20/09/2020 The Great Orme, Llandudno

Dotterel: I think I have a new favorite place, Llandudno that is home to the Great Orme with its whitewashed coastal apartments and hotels, its long stretches of  Victorian and Edwardian high streets  and pier it really is a splendid place to spend the afternoon.

Llandudno is also home to the Great Orme a huge lump of limestone, a mini mountain that jets out into the Irish sea. and it's the special location that pulls in these marvelous bird as they stop to rest and fuel up during their migration. 

It's a annual birding event for any North West birder as the Great Ormes location has the power to pull in these smart looking scarce migratory waders from their breeding grounds on their way to over winter in North Africa before returning this way next spring.

There were also reports of a Lapland bunting in the same area as the dotterel, on the limestone pathments but I had no luck in relocating it, perhaps the many dog walkers and sunday day trippers pushed it off?

This individual is a juvenile, a striking bird indeed but when it come to the adult females  well they just can't compare as they are dressed in rather splendid finary. 
Dotterel are famous for being confiding little birds that aren't camera shy, but I've never had one walk right up to me before!


20/09/2020 Warham Greens, Norfolk

Brown Shrike: A nice consultation tick after cancelling my trip to Tiree to see the yellow-billed flycatcher.
The reason being, the uncertainty once the news came through that n further access to the garden (where the bird was showing) was granted and another message from the residents requesting birders don't make the journey up. The lads I was going with all decided to cancel.

Obviously I was frustrated,  all that planning and preying and money paid gone!
My frustration soon turn to anger as  more and more birders made the trip across and more and more news came out that the bird was still there and you didn't need access to the garden to view it. I guess I'm not going to see every mega or see every first for the UK, I'm just thankful I get invited to these mega twitches.

So to cheer myself up I decided to go for the brown shrike in Norfolk, a bird that typically turns up on Scottish islands and can be hard to catch up with.

These migratory shrikes, like most are known to perhs upright on branches, shrubs and trees and this bird didn't disappoint in that respect.

The brown shrike breeds across central and eastern Asia, and spends the winter in India, SE Asia and Indonesia. And is a very rare vagrant to UK shores and this bird is in fact Norfolks second ever brown shrike.

A lovely consolation bird.

12/09/2020 Redcar Tarn, West Yorkshire

Franklin's Gull: I was sitting in Nando's with Dawn, the baby and a very nice veggie bean burger when I saw the Franklin's gull  ping up on my phone. After it was found yesterday in Bradford it had now been relocated up at Redcar Tarn.
So that was it, after quickly scoffing our lunch and then cleaning up after the baby we shot off towards the M65 with hopes of seeing the bird.

It was showing well in a hseep field at the back of the Tarn before it flew on to the water itself.

Franklin's gulls are not frequent visitors to the UK they are a long-distance migrants that spend their summer on the northern Great Plains and central Canada, and winter primarily in the Southern Hemisphere along the western South America coast.

So to see one so close to home is pretty special indeed.

The bird gets its name from the Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin and was originally named Franklin's Rosy Gull for its rosy-colored breast and belly. 

Hale Lighthouse - Friday Afternoon 

Sabine's Gull:  It's been a really good week for gulls picking up this smart juvenile Sabs gull only half an hour down the road at Hale Lighthouse ad now this franklin's gull an hour or so up the road.
I couldn't resist a second visit to Hale Lighthouse yesterday afternoon having a bit more time and investing it in the bird I was able to get some better shots of the bird.
The bird was still feeding in the slurry rich stubble field and seemed to spend less time on the Mersey itself.

A good couple of days birding. I love a good gull.

10/09/2020 Hale Lighthouse, Cheshire

Sabine's Gull: These are really smart gulls, they are a little bit smaller than our more common black-headed Gull. Adult summer Sabine's Gulls have a black head, legs and bill, the latter having a yellow tip. The back is dark grey contrasting with the white underparts. 
However juveniles appear quite different to adults, with dusky brown head and neck and a neatly scaled grey-brown coloured back, while the tail has a broad black band at the tip. On the wing, the dark grey of the adult is replaced by brown.
Sabs are typically associated with north-westerly gales and autumn storms, so it was strange to have one not only feeding on insects within a recently slurry spread stubble field but was found on a day were there was no strong winds or storms. 
The finder was Ian Igglesden a Hale veteran who puts a lot of effort in down there. I can't say Hale is one of my favorite places, maybe it's just because I've never had much luck down here?
The bird spent much of its time roosting on the Mersey estuary, periodically coming back to the same stubble field to forage.  

I hope it stick around a while, I wouldn't mind another try at nailing some decent images. 

06/09/2020 Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham

Red-backed Shrike: Today I had a free pass while Dawn was out with the girls and decided to take baby Autumn. So I was off down the M6 to Sutton Park.
Sutton Park is a large urban park located in Sutton Coldfield. Most of the park is a National Nature Reserve that contain large areas of heathland a perfect area for a visiting shrike!

It was my first every visit to Sutton Park and i was blown away, the place is stunning a real valuable resource of nature in the heart of Birmingham. 
The Red-Backed Shrike has the Latin name Lanius collurio with Lanius coming from the Greek for butcher and this species is known as the butcher bird due to its rather barbaric behaviour. They are famous for impaling and spearing its prey on spiky barbs of bushes and thorns with its bird of prey like bill. Pretty cool really.

I loved the place, not only is it a temporary home to this shrike but it's also home to cronking ravens, green woodpeckers and redstarts.

This little stunner gave the group of birders I was with some entertainment while the shrike went missing. The shike wasn't phased by the dozens of dog walkers or the presences of onlookers, birders and photographers.

It either spent long periods of time flying from perch to perch, chasing off chiffchaffs and foraging for food. There were plenty of birders with cameras (just like me) who were well behaved.

I think this is my second only adult red-backed shrike that I've seen after seeing up to six juveniles, so for me it was well worth the trip down the M6.

01/09/2020 Horwich Moor, Bolton

Wryneck: This Bank Holiday weekend it's been our anniversary, Dawn and I have been together nine years! And with this being our first year with little Autumn in toe I decided to forgo birding this weekend and spend some time with the family.
Despite having a lovely time playing around at Farmer Teds with the baby and having a nice meal out in Liverpool I was constantly being haunted by the superb wryneck pictures coming out of Spurn.

Patrick was even sending some over via our groups whatsapp, the new buzz word Fear of missing out (FOMO) has never felt so ture.

So when new broke on Sunday evening that there was a local wryneck only 25 minutes away from my house I was relieved.  I set my alarm for an early morning arrival, but had to wait a while for the sun to warm up and the bird to appear.

The bird spent much of its time feeding below a small hill just behind a fence and was feeding on a ant hill along the fence line before alighting upon a fence post and flying out of view.

A lovely bird and a excellent Manchester tick.

23/08/2020 Scilly Isles Pelagic

European Storm Petrel: I’ve long hoped to go on one of the regular pelagic trips that run from the very beautiful St Mary's, the largest of The Isles of Scilly. Although we were only able to do one of the three trips that we originally booked, as the ferry crossing was cancelled due to storm-force winds. 

Great Skua: Still we struck gold with the ‘shear’ number of birds. A truly wonderful experience. Gary, Patrick, Damian and I travelled down separately and stayed at the Garrison Campsite on St Mary's. A nice campsite with good facilities close to Hugh Town. The only negative was the very steep hill you have to embark on to get to and from the campsite.
We have had this trip booked for at least a year and thought we were all prepared, then Covid19 struck and we were worried the pelagics would be cancelled or that the island remained locked down. Thankfully this didn't happen. But storm Ellen was on her way. She struck with 60mph winds which forced the ferry crossing to be cancelled.
Sooty Shearwater: Due to this we were unable to attend the friday pelagic, so keeping the sunday pelagic, we also booked onto the Monday one instead.

The Sunday pelagic trip left the key at 8am with Joe Pender as Skipper of the "Sapphire". As we left bread was thrown from the start but as a good number of herring and lesser black-backed gulls followed.

As we journeyed south there were a few Shags on the rocks and sandwich terns in the bay. Eventually some gannet joined the flock of gulls that were following us and we had some fast flybys from a sooty shearwater and a couple of euro-stormies. 

Gannet: We stopped about 13 km South of St Mary's and Joe started to fill up a chum bag.
Now I've been told that this chum smells bad, but nothing prepared me for how bad this actually was. It was so bad I overheard Joe say 'even the maggots are dead'!

Wilson's Storm Petrel: We drifted here while the chum bag leaked its irresistible oils across the water leaving a smooth pale slick in our wake.
With the strong smell of rotten pilchards and fish oils wafting in the air it didn't take long before we struck gold.

Not long after a few euro-stormies and several fulmer joined flew in to check out the smells we had our first Wilson's giving us a chance to see their golden yellow webbing on their feet.

To everybody's surprise two Balearic shearwaters did a flyby from the boat and kept on flying westerly, along with several distant Manxies.

Long-tailed Skua: The unmistakable dark, stocky, brutish shape appeared on the horizon as the great skua came to check us out, flying right over the spectators on the deck. Also a long-tailed skua came flying past.

This smart juvenile didn't hang about and raced right past, up and along the slick.

Sabine's Gull:  For me one of the highlights was seeing my favorite UK gull, the sabs gull. We had two, one sporting a full back hood.
These exquisite gulls came close to the boat, as did the fast-flying Wilsons and Euro-stormies, so lots of great birds around.  We even had several sightings of common dolphin, as well as a single Sunfish which looked very strange as it flapped it's fins in the air.

These black-headed sized gulls are in fact the only member of its genus, the Sabine's Gull is like no other gull. Many of its behaviors resemble those of terns more than gulls.

When they fly they have a very shallow flight pattern, bobbing up and down as they pick food from the surface of the water.

Scott Reid, who volunteers on the boat, was the dedicated spotter and bread thrower, but it wasn't only bread he was throwing overboard, he also threw popcorn and mealworms. And it was the mealworms that the sabs gulls were interested in.

Unfortunately the fully hooded individual didn't hang around and flew off up the two mile slick and out of sight.  However the adult winter bird, the one lacking the stunning black hood did stick around.
It even sat on the water close to the stern giving us all some really excellent views. A really nice treat as we watched dozens of stromies whizzing around too.

Great Shearwater: As I was leaning over the side of the boat trying to improve my lens reach, I heard Scott shout 'great shears'. The whole boat turned their heads as we caught a glimpse of the bird flying towards from the other side of the boat, the side in the strongest light.

All I could manage was a few frame bursts before the bird disappeared and I wasn't quick enough to adjust my camera settings, so ended up with some back light washout images.

Image quality aside I was just pleased to see one close up, especially knowing that on the Friday pelagic trip they had in excess of 30 birds many right up to the boat. So I was just pleased to see one.

Throughout the pelagic we had a couple of greats, many of which kept their distance and one of which was getting chased down by a great skua. We even witnessed the bird crashing on the the surface of the water, possibly to evade the advances of the skua. Pretty cool.

Great Skua: The great skuas were real brutes and bullied their way in to the gull flock, scattering the gulls as they took the monopoly on the slick feeding of the floating fish bits.
European Storm Petrel: These small black gems were a real joy to watch as they pogoed on the surface of the water, or whizzed up and down the slick. Spray and prey was the only option with these fast flying birds, hold down the cameras trigger and hope you've got one.
Wilson's Storm Petrel: We were spoilt by the numbers of Wilson's .
Wilson's Storm Petrel: The pelagic was brilliant, much better than I anticipated and I can't recommend it enough. Every birder should see this as a real birding pilgrimage that everyone should experience.
Our totals were 14c Wilson's storm petrels, 10 great shearwater, 5 Sabine's gulls that consisted of 3 adult and 2 1st summer birds. 4 long-tailed skua, 2 Balearic shearwater, 4 sooty shearwater, and up to 150 European storm petrels.
Also a good supporting cast with fulmer, common dolphin, great skua, gannat and sandwich tern.

The Scillonian Crossing

Manx Shearwater: Let's talk about the crossing on the Scisillion, or otherwise known as the vomit rocket, a strange name coined by the Scilly islanders and a name that is only partly correct.  The ferry takes three hours to cross, so not really a rocket, but it did make me vomit and feel very sick indeed.
The crossing over to the Isles of Scilly on the Scillonian can sometimes award you with some good views of seabirds, and knowing this, our group grabbed some seats on the open deck, binoculars in hand (and a sick bag for me).

On the way out we had dozens of Manxies, gannet, fulmar and a few euro-stromies, but the highlight was a single Balearic shearwater.

Sooty Shearwater:  On the return journey with calmer seas, lighter winds and no vomiting, we managed to get 2 shooty, 3 great, 1 Cory's, 1 great skua, 8 euro-stormies and several common dolphin, a much more pleasant trip back.

Great Shearwater:  Overall we had a really fantastic time a real adventure with the odds stacked against us.

Our original inbound ferry and our rescheduled outbound ferry were both cancelled, in addition we received some of the most shocking customer service from Penzance Helicopters, who are simply a bunch of charlatans - they told us one thing then did the opposite. A disgusting company that I hope I never have to deal with again. However, Bob Flood who runs the Scilly pelagics, was an absolute diamond, a really understanding guy who was very accomodating. Thanks again Bob, you're a legend. Special thanks to Scott too, a good old mate who not only gave us some really good gen but offered a lot of enthusiasm and encouragement when we were having problems once the ferry was cancelled.