A hefty ten of us took over the Observatory, which is now a annual event in the Widerscoped calender...and a very rare chance for all of us to get together!!
Nick and Jo visited North Norfolk for a early January treat...read here to see how they got on.................................
ISLES of SCILLY - OCTOBER 2008
Another return for the Widerscope Crew where Nick and Seth were re-united with The Pirate for a week....check out our Blogs for individual accounts.
Sociable Plover - St Mary's - October 2008 (Nick Bond)
SCILLY PELAGIC - August 1st - 5th 2008
Wilson's Storm Petrel - Photo by Gary Thoburn
SCOTLAND - 11th to 17th May 2008.
Participants - Seth Gibson.
All photos - Seth Gibson.
Report - Seth Gibson.
Brief round-up: started off in the south doing touristy stuff in Ayrshire before heading off for a few days fun in Speyside. Managed to connect with various Scottish specialities in the Rothiemurchus area before heading northwards to Smoo Cave, Knockan Crag and the magical island of Handa in the extreme northwest.
This write up is pretty darn long with lots of truly glorious photos. As such it completely clagged up the download speed of this page, so I've moved it elsewhere! Click here to read the saga in its full glory....
TENERIFE!!!!!! 27th February - 5th March 2008.
Participants : Seth Gibson, Nick Bond, Danny Cooper, Sarah Fergusson, Jeanie Stradling & Dog.
Report : The Gibster.
Photo's : Nick Bond. (click on Blue Chaffinch photo for more images)
A bit of background gen...
Towards the end of September '07 Seth, Nick, Danny and Glen agreed to a week's late-winter birding overseas, the final destination to be agreed upon nearer the time. Danny was keen to return to Spain. Nick was all in a flap over Poland. Glen was noncommital, happy to be taken wherever. Seth quite fancied Tenerife for endemics. In the end common sense prevailed and everyone agreed with Seth (naturally!) Sarah wanted to tag along too - not for the birding, just to get away for a holiday and brought her good friend Jeanie along for company. Jeanie is also a non-birder but a good laugh nonetheless. Circumstances saw to it that Glen was dropped from the itinerary which probably meant that more fun would be had anyway. Dan has never visited The Canaries before. Nick has been to Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria before, but never birding. Seth has birded Lanzarote and Fuerteventura in 1994 so expected less Lifers than the others. We booked a two bedroom apartment in Golf der Sur, approximately midway between the south airport and Playa de las Americas. We flew out with BA and the total cost was £188 per head inclusive. Upon arrival The Boys hired a car at the cost of 180 Euros for the week, this included 3 Euros per day CDW. We had a copy of Gosney's Guide to the Canaries and Eduardo Garcia del Ray's Where to Watch Birds in Tenerife. Read on to see how the week progressed.....
Day 1. Wednesday 27th February.
Arrived on time from Gatwick at about 7pm. Outside the terminal doors Dan wasted no time at all - other than to spark up a fag - and drew our attention to a stridulating Mole-cricket. Good stuff Danny Boy! By the time we cleared the airport and grabbed a very cramped taxi to our destination it was already dark. Undaunted we found the reception (it was closed!), scratched our collective heads and sat down until someone appeared to hand us our keys. Luckily they arrived within about ten minutes. We bunged our luggage into the apartment and set off to find some food. Golf der Sur at night is not overly inspiring. We noted many worksites and cranes (mechanical, not avian) but soon found a decent looking restaurant. En route we heard House Crickets and another mystery cricket calling from within a stone wall. The food was crap, beers were ok. Walking back alongside the golf course I suddenly detected movement on the fairway. We quickly scaled the fence and added three wary Whimbrel and a couple of bold Rabbits to the list. Back at our apartment I spied a small gecko on the whitewashed wall next door. We crept up our neighbours steps and merrily ticked off the one and only TURKISH GECKO of the trip. I noticed a few flask-shaped Psychid cases on the walls and slipped a few into a small pot for further examination. We crashed out early and I suffered a fairly sleepless night, sharing a room with Nick and his snoring....
Day 2. Thursday 28th February.
Awoke feeling pretty tired, but soon perked up with exotic species such as Collared Dove, Blackbird, Feral Pigeon and Yellow-legged Gulls. We needed a car. But first we visited the golf course across the road. Our first World Lifer was a doddle. CANARY ISLAND CHIFFCHAFF threw itself onto The List within moments of setting off. We found this species just about everywhere apart from barren Euphorbia fields or desolate lava fields. Spanish Sparrows argued noisily in palms and several singing Blackcaps kept us company as we entered the golf course perimeter grounds. Kestrels and Grey Wagtails (both endemic races) were obvious. A small flock of distant hirundines eventually settled on overhead aerials and comprised of 5 Red-rump and 3 Barn Swallows, 2 Sand and a House Martin. A few more mixed hirundines flitted overhead before the whole party disappeared, presumably all actively heading northwards. A dry scrubby patch held a pair of Spectacled Warblers, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth and a whole den of large Argiope-type spiders on a spikey plant. They looked unfriendly. We left them unmolested.
Moving on we picked up a hire car, settling on a Daewoo Matiz. This was the cheapest 4-door model with air-con that was on offer. In hindsight a slightly larger engine size would have been useful, the roads around Teide are pretty steep and full of switchbacks and hairpin bends. The poor ol' Daewoo did spend a lot of time struggling up the stiffer sections! Back at the apartment Sarah had sorted out some grub. We ransacked the place, threw the ladies in the rear of the car and headed off for the Tricoloured Heron at nearby Los Cristianos beach. Sometime later we realised we didn't have a clue where we were. After circumnavigating Los Cristianos several times, the ladies jumped out by the shops and we agreed to pick them up at the same spot after we'd skored the heron. We drove off, parked up and walked to the rocky beach. A noisy parrot high in a treetop defied identification. Possibly a Brown-headed Parrot? Eventually, of course, we found the right area and soon spied a Little Egret dashing amongst the rockpools. Further along the beach we found a small harbour with Turnstones and Dunlin busily feeding within. Plenty of Ringed Plovers on the beach alongside an occasional Grey Plover or Whimbrel. We stalked onwards, receiving plenty of odd looks from the hordes of tourists walking the promenade with us. Happily I suddenly cried, "There it is!!!" and pointed downwards. A few seconds later and Nick and Danny were grinning at their first ever TRICOLOURED HERON, and my first for the Western Palearctic. Yeeeeeeeeaaaahhh, bring it on! Widerscope-in-da-house!!!!! Cameras came out and Nick managed some pretty good photos. The heron fed quite unconcernedly as winkle-pickers advanced ever closer. We looked at each other, shrugged, and set off over the rocks for some really intimate viewing. The only time the heron looked at all perturbed was when a dog ran towards it. Eventually it became a bit flighty, settling a hundred or so metres away. Happy with our superb views we left it in peace and checked out the rockpools. We raced three Hermit Crabs, except they weren't in the mood for racing, spied a couple of Sanderling and then went off in search of a celebratory beer. Happily we soon stumbled across Hooters Bar. Wow, sod the heron...check out the waitresses here!!! Scantily clad babes with figures to die for served our beers, we ate their "world famous chicken wings" and then they even performed dances in front of the (mostly male) diners. Heaven! Eventually we had to quit and pick up the ladies again. But not before spying a MONARCH BUTTERFLY swoop across the square and over the shops.
We dropped Sarah and Jeanie at Golf der Sur, exhausted by their shopping spree (actually they did pretty well, just a few shoes this time!) and then headed off eastwards a short distance towards El Medano. The book warned that the breeze is usually quite strong, no kidding! We struggled with strong winds all the way to the small lagoon (utterly birdless although Dan did find a barracuda-type fish head, and then jabbed himself on the sharp teeth) before climbing to the top of Montana Roja, a volcano according to the notice board at the summit. We viewed a fossilised sand dune (just think about that for a second...) and then I spied a Cory's Shearwater far over the sea below us. Nick wandered off and we independently discovered the same BERTHELOT'S PIPIT on the track between us, another lifer for Nick and Danny. Due to the incessant wind we retreated back to the car, another Berthie's following us for a while.
Back at Golf der Sur we dropped into the golf course. A small artificial pond with waterfall held a Moorhen, a Grey Wagtail, a pair of Muscovy Ducks and two Green Sandpipers running along the edges. A few Red-veined Darters and a VAGRANT EMPEROR managed to evade my butterfly net, much to Nick's amusement. The male Spectacled Warbler showed well as it sang atop a bush. More Canary Island Chiffs followed us back to our apartment before we headed out to the main square at San Blas for food and beers. Some old codge called Sonny was compere/karaoke king for the night. Lecherous old git wandered over, asked Jeanie if she was going topless tomorrow, called after two departing ladies, "there go the swingers" and generally acted a drunken prat whenever he stopped crooning. We heckled Sonny in a friendly manner and quit.
Day 3. Friday 29th February.
Feb 29th only happens once every four years, so we decided to make the most of it. Today we decided to head north into the interior of the island in search of the other endemic landbirds. Dan called a distant swift from the balcony. It flew closer and we claimed it as Dan and Nick's first ever PLAIN SWIFT. The short walk to the car added Canary Island Chiffchaff (or Canary Island chup-chup-chup as it should be dubbed), more Spanish Sparrows and plenty of the ubiquitous Collared Doves. Several of these were seen to be semi-leucistic. Apparently this is due to hybridisation with the domesticated-gone-wild Barbary Doves.
We headed north and the landscape began to grade from fairly barren tracts of desertlike scrub to more luxuriant green areas, still mostly Euphorbia and cacti fields but lots of Teide Broom and grasses too. Further up the mountainside it became noticeably cooler and we entered the pine belt. The endemic Canary Pine dominated the lower slopes as we climbed ever higher. Eventually even the pines began to thin out, but by then we were "in the zone" for Tenerife's next batch of endemic bird species. A random roadside stop alongside tall pines and steep valleys was very profitable. A pair of BARBARY PARTRIDGES on the roadside were lifers for Nick and Dan, and my first in fourteen years. Overhead the beautifully rich and varied cadence of a male CANARY drifted down to us from a high bough, the second lifer in as many minutes for The Boys! A short while later we found a pair in the low scrub below us. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers showed well on pine trunks, calling and tapping away. I hadn't held out much hope of connecting with the Canarian race but we found them to be relatively common at various sites in the pine belt. A strange call issued up from the valley. We guessed AFRICAN BLUE TIT and within five or ten minutes we were proved correct. The blackish cap and eyestripe gave a totally different feel to our Bluey. Danny suddenly called CANARY ISLAND KINGLET but I simply couldn't get onto it for ages. Eventually it returned and I managed distant and rather poor views. Looked just like a Goldie to me! We drove onwards and upwards noting a Berthelot's Pipit on a stone wall. Soon we arrived at our main destination - Las Lajas picnic site. We were the only people there. The place was ours. I parked up and we walked towards the picnic tables and water taps. "First one to spot a Blue Chaffinch buys the beers tonight" from Nick. OK, so no pressure. A few minutes later birds magically appeared on a far table. A quick scan through the bins, ten or so Canaries feeding on the ground. "BLUE CHAFFINCH" cried Dan! Where, where? Panic! Where...oh WOW!!!!!!! If you've never been to a Blue Chaffinch site you really ought to try it one day. Stunning doesn't really do justice. Bizarre is closer. Unique probably says enough! We watched as several males and a couple of females dropped in over the next hour or so. I ran a water tap into the rough stone base and stood back as a male hopped up for a drink.Magical moments... A party of three African Blue Tits came in and chased the Canaries from beneath the benches. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers landed in full view, at one time pecking into Dan's discarded apple core, something I've never seen in Britain. Perhaps moisture really is that scarce up here. Canary Island Chiffchaffs were common in surrounding scrub and finally I received decent views of Canary Island Kinglets as a pair worked through the lower branches of the pines, often perching on the vertical trunks, something that the African Blue Tits habitually did. Rather surprisingly we bumped into Robin from St Marys on the Scillies. Dan had texted him the previous day but we didn't really expect him to turn up the following morning! Seems he's been out here for a couple of weeks already and he gave us detailed directions (a bit too detailed in fact!) for various goodies such as sites for the pigeons and tintillon Chaffinches. Whilst Dan chatted to Robin and Nick played with his camera, I set off through the scrub in search of more nature. I turned over a few large rocks and suddenly was face to face with a substantially sized lizard. "Dan!" I cried, held the lizard up for him to view and waited for him to run over. The lizard was cold, so inactive. We posed it on a rock, took photos and I was about to lay it across my face for photo fun when it burst into life and scampered back into the scree...bugger! It was fairly chunky with blue scales on the neck sides, indicative of a male CANARY LIZARD. Nice one and endemic to Tenerife! More scrabbling around and I found a patch of hedgehog spines, quite long and pale, banded darker in places. Algerian Hedgehog, no less. And completely untickable. Wonder where the rest of it went?
We eventually departed, the sound of singing Blue Chaffinches fading as we drove northwards once more. We were heading for a site known for its tintillon Chaffinches, endemic to the Canaries and similar to African Chaffinch. Halfway there we pulled over to gawp at Mount Teide in all its glory. Snow covered the slumbering volcanic peak, highest mountain in Spain - although it is kind of stretching it to call Tenerife "part of Spain". More stone turning in search of scorpions proved fruitless. Plenty of millipedes and a few woodlice, but nothing larger. Presently we arrived at Caldera, or Corona Forestal Area Recreativa la Caldera as it is properly known. We pulled up to find Robin already there ahead of us, presumably he's seen Mount Teide often enough that he doesn't have to stop for a gawp. Immediately obvious was a singing Robin (the bird, not the guy), and just as obvious was the fact that despite the fact that we're pretty good birders and despite the fact that it was really quite close - we simply could not see the bleeder!!! I spied a pair of Chaffinches land in a nearby tree but obscured by intervening foliage so views were inconclusive. However, we entered the Caldera proper and soon found a pair of tintillon Chaffinches hopping along the benches. Strange plumage and an oddly rounded bill shape helped to provide a very distinctive bird, in the males anyway. An intensely coloured Grey Wagtail bobbed across the short turf, much brighter than British birds. Canary Island Kinglets were positively abundant, furious calling, wing shaking and chasing around was easily observed down to just a few feet at times. A perched dragonfly was identified as a Common Darter rather than Red-veined. Several Great Spotted Woodpeckers performed well (and I thought they'd be tricky!)
At the top of the caldebra we found a long stone wall with three horses tethered to iron rings mounted into the stonework. There were also at least four Canary Lizards scrabbling across the wall. We all felt a bit silly when the riders returned to their horses, only to find the three of us "sneaking up" on an inanimate wall! Dan and I found a small cafe and ordered food. Nick returned to the bottom of the caldebra for photos of the Chaffinches. I ordered meat and potatoes, Dan ordered goat and potatoes. Mine was better, Dan's goat must have been hit by a truck, the bone splinters were everywhere! Best of all was a stunningly beautiful male CLEOPATRA BUTTERFLY which swooped across the benches we were sprawled across, a lifer for me. A short while later a Painted Lady briefly settled on a flowerhead and then Robin caught us up. Apparently had we been sitting at our table yesterday there would have been Blue Chaffinches on our heads. I didn't know they occurred here. African Blue Tits certainly do occur here, several passed through the bushes just a few feet above our heads. Robin left us for a pigeon site. Nick returned and soon we too headed off for our car,but not before a lone male Blue Chaffinch flew into bushes a mere ten feet from our table! Excellent. Back at the car park another hidden Robin gave us the run around without ever giving itself up.
With Robin's rather confusing directions in our minds and written down we headed off on the trail of rare pigeons. Somehow we found the correct tracks and began another winding climb into the hills. I pulled up rather sharply at the sight of a bright butterfly in roadside herbage. A bemused farmer stood in his field, curiously watching as a strange foreigner leapt out of his car, ran a hundred feet down the road, swiped his net, captured a butterfly, put it in a pot, then two more strange foreigners emerged from the car, all peered at a book, the insect, the book again, the insect again...and then let it go and drive off again. We didn't care, INDIAN RED ADMIRAL was on the list! We saw several more. In fact, we didn't see any of the usual Red Admirals at all.
We arrived at the head of a steep valley, precipitous sides clothed in Canary Laurel trees. This valley held the two pigeons we were so keen to see. We looked up and noticed forty or so Plain Swifts above us. Unbeleivably Robin turned up again. He'd spent half an hour gazing over some rocks and had received five sightings of Bolle's Pigeons. Then he started another long story. A Buzzard distracted us for a minute, very plain compared to European birds. Finally, being borderline rude, I ushered The Boys into the car and managed to break away from Robin's incessant prattle. A useful, helpful and lovely bloke - but bloody hell, does he ever go on! We headed off down the dirt track for about a mile, realised we'd passed Robin's watchpoint and carefully spun the car around...very carefully in fact. Song Thrushes called from within the laurel forests, trip ticks at least and more Robins too although none chose to show themselves. Canary Island Chiffchaffs and African Blue Tits were moderately common here. But no sign of any pigeons. Finally Nick called out, "I've got a pigeon!" and Dan and I rushed along the track towards Nick. "Stop!" he warned and we slowed to a gentle jog before scanning out across the gorge. Naked eye views revealed a bird sitting right out in the open on an obvious bare branch projecting through the canopy below us. Quick look through the binoculars and we had our first ever BOLLE'S PIGEON in the bag. Oh yeah baby!! Unfortunately it flew off, closely followed by a second previously hidden bird. Dark grey tail with pale grey mid-band showed excellently well as the birds swerved around an outcrop and out of view. We gave it a while longer, but eventually quit in favour of another site where Laurel Pigeons can be viewed from the roadside.
Somehow we got quite pathetically lost and by the time we arrived at Mirador de Lagrimonia it was too late for pigeon activity. We did get a poor view of a flyby Sparrowhawk, and several Canary Island Chiffchaffs, of course. Unfortunately for me, two nights of near sleeplessness thanks to Nick's snoring were taking their toll(I did apologise many a time for this, my only excuse was not feeling well the whole week-Nick)!. Darkness fell and we were still on the north coast - and a very long way from my bed! In a bit of a grumpy daze I steered the Daewoo through mile after mile of road until we missed our turn and ended up on the road to Mascas. DO NOT TAKE THIS ROAD AT NIGHT IF YOU ARE KNACKERED - IT IS TRULY HELLISH!!!! We did manage to locate a large number of Marsh Frogs calling from some hidden pond before the fog took us. The trusty Daewoo had to be launched from first gear on many near vertical hairpin bends. Several light years later we emerged on a wide road and somehow I made it back to the apartment without killing us or anyone else en route. Sleep depravation finally kicked in. I can't really remember if we went out for dinner and drinks that night or not. But I do know that I swapped my bed for the sofa, sorry Danny Boy, I gotta get some sleep sometime!!!
Day 4. Saturday 1st March.
After a decent night's sleep I woke up at midday. Blimey, reckon I needed that! Nick and Dan had already been out. Nick had found a small pond on the nearby golf course. We re-investigated finding 11 Fulvous Whistling Ducks, a Bar-headed Goose, a Mallard and 4 Moorhens. The usual suspects were also present, namely Blackbirds, Spanish Sparrows, Collared Doves and Canary Island Chiffchaffs.
We headed westwards along the south coast with the aim of cramming in a bit of seawatching from Punta de la Rasca, the southwesternmost tip of Tenerife. The directions in Gosney's Guide are wrong and the area now seems to be closed to general access. We parked up at nearby Palm-Mar and struck off south across the lava fields. As we set off from the carpark our one and only CANARY BLUE of the holiday flitted past at ankle height.We wandered up to some sort of a martello tower and scanned out to sea, although the light was poor. A few Grey Herons and a pair of Little Egrets sat on top of large floating fish holding nets. Suddenly I spied a dolphin's dorsal fin break the surface but frustratingly it disappeared again. Nick and Dan looked sceptical. Then we spied at least three, probably four Bottle-nosed Dolphins playing at the surface. One repeatedly half-breached and side-splashed in an apparently good mood! We watched them swim up to the fish nets, dive beneath and stay out of sight for several minutes before swimming off in apparent disdain...all that food on the wrong side of a net. A couple more Berthelot's Pipits flitted across some derelict ground and Dan found a raised fishpond with hundreds of small fish swimming near the surface. I pulled out a few dragonfly excuvia which we thought were probably from a darter species. No sign of any adults though.
I looked towards the lighthouse a short distance south of us. "Reckon it'll only take twenty minutes to walk it, maybe thirty" I remember saying to the lads. "Hmmm" they both replied. We set off. The walk actually took an hour and a half just to reach the lighthouse, although we did stop for various photo sessions. Several large cacti sported large red fruits. I plucked one and split it open. It smelled vaguely of raspberry and was full of soft pulpy flesh and seeds. Dan had a smell, Nick looked suspicious so I shoved it up his nose as he leaned in for a sniff, Gotcha!!! We all laughed until I noticed the multitude of spines in my fingers, bugger...I didn't know the fruits were spiny too. Birdwise the long walk was fairly quiet. A few Kestrels and Spectacled Warblers, along with the ubiquitous Canary Island Chiffchaff provided moderate interest. Finally we arrived at the lighthouse and dropped into the shade at its base. Seawatching commenced immediately. We saw plenty of Cory's Shearwaters passing by relatively close inshore. Some came in very close but eventually we had to quit without a sniff of a rarer tubenose. The long trudge back was uneventful apart from a bit of butterfly chasing. Eventually I netted one, it was a BATH WHITE and new for all of us. We saw others but they all evaded me as I stumbled across the lava chunks. Dan struck off ahead and discovered a clifftop roost of at least thirty Little Egrets and a few Grey Herons. It seems likely that the Tricoloured Heron may well roost here too.
Back at Palm-Mar we looked back towards the distant lighthouse and I wondered how the heck I'd ever thought we could do it in thirty minutes. We piled into the car and headed back towards the apartment. The road out of Palm-Mar goes under a huge archway across the road proclaiming the town's name. As we drove underneath Nick cried out, "Shrike! Stop!" With a screech of brakes (yeah right, this is a Daewoo Matiz remember...) we pulled up and scanned back across the rocky hillside. Yep, definitely a Southern Grey Shrike and before too much longer it was joined by a second bird. Excellent! Being of the koenigi race it exhibited rather dark grey plumage, the pale throat standing out well and no sign of the pinkish flush across the breast. According to our books they're quite tricky to locate on Tenerife, although I found them to be common on Lanzarote in 1994.
Back at Golf der Sur we hitched up with the girls and cabbed it into Los Cristianos for a change of scene. We eventually found a decent restuarant but in the streets we noted many large cockroaches, American-style beasties the males were easily 6cm long. Somehow I was collared by a mad Irish lady who utterly refused to let go of my arm (even though I was holding the drinks!) Biggest problem was her age, she was seventy-one years old! (I still say she was eighty-one!-Nick) Boy, do I ever pull 'em... Somehow I gave her the slip (hell, she grabbed me round the throat at one point!!) and we all got home safely again.
Day 5. Sunday 2nd March.
Today was Grudge Match Day. We wanted the pigeons, and we wanted them bad! We set off northwards towards Erjos, a supposedly reliable site although a long walk was likely. En route we checked out a few promising patches of land from roadside vantage points. The Canary Island chup-chup-chup-chiffy was ever present. We enjoyed the sight and sound of a male Canary singing from a roadside overhead wire before finally arriving at Erjos. The track into Pigeonsville is easily missed, at least we easily missed it! Driving into Erjos from the south you need to turn left down a dirt track just before the "ERJOS" town boundary road sign. After a short distance the track splits into three tracks, take the central one which abruptly turns right and heads uphill. Park by the TV broadcasting building and walk about three miles along the track. Much of the time you will be under the cover of trees and we found it to be pleasantly cool. Eventually you'll reach a large rocky outcrop on a bend. There's a signpost beside it showing various footpaths. By the time you reach this rock you are In-The-Zone and should be surrounded by pigeons!
We parked the trusty Daewoo (it needed the rest!) and struck off along the trail. A trio of Indian Red Admirals whirled past, wildly circling each other in tight spirals. A dozen Plain Swifts flew arcs high overhead whilst Canary Island Kinglets and African Blue Tits were easily observed in the trees all around. A strange call was tracked down to a male tintillon Chaffinch which showed well on low branches. We noticed at least three types of ferns growing on the bare banks or below the shady trees...dunno what they were though. Danny suggested some sort of Buckler-fern. Unseen songsters were Blackcaps, Robins, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes. The drop into the valley on our right-handside was phenomenal, we kicked a small rock over the edge and listened to the clatter and rustle of its passage for a very long time. We had a sit down and scanned across the valley from a rare gap in the trees. Within thirty seconds I spied a Bolle's Pigeon flash across the dense canopy-covered slope opposite. We gave it a short while longer without any other sightings other than a Buzzard. We found another viewing spot and settled down for prolonged pigeon-scanning. I spotted another distant Bolle's Pigeon, then Dan found one, and finally Nick too had seen one. Suddenly another pigeon flew past - this one exhibited a slower flight with oddly jay-like faltering wingbeats. I suspected it wasn't a Bolle's. Suddenly it banked, swerved into a dense treetop and provided excellent spread tail views showing a whackingly obvious whitish terminal tail band - LAUREL PIGEON on my List!!!!!!!!! Unfortunately neither Nick or Dan had managed to get onto the bird before it pitched in. So what??? Let's go seawatching for rare petrels, my landbird targets were all struck off!!! Oddly enough, Nick and Dan weren't ready to quit, and neither was I. We stayed put until Nick suddenly spied his own Laurel Pigeon followed a (long) time later by Dan. Bolle's Pigeons were much more flighty. We saw three together at one point. I managed my second Laurel Pigeon but that was all. Still, pressure off. We pressed onwards, still seeking a decent vantage point across the valley. We were happy to find the accursed mist was entirely absent. Small rockfalls beside us were all attributable to Canary Lizards scampering up the sheer sides in an effort to escape our attentions. Dan mused that the whole valley could have been caused by thousands of years worth of tiny lizard-induced rockfalls. But I'm not so sure. If ever there's an ideal place to throw a murdered body over the edge this is it. No-one would EVER discover the remains. In fact whole civilisations could be down there, inbreeding beyond belief, probably cannibalistic and living in lava caves, pissed off at stupid tourists rolling rocks onto their heads.
Eventually we reached the large rock and clambered up the sides for a decent view of the valley. Decent indeed! We discovered that there were actually three valleys to scan across and sat down for intensive and sustained pigeon watching. We saw lots. Several went unidentified, but all the others were Bolle's Pigeons. We heard one singing from nearby treetops below us. I wrote it down as "whuu-whuu-whu" with a throaty, softly bubbly first two notes and a sharply upward-inflected third note which cut off abruptly. We'd seen it transcribed as "a woodpigeon with a sore throat" which says it all.
Unfortunately the mist suddenly rolled in. I say mist, more like animate fog - creeping and clawing its way up the valleys in an almost sentient fashion. Flashbacks to that old horror film The Fog sprang to mind, "There's something in the fog!!!" Hack, hack, kill, kill.... Happily the only thing we encountered in the fog were more Bolle's Pigeons. Five burst out of cover far below us and disappeared around a crag. Then the world below us disappeared entirely and the temperature dropped as the mist enveloped us. Twenty minutes later and it began to clear and recede back down the valley. We retraced our steps back along the trail and noted a lot more pigeon activity in the trees above our heads, much wing clattering and more song. We heard one burst of wing-clapping, presumably display flight, but couldn't see the bird through overhead foliage. I stopped for a quick piss and added Canary Island Chiffchaff and Bolle's Pigeon to my Piss List (get in there!!) I also found a Bolle's tail feather which might raise a fiver on ebay. The long trudge back was enlivened by a Widerscope Rock Throwing Competition. Actually it was an all-out rock fight, Nick versus me and Danny. He was a couple of hundred feet ahead of us and an obvious target. Nick put up a valiant fight, but was outnumbered and lacked our natural aggression (he is a very nice bloke after all). Despite this he still managed to hit and cut my shin and missed Danny's head by millimetres!
Back at the car we scanned the fields and I captured a small grasshopper with bright red hindwings. Danny suddenly shouted, "Robin!" Oh no, not chatterbox again! Luckily it was the feathered variety and perched in full view in a small bush. Being of the endemic race superbus we soon noticed several differences. The most obvious difference was the colour of the breast, much darker red than the British birds we're used to seeing. Also much paler on the belly and the grey edging to the rear of the breast bib extended onto the crown. Also the song consisted of shorter phrases and lacked the melancholy quality of our birds. We heard a Sardinian Warbler alarm calling but couldn't see the bugger. As we drove off a second Robin hopped about on short turf ahead of the car...all that effort trying to see one and then two within minutes.
From the winding road we spotted a couple of ponds on the valley floor beneath us. A quick stop added 5 Coot and 6 Moorhens to the daylist, but no wildfowl or rarer species. We detoured to Santiago del Teide in search of Rock Sparrows but only managed a few Canaries and a few Linnets. Perhaps it was too late in the day? We headed back to Golf der Sur and got completely ratted that night. The Girls went home relatively early after improbably large cocktails in the Casa Blanca Bar. Dan fell asleep on the chairs, the barstaff tried to find eye make-up for him before we moved on to Taboo in the company of a local barman. A stuttering chap performed amazing magic card tricks, Nick quit, Dan pole danced and I lost money to the trickster. I made it back (somehow) and Dan came back even later...what the heck was in those drinks?!?!
Day 6. Monday 3rd March.
I managed to wake up, still very very pissed, bounced off the walls, showered, ate breakfast...and went straight back to bed. Nick caught the bus to Los Cristianos and went out on the Monte Carlo boat trip and saw SHORT-FINNED PILOT WHALES. Danny also made his way to Los Cristianos and got pissed-up with some dodgy guitar-playing homeless chap. They made it back to the apartment that evening and I was still indoors, wearing t-shirt and jumper under the covers which is where I'd been all day apart from the odd foray into the bathroom to vomit or crap. By evening I was utterly empty and ready for food again!!! We hit the town, found some really excellent food, and then I threw it all back up again. Today was not my best day of the trip!
Day 7. Tuesday 4th March.
Feeling bloody hungry, I woke up determined to see something today! We all five of us trooped down to Los Cristianos for a whale-watching boat ride. En route I spotted a distant raptor circling a hilltop. I was concentrating on driving so left it to Dan and Nick to clinch the ID. Nick reckoned Buzzard. Nah, too big. Danny reckoned the Booted Eagle that was meant to be around somewhere. Eventually we were quite close and managed to pull over for a proper look. It was a vulture - blimey! Unfortunately it was trailing jesses. I thought it looked a bit long tailed for a Griffon, maybe White-backed? We left it circling and headed for the boat where Sarah and Jeanie were already waiting for us. At the harbour Danny soon noticed fish swimming along the quayside wall. Through binoculars we tentatively identified one type as a parrotfish, another type looked like a marine angelfish, another like a cleaner wrasse. Gonna have to do some websearches before naming anything though. Boarding the same boat that Nick went on yesterday, we settled down on the upper deck and scanned for cetaceans or seabirds. We soon began seeing Cory's Shearwaters and over the next two hours we enjoyed some superb views, certainly the closest we'd ever seen them. After an hour or so we still hadn't seen a cetacean and the skipper was looking a tad concerned. Then I spotted a fin, which promptly submerged never to be seen again. Unfortunately I'd already called it, suddenly I felt like a stringer in front of the boatload of tourists. Luckily we were soon in the midst of Short-finned Pilot Whales, a lifer for Danny and I. Some were so close that we could clearly hear them snorting out air as they surfaced. Two whale researchers were aboard, photographing the dorsal fins. They reckon they can individually recognise over 250 whales and that around eight hundred are resident off the southwest coast of Tenerife - it seems they aren't worried about tourist boats chasing them all along the coastline. Actually, the skipper of the Monte Carlo was very sympathetic to the whales and didn't pursue them at all, letting them swim under the bow several times quite unmolested. We saw several small pods. One contained three adults and a small calf which repeatedly half-breached in a playful manner. We chatted with the whale researchers, both Spaniards and learned that although some of the pilot whales may have been Long-finned, the vast majority were Short-finned, and this included all of the resident animals. We saw about twenty Little Egrets perched on a rock close inshore before docking once again. Danny spotted a dark crab on the quayside wall. Apparently they can grow to ten inches across, this one was less than half that size. He also spotted a black sea urchin, full of long spines, moving slowly along the wall. We headed for a cafe and shared tables with numerous Collared Doves (many exhibiting semi-leucism, presumably Barbary Dove hybrids) and noisy Spanish Sparrows. I was fully recovered from yesterdays mystery illness and finished my food with gusto...and Dan's leftovers, and Sarahs...
Day 8. Wednesday 5th March.
And so the final day of our trip arrived (which means you can soon rest your bleary eyes.) Nick suggested we return to the interior of Tenerife for a bit more "proper" birding. We set off early, the car had to be back at the rental place by midday at the very latest. We headed north on the Vilaflor road, pulling over at suitable looking patches of habitat. Once again Canary Island Chiffchaff proved to be the commonest bird in scrubby areas. We had several small groups of Plain Swift overhead and numerous Kestrels. As we gained height, moving into the pine belt, Canaries became increasingly obvious on overhead wires or on fences. African Blue Tits and Canary Island Kinglets called from the pines and a brief sortie into an overgrown field caused a pair of Barbary Partridges to explode from almost under my feet. Canary Lizards appeared to be quite common at this higher altitude. I caught one, still sluggish in the cool air.
We scoured barren rocky areas and overhead wires in search of new species. A few Berthelot's Pipits and two Goldfinches (the latter an overdue trip tick, well done Nick!) along with Spectacled and Sardinian Warblers were highlights. A lucky stop by a water reservoir added a nice flock of around fifty Canaries and a pair of nesting Grey Wagtails on a fenceline. More Berthelot's Pipits and then I suddenly saw three ROCK SPARROWS on a low stone wall, a lifer for Nick and Danny, and my first for about 15 years!
Heading back to Golf der Sur we dropped the car back in, packed our stuff and headed for the main plaza. Three hours later, and quite a few drinks, we clambered into a taxi, headed off for the airport and bade Tenerife a fond farewell. Apsrt from a few seabirds we had completely cleared up on the avian specialities. Would we ever return to the largest Canarian island? Ever? Who knows. We landed slightly ahead of schedule at Gatwick at 11pm and was back in Tolworth by quarter past midnight, bed!!!!!
For more photos go to http://www.freewebs.com/widerskope/tenerife2008.htm
Here we find The Gang merrily toasting the Tricoloured Heron....Yeaaaahhh Baby!!!!
And more drinks, although we can't remember what we were toasting. They may look innocent, but they kick!!!
Danny felt like being a bit camp...and why not, but will he manage to score tonight???
The Gibster isn't impressed by Nick and Dan's stringy Barbary Falcon story.
Nick, moments after hearing that the fat Irish barmaid kinda liked his boyish good looks!!!
No it hadn't been raining - Dan really did have a shower (and needed a stiff drink to get over it!!!)
Quiet, innocuous and responsible Brits on holiday....I don't think they barred us...
Nick is massively distracted by the ladies, The Gibster eyes Nick's unguarded food....
I may be absolutely hanging, but everything stops when it's feeding time at the zoo!!!
So who's round is it anyway???? We all seem to disagree, must be Dog's turn by now!
Bugger off, I'm STILL eating!!!
Poring over the dragonfly guide can cause headaches for the amateur (or drunken sot!!!)
January 7th 2008 - Norfolk : White-crowned Sparrow
Report by : Nick Bond
Widerscopers present : The Gibster, The Pirate, Nick and Garry...oh yeah and the dog
Can you spot yourself in this one??? Danny and Seth are in there somewhere......but no dog!!!
Danny middle of front row in a grey hat, camouflage jacket. Seth far right, front row, pale grey hoody peering round corner of wall. The Sparrow - just offscreen, about 60ft in front of us!!!! Widerscope - at the front!!!
Widerscope's first twitch of the year, and what a way to start the year! Left at 4am here in Sussex to meet The Gibster and The Pirate in Chessington, to head for the north Norfolk coast to see the reported White-crowned Sparrow. The news of this bird broke whilst we were all on Portland and we quickly decided to arrange days off/transport etc and the following day the four of us were on our way! Upon arriving in Cley we were not sure we were in the right place at first as there was a complete lack of cars in the village carpark as per pager instructions. We saw a couple of birdwatchers further on who informed us that everyone was just around the corner. We parked up off road and walked down to the site....there were cars/people everywhere. The wind was turning pretty strong and there had been no sign of the bird so far so we all split up and decided to check the surrounding grounds keeping to the footpaths. I decided to take a walk and check the surrounding fields, a local man informed me he had seen a pink Starling three days ago about a mile up the road....interesting I thought, but did not want to venture too far. In my mind I was confident the bird would eventually show and by now the crowd was even larger. A couple of us decided to head into the 3 Swallows Pub as they were advertising tea etc. (Still can't believe you left the site!!! - Gibster) After a quick cup of tea and sausage bap, we were informed the bird was showing....how was that for timing! Some other poor birder in there's breakfast was just ready to come out and they insisted he pay for it before he left!! Anyway what was to follow, for me, was complete madness! Those that know me, without stating the obvious know that I am not the tallest guy, anyway. I joined in the crowd crouching down and attempting to see the bird.....yep there it was...fantastic...then next thing I know was another birder's forearm smashing into the right hand side of my face.....not intentionally but still rather shocking all the same! So that was it for me. A brief sighting and a smack in the face for my efforts!! Cars could not get through as the local traffic warden tried in vain to stop the crowd spilling out into the road...this was some experience! We decided that we had all had reasonable views and headed back to the car to escape the crowds...although we were to return later to get better views. In the meantime we went to Salthouse and experienced a pleasant winter flock of c60 Snow Buntings and 2 Lapland Buntings. A few year ticks were all added by us all, including Pheasant and for Danny a Partridge (he was obsessed with them today) and the day had a kind of Eighties theme to it (don't ask) but we were all indeed rather pleased with the sparrow. Another top rally drive by The Gibster and even him and The Pirate (above) are now local tv stars in Norfolk, getting themselves on the local news! Beware of the dog....he is building up quite a list!
5th-6th January 2008 - Blackwater Arboretum and Portland Bill
Report by Seth Gibson.
Widerscopers Present : Seth Gibson, Danny Cooper, Nick Bond and Garry Messenbird.
Managed to finish work at a very decent hour and quickly collected The Pirate for our overnighter at Portland Obs. We figured it would be dark by the time we arrived on Portland, so headed for Blackwater Arboretum in the New Forest. This is a well-known winter roost site for Hawfinches, often double numbers can be counted flying in. We quickly spotted two Hawfinches sitting in full view high up in a treetop and noted several single birds flying into the dense conifers. A brief tour of the arboretum added Bullfinch and Marsh Tit to the list. I answered a rather pressing "call of nature" behind a large tree and in doing so added a case of Taleporia tubulosa to this year's moth tally.
A wander through the woods added plenty more interesting bird sightings, best of which was a female Lesser-spotted Woodpecker which showed very well, hanging upside down as it peeled back mossy growths from twigs. Treecreepers called but remained elusive. Amazingly we failed to see or hear a single Siskin or Redpoll - is this a record???
As darkness fell we headed to Portland, finding Nick and Garry in The Punch Bowl. Villa (my old home team) were losing to Man Utd (shocking, I know) but things were livened up by a couple of drunken old hags who took a shine to four friendly Londoner-types...oh, lucky us - not! One was definitely called Dawn (the blonde one) and the other we can call Mary, as in Scary Mary. For some reason they took a liking to Garry, poor bugger. After half an hour of their claptrap he got up and quit, sitting in the car until we were done! We had to get back to the Obs to dump our stuff in and get changed, ready for a night on the tiles in bustling Easton (yeah, right.....) So we bade the ladies farewell, promising to return within the hour. Surprisingly we did too. Nick had discovered that despite her age (fortyish? Or nineteen but had a hard life?) Dawn had firm tits. Don't ask how he knew. So we returned to The Punch Bowl, smiled to the ladies...and sat at another table right in the corner. Sometime later they disappeared across the road to The New Inn. We breathed easy again...then Scary Mary came back and dragged us into The New Inn to meet her dwarf friend so we could buy them all drinks. Somewhere along the line things got messy, Nick told Dawn she really was a stupid as she looked, 70p was offerred in return of sexual favours. I upped it to 90p. Eventually we got shot of her until she tried to steal our taxi. Even the taxi driver said to stay away from Dawn, apparently she has something of a reputation locally???
Scene of drunken merriment with Dangerous Dawn, Scary Mary and The Poison Dwarf...and it looks so peaceful in the daylight!!!
The end result with rum and Dog back at the obs!
And then a bit of drunken birding?
Surprisingly, I was first up in the morning and set off down to The Bill. Purple Sands scampered below the obelisk. A Pom Skua slammed into the feeding frenzy of gulls offshore, loads of Razorbills floated past, a gang of scoter flashed through, the lead bird was a male Velvet. A quick peer at the auk ledges revealed at least thirty Guillemots lined up, already in full breeding plumage! I cut across the Top Fields and down to the recently purchased Crop Fields where Nick and Garry were in search of the Sibe Chiff. We put in an hour or so, Chiffchaffs, three Dartford Warblers, Stonechats, five Reed Buntings and various finches kept us busy, but I couldn't say I saw the tristis despite a couple of brief lookalike Chiffies. Due to an unfortunate bit of timing I chose to enjoy a major unblocking session as soon as we returned to the Obs (probably something to do with all those Guinness last night) and missed everyone dash off to the Bill for an Iceland Gull. By the time I realised what was happening it had flown off again. Bugger. Thankfully we managed to spot a Short-eared Owl from the car as we departed. Nick and Garry headed homewards. Danny and I headed for the harbour in search of divers, grebes and rare ducks. We quickly found a pair of Black Redstarts at Osprey Quay which showed superbly well on close rocks. We managed three Great Northern Divers and four Long-tailed Ducks but not much else in the harbour besides dozens of Mergs.
Next stop Radipole RSPB. I bunged an hour's worth in the ticket machine and we set off into the reeds. Cetti's, Snipe and various ducks threw themselves onto the yearlist but time and daylight were against us. We briefly dropped into Lodmoor but the only addition was a lone Little Egret. In failing light we turned The Gibstermobile homewards and hit the motorways once more.
Of course every weekend trip involves a hearty breakfast and this time it was Dogs turn to make the fry up!
14th-15th November 2007 - France for Cranes and Woodpeckers!!!
Report : Seth Gibson.
Widerscopers Present : Seth Gibson and Sarah Fergusson.
I'd booked a few days off last week to twitch the Uist Mourning Dove with best buddy Rich Fuller. Neither of us could get time off and the bloody dove disappeared before we could get to it. Feeling utterly despondent, Sarah suggested a couple of days in France. What the heck? OK, you're on. So we caught the early ferry from Dover, landed at Dunkirk and sped off down the French motorways.
The ferry crossing provided a few species for the trip list. Small flocks of Starlings continually headed northwards across The Channel. Best birds were a few Common Scoter, Razorbills, a Black-throated Diver and three Little Gulls. I was hoping for a few leftover Little Auks or Poms from last week's storms but no luck. No cetaceans of any description either.
Once in France I immediately started my "Non British List" skoring nicely with Mute Swan, Starling, Blackbird and Lesser Black-back. Gripping stuff!!! We headed south towards the mystical shores of Lac du Der Chantecoq, a few miles southwest of Saint-Dizier somewhere in the Champagne region. I figured two or three hours to get there, leaving plenty of time to find a few of the regions special birds. Nope (or, as they say in France, non.) Half a light-year later we arrived just in time for dusk. Great. However, it wasn't actually too bad. Common Cranes fly in at dusk to roost on the huge reservoir, so....."gurgle, gargle, trumpet, gargle"...yup, I can hear Cranes!!! I grinned like a child as wave after wave of Cranes flew low overhead, I counted flocks of 4, 300, 67, 65, 110, 59, 130, 100, 50, 200, 55 and then stopped counting. Needless to say - there were plenty! Certainly a lot more than I've ever seen before! Most of the geese were Bean Geese, I counted 122 before noticing large numbers in the far distance. Also present were a few Greylags on the edges, possibly just feral birds? Small bird action was provided in the form of both Marsh and Willow Tits, although not together, and reasonable numbers of Fieldfares in the hedgerows. I found a couple of Short-toed Treecreepers in a wooded patch of trees, calling in typical Coal Tit-tones. A last ditch pull over to scan across the lake in near darkness revealed the stunning sight of twenty or so Grey Herons side-by-side with fifteen Great White Egrets - wicked!!! Eight Little Egrets and three Whooper Swans completed the moment, oh...apart from heaploads of Cranes passing low overhead (more mouth-open grinning, I'm afraid. I love cranes!) We set off for the town of Troyes in search of our hotel. Last bird of the day was a Barn Owl swooping across the road ahead of us.
The hotel was ok, the girl at reception was very definitely more than ok, we went out for a proper French meal. Sarah had snails in garlic (old rubber tyres with a burnt taste) followed by pike-perch fillet (that's Zander to you and me) then insisted on trying to kiss me whilst smelling and tasting like something that's been dead for a while and left to rot in the sun. Mmmmmmm, bring it on Babba. We shivered our way back to the hotel, it was proper, proper cold! The girl at reception still looked very definitely more than ok. Finally we crashed out after booking our breakfast for the morning.
Breakfast was a bit wierd. All continental-style rubbish, accompanied by Shabba Ranks "Mr Loverman" and other horrific crap of that ilk. We soon quit and hit the road. Our destination was Lac d'Orient just a few miles to the east. Somewhere just south of Geraudot we turned onto a dirt track and drove towards the lake. Unfortunately a big gate blocked our way. A sign warned of "No Access", but we pretended we couldn't understand it and walked onwards anyway.
Short-toed Treecreepers were pretty obvious amongst Marsh, Great and Blue Tit flocks. Great Spotted Woodpeckers were annoyingly abundant. Any other woodpecker at all would be rather welcome, I thought. Perversely a Lesser Spot joined the fray... Once more the sound of Cranes gargling overhead floated down to us and the first nineteen individuals of the day swept majestically overhead. Sarah was getting a bit jaded with my constant "oooh look, more cranes! How many in this flock? Look there's more over there too..." so she went off in search of mushrooms. Suddenly we heard a strange call coming from dense woodland. And again. What the heck is that, I wondered. It called again, quite far off but still calling. "I reckon that's a Black Woodpecker" I boldly claimed. Sarah gave me one of her "Whatever" looks, and feigned interest. "Is that a year tick for you?" she asked. "Bollox that, its a World Lifer!!!" I exclaimed. "Let's go get it!!!" and we dashed off into the trees, crashing through the undergrowth like a couple of runaway elephants, trees thrashing and ground boiling as we thundered towards the mystery bird. "Oh, it's stopped calling" I noticed. "Wonder what scared it off" Sarah pondered as we stopped to catch our breath. Despite a bit of a wait we couldn't hear or see the bird.
I noticed the leaf litter was much disturbed by some animal's feeding habits. Wild boar? Despite some intense effort I failed to find even a single track. Surely a thirty stone hairy beast with cloven hoofs and dew claws would leave pretty darn obvious tracks? But what else could the culprit be? I was stumped until the animal in question came snuffling through the trees towards us. It was a Womble. Wicked! No... not really...it was a Coypu! My first thought was "It's a Beaver!!!" until I noticed the thick, rat-like tail. I didn't know Coypus were roaming the French countryside! Now I've always thought that Coypu were aquatic critters, but a bit of internet trawling has shown me that they do forage away from the water sometimes. And the lakes were massively depleted, a good hundred and fifty metres of bare mud separated the water from the edges. Perhaps the Coypu here have had to resort to woodland feeding in the absence of marginal and aquatic vegetation? A flock of ten Whooper Swans passed noisily overhead when we suddenly heard the mystery caller off in the trees ahead of us. This time we went with a touch more stealth. I was by now convinced we were on the trail of a Black Woodpecker. It just felt right. Again it fell silent as we neared. I spotted several dead oaks in the midst of a clearing. Checking them out we found several bulk standard woodpecker holes and one huge, oval hole - without a shadow of a doubt this was the work of a Black Woodpecker!!! Then I noticed that large areas of loose bark had been stripped from nearby trees....oooh, excitement levels were high, I can tell you. One more blast of calls, really quite close this time, and I was almost at quaking point. I really, really, really wanted to see a Black Woodpecker. Silence. Creep, creep, scan. More silence. Creep, creep, scan. Nothing. More scanning. Creep, creep..."What's that?!?!" cried Sarah as I spot a large, dark shape sweeping through the canopy at speed. Bins up, locked on- IT'S A BLACK WOODPECKER!!!!!!!!!!!! Yeeeeeeaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!! I somehow manage to start a running commentary to Sarah, "size of a crow, direct flight, small patch of red on back of head so its a female, hmmm, the bill's pale, is that right? Definitely a female, oh yeah. It's landed, quick, quick, on the small tree left of this oak, just about see it on the trunk! 'ckin yeah!!!" We swap grins, it gives an entirely different call and vanishes. I'm proper thrilled. Sarah is also thrilled (but mainly because we can go back to the nice warm car again.) Bingo! I tried for Black Woodpecker at Fontainbleau with Rich Fuller way back in the mid 90s, which was the last time I left the UK! We found and staked out a freshly excavated nest hole (the chippings were still on the ground beneath) but to no avail and the bird has been very high on my Want List ever since. Well now I was happy. We sped off towards another part of the lake.
It really was very cold outside. We briefly climbed a tower hide at Reserve Naturelle Nationale Foret d'Orient, but the lake was so far away that all I could see was heaploads of Coot and eighteen swans, probably Whooper. A Green Woodpecker called from the trees behind us. Naturally there were masses of cranes dropping in all over the place. I managed to restrain myself and didn't count them all. Sarah was cold. Dressed up like a day-glo Michelin Woman, pink Dr Who scarf wrapped up to her ears, huge, floppy woolly hat down to her eyes. Not a hope of raising her bins without throttling herself! I suggested that she might prefer to keep warm in the car whilst I quickly worked a patch of decent looking woodland. Sarah gave me a knowing look, no fooling her!, and left me to it. Ha ha, now to get a proper bit of Stealth Ninja Birding into action. More Coypu feeding signs, some of it mighty fresh looking and this time I could see a few pawprints. Definitely no hoof marks! I grilled a few woodpeckers but only managed more Great Spots, the commonest woodpeckers by far. Then I stumbled across a mixed flock. Mostly Great and Marsh Tits with a few Blueys, several Short-toed Treecreepers (couldn't see any Commons at all), two noisy Nuthatches and then a woodpecker went "tchuk". Um, don't Great spots kinda say "tchick"? A minute or so of neck-breaking vertical scanning and all of a sudden a pair of Middle-spotted Woodpeckers flew into view, open faced expression, pale crimson crown and pink undertail coverts, which in the male extended pretty much up to the lower breast area! Hurray, FIVE species of woodpecker in a morning! I love this place! Happy I returned to find Sarah fast asleep in the car.
So that concluded my birding trip in the Lac du Der area. I had already promised Sarah an early departure so that we could sample a bit of non-birding France (don't ask me why, she can be a bit odd like that sometimes.) However, we decided to cut cross country and I managed to lengthen the tally with goodies like Rook, Skylark and Hen Harrier. All too soon we were back in Dunkirk (what a sh*t hole!) and heading back for the ferry. One last thing, don't ever turn up to the ferry terminal early - it's truly appalling and the food outlets shut early. Thankfully we grabbed food on the ferry and met some nice friendly Brits. Eight hundred and twenty seven miles later we made it back. Phew..............
2nd October 2007 - Twitching the East Coast.
Report : Seth Gibson.
Widerscopers Present : Glen Maddison, Seth Gibson and Rich Fuller.
It all began the day before...
Glen phoned me to say that the Isabelline Shrike at Buckton, East Yorks had been identified to subspecies level as a "Turkestan" Shrike, phoenicuroides - a rather rarer bird than the nominate isabellinus which I have already seen. It would be a new bird for him and did I want to see it? Um, well I was somewhat trashed from moving house and too many late nights, but what the heck. OK, so I agreed to pick him up at 3am and promptly went to bed. At 3:10am I received a worried voicemail from Glen saying, "where the heck are you, mate?" and realised I'd overslept for about the third time in my life! So our tale begins thirty minutes later than it should have...
We blitzed The Gibstermobile through endless counties and made pretty good time to the village of Buckton, just a few miles north of the famous Flamborough Head. There was only one other car present which I thought was rather odd. Was this the right place? We walked along Hoddy Cows Lane and began to scan for the shrike. Glen managed to pull out both Ring Ouzel and Fieldfare which I missed completely. Plenty of other thrushes though, including my first Redwings of the autumn. Redpolls, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks passed overhead and Yellowhammers, Dunnocks and Reed Buntings were prominent in the hedges. We bumped into a birder walking down the track towards us but he wasn't sure if we were in the right area either. However, he did say that the shrike had been ringed yesterday and that a small ringing station lay ahead of us. That was enough for me, so we struck out for the station. A couple of Tree Sparrows flew over, wow...they DO exist outside of Beddington Farm!!! As we passed the ringing compound I recognised a stretch of barbed wire fencing from a Surfbirds photo of the shrike. Glen scoffed at this, but I knew we were in the right area, shiny wire on wooden posts with long grass in the background...this was the spot alright! After a few minutes a couple more twitchers arrived with the info that the bird was showing yesterday in the vicinity of the large hay bales a few hundred metres ahead of us. Wicked. Then they said that the day before that it had been showing really well as it perched on the barbed wire fencing beside us....ha ha! Glen apologised, I gloated, the chaps looked a tad bewildered. We all scanned but couldn't see the shrike so I wandered off a short distance for a different view across the scrub....and there it was!!!!! It sat hunkered low in a hawthorn bush, impossible to see from where the others stood gathered. Another quick look to be sure before I called them over - yup, pale bird with a dark eye-mask -then I whistled the mob across and quickly stole Glen's scope for a decent view. Oh yeah, decent or what?!?
Photo taken by Tristan Reid (2nd October)
I called Rich, "Get yer ass outta bed mate, I'm on the shrike!" had the desired affect, he reckoned a couple of hours travelling time. I agreed to wait for him. We watched the bird for about another thirty minutes before a rather large lady walked her dog through the centre of the ringing area ! and continued on her merry way across the fields...and the shrike disappeared. The Silly Biiiiiiiitch! We scanned around for another hour or so without any success but there was plenty of dead land for it to be holed up in. A close Merlin flashed across the hilltop, subadult male type thingy I reckoned. A large flock of Goldfinches landed in distant thorn scrub and I began a methodical scan through them for the "almost-expected" Grotfinch, and found one!!! Oh yeah, what a belter! Bit uniformly dark I thought, then a Greenfinch landed next to it and I realised it was just a juvenile Greenie after all. One of the other chaps admitted he'd made the exact same mistake a few minutes previously, which helped. Glen called a Red Admiral which showed well as it sunned itself on a bramble leaf.
By now there were about fifteen twitchers present, and the bird was still hidden. No-one likes to hear the words "it was showing really well earlier" so I stayed quiet...unlike Glen! Some while later I suddenly relocated the shrike sitting on top of an Elder. Unfortunately I was standing on the edge of a boggy patch of grass and several eager twitchers went in ankle-deep before I could warn them. Thankfully the shrike decided to play ball this time, and offered superb views from the Elder and from a line of barbed wire fencing, occasionally dropping to the grass to pounce onto grasshoppers and other large insects. Glen was mumbling about the onset of starvation, Rich was drawing ever nearer, so we retired back to the car (food for Glen and a street map for me to guide Rich in with) dodging the lane-filling tractor for the second time this morning. Within moments Rich rang to say he was in Bempton and I guided him the final mile or so to Hoddy Cows Lane. With a screech of brakes and much flying mud, Rich was out of the car and all opticked up and off up the path. I grabbed a sarnie and followed. Dodging the return of the lane-filling tractor, we soon arrived back with the shrike and Rich gave one of his famous, "Ohhh yessssss!" Churchill impressions as he clapped eyes on The Shrike. More flyover Tree Sparrows later and we were all happy with our experience with Mr Turkestan (a damn good name to add onto the UK List!) A Brambling called from bushes before flying off with three Chaffinches, again my first of the autumn and probably my earliest ever by a country mile. Due to being within a stone's-throw of Flamborough Head we all decided that it made sense to drop in and find a few goodies. YBW would be a near cert, and Firecrest or RB Flicker just as likely. So we set off. Moments before we arrived Glen's pager beeped to us; Blyth's Reed Warbler in Whitburn, County Durham. Blimey, that's Rich's biggest tart isn't it? Rich pulled up just behind my car and I told him to check his pager. "Right. Well, I'm off - see you later" was the no-messing-around-here reply I got. Hang on just a mo, Mr Fuller!
A quick look at the map showed that we weren't a million miles from Whitburn. Rich reckoned ninety minutes to get there. OK, now we're talking. Unfortunately we couldn't all pile into one car, so we formed a short 2-car convoy and u-turned our way northwards, right past Hoddy Cows Lane again and straight into naff traffic. I managed a death-defying bit of overtaking past a demented old hag in her Mk4 Cortina, probably bought by her from new. Rich couldn't make it past her so texted "nice move" as I sped onwards before slamming into the back of a long queue held up by roadworks. "Not really" was my sour reply. Highlight of the journey was seeing a pub called "The Dotterel" which Rich later said was crap. Anyway, the ninety minute journey lengthened into two and a half hours before we arrived at the appointed site in Whitburn. Or so we thought. Despite being in County Durham, my streetmap of County Durham runs out approximately half a mile south of where we were. Apparently Whitburn belongs in Tyneside??? After a bit of aimless driving I spotted three guys with scopes marching down a side turning and quickly pulled over to follow.
We entered a park alongside a cricket ground. The bird was viewable from the doctor's house garden which was behind the cricket pavillion. OK. Got the cricket pitch. There's nothing behind the pavillion except traffic lights. Rich and Glen wandered off. I used an old trick...ask the locals, the older the better. So I grabbed an old lady pushing her husband in a wheelchair and asked for help. Lucky for me that I did. The doctors house has been demolished and his garden was the patch of trees behind me. Turning round I saw a chap with scope fall out from a hole in the wall...promising, no? Thanking the old couple I set upon the birder. "Where is it, prick!?!?!?" I politely enquired. "About five metres through that hole, showing down to thirty feet, but keep really quiet" was the excellent reply. Glen and Rich were nowhere to be seen, bugger it - I went through the hole...and within ten seconds the two chaps already there pointed to movement halfway up a sycamore sapling. I could hear a slightly soft "tchak" noise, pretty similar to a Lesser Whitethroats call. Was that it? The bird in the sycamore was a Chiffchaff, then another bird stuck its head into view...long angled forehead, flat crown, pale whitish super in front of the eye...then it went "tchak" and disappeared. A quick look to the other chaps who gave a big thumbs up, and I was texting to the boys! "Got it to 30ft, get here now! Back in the park, go to last flowerbed and thru hole in the wall. No scopes - be REALLY quiet!!!" Within thirty seconds Glen and Rich - with about twenty other twitchers! - all charged screaming into the park, biting and scratching each other in a mad dash for the hole. Oh Sh*t Almighty, I thought. Thankfully they were stopped and turned back by the fella with me. Amazingly they quietened down and went back to wherever they had all come from.
I heard the "tchak" call, also noted in my notebook as "zakk" and "zyakk" many times. I assume this was how the bird was initially discovered because it sure did enjoy sticking to deep cover most of the time. Ten minutes after my first view I caught movement low in the bushes and watched as the Blyth's Reed crept out into view, keeping low this time. It showed well for about ten seconds, surprisingly grey-brown on the mantle and it held itself in a funny posture; head and neck stretched forwards, body very horizontal but slightly forward tipped and tail held somewhat raised so that the undertail coverts were prominently visible. I later learned that this is the famous "banana" pose as so beautifully exhibited on Punkbirders website here. After an hour or so Rich texted me to say that he and Glen had seen it superbly a couple of times and that he had to go and pick up Claire. I texted him a goodbye and soon after the chaps with me also left. I was alone in the bushes with the Blyth's Reed to myself. Unfortunately it was less visible now, although still calling regularly. It had a circuit going, beginning to my far right, dodging a couple of boisterous Robins, keeping well hidden in the hedge ahead of me and working higher into the sycamores to my left before flitting off to my right again. It called. I "tchakked " back to it. It immediately flew towards me, stopping about fifteen feet away, flitting restlessly in a small buckthorn bush. I called again, it replied, flitted into full view, and was immediately chased off by one of the Robins. But hey, I've chatted to a Blyth's Reed Warbler!!!! Some time later I emerged from the bushes, very pleased with my experiences with the Blyth's and found Glen and the mob in the remains of the doctor's garden. Tim Cleeves was present so I mumbled something about mushroom thieves at Portland Obs, to which he gave a typically witty but unrepeatable reply, before I gripped everyone off with tales of chatting to a Blyth's. Then Glen told me that it had been posted on the pager to stay out of the bushes. Ooops. But I did blend into the undergrowth very well, black jeans and green top, dirty fingernails and looking like an unshaven tramp. I don't think the bird minded.
The pager said that a Buff-breasted Sandpiper was showing down at Seaton Carew. Tim reckoned we could make it in forty minutes. Glen somehow still needs Buff-breast as a World Tick so we sped off southwards. We saw a bunch of birders scanning the pools from a roadside layby so did a u-turn and joined them to be told that the BBS had flown onto a distant pool a short while ago. We scanned around anyway, not really believing them and found five Little Stints, lots of Lapwings, a Golden Plover and a couple of Redshanks amongst hordes of waterfowl. I had a brief search for leaf-mines on hybrid Black Poplars before driving off to the main lake and its walkable causeway. This is where Glen and I had our first ever UK Semipalmated Sandpiper last year and it was good to be back, on the search for another Yank! We met up with Tristan Reid and his pal Mike who thought he'd briefly spied the BBS but unfortunately our luck was out. A few Snipe and Dunlin were the only extra waders we picked up but a Noctule repeatedly flew overhead which was nice against the evening sky. Disappointed with the BBS but very happy overall with the day, we sped southwards towards Norfolk - currently hosting a whole suite of rarities. I checked the map for best-route and realised that we really were quite a long way north. And there's no decent shortcuts to Holkham from Cleveland...ho hum. We briefly got disorientated in Kings Lynn sometime around 11pm trying to find a Holiday Inn, then headed east along the A149 stopping at various pubs and hotels. Amazingly everywhere was full, and they didn't even have to check their register either. Perhaps the long hair, facial stubble, manic zombie look isn't suitable? So at midnight we broke into a caravan park for a much needed bog stop and ended up kipping in the car at the bottom of Lady Anne's Drive. You'd think that after nineteen hours on the road sleep would come easy....
26th August 2007 - Norfolk Twitching - A Greenish Warbler at Walsey Hills and a juvenile Red-backed Shrike(below) at Holme NOA were the main highlights.
Photo taken by Nick Bond
22- 24th August 2007 - Cornwall Extravaganza!
For the full Cornish story have a look at Seth's Surreal Stories...you know it makes sense!
19th August 2007 - Surrey - Frensham Little Pond
Report : Seth Gibson
Widerscopers Present : Seth Gibson and Glen Maddison.
Bit of a late start, but Glen called me with news of a Purple Heron at Frensham Little Pond - a Surrey Lifer for me! Apparently seen at 0925 in a tree at Rushmoor end, then again in flight by the Sanctuary Area mid-afternoon. I managed to rudely extract myself from a post-meal stroll with Sarah and her folks and was soon blasting The Gibstermobile down the A3. We arrived and struck out for the Sanctuary. Across the water I saw a few birders, through the bins I saw Geoff Barter waving at us. I rang his mobile and had a little chat, he hadn't seen it (nobody had for a couple of hours) but he told us to "head to the trees and flush it up for us". Hmmm... Glen stomped onwards, I know the site well and know that nowadays it's impossible to get a clear view over more than tiny fragments of the Sanctuary Area from any single spot. So I took my time, investigated each view through the low branches... and there it was!!!!!!!!! I enjoyed crippling views as it preened in full view, no more than fifty metres ahead of me. It sat in a patch of semi-submerged willow-herbs and rushes completely unconcerned (or unaware?) of my presence. Tasty stuff, I thought. Should really make an effort to notify the mob. I wrote a longish text and sent it to Geoff, but had no signal. Bugger! Backing out from the undergrowth, I emerged onto the path, ran around in circles and finally got signal on my phone...phew. Geoff and Gang, then Glen were duly notified, directions given and all dogwalkers told to send birders in my direction. For extra safety I found a stick and scrawled "Purple Heron, 5:35pm - here" in the sand with a big arrow pointing into the bushes. Glen arrived, gave a big fat thumbs-up and I ran off to find the others.
The mob had increased to about ten or eleven, all rustling away in waterproofs and jostling tripods. Hmmm...not good at all. We soon arrived at the spot. Despite my advice that they ought to lose the tripods and only enter one or two at a time (and quietly!), they advanced en masse and attracted the loud attentions of a dog. Simultaneously the heron thought, "Sod this for a game of soldiers!" and flew off. Arse. Ten or so disbelieving faces emerged from the bushes, just one guy had seen it as it flew off over trees and out of sight. Now I'm not one to say "I told you so...", but you see where I'm coming from?
We split up to try and relocate the bird. Fifteen minutes later we were scanning treetops and the lake margins when the heron did a spectacular low fly by straight back up the channel and into the Sanctuary Area once more. Glen and I left the others to it- we weren't going to improve on our views!
We continued round the lake, I spotted quite a few Phyllonorycter sorbi mines on Rowan, not a new site record but good to see anyway. We bumped into Jeff Wheatley and friends scanning from the far bank. I asked if Shaun Peters had found the heron (he more or less lives on the common!) to which the guy next to me replied, "yes I did". How bloody embarassing! Sorry mate, been a while since I last saw you. We left to the calls of Goldcrests and Treecreepers.
Latest News - August 10th -Widerscope strike again : Whilst Danny was reporting more Wilson's Petrols in Scilly, Nick, Seth and Glen made an after-work dash to Oare Marshes and struck lucky with an adult Sharp-tailed Sandpiper........oh yeh! report to appear once the celebrating is over!!
August 7th 2007 - Jaunt into Wales (and some bloody jaunt it was too!)
Report: Seth Gibson
Widerscopers present: Seth Gibson, Glen Maddison and Nick Bond.
Woke up at 0345, picked Glen up at 0400 then Nick at 0410. Hit the motorway by 0420 and roared the Gibstermobile along the blacktop nonstop till we arrived at Bryn Farm on The Gower at 0700. Not bad, we probably didn't beat any landspeed records, but good enough to put us within forty metres of a ROLLER!!!! Nick spied it first, "What's that on the wire???" Hmmm, could be a big-headed, fat Collared Dove I thought. But within seconds we were all grinning at the turquoise and brown beauty ahead of us. Before we could leap out of the car and flush the bird, some idiot did it for us. It flew 100m further along the wires, settling quickly and offering simply stunning views as the sunlight flooded across its feathers. I noted the brown edging across mostly blue wing coverts and rather extensive pale brown feathering around the base of the beak, indicating a second year bird, not yet full adult.
Photo taken by Barry Stewart (6th August)
Nevertheless, it was a beautiful bird and we all enjoyed watching it preen, stretch and occasionally sally to the ground on broad, flicking wings. A Swallow seemed determined to mob it as it sat unconcernedly on the wire. A few minutes of vigorous "yawning" ensued and I hoped to soon be the proud owner of a Roller pellet, but nothing was coughed up. Shame, Danny would give his right knacker for one of those!
It was still early, the obvious suggestion was to try for the Black Stork on the Alaw Estuary, Anglesey. Having driven from mid-Wales to Anglesey before, I began to explain to the chaps that it meant a jaunt of several hours. They didn't care (bastards!) just go for it. Hmmm, well there was news of a Gull-billed Tern on the Dovey Estuary yesterday which was kinda en route to Anglesey...OK, I'd do it. So, back into the car once more.
Some time later we were still in South Wales. It seems the whole place is being dug up by gangs of tarmac teams. If I ever see a temporary traffic light again....
Some time later and we were in mid-Wales. Still no news on the tern so we bypassed the Dovey and carried on northwards. A right good jam somewhere in the Snowdonia National Park found us driving under a pair of Pied Flycatchers as they flitted out from roadside pines, wicked! Another yeartick! A lone Red Kite sat on a dead tree beside the road (so you can add real Red Kite to your lifelist now, Nick!)
Eventually we arrived on Anglesey. And I do mean eventually. Hurry up and build that trans-orbital Welsh superhighway quickly, you useless lazy, spit-when-you-talk, Anglo-hating folk (only kidding, my uncle's cat once belonged to someone who's grannies neighbour was Welsh...so that proves I don't hate them).We zoomed through quiet villages full of inbred throwbacks with dodgy 80's haircuts (just kidding again...maybe) just in time to find a handful of twitchers piling into their cars and tearing off at speed. "It's flown off down the estuary, and that guy knows a shortcut!" said one chap. "Back in the car, boys. We ain't there yet" I told Glen and Nick. Much u-turning later and we sped in convoy down tight lanes until we arrived, erm...somewhere else! I had to feel sorry for the pair of Aylesbury Ducks halfway down one little lane as we sped through, desperately trying to flatten themselves against an inpenetrable hedge as car after car clipped their tail feathers! The guy in the know sped off at a brisk pace, I lost the pack as I answered a rather urgent call of nature in a leafy track. Jogging ahead I caught up with them just as Nick turned to me with a grin and pointed to the tidal sandbars ahead of us. "Bloody hell, there's a cormorant dancing on the water!!!" I thought before lifting my bins to see the BLACK STORK chasing small fish in the shallows! I didn't know they did that! I've seen Reddish Egrets doing that on Florida beaches, admittedly the stork was rather clumsy compared to one of those, but bloody impressive when it lifted its wings and ran about in a slightly demented fashion. Full credit to our guide, he knew exactly where to come and I was sooooooo glad we didn't arrive just one minute later than we did! We watched the stork for another five or ten minutes before it suddenly flew off, low and back up the river mouth spooking gulls all over the place. It soon powered upwards on massively broad wings and began to circle higher and higher before hitting a thermal over a nearby hillside. It then rose rapidly and seemed set to depart to the north west before drifting directly overhead and then off to the south. I hogged Glen's scope for the duration of the flight time until it came closer when I lay on my back in the grass and had unprecedented great views as it passed silently over. The primaries were in active moult so individual recognition of this bird should be easy if it wanders elsewhere.
Photo taken by Dave Kelsall (2nd August)
Apparently it regularly flies off high but always returns within a day or so. I repeated that I couldn't believe how jammy we'd been and thanked the guy again, he was heading down to the Dovey where the tern had reappeared. We had to make a quick stop at South Stack for Nick to skore his THIRD lifer of the day in the shape of Chough.
We arrived at South Stack RSPB to find it mobbed with folk. We managed to park up and were soon scanning babes, I mean birds in search of Puffins and Choughs. The Choughs flew by, I retired to the car for a power nap, Glen and Nick carried on for another hour getting Chough photos and Wheatear but not much else...except sunburnt! Refreshed we quit Wales, pleased to have finally broken the bad-luck curse that usually follows us across the border. (No mention of Blue Rock Thrush, Bee-eaters, Sooty Tern etc etc needed - OK?)
And so, at ten that night, some EIGHTEEN hours and SEVEN HUNDRED AND TWELVE miles later, I arrived at my girlfriend's house weary but happy. Two UK Lifers, one of which (the stork) was a World Tick! Sometime after 12:30 we made it to sleep..phew.
July 29th 2007 - Kent - Oare Marshes and Cliffe Pools :
Report and photo's : Nick Bond
Widerscopers present : Nick Bond, Glen Maddison, Seth Gibson
Essex Skipper - female
Scarce Emerald Damselfly - a fresh male
July 25th 2007 - Kent - Oare Marshes :
Report and photo's : Nick Bond
Widerscopers present : Nick Bond, Glen Maddison
Met Glen at Surbiton and headed to Faversham by train arriving around midday. We took a taxi from the station which dropped us outside the Three Mariners Pub and the road that takes you down to the reserve. Walking down the road a couple of Corn Buntings were observed with one individual singing its heart out in rather blustery conditions. As we reached the horse paddock area a Turtle Dove could be heard but not seen and a few butterflies were seen noticeably Gatekeeper and Meadow Browns also Essex Skipper was found which was duly photographed. We spent the afternoon concentrating mainly on the East Flood and checking through the waders. Water levels were pretty good considering how much rain we have had recently. There were 300+Black-Tailed Godwits present along with untold numbers of Redshank including some young birds. A couple of Dunlin still in summer plumage were feeding amongst them and at least 6 Ruff were observed including several males, a breeding plumaged female and a juvenile. More difficult to pick out was the summer plumaged Knot that was hiding amongst one of the Black-Tailed Godwit flocks. Other waders on the East Flood included one Greenshank and a Whimbrel dropped in briefly. Other birds observed on the East Flood were Lapwing, several Shelduck including young, Ruddy Duck, an eclipse male Garganey, Shoveler, a single Teal, loads of Coot again including many young birds. Two family flocks of Bearded Tit were heard with one individual seen briefly as gusty conditions made viewing difficult. Large numbers of Sand Martins were moving through as were smaller numbers of Common Swifts and Swallows. A juvenille Mediterranean Gull dropped into the East Flood before settling with Black-headed Gulls on the West Flood. Little Egrets were scattered around, several Whimbrels were on the shore along with 3 Green Sandpipers and a Common Sandpiper. Pochard and Tufted Duck were also seen around the reserve with young. Several Red Admirals and a knackered Common Blue butterfly were also seen but raptors were thin on the ground with only Common Kestrel seen. We managed to nail down a Turtle Dove as well as a juvenile bird seen further down the road as we headed back. Another Turtle Dove was seen by the Three Mariners pub as we waited for our taxi to take us back to Faversham station. A good day in rather blustery conditions but at least it managed to stay dry!
Corn Bunting - continuously singing!
Common Blue - sheltering in Glens jacket!
Little Egret - one of several around the reserve
Turtle Dove - juvenile
Mediterranean Gull - juvenile
Pochard - female present with three young
July 11th 2007- Dorset - Portland and Weymouth area :
Report and photo's : Nick Bond
Widerscopers present : Nick Bond, Glen Maddison, Seth Gibson.
Met up with Seth and Glen and headed for Lodmoor RSPB where a Roseate Tern had been present the last few days. Arrived at Lodmoor and checked through the terns which only revealed Common with quite a few young birds. The terns were coming and going from Weymouth Bay so we decided to check again later in the day. Whilst we were here we checked around the reserve where several Black-Tailed Godwits were present as were a couple of Common Sandpipers and a single Little Ringed Plover. After leaving the reserve we decided to check out Radipole where Glen found 3 Common Sandpipers on the island in front of the visitor centre. We then headed for Portland via Ferrybridge. Seth and Glen were keen to see a Large Tortoiseshell that had been seen on and off. Dropped into the Observatory for a while to say hello then headed out into the field briefly checking the quarry where a Marbled White and Peacock butterfly were seen. We then did some sea-watching from The Bill and quickly spotted a Balearic Shearwater as well as a few Manx Shearwaters. A Puffin was also seen on the water as well as another Balearic Shearwater, there was at least four birds present. Walking back to the Obs, Glen spotted a butterfly and briefly had it in the bins....pretty sure it was a Large Tortoiseshell, had to make a quick phonecall to Seth who was hunting around in the top fields and after a good search we could not relocate the butterfly. We then checked out the area behind the Mermaid pub where plenty of butterflies were present and Seth and Glen managed to get on a flying Large Tortioseshell. There were various butterflies here including Ringlet, Common Blue, Marbled White, Peacock, Small Skipper, Comma and a Clouded Yellow. We made our way back to Radipole and eventually the Roseate Tern was located and seen well preening and roosting, the bird was in the same field of view at one point with a Sandwich, Arctic and two Common Terns. Good stuff!
The Bobolink - Hengistbury Head, Dorset - 6th November 2002
Report by Seth Gibson
After the recent formation of the "Midweek Birders" we were still on a high with goodies such as Rough-legged Buzzard and Great Grey Shrike on the list. Glen "Co-ordinator" Maddison phoned me with news that Nick "Rally Driver" Bond had heard of a Bobolink at Hengistbury Head in Dorset. Glen suggested that we try for it. "NO SHIT!!!" was my immediate reply. The next day we met at Glen’s at 0500 with Danny "Stoat-boy" Cooper joining us once again.
The weather was poor en route, rain pretty constant all the way down to Dorset. Upon our arrival we noted 100s of gulls in the pre-dawn gloom. Feeling peckish we found a dodgy little newsagents and bought some particularly scummy grub, most of it out of date. Amazingly none of us succumbed to food poisoning (at least, not yet we haven’t!) Back at Hengistbury Head we watched the weather deteriorate for a while until dawn slowly arrived. A southerly wind drove the rain at us so that we hunkered behind the toilet block for another 30 minutes before eventually realising that we wouldn’t find much unless we braved the weather and searched for our quarry.
Following the rather poor directions from BSE we headed into the area known as Wick Fields and walked the 200m to the bramble strewn area supposedly favoured by the Bobolink. This was the fifth day after its discovery which, combined with the weather, was probably why we were the only birders around. Plenty of trampled grass and a muddy path led us to believe that we were in the right spot, but the rain was in our faces making prolonged viewing with the optics impossible. We sighted a large shed across the field and skirted the perimeter until we found ourselves sheltering beneath the eaves of the shed. Much better! A surprising amount of bird activity was noted, highlights being a close flyover Peregrine and a Cetti’s Warbler which gave its intermittent song whenever the rain lessened. Glen explained to us how singing Cetti’s are sure indicators of better weather on the way. Nick felt that the relative visibility of famous Christchurch was more relevant to the prevailing conditions. Either way, the rain continued to lessen and grow worse with no real hope that it would ever actually stop…which it didn’t.
After the best part of two hours a small bird flew over heading up the fields away from us. It was a poor view but we all noted the full tail, rounded wings and odd wavering flight. Nobody was about to claim it as our bird, but I felt that it definitely needed checking out. Leaving Nick and Glen sheltering by the shed, Danny and I set off to find the mystery bird. Thankfully the wind and rain had temporarily eased off so that birding was almost comfortable. A pity that we were all completely sodden anyway. After a fruitless search we returned to find Glen and Nick missing. After a quick phone call we met a little further up the fields than any of us had thus far been. 20 minutes later the rain was back and the wind had shifted round to a chillier north easterly. Two or three Dartford Warblers, a calling Water Rail and distant views of a diving Kingfisher helped…but where was the object of our day?
We reached the end of the fields and turned back again. We split up as we walked back between fences. Glen and Nick took a lower track 10 metres off of the one that Danny and I were on. Perhaps between us we could find the bird? It seemed a vain hope…AND THERE IT WAS!!!!!!!! It flew up from long grasses about 10 feet to my right and landed in a low scrub oak approximately 18 feet away from me. I took a thrilled two-second stare to check that I hadn’t imagined it - Yup, check those head stripes and whacking great pink beak - before trying to tell the others. Unfortunately my brain forgot how to work my voice so all that came out was "Hey, hey, oy, oy, its…its…" Luckily they all seemed to know what I was on about and began to march over. Worried that the bird would fly off before they realised that it was only a few feet away I managed to splurt out a quick, "Stop! It’s just here in the oak!" Thankfully Glen stopped short of spooking the bird and within seconds we were all staring at the Bobolink! F*ckin’ right, we were! HURRAY!! Grinning like an idiot (Wow, a f*ckin Bobolink!) I began to run through the ID features, checking them off in my mind…
The overall impression was of a surprisingly bright bird, roughly the size of a sparrow. The mass of head stripes, bright pink bill and legs and warm golden nape struck me as the most obvious features. After a few seconds it flew several metres back into the field and dropped into tall grass. Within 30 seconds Danny spotted it sitting atop a large bramble patch no more than 25 feet from us. It remained in full view for a couple of minutes during which time we enjoyed crippling views (literally in Nick’s case - he was in a bramble patch at the time!)
The head showed a pale straw-coloured median crown-stripe bordered with very prominent dark lateral crown-stripes. Beneath these stripes was a broad straw-coloured supercilium. The eye-stripe was blackish and appeared to be restricted to behind the eye. There were no moustachial, malar or submoustachial stripes present. The pale braces on the back appeared to be absent which surprised me, I had expected them to be quite obvious. The nape was a gorgeous warm, subdued golden colour which combined with the pale tipped median coverts aged the bird as an immature. The tertials showed blackish centres with fine pale borders. This contrasted quite noticeably with the folded upperwing areas and primaries which were more uniformly brownish, again indicating an immature bird. BSE had aged it as an immature, which I was now happy to agree with. The throat was yellowish, more so than the rest of the underparts. The flanks showed distinct mid-brown streakings running longitudinally down the body towards the vent and extending onto the undertail coverts which were reasonably well marked, almost barred. Try as I might, the pointed tail feather tips eluded me despite the fact that the bird perched quite openly several times. However, I could see that there was no sign of a forked effect. The bird began to quietly call, a soft "duuur" which it repeated three or four times, the last one more intensely, but still quietly, as it flew off towards a nearby rose bush.
We watched it for another minute or so (it did a dropping whilst perched on the rose, but I couldn’t locate the leaf for my collection!!! Possibly this was a good thing?) before it flew off and was lost to sight within the weedy field. Happy that we would not better the experience we merrily tramped our way back to the car park. Just as we were leaving the reserve we met a pair of Brummie birders - the only birders we saw all day! We pointed them in the right direction. Nick notified BSE on their hotline (which isn’t free if calling from a mobile - swizz) and it subsequently appeared on their messages.
We tucked into a decent late breakfast at the café before heading towards the Head itself. We saw plenty of Stonechats on the heath and Nick spotted a lone Diver flying low over the sea far below. It proved to be a Red-throated. Concerned that our car ticket was about to expire we returned, wet but pretty damn happy with ourselves! The Brummie birders were back at their car and had failed to find the Bobolink which was a shame coz they were nice people and had been hit by a truck on the way down…some folk are just unlucky - but not those of the Midweek Birders Club!!!!!!!! Who can say what our next goodie will be?