31st December. Predictable Year End Ramblings

Well it's the last day of the year and in the tradition of previous years it's time to add up the year list.........

Right that didn't take long. Actually I just had a quick look at the biggest year list on Surfbirds and added two more, that's what the top-listers do apparently! Seriously though, and without turning this post into a Lee bashing session, my list was one that no one else could possibly beat! Why? Because it was my self-found patch list, no competition and no targets.

Well I managed an amazing 121 self-found (amazing in the sense that Orgreave looks crap). That is proper self-found not 'innocently' stumbling into someone else's find or rediscovering 'lost' birds, all proper bona fide found by me. The best birds came towards the end of the year with the Leach's Petrel (R.I.P) in September and the fantastic day in November when, on a seemingly crap day, I scored the double with Snow Bunting and what proved to be the Sheffield areas first twitchable Lapland Buntings. Lots of other local scarce kept me occupied and more importantly fuelled my enthusiasm enough that I made almost 400 visits during the year. I make no apologies for this post coming across rather self-centred, it has been a great year. In fact I'd go as far to say that the last year has been the most enjoyable twelve months birding that I have ever had. I could have done better though, a few lazy mornings cost me about four birds and I must have missed some Waxwings over during the last couple of months. A total of 129 species were recorded at Orgreave this year which for a site in its youth is pretty good.
The fruit of many many visits

2011 leave is already booked up, a week in Extremadura, two weeks in Cornwall and 12 days on Shetland(though a partial change in venue this time) in October to mention a few.

So a few New Years resolutions before I go. Take more notes and submit more records - not just the 'of interest' birds but everything. Some people would prefer it if I kept my opinions to myself but they can go bollocks. It's my opinion nobody else's and if you don't like it tough shit, feel free to give me a slap next time you see me.

Lastly I'd just like to say thanks to a few people who have made life great this year in no particular order. Jo,Beth,Rob,Andy Mc,John H,Johnny S,Martin G,Andy D, Roy T,Pete W, Everyone on Shetland who isn't Welsh, Mum and Dad,Gary Prescott AKA Biking Birder, Garry Bagnell and Lee Evans for giving me something to write about,my new in laws, my old in laws,the late (fingers crossed) Mrs Thatcher for giving me the best local patch in the Sheffield area and lastly everyone that reads this blog.

Happy New Year.

25th December. Merry Christmas

Whilst Jo tinkers in the kitchen and before the Port kicks in I'll take this opportunity to wish my (dwindling) readership a very Merry Christmas.

9th December. The State of British Birding

Another classic from Nerdforum. The names have been removed to protect the fools, I did think of changing it to SG or RGM of Cley but that's an old joke that needs to be left alone now.

Click to enlarge

Really does make you wonder what's happening to British Birding perhaps Lee does have a point!

7th December. Cold Hard Times

Birding time at the weekend was spent watching birds that were behaving out of the ordinary due to the extreme cold temperatures -15 degrees C for the last couple of mornings.

The Water Rails at Pit-house West seemed pleased with the kilo of sprats intended for the Bittern and showed to just a few feet at times, though they never sat still long enough for good shots.

At Bolehill, Roy once again showed that he has the eyes of a Shit-house Rat, by pulling out four Jack Snipe sitting motionless and extremely well camouflaged among the leaf litter of the semi frozen stream.

I've just posted my first (sub) post on new multi author (it's all the rage apparently) birding blog The Crow Council. It's crap (my post not the blog) so skip mine and read the other stuff. We don't have McKinney or Garner and none of us live in bird rich South America but I'm sure it'll be fun and at least keep you off Nerd Forum for a few minutes each day. If all else fails I'll get my arse out as looking at the hits counter since last week you sick bastards clearly like that kind of thing!

2nd December. Snow Madness

I'm trapped. Trapped in the house with minimal supplies, daytime television and three stir crazy cats who only leave the house when they need a shit! Highlight(s) of the day has been a walk to the local shops whose shelves are starting to look like those of 1980's communist Russia. There's no fresh food or milk and people are literally mobbing the bread van as soon as he arrives. Our cul-de-sac road is steep and, at the last measurement, 50cm (20" in old money) deep. I can't get to work, no buses or trains and the car is under two foot of snow.

All the birds have vanished from the garden despite the Niger feeder being well stocked and regular clearing of the bird table. On the bright side I did add Snipe to the house list as one poor individual desperate for food headed over the house and knowing the suffering of this poor creature I was still miserable. By 6pm I had completely lost the plot and resorted to actions completely out of character. Firstly I found myself reading threads on Birdforum, then watching an episode of Home and Away then most shocking of all this.

You don't get this kind of behaviour on Birding Frontiers.


Sanity has now been restored, dug the car out so hopefully some kind of birding tomorrow.

30th November. Snow Joke

Apologies for the Sun/Star heading.

Very little to write about over the last ten days or so. It's not that I'm not allowed out birding now I'm a married man - far from it. I've had a couple of visits to Pit-house West and several to Orgreave. I don't need to tell you how cold it currently is but I achieved a personal weather first on Sunday, birding in temperatures of -11 degrees C.

Not surprisingly Orgreave was very quiet, in fact only one dog walker had ventured out. The few ducks present and the Coots had found salvation in a small area of open ice whilst the lapwings had more than a touch of frost on them. A group of three Golden Plovers flushed from aside the path - only my second record this year were the only highlight.

At Pit-house West at least one Bearded Tit was still showing, albeit briefly and not for the camera. Though I did manage to capture this idyllic winter scene.

See how this rustic gate has been lovingly adorned with a variety of supermarket carrier bags containing dogs eggs.


Like the freezing weather it's been difficult to escape Waxwings around Sheffield this autumn, unlike the weather I'm not already bored of them. Wandered out of the office for a spot of naked birding yesterday (29th) and located the 80 or so that had been reported earlier in the day. Spiralling round starling like they briefly settled in some berry laden bush before being flushed by commuters. I returned again today with the camera expecting nothing. At a distance the trees appeared empty but on getting closer a solitary bird became evident. This bird was ridiculously tame and posed nicely for the camera. I also picked up a flock of c.80 birds over the station but they showed no interest in the berries or the lone bird. A nice break from the office for a change.

19th November. Wedding Presents

I needed to get out of the house for a couple of hours this morning. The reason? Because today was the day that Jo and I were getting married and I was bricking myself! A couple of hours birding was just what I needed. There was quite a bit of mist around, so I opted to walk around the edge of Orgreave just in case any of the Lap Bunts were still around. There was very little going on, though a large party of mipits kept me occupied for a short while and the lakes are showing promise with increasing numbers of duck, particularly Pochard which prior to this year had only been recorded in single figures though now numbered almost sixty birds. Hiding among the common ducks was an imm/fem Common Scoter, only my third here. Better still was a Stonechat which remarkably was a patch tick pushing my Orgreave self found year list to 119. A nice couple of early wedding presents.

Photo courtesy of Martin Garner (though I haven't atually asked him)

Anyhow birding over and it was back to the days events.

16th November. Arty Poo

I have long thought that I suffer from a bit of S.A.D or should that just be sad? So the last two days of beautiful blue sky and no wind did nothing to help me. By 3pm I was getting irritable and just generally pissed off so I did a couple of site visits and knocked off at 3:30pm. This gave me enough time to get to Pit-house West and get some therapy. Arriving by the Bittern Pool, in good time, I immeditely heard 'some' Bearded Tits which then stopped calling and never showed. I thought standing by the concrete drain would be a good spot to get a flight shot of the Bittern as it headed for roost. I was right about it being a good spot, but the photo was a right pile of shit!

Arty shit or what!

The above goes to prove that no matter how much photoshop nounce you have you just can't polish a turd!

15th November. Gyr Crakes

I'm not one for constantly using You Tube to fill the blog post gaps but couldn't resist this.

14th November. Beardy Bloke

A fruitless couple of hours at Orgreave where the only birds that made it in to the notebook were 45 Fieldfares heading west. Noticeably less Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and for the first time since in a week no Lap Bunts, so I'll just have to make do with the photos from yesterday. The mornings birding had to be cut short as I had to return home to make a pie for the future in-laws.

Just as I was putting the finishing touches to a nice meat and potato pie I had a call from Kev again. He'd had a report of four Bearded Tits at Pit-house West. Seeing as I didn't manage photos of the 2004 birds I seized the opportunity to nip out before Jo's parents arrived.
The finder was still present, but hadn't seen the birds for two hours. Having only an hour spare I decided on encouraging them out with the iPod (I believe the term is to Harrop) this worked a treat. Within a few seconds the birds appeared feeding unconcerned just a few yards away, a rattled off a few record shots and made it back in time for our guests!

In my opinion one of the best looking birds on the British list

A very tasty specimen

13th November. Another Good Local Day

Following a Friday night out with a few birding mates I was slightly less than fit for an early mornings birding. However I had foolishly agreed to meet my boss at Orgreave in hope of showing him the Lapland Buntings. Anyway John arrived on time and I managed to find him a Lapland Bunting a nice showy bird as well - successfully securing a day off for the next mid-week 'mega'!
Three skeins of Pink-feet, totalling around 250 birds also passed through during the first hour.

A phone call from Kev mid morning informed me of a Great Northern Diver at nearby RVCP. I had planned to visit there in the afternoon anyway to carry out this months WEBS count so the Diver would at least be an incentive for this laborious task. With the count completed in record time we drove round to the Sothall side where the bird showed well in the mid-afternoon sun. Gripped off by Andy's 'rod end' shots of the Lap Bunt in full light we popped back and managed the above in now fading light and at 3200 ISO.

More obliging than last years juvenile but I'm still struggling with birds on water.

7th November. What a Carry On

Another Lap

Enough of the sillyness. Back down on Orgreave this morning and fortunately the Lap Bunts were still present. Infact they had increased to three and had stopped being so flighty though still difficult to find among the grass. I did however manage my own photos this time - which were a bit crap!

Another new addition on the Orgreave list (photo at Catcliffe) was this Red-Crested Pochard - which was annoyingly found by Duncan!

A change of scenery in the afternoon with a stroll around the Botanical Gardens - that hot bed of rare action and supression in the late 80's (it's all water under the bridge these days). Enjoying a coffee outside the cafe I was quite pleased to see a party of 27 or so Waxwings flycatching from the tops of some nearby trees. Keeping the theme of the day going I took more crap shots!

6th Novemeber. A Merry Lap Dance

Well there I was thinking it was all over, so much so that at Orgreave I'd taken to counting the Canada Geese feeding on the path. Counting a total of 122 I'd by now started to drift off into a daydream (about pie fillings) when I noticed a small passerine flick up and down into the long grass. Walking over I gave an impatient PISH - no sooner had I done so a Snow Bunting flew up, called and circled the lake several times before heading off high to the south. Minutes later I heard the call again and eventually picked up not one bird but two mobbing a Kestrel perched on the viewing pole minding it's own business. Both these birds had obvious amounts of white in the wing but a third bird didn't! These birds dropped down and I lost them. Fortunately the Snow Bunts were very vocal and I soon picked up a bird overhead, not only that but also a calling Lapland Bunting which landed some way away on the causeway between the two lakes. This bird and another (God knows how many individuals were actually involved) were soon located on the ground but typically got up as soon as I raised the camera. As far as I knew this was the last sighting. However when I got in this evening I discovered that Thrybergh birder Mike Smethurst had managed some excellent shots of each.

Both shots by Mike Smethurst

A celebratory pie was called for and prior to another visit to Orgreave I knocked up a trio of these turkey,leek and mushroom pies, ending a rather splendid day for pies and birds.

4th November. Cat's Claws Pulled Out

In a week that has seen all that is bad in the world of birding laid bare for even common non-birding types to guffaw at, it comes as a great shock that every birders favourite feline has expired.

Things were clearly amiss earlier in the week when the cat showed little signs of life at BBC4's offering. By Wednesday and following the revelations that the Scillies sharpie was just a midget sprawk even a faint meow could not be heard.

Like those birding satarists before it, the Cat has shuffled off some might say at it's peak, others might not.

Perhaps like the Llama and Sir Mckinney of Glossop, the cat will make a comeback. After all don't cats have nine lives?

2nd November. Ladies and Gentlemen

I did try, believe me I did. But last nights car crash TV was too good an opportunity to pass on. Overall I thought the program 'Twitchers' was well made and relatively accurate - none of that 'Dipper' in a rowing boat off Blakeney nonsense that Channel 4 made some years back.

Thankfully the President and his sea of bizarre comments have taken the hard work out of writing this blog post. The following are a selection of LGRE's best quotes from an hours toe curling / hilarious viewing.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the president of the British Birding Association:

"I'm the equivalent of George Michael in the birding world. The way he has led his life is exactly the same way that I've led my life."

"13% of British birders are cheats unfortunately, and quite a few are incompetent."

"If you mention the word Lee Evans, it polarises people."

"My job is almost like being the Prime Minister, like Gordon Brown. There's no one polarises people more than me."

"I've always been the policeman of British birding, you can't have a free for all."

"I've always prided myself on being the boss."

"I love what I do, but it's the people around it that make it sad. The people bring it down."

"A lot of birding is about the psychology of birders. You've got to get in the brains of birders and the psyche of them to learn what they're about. I've spent a whole career doing that and I can identify these strange bods that are going to commit crimes, birding crimes."

"I find it very depressing when I turn up at a rarity, you can almost feel the aura of all the voices talking about you."

"What ever I get involved with I become exhumed with it."

And if Garry ever though he had a friend in Lee:

"Garry's probably one of my closest associates in birding and I really like him. I would still never let him in to my inner circle as such because I don't trust Garry. I guess he's probably loyal, but I still couldn't trust him."
Of his 7 year old year-listing rival:

"I don't really take any individual under the age of ten seriously"

Gary on the other hand is clearly a very obsessed individual whose selfish lifestyle will ultimately be the ruin of him, that's not a dig it's an observation from someone who once had a similar attitude to seeing 'rare' - me! Whilst the highest monetary price I ever paid was £160 for a Pine Grosbeak - the ultimate price was the reduced amount of time that I now see my daughter for! Gary take note.

And finally I should take heed of Garry's words:

"If you fall out with Lee it can become a problem. He can destroy people!"

31st October. Time to get the Damarts out.

Well that's it for the next five months - no pre or post work birding and dark by 16:15. Can't grumble really it's been a good autumn and the many visits to the patch paid off not least with the short-lived Leach's Petrel. Visits during the last week have been few and poor with only 17 Pochard and 78 Coot making in to the notebook.

Three late afternoon visits to Pit-house West finally paid off yesterday with the returning Bittern heading to roost rather early at 17:15 - the eighth successive winter for Bitterns here. No sight or sound of any Cetti's Warblers either here or at Bolehill yet, but there's still time.

For the coming winter I will be mostly concentrating my time along the Rother, with perhaps a few coastal visits, baking sessions on those wet miserable days and the occasional blog post which will probably be mostly a bit crap!

A few pinkies always brighten up a dull day

23rd October. Cheeky Buggers!!

Do I do reviews on Damart fur lined wellies? No. Do I promote long weekends in Norfolk offering five star accommodation in a Michelin star rated hotel? No. Do I produce articles on how to tell a House Sparrow from a Tree Sparrow? No. So I wouldn't expect a magazine called 'Birdwatching' to run a comparison article about Pork Pies. Three years I've been peddling this rubbish with reviews on the various savouries that I have encountered on my travels from the Northern Isles to Lands End and occasionally beyond and now some national birding mag barges in and nicks my idea.

Well let's have a look at the pie that came second in their review:

Pork Farms Original
. I have to point out that I have to be very desperate to eat anything that is mass produced and just that occasion occurred on Tuesday of this week. A post work visit found me in the danger zone of Sainsbury's deli aisle. Needing something to fill a gap I opted for a Pork Farms original. I don't know why I did this - though there was very little to choose from and it was cheap. I bit into it and was instantly struck not by the taste or by the pastry but by the fact it seemed to coat my mouth in fat and actually made me gag. The pastry was incredibly greasy and the filling a mush of lips and arseholes! This without doubt was the nastiest pie that I have eaten and the first one I have ever discarded. I would compare it to taking a bite out of a block of lard, though to be honest a block of lard would have tasted better. Birdwatching gave it a six with five other pies scoring less. Presumably the reviewers consisted of a Pork Farms employee, a rabid dog and someone who'd had their tongue removed! Personally, if it was a choice between eating one of these and gnawing off my own arm the arm would win hands down or perhaps that should be hand down!

Now that's a full and frank review!

22nd October. Taking the Pish

There are a couple of problems that I usually encounter when returning from Shetland. The first is complete apathy towards any kind of birding. The other is that when I do finally force myself out I have the urge to 'pish'. Yes 'pish'. Not a hedge, bush, thicket or overgrown grass strip goes un-pished - even the shitty old buddleia gets pished on the way to work. I can only think that it's a mental thing - not me being a bit mental (though some would dispute this) more a case of my brain not realising that I'm no longer eating, sleeping and breathing birding.

Ironically my only cure for this ailment is to actually go out birding. Sooner or later the brain realises that no amount of farting, rasping or squeaking noises will lure anything out of a bush that is completely devoid of life. Eventually birding will return to the everyday dullness that it was before October.

I'm sure I've a couple more pishing days in me yet, as I successfully 'pished' several Sky Larks and a 'bunting' this afternoon. Twice the 'bunting' flew up, silhouetted and flying away from me without calling and flying miles. My intuition was screaming Lap Bunt, but my brain was saying this is Rotherham not Shetland or even the East Coast - so I let it go! In the end it was probably just a Reed but something in my head is screaming NO!

Nice but not a haven of 'rare'

16th October. Return of the M(a)cK

Great NEWS this morning. The, long thought dead, king of birding comedy is born again, time to set the swearing filter to maximum. Welcome back Tom

14th October. Until Next Year.

Our last few hours on Shetland involved virtually no birding (probably wise given last years final day antics) with the exception of a wander in to Toab for important supplies. Two Lap' Buntings around Sunnydell made for a fitting end to the trip - given that they were the first species we encountered at the start of the trip.

Thanks again to Rob for allowing us to stay and for letting us nick his car when we'd had enough of the greater Virkie area.

Plans for next year are afoot already with thoughts of moving further north.

Voe. One of my favourite Shetland villages

12th October. Nearly The End

Like all previous Shetland trips the penultimate day would see us up the ante on all fronts. The plan was to head north and in the fashion of a one-armed man firing a Kalashnikov hit various targets with a varying degree of success. In reality we had a look at a few notable Shetland hot spots and found that they all contained the same birds i.e. Robins, Chifchaff, Goldcrest and the occasional Dunnock, except at Sandgarth where there was a Yellow-browed.

Birds aside the rest of the trip was as I had indicated yesterday an orgy of pies and Otters (actually Otter) I'll let the photos do the speaking.

The secret brown door of the Voe pie shop. The light presumably indicates availability.

A blury undercover shot of the inside of said pie shop

Curry Pie, my new pie love

A massive dog otter performed at Toft, though always out of reach of a decent shot
Some proper otter photos can be seen HERE

News of an Isabelline Shrike at Scousburgh broke around 1:30, though for reasons unknown Birdnet carried it as a Wheatear. Not wanting to spoil our day by having to watch any rare we carried on with the Robin stroking gradually making our way south. Failing to see yesterdays Spotted Sandpiper we eventually gave up on the whole rare finding thing and made for Scousburgh. Where this showed very nicely.

11th October. Shameful

Another succesful day of proving the lack of rare in the Sumburgh/Virkie area. Only bird of note was the Great Grey Shrike between the hotel and the farm busy collecting the remaining Goldcrests.

Desperate to sample some new ground we moved on to Boddam where we encounted more Robins, Goldcrests and Chiffchaff - new ground same birds. Retreating to Mainlands saw me sinking to new depths previously unheard of on Shetland. I succumbed to the inferior, puff pastry, mechanically recovered filling type meat pie - the type you find in dirty chip shops.

Shameful pie eaten we headed to Lerwick following a report of a Bonelli's Warbler. The Bonelli's didn't show great and was too far away to hear even if it had been calling. The rest of the day was exactly as it was earlier - Robins etc.

Tomorrow is our last full day. We've given up on finding anything that would qualify us a mention in next years BB and are set on an orgy of pies and Otters (hopefully).

In the absense of a rare bird finding account here are some pictures to fill the void.

10th October. Nothing To See Here

Waking at dawn to a fresh easterly wind and 100% cloud cover I was soon dressed, fed and out of the door. Goldcrests were every where and there seemed to be a couple of Robins in every garden. Strolling up to the tattie field I noted good numbers of Redwing and even the first Fieldfare of the trip. With a spot of drizzle in the air I met up with the Llama and we headed for Sumburgh. There was a steady trickle of birds on the way all Goldcrests, Robins and more Redwing. The Sumburgh Hotel garden also had plenty of Goldcrests and a few Robins. By the time we'd made our way to the farm it was mainly just Goldcrests, no Yellow-browed and the Pallas's had gone. By the time we'd got to the head it was devoid of life. The winds had now swung ENE and it was much cooler, fortunately we cadged a lift back to Scatness and headed for the warmth of Sunnydell.

Is this the start of the end of autumn for South Mainland?

9th October. Try Harder

Spent a full nine hours in the field today walking around Virkie, Toab and then over to Quendale. Spent the bulk of the day at the later up and down the valley and then up and down again. First trip up we had a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers had flight views of the Dusky Warbler and found a new in Red-breasted Fly. Following a quick cuppa at the visitors centre we bumped in to Messrs Riddington, Harvey and Garner. Following a chat with Martin we bid farewell and left them to go up the valley. The Llama commented that he felt uneasy leaving Quendale knowing that that motley crew were on their way up the valley. Sure enough before we'd even put a foot in to the lower burn iris beds Martin was on the phone telling me they'd just found an Olive-backed Pipit - what frightfully lucky chaps! I caught a very fleeting glimpse of the pipit, that wasn't even good enough for the trip list, before it buggered off round the back of the farm. This bird was clearly new in and this prompted us to again do the full upper burn for which we received no reward.

A rather frustrating day with constant news of 'rare' being found all over the place - tomorrow we must try even harder.

8th October. The Wrong Pants

Woke with a reasonable amount of enthusiasm, though after a thorough search around the two crop fields it had reduced to at best enthusiastic apathy so I retreated to Sunnydell for tea and toast. There was clearly nothing happening, though a Garden Warbler and a few Redwing were new.

The sun was shining and there were little if any clouds in the sky, clearly today was not going to be the day. Getting far too comfy in front of the laptop - mostly chuckling at the raptor goings on on Scilly - I was gradually slipping in to a lack of birds depression. Andy insisted that we should get out and battle on and I reluctantly agreed. Making for the Sumburgh area we first concentrated on the farm and the adjacent quarries again there was very little, but as the cloud began to build the birds soon magically began to appear. Nothing much just Goldcrests, Robins and Song Thrushes.

Walking towards the hotel I picked up a couple of Spotted Fly's, several Chiffchaffs and at least one of the two Yellow-browed Warblers that Gary had found earlier and another distant stripey headed phyllosc that appeared to have a yellow rump and a crown stripe. Sure it was a splendid Pallas's Warbler, one of those birds that you watch and feel totally gracious. With a further 2 Pallas's, R F Blue-tail and Pallas's Gropper found throughout Shetland today tomorrow is shaping up very nicely.

Were you wondering what the title refers to? No? I didn't think so! Since finding the Leach's Petrel last month I christened the pants of the day my 'lucky pants'. Given the forecast I got them ready for today's birding only to forget to put them on. Does this mean that I have two pairs of lucky pants or am I just talking bollocks - I'll leave it to you to decide.