15/03/2020 Grimsby, Lincolnshire

Black-throated Thrush: After spending the morning dipping the Richard’s pipit at Flamborough, a bird I have embarrassingly yet to catch up with, but not without trying. I’m now racking up a good tally of Dick pipits I’ve dipped!
Tobie and I headed south towards Grimsby for the longs staying black-throated thrush that has been posing well for toggers.  I’ve seen a  few of these birds over the years and most recently in December 2019 when I went down to see one at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire.
Back then I thought to myself ‘this is the best looking male bird I will see’ as it showed particularly well. But I was wrong, this Grimsby bird take the trophy hand down. Upon arriving the bird was fast asleep high up in a tree juts off the roundabout outside the Grimsby Institute, a very busy urban area.

The bird eventually woke up, preened and started actively looking at the ground before hopping down to collect some worms.
The bird did this a few times and on one occasion it decided to spend a prolonged period on the ground in search of more worms. This attractive bird has travelled a long, long way to end up in North East Lincolnshire, Grimsby of all places.
 Black-throated thrush are native to India and  Eastern Asia a remarkable journey. The bird was found by a local birder who works at the institute and put some image sup on Twitter.
Perhaps this is a lesson to us all, wherever we work, its always worth keeping your eyes open for something rare. You never know what you might find.

07/03/2020 Torbay, Devon

Cirl Bunting: My mum invited us down to stay in a holiday home just outside of  Paignton as she wanted to spend some quality time with our gorgeous, edible baby girl, Autumn. Not one to pass up a freebee I was quick to sign up and head down.

Upon arriving I was keen to visit Broadsands, the best place in the UK to see and photograph cirl (pronounced sirl’) bunting.

Paignton in Devon is famous for growing population of little yellow cirl bunting. Theses are very special birds that were once a widespread bird in England. Similar to yellowhammer in the way they were associated with farmland at the beginning of the 20th century they were widespread across southern England.

But by 1989 their population crashed, dramatically to around 120 pairs exclusively restricted to south Devon with a handful left in Cornwall and Somerset. And things only go worse for these charming buntings as by the mid 1990s its range was restricted entirely to south Devon.

Due to this alarming trend a very unusual trail began in 2004. This trial saw hand reared chicks taken from the wild and then release them successfully. This trial was a success and over six successive years, 75 chicks were taken under licence from nest sites in Devon and were hand reared by aviculturalists in Cornwall.
This has seen the cirl bunting population boom and is now self sustaining, although they tend to live their entire lives within 2 miles of the nest in which they were born so their dispersal and distribution is confined to Torbay in Devon.

The males are cracking little birds, the male has a bright yellow head, with a black crown, eyestripe and throat and a greenish breast band across its otherwise yellow underparts. It also has a heavily streaked brown back.
The female is much more like the yellowhammer, but has a streaked grey-brown rump and chestnut shoulders.
Broadsands has a very large car park overlooking a small bay and the sea, but it's within the car park you will find these birds. The edges of the overspill car park gets seeded regularly during the winter and attracts all sorts of birds including small flocks of cirl bunting.

Yellowhammer (female): The seeded area naturally provides feeding opportunities for other birds, yellowhammer, robin, dunnock and chaffinch were all coming down to feed.
Yellowhammer (male): The birds on this seeded area were not shy and all it took was a bit of patient and fieldcraft to get close enough for some nice shots.

Dunnock: I particularly enjoyed spending time with the dunnocks that came down to feed, they zipped around the seeded area constantly on guard but still gave me some cracking views, u[ close they really are a stand out bird, despite them being so common and widespread.

There has been a particularly scarce bird, one that I need to my list overwintering Torbay over recent months, well before Christmas.

A drake blue-winged teal, not only is it in the area but its now moulting into its summer plumage and starting to look pretty smart.
Secretly for me, this was the whole reason for my trip to Devon. For sure it was great to see my mum and see her spend time with our little baby but I was particularly keen to go down to see this bird.

Blue-winged Teal: The long staying duck has been overwintering at Mansands for months. The bird seems at home foraging amongst the aquatic plants for food around the marshy edges of the lake.

A small duck, the adult male can be distinguished by the conspicuous white crescent in front of the eye, the broad, white band on the hind flanks, and the pale, gray-blue forewing, giving the species its common name.

Mansands like much of Devon is a lovely little place to spend the morning, although there is one mighty steep hill to navigate as you are unable to park at the bottom of the long lane due to it not being suitable for cars.

This steep hill was a killer....but worth it.

Many thanks to my mum for putting us up in such a lovely holiday home and for such a great weekend.

04/03/2020 West Park, Wolverhampton

Ferruginous Duck: I've been working on and off down near Worcester and Gloucester over the last few months and it's been a good opportunity to see some locally scarce birds along the way.
While on my way home I took a small detour to a small boating lake in the town of Wolverhampton which has been host to several tufted duck and one drake Ferruginous or as birders say a 'fudge duck.'

Fudge duck have a very distinctive head profile with its characteristic head with long bill, long sloping forehead and rather high rear crown, not unlike Pochard.

Adult drakes have a dark collar around the base of the neck, a grey bill and chestnut plumage with a darker brown back. They have a white belly and undertail and a light yellow eye.

Here is a female tufted duck for comparison, note its darker head and depper brown plumage, lacking the chestnut coloration. Tufted have a brighter yellower eye and lack the white undertail.

Talking to a local birder who was also spending his afternoon with the fudge duck I was told the bird had arrived on the same day as a large flock of tufted ducks, many of which have now moved on leaving a handful of induldules.

The fudge was pretty wary, it stuck close to its tufted duck counterparts and was quick to move out in the middle of the lake when approached. But it occasionally came right up to the stony banks of the lake in search of food and with a bit of fieldcraft and patience I was able to creep up on the bird.
My third fudge duck and by far the best looking and most photographable bird I've seen. Proper made up.

22/02/2020 Strontian, Highlands of Scotland

American Black Duck: A few weeks ago the lads agreed to come with me on the epic journey up to see the famous American black duck that has been living on the west of Scotland for thirteen years. But, with the weather reports looking pretty awful and the restricted time we had it was going to be a bit of a gamble.

Hale showers, torrential rain, snow flurries, gusts of over 70 miles an hour winds and some skillful driving we made it in once piece, thankfully.

We stayed at The Inn at Ardgour, right opposite the Corran Ferry terminal, a lovely and very accomodating hotel.
After dodging breakfast and heading out super early we ended up spending seven long, fruitless hours searching the entire length of the river, the shores of the loch and came up with no American bcal duck. We even ended splitting up a number of times to cover more ground.
It was during one of these times towards the very end of the day I was scanning the banks of the loch that sits right in front of the Strontian Hotel I picked up the same male and female mallard that had been in this area all afternoon. I then noticed two other ducks appear from the further most outcrop of rocks that lead into the bay. 
At first they were silhouetted by the sun before joining the original pair and entered a more sheltered area, my jaw dropped and I struggled to steady the tripod in the combination of excitement and gusty wind that was pelting me.

The two new birds that had just entered the bay included the American black duck! Bingo!!!
I phoned the lads, who were further up the river still searching for the bird. I calmly told them to hurry up as I had just found the bird, not before long I could hear the familiar sounds of hurried steps and the sounds of trepidation. By the time they joined me the mallards followed by the black duck flew across the bay and in to the river mouth.

Here the bird peeled off from the rest of the mallard group and made its way up stream accompanied by a single male mallard. This brought the bird much closer the we expected giving us a great opportunity to reel of some images and see the bird up close. We were thrilled, the gamble paid off, the hours spent in less than perfect weather was all worth while. The bird was in the bag.
Hybridised Mallard x Black Duck: One of the the things we were keeping our eyes out for where the mallards as we knew the black duck was associating with them, we were also looking out for any birds that were the offspring between the back duck and mallards.
Patrick and I found one right up the far end of the river. Much darker bird with yellowish, but predominantly darker bill and much more feathering pattern similar to a female mallard then the pure black duck.

Otter: When you spend so much time in one of the most beautiful parts of the country you are surely going to stumble across other exciting wildlife.

We had this otter in the river mouth opposite Kilcamb Lodge, a highlight of the trip and something that gave us positive boost during the long search for the duck.

The otter was happily feeding close to shore catching small fish. We also had black guillemot near the ferry terminal, dipper on the river and some lovely looking male goosander.

Greylag Geese: A great if a a very long hard worked twitch. Thanks for the company Gary, Patrick and Tobie thanks for keeping me awake during the long journey there and back.

11/02/2020 Bredon's Hardwick, Worcester

Smew: Living in the North West I don't often get to see drake smew, up here get a couple of redheads turn up on our lakes but its particularly rare to get a stonking male.

So it was good to get the change to catch up with one while I was working away in Tewkesbury this week.
This place was like Fort Knox with 10ft high fencing around the whole perimeter of the lake, barbed-wire and eclectic fencing and the only edge that you can view the lake due to public access has a 6ft high Leylandii hedge!!!  Its only fish!

Despite the unwelcoming, locked down conditions of the lake the bird showed pretty well, if a little too far for some decent images.
So here's a few images of a drake smew I took at Slimbridge WWT the same day. In these images you can see their saw like bill and their white crests.
These really are distinctive, dapper little ducks. With their punky head feather crests, black mask and cracked white plumages they really stand out.