Mealy. Really?!

This morning me and my mate Andy took the bus up to Ulley Reservoir for one of the trickier birding challenges, which is redpoll ID, specifically looking for some of then mealy redpolls that had been recently reported hanging around the reservoir’s flock of lessers.

We got there just after 9am, and got straight on to a rather handsome male brambling on the feeders. Sadly the lighting was pretty poor and so, despite its posing I only managed the shot below, but it’s still the best brambling shot I’ve managed so far! (Search my Flickr account for bramblings… it’s scary.)

Brambling

Squinting at a few redpolls that rather rudely refused to become anything other than lessers, we carried on around the res, picking up a few good bits and bobs including a drake goldeneye, a willow tit and a skein of 150 or so pink-footed geese overhead. Eventually we found the main redpoll flock and it was time to squint. After careful scrutiny at least two revealed themselves as mealies – a smidge larger, with a frosty base colour with contrasting black streaks on the flank and rump, white wing bars, very pale undertail coverts, and little beige on the head apart from a splodge on the ear coverts. Despite some of these features being fairly subtle, they did stand out quite well, making the lessers seem rather dingy in comparison. Sadly due to the same poor light that thwarted the brambling shot, led to these sorry excuses for photos, but hopefully a few of the features can be picked up…

Mealy Redpoll (just about) Mealy Redpoll (Just about!) Mealy Redpoll (just about)

A few yellowhammers around the feeders were nice as we left the Res, but hungry for more birding action we decided to head for Pit-House West and Rother Valley, and after working out the bus timetable, and realising we’d just missed one, we decided it was probably quicker to walk. About half an hour later we were at Pit-house West, which had virtually nothing worth reporting, bar another willow tit on the path towards the boating lake.

At RVCP the sun came out and the waterfowl were playing, meaning I could rescue this blog post from being a total photographic disaster…

Great Crested Grebe Mute Swan Wigeon Goosander

Highlights were the usual waterfowl, nothing out of the ordinary but stuff that was always nice to see, such as goosander, goldeneye, wigeon, teal, great crested grebe etc, plus a buzzard, a redshank, lapwing and siskin.

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Lots and lots in Notts…

Today I went on (would you believe?) my first non-patch birding excursion of the year, and had a trip over the border into Nottinghamshire. The first port of call was Clumber Park, where the target of the day was hawfinch. We got on to one by the Chapel very quickly, giving brief views, and after a short walk connected with one which gave good views as it perched on the edge of a tree. After a while a group of hawfinch-hunters had arrived at the Park, and seven birds gave good views to the small crowd, which were assembled close to the Chapel.

The light was terrible this morning, so these are the best you’re getting…

Hawfinch Hawfinch

As well as the hawfinches, our secondary targets didn’t disappoint either, with good shows from lesser spotted woodpeckers (one in the same tree as a hawfinch at one point), and a marsh tit which decided to perch for a few moments right by my head.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

On the lake there were also good numbers of goosander, plus shoveler, tufted duck, pochard and great crested grebe, and the trees also yielded a wide range of woodland birds that included great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, treecreeper and lesser redpoll.

It was only 10.30, with our target birds all got with stunning views, so we decided to have a trip to Idle Valley NR (formerly known as Lound Gravel Pits) to find the smew that’s been sighted there recently. Almost as soon as we pulled up two birders put us on to the handsome drake among the multitude of ducks, which also included goldeneye, pintail, teal and gadwall. After a while we saw he wasn’t alone, as a female was also present, but she only showed for a few moments before slinking off into the undergrowth. Although males are by far the best-looking smew, I’d never seen a female before and so was pretty chuffed to see her!

Elsewhere on site two little egrets were around, some shelduck were lurking around, and we got a noisy flyover from 15 whooper swans. Not a bad stopoff at all!

After this we decided to check out Budby Common. There’d been a great grey shrike here recently, and although we kept our eyes open we didn’t really expect to see it (and didn’t!), but we added a few species to the day’s tally, which included tree sparrow, yellowhammer and siskin, and my companions also managed a green woodpecker, making it a three woodpecker day for them (although I managed to miss it completely).

A cracking day all in all, with some of my very favourite species seen.

A (late) retrospective

Not too much to report really, at the weekend I further explored SK38C and H, my two tetrads that make up my self-imposed patch. I only managed one new addition for the year – a mistle thrush – but discovered a few new parts to have a poke around in the farmland east of Wharncliffe Chase. Although I’m not racking up the ticks at the moment, I’m makling mental notes where to keep my eyes and ears open once the Spring migrants starting arriving. I think I’ve found a few nice warbler traps – hopefully I’ll be proven right!

As, at the moment, these updates aren’t too exciting, and I’m currently in the University computer lab killing an hour before the SBSG indoor meeting (I’m rather geekily looking forward to Martin Garner’s Gull ID talk…), I thought I’d do a late retrospective of my highlights of 2010, giving the best birds for each month. I did yearlist last year, ending with 206 (I’m sure LGRE’s hardly shaking with fear!), and these are the best.

JANUARY – Bird of the Month – Bewick’s Swan

Bewick's Swans (record shot)

A trip to Norfolk last January turned up two lifers in the form of Mealy Redpoll and White-fronted Goose, plus some “proper” wild Barnacle Geese (my previous ones were a little iffy…), but the best lifer of the month was a little bit closer to home, with a bus out to a damp field in Manvers for a drizzly twitch to see two Bewick’s swans. Hardly a rare bird, but pretty scarce round these parts, and very nice to see.

FEBRUARY – Bird of the month – Great White Egret

Two days stand out in February, one spent mopping up bogey birds on the East Coast that included Slav grebe, Med gull and bean goose was particularly good, but in a similar vein to January, an epic journey on public transport to see a ring-necked duck at Pugney’s was probably even more satisfying.

After finally pinning down the long-staying ring-neck, which had managed to give me the slip during visits at the end of 2009, I noticed on BirdGuides a great white egret was at Bretton Lakes. Catching the next bus there I got cracking views of the rather stunning egret, proving you can just about be a dirty twitcher without a car after all…

MARCH – Bird of the month – American Wigeon

American Wigeon

As a 30th birthday treat my then girlfriend (and now wife) said she’d take me wherever I wanted birding, and I plumped for Martin Mere, a reserve I’d never visited before and always wanted to. As well as the wonderful sight of the reserve’s several hundred wintering whoopers, there was also a rather smart American wigeon there, which after a bit of searching showed very nicely.

APRIL – Bird of the month – Ring Ouzel

A heady mix of finishing a university course, and planning for an upcoming wedding, meant I didn’t get as much birding in as I would have liked in April, but a field trip to Burbage Valley proved to be an unexpected yearlisting saviour, with tree pipit, cuckoo and hobby all seen, and best of all a noisy pair of ring ouzels which gave the best views imaginable as we walked the paths past the crags.

MAY – Bird of the month – Trumpeter Finch

Trumpeter Finch

A self-found Trumpeter Finch! OK, I’m cheating a bit, because I was on honeymoon in Italy at the time, but they’re just as rare over there as they are here, and this was a nice post-wedding bonus. Why can’t I manage to find rarities of this calibre over here, eh?!

Back in Blighty there were some very nice runners up, with the Montagu’s harrier which was doing its tour of the Western Moors, and a scratty-looking but very interesting Iberian chiffchaff at Potteric. The ospreys at Rutland were nice too, but that’s cheating…

JUNE – Bird of the month – Crane

 

A crane shot...

No more explanation needed with this one – it’s a freakin’ crane!

Other runners up of the month included roseate tern at Coquet Island (which is almost as much of a cheat as the ospreys…) and some nice local long-eared owl chicks in one of Sheffield’s plantations.

JULY – Bird of the month – Grasshopper Warbler

July was a quiet one, and probably the most memorable birding encounter was a particularly frustrating hour I spent with a reeling grasshopper warbler, just a few feet away from me at White Lee Moor, which refused to show more than the briefest of glimpses (which I really couldn’t be sure wasn’t something else small, brown and drab if truth be told…). I will get a good look one this year, mark my words…

AUGUST – Bird of the month – Pectoral Sandpiper

A trip to Kilnsea right at the end of the month revealed a rather natty Pec Sand on the beach, which gave us a quick view, but a long enough one to make us sure of what it was. Sadly it also gave me my first experience of having a record rejected, but one did show up a few days later in Northcotes, five miles south… just saying!

(And yes, I promise this is the last time I’ll mention it…!).

SEPTEMBER – Bird of the month – Western Bonelli’s Warbler

This charmling little sprite of a bird is possibly the bird of the year. Arriving at The Dell at Bempton and finding a “funny Phyllosc”, Graham and Mat, some companions more clued-up in all things warbler, got on to it and filled in the blanks, IDing it in impressively short time. It turned out someone had found it first a short while earlier, but the news hadn’t got out yet and it was a self-find to us!

A very close second for September were the black redstarts found by Dave Simmonite in Langsett, proving you don’t have to bomb around the coast to find good birds in autumn.

OCTOBER – Bird of the month – Rustic Bunting

An SBSG field trip in truly horrific weather still turned out to be a fun day out, and the birding highlight was undoubtedly a rustic bunting at Flamborough, although rain-sodden optics didn’t exactly enhance the viewing experience… another birding first of the day was experiencing a well-known twitcher chasing after a wryneck, with no luck, during a torrential downpour at Filey Brigg.

Other month highlights were a brief glimpse of an American golden plover at Great Heck, and a cracking Slav grebe on Doncaster Lakeside, which this time wasn’t a tiny scoped dot in the sea.

NOVEMBER – Bird of the month – Great Grey Shrike

I moved house at the end of October, and started exploring the new patch whenever I had free time. I’d got >200, my half-arsed yearlisting aim, so wasn’t chasing ticks. However a trip up to Wharncliffe Chase paid dividends with an unexpected great grey shrike popping in and perching in a tree, before promptly buggering off again! After a good few dips in October, if I was the superstitious type I’d think that was the birding gods telling me I didn’t need to travel around so much, and not to forget to check my own doorstep every now and again…

DECEMBER – Bird of the month – Waxwing

Waxwing

These weren’t lifers, or even my first of the year, but for a week or so in December the area around work became the epicentre of Sheffield’s waxwing population, meaning lunch-hours were spent hunting them down, listening for the trill everywhere I went and getting some half-decent photos of the little berry-gobblers.

Elsewhere bramblings showed up in the village, feeding among the local chaffinch flock, proving again you don’t have to travel far to see good birds.

So that was, with many, many omissions, 2010. 2011 will be a quieter year, focusing on the local area as I’ve already said, but I’m sure I’ll still have a good few birding adventures to share…

To year list or not to year list…

Sorry I’ve not updated for a while, as always the new year’s brought renewed birding vigour with it and so normal service should be resumed.

The big issue I was debating with myself for 2011 was whether or not to keep a year list. This has been something I’ve done without question for the last few years, but as 2010 ended I was starting to wonder if I needed a break from it. They can be fun to do, but I was starting to feel like I was subconsciously only getting excited about birds that I “needed”, and falling into a trap of chasing after “ticks” instead of increasing my knowledge. A good bird is a good bird, and whether or not you saw one in the last calendar month shouldn’t matter. And I must admit, that Twitchers documentary did make me re-evaluate things a little.

I moved house at the end of October, and spent Nov and Dec almost exclusively spending my birding time exploring the new local patch, which proved a much more rewarding experience than running around after year ticks. So this year I’ve decided to go half way and focus my efforts on one list in particularly – a patch year list.

I’ll still be birding elsewhere, of course, and I’ll still go and find birds I’ve never seen before, but this will be my main focus. And where exactly do I mean by my patch? I’ve decided to define it as two 2km² tetrads, SK39H and SK39C. This takes in Grenoside (including my garden), virtually all of Greno Wood, Wheata Wood and Prior Royd, much of Wharncliffe Wood, the south end of Wharncliffe Chase, and various other nooks and crannies.

As well as providing my own listing fix, I should be able to gather some useful records, which is something you don’t do as much tearing round the country looking at birds other people have already found.

I visited parts of the patch on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd. New Years Day was just a short walk round Greno Wood in the afternoon, due to NYE indulgence, but I still managed highlights that included three brambling among the chaffinches in the village, and other species including fieldfare, redwing, nuthatch, lesser redpoll and goldcrest.

On the 2nd a trip around Wheata Wood only turned up a few extras, including treecreeper, but a longer walk round Wharncliffe Wood yesterday was more productive, with tawny owl, buzzard, green woodpecker and lesser black-backed gull recorded.

One of the bad things about my patch is the lack of water bodies, limiting the chances of certain species, but there is a small stretch of the river nudging into the SW corner of 39C (glamorously, it’s near Wharncliffe Sewage Works…), so I had a look there yesterday and sure enough got grey heron, goosander and cormorant, and will hopefully pick up a few other bits and bobs there over the year that will be hard to find elsewhere.

So it’s the 4th January and my patch yearlist is on 36. Not too spectacular, but I’m looking forward to exploring the various habitats of these two tetrads over the next 12 months, and seeing what surprises I can find.

And don’t worry, as I say I will still be venturing further afield, so I’ll try not to get too boring!