Monday, December 30, 2013

Brunnich's Guillemot - the triple county twitch weekend

Hope you all had a great Christmas! Mine was fairly quiet though things picked up Boxing Day - a message from my friend David (Ginger) Baker brought me back from a Mince Pie induced coma. 'Are you off to Weymouth today mate?' The fact that I had allowed my RBA subscription to lapse in the last week left me ignorant to the news. "What's in Weymouth?" - BRUNNICH'S GUILLEMOT! 

Brunnich's Guillemot (Thick-billed Murre) is a high arctic breeder which normally spends its winter out at sea off central Norway. This individual, a probable storm blown bird, is apparently the first twitchable mainland bird in Britain. David Baker and I headed down Saturday morning, arriving just after 09:00 am. There was close to 100 people already on site with more arriving all the time. The bird had been seen but had headed out of the harbour. We didn't have to sweat for too long as when everyone was scanning the bay with scopes, Dave looked down at the channel in front of us and said "there it is!" 

Over the next hour we all got fantastic looks at this rare northern auk. Other species of note included Black-throated Diver (Arctic Loon), Great Northern Diver (Common Loon), Black Guillemot, Razorbill, Shag and Kingfisher. We then decided to try for another rarity in Devon but first made two quick stops adding GLOSSY IBIS and Mediterranean Gull.

With two more really cool birds in the bag we were feeling pretty good and optimistic for our next twitch, though not the two hour drive. On arrival at Brixham Harbour in Devon the rain stopped falling and the sun came out; as our luck continued. Within minutes of being at the harbour we were ogling another British lifer for us both - WHITE-BILLED DIVER (Yellow-billed Loon).

This adult put on a great show; fishing up and down in front of us and was also joined by Black-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver; giving good opportunity for comparison. While we were there we noticed a few Turnstone out on a boat and a couple running in between our legs, oblivious to all us birders. It got me to thinking about Purple Sandpiper which prompted Dave to look on the other side of the harbour wall - and there was about 6 Purple Sandpiper! The best look I've had and after walking the wall we counted 13 individuals. 

Finally the light started to go and we made quick trip around the bay and tried to connect with a possible Red-necked Grebe, but no joy. No complaints, we had a great days birding!

The following day Lori and I headed out to Buckinghamshire where I snagged my 30th British lifer for 2013 - CATTLE EGRET! We then headed to Otmoor Rspb where we witnessed the Starling roost and got a sneaky look at a Bittern before heading home; a fly-by Woodcock above our heads put the icing on the cake on an amazing weekend. 


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pulborough Winter Walk

Lori and I Started off December with a winter walk around Pulborough Brooks RSPB Reserve. Though a little chilly at least it wasn't raining. Good number of thrushes around including Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare. 

Finches were represented by Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Bullfinch and Linnet. The only raptors today were: single female Peregrine Falcon, juvenile Marsh Harrier and a Common Buzzard. Wigeon and Teal were in good numbers as were Canada Geese. Others included 2 male Northern Pintail, 3 Snipe and 3 Black-tailed Godwit and shed loads of Lapwing. 45 species altogether.



Two-barred Crossbill

Here is the only shot I got of my British Lifer Two-barred Crossbill! No complaints; what a cracking bird and I was so lucky to get a shot at all. This female has been frequenting an area on Leith Hill in Surrey and has been associating with a group of Common Crossbill. It was a 3 hour vigil but worth the wait. At one point I could hear Common Crossbill above my head but could also here a weird (to me) call. My best description is that it sounded similar to a Red-breasted Nuthatch of North America - 'sounds like a child's trumpet'. Anyhow, minutes later the Two-barred Crossbill made an appearance for about 30 seconds before flying off. My best guess is that it was the culprit. 

Common Crossbill

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs
Chased Lesser Yellowlegs down in Devon with Nolan in April but dipped. Luckily we got it this time at Lepe Country Park in Hampshire - 24th November 2013. It took a while to locate as it was hidden by an embankment. The only time it came really close; it got chased off by a Redshank, so I only got a few grainy record shots and video. Other species of note that day are: Little Egret, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Turnstone, Rock Pipit, Cetti's Warbler, Sparrowhawk and Red Kite en-route. 

Redshank (back ground) and Grey Plover

Great Northern Diver - Papercourt

Nice to get this Icelandic breeder - Great Northern Diver; on my local patch. Other than Canada, this is the second time I have seen this species in the UK. The first time was at Staines Reservoir a couple of years ago. Hope it stays around for the New Year. Thanks to David Baker for the heads-up on this sighting. Date seen: 15th November 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Great Grey Shrike and Stonechat - Papercourt Meadows

A Great Grey Shrike at Papercourt Meadows was a fantastic winter bird to get the heart rate going. I have seen this species once in Russia in 1999 and last year on Thursley Common, so was happy to get another viewing. I found out on Tuesday when I got a call from my mate Dave Baker. A backed up sewer put the kibosh on twitching it; so I waited until the following afternoon and luckily snagged a distant look.

Today I headed back to Papercourt, hoping to get a better look at this individual. Alas, it was a no show. I did, however, get some nice digi-shots with my iPhone of a pair of Stonechat. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Iscoping at Pulborough Brooks RSPB

Had a fun day at Pulborough Brooks RSPB Reserve today. Though it was a little drizzly at times, for the most part, it was fine, with a few nice birds. I finally got a chance to put my new Kowa Iphone digiscope adapter to the test.

My subjects were a little too far for super sharp shots but I was happy with the results. After all, this system is meant for distant birds, so no complaints from me. I have inserted a short video at the end; also digiscoped with an iphone 5 and adapter. 

Green Sandpiper 

Meadow Pipit


Saturday, September 7, 2013

North Wales - Bardsey Island

My family and I spent a wonderful week in Wales in the middle of August. We started our trip on Sunday 18th at the Rutland Bird Fair, held at Rutland Water. Here, we finally met up with our good friend Jon Carter. We first met Jon and his wife Jenny while living on Vancouver Island some years ago, but have not seen them for the last two. Jon now works for the RSPB.

Jon Carter and Rich Mooney - Bird Fair 2013
Nolan, Jon and Rich - Bird Fair 2013
The Bird Fair was as good as always, and for me, what made it extra special, was not only meeting up with Jon but also meeting Mark Cocker. Mark was at the fair signing copies of his new book Birds and People, along with David Tipling who did the photography. After the fair we headed west to Shropshire where we spent our first night at Wilderhope Manor.

Wilderhope Manor

Long Mynd

Noteworthy birds en-route were Common Buzzard, Kestrel and Red Kite. There was a fly-by Sparrowhawk at the manor along with nesting Swallows and two Tawny Owl heard calling. The following morning we took a short walk up on Long Mynd before heading across the border into Wales, and to our home for the next 4 nights: Snowdon Ranger Station.

After settling in we headed out for some pub food before turning in for the night. The following morning I headed southwest along the arm of Wales to Aberdaron, while Lori and Nolan headed on a bike ride to Porthmadog. My days agenda had already been pre-booked with Bardsey Boat Trips. I arrived an hour early at Porth Meudwy, so took the opportunity to bird the cliffs above the beach and across the Irish Sea.

Porth Meudwy

A family of Raven and a pair of Chough kept me cranking my head upwards from my vigil with their distinctive calls. Out at sea there was a continual movement of Manx Shearwater; 84 birds seen while I was scanning for about 10 minutes. These birds are mostly breeders from Bardsey Island but do not return to their burrows until night time; this behavior is to avoid predators such as gulls. They often gather in rafts offshore until its time to return to the burrow.

When the boat arrived it was pulled from the water with a big dumper so that we could get on board. The ride across to Bardsey went relatively quickly as the sea was calm and the weather good. Once on Terra firma I made my way out towards the lighthouse. Wheatear and Linnet were present in good numbers and on the rocks offshore were Oystercatcher and 44 Whimbrel. Gulls were represented by Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Kittiwake. What else - Shag, Cormorant, Fulmar, Peregrine Falcon, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Sand Martin, House Martin, Swallow, Chough and Magpie.


My main reason for coming to the island was to visit the famous Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory. My hope was to meet the warden and some of the volunteers; what happened has morphed into one of my most memorable days! Steven Stansfield, warden here for 16 seasons, greeted me warmly and explained some of the work being performed. He then informed me that some Manx Shearwaters were going to be ringed at 14:00 and that I was welcome to join the group. Unfortunately my boat was leaving at 15:00 and I would not be able to make it across the island in time. My utter disappointment must of prompted Steven's reaction; "Come with me", he said. So, I followed Steven and a volunteer up a hillside and got my own personal viewing of a Manx Shearweater chick! 

Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory with new Heligoland trap in foreground 

I was absolutely blown away by Steven's hospitality, knowledge and generous gesture. This was the highlight of my holiday and I feel extremely privileged to have experienced such a wonderful personal encounter. This little fluff ball that has only known life in a dark welsh burrow, once fully grown, will leave the safety of its nest and head out into the Irish Sea. It will keep heading southwest until it cruises over the waves off Argentina. Here it will spend the next 4-5 YEARS; not touching land until it returns to the place of its birth. Click here to learn more...

After the euphoria of my shearwater experience, I hiked up the hill to get a better feel of the island. Here I watched Chough and Lesser Black-backed Gulls until it was time to return to catch the boat. En-route back a young lad pulled up on a quad-bike and said "are you Rich Mooney?" Ben Porter lives on the island with his family where they manage a farm. I have been following Ben's blog: Bardsey Wildlife, for some time and sent a message to Ben prior leaving on holiday. We chatted for a while, but alas, I had to catch a boat and Ben had work. Check out his very cool blog above on the daily changes in Bardsey Wildlife and Ben's amazing photography. 

Grey Seals

Beddgelert, Snowdonia - Here Lori discovered a Dipper while biking to Porthmadog

House Martin nest - Snowdon Ranger Hostel
The following day we visited a few different spots including South Stack RSPB Reserve on Anglesey. It was pretty foggy but we did get looks at a pair of Chough. This is one of the most reliable places to see this species.

South Stack Lighthouse
Mount Snowdon: 22nd August 2013

Lori and Nolan at the start of our day

Our route up Mount Snowdon was via the Pyg Track. It took approximately 2 1/2 hours to reach the summit; though mostly foggy, was a good hike. We had a nice break up top and were rewarded with spectacular views as the fog finally disappeared. Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Wren, Raven and Herring Gull were the only birds I noticed.

Herring Gull at the summit of Mount Snowdon

Pen y Fan: 24th August 2013

Our final two days on holiday were spent in the Brecon Beacons at the Llwyn-y-Celyn youth hostel. Though not really birdy, we did manage a hike up Pen y Fan, possibly my favorite place on earth! Here we were greeted at the top by a pair of dancing, croaking Ravens...a great end to our amazing holiday in Wales!

Rich en-route to Pen y Fan with Corn Du in the background 

Rich and Nolan - Pen y Fan summit 2013