Cock of the Blue Rock

Watching a Blue Rock Thrush on 1980s housing estate in the pretty Cotswold town of Stow on the Wold on the 28th December wasn't where I expected to be spending some of my Christmas leave.To be honest had I had something better to do, such as clearing out my belly button fluff (coincidentally also blue) I would have stayed at home. It didn't impress me that much, in fact it didn't impress me at all as it paraded around the rooftops and I scoffed to one "celebrity" twitcher that it was clearly plastic and would never get accepted. To be honest I have no idea what that statement was based on, like the Grinch I just wanted to spoil the Christmas party.

My feelings about it didn't change as it overstayed its welcome into early spring. Then it disappeared and amazingly was picked up at Belle Tout in East Sussex, presumably en route to the sunny Mediterranean.  I guess that doesn't necessarily prove it's origins, but the BBRC have now deemed it acceptable. However just because a group of middle-aged blokes agree that this (and all those dodgy ducks) are tickable it doesn't mean that we should bow to their superiority and accept their decision. No I am better than this, I made my decision to tick this bird back in April (when it appeared at the latter locality) not because I thought it was a relocating lost migrant, oh no this was based on one thing.... I dipped the Scilly bird in 1999 and it hurt!

Next one to go on the list will be the Dalmatian Pelican - purely on the basis that I waited until October to see it and it was great!

Whilst on the subject of ticking stuff; I had a quick look at my new I.O.C list this evening - I wish I hadn't. Gained one with the split of the Bean Geese, but lost Thayer's Gull, Hudsonian Whimbrel and a Redpoll.

Hudsonian Whimbrel - Boat Cove. Not sure what's worse, the fact that I have to take it off or that I had to pay a fiver to park.

The Hills are alive....

Or maybe not...

It has to be said that over the last few years that when it comes to local birding I've seldom strayed from the patch.  The Peak District is a mere 30 minutes from home, in fact I can see it from my front door! Yet it's been well over a year since I ventured out there, which considering how impressive it is, is appalling.  Today we made the effort and after parking at Blackamoor, walked Houndkirk, Burbage, Higger Torr and back via Fox House.  The amount of birdlife was astounding. Astounding in that there was barely anything! A juv Stonechat, Curlew a handful of Kestrels and Meadow Pipits, seemingly the only birds up there in numbers.  Thirty years ago when my friend and I would come up here in the six week school holidays we would see lots of Wheatears, Whinchat, Ring Ouzels and lots of Curlews! Maybe they were all hiding!

Fantastic views from Burbage, but not many birds!

I did however get a surprise first just a 100 metres or so from the car, a Harvest Mouse. I almost stood on it as it sat on the path in the managed verge and it wasn't until I picked it up that I realised what it was. After putting back into the grass I was surprised to find another just 10 metres along the path. Not sure of the status of Harvest Mouse in the Peak District, but I guess they're not that common.  

Plover Lover

Since finding my first American Golden Plover, some 27 years ago, these spangled beauties and their Eurasian and Pacific cousins have been a favourite of mine. When the latter species turned up at North Cave on Friday and with the patch being absolutely dead I decided to go and have a look.

If my ageing memory serves me right this was only my third Pacific Goldie, previously in Lancashire (Piling 1990) and on the wrong side of the Humber in 1993, though these birds were stunning summer-plumaged adults, presumably this was a 1st year bird, though nonetheless still very smart.

On the downside, the finder Gary Dayes is my nearest rival in the Patchwork Challenge (Inland North) and with a 12 pointer like this soundly kicks me into 3rd place. Perhaps this will give me the kick up the arse to find something! A dream inland find for sure, these days I struggle to find bog standard Goldies at Orgreave! Apologies for the photos I'm still getting to grips with getting back into digiscoping!

Amur Regretting This.

For me new birds are becoming few and far between and when something that I do need turns up it tends to be on some far-flung island that I just don't have the bottle to twitch these days, though to be fair I've never been much of an island twitcher.

Friday 7th was my day off, though as with every day I was up at 5:30 ready to be on the patch by 6. I'd managed the 3S routine before picking my phone up and catching up with last nights bird news. The downside of getting up early is that I'm generally in bed fairly early and this time there really was a downside. The news of an Amur Falcon at Polgigga, Cornwall had broken at about 21:20 the previous evening and I'd slept through it all. No problem it was still early, quick trip around the patch and leave on positive news. I didn't have to wait long only half way around the lake and the news that it was still came through. Dashed back home, chucked a few bits in the car and headed south.

The plan was; see the bird, take some photos, have a pasty, stay over with my holidaying parents and drive home the following morning.

In reality it went like this:

The highlight of the trip!
Get almost as far as Exeter and hear that it's flown off. Mood changes. Convince myself to carry on, and that it's just having a brief fly around. Update at 11:30 that it's been seen again. Mood improves, it's obviously still in the area. At Hayle by 1pm no further news. Console myself by buying a huge Phelps pasty* - at least I won't go hungry whilst waiting for it. Fill up with fuel and do the last 10 miles to Polgigga, by this point thinking (out loud) that this was a very bad idea.  Arrive at Polgigga at 2 ish and note the rather scant number of observers present.  I got the impression that nobody (including me) present during the day had the vaguest idea about where the bird had actually roosted the previous evening something that became evident later.  Despite unsubstantiated reports from the Sennen area and rumour that the the bird had been present for 3 days it was not seen again. Personally I think that it had arrived the previous evening, dropped into the first bit of cover and roosted in the open waiting for it to get warm, feed up and move on.

By dusk I was too knackered to drive home and with vague optimism, that it might have sneaked into roost, I decided to stay over in the car. The Peugeot 108 does not make a good bed for the night, kind of like folding yourself into a suitcase! The following morning and with the help of various crowd shots from the previous day I managed to locate the roost spot. Obviously it wasn't there but I tried to imagine how great I would feel had I refound it. Which frankly like the whole trip was a bloody daft idea.  With that I threw in the proverbial towel and headed home via my sympathetic parents!

Quite a different scene from 24 hours earlier. To make it worse there were two horses hiding among the cows. 
I bloody hate horses!

*Not a pie but acceptable when in Cornwall

Back For Good

Well three years since I did anything on here, so why choose now to start back up? I'm a firm believer of not doing stuff when it stops being enjoyable, and that's pretty much what happened. So why start again? No idea really, I just got the urge to take it up again and I apologise in advance if it turns out like most comebacks to be a complete pile of crap!

Readers of this blog (I make the assumption that there are some) in the past may have found me (in no particular order) boring, witty, annoying, antagonistic, spiteful, funny, inspiring, wordy, illiterate .... and so on and so on.  I purposefully left out words such as intelligent, knowledgeable, ace birder (two words obviously), because I'm not. I'm just an average middle-aged socialist, who lives in the grim northern town of Rotherham and likes birding. I don't claim to be an expert birder, because I am very far from that. However, I have been birding since the age of 12 and I love it - always have, probably always will.

When this blog started back in 2007 I was in a dark place (read the early posts, they are bloody awful). Filled with venom and Prozac (literally), I spewed out posts filled with bile and sometimes hate.  Ten years on and that's all behind me - mostly. So, readers (again I make assumptions) what can you possibly expect to read in the coming months?

Birds. Of course, birds.

Pies. Some, though I'm choosey these days and pastry gives me indigestion! Who knew?

Patching. I dare say that somewhere in the dark corner of the internet "patching" means something sexual, I recently discovered that "dusting" is not just something you do when trying to impress the wife to earn vital birding Brownie points - or maybe it is! I digress. Patching in my case is my near daily obsession birding Orgreave. Since last visiting blogger I've managed to find a few tasty species there, such as: White-winged Black Tern, Caspian Tern, Great White Egret and Temminck's Stint, all top drawer rares from a local perspective. Entering the Patchwork Challenge has increased my obsession, taking on well-established (proper nature reserves) in the Inland North.

Caspian Tern as it headed north from Carr Vale 22nd July 16

Twitching:  Less and less of this these days, but there will be some.

Politics: For the record I'm pro EU, anti-austerity, hate the Tories and love Corbyn, given the chance I would take out Trump tomorrow. I'll probably steer clear of politics!

Lee: Who? One for the birders I guess.  I think that's run its course.

Photos: Lots of photos, ranging from awful to record shots. I'm no photographer, I'm a birder with a camera who gets lucky now and again. DSLR, bridge camera and recently back into digiscoping. 

Life. Occasional more personal posts, probably about my wonderful wife and amazingly intelligent daughter. Sick bags are optional.

So that's it. Like watching Love Island it's your choice nobody made you look. Enjoy.

Oh, and this is me. If you ever have the misfortune to meet me, feel free to chat, mock or just punch me in the face. You can even follow me on Twitter @mn_reeder but I really am very boring!

9th August. Birding Frontiers Challenge Series Autumn

It’s not often that I buy books unless it’s something that grabs my eye, something that is a little different from the norm and Martin Garner’s new challenge series of books is exactly that. There is little in the way of identification guides these days, though recently the old birder’s (I think I probably fall into that category) favourite the Macmillan Guide was given a rebirth and just a few years back the unique Advanced Bird ID Guide by Nills Van Duivenduk describing every species within the Western Palearctic, was published. In his first guide Martin covers some of the rarer species or races that we may come across in the Autumn, and also a few that some of us (including me) had no idea actually existed let alone might turn up on our shores.   
Martin appears to have taken some of the best bits from the aforementioned guides; the descriptive style of Duivenduk’s book coupled with the Macmillan style miniature sketches detailing key areas to look for along with a good selection of comparison photos. With the aid of a smartphone or tablet pc even more content - additional photos, video and audio - is available via QR codes at the start of each chapter.

Broken down into eighteen chapters this guide deals with some of the trickiest and in some cases the most contentious of bird ID subjects e.g. South Polar Skua. Martin’s mantra is “always discovering” and the first six chapters certainly give you a feel of what’s constantly going around in his head - how many of us have ever considered the possibility of Sharp-shinned Hawk or even Japanese Sparrowhawk after a fleeting glimpse of a small accipiter at an East or West coast birding hotspot? Those early chapters will certainly open your eyes, but for those of us who like the safety of their chosen comfort zone the remainder of the book will further educate and have you wishing you’d booked that Shetland trip.

Ray Scally’s artwork should not go unmentioned, it is excellent, educational and has a feel of Lars Johnsson, not at all two dimensional like some of the images that grace many field guides. Whilst some illustrations show the species in full, others break it down into parts. I found this method a better aid to ID, drawing your attention to the salient points rather than lots of arrows pointing in all directions.

Presumably Martin intends this series to cover the four seasons and presumably four books? Though given the huge spectrum of possible Autumn species, the Leaf Warblers and some of those tricky eastern buntings for starters, it could run and run until we’ve had enough. However, judging how Mr Garner’s enthusiasm rubs off onto others that could make for a very long series indeed.

The first tantalising glimpse of the Challenge Series had this frugal Yorkshireman reaching to the dark (rarely ventured) depths of his pockets and having now been privileged to have a review copy I can honestly say it was money well spent. This will certainly be part of my baggage allowance on my trip north this autumn.

31st July Best of the rest from Spain

In a shameless attempt to boost the blog ratings further I've dug out the remaining photos from our recent trip to Extremadura. Enjoy or just click the little cross in the top right corner.
Blue Rock Thrush Castillo de Monfrague
Woodchat Shrike. One of the very common roadside birds. 
Evenings on the Santa Marta Plains were better for Great Bustards with up to 15 on one evening. 
A visit to Trujillo's old bull ring is always a highlight for the Lesser Kestrels
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Little Owls are very common around farm buildings
Two pairs of Black Stork viewable from the Pina Falcon viewpoint
Short-toed Eagles seemed far more numerous than on previous visits.

25th July. No Oven No Pie

After a week of seemingly endless DIY and very little birding Jo and I decided on a rare afternoon/evening trip into town.

After a spot of shopping we started on our minor pub crawl. First pub was situated in the Old Water Works in the heart of the City. A pub where you can remarkably purchase a pint for less than two quid!! Though tempted to stay in for the rest of the day, or at least until I'd had enough - which for those that know me isn't very many - we started to make our way towards Kelham Island.

The Kelham Island area hosts several small pubs the type of which were traditionally frequented by men (and sometimes women) with beards and a generally low standard of personal hygiene. Whilst the old guard still sit in the corners of these pubs muttering about volume, body and general shit about beer that I couldn't possibly begin to understand and don't want to - these pubs have become a revolution for those that want a good night out with decent locally produced beer from the micro breweries that are popping up in Sheffield - non of that mass produced chemical crap here. Shit. Did I really just say that? Am I turning into a beer bore?

The Kelham Island Tavern has the added attraction of serving big pork pies and it would have been rude not to. Not just any old pork pie but a fine Wateralls pie and washed down with a pint of Barnsley's Acorn brewery Old Moor Porter. Presumably named after Old Moor (or Wath Ings as we knew it) is this the only birding hotspot to have a beer named after it? Beer bore info HERE

The real purpose of this night out (pronounced nee'tart) was to see the Everly Pregnant Brothers.  Anyone outside of South Yorkshire is unlikely to have heard of this curious ukulele sextet whose parodies of modern Indie songs are injected with subtle Sheffield dialect, humour, nostalgia and a general loathing of Leeds.

Coming on stage at 7.30pm the non paying audience (who says "Tha dunt get owt f nowt?") of several thousand were treated to such classics as Ham In, Common People ("If tha called thi fath-er e cud stop         it'all"), Hendos (a homage to Sheffield's beloved sauce), Pork Pie and the classic No Oven No Pie among a non-stop two and a quarter hour set. A set that made this middle-aged man from Rovrum (shhh) glow with nostalgia of his Sheffield roots, proud that I know what neets and afters are, that a snap tin isn't something you trap your hand in, that spice are sweet and what the oyl int ruwad was. Even Jo with her West Yorks upbringing enjoyed it, even laughing when the crowd chanted back F*ck Leeds.  Over the last few years i've seen a fair few live bands and for entertainment value alone the Everly Pregnant Brothers are up there with some of the best - no exaggeration they really were that good.  All in all a reet good neet.

5th June. Not For The Squeamish

We spent the morning/early afternoon walking the trail from the Castillo de Monfrague car park. The trees providing vital shade and plenty of birds, Subalpine Warblers and Short-toed Treecreeper being the highlights. As we headed back towards Trujillo in the mid-afternoon sun I noticed a large cloud of vultures circling over a farm just beyond Torrejon el Rubio. As we stopped to look by the roadside we noticed many birds (a couple of hundred) on the ground and the large body of a freshly dead cow. We spent the next hour watching these prehistoric garbage collectors reducing this large bovine by entering it's body via the soft spots i.e. mouth, backside and presumably as this was a cow..... Quite horrific but fascinating and without doubt the highlight of the trip.

Video best viewed in HD

4th June. Sierra de Gredos

We spent the remainder of our trip mostly covering old ground but on the 4th decided to head north to the Sierra de Gredos mountains if nothing else we would at least escape the increasing heat the day.

The optimistic two hours predicted by the stupid woman in the Sat Nav turned into about three and half and with hindsight it would make more sense to do this area for a couple of days either en-route to or from Trujillo.  

Calling at the Parador de Gredos we spent a good couple of hours trying to see Citril Finches with just a few very fleeting glimpses - though a Rock Sparrow singing around the tennis courts was unexpected and the numerous Bonelli's Warblers enjoyed.

Arriving at the Plataforma car park much later than intended and consequently too late in the day for any kind of serious walking. However we did manage to go up a kilometre or so. 

The change of habitat made for a pleasant change with scenery no unlike the higher parts of Speyside. Walking alongside the mountain stream with patches of snow still in abundance we picked up Rock and Ortolan Buntings, Blue Rock Thrush and a stunning male Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Jo picking it up the second time by proclaiming, "I've got one of those orange and blue things!" A nice Water Pipit by the stream and numerous Dunnocks - who imitated their larger cousins that no doubt we would have seen further up the track. The Wheatears here are a funny looking bunch, much slighter than our wheatears and structurally more like Black-eared Wheatear  and lacking any peachy tones. 

A couple of tame Ortolans fed around the car park