Tales Of The River Bank

Bloody Hell it's all gone a bit Mods V Rockers down in the East Midlands, with disgruntled birders sparring with unhappy fishing folk. Talk of fishing trolleys getting lobbed in the river and birders cars threatened with vandalism. It must be true I read it on Birdforum

Since finding that dead Water Rail Tom had become an angry young man

Alongside some excellent birds this autumn has been one of conspiracy, violence, suppression, back stabbing, ridicule and hatred, well it has if you believe one particular individual!

31st October. Goodbye Ruby Monday

Well it looks as though the Rubythroat has finally left the building or should that be garden. I can't lie, every single update on this bird has caused the bile from my stomach to rise to the back of my throat in an attempt to choke me. I started off being pleased that the bird had charmed my friends on Shetland, genuinely chuffed for them. Then it started to take the piss, parading around for anyone - totally de-valuing itself. In short it became cheap! I conjured with the idea of going this weekend gone but, despite offers from Russ to pick us up from the ferry and look for the bird on the Friday prior to our departure, it all turned to rat shit when the driver (for whatever reason) couldn't make it. So that was it I spent the last week getting gripped by long standing twitching mates and updates on Twitter.

So sorry if you left it until today and dipped but I for one am pleased that I can get on with my bloody life now.

Gulls galore

Rather pleased that the patch appears to be gathering a decent gull roost over the last couple of weeks. Saturday night produced a nice Caspian Gull - though given the high rejection rate (in Yorkshire) getting it past a committee will be a bigger challenge than the ID. Fortunately it put in an appearance at Redmires this morning (picture below at Redmires by Richard Hill).

Sunday night was more predictable with less large gulls though a 2nd winter Yellow-legged Gull, found by Andy, was nice and I managed to pick a 2nd winter Med' Gull out of the black-heads. Photos below by Andy Deighton.

I've a sneaky feeling that this autumn might have one more major surprise up it's sleeve, fingers crossed

23rd October. Happy Birthday Beth

Today I officially became the parent of a teenager. A good (birding) friend of mine once questioned my decision to have a child in October! This was something that crossed my mind when this weekend I simply couldn't consider either the Rubythroat or the Tanager. I wouldn't swap Beth for the world - she's a wonderful daughter so much so that even if I'd gone for either the aforementioned birds she'd have understood completely well deep down she's a birder at heart!

At just three she'd got to grips with the scope

Digiscoping at Seven

The day she renamed phalaropes as 'turnaround a bird'

Grilling a Citrine Wag' earlier this year.

Now is anyone up for that Rubythroat next weekend - if it sticks of course?

22nd October. Back for the Winter

No twitching for me this weekend. Neither the Tanager or the Rubythroat were available to me. I didn't have the bottle to go for the former and with Beth's birthday on Sunday no time for the latter.

So again it was left to the patch to take my mind off everything else. First visit produced very little though 67 Pochard were notable. The afternoon visit was slightly better with a single Wheatear (my latest local bird ever) and that gull again! It still looks good for 4th winter Caspian Gull but I'm just waiting on a second opinion!

Pit-house West came up trumps in the evening with a male Stonechat and the Bittern heading to roost at dusk, the ninth successive winter for Bitterns at this site.

20th October. Back on the Patch

First visit to Orgreave since before my Shetland trip, and one that I was very much in need of. The continuing presence of the Siberian Rubythroat (on Shetland) was starting to get to me and I very much needed to put my mind into something else, rather than the logistics of heading north again!

Orgreave was alive with birds - though mainly ducks and gulls so I set about scanning through the increasing flock of gulls. A nice adult Yellow-legged Gull appeared briefly and then shortly after I picked up a near adult Caspian Gull - it wasn't as straightforward as that though. I had left the camera in the house, the battery on my mobile was dead and worse still I literally had no lead (or at least very little) lead in my pencil! It ticked all the boxes i.e head shape, bill shape, primary pattern, wing length, eye colour (dark at a distance). I did manage to make some notes and hopefully should be able to put a decent description together for the YNU.

Despite the frustration it was good to get back on the patch.

18th October. KKK alive and well in Cornwall

Shock revelations this week from the policeman of birding (and not a birding policeman) that the Kernow Killjoy Klan have once again been operating in the north of Cornwall. Apparently this 'crime' was committed in the Davidstow/Crowdy area where an apparent Semipalmated Plover slipped beneath every visiting twitchers radar, whilst it hid among the tundrae Ringed Plovers.

A full investigation by the IQ 40 is currently being carried out into the alledged activities of cult leader Christ Stanley.

"Psst Get yourself off to Rame in the morning my lover"

Personally I'd like to thank the KKK for helping me keep another British blocker on my list!

17th October. The Bigger Shetland Picture

Black-headed Bunting, Pallid Harrier, Olive-backed Pipit, 2 self-found Barred Warblers, 6 Self-found Yellow-browed Warblers, 3 Rosefinch, Citrine Wagtail, American Golden Plover, Isabelline Shrike, Buff-bellied Pipit.... Not a bad haul really and if you'd just read that on Birdguides you'd probably be quite envious. That's not the true picture though. If you want to chase around looking at birds that someone else found then that's absolutely fine and as a result you could quite easily have seen all of the above and a few more besides. However if like Andy and me you like to try and find your own birds and explore new (well newish) ground then Shetland this year was a big let down.

We covered lots of ground on Unst some real cracking habitat with form. It wasn't the lack of rare it was the seemingly complete lack of everything. The truer picture is that apart for the aforementioned rares and to the best of my now hazy memory we saw just the following (migrants) throughout the entire trip; 7 Chiffchaffs, 3 Goldcrests, singles of Whinchat, Redstart, Pied Fly, Spot Fly, Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Garden Warblers, 6 Willow Warblers (a marked increase) and significantly less Blackcaps. Thoroughly working plantations or gardens when there's is no sign of life is just so bloody sole destroying.

Things got worse when we headed south, when not only was there a lack of migrants there was a massive increase in the number of 'twitching' birders. Never in my seven autumn visits have I seen so many visiting birders, to quote Andy it was like Scilly with cars. This brought our moral down even more but the dream team of Harvey, Riddington, Small and Garner finding a nearby Buff-bellied Pipit both raised our expectations and helped concentrate the rampant tickers in one place. We headed in the opposite direction!!

The following morning after listening to constant lashing wind and rain we eventually ventured out after a rousing call to arms from Martin who informed us of masses of thrushes arriving. Not quite the 'thousands' that we had expected but certainly an arrival. We spent the next few hours getting a proper battering around the familiar territory of Sumburgh Head and Farm for scant reward - in fact no reward.

The rest of our stay was pretty much the same i.e. no migrants and no new rares after HRSG's pipit and I can honestly say that by Wednesday morning I was glad to get on that plane (eventually) to Glasgow. However on reflection that's just the magic of Shetland you never know what your going to get and to be fair I've had much worse years. Perhaps It would be a little hasty for me to say that I won't be back next year?

Some of the usual favoured spots were this year very much out of bounds.

Norfolk in Chance

Currently wandering around Warham with a miriad of expectant birders; though sadly most have already given up and others are wasting time blogging about it. The Rufous-tailed Robin&amp has probably either done one or - following a frost- is laying on it's back with it's feet in the air.

The rumour mill is already running with a story of how it was kept quiet and how more birders could have connected with it. Blah blah blah more shit for the forums.
In my experience the finder is a top bloke - the nicest of the Punkbirders - and deserves nothing but high praise for getting the news out. Had it been me it would have A taken me several hours to come to my senses and B significantly longer to scrape the shit from my underpants.
Birders! Some of you are just vile spiteful bastards!!

I'm off to walk to Wells for a nice cuppa and a spot of breakfast.

To HellUnst and Back

Pay little attention to the previous two posts, they were written in the half light of a candle and uploaded using only a couple of rusty cans and a bit of string that I found discarded on a beach - that however doesn't excuse the content being crap.

So how was Unstd? In one word - windy. Never have I experienced such prolonged westerly winds whilst staying on Shetland. Consequently birds were few and far between and any hope of a Yank (sorry) was shattered by the amazing statistics quoted by my friend the Llama, who informed me that only three American land birds have ever been recorded on Unst.

Anyway technological difficulties aside Unst was challenging but mostly enjoyable. Lots of cracking rare bird habitat, but without the err rare birds - or in the case of some sites any birds. We managed to find a few minor scarce namely Rosefinch and Barred and Yellow-browed Warblers but that really was it. Unst is very nice, the people are very nice and welcoming some openly inviting you into their gardens.

We did see a couple of other people's rare finds.

A couple of trips to Fetlar - to relieve the tedium produced very little, though we did have cracking views of the juv Pallid Harrier as it hunted around Loch of Funzie (apparently pronounced finnie).

So as I said in an earlier post Unst will either be a triumph or a disaster, or something like that. Personally I don't think it was either just somewhere in between.

Still four days of this Hell trip to endure go and the weather is looking f***@ng awful isn't looking too favourable.

On the plus side some pastry delights were to be found, firstly en-route at Yell and on display in the Baltasound shop. The appearance of a Lasagne Pie in Brae raised moral, but like the rarities in south Mainland it had been around for a while!

Dr Llama being all optimistic on the way north

Though that all turned to rat shit when the wind set in!
Unst survival kit

Day 2

After a half day of travelling and getting settled into our comfortable chalet at Baltasound our first full day of birding dawned sunny and windless. As soon as we stepped outside Andy picked up a ringtail harrier hunting in the adjacent field.  A rather dark individual with orangey under parts but hefty looking with broad wings it proved to be a Hen Harrier a new bird for me on Shetland. 

The plan for the day was to head north to Skaw then slowly work our way back south.  We were warned by Martin that the farmer at Skaw is a bit grumpy so with that in mind we stuck to the paths and decided against walking the burn.  As a result the only bird we saw was a Garden Warbler.
At Valyie, Norwick it was obvious that there had been a bit of a clear out with only one Yellow-browed compared to at least 5 the previous evening.  However a couple of Barred Warblers were new in and Andy picked up a couple of Rosefinch in the oat crop.

Returning to Baltasound we covered the immediate gardens and the Helligarth plantation. Again more evidence of an exodus with just a Willow Warbler and a few Chaffinches!
Having briefly caught up with the Black-headed Bunting at Belmont on our way north yesterday we headed back for seconds and eventually had good views of it among the local sparrows.

A return visit to Norwick produced pretty much the same birds as earlier and another ring-tail Hen Harrier was a more typical bird than the early morning one.


So begins our ‘intrepids’ trip to Unst or Unstable as the predictive text would tell you. Flights went as planned and on time and we arrived at Sumburgh just before 11am. Picking up the hire car we called in at Rob’s for a quick cuppa, where Dave found the first Yellow-browed of the trip.
Tea drunk we headed north via Tesco after dropping Dave off at Cunnisburgh.  On our way through Voe a large grey warbler flew over the car – it was obviously a Barred Warbler and a quick U-turn proved us right.  Hanging around for the Yell ferry we received a call from Dave who’s team – who will from now refer to as Team Smurf (after the cornflower blue house they’re staying in) – rang to let us know they had just re-found the Alpine Swift!  Unperturbed we carried on with our journey northwards taking in the first pie of the trip a Johnson and Wood egg and bacon. 

Connecting easily with the Unst Ferry we soon arrived at our chalet in Baltasound where we immediately discovered two things; Vodaphone and O2 don’t work and the prearranged unlocked door to the chalet was not unlocked. After enquiring with the family next door who kindly took us to the key holder we finally got in, dropped our stuff then finally went and did some birding. 

The gardens around Norwick were our choice and an hour or so in the rain produced 5 Yellow-browed, 2 Brambling, Sparrowhawk and a Garden Warbler.  The lack of any sort of phone signal created an intense feeling or paranoia and worse still meant that we couldn’t contact each other if either of us had anything interesting.  Without the 21st century’s technology this really is back to basics birding!