24-05-2014 Update Been a while since I did an update. Best birding of the year has again come from an overseas trip with another return to Israel, this time later in the spring for the Honey Buzzard passage. This was largely successful but some species were noticeable by their absence or being only present in small numbers. I have updated my photo section of this now.
Local birding has been slow, has much of the country, with the overall highlight being a female Dotterel recently on Wallasea Island a the Black-winged Stilts at Bowers Marsh. Other goodies locally have been seeing a great Lesser Spotted Woodpecker early one morning in Hockley, my first locally for some years, a stunning male Bullfinch in Rayleigh, Garganey at Bowers and a few other bits and bobs.
Garden birds have been in short supply but I;m now on my second brood of Blackbirds this spring already with three fledglings trotting around the lawn whilst a juvenile Collared Dove had a window collision but luckily it soon recovered.
So what next, off to Fair Isle in a few days so hopefully that magical places run of mega's continues whilst I'm there.
02-02-2014 update : Its been a while since I've made any updates so I'll wack something on today.
2013 was seen out with the usual recommencement of tip visits for gulls and some early success was had with Caspian Gulls, not numbers as these are a little below average, but the views. Some superbly close birds were seen.
I finally nailed the Rough-legged Buzzard on Foulness, scoped well from Wallasea Island and was a belated addition to my SOG area list.
The year ended really though with the Brunnich's Guillemot down in Portland Harbour. A remarkable bird that had birders running up and down the harbour front trying to keep up. It often showed very well.
The final mention of 2013 came really in 2014 when I came second place in the RBA rare bird photograph of the year competition with a White's Thrush pic from Fair Isle, not the bang up close bird but the wider angled image that lays perspective to the surroundings.
So what now for 2014. Gulls and Gulls. Started January off with a super Sabine's Gull past Shoebury East Beach in appalling weather which set the scene with a 2nd winter Glaucous Gull on the tip mid January and the 1st winter Iceland Gull off Canvey Point at the start of February. White wingers though were pretty much non existent on the tip whilst locations elsewhere in the country seem to be rounding them up in their droves. Perhaps its not the tips year this year.
The Rough-legged Buzzard was seen again on Foulness from Wallasea with even better views obtained with Griggsy.
Fine local birds continued with a Great White Egret pinned down at the east end of the River Roach late January, a dash after work secured it.
2nd February provided me with my best shots of local Short-eared Owls today at Wallasea Island with three here along with two Barn Owls seen, a Merlin and a Hen Harrier.
To other news I now have a replacement Wimberley Camera/Tripod head after the repaired one, sent to the states for that, played up again with the same fault only a few months later. Was no impressed but to Wimberley's credit they replaced the entire unit with a new one so hats off to them.
Also now have a new pair of Muck Boots. The initial pair were to big, no local store to go and try before you buy so all online, so ordered the size down where were to small. This was causing much frustration but I ended up with the original pair and wearing extra pair of socks, which is what I wanted to avoid. Anyhow tried them out today and they performed well so now time will tell if they are the Dogs B's or not.
Looking forward to more local birding exploits.
08-12-2013 update : I've been hitting the tip again for the past few weekends and so far the results have been pretty good on the Caspian Gull front with at least 15 different birds being seen so far and what's more unlike last winter season the views of the birds have largely been outstanding with numerous individuals just metres away from the Landrover. I'm still waiting for a White-winger to appear and announce winter really is now here but in the meantime the Caspians will keep me well entertained.
Today I managed to get some other birding done, if I've not been on the tip on Saturdays I've either been up a ladder or had a pain brush in hand at home, I hate DIY. I headed over to Wallasea Island with Sheryl and the long trudge out to the south east corner so I could scope Foulness in the vain hope of getting the Rough-legged Buzzard that had been around for a few weeks onto my SOG list. On arriving at the end I promptly, well within a few minutes, found the bird and we watched it, in the company of Nick Green and Jeff Delve, for about 15 minutes either perched, hunting or getting mobbed by a Hen Harrier. This was a long awaited addition to my SOG list and shamefully my first UK Roughie since 1991, I just never went after any other than the Foulness bird a couple of years ago which I dipped. The views were actually pretty good given the distance and is certainly bird of the year for me on a local level. Other interesting birds were also around, such as the harriers, but it was a long walk back to the car in increasingly windy conditions.
Fair Isle September and October 2013: summary I did have the intention on doing a daily summary from Fair Isle but due to fluffy internet connection, some really good birds and a huge number of photos to go through during a couple of days of great birding I decided to do a summary on my return and once I had the chance. So I'm now back, the photos pages are updated and I can give an over view of the trip.
It didn't live up to last years constant run of rarities but overall it was still a hugely enjoyable trip with highlights being the White's Thrush, Upland Sandpiper, Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll, two Lanceolated Warblers, Sykes's Warbler, Little Bunting, Barred Warbler, a shed load of Yellow-browed Warblers on one day and a male Red-breasted Flycatcher. There were days where little happened despite strong South Easterlies but Fair Isle being Fair Isle there was still good birds around with flocks of Bramblings for instance. There weather varied considerably during the trip with several still fine days as well as blanket fog days, gale force horizontal rain days but even then birds were around.
The over arching highlight from a birding perspective was the White's Thrush which gave me the opportunity to obtain the best photographs of this species ever taken in Britain. I had to wait a long time where the bird was hunkered down but boy was it worth it and this superb bird is firmly fixed into my all time top ten birding experiences.
On coming off Fair Isle I was able to get my only lifer of the year so far, the Thick-billed Warbler at Geosetter, seen well in flight and several times perched, along with the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler at Hoswick.
So what now. I'm on Scilly as I write this and it is shaping up to the be the worst autumn visit I've ever made to the islands despite seeing Purple Heron, Scilly tick, and Sora on Tresco but these birds have been around for a while and nothing new is getting in. With Fair Isle still scoring after I came off the islands with Red-eyed Vireo, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Olive-backed and Red-throated Pipits and Blyths Reed Warblers I think my days of 'annual' Scilly visits could be numbered. I adore the islands but it has to have the birds as well and with last year being poor, despite giving finders additions of Buff-bellied and Olive-backed Pipits, year and this one so far I can see myself giving Fair Isle extended future stays.
I will give a Scillies over view on my return home which at this rate wont take to long to do.
26-10-2013 update : Well now back from the islands and it was the worst autumn I have ever had for birding there, it was really bad despite the odd interesting bird, Sora, Spotted Crake, Pallid Swift, Short-toed Lark and Rosy Starling. There were no pipit or lark flocks, no finches to go through, migrants virtually none existent. It was really grim whilst the Northern Isles continue to score.
Now I'm a long time Scilly stalwart but next year I'm forsaking my beloved islands and doing two autumn rounds on Shetland, bring it on.
It is with great sadness we (SOG) have to share with you that after a short illness Don Petrie passed peacefully away yesterday evening.
Don was a very active member of the Southend Ornithological Group (SOG), being one of its earliest members, and could often be seen birding around the local sites. He also created the website representing the group, which will remain a legacy to his amazing intellect and ability - a format so impressive that he was commissioned to help other societies around the country.
He will be sorely missed by the members of this group as not just a birder, but a dear friend. He also enjoyed the social side of birding and would always be present at group meetings down the pub and various other functions as they occurred - especially where a pint or two of real ale could be enjoyed! His dancing skills being particularly legendary! His love of birding also took him on travels across the Americas, Asia, Europe and Africa with many of his birding friends, only returning from a fabulous tour of Ethiopia in March. Many of us will treasure some of these special moments we spent with him forever.
Whether out birding or out socially Don's endearing personality meant people would instantly warm to him and his good nature found him always willing to help anyone in need, even ahead of his own immediate pressures. Don's natural intelligence, diplomacy and common sense approach made him a strong arbitrator and ambassador for the group. He really was an unsung hero and has provided a shoulder of strength when his closest friends have needed it most.
Don really was a genuinely lovely guy who will be very fondly remembered and missed by all who knew him.
Update: 20th August 2013 So the Birdfair....got abandoned this year in favour of some seawatching in Cornwall in what looked to be prime weather conditions and the change in scenery almost very nearly paid off in a spectacular way. Saturday 17th August at Porthgwarra saw a crew of us huddled on the cliff top getting increasingly drenched in increasingly poor weather. This didn't hamper the enjoyment, it was the reason we were there and we clocked up at least 15+ Great Shearwaters and 5+ Cory's Shearwaters as well as Sooties, Balearics, Stormies and so on. Not the big day we had hoped for but I was happy as it had been donkies years since I had seen either of the large shears.
Sunday 18th August, seawatching at Pendeen and what was so nearly the crown jewel in the seawatchers bag. We had been there about an hour and things were slow until news came through to us that a Red-billed Tropicbird had been seen less than a couple of hundred metres away whilst we and the other 30 or so seawatchers were gathered there. The finder had the bird apparently for about 7 minutes and photographed it and had made little effort to really alert anyone nearby until it was long gone.
I'm sure there will be more details in a finders account in one of the magazines and whilst I congratulate him on his find the disappointment of missing a once in a lifetime event such as this will be the over riding memory of those present. 7 minutes is an age in seawatching as most birds simply steam past but this mega lingered close inshore just around the bend of where we were. Gutting but that's birding.
Update: 12th August 2013 Hit the tip twice during early August with the first trip of the season with Simon producing only a handful of juvenile birds but with a nice Yellow-legged Gull being one of them. A 2nd/3rd year Caspian Gull was the best of the bunch but about a dozen michahellis showed birds were on the move. My second visit a week later was over all more successful with a clear influx of Yellow-legged Gulls with at least 40+ present including a super confiding juvenile as well as a super close adult Caspian Gull being the better of the two of this species seen here today. A white-winged gull early on my arrival turned out to be a leucistic Herring Gull rather than a hoped for out of season Glaucous Gull. It was still an impressive bird none the less. Images of these birds can be found in the now updates Gull ID pages.
Update: 6th July 2013 A stunning summer plumaged Bonaparte's Gull was found at Cross Ness, just across the Thames crossing, and only about 35-40 minutes drive away. As we don't get the opportunity often to see a summer plumaged adult in the UK this was to close to not pay a visit. The bird was showing well on arrival and associated with several hundred Black-headed Gulls around the outfall. It has been considered a returning bird from last year, two birds here were both first-summers, which would make this bird a second summer. However I cannot see anything in the plumage that would not put this as anything other than an adult. Second-summer/year birds however can be almost identical in appearance to adult and as this bird had smallish white tips to the inner primaries this could well be a second year though given the time of year wear on an adult bird is just as likely.
Either way the bird was superb and certainly worth the several hours spent there with it.
Update: 27th June 2013 So what's been going on in recent weeks.
Well on a local level a very fine female Red-necked Phalarope graced Vange Marsh for a morning a couple of weeks ago but it was to distant to get any photos before it flew off high to the south east. Despite a report of it at Wat Tyler Country Park there was no sign of the bird or birders watching it and despite searching the area neither were found. Also a male White-spotted Bluethroat was photographed from the scrape hide at Wat Tyler Country Park but it to was not seen again. Mothing continues to be slow but a few interesting bits and bobs have been caught with several Eyed and Privet Hawk Moths and a single Elephant Hawk Moth being the most impressive.
So now to the big news. A White-throated Needletail was found on the Outer Hebrides which is one bird that would get me twitching again, I've done very little twitching over recent years passing up White-throated Robin (a World Lifer), Orphean Warbler and several other significant birds that would be lifers but a Needletail. This species was bird of the trip for me when I went to China in 2005 and was keen to get to see this bird, especially so when news was coming out that it was skimming past birders mere feet away and the awesome photos that started to come out.
However whilst I was investigating ways to get to the Outer Hebs news came through that it has been struck by a wind turbine and had been killed. Now this is a tragic end to such a stunning bird and given that it was struck by apparently the only wind turbine in the area is even more disappointing, what are the odds of this one bird being killed by the one turbine in the area. I guess the turbine was in a place because of favourable winds and the Needletail was also there because of the same. I can only imagine the elation of the birders on site on seeing this bird, qouted by some as the best bird EVER, for that excitement to be tempered shortly afterwards as the bird succummed to a man made object.
Even though I was not there I to found it extremely sad that it had gone that way, not because of the lost chance to see it but the loss of its life after crossing thousands of miles to a remote island.
Should another appear, I hope its not another 22 years, I will almost certainly go but then what's the betting I'll be on a far flung island with little hope of getting off and it'll be 20miles from home.
Update: 15th June 2013- I've done very little birding over the past few weeks, there's not been a great deal to see, but I have managed the odd year tick here and there. The weather has been bad, I hate birding in the wind, an this no doubt affects both the birds and the moths as this years trapping sessions have been terrible. A couple of saving graces have been in the form of Eyed and Privet Hawk Moths.
It is unlikely that I will be out doing proper birding now until August time when I will hit the tip again looking for juvenile Caspian Gulls but I will no doubt have the odd venture out.
Update: 20th May 2013- I've now just returned from a week long trip to the Isles of Scilly which has to be said that from a birding perspective was the worst week I've ever had on the islands. Now I love the place but a female Subalpine Warbler on the very first day is not what I was really hoping for as the birding highlight of a weeks birding. The next best bird was a rather drab Lapland Bunting on St Agnes mid week whilst migrants were in very short supply with only a smattering of warblers around the place. A Spotted Flycatcher on my last morning and a fine influx of Swallows the previous evening were little compensation.
The Weather for the first half of the week was dire, strong North Westerlies are the kiss of death for spring on the islands whilst a major storm on Tuesday kept me inside pretty much all day and also knocked out the mobile phone reception for a couple of days. Now as I say I love the islands and the weather towards the latter end of the week was much improved but even I found it hard going trudging around when the highlight of the day might be a Chiffchaff.
The Lands End Skybus airport now has a new terminal. It is larger, plusher and capable of handling the expected increase in passengers now the Helicopter is a thing of the past, it is also more sterile with no character. The decor is awful and does nothing to convey the wonderful landscapes of Cornwall and Scilly. Some of the pictures on the walls are truly terrible and probably cost a small fortune, they look like someone has taken several pots of paint and dropped them on a canvas from a great height and thought 'That'll do , a masterpiece".
Well at least I know now why the tickets for Skybus cost so much, they have to pay for the terminal and poor artwork some how.
So spring seems to have come and gone largely unnoticed, continuing grim weather, missing out on a Dusky Thrush in Kent whilst I was away and probably a summer with no moths. Roll on the autumn when hopefully Fair Isle can again do the business and Scilly can redeem itself.
20-08-2014 Update: So the British Birdfair 2014 was my venue for three days in mid August where I was helping out on the Fair Isle Bird Observatory stand. This was great fun, meeting lots of interesting people and speaking with those who have either been, are going or wanting details on the place.
A highlight of the Birdfair was accepting on behalf of the wife Sheryl a pair of fine Swarovski binoculars that she won after purchasing a couple of raffle tickets from the fine folk at the Birding For All stand. I was so excited for Sheryl even though she wasn't at the Birdfair today and would like to thank Swarovski for the prize and especially everyone at Birding For All for topping off three days of fun at the fair. Their website can be found at www.birdingforall.com
15-06-2015 Update: Okay so its been a while since my last update so what do I have to say for myself.
Well firstly last autumn on Fair Isle was a mixed bag with missed chances of glory as most of the major rarities ended up on Shetland Mainland or on North Ronaldsay in Orkney but that's not to say I didn't enjoy the birding. I made two autumn visits, in September and then again 10 days late in mid to late October and each one was excellent in it own way. Despite seeing a number of UK Grey-cheeked Thrushes the bird outside the Obs was a real performer and most enjoyable.
The autumn also allowed me to catch up with the Eastern Crowned Warbler which Paul and I twitched, happy ECW day.
Local birding continues to be a fairly bland experience punctuated by the odd good bird, by local standards, and I am hankering for birding out of the area more and more. Fair Isle is tightening its grip on me and I can see many trips up there in the years to come.
Despite the ECW twitch I have pretty much knocked the twitching malarky on the head, especially as the Hudsonian Godwit twitch was such shite. Saw the bird but it was just not an enjoyable event so I didn't go for the Hudsonian Whimbrel or Eastern Black-eared Wheatear on the south coast and where once I would be in the car immediately for the Bardsey Island Cretzschmar's Bunting is it now more a case of 'pah' Having seen vast majority of the UK rares oversea's it will have to be something very special to get me in a car on a twitch again, a Needletail might just do it. It actually feels increasingly liberating to not be bothered about missing a dull arsed UK tick.
So on that point brings me to the Texas trip which was a mixed bag of poor weather, birding triumps, dipped targets and spectacle on the coast and great fun. It must be said that the clothing I had just wasn't up to the task of keeping the mossies off. I have been a long time users of Craghopper Nosilife clothing with it built in insect repellent but I guess this repellent doesn't stretch to the biting insects. My back had so many bites it looked like I had a rash. So nice clothing but doesn't do what it says it will do.
So birding now during the summer will be quiet and I have Fair Isle to look forward to in September, and I'll be on that magic Isle for over a month, can't wait.