Wednesday 26 December 2018

A Review of 2018

As 2018 draws to a close most birders have written a summary for their year, so here's mine.

Although 2018 was largely disappointing for birding for me, and I didn't get out as much as I'd like to, there were obvious highlights that still made it a decent year: 

1) Brownsea Island, 2-4th February
    When I joined the Urban Rangers - a group of young rangers between 11-24 years old - run by the GAP (Green Academies Project) at Morden Hall Park in January, I was expecting to learn about the practical and conservation work that the National Trust does on my patch, and how to get involved. With my first session on the 27th January, I was given the opportunity to go on a free trip to Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, Dorset, where the group were going to be helping maintain the island's natural habitats. The 3 day trip was brilliant, as I got to know more young people with similar interests, take part in fascinating activities and spend time away from work and on a stunning island. Me being me, I managed to help the team of boys lose every race and game as I was birding. I had the time of my life, spotting Red-breasted Mergansers, Black-throated Diver, Spoonbill, waders, Tawny Owls, Red Squirrels, Sika Deer, a 2cy Glaucous Gull and Red-necked Grebe out in the harbour, as well as enjoying biscuits and BBQs. February was undoubtedly the best month of the year, despite being without my broken camera...

Red-breasted Mergansers and more from a top day on Brownsea
2) Greece, 5th-12th April
    School trips are either great or awful - to me that's if it's indoors or outdoors. But towards the end of 2017 my mum asked me whether I wanted to go to Greece on a Classics trip or to Iceland on a geography trip, and for multiple reasons I decided against my favourite subject Geography and to go to Greece. Over the course of 8 days, in the company of great friends and teachers who sometimes took an interest in what I was seeing, I got to learn about interesting ancient history/myths in some great locations. A non-birding trip abroad resulted in 76 bird species, 16 lifers for my WP list. However these were insignificant to me - some of the birds were so great to watch, with my favourites being the Yelkouan Shearwater, Rock Nuthatch, Crested Lark, terns and gulls, Alpine Swifts, warblers etc.

Crested Lark

Rock Nuthatch

Yelkouans Shearwaters

more or less a summary of quality Greek birding; Alpine Swift over Athens
3) People's Walk for Wildlife, 22nd September/Wild Night at the Royal Geographic, 14th December

    As I've got older I've started to try and get more involved with not just birding but conservation work as well. I decided to go along to the 'Peoples Walk for Wildlife' in September, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting other people and listening to speeches by people and celebrities, who were all united to protest against the lack of support wildlife gets. I managed to enjoy it with other young birders that I'd befriended from Twitter over the year, and it was a top, hopeful day for nature-enthusiasts. 
This wasn't the only wildlife-related, yet not birding event I went to in 2018. Recently, and I haven't had a chance to write a blog post on it yet, I went to an event at the Royal Geographic in London led by Steve Backshall and Helen Glover, where celebrities would be speaking to audiences to raise money to save an area of land, essential for wildlife, in Belize. During the evening from 7pm-10:30pm, myself and my family enjoyed a range of speeches from Leo Houlding, Lowri Morgan, Will Greenwood, Sean Conway and more. I felt privileged to meet Steve at the end of an entertaining, inspirational night.

People's walk for wildlife

Leo Houlding at the Wild Night with Steve
Wild Night at the Royal Geographic
4) Ebro Delta, Catalonia, 2nd August 2018
   This year my parents booked a holiday for the summer quite late, and it took a while to pick a place that we'd definitely go to. After deciding to go to Catalonia, I researched the best places for birding there, and the place I couldn't miss was the Delta del Ebre. What I saw on a day's trip birding was beyond my expectations, with some incredible birds at a range of habitats. The marshland had waders such as Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Kentish Plover, Stilts and more, while the paddyfields had Squacco Herons, Glossy Ibis, Whiskered Tern, Little Tern etc, while the coastal area had gulls, terns, waders and passerines. An awesome 4.5 hours of birding resulted in 91 species of fairly common birds for the area, and it was one of the obvious highlights for the year.

Squacco Heron

Whiskered Tern

Little Stint and LRP

Audouin's Gull and 2cy Med Gull

5) Oare Marshes, Kent, 31st October
    I was slightly undecided about my number 5 for the year, and although I was half tempted to put some other days like the twite twitch in January I went for a more recent, more enjoyable day out. Number 2 on my list of places to visit on the UK mainland was Oare Marshes, and with weather looking good for Halloween I was able to have an unbelievably good day with Calum M, who I've become good friends with since meeting in July. It was an outrageously good, yet small site and the birds there - though not particularly rare - blew me away. Getting my 200th UK bird was just a small reason as to why I liked it, and in the future I'm sure to return there just for the sheer Oare of it.
1st winter Eurasian Black Tern

Golden Plover etc

Little Stint 200

However, arguably the greatest highlight of the year wasn't a single trip or holiday abroad. After joining the Urban Rangers at Morden Hall I began to get more and more involved with activities and fun days, and volunteering has meant I have got to know my patch much better. The past year has meant I've probably visited Morden Hall close to 20 times, spending multiple hours there, so close to 200 hours overall. This isn't actually that much, but I've grown to enjoy the commoner species of wildlife more, and finding a new bird there for myself is much more satisfying than a brief glimpse of a rare bird. Finally getting a patch Snipe recently was as good as a UK rare. My patch list for all time has now reached 84 which I'm pleased with (80 for the year,) and the target is to reach an eventual 100. Some of my favourite patch moments were:

- Ticking Black Redstart while at Morden Hall, in an urban rangers session in the paddock. 

- Spending a day out with Sam Levy in August, and finding migratory warblers like Whitethroat, Willow Warbler etc.
- Leading a birdwalk with a member of the nature group at the Fun Palaces event, and getting a flyover Golden Plover
- Finding up to 6 Common Snipe on the newly made marshland (massive success as of yet)

m Reed Bunting

f Grey Wagtail

4/6 of recent Snipe

m Kingfisher

And finally, I managed to tick some bogey birds this year, although I still haven't seen a Little Owl despite trying over 15 times in various locations...

  • Dartford Warbler - 27th January at Beddington Farmlands thanks to David Campbell (saw another in February.)
  • Marsh Tit - 18th February. Saw tons this year due to DofE though my first was on the worst birding day of the year, where I saw 0/400+ Hawfinch...
  • Black Redstart - 27th February. Another patch mega I pulled out, thanks to the volunteering.
  • Golden Plover - 4th March. At Beddington during the Beast from the East. Then saw hundreds at Oare. 
  • Caspian Gull - 17th November. The last blog post says it all.
My 2019 Bogey Bird List is, unless a SEO or Woodcock flies over my house:
   1. Little Owl
   2. Woodcock 
   3. Kittiwake
   4. Puffin
   5. Short-eared Owl
   6. Spotted Redshank

So overall, it's been a mixed year for birding and all my nature stuff. Joining Twitter has been a huge benefit, as I've befriended numerous other people (especially young birders,) that I would never have done otherwise. I've seen some good birds, with a variety of enjoyable trips around Europe and England, as well as several memorable experiences locally. Despite having a poor year for new birds and rarities, I'd say that 2018 hasn't been a disaster so bring on 2019!
Also, thank you to all those that read and reply to my posts, helping me to learn all the time. 

I wish all my readers a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year :)

Thursday 20 December 2018

LWC Barnes w Alex Liddle - Caspo surprise! 17th November 2018

I was relieved that my exams were finally over on the 16th November, with the final Physics test a success. On Saturday the 17th I decided to have a day off of everything, and went to LWC Barnes to have a walk around. I asked Alex L whether he was around and he was up for it, so he met me in the observatory shortly after 10am. 
We started by going to the WWF hide to have a look at the gulls. There were good numbers of them, consisting of a few Common in the many Herring, BHG and LBB. 
While I packed up my stuff ready to leave, Alex called me to the scope with a few interesting gulls showing. One certainly had characteristics of Caspian, but as I had glasses with the wrong prescription on, as well as low confidence, I was slightly dismissive of it. So we carried on towards the Peacock tower, where we had numerous Snipe (13,) more gulls inc. first winter Common, 2 Peregrines on Charing Cross hospital, ducks and 3-4 Water Pipit that were busily feeding. While Alex was in form finding the first a long way off, I picked up the second on call only before a 3rd flew up with the others. We watched them for a bit, chatted to others in the hide, and then started to head back to the observatory. 3 Chiffchaff were seen on the way back.

We then went to the Headley Hide, where the Bittern was on show, hidden as usual by reeds and a strand of bright green grass that was extremely annoying. I also had a brief view of a Dunlin around one of the islands. 
By around 12:45 we reached the Wildside Hide, where a single Snipe was all to be seen at first. However, within a few minutes Alex had found the male Pintail miles away, and 3 Linnet flew SW calling, while a f Goldeneye was showing well within 15m from the hide. Despite being close it was nearly impossible to photograph - coming up for 3 seconds, down for 10secs and then moving about. 
By around 13:30 I needed to head back home, but from the observatory, after packing my stuff up, the f Peregrine landed on the islands causing a stir. It had a drink, but Alex also managed to spot a nice 1w YLG that promptly flew further away. A nice few birds to end a good session birding. 

1 month and 2 days later: I was having a flick through the photos again, writing this blog post, and came across the gull that Alex had pointed out. However, I had a chance to look at it in more detail and it had some key features for a Caspian Gull, such as the very pale, pear-shaped head (that I'd learnt at Beddington from Roger Browne a few weeks prior,) smallish eye, greyer scapulars . I sent it to Dante Shepherd - gull expert - who replied to confirm it was a first-winter Caspian Gull. It was a pretty big relief to finally tick a bogey bird that I'd had after looking for one for so long, and I feel like I'll find my own ones in the future hopefully. Thanks to those that confirmed it for me, as well as Alex for a top find!

1st-winter Caspian Gull (lifer 201, and probably the last of the year)

Common Snipe

Water Pipit - closer than usual but still distant

Water Pipit

Common Gull

Water Pipit

Possibly a hybrid? Gadwall x ...?


f Goldeneye 

f Goldeneye

tail of a f Goldeneye
f Goldeneye

Black-headed Gull pose

m Pintail etc

f Peregrine
Thanks for reading :)

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Oare Marshes Nature Reserve w Calum - 200!!! 31st October 2018

Despite all the revision I had agreed with my mum that I could have one day to go birding. After a bit of organising I decided to have my first visit to Oare Marshes in Kent, which was right near the top of my 'Places to visit' list - I asked Calum if he wanted to join me, and it was an obvious yes, so on Halloween we met at Oare at around 11am.
However, it wasn't just another birding trip. After months of constantly forcing me to get the bird recording app BUBO, I made an account just to please him 2 days before. I was pretty shocked to find that my life list wasn't at 191 as I thought, but 199. With one bird away from 200, which I didn't expect to get this year, we had one obvious target.
As my mum drove to Oare, we parked up behind Calum with birds flying around everywhere. Getting out of the car was already brilliant - just the sight of Golden Plover everywhere was pleasing to me, having only seen one before properly. Within 30 seconds, I was scrambling to get all my kit out of the car as Calum casually called me to say he'd found a Little Stint on the East Flood. A few seconds later I was looking at my 200th UK bird through his scope, and we'd  barely gone anywhere yet. To say I was happy with the somewhat meagre achievement would be an understatement.
I'd never visited Oare before, but I realised it was one of those places where there's no break in seeing things - you could just stand in one place all day, as proven when a surprise tern species flew in and landed on some mud. I got onto it expecting to see a late Arctic or Common Tern, and was surprised that it was actually a very late 1st-winter Eurasian Black Tern. The tern was around for a good 15 minutes, performing and fishing rapidly for the 8 of us present, before disappearing onto the West Flood and off to sea. It was a brilliant start.
We stood there for a good while, where we counted numerous wader species and passerines that seemed to be everywhere. 

1st winter Eurasian Black Tern

1st winter Eurasian Black Tern
1st winter Eurasian Black Tern
1st winter Eurasian Black Tern
1st winter Eurasian Black Tern
1st winter Eurasian Black Tern
1st winter Eurasian Black Tern

After a good while, we headed on to firstly look at the mud for waders, where there was nothing new, then to the hide to have a look for the recent American Golden Plover, or a Little Owl. We found neither though among the hundreds of European Golden Plover and ducks Calum was up to standard with his great spotting skills, finding a tagged Black-tailed Godwit.
We then decided to head on towards the Swale rivermouth, where there were still plenty of waders. Skylark were in good numbers after what seems to be a decent breeding season, and a single Knot was added to the growing list of waders (ending on 16 by the end of the day I think.) The Golden Plover were repeatedly flushed, with a single Marsh Harrier and another raptor we didn't identify sadly. There were also a few Grey Plover wandering around, just as we approached the seawatching hide.
From here we had a colony of Avocet (I counted 132,) as well as a lot of Dark-bellied Brent Geese a long way offshore. It was nice to meet Rob and Andrew (young birder,) where we talked as we watched some of the waders offshore.

Golden Plover congregation [1]

Golden Plover congregation [2]

Golden Plover congregation [3]

Avocet colony (part of)

Dunlin in flight

Brent Geese

Golden Plover congregation [4] - this was as they arrived in at 3ish

Golden Plovers

Golden Plovers etc

Golden Plovers etc

Black-tailed Godwits etc

Dunlin, mud and a Stint

Golden Plover in flight
Though there were no Leach's Storm Petrels or Auks etc, we had several Marsh Harrier on Sheppey. When I eventually decided to stop being lazy and actually do some looking I managed to pick up a couple of small Egrets heading down the coast, often disappearing into the long grass. They seemed a good candidate for Cattle, though it was too distant to get onto confidently. However I then picked up another egret that was much larger, and I was more sure that it was a Great White Egret. 

The most numerous waders nearby were Dunlin and Common Redshank, that came fairly close to the hide (the camera I use is awful for wader photography as their heads move too fast for any pictures.) Nonetheless it was good to watch them. 

European Golden Plover

tagged BTG (so many but couldn't read tags/identify all colours)

Curlew - the best british bird call?



Common Redshank

Common Redshank and Grey Plover

Common Redshank

Grey Plover and Curlew

European Golden Plovers and Dunlin

European Golden Plovers and Dunlin


For a good hour or 2 we were in that area, but as it got darker and the tide began to come further up we started to head back so we could watch the Golden Plovers reassembling on the East Flood.
Walking back we got more distracted, first by me falling into sedge with my scope and then by all the waders; while I looked for Shorelark or Rock Pipit Calum looked for SEO and Hen Harrier on Sheppey, though we were unsuccessful in all. An unidentified bird flew over with a Skylark though, with a raspy 'whit whit' call. We looked at each other, were clueless, so carried on walking. 
By the time we were back at the car all the waders were starting to come back on to the flood, and we looked through all the birds hoping for something else to appear. And Calum wasn't finished, refinding the Little Stint with some Snipe and Dunlin by the reedbeds. However, just as he notified all birders of his refind I'd found another bird some way away from his, as it ran through a flock of ducks, meaning that there were at least 2 present. While my bird flew onto the mud, Calum's was better, as it flew on to the mud about 15m away from us. It showed pretty well for a few seconds, where we showed it to another birder Alan who we'd seen a few times around the reserve. I confess I'm slightly disappointed with the pics I got of it in the end, though when I upgrade my lens for the new camera hopefully it will improve.

Little Stint [1]
Little Stint [2]

Little Stint [3]

Little Stint [4]

Little Stint [5]

We left on a high note, with waders everywhere. 

Before we went I was thinking Oare wouldn't be as good - it looked so small on the map, and I didn't expect any of what I did see. So arguably the best birding day of the year in the end!

Meadow Pipit- what was a possible Rock at first


1cy Herring Gull
Thanks for reading :) 
Calum - equipment everywhere

Me after falling into the reeds with my scope, or as Calum put it 'bullied by reeds'