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!!!