Ranworth Broad, 20 December 2011

With a crisp bright day forecast it was off to Ranworth Broad this morning to check out the rare duck situation. Rather surprisingly the flock of duck weren't on the main broad but on the wide cut running right from the visitor centre towards the river. A scan of the flock revealed the Ferruginous Duck 1st then the Ring-necked Duck a couple of minutes later - bingo! They were a little too distant for photography but as I had a little compact camera with me I did attempt a little digi-scoping. The results below show why I don't do much of that any more!
Also of note - a Nuthatch was by the reserve entrance and a flock of c120 Greenfinches were near nearby Panxworth.


Birders books - Christmas recommendations

With just a week to go till Christmas and those shopping days rapidly dwindling you may need some inspiration for those last minute presents for the birder in your life! Here are a selection of books we've particularly enjoyed which may just help. We've avoided actual field guides here and concentrated on readable tales and art books 

Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman
A wonderfully inspiring read of the birding exploits of a young Kaufman in 1960s America. If you read just one book of birding tales make it this one!

UK500: Birding in the Fast Lane by James Hanlon
Twitching tales of British birder James as he heads towards that magic 500 British list.

Arctic Flight by James McCallum
Some of the wonderful artwork in James's unique style. I had the pleasure of spending time with James in Norway in May and his paintings in this book are so evocative of this awesome part of the world.

Cutting Away, The Linocuts of Robert Gilmor
A marvellous book packed with prints of Robert's superb linocuts. I've had the pleasure of watching the man at work in his studio in Cley and the process to build up these images is painstaking and very clever

The Big Year by Bob Obmascik
A very readable tale of a US yearlisting competition from 3 very different birder's perspectives.

The Biggest Twitch by Alan Davies and Ruth Miller
The whole story of this couple's attempt to beat the world record of species seen in a year. All the ups and downs of a remarkable year. 


Good news for the Blakeney Point Seals

This report from Surfbirds reveals good news from the Atlantic Grey Seal colony on Blakeney Point, Norfolk. A spot that has long been a favourite of ours


Egg Thief Jailed

Many of you will have seen or heard on the news of the 6 month jail term handed out to the UK's most notorious egg thief Matthew Gonshaw (49) of Cherrywood Close, Bow, East London. He was convicted of stealing and possessing wild bird eggs including species such as Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Osprey, Red Kite and Avocet.

Gonshaw's home in East London was raided by officers from the Metropolitan Police and RSPB Investigations unit on 2nd June this year. Nearly 700 eggs were found at the premises.

This was his fifth conviction relating to his collection.

In April 2001, he was caught raiding a golden eagle's nest in the outer Hebrides and fined £500. In 2002, he received a three-month sentence for stealing rare British species of eggs, but officers were unable to find his collection. In 2004, he was jailed for four months and fined £5,000 in Scotland for taking eggs and he was jailed again for six months in 2005 after being caught with more than 700 eggs.
We can only hope his latest sentence goes some way towards detering him from his disgusting addiction in the future but his history would seem to suggest otherwise. Let's all wish him  happy Christmas as a guest of Her Majesty and hope it's not just the turkey's rear end that gets stuffed this year!

His photo is below. Keep an eye out for him on your local patch (though obviously not in the next 6 months!) and if you spot him deal with him in the way you deem appropriate!


Chew Valley Lake & Blagdon Lake, Somerset, 12 December 2011

An extremely early start from Norfolk (3am!) had me at Herriott's Bridge on the south side of Chew Valley Lake by first light. I then spent the morning scanning the lake margins from here and Stratford Hide with very little to show for my efforts. The only birds of note were a single female each of Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser, 2 Goldeneye, c70 Linnets, Grey Wagtail and a couple of Cetti's Warblers singing near the hide. Importantly there were no waders at all apart from a loafing flock of Lapwings. Things were not looking good.

Nice rainbow but no waders! Chew Valley Lake

 As I entered Stratford Hide for yet another stint there was one other birder present, none other than Rich Andrews who said 'are you wanting to see the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper?' and then he went onto give me directions to where he'd seen it this morning at nearby Blagdon Lake! I hot footed it there as quick as I could to be greeted by some other birders including Keith Vinnicombe and informed that the flock had flown 10 minutes before I arrived. Jesus Christ! Keith took my number in case he found it again and I gambled and headed to the east end of the lake to search. Walking in from that end I soon found the flock of Dunlin (which even then flew and I had to wait for them all to settle again) and within a few minutes I picked out the very distinctive Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and my bogey bird was finally bagged! Moving closer I managed to get within 50 meters for some great views with local birder Nigel Milbourne and 2 of his mates. The flock also contained the 2 juvenile Long-billed Dowitchers as an added bonus. The lake also had 10 Bewick's Swans while a Common Buzzard was flushed as I walked back.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, copyright Nigel Milbourne

Long-billed Dowitchers, copyright Nigel Milbourne      
The successful scene, Blagdon Lake

I decided to return to Chew Valley for the rest of the afternoon finding 2 Green Sandpipers in Heron Green Bay, Water Rail, Mediterranean Gull and [Black Swan] at Herriott's Bridge before heading into Bath for an impromptu overnight stay. 


Norwich, 7 December 2011

A typically mobile flock of Waxwings has been loitering around the George Fox Way/Wilberforce Road area in Norwich for a few days and today was the first chance I had to get along there. Luckily they were present on arrival in a single birch near the far end of the cul-de-sac. I just managed to count 26, take a few photos (not too easy in the very windy conditions) before they were spooked, had a long fly round and then promptly disappeared!
Winter has finally arrived - in more ways than one!

Cley NWT, Norfolk, 1 December 2011

Have I seen a Western Sandpiper today?!
Or have others gripped me back and got Semi-palmated Sandpiper on their county lists?
A dawn start saw me up at Cley and within a short while of getting to Pats Pool/Simmonds Scrape the mystery peep was picked out amongst roosting Dunlin, Ruff and Golden Plovers. It quickly woke and prompty flew - damn! Luckily it was picked up again and watched on and off for a good hour and a half, at times pretty close in front of Dawkes Hide on Simmonds.
So? What is it? Western or Semi-P? 
Well, this observer left with the impression that it was a rather long-billed Semi-P but RBA are now putting it out as a Western.
To sum up the birds seems to show:
  • Obvious palmations - a feature of both Western and Semi-P so no help really!
  • Some retained juvenile scapular feathers with a rufous tinge - Westerns moult before migration, Semi-Ps afterwards so this might suggest Semi-P but how much can moult be relied upon in a tranatlantic vagrant? 
  • A long bill with a fine tip - maybe too long for a long-billed female Semi-P but there is overlap 
  • The general jizz of being quite dumpy and short-legged - good for Semi-P?
  • Darkish ear coverts and crown (a quote in the hide - 'almost phalarope like')
  • Concave edge to 'arrowhead' on a least one of the rear lower scaps. This I didn't see in the field but have one one of Steve Gantlett's photos - if correct this would indicate Semi-P
So, inconclusive I'd say! BUT someone must presumably have something else for the messages to now be so certain it's Western. I, for one won't be complaining if it is!

BTW - the drake Green-winged Teal was also still present on Pat's Pool. 

Links to some photos of the peep and the debate here and here 

Western Sandpiper, Cley (copyright Ron Marshall)