the rumour mill in over-drive!!

Caspian Plover - Males only please!!! Just because they're such a stunning looking bird. With the recent one in The Netherlands reported to have flown off in a westerly direction, hopes were high, but as yet, we're still waiting.

Hudsonian Godwit - A real blocker this one, with no recent records. Another bird at nearby Blacktoft RSPB would be much appreciated as that was just before I started birding. Although my Dad was birding at the time, he didn't realise the significance of this bird and said that he'd seen plenty of Godwits at Cley so turned down the offer of a lift, whoops!!

Glaucous winged Gull - As much as I hate gulls, in particular twitching them, this is one of the ones I'd like another crack at. They're just so bloody unpredictable, especially when they're on a rubbish tip. I dipped the bird in Cleveland in 2009. Went on the Sunday for it, when the tip wasn't in operation and there was no sign all day. It was back the next day but Amy was flown to the Intensive Care Unit at Alderhey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, 2 days later with Chickenpox Pneumonitis and that was that.

Hawk Owl - Wow, what a bird. I think this probably has to be at the top of most birders wish lists, except of course those lucky few who saw the 4-day bird on Shetland in 1983.

Wood Thrush - Oh my god, what a blocker this would have been! Picture the scene, ran for the boat on St Mary's, Scillies, over to St Agnes but waited for my Dad to catch up and missed out on being one of the 39 who saw this Nearctic Thrush back in October 1987. Weather conditions prevented any other boats from getting there that day and there was no sign the next day when boats could again sail. To make matters worse, we were staying in a flat with SJMG and DF at the time and had to watch as they celebarted with a miniature bottle of whisky when they returned home later that night!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Looking back...Glory Days of May

Following on from recent dissapointments, I thought I'd have a search back through my notebooks at more sucessful Spring days gone by, if nothing else, just to assure myself that I do connect with the odd bird at times!!

1 Lifer - Little Bittern-Holkham, Norfolk
Other birds of note: Red footed Falcon, Hoopoe, 5 Cattle Egrets, 2 Red throated Pipits, Grey headed Wagtail, Savi's Warbler

1 Lifer - Oriental Pratincole-Gimmingham, Norfolk

3 Lifers - White Stork-Northdale, Unst, Shetland. Rock Thrush-Holme, Norfolk. Eyebrowed Thrush-Auchmittie, Tayside.
Other birds of note: Surf Scoter, Greater Yellowlegs, Cattle Egret, Sardinian Warbler, Bluethroat, Black winged Stilt, Woodchat Shrike

Birds of note: Red footed Falcon, 2 Night Herons, Red throated Pipit, Red backed Shrike

1 Lifer - Chestnut Bunting-Salthouse, Norfolk

Birds of note: Short toed Lark, Whiskered Tern

2 Lifers - Hudsonian Whimbrel-Goldcliffe, Gwent. Fan tailed Warbler-Hengistbury Head, Dorset.
Other birds of note: 2 Slender billed Gulls, Black faced Bunting (Spurn esc??), Tawny Pipit, Red backed Shrike

2 Lifers - Little Swift-Netherfield Lagoons, Notts. Marmora's Warbler-Sizewell, Suffolk

2 Lifers - Lesser Sandplover-Rimac, Lincs. Lesser Kestrel-St Mary's, Isles of Scilly

1 Lifer - Iberian Chiffchaff-Kingswear, Devon

3 Lifers - Barrow's Goldeneye-Meikle Loch, Aberdeenshire. Trumpeter Finch-Landguard, Suffolk. Corncrake-Balranald RSPB, North Uist
Other birds of note: King Eider, Red rumped Swallow, Gull billed Tern, Ring necked Duck, Stilt Sandpiper, Night Heron, Pectoral Sandpiper, Rose coloured Starling

1 Lifer - Black browed Albatross-Sula Sgeir, Western Isles

1 Lifer - Crested Lark-Dungeness, Kent

Birds of note: Oriental Pratincole

So I guess I do see some birds after all, won't be putting the scope and bins on Ebay just yet!!!

Following the recent bird in Holland, this would be a good bird to break the "dipping" jinx on, here's hoping!

Aaagghhh !!!

Before I'd even finished submitting the last post, noticed this on the pager:

"Collared Pratincole - again 6pm Rosper Rd Pools, Lincs"

Typical!!! Could mean I'm heading south of the Humber again later in the week if it sticks

The dips just keep coming!!!

It doesn't matter to me whether it's for a lifer in London, a Yorkshire tick at Bempton or a just a good bird, I can dip anything. Today's effort was for the Collared Pratincole in North Lincolnshire. Having not seen one since I was doing a year list back in 2005, at Llanelli Wetlands, Gwent, I thought a trip to the other side of the Humber would make for a nice afternoon out with Amy.

Arriving on site at Rosper Rd Pools at 3pm, having seen that the bird had been showing well on the pager this morning, I was nearly knocked over by the wind getting out of the car, not a good start. I asked one of the few people left if it was still about and he said no but very kindly showed me the photos he had taken when it was last present at 1.10pm - cheers mate! Spent the next hour and a half sheltering from the wind in the car and viewing the pools in between reading storybooks to a very patient Amy. Teatime was calling, for her at least, so I reluctantly called it a day and headed home, just waiting for it to reappear on the pager, showing well!!

Rosper Rd Pools NR, Lincolnshire

Monday, 25 April 2011

Breezy at Bempton!!!

After yesterday evening's message saying that the 4 Shorelarks were showing at Bempton RSPB, I decided a family bank holiday picnic would be on for today. Arriving just after lunch, I wasn't hopeful of finding them and with no news either way on the pager, we set off along the clifftop path.

It was soon obvious that conditions were a bit different to yesterday's, it being blustery and the temperature having dropped 4 or 5 degrees, making the search that little bit harder. Trudging along the path, I felt that we were getting a few curious looks as to why we were looking in the complete opposite direction to the wonderful seabird colonies, so I sent Liz and Amy to check them out.

"I can't see the Brunnich's anywhere!!"

Getting back to the Shorelarks, we walked the length of the first ploughed field but no sign, they could have been pushed into one of the other fields or could well have been sheltering out of the wind. I'm sure they'll be back when the conditions improve and the bank holiday crowds have disappeared. Speaking to someone back in the visitor centre, there had been no sign when they had gone out at 6.30am looking for them. My third dip on the species in the county, following unsucessful attempts at Spurn and Flamborough, 4th time lucky?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Splash of colour!!

With the continued presence of the Purple Heron at Tophill Low NR yesterday, I decided that I would give it another go this evening. The bird was seen first thing this morning but then no further sign by 5pm. I was passing anyway so thought it was worth a shot. Arriving on site at 5.30pm, I met the warden, Richard, he informed me that the hides had been full all day with no sign of the target bird and with most people now having departed the reserve, there weren't many people left looking. I decided to start at North Lagoon hide, where it had last been seen this morning and whilst watching a small flock of my first Sand Martins of the year, the only other person in the hide, calmly said "Oh, there it is!" and there on the far side of the lagoon was the Purple Heron (241), working it's way along the reeds.

Purple Heron - Tophill Low NR (Photo: D.Mansell)

The bird continued along the north edge before flying into the more dense reeds in front of South Inlet hide. I quickly relocated and after a short search, found the bird busily feeding in deep cover.

Purple Heron - Tophill Low NR, E.Yorks (Photo: R.Hampshire)

At last, after 2 unsuccessful attempts at this site, once back in 2005 and just 2 days ago, I had finally added the species to my Yorkshire list, now I just to need to add a few more of those silly ones now and get to that end of 2011 target of 275.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Tophill Low NR

Still needing Purple Heron for the Yorkshire list, I found myself making a slight detour on the way home from a morning at work to Tophill Low NR. Arriving in the car park and talking to one of the volunteers, there had been no sign. I had already been thinking of turning around as news had come on the pager of a Purple Heron at Spurn earlier this morning and the Tophill bird had come on the pager as having flown South on Sunday evening, even though it was seen until dusk. The Spurn bird turned out to be a different bird, a first summer compared to the adult at Tophill. I carried on anyway, visiting the hides where it had previously been seen, but no luck. There was slight compensation in an unexpected Whooper Swan (240) on the reserve, one of the many common birds I still need for the county.

Of course, the inevitable happened. Arrived home mid afternoon, having been to my Daughter's School's Easter service at the local church and had a quick look back through the messages. You guessed it, "Purple Heron - still on South Lagoon at 2.20pm", right where I had been looking! Nevermind, probably mean another detour after work though!!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Looking Back... Albatross at last!!!

Having never been a prolific seawatcher, I knew the best and only chance of adding Albatross to the list would be twitching the long stayer on Unst, Shetland, present on and off from 1972. Plans were made for the haul up to Shetland in 1995 and it was now just a case of hoping it would be sat on it's ledge when I peered over the cliff top at Hermaness on 2nd May.

Circumstances changed and I ended up going up on my own, driving to Aberdeen in my first car, a clapped out Ford Fiesta was an experience in itself, but I made it and caught the ferry across. Having never been to Shetland before and with no transport on the islands I decided to seek expert help, Hugh Harrop offered tours to see it for about £30, a bargain I thought. He collected me from the ferry and drove up through the other islands, across the inter-island ferries, to Hermaness. We trekked up through the Bonxie breeding grounds, getting dive bombed in the process and made it to the cliff. Hugh, having seen the bird recently was confident it would be there, but surprise surprise, no sign!!! Fortunately I was booked into a B&B back in Northdale, so spent the night there. I was on my own the next day and walked back to the cliffs, but again no sign. I spent the rest of the day in beautiful sunshine, surrounded by Puffins in breath taking scenery, but needless to say, I was gutted. Consolation came in the form of a White Stork at Northdale on Unst, a lifer at the time, but I thought my chance for "Albert" had come and gone.

Fast forward another year and I was giving it another go! This time with my Dad and we were flying over from Aberdeen and hiring a car. I knew where to go, so had no need for Hugh this time. But again we were to be disappointed. We spent a couple of days sleeping in the car at the car park at Hermaness, but the bird never showed.

I was on the Scillonian pelagic in 1999, where several of us were convinced we had an Albatross on the sea on the inward journey to Penzance. The ship was turned around but nothing was found. There were lots of comments that it was just a Gannet, but I guess we'll never know and I knew I couldn't tick it.

Fast forward another 8 years to 2007 and I'm booked on the RBA trip to Sula Sgeir, a tiny rock island out in the North Atlantic, 40 miles north of the Butt of Lewis.

Sula Sgeir - this has to be one of the most inaccessible twitching locations in the British Isles

Bank holiday Monday, 7th May, found me making the mammoth journey up to Ullapool, 475 miles from Brough. I arrived exhausted but at the same time incredibly excited at the prospect of the next day's events. The overnight journey out to Sula Sgeir was "choppy" at times but dawn saw us approaching the rock. Everything on board was silent as we searched the cliffs and then at 6.30am (forever ingrained in my memory), a shout went up and Martin Scott had picked it up. Soon afterwards everyone was on it, AMAZING!!!

Black Browed Albatross - Sula Sgeir, Western Isles 8th May 2007 (photo: S Hinley)

Some birds and some twitches, you turn up and see the bird straightaway, no problem, but then others you really have to work for. Well this is one bird that I feel I put in the time and effort (and money!), and I feel that I deserved this one. To this day it is still one of my most memorable twitches, amazing bird and amazing place, it would take something pretty special to top it.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Starting young

Those early days, back in the eighties, it was mainly just Sundays, that I'd go birding with my Dad. Saturday night we'd plan the next day out, usually including a trip to Nancy's cafe in Cley, it used to be one of the highlights of the day, as I'm sure it was for many people at the time. It used to be great just walking in, seeing who was in and most importantly, seeing what was in the book. The log book used to be filled in by whoever was passing the phone when it rang. Oh yes, things were a bit different back then, NO mobiles, NO pagers and NO Birdline!!! It was always a dream of mine to answer the phone and take the news of a "breaking mega", but it never happened. I did pluck up the courage to answer it a few times, (I was only about 9 at the time afterall), but it was never anything major.

Looking back at those days, it makes me so grateful to my Dad, that he dragged me out birding, often at ridiculous times of the morning, but without him, I wouldn't have the memories I have. Memories such as: August 1985 and being at work with him during the summer holidays in Blakeney. A friend came onto the building site where we were to tell us the news of a MEGA at Cley, a GREATER SANDPLOVER. We hurriedly got to the reserve and had cracking views before returning back to the site to finish the day. By the way, don't call the authorities, it wasn't slave labour my Dad was involved in!!! I might have been only 9 at the time, but I already had a good career in washing the other workers' cars. Another memory would have to be "quickly" driving back from a family holiday in Speyside a few weeks later, this time for a second for Britain, LITTLE WHIMBREL. It was ranging between Cley and Blakeney and was viewable from the seawall and even at times from a mates house!!! Some garden tick!!! I'm sure there'll be another one day, especially now I've written this, but for now it remains as one of my best blockers.

Anyway, things have changed a bit now. I'm a husband and a daddy, so birding has taken, not so much a "back seat", more of a "seat in the trailer behind"!! But I wouldn't have it any other way. I'd like to have the time and money to be able to go at the drop of a hat for everything that turns up, but I can't. Sure, I'm still checking the pager all of the time, especially when there's something about, but rather than planning on going the next day, it's usually the next weekend and more like a "family day out" somewhere nearby, with a slight detour!!

I've managed to get my daughter, Amy, along to a few decent birds, most notably, KING EIDER, BROWN FLYCATCHER and AUDOUIN'S GULL. I'm sure she won't have much memory of them but just in case fancies taking up birding, she might want to "grip" her Grandad off one day!!! (Sorry Dad).

Monday, 4 April 2011

Early memories

October 1984 - Should have known back then how things were going to turn out, I could have prevented so much heart ache and saved SO much money.  Should have taken up airfix models!!. I was on the phone and being gripped off, and ok I'll admit it, I was in tears.  I remember coming off the phone and telling Mum that Dad wasn't allowed to tick the YELLOWTHROAT he'd just seen on the Scillies!!! Of course, he did tick it and I still haven't got it back. He also inconsiderately ticked the CLIFF SWALLOW that he saw the previous October, another one I haven't got back yet, although I have tried.  I twitched the one at The Verne, Portland in 2000, it was showing as we drove up to park the car, but then circled up high with the rest of the hirundines and wasn't seen again, despite staying until dark.

Anyway, I was in on the next trip to The Scillies the following year and what a year to make a debut. One week, 25+ lifers including: PARULA, YELLOW RUMPED WARBLERYELLOW BILLED AND BLACK BILLED CUCKOOS (within an hour of each other on the 12th Oct!), but also Shag and Red Breasted Flycatcher, we all had to start somewhere!!!