28th March. Gullfest

With the continuing lack of summer migrants a couple of decent gulls on the patch have been most welcome.  A Little Gull on the river, found by a dog walker, on Tuesday has been giving cracking views as it picks away at the surface in an almost phalarope fashion. With a couple of adults last year there's still time to find another.

Gulls seem to be the only things on the move at the moment and I've scrutinised the large gathering black-heads every morning, hoping to pull out a Med', without success.  This morning whilst scanning the bank I picked out a beautiful adult Iceland Gull among just a handful of 'big' gulls and a couple of hundred BHGs.  Unfortunately it didn't stick around long seemingly vanishing before I could get the other birder present on it.

26th March. Back in the Freezer.

At the back end off the last weekend things were starting to look up on the patch, a Rock Pipit on Sunday morning indicated that things were finally starting to move and with clag conditions predicted for Monday it could only get better.

Arriving on-site early Monday morning the only thing apparent was that the birds just weren't happening and after an hour I headed for the office for a day of desk bound drudgery. A few tweets from Jonny at Pugneys (though he too was at work) suggested that things were moving with Avocet, Black- tailed Godwit and Kittiwake all through there. The clag conditions continued through the day with Kittiwakes seemingly everywhere, except in Sheffield.  My planned 6 pm finish got cut to 4pm (thank you whoever came up with the idea of flexi time - surely a birder?).

Almost jogging from the bus , the fear that some bounder might get in before me and steal what was rightfully mine drove quickly to the two lakes. I needn't have worried no-one else was daft enough to venture out and there sat in the middle of the large lake in all its pure white headed glory was my target a cracking* adult Kittiwake.

*taking things into context Kittiwakes are as rare here as Med' Gulls

The good birds kept coming with 31 Whooper Swans, that I only just missed seeing from the bus, calling noisily as the cruised up and down the lake before heading off on the next leg of their north-bound journey.

Then, when things were going all spring like it suddenly plunged us back into deep winter.

I couldn't get out Saturday but made up for it with a 3 hour session the following morning. With a good six inches of snow covering the ground most of the birds had reverted to winter tactics. The previous territorial song flighting Sky Larks were back in small flocks and the Lapwings had given up strutting around the 'plains'.  As I walked through one of the small young plantations a Short-eared Owl took flight, immediately attracting attention from the Carrion Crows. Presumably a new bird as I hadn't seen any of the winter birds since January.

Given the weather conditions the chances of any true spring migrants seemed fairly unlikely so I was quite surprised when I picked up a couple of Little Ringed Plover walking around in the snow with a group of Ringed Plover and shortly after another two LRP's and a Jack Snipe flushed from the edge of the large lake was only my second on the patch. A Peregrine on the 'plains' was unbelievably my first of the year.  All in all not a bad few hours but a bit of sun wouldn't go amiss. Given the current weather forecast this could well be the first March that I haven't seen a Sand Main

17th March. All Crust and No Filling

Blogging isn't coming naturally at the moment, mostly due to the lack of birds, plenty of birding just nothing very interesting and partly due to the lack of birding gossip.

Looking back it's been almost 2 months since I wrote anything remotely bird related and it's time to get my mojo back ready for (fingers crossed) the greatest spring on record. So here goes:

Way back at the end of January, the internationally (apparently the Dutch liked it so much that they set up their own challenge in February) renowned Foot It challenge finished and with it most of my winter birding enthusiasm.  I've toyed with the idea of resurrecting it for April/May but it's not likely, though I wouldn't rule out a one off day challenge.
Bird of the year.

The patch has so far been well below par, though I guess this was bound to happen sooner or later and the more I think about last years birds the more I realise what a special 12 months it was. To put it into context I'm almost 20 species behind where I was this time last year with such bonus birds as Smew, Iceland Gull and Little Owl all blank spaces on the list.

Disaster struck in early February when my long standing loyal Sigma 50-500 went off to photographic heaven or the Council tip to be precise.  An unfortunate incident involving the ground and some general wear and tear made it uneconomical to repair and worse still it was clear that given the latter deterioration aspect the insurers wouldn't pay up for a new one, so I had to. I opted for the image stabilised 150-500 and so far I'm very happy with it.

I nearly deleted this Barn Owl shot, but the noise and blur of the wings and background really accentuate the ghostly appearance - well I like it anyway. Incidentally this Barn Owl, at Pit-house West was my first at Rother Valley.

The only real chance I've had on a proper subject was a group of Waxwings that favoured  the ASDA (other supermarkets are available) at Handsworth. Laying on my belly for some shots raised a few eyebrows from carrier bag laden shoppers.

 However, highlight of February was seeing the legendary John Shuttleworth perform at the Buxton Opera House.  He didn't disappoint with classics such as can't go back to savoury, smells like white spirit and my personal favourite two margarines on the go.

With the apparent extension to this winter early migrants have been non-existent, but a Rock Pipit this morning reassured me that spring really is just around the corner....