Saturday, 28 April 2018

Cornish Teaser

I've been in two minds of late as to whether to bother putting the condensed version of my Pendeen Birding exploits here on my Gnome Birding blog as well. Especially as there's often not a great deal of interest in the posts apart from very localised stuff. So this time instead I'm just going to do a few teaser photos and if you'd like to delve deeper into the birds, moths, flower and of course teas that were seen down in the far South West at the start of this month then follow the link here. Do let me know in the comments below if you prefer the full thing posted here instead.

Willow Warbler


Red Chestnut


Monday, 23 April 2018

The Spring Durham Run 2018

It was getting near to the end of an era: my eldest daughter was now in her last term of her four year Durham University course - where has all the time gone? Anyway, whilst she'd been coming and going on the train for the last couple of terms, it was decided for logistical reasons that I should take her back up and pick up some of her stuff from her flat as there was otherwise going to be no room in the car when we all came up for her graduation and then to bring her back down at the end of summer term. As usual I cast around for things to take a look at whilst up in the North East but there was nothing of note (as you'd generally expect for mid April). The only thing that caught my eye was right up over the border in Scotland where the over-wintering American White-winged Scoter was still in residence off the sea wall at Musselburgh just east of Edinburgh. It was a bit of a stretch from Durham on up there, being a further full two and a half hours driving on top of the four hours up to Durham but on the other hand, how often was I going to get the chance to see this species? In the end, the total absence of anything else to go for decided it for me and I booked a cheap Air BnB in Musselburgh itself and my daughter and I set off on a sunny and indeed almost hot morning from Oxford. 

The journey upwards was uneventful and shortly before 1 pm we had arrived at Durham and had quickly unloaded the car with her things and I'd packed the stuff that she wanted me to take back down. Then after a quick cup of tea we said our goodbyes and I was back on the road heading north up the A1. Thinking back, I'd done something similar on the January run northwards last year where I'd managed to see the Black Scoter at Goswick so this trip wasn't without precedence but this was a good hour further northwards. Still, the roads were reasonably empty and with Radio 4 for company the time and the miles slipped away. Within about fifteen minutes of my destination I had to stop at some services where I was amazed to find just how windy it was. It was a really strong wind which got me worrying about how easy it might be to see the bird in these conditions. Still there was nothing I could do now and back in the Gnome mobile I continued onwards until finally I was in the familiar town of Musselburgh, which I'd visited once before on a failed attempt to see a resident King Eider there. Indeed that particular trip had been a catalogue of dips with three of four birds that I'd lined up all not seen. Still, this was a chance for Musselburgh to make amends for that, or so I hoped. 

I parked up, and in the strong wind put on all my winter clothing. Back down in Oxford where it had been so hot, I had been wondering about whether I was going to need all these coats but right now I was glad to have them. Finally tooled up I set off along the sea wall where I soon came to the fabled "first bench" that was so frequently mentioned in the RBA reports for this target bird. Sure enough there was a birder staring out at the sea. A tentative enquiry on my part returned a negative response: the chap (a Yorkshire birder) had been there for a couple of hours without luck though he had managed to spot the drake Surf Scoter. He said that the conditions were very difficult and as I set up and started scoping for myself I could only agree: not only was there a nasty chop on the sea but the wind kept shaking the scope so it was going to be pretty hard to nail the subtle differences that distinguished the numerous Velvet Scoter there from the hoped for American visitor. 

We'd not been at it long when news came in on RBA that our target bird had been seen but much further east, in fact east of the wader scrapes a Musselburgh which was a fair old walk. So myself and my new found companion set off on the long slog along the sea wall. When we eventually got to that end there was no sign of any other birders but at least it was more sheltered over here. What's more the birds were much closer in. In fact, as I said to my companion, these were probably the best views of Velvet Scoter I'd ever had! The birds were close in and in the bright sunshine the yellow on their bills really stood out so I was hoping that the more subtle pinkish tones of the target White-winged Scoter would be relatively easy to pick out. My companion and I gradually worked our way along the wall, scoping every bird that we could. Along with at least fifty Velvet Scoter there were quite a few Eider, a few Long-tailed Duck and some Red-breasted Mergansers. There were remarkably few Common Scoter but I did pick out a couple.

A drake Eider off the sea wall
Still, try as we might we couldn't find our target bird. We stared so hard at each Velvet, looking for subtle differences and wondering just how obvious our target bird would be if we saw it. Were we missing it or was it just not there? Eventually my companion left as he was having to drive back home to Yorkshire today, having been up in the Cairngorms that morning so it was already a long day for him. Another birder arrived and he and I continued to search in vain for this elusive bird. He left and gradually the light started to fade and I had to admit defeat. It was a long and weary trudge back to the car and I was feeling very despondent having made such an effort to come all this way without any reward so far. Still, there was another try tomorrow morning and the Air BnB place was just a couple of minutes up the road so I headed over there, got unpacked and then headed out to score a Chinese takeaway which I ate in my room whilst watching TV. Then after checking in with my VLW back home in Oxford it was time to turn in for the night.

I woke a bit earlier than planned, but was up, showered and out of the door by 7 a.m. with a fly-over Redpoll greeting me as I got into the car. The contrast with yesterday could not be more complete and this morning there was hardly a breath of wind. Instead it was a beautiful sunny calm morning and the sea was mirror-like in its stillness. It was such a perfect morning but would it be a successful one?

Looking out over the mirror flat sea from the mouth of the river Esk

Roosting Waders at the river mouth

Roosting Redshank
As I wandered along the path I soon heard the reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler. Now, I'd more or less come to the conclusion that I'd lost the ability to hear this species though there is always the question of if you're not hearing one is it because you can no longer do so, or is there just not one there! There certainly was one in this instance and I rejoiced in the fact that I could still hear it. 

Although it was still early, when I arrived at the first bench there were already a couple of birders there, chatting quietly to themselves. When I asked hopefully about the target Scoter they confidently answered that yes they'd seen it! Hope welled up within me as I quickly assembled my scope and asked for details. It turned out that it was more or less straight out in front of us though a quick inspection revealed that the birds were a long way out today. However, the flat calm conditions meant that you could basically pick out  every single bird on the sea that wasn't diving however far it was. I asked how easy it was to tell apart from the Velvet Scoter and my two companions seemed to think that it was pretty easy. I told them of my three hours of failure yesterday so they sympathetically tried to find the bird for me. We all had a good scan through the thirty or so Velvets that were in front of us but it was nowhere to be seen! Surely Tantalis himself had not suffered such torment! I started to scan further afield on either side and soon found the drake Surf Scoter, a pair of Mergansers and a few Long-tailed Ducks. In the other direction was more of the same and a single Red-throated Diver, immediately distinguishable despite the distance by its uptilted bill. Then one of the two next to me said that he thought that he'd had the bird but it had just dived. I looked back in the original spot and spotted a bird resurfacing between two Velvets. There was no doubting this: even at this huge distance the different "broken nose" profile and the pinkish rather than orange yellow tone on the bill were obvious. Relief flooded over me: all the efforts in getting up here had been worth it! There was little point in trying to take a photo at that distance so after watching the bird for a little while my two companions and I started to head back.

A cracking shot of the bird in similar calm conditions taken by Ian Andrews (c) (@ijandrews1 on Twitter). You can easily seen the different profile and lower bill colour from this photo, both of which were surprisingly easy to distinguish in the field
My two companions were going to try for the drake Ring-necked duck that was hopping around between different ponds within Edinburgh city itself. I too had had my eye on this bird as something to go for should I get my target bird early enough but first I messaged my landlady asking if it was OK to come back for my breakfast and she soon replied that this was fine so I headed back to the house where I enjoyed a nice fried breakfast, fuel for the long journey back today. Then it was back to the car and I headed off on the twenty minute journey towards the pond where the RND had been seen yesterday which fortunately was one of the most accessible ones without having to go too deep within the heart of the city itself.

I soon arrived and parked up. It had turned into a perfect morning now that the sun was up. It was just the right temperature and as I walked down the wooded patch towards the as yet hidden pond I could hear birds singing all around me. The pond itself was remarkably small and I soon found the RND looking very much at home.

The Ring-necked Duck
I took a few snaps with my super zoom and then wandered back to the car in a contented frame of mind. Having seen everything that I'd wanted to I just quickly checked RBA to see if anything else had turned up and as there wasn't anything obvious I headed back on the long slog home. The traffic was reasonably light, it was sunny and dry and with no particular reason to get home in a hurry I took it easy on the way down, admiring the sunlit mountainous scenery and stopping on a couple of occasions for a break and a cup of tea. So it was that at around 4 pm I was back home at Casa Gnome and catching up on news with my VLW. It had turned out to be a very successful Durham run.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Cornwall In February

Another amalgamation of my Pendeen Birding posts from a half-term trip down to the far South West.

11th February, Back Down (Finally!)

Regular readers may have noticed a distinct lack of posts for quite some time. Indeed there was no sign of my usual October visit which is normally the highlight of my Cornish birding year. The reason for this was because of the unusually poor birding autumn that we had nationally last year. I suppose that it has to balance out the fantastic autumn of 2016 where we had constant easterly winds all autumn channelling all those lovely Siberian Accentors and other eastern goodies our way and after that feast had to come some famine. Whatever the reason, it was prevailing south westerlies all autumn last year and whilst I'd blocked off the whole of the month for myself at the cottage, as I followed things from afar there was never any moment where I was at all tempted to come down. So it's not until now that we've finally made it down for our traditional February half term visit to the cottage to see how it's survived the winter so far.

Given the time of year (and the distinct lack of anything tempting on the bird front) there was no urgency to our coming down this week so we did some leisurely packing on Saturday and then on Sunday morning at some time after 10 we set off, stopping first to pick up lunch (which we'd forgotten to make before setting off) and then for petrol. Having been scouring the CBWPS web-site in the week leading up to our departure my interest had been piqued by a couple of reports of Marsh Tits at somewhere called Cardinham Wood (which I'd never heard of until then). The reason for this interest was that this was a bird that embarrassingly I still needed for my Cornish list. Actually, it's not so surprising as they're not to be found at all on the Penwith peninsular with College Reservoir probably being the closest location. It's one of those species which I knew that I would catch up with eventually but hitherto had not actually got around to it. A quick bit of research showed that Cardinham Wood was actually just a few minutes off our route along the A30 and with the promise of a cup of tea in it, my VLW didn't take much persuading. It turned out to be incredibly busy there: indeed there were so many dog walkers around that we did wonder if we'd inadvertently stumbled into some doggy convention of some kind. We eventually found somewhere to park and whilst my VLW and our son L went off to get the hot drinks in, I soon located the feeders which were right next to the café. A large number of Siskins were camped out there and Coal Tits and the occasional Blue Tit were also regularly visiting. It wasn't long before I saw my Marsh Tit though it seemed to prefer not to linger on the feeders at all but would do a "hit and run" before eating its food in a nearby tree so try as I might I wasn't able to get a decent photo at all. Apart from that there was a Grey Wagtail and some Chaffinches feeding on the dropped seed under the feeders but that was about it.

This was the best I could manage with the Marsh Tit...

...whereas the Siskins were much more obliging
The rest of the journey was uneventful and at around 4 we arrived for our customary Sainsbury's shop before heading off to boot up the cottage. It was incredibly windy on the north coast and the cottage heating system took some time to coax into life but eventually it was up and running and we settled in for the night.

12th February, Pendeen, Newlyn & Mousehole

With no particular reason to get up early we had a bit of a lie-in this morning and over a cup of tea in bed my VLW and I put the world to rights. Then it was time to take stock of what needed doing in the cottage (which thankfully wasn't too much) before I headed out for a wander down to the lighthouse. It was the usual stuff: a single Raven, a couple of Chough in amongst the Jackdaws and a flock of Linnets in the horse paddock. Down by the cliffs it was nice to see that the Fulmars were already back and investigating various rock ledges for prospective nests. I always check the garden at the Old Count House down next to the lighthouse car park: I have this dream of finding something like an Yank thrush of some kid there one day but it was just a Song Thrush today. I scoured the lighthouse building carefully for Black Redstarts but couldn't see any. On the sea it was just Gannets and Fulmars with just the occasional Auk flying through.

Not the rare thrush of my dreams today

In the afternoon we decided to head over the hill towards PZ where my VLW and our son wanted to do some shopping. So I dropped them off and headed on to Newlyn to look at the gulls. However, they seemed to be doing some building work there so it wasn't possible to walk along the quayside like I usually do and in the end I headed along the road to view from the old stone quay instead. However, I couldn't see any white-wingers and eventually I headed back to the car to pick up the others.

"You looking at me?" - a thuggish Great Black-backed

One of the cute clockwork Turnstones that are always running around the quayside at this time of year
As it was time for tea, we decided to head along the coast road to Mousehole to the Rock Pool Café. Unfortunately they didn't have their usual gluten-free cake selection so in the end I settle for a hot chocolate with added lardiness. Whilst the other two lingered I headed back out to the car par where I spotted a birder huddled under the shelter of the wall scoping St. Clements Island. It was gull guru ME who'd been there for some time watching the various white-wingers coming and going so I settled down to join him. He picked out a juvenile Glaucous Gull on the island as well as a possible Smithy though he said that you were never going to be able to see enough to nail it down at this distance.

A rubbish video-grab of the juv. Glauc
When the rest of the family came out I bade ME farewell and we headed back to the cottage via Sainsbury's to off-load some recycling that our eldest daughter had helpfully left behind last year from when she'd been down with her friends. Back at the cottage with a storm forecast for that night, we battened down the hatches and settled in for the evening, trying to keep warm as the wind whistled around the cottage.

15th February, Newlyn & Hayle

No posts for a couple of days because of stormy conditions. Strong south westerly winds, often with rain, kept us house-bound for much of the two days though we did manage a trip over to the museum café at Geevor one day. The highlight on the birding front was watching all the birds working over the waterlogged horse paddock next to us to feed on the worms as they came up to the surface to escape the water.

Today however, the wind had abated and there was even some sunshine. It was still a breezy westerly so we decided to head over the hill to PZ and to walk along the sea front from Jubilee Pool to Newlyn, a walk that we'd not done before. We were lucky enough to find a parking space right on the main road at the start of our walk and whilst it was still a bit breezy it was pleasant enough. With the tide out there was not much to see apart from the usual Little Egrets feeding on the rock pools and some loafing gulls. 

Once in Newlyn it was noticeable how much more sheltered it was. My VLW and our son popped into Warrens for some sort of pastry lunch (sausage rolls rather than pasties today) whilst I (thanks to my wheat intolerance) had to content myself with a packed sandwich that I'd brought along. We parted ways here, the other two to explore the shops whilst I searched the harbour for gulls. I soon found the juvenile Iceland Gull loafing on the shoreline. It would occasionally stir from its slumbers long enough for me to take a photo or two.

I managed to find the female type Black Redstart at the back of the harbour car park and was lucky enough to get a nice photo of it as it briefly perched on a bin.

I met up with the others from the part and we worked our way around the harbour, exploring the old stone quayside and then onwards to Sandy Cover. Here I met with PF who was taking a couple of people on a local birding tour. I managed to spot one of the resident Water Rails in the copse and out on the sea there was a Great Northern Diver. On our way back towards the car I managed to spot the juvenile Glaucous Gull flying around the harbour, thereby completing the white-winged harbour set.

Back at the car there was some debate as to what to do but in the end we decided to head over to Hayle. We parked up by the causeway and the other two then walked toward the town to do some shopping whilst I birded the Saltings and Ryan's Field. There were plenty of birds around and the tide was on the way in so they were all reasonably close but nothing of particular note in either location.

Ryan's Field Redshank
I checked in on the others who still had stuff to do so I then headed around to the Copperhouse Creek area to see what I could find but apart from a Greenshank it was the same birds.

Copperhouse waders
I then went to pick up the other party and we headed back to the cottage for the evening.

16th February, Back Home

We decided to head back home today. It was always either going to be today or Saturday and whilst the forecast was for nice sunny weather today, somehow the two days lost to poor weather had taken their toll and I just wanted to go home. As we packed (which always seems to take far longer than it should) I spotted a couple of Chough feeding in the horse paddock. One was ringed but the other appeared to be unringed, perhaps the result of successful breeding last year.

Our journey back was uneventful apart from a report from P&H of a White-billed Diver and a (the) Pacific Diver both on view at Mousehole from the Rock Pool Café car park. I was most gripped as I needed White-billed for Cornwall still. Still, there's nothing that one can do apart from to be philosophical about it all. One day!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

A Teasing Teal

Last year the best Oxon bird of the year, a Little Bunting, arrived in the normally unproductive month of January and this year the same month has once again pulled a bit of a county Mega rabbit out of the hat in the form of a Green-winged Teal. For some reason this species seems to be rarer in Oxon than the other relatively common yank duck, namely American Wigeon. In fact there have been several of this species during the ten or so years that I've been birding in the county yet this was the first Green-winged Teal during this time. It was first found by MC on Monday last week down at Pit 60 and reported as a "probable" since a hybrid had yet to been ruled out. In fact it wasn't firmed up until last light by which time it was too late to make the trip over there. I therefore had to wait until the next day where, due to work commitments first thing I decided to wait on news and then to head off mid morning if it was still around.

Fortunately, it was still reported first thing so it was that some time after 10 a.m. I found myself hurrying down the muddy tracks towards the Langley Lane hide on Pit 60 in the company of JD. There was no one in the hide itself so we had to open up the slats and find it for ourselves. Not that it took very long and JD had it almost immediately in the extreme left hand corner from where we were looking. It was very actively moving about and indeed all the Teal were rather flighty and the flock of four Eurasian Teal that it was associating with soon moved to the middle of the pit where there was more swimming around before they all went behind some reeds. A Peregrine on a distant pylon then put them all up and down again so that they were scattered throughout the middle of the pit and we had to start the whole search again.

At this point a couple of other county birders popped in and we tried to find it for them. We managed it in the end though due to the wind direction they were unhelpfully facing directly away from us and it was hard to pin our target down from this angle. In the end the others managed at least "tickable" views before the bird disappeared into the reed bed at the far end out of sight. The other two took this as their cue to leave whilst JD and I headed to the other hide to see if we could winkle it out again. With no luck there either I decided to head off and walked back to the car a happy bunny, basking in the warm glow of a new county tick.

I wasn't able to take any decent video at all so here's some superb footage
courtesy of Badger, the Video Master

Whilst in the area I thought that it would be positively rude of me not to pop into the nearby village of Northmoor to pay homage to the resident Hawfinches in the church yard there. In the sunny conditions I managed good views of them almost immediately - far better than the brief distant views of this autumn just gone. I took a few snaps with my super-zoom camera and then headed for home. It had been a most rewarding morning's county birding.

Northmoor Hawfinches

As a footnote, the Teal wasn't actually seen again after we saw it so I was actually very lucky to catch up with it in the end.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

2017 Retrospective

It's time for some end of year navel gazing with a chance for me to look back at the year's highs and lows. As usual I'm going to divide my birding into three sections: patch birding, county birding and life listing.

Patch Birding
By all measures it was a rather poor year on my local Port Meadow patch. I've written up a more detailed review of the year here but the main issue was that the floods dried up very early (by the start of April) and didn't reform until the end of November so there was a large chunk of the year without any water including the vital spring and autumn passage periods. The year list total was a measly 114 compared to 120 to 130 in decent years and the bird of the year there was a Great White Egret that was seen by one lucky observer (not me, grrrr!) for just a few minutes up at the Wolvercote end. All in all its best to draw a hurried veil over the whole year and move quickly on.

County Birding
It was actually an OK year in Oxon with a number of nice birds on the county year list, not that I saw many of them. The start of the year saw a flurry of good local birds with some Cattle Egrets, Waxwings and my personal county bird of the year (and a county tick), a smart Little Bunting near Over Norton.

One of the three Cattle Egrets in amongst the pigs

Waxwings are always nice birds to see

The Little Bunting

After such a great start to the county year things went predictably quiet until April when a wonderful Bonaparte's Gull was discovered at Farmoor. Although I missed it's first appearance, about a week later it was back and indeed it lingered for a fair while.

The Bonaparte's Gull

There was also a lovely Wood Warbler at Spiceball Park in Banbury which I went to visit. Amazingly it was the second year in a row that this rare county warbler had been seen at this location.

The Wood Warbler courtesy of Ewan

After that I went into full-on botanising mode for the summer (which I'll cover later) so it wasn't until September that I was back into county birding. There was a visit to Farmoor for a serious Shagathon

One of the half a dozen or so juvenile Shags at Farmoor

Shortly after there it was back to the concrete basin of despair for the Red-necked Phalarope, not a county tick thanks to the one at Bicester Wetlands Reserve a couple of years previously but still a great bird to see.

Red-necked Phalarope

Later on in the autumn there were more local birds to see with a Water Pipit at Farmoor, a potential Lesser Scaup (that frustratingly turned out to be a hybrid, thereby denying me a county tick) and a some Hawfinches that were finally pinned down as part of the national irruption of this species.

A filthy mongrel!

So all in all, not such a bad county year. As usual I was charged with the county year photo montage which I'll post here in case you've not yet seen it.

These days of course I also have Kernow to include in my county listing. We went down quite a lot this year at the beginning but after our summer holiday that was it. The prevailing westerly winds were making for such poor birding in the South West that I didn't even bother with my usual October visit. Still I managed four county ticks: a Caspian Gull (a hard bird to get in Cornwall) at the start of the year; an Avocet in February and then in the May half term a Temminck's Stint and a Hobby (with a Green-winged Teal and a Woodchat Shrike as nice bonus birds). As you can see from this list there are still quite a few relatively common birds that I'm catching up on for my list which gives me some nice targets to chase down whilst I'm there.

Temminck's Stint showing well at Hayle

This August we had a couple of weeks down there and fortunately there were some reasonable winds for me to do a spot of sea-watching down at PG. I had a good couple of sessions seeing nice close views of Cory's and Great Shearwaters as well as plenty of Storm Petrels. However I ended up having one of the two most gripping birding experiences of the year there (see below for the second one) when I left the PG sea-watch an hour and a half before a Fea's Petrel and four Wilson's Petrel's flew past. I still scream internally at the thought of this. Of course the truth is that you can't be there all the time and I'd negotiated with the rest of the family just to have the morning off so I had to leave then but it still really stings.

National Listing
It was a bit of a low key year on the national listing front. As usual I went further afield mostly to add to my UK life list or because I had to do a uni run for one of my two daughters. This year I only managed 8 new UK lifers plus a potential future armchair tick, which is somewhat below my 13 or 14 that I've managed for the previous three years. Now of course as my list grows (I'm around the 400 mark now) there is an inevitable law of diminishing returns and so 8 isn't that bad but it could easily have been a few more if luck had run my way a bit. Still I can't really complain.

Things started well when I went on the January Uni Run back up to Durham. I had the Black Scoter up at Goswick in north Northumberland as a target and after some looking in the wrong spot on the first day I managed to find it the next morning. What's more on the way back down I lucked into a great Black-breasted Thrush, a fantastic bonus bird for the trip.

The next national trip wasn't until March for the return uni run leg where, with nothing of particular note on the radar during what is normally a quiet time of the year, I went via Skinningrove for the Eastern Black Redstart (surely due to be split some time soon).

Skinningrove Eastern Black Redstart
At the start of May I was finally able to put to rest a long-standing personal bogey bird in the form of a Kentish Plover that turned up at Pitsone Reservoir in Bucks. Knowing from past experience that they rarely linger it was a case of dropping everything to go and see it and fortunately I managed finally to tick off this elusive Plover.

Distant views only of my first Kentish Plover
The next national trip was down to Church Norton in June to pay homage to the bona fide DNA-tested Elegant Tern that had turned up. I was rather lucky to find it there on show as soon as I turned up which was really handy

Church Norton Elegant Tern
On the way up to Durham once again in July I stopped off in the Midlands for the wonderful flock of Bee Eaters.

Two of the seven Bee Eaters in the quarry
It wasn't until September that I was able to get my next national tick when a Least Sandpiper turned up at Lodmoor down in Dorset. I was able to connect almost immediately and had great views of the resident Stilt Sandpiper as a bonus.

The Least Sandpiper

Bonus Stilt Sandpiper
The last day of September brought another national tick when I went to pay a visit to a confiding Red-throated Pipit that had taken up residence at Landguard NR. This is a difficult species to catch up with normally so I made sure to make the effort to see this one.

Landguard Red-throated Pipit
Despite the "wrong winds" all autumn, a couple of eastern Mega's did manage to slip through in October. The first was a splendid Rock Thrush that turned up in Wales at Blorenge near where I'd been to see the Marmora's Warbler a few years back.

The light wasn't great on the day that I visited but it was still nice to see a Rock Thrush
The second was a real national Mega of Megas: a Two-barred Greenish Warbler turned up down in Dorset in a small quarry. I needed no further invitation but headed down there on news the next morning to see this wonderful bird well and at close quarters despite the crowds.

Two-barred Greenish Warbler courtesy of Tezzer
The last national birding trip of the year was to Staines Reservoir to see an American Horned Lark. It was reasonably distant on the day that I visited but still possible to make it out well enough. Not a full tick in it's own right at present, I am hoping for an armchair one in due course.

The American Horned Lark showed much better on the day that Ewan Urquhart (c) visited
So there you have it, a relatively modest year of national birding. I'm giving my personal bird of the year award to the Two-barred Greenish Warbler and the Horrendous Dip of the Year goes jointly to missing the Fea's and Wilson's Petrel at Porthgwarra and also not seeing the Scop's Owl on my summer Durham Uni Run.

Other Stuff
Over the last few years I've turned for solace during the summer doldrums to insects and lately flowers. In fact this year I decided to work mostly on Orchids, partially because they're a nice botanical sub-set of a reasonable size and partially because up until now I've not known much about them. So there were lots of trips about the place this year to see various Orchids. The list includes: Lady Orchid with Pasque Flower and Lodden Lily thrown in; Purple, Green-winged and Early-marsh; Narrow-leaved Helleborine, White Helleborine, Fly and Bird's-nest; what were formerly considered to be Narrow-leaved Marsh at Parsonage Moor (but are no longer); Military and Greater Butterfly at Homefield Wood; Lizard at Sydlings Copse; the rare Red Helleborine at Windsor Hill; various marsh loving Orchids at Kenfig dune slacks (but sadly no Fen Orchid); the beautiful Dark-red Helleborine up near Durham; Frog Orchid and Downy Woundwort locally; different Helleborines in various places and finally Violet Helleborine and Gentians at Aston Rowant.

Narrow-leaved Helleborine
Dark-red Helleborine
Military Orchid
Summing It All Up
As usual I kept a tally of my national year list though I make almost no effort to add to it, so just recording what I happen to come across on my various trips. This year came in at a paltry 188 which is quite a low tally. With 8 national lifers, 1 Oxon tick and 4 Kernow ones, there was enough to keep things "ticking over" (sorry!). Looking forward, it's probably going to be more of the same this year with the rest of the Orchids to try for and more birds for my national list. I'd also like to see Scarce Emerald Damselfly which is the last Odonata (excluding the remote Scottish ones) that I have yet to see. Onwards and upwards!