Tuesday, 31 December 2013


Bugger I failed my How to get 200 species of Birds in London in one calendar year GCSE, now I'll have to retake, or drop a year.  Nooooooo!

As predicted I bottomed out in the 90s, but to my reckoning it was a pretty grubby year in London and I may have only missed 35 or so birds so maybe not so bad. Should have done it and fairly easily but missed some sitters:

Ferruginous Duck (waited for some arse in a canoe to flush it)
Stone Curlew  (on the patch!)
Quail (on the patch!)
... and on both occasions I was too...

Sanderling (couldn't get motivated)

Arctic Skua (Rainham): could have gone for it, didn't

Red-necked Grebe (Richmond stayer while I was in Shetland)

Sabine's Gull (Rainham again): away because of my mother's birthday, next year she does without!
Sandwich Turn (ditto)
Arctic Skua (ditto)

Spotted Crake (should have gone for that first on what became a double dip day to forget, though I clawed back Wryneck)

Dartford Warbler (Richmond again): should have tried that earlier

Osprey (long staying bird on some restricted access NR): should have got that

Honey Buzzard (Wanstead) : a probable!
Grey Partridge (Roydon): a probable!

Shag (Queen Mother Res - Permit holders only): Next time become a member of the Berks Bird Club

... and some other stuff I can't remember

Can't grumble and enjoyed most of it, with the exception of one Glossy Ibiszzzzzzzzz

Did find the only Marsh Warbler in London, so I am special!

As for the rest of the year, I am contented.  Missed some stuff, got some stuff and had a great time doing both, and this is probably my bird of the year

Sunday, 29 December 2013


Today Wanstead went west.  Jono, Bob, Tim and (occasional Wanstonian) David B got up early today, which wasn't a coincidence.  It was deliberate. I would go as far as to say a well hatched plan, which ran remarkably smoothly achieving virtually all it's goals and bestowing much enjoyment on its participants.

Yay tick fest.

First stop a bit of auk-ogling at Portland where a Brunnich's... oh you heard about it!

Well that's nearly where the wheels fells off.  An hour in and no star attraction.  Picked up the Tystie, and a number of GN Northern and BT Diver, some showy mergs doing display and BN Grebe, but no Brunny.  With a few score looking it wasn't too long before it was called tucked up just below the castle.  While the more unrestrained rushed off to get closer views, we waited for THE shot in the calm sunny water before us.  And we waited.  It just wasn't going to happen, so eventually we all made our way round the castle to the closest bit of quay to the bird.  Stonker!

Next up on the trip list was a Glossy Ibis at Radipole. A Glossy Ibiszzzz, surely not?

Hear me out.

This one was being ridiculous....

From there we bombed round to Brixham, Devon and for me to lose bragging rights on White-billed Diver, duly picked up in the harbour, not showing well.  Or rather showing well but too bloody far to bother using the camera.  The Turnstones that scampered along the sea wall got that treatment, and were probably birds of the day. That prize could have gone to the accommodating Shag just below the breakwater, but a nasty growth on its lower bill is a bit of a turnoff.

Another Tystie off-shore, along with a female Long-tailed Duck and loads more divers (No Red-throats though) got me some Devon ticks.  Then as the weather looked set to change, we just had time to nip up the road for the Cyril Bunting, a couple of Sibe Chiffies at Broadsands before we had to get back to London before we all turned into pumpkins.

Monday, 23 December 2013

The only justifiable ivory trade

With the Pointless London List target becoming as achievable as England retaining the Ashes, it was inevitable that, given the chance, I would jump at going north for a certain high-Arctic waif visiting nearby to Britain's next City of Culture, Hull.

Imagine Hull as a City of Culture!

Being in Cambridge was not a problem as Jono, Monkey and Shaun had to pass nearby and so after standing out in the dark for a good 45 minutes listening to Robins they finally arrived and we were off.

Three hours later and we add another abandoned car to the impromptu car park on a small, muddy, farm road in the middle of nowhere on a very exposed part of Humber.  A mile slosh down the road to the haven where a good number of stalwarts are already trying to find as much shelter as possible, awaiting the enigmatic visitor from the arctic.  And we waited.  Had Monkey's dipping prowess travelled with him.  Shaun was already muttering, while it was hard to see what expression Jono was pulling, so wrapped up against the cold was he.  Phlegmatic as ever, I was enjoying myself.  Vast quantities of waders were throwing themselves around the estuary: clouds of Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Curlew, and very few gulls.  A Peregrine idled by and took out out one of the waders and we waited. After an hour and a half it had to be said, it was not looking good.  The bird had changed its routine or gone.  Then someone in the ranks got a call, the bird had just passed over Sammy's Point, heading our way. As one scope, bins and cameras trained eastward and soon a bright white object was seen way over in the distance.  It got closer, weaving its way against the wind, but now definitely our bird.

It did a few little sorties round the tidal gate and then plonked itself on the fish platter provided by countless acolytes. Wow!  Far smarter than had imagined it.  Plumage like a Snowy Owl, built like a gull but with totally the wrong head.

It eyed us warily, having a drink now and then, after it finally decided we offered no threat, it started pecking at the fish. To think this bird had probably been following Polar Bear up until recently.

Then after about an hour, it decided enough of the prying eyes and it rose up and flew over onto the salt marsh where it was lost to view. Excellent. Job done and #400 for the Monkey, we congratulated ourselves on our ability to travel somewhere to see someone else's find and decided to seek the warmth of the car and go home.

It was still light so we hoofed it down to Eyebrook Reservoir, and a lesson in map reading for the Monkey as I got us there spot on. Here a rather smart male Velvet Scoter was showing well by the dam, amongst a smattering of Smew, a female Ring-necked Duck, which we half-heartedly searched for, and some Goldeneye.  A couple of Red Kite from the nearby Rockingham Forest re-introduction were also on show. By now the sun was dipping out in the south-west and its place was being taken by a rather ominous dark cloud, which promised deluge.  We scampered back to the car before that deluge hit.

Back in London by five after a journey of name the tune and impromptu air drumming by all members of the car except for Jonathan, it's not really his bag and he was driving.  Another good day, so a big thanks to the lads for the constant entertainment.  Surely that must be it for, what has been, a highly interesting year?

Or is it? News of a Stella's Eider of Mussleborough broke on the way home.  Now if that could just come a tad closer, Norfolk say!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Dipped, but I don't care. I am on holiday!

After a good morning on the flats, the weather still holding off, I plumped for Richmond to see if I could find the Dartford Warbler reported last week. "Last week!" Now that should have told me something, like it wasn't there anymore. What if had been?  Not knowing would have been worse.  Obviously I should have gone for it earlier, but I went for the closer options of goose and gull and little duck.

It wasn't there, but you know I couldn't give a rats arse, I am on holiday and I enjoyed myself immensely, even if wandering around three bits of fenced in gorse was not up there with the best things ever.  Especially as, as far as I could make out, there were only two Wren, a Blue Tit and a Blackbird in the clumps.  Later there were two Great Tit as well.

This was my first time to the park and it is big!  Huge! What I thought was Richmond Park and a tad crap, was the park on the river side of Richmond, which I now know is really crap, compared with this.  They have deer. Two types of deer.

It's so posh I couldn't find any dog debris: the place is soooo rich, I bet they get someone to clean  up after them, or the dogs don't crap.

After wandering around the clumps of gorse, and a few little detours into the bracken area, looking out for Stonechat with whom the DW had been associating with, I gave up and wandered over to the Pen Ponds, which held a Red-necked Grebe while I was in Shetland. I had forgotten about the RC Pochards that had been recorded here over the last few weeks, and so was pleasantly surprised to see one floating around on the smaller lake. Then as I juggled with the camera, I looked back up and now there were nine.  Blimey where did they all come from?  There were Wigeon too, lots of 'em on the main pond.  What a place.

I scurried round to try and get closer to the reed bed and found four Mandarin on the southern shore.  What a patch.  You'd never get round it in a morning.

I gave the gorse one more look, in the increasing dark, before heading off home.  Not before spotting a little Pipistrelle hunting in the lee of some large trees.  Just shows how mild it is at the moment.  Unfortunately for the little fella I didn't see a single insect the whole time, which may be another reason there was not Stonechat or Dartford Warbler.

Tomorrow I go hunting Grey Partridge down Roydon way, and already I feel a dip coming on. Don't care I am on holiday, and that's all that matters.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

In search of the invisible nuthatch: Part III

By Tim Harris

Neil, Gerard and I were back on the high pine ridge near Doi Lang where we had been the previous evening. This was the highest of the ridges we had visited – we were at close to 2,000 metres - and also the most northerly. Just as on the previous evening the light was glorious, with wonderful views over Burma to the north-west and northern Thailand to the south-east, and the temperature was perfect. The previous evening there had been a constant stream of Cook’s Swifts and Himalayan Swiftlets taking advantage of the updraft along the ridge. Now they were gone. 

In fact, apart from the yaffle of a Bay Woodpecker, more than a little reminiscent of Green Woodpecker, there was no indication that there were any birds here at all. Birding at this altitude in Thailand can often be like this, with the ground feeders going about their business unseen and the canopy feeders joining mixed-species parties whose trajectory may or may not cross one’s own. After pretty much three solid days searching for Giant Nuthatch, and this ridge as bereft of trunk-climbers as it had been the previous day, I’m sure we were all having serious doubts about whether we would connect. I certainly was. More worryingly, with a bird so limited in numbers, did this mean a further reversal in its fortunes?

Our strategy was simple. Park on the roadside, walk a few hundred metres, then drive on a little way and do the same again. I think it was the fourth of these stops, and I was about to go back to collect the vehicle, when an excited Scouse shout up ahead alerted us to a some bird activity – a near-miracle in itself. Gerard had picked up the birds, which were coming our way. They materialised in a pine to our left: a strangely manic flitting from branch to trunk, trunk to branch and into the next tree. At first it was hard to get the bins on to one bird before it had been replaced by another, but there was a Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, at least one Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker and two, or possibly three, of our main target. Pale underparts with no buff wash; a broad black head-band; a large bill; and chestnut-and-white undertail coverts. Then the birds calmed down a little and all three of us had good views: Giant Nuthatch. Neil managed to get some excellent photos, one of which accompanies this blog.

 Giant Nuthatch (by Neil Bowman)

Our relief was palpable. We’d put in an enormous amount of work and got our just rewards, I felt, but for how much longer will anyone be able to enjoy this species, when its habitat is still being destroyed in some areas and its numbers are seemingly in free-fall?

A purple patch

We continued along the ridge, eventually coming to the feeding station adjacent to a small army camp not far from the highest point on the road. The soldiers here are happy for bird photographers to put out food. They probably appreciate the company of other people, unsurprising given the remoteness of their domicile and the fact that they are stationed there for weeks at a time. A group of Thai photographers enjoyed a succession of Dark-backed Sibias, Spectacled Barwings, Silver-eared Laughing-thrushes and Scarlet-faced Liocichlas. While Gerard wandered off in search of Picidae, and Neil took up a position by the feeding station, I decided to work the track in the other direction.

Then began a wonderful 30 minutes. A blue-and-orange chat appeared on a horizontal branch in front of me, then frustratingly disappeared, its identity a complete mystery. When it reappeared in the middle of the track, I managed to get a few record shots. Embarrassingly, considering it had shown so well, I still didn’t know what it was. The bird vanished again, giving me a chance to have a quick self-conscious fumble through the field guide. A male Blue-fronted Redstart, apparently, described as “scarce” in Thailand. Hmmm, that was very good. Then some White-headed Bulbuls appeared on the snags of a dead tree, a succession of Orange-bellied Leafbirds appeared, I had nice views of a Grey Treepie’s vent, a Himalayan Bluetail appeared right by the track, followed a few minutes later by a Chestnut-crowned Warbler.

 Blue-fronted Redstart

Himalayan Bluetail

 Meanwhile, Neil was photographing his own amazing birds at the feeding station and Gerard – sadly – was still drawing a blank with the woodpeckers. For me, the excitement ended as suddenly as it had started and the next couple of hours were very quiet as, once again, cloud began to envelope the mountain. All three of us joined the search for Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, apparently known from this part of the track but definitely not prepared to give itself up. We eventually had to accept defeat with this species; it must be spread very thinly, even at Doi Lang. For Neil and I, the nuthatch more than compensated, though for Gerard I suspect that was not the case.

Spectacled Barwing

Monday, 16 December 2013

You aint seen me, right?

"You won't tell on me, will you?"

Of course not!

Today I saw a Ruddy Duck, amongst a few other ruddy ducks which were Tufties. I will not say where I saw this RD, not because I do or don't support the cull of these rather smart little birds for their promiscuous misdemeanours with "our" (Spanish) birds.  It is not my place, not my patch,  to make that decision.

I would have gone earlier in the year, but the reports were not good, but today I thought what the hell.  The hell was wading through goose shit in my smart shoes to find it.

PLL #194.  One day left before I can rush around town to my heart's content and I am beginning to enjoy it again, but that could be purely down to the fact I haven't dipped on the last three birds. Tomorrow I can see that all changing as I finally head to Richmond to conjure up a Dartford Warbler, which is unlikely to be there.