Saturday, 9 January 2016

Days with James: Naturalist Blonde meets Common by Nature

A few months back I wrote a post about the Blyth's Reed Warbler in Aberdeen, I had chatted to a few birders during the day, one of which turned out to be a friend of a friend (birding can be a small world). Well, I've never been one to miss making a new birding buddy, and now we're both back down in England-shire, a twitch seemed in order.

On Friday James came to Yorkshire. After swinging by the station at 8:30 to pick him up, we headed for our first target - Richard's Pipit at Swillington; we batting the traffic out of the city in the general direction of Leeds. After 30 minutes we were schlepping a mile through the mud (me trying to avoid slipping with camera and scope), heading for Caroline bridge where the bird was last seen. 

By the time we arrived the mud was up to my knees and the bird was absent, having very recently flitted out of sight. Over the next 30 mintues we brush bashed with the local birders, effectively traipsing back and forth after flushed meadow pipits... Then, salvation. 

One of the birders closer to the bridge pointed out a bird overhead... The dicky pipt had go over. We tracked it to a scrub covered spit, where we had a nice, albeit brief view of the bird. Time to move on (and for hot chocolate).

I, unfortunately, did not manage a picture

From here, we jolted across to Filey for the juvenile surf scoter that had been hanging around of the Brigg. Thankfully the traffic had cleared and we made a trip in an ease hour and thirty. Pulling up we were happy to find two birders already in place, intently staring at the sea. Unfortunately, they hadn't seen it.

It was blisteringly cold facing into the wind, and the chop made observing any sightings impossible. We spent 15 minutes at the car park (enjoying chicken and leek pasties), occasionally looking into the piercing wind. Then we gave up, and made out way out onto the Brigg in favour of shelter and - perhaps - a better view. We scanned the sea, picking up little gull in the process, then looked back toward the shore. Then James spotted another black shape back towards the Brigg, almost under the cliff. I spun the scope and there it was. Job done. 

Saturday I went to Northumberland, Fist of we headed for the Iceland gull that had been seen at QE2 Park... No joy.Then Almouth green-wing teal... Nope. Dejected we headed for Stag Rocks, surely there would be something good on the sea...

Even  the journey was a chore. a wrong turn en route and a flood barring the coast road. Neither of us was optimistic. But then we arrived, to ge greated by a flat calm sea, a weak onshore breeze and birds everywhere. Long tailed ducks  (around thirteen in total), great northern diver, at least three red throated diver, slavonian grebe, little gull and velvet scoter. With bonus purple sandpiper on the beach. Hot chocolate, coffee, pasties and a sea water in dry, calm conditions. Fantastic.

Wish I'd taken this, but the view we had was slightly further away and the bird was facing right. Otherwise spot on!

Finally we went for the little auk at Blyth, well we should have known not to bother. Ten minute before we arrived there was a report of it being visible through bins... When we arrived there were jet skiers, and no bird... We pottered around for a while longer before giving up and heading home.

Despite the numerous dips, I managed 3 new birds this weekend and made a good didn't in my year list. And I've still got one day of the weekend left... time for a well earned whisky.

For James's take on the trip, or more info on birding in Northumberland, check out his excellent blog here.

Friday, 1 January 2016

New Year, New Gear!

This Christmas I've finally decided to upgrade my kit. The old eos 450 just wasn't cutting the mustard any more, so - with I little help - I have moved on to a lovely second hand 7D. The 450 will be retired to landscape work. AND, to stop myself dying as I carry both scope and camera, I have purchased a brilliant Black Rapid sport strap. I have already noticed the difference, its made lugging the old sigma 150-500 much easier.

I have also made provisions for my welfare; I've picked up a new stanley (as I often drive home with massive headaches after only drinking half a bottle of H2O on 8 hour twitches) and a toasty fjallraven hat (which has nothing to do with my coveting Gordon Buchanan's kit on The Snow Wolf Family and Me). So the birding bug-out bag is a little heavier, but hopefully my pictures and posts will be a little better. I hope everyone is looking forward to 2016 as much as me. Bring on the birds!

Mwahahaha, I'm a big girly girl and I use filters on my pictures

Ending the Year

After the usual unsuccessful attempt at Hawfinch on my birthday (the big three-"o"), there wasn't much opportunity for birding before returning to York. So by the morning of the 31st I was keen to get out and about, and was in my car by 7:45. Hartlepool first for black-throated diver. I was expecting the cold and the wind. I wasn't expecting a slightly emotional meeting with an old friend. 

Aora, the University Marine Biological Station's largest research vessel, has been working out of Hartlepool since she was sold off. Somehow I didn't twig that she would be there when I was out birding. She was the first thing I saw when I parked up, and I couldn't grab my camera and scope fast enough as I shot out of the car. Aside from the change to the registration she looked just the same, but I couldn't help but give her a full check over with the scope; so engrossed I nearly missed the diver feeding of her port side. 

Still Beautiful

Low light and a fair amount of chop

From Hartlepool I headed up to Widdrington in search of the Bewick's that had been seen the previous day, but driving along the side of the lake I could see no sign of anything swanny on the water. I pulled up next to the lone car in the car park, dragged out my scope, and set up on the windy shoreline. Nothing on the water (besides goldeneye, gadwall and mallard), and only a juvenile mute swan on the bank. The couple from the par car joined me and also set up scope and then a third car appeared and together we gazed over grey water. I had the usual "unusual to see a girl birder" talk with one half of the couple that were in the first car, before checking my phone to see that two Bewick's had been seen at Grindon Lough, over an hour's drive away. 

Dejectedly I swung my scope to the far shore in order to look over one of the flooded areas behind the lake-proper, landing it straight onto the great northern diver that had been seen earlier in the day. Calling it, I was complimented on the keenness of my eyesight; I was so miffed about the swans that I decided to take the compliment rather then admit to my total luck. Eventually the others left and I decided to walk further up the lake to try and get a view on the obscured near shore, as I did so a second birder pulled up and asked what I'd had. I complained about the Bewick's and pointed out the rough direction of the great northern; he headed down to the car park and I carried on to set up at the new vantage point. I picked up the GN diver again, but still no swans. Sod this, off to Grindon.

After a pretty uneventful drive I arrived at the lough at noon. A couple of birders were there and reported seeing a few swans tucked behind a rise in one of the flooded areas (around 5 birds), but not being sure of their identity due to the distance. As they spoke one bird swam out - a juv mute - and my heart sank. 

I rearranged the scope so that I could sit in the car out of the chilly wind, and soon another 3 mutes appeared. Urgh. Looking back another birder was parked about 200 meters behind, doing exactly the same as me. I contemplated walking out to get a decent back view on the bank, but didn't fancy the breeze and sat tight. Then finally, thankfully, after 15 more frustrating minutes, two more swan heads appeared. Smaller swan heads, with beaks that looked entirely black at the distance.

I hoped out of the car to re-sight the scope and the red car behind me drove up to park just behind mine. And there they were, two diminutive little swans. Too far for a decent shot even through the scope. But undeniably themselves. Finally my stomach rebelled at the lack of food on offer and I decided to head for home. Two birds better off before the new year. 

I'm still hoping for that 400 by 40 target, only 176 to go....

Swan-like blurry things

Swan-like blurry things next to a larger mute-swan-like blurry thing