Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Strange times indeed

Added Tree Sparrow (4) and Collared Dove (2) to the "Lockdown list", advancing my modest total to 27.

Richard found the Shorelarks again on Mill Hill this morning! I'd been down over the weekend but hadn't connected. I had another go this afternoon but still no joy. At least they're still about. Guess where my early morning constitutional will be tomorrow?

Diary type entries will obviously be difficult for the foreseeable, so I'm going to try and come up with "something completely different" or at least partially!

Tomorrow I'm going to review my Holmpton List...

Saturday, 28 March 2020

North to the Sewage...and beyond!

Today's highlights on the morning constitutional were a flock of amazingly well camoflauged Golden Plover (70)...

...2 Ringed Plover on the plough and another male Wheatear.

My feeders are now fully loaded but the Barn Owl seen performing very well from the bedroom window around 9am didn't need them...

...we also had a Tawny Owl fly past the lounge window at dusk last night. The first couple of Goldfinches have found the niger seed. Never takes them long.

Colder weather on the way from tomorrow...maybe some birdy movement...especially on the sea?

Friday, 27 March 2020

Lock-down Birding

Isolation...not a problem here...

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We all need our health walk...

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Richard hit gold dust yesterday when he found 3 Shorelarks just South of the Village. I got down there (on my health walk) asap but couldn't connect. I need to sharpen up, as he's slaughtering me with "good finds" lately. He also had a Snow Bunting this morning.

I've decided to join the Bubo "Lockdown Covid 19" Garden List. Quite a mouthful and it took me sometime to figure out...but I got there in the end! I've added it to my Lists - (see header), in the off chance you may be interested!  I'll be making a concerted/forced effort to record all species seen in and from the garden. I CAN actually see the sea from my bedroom window! It will be interesting to see what I can actually turn up? If that's not lowering my sights, I don't know what is...

Many are including their health walks but I prefer to just count from the Cottage windows/Garden...more challenging I feel...espeacially when you have an unfair advantage with a coastal location...

A modest 25 to start...

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Swallow - My earliest record!

Trying to look on the positive side...as I (nearly) always do...I continued my search for early migrants on the dog walk. However, before I left the house a knock on the door, it was Richard informing me a Marsh Harrier (H.63) was drifting south over the trees. Garden Lifer and Year tick to boot. Just nabbed it...thanks pal.

The walk North with Louise on a gloriously sunny and fresh morning was a joy. Richard was walking North also. As we approached him I noticed a small bird heading swiftly South along the beach. No doubt...a Swallow (P.91, H.64)! I shouted to him but he didn't pick it up. Almost certainly the same bird was seen at Spurn later...surprise, surprise. Checking my records this evening, it proved to be my earliest ever...by 4 days!

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Quiet Isolation

Continuing with the lone walking plan I headed South to Cliff Farm, Out Newton this morning...and back again of course! 3.2 miles.

VERY quiet bird-wise but exhilerating in the moderate Southerly wind and bright sunshine. The ground is bone dry now meaning a clean dog...which is a relief, after months of mud!

A couple of Red-throated Divers was the best I could muster on the sea. Returning up School Lane I saw my FOY Linnets (H.61, P89) and Tree Sparrows (H.62, P.90). Local coverage will obviously be increased this Spring...in these trying times...

I will be starting a Garden List, so I better sort my feeders out!

Monday, 23 March 2020

Working the Patch

Mainly Holmpton actually. In an effort to keep the "new" V70 clean...

A proper Volvo with my error in the background
...I've been walking my mate from the Cottage and really enjoying it. Bud is slightly less boistrous these days...only slightly...but it does make the passing of other dogs slightly less taxing.

Surveying his domain
Yesterday involved a 5 mile walk North beyond the Sewage and back. I found Richard and Gavin's Wheatears (P.87, H.59) just South of the Sewage...

Always a fine sight, especially the first...and second!
I also saw my FOY Ringed Plovers (5) darting around on the beach...

P.88, H.60
My love of Wildfowl finally tempted me down the road mid-afternoon to try for the lone Bewick's Swan that joined the remaining Whooper Swan's on Easington Straight. News came through that it had re-located to fields North of Sammy's, so I made the walk. Of course no sign, so I tried Easington straight...

Easy to pick out the size difference, when there's a comparison with Whooper Swans
Into the sun at some distance but still nice to connect. A rare bird in Yorkshire these days, sadly...

P.89, S.29
North again this morning but VERY quiet...

Saturday, 21 March 2020


In more ways than one!

So, no Texas holiday (although I will be taking part in a virtual capacity)...and no job, temporarily. Disappointing (although not surprising) behaviour from many people in the current crisis, with needless panic buying and thoughtless congregations.

Two good stretches today. Worked North to the Runnel Copse this morning, then South to Old Hive this afternoon. VERY quiet. Still no Wheatear or Sand Martin. A movement of Whooper Swans nationwide has so far passed me by...unfortunately. A lone Bewick's at Spurn this afternoon was noteworthy.

As we approach migration time it will be a challenge for some to "keep their distance" at a twitch? Again in more ways than one!!!

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Signs of Spring

Texas 2020 is dust! However, outlay recoup is underway. I've just reclaimed our accomodation costs....result.Top marks for Air B&B. Hopefully plane tickets to follow?

A change of tack required. So, full steam ahead for Patch 20...especially Holmpton. With that in mind I covered the Northern part of the Village along the coast and inland to the copse by the Runnel. Still no Wheatear BUT...

Chiffchaff (P.86, H.58)

Tuesday, 17 March 2020


Life goes on!

Self-isolation not too difficult out here on the East Coast. A walk down to Out Newton produced Richard's Stonechat (P.85, H.57) despite the strong wind (for a change).

The afternoon stroll failed to produce the hoped for FOY Wheatear.

Strange times indeed. Definitely a period of forced consolidation here...

Sunday, 15 March 2020

A state of flux

Well, things have changed somewhat!!! I'm writing this from my Mother's on her iPad. Hope it makes sense!

The coronavirus is hitting hard now. My Texas holiday looks like it's going down the Swanny. A big disappointment obviously but bigger issues are in play here. My youngest is flying back from Dubai tomorrow, so I'm staying over and picking him up from Manchester airport at 11.30am.

Grim times ahead with all the uncertainty. An unprecedented situation.

Life goes on though...

I finally corrected my V70 error. A wonderful salesman down in Shropshire helped me through the process of part-exchanging my Mark 3 for a proper Mark 2. I never dreamt I'd be looking at FOUR of these classics. Immense relief and satisfaction.

The Spring Birding will now be concentrated locally. We have to adapt...

Sunday, 8 March 2020

STELLER'S EIDER - Redemption

It was the afternoon of October 29th...when I posted this. Twas a long time ago.

Fast forward to Friday November 29th, the day after I returned from visiting my youngest son Robert in the UAE.

I'd also visited him the previous November...you may recall? I'm fully aware that "Autumn" isn't over BUT that's were it fits into our calender, at least as I write. So, lucky on Scilly with the HT but less so with the SE.

Into December now and my ill-fated first attempt, extracts here and here. Ah well. At least it fine tuned my Eider ID...hopefully.

Christmas and New year came and went. News was sporadic BUT the bird was still being seen on Papa Westray. I can honestly say a return visit was firmly at the back of my mind, although I was confident it would be around for a good while. Factors I had to consider included...

A series of violent storms which were battering the country.
My V70 coming to an end plus problems with its replacement.
Visits to Bury to visit my Mother plus other family commitments
A possibility of teaming up with Steve Lawton.

aka Life!

January also came and went and as February progressed I was getting twitchy. I had regular contact with David Roche, the resident birder on the Island. He was VERY helpful and my initial plan was to visit before he went on holiday to Borneo on February 26th. That plan didn't transpire due to the reasons above and of course, the bird showed on the Loch on the days leading up to his departure!

Steve Lawton seemed keen but he also fancied returning to Shetland for the TENGMALM'S OWL. This plan wasn't an option for me, as I was only interested in "the Duck".


So, that's the preliminaries over...so onto the trip...

After finishing work on Saturday afternoon I whipped Bud to the kennels (poor lad) and returned home for a quiet evening with Louise before leaving for Steve's at Wetherby. I arrived just before midnight, loaded up my gear before we headed North through the night for the Noon ferry from Scrabster. The conditions were pretty hairy over the Cairngorms south of Inverness but we made it to McDonalds just after opening time at 6am. I did offer to share the driving but Steve had grabbed a few hours the previous evening and I wasn't complaining.

Onward to Scarbster in decent conditions although we did see impressive snow in the distance...

We arrived at the terminal in plenty of time, even having time to enjoy views of a decent flock of Whooper Swans (c80) east of Thurso. After arriving in Stromness at 1.30 we took the bus to Kirkwall and made our way to the Hostel to dump our gear. We had amazing views of Long-tailed Ducks on the way on the town centre ponds. After some initial teething problems i.e. no-one about, we sorted things out and headed for the pub. Again, some issues finding the right one but the evening turned out fine.

Up bright and early and a short bus journey found us at the Airport in plenty of time for our 8.40 flight. We were both pleased to hear that we were going via Westray which would mean we would become members of the "shortest scheduled flight in the world" club...

It turned out to be a fabulous experience as we cruised low over the channel between the two Islands. A nice start. A surprise on arrival, as we were met by Jennifer from the Hostel. We stopped off there to leave our gear and then she took us down to the path to Tredwell Loch. She wished us the very best of luck. She was obviously aware of my previous dip.

Personally, I was optimistic we would connect fairly quickly...I was wrong! After scanning both northern arms of the Loch plus further South for some considerable time, we agreed that the bird wasn't present. There were pairs of Goldeneye present but no concentrated group? We then decided it made sense to split up and cover different parts of the Island. Steve worked the west coast while I walked further south down the Loch and then back north up the east side. We covered some ground but couldn't locate the SE. Personal highlights included WHITE-BILLED DIVER, Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl (3), Peregrine and Merlin. The Loch was checked again late afternoon.

So to day two. Steve headed to the south of the island to check out the Loch and coastline while I headed west, checking a couple of small pools and the St Boniface area (bad memories)...

Still lively on a calm day!

An interesting piece of history just south of the above...

Still no sign and no news from Steve. I decided to make my way back to the Loch. On the way I passed the Hostel and decided to have a quick brew, as some significant soft ground had again been covered. Unfortunately dropping off wasn't part of the plan. Luckily it only cost me 20 minutes or so...a power nap!

On reaching the Loch, after passing the post office again...

...I checked out the limited number of birds. I decided to head for the north-east corner to enable me to look further down the Loch and give me a view from which I wasn't looking into the sun (it was another glorious day). After finally making my way down the northern edge I sat on a wall and set up my 'scope. It was now gone 4. Almost immediately I picked up a decent groups of ducks actively feeding a fair way down along the western edge. I sharpened up. The light was excellent and the water was still. There were definitely more Goldeneye present (c10). I then noticed a bird that was very active and seemed "different". Always encouraging.

What I saw...

A compact duck, generally uniform dark in colour, although the head and neck seemed paler in sunlight at times.
Distinctive head profile (unlike sloping profile of Common) and complete pale bill.
Similar length to Goldeneye but sat lower in water.
Two pale wingbars, albeit narrow.
Distinct long tail held at 45 degrees.
Smaller than the Common Eiders seen dotted around the Islands shoreline.
The diving technique shown here (around 20 - 25 seconds) is spot on for the bird we observed. Wings spread and broad tail fanned. The bird was diving continuously.
Process of elimination can also be helpful.
I was now happy I was looking at the...


Where was Steve? I rang him but there was no answer, so I sent him a message. Almost immediately my phone rang. Luckily he was making his way back and wasn't far away. I walked east to see if I could see him. there he was on the hillside scoping the Loch. I shouted and beckoned him down After initial confusion on access he joined me and set up his 'scope. Interestingly, he soon picked it up and commented on it's distinctive shape and feeding technique! After studying the bird he agreed with my ID. He's very thorough and meticulous. It was now gone 5pm and had clouded over. We considered getting closer (maybe a pic) by walking around the western shore but with a series of barbed-wire fences and boggy ground to negotite in fading light we decided to stay put and enjoy the bird from our vantage point. Eventually we lost the bird and decided to head back to the Hostel...jubilant!!!

Our gamble had paid off but boy had we worked for it! A nice relaxed and very satisfying evening was had at the Hostel followed by a good nights kip. No prizes for guessing our first port of call on Wednesday morning...

However depite two prolonged watches we couldn't re-locate the bird in excellent conditions.

We bumped into Jennifer and her husband on the way back to pack and she was genuinely pleased that we had connected and especially so for yours truly, after last time! Nice touch that. We left the Island mid-afternoon...

One last look
...followed by a taxi to Stromness (time was tight) for the 4.45 ferry. We'd considered stopping ovenight in Inverness but between us we drove back to Steve's and I arrived back in Holmpton at 5.30am Thursday. A quiet day with a quick visit to the kennels was my only exertion.

               With only 15 previous records, this species is a much sought after addition. I'm still trying to work out why I missed the Hopeman harbour bird in November 2000? Family commitments I guess. So, success at last with things obviously working out VERY well...eventually...this time! I didn't fancy a third trip, at least not in the short term. The weather lived up to the forecast which helped enormously and it was great to enjoy this wonderful little Island in favourable conditions...with almost constant sunshine and very little wind. When I released the news to the information services it was nice to receive so much support from fellow birders regarding our success. Sharing the trip with Steve was also advantageous...logistically, socially and regarding ID confirmation. You know how some people can be!

Wednesday, 4 March 2020


Tredwell Loch as we departed.
No sign of the bird all morning, emphasising our good fortune yesterday afternoon.

Just got back on the mainland and heading South.

Hoping to do a report by Sunday...

Tuesday, 3 March 2020


After nearly two days combing Papa Westray I finally re-located the STELLER'S EIDER in the centre of Tredwell Loch late afternoon with a small group of Goldeneye.
Fortunately Steve was close by and I was able to get him on the bird.

Knackered now, so full report on return. We have tomorrow morning to try and view the bird again.

Absolutely elated...

Monday, 2 March 2020


Bit tired now after covering significant ground today. So a brief update. We didn't locate the bird after trying all previously reported sites. A very enjoyable day nonetheless in mercifully pleasant conditions!

Highlights were WHITE-BILLED DIVER, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine, 3 Short-eared Owls, plus good numbers of Black Guillemots and Black-throated Divers.

The search continues tomorrow. It must be here somewhere...

Sunday, 1 March 2020


Just disembarked at Stromness and waiting for the bus to Kirkwall. Nice overnight drive by Steve in challenging conditions. I did offer.

Weather encouragingly calm...at the moment. 2 Black Guillemots in the harbour.

Hostel 5 minutes from Bus station but maybe a Cup Final to watch first?

The bus leaves for the Airport at 7.45am tomorrow. We'll be on the Island for 9ish and beginning our search...