Thursday, 30 September 2010

Dowdeswell Phalarope

Early on Wednesday evening news came through on Bird Guides of a Wilson's phalarope in Gloucestershire. What particularly caught my eye was the relative proximity of the bird, it being at Dowdeswell reservoir which is just before Cheltenham on the A40 and somewhere that I've driven past on a number of occasions. When it was being reported as still present the next day it seemed rude not to go and pay my respects to a genuine "rare". I asked my VLW whether she fancied going shopping in Cheltenham and it turned out she did, so mid morning we set off along the A40. As we passed the reservoir there were loads of cars parked up in the laybys at either end which was an encouraging sign.

I dropped Mrs. Gnome of in Cheltenham town centre and sped back to the reservoir. As I was setting off I met a returning birder from whom I got detailed instructions. It involved a bit of a trek along a muddy track and then fighting one's way through some scrub to get down to the shore line but some fifteen minutes later there I was with only half a dozen other birders: I couldn't quite match that up to the number of cars that I'd seen unless the others had all got lost in the woods. Anyway, the bird was showing on and off about 100 yards away at the head of the reservoir where it was picking its way over the mud. Whilst it seemed relatively settled, periodically it would suddenly look up and freeze as if it were about to take flight, before resuming its feeding. It would often be obscured by some reeds from where we were standing and some birders were resorting actually to standing in the water in order to get a better angle but the bird would come out often enough for everyone to get a view. Of course I had a go at digiscoping it and given the difficult circumstances I was rather pleased with how they came out.

Given the distance and the overcast light these were the best digiscoped
shots that I could managed. Actually I'm really pleased with how well they
came out which just shows how difficult a shot it actually was.

After a while I checked in on my VLW who'd had enough of Cheltenham already so I went back to pick her up and we headed back to Oxford, stopping off on the way for cup of tea and some cake (well, why not!). A very nice bird that was conveniently close to get to though a shame that the views were somewhat distant.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Cornwall: if Carlsberg did birding

Friday 24th
I was due back down in Cornwall for more work on the cottage so on Friday I set off from Oxford mid morning and headed west. This time I thought that I'd stop in at Davidstow Airfield, partly as though I'd heard much about it and its ability to bring in rarities I'd never actually visited and partly as there were currently two dotterel and a buff-breasted sandpiper in residence.

When I arrived it was rather overcast and gloomy with occasional brief showers. I pulled off onto the end of the main runway and a quick scan found a flock of about 10 ringed plover with one dunlin. I wondered how one was supposed to bird this location and had naively assumed that one parked up and scanned with a scope though his did make me wonder how people got such good photos from their cars at close quarters. I then saw a car on the airfield in the distance and realised that the answer was that people just drove around in their cars until they found something. I decided to follow the other car and this turned out to be a good plan because it ended up next to another car whose occupants were watching the two dotterel at close quarters.

The two dotterel, taken with my point & shoot camera

I took a few rubbish record shots with my point & shoot camera and wondered about digiscoping. To get out of the car would risk flushing the birds so in the end I tried hand-holding the scope with my digiscoping camera attached to the end and the results came out quite well.

Hand-held digiscoped dotterel.

There were also loads of wheatears around as well as some pied and white wagtails, meadow pipits and linnets. Despite searching for some time and asking other birders there appeared to be no sign of the sandpiper so I headed on to Penzance.

When I arrived I thought that whilst it was still light I'd head straight over to Treeve Common near Sennen/Land's End to see if I could find the red-backed shrike that was there. Whilst it was nice and sunny down there there turned out to be a very strong northerly wind and all the birds were hunkered down out of sight and there was no sign of the shrike. So I headed down to Pendeen and checked in at the Watch for half an hour though nothing went through apart from a couple of manx shearwaters. Then it was off to unpack the car, "boot up" the cottage and go and get some food for the weekend.

The Wra from the watch, bathed in golden sunlight.
Shame about the lack of birds though.

Saturday 25th
Saturday morning I went down to Pendeen watch at 7am where I met another birder though he turned out to be from Berkshire rather than locally. He said that in the half hour he'd been there there'd been nothing through at all apart from two gannets! I joined him and it was remarkably slow going with just a few kittiwakes and auks to show for an hour's watching. At that point I decided that my birding time would more profitably be spent elsewhere and wandered back to the cottage for breakfast.

I needed to hire a circular saw to help chop up a built-in bookcase that the previous cottage owners had installed so it was off to Penzance next. My intention was to pick up the saw and to take a rather circular route back to Pendeen via Treeve Common in order to look for the shrike once more. With very little wind I was thinking that if there bird were still there it would definitely be showing. However these plans were scuppered when I discovered that the hire shop closed at 12 and if I didn't return the saw by then I'd have to wait until Monday. As I was returning to Oxford on Sunday this left me with a bit of a dilemma. In the end I hired the saw, raced back to Pendeen and then spent the next hour or so sawing like a demon, making every conceivable cut that I was possibly going to need so I could actually dismantle it at my leisure. I got the saw back in good time and then decided that Treeve Common was due as a reward for all my hard work.

When I arrived I was initially there on my own. With the calm conditions there were plenty of birds to be seen with whinchat, stonechat and countless meadow pipits zipping around. However there was no sign of the shrike that I could see. Soon after that other people started arriving. First someone from Newquay who was doing a walking circuit of the whole area to check out what was around though he didn't stay long. Then two visiting birders arrived and finally three birders who from their "jizz" were clearly locals. One, who was called Mush (short for Mushtaq perhaps?) was continually on the phone and it turned out that he ran Birdline South West. Another was John Chapple who does the Cornwall birding DVD's. He was carrying a natty little HD digital camcorder on a tripod of which I was rather covetous, especially in the light of the video he subsequently took. There was a third chap whose name I didn't catch. A merlin shot through the field at great speed and was gone almost immediately. John had wandered off to the corner of the field looking for birds whilst the other two chatted so I wandered over to join him. What followed was a few minutes of pure birding magic, hence the blog title "if Carlsberg did birding".

As I approached I saw a warbler flitting through the sallows. It was low down and appeared frequently in the gaps near the bottom so that one could obtain quite good views. Seeing the strong supecilium and some kind of wing bar I suggested "is that a yellow-browed?" John who had been watching it already had been thinking arctic initially but over the next few seconds we converged on greenish warbler! We gestured to the others to come over and in a rather comic manner they dawdled and ambled until we got the message of what we had across to them when they managed to move sharpish enough. A couple of the stragglers didn't manage to see it before it disappeared but most people got at least a glimpse.

Some video that John Chapple took of the greenish warbler the next day

A minute or so after it had disappeared and whilst we were looking around to see if we could see it again John noticed something in the overgrown ditch next to us. "Is that a hippolais?" he asked. It turned out to be a melodius warbler working its way along the ditch. It then appeared in the sallows where the greenish had been. It worked its way back and forth a few time and I even managed to take a couple of digiscoped shots of it though trying to digiscope a skulking warbler in sallows is bloody hard work.

My digiscoping efforts for the melodius warbler

We hung around for a bit longer to see if the greenish would return though it didn't and was not seen again that day (though John re-found it the next day). Whilst waiting the merlin shot through again but the shrike never turned up and the melodius started to get elusive. I realised that I would have to get back to the cottage to get on with my DIY and so headed off back to Pendeen.

John Chapple's video of the melodius warbler

I spent the next few hours getting hot and dusty but managed to dismantle the bookshelf, pack it into the car and take it to the St. Erth recycling centre. Whilst there I thought that it would be rude of me not to pop in to Hayle estuary where I passed a pleasant while checking out the high tide roost though there was nothing particularly unusual about so I headed back home to Pendeen to finish clearing up all the mess I'd made from the day's work

Sunday 26th
Back at Pendeen watch first thing this morning where I met a husband a wife team of birders who were sea watching from the sheltered southerly side of the lighthouse so I decided to join them. Whilst this offered respite from the wind it did mean that the birds were further away and in future I think that I'll just have to brave the wind and sit in my usual spot.

dawn coming up over the hill at Pendeen
The Gurnard's Head at first light

Finally there was some activity on the sea with some shearwaters and skuas coming through. During the two hours that I was there as well as the usual stuff I counted ten balearic shearwaters, one sooty shearwater, about 6 arctic skuas including one really close in and one bonxie. I noticed that the rate of 5 balearics per hour was the same as was achieved at Porthgwarra that day. We also had three sightings of basking sharks though whether it was the same one or three different individuals is hard to say though at Land's End ten were reported.

I spent the next hour or so back at the cottage packing up and loading stuff in the car before setting off for home. I wanted to call in at Davidstow again on the way back as the buff-breasted sandpiper had been seen again the previous day and if I had time also at Turf in Devon to see the spotted sandpiper as it was just off the motorway junction though it wasn't that high a priority.

At Davidstow the weather was much nicer than last time with warm sun and a gentle breeze. It soon became apparently however that it was a much more popular place at the weekend with model aircraft enthusiasts, people riding mountain bikes and even proper light aircraft taking off and landing on one of the runways. There were one or two birding cars about and I too set of on my birding curb-crawl to see what I could find. The answer was not a great deal. I got excited when I saw a wader fly down to land by the pools but when I managed to find it again it turned out to be a dunlin.

Not a buff-breasted sandpiper!

As it was a nice sunny day and there were no birds around I decided to have a little walk around by the control tower. Whilst doing so three birds zipped over. Two were linnets but the third gave a distinctive bunting trill and as it banked I caught sight in the bins of its chestnut wing panels and markings on its face: a nice lapland bunting. There have been so many sightings of these down in Cornwall that it was only a matter of time before one flew over me.

The control tower and small flood pool by the runway at Davidstow

With not much bird action at the airfield and a long journey ahead of me I decided that I should head off back to home without bothering about the spotted sandpiper and I arrived back in Oxford late afternoon, tired but pleased with my few days birding down in Cornwall.

Friday, 24 September 2010

County Birding round-up

I realise that it's been a little while since my last posting. It's not that I've not been out birding at all rather there's not been much to report from each outing. However I now feel that I've accumulated enough from my various trips to warrant another entry. Also I've actually got some record shots that are worth posting so I thought that I'd do a round up of my county birding over the last few weeks.

I've continued to visit Port Meadow on a regular basis though it's been largely unrewarding apart from one flyover heard-only tree pipit. At the time I originally posted it as a "probable": this was partly to err on the side of caution and partly because whilst I knew that what I'd heard had not been a meadow pipit I wasn't 100% certain that it hadn't been a rock pipit. However whilst away on my Cornwall trip I had the opportunity to hear both birds so that I now say that it was definitely a tree pipit which is a nice patch tick.

I'd been meaning to get down to Otmoor for some time and each Monday I try to make a special effort as there is no shooting on the rifle range that day so one can visit the Pill Ground. However events have been conspiring against me and it was only a couple of weeks ago that I finally made it down. It was a very windy day and of course all the birds were well hunkered down but I did manage to catch up with at least one redstart, a rather tatty looking male in Long Meadow. Apparently there had been 4 - 6 birds there a week or so earlier which is great for what is not a particularly common bird in the county.

Last Saturday my VLW and my eldest daughter decided that they needed to visit Bicester Village shopping outlet and perhaps I like to take them there and then perhaps go off birding for a couple of hours before picking them up again. Whilst there wasn't anything obvious nearby it seemed to be a toss up between the Quainton Hills for possible redstarts and wheatears or Grimsbury reservoir to catch up with the willow tits. In the end I decided on the latter and spent a very pleasant couple of hours wandering around in the sunshine. There was not much to be seen on the reservoir itself apart from a family party of four grey wagtails but in the small wood to the north, as well as one willow tit there were several chiffchaffs and goldcrests in amongst the mixed feeding flock there.

Yesterday I was wresting with installing some dodgy software on a dodgy old computer when Bird Guides broadcast a little stint and three black terns at Farmoor. I decided that I needed some fresh air and promptly set off to look for the birds. The black terns were easy to find, hawking over the middle of Farmoor II though there were now four of them. Along the causeway I came across first a lone dunlin that seemed to have lost most of its tail and then a flock of five dunlin with the little stint in amongst them. There was little light to speak of but I took some digiscoped record shots. Many of the stint shots were rather out of focus so I've had to over-sharpen them in order to rescue them. I also had to do some serious chopping around of one of the photos to remove the blur of the edge of the causeway which had got into one shot. I'm quite pleased with the outcome, can you spot which photo I did it on (answer at the end)?

Little stint...
...and again...
...and with a dunlin companion.
The tailless dunlin...

...and again

The sky was looking rather ominous so I took a few point & shoot shots of it (though none of them came out particularly well) and then beat a hasty retreat before the heavens opened.

So I've managed to see a few nice county birds over the last few weeks, nothing outstanding but still pleasant enough to see. It's still been a very poor year so far for Oxon birding and we really need something special soon to make up for it.

Answer to the quiz: in the third photo down "...and with a dunlin companion", the bottom left corner of the photo is entirely artificial, being constructed by copying and pasting from other parts of the shot. If you look carefully you can see the joins though I like to think that it's not immediately obvious.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Cornwall Again

One of the great advantages of renovating a cottage in West Cornwall is that you have to go down there frequently to do work on it. As the children had school to attend (even L our four year old is now going!) the plan was that I'd go down on Thursday in the car and then the rest of the family would come down on the train on Friday evening. This would give me time to do some quality birding work on the cottage before they arrived.

A stonechat on a wall near the cottage, (taken with my point & shoot camera)

The start of the week on the Penwith peninsula before I went down had been full of good birds with a Wilson's phalarope, a whole flock of Ortolan buntings, a citrine wagtail and more wrynecks than you could shake a stick at all around and just waiting to be seen. However by mid week most of them had gone leaving just a few wrynecks around when I set off on Thursday morning. I'd switched my Bird Guides text settings over to just Cornwall before I left and when I arrived a mere four and a quarter hours later (no traffic at all) I looked through them to see what was around. There was a report of one Ortolan bunting in a ploughed field near where the citrine wagtail had been at Nanquidno so I thought that I'd go and take a look on the off chance. It was quite a nice afternoon as I strolled up the hill towards the track and a couple of juvenile buzzards were flapping around and calling loudly as I walked by. At the top of the hill I came across a nice immature white wagtail which I examined closely to check that it wasn't the citrine wagtail but however hard I tried I couldn't turn it into one.

A videograb of a young white wagtail

As I walked along the track to Gurland farm (where the Ortolan field was) there were several wheatears ahead of me hopping on and off the posts and wires as wheatears are wont to do. By the field I found a fellow birder who said that he and two others had been scouring the field for several hours to no avail and that he'd had enough. It clearly wasn't going to be a successful trip but I thought that I'd have a look around whilst I was there. I checked out the field from all angles and also nipped over to see the "muddy puddle" behind the farm where the citrine wagtail had been just recently. There were several white wagtails hanging around, testament to the puddle's wagtail attracting qualities if nothing else. As I strolled back I found a whinchat in the field and more wheatears. Despite the lack of good birds it was very pleasant wandering around in the Cornish countryside in the sunshine.

The famous muddy puddle that the citrine wagtail frequented.
You know it's a poor birding day when you're reduced to photographing puddles!

No ortolan buntings here!

Whilst I was in the area I thought that it would be rude not to drop in at Land's End to see if any of the three (yes three!) reported wrynecks were showing though it was by now getting rather late and it had become a bit breezy. I wandered over to Hallan Vean (the boarded-up white house) keeping a look-out for lapland buntings as one had been seen there a few days ago though all was quiet. As I started down the cycle track towards Trinity Loop I met a fellow birder and we got chatting. He came down to this area each autumn and was keen to show me around so we walked along together scouring the area for wrynecks. There were quite a few stonechats about, sitting on tops of rocks and bushes as well as a couple of whinchat, a few whitethroat and wheatears but the wryneck were all tucked up in their hiding holes for the evening. As I walked back towards the car a female sparrowhawk shot over the field, looking splendid in the evening light. By the Land's End car park there was a whole family of stonechats hopping around at close quarters. It was now getting dark so I headed back to the cottage for the evening.

The next morning I planned to get up early to do some sea watching. With a strong south westerly wind forecast, rather than my local spot at Pendeen I was thinking that Porthgwarra would be a better bet. For a couple of years I'd been keen to visit the South-West seawatch that takes place there each autumn at Gwenapp Head so I thought that I'd have a go this morning. I met the official bird recorder for the day in the car park and we walked up together, rendezvous'ing with the mammal recorder on the Head. It was a very quiet start to the session with very few birds seen in the first hour. We had perhaps eight or so balearic shearwaters and even fewer manxies, a dozen or so kittiwakes, a few dozen auks, about three or four bonxies and an adult pale morph arctic skua.

In the strong winds a couple of ships got into difficulties
and the lifeboat went by a couple of times

After a couple of hours I decided that I had to leave to get on with some work down in the cottage so I made my way back to Pendeen. I spent the next few hours dismantling a bespoke MDF bookshelf that the previous owners had had installed. This was a rather tedious process as I only had a jigsaw to cut it up with but eventually I managed to get it all down. By now I'd had enough DIY for the day and as I was feeling rather dusty I needed some fresh air. With a melodious warbler belatedly reported in 60 foot cover as well as a wryneck at the Coastguard cottages at Porthgwarra it seemed obvious that I should head back there. I spent a brief time checking out 60 foot and the cottages but to no avail so I walked back up to the Head where I met up with the sea watch team again. The big news was the Runnel Stone, the buoy to mark the edge of the reef just of Gwenapp Head, had come adrift and was floating off. The coastguards had been informed and a boat was going to come down from Portsmouth to re-install it. On the bird front a sooty shearwater and a Sabine's gull had been the highlights whilst I had been away. I settled down with them for another hour which this time was much more active with plenty of birds coming through and we must have added at least 20 balearics during that hour alone. I then headed back to the cottage for dinner and then later that evening picked up the rest of the family at the station at Penzance.

The next morning I got up early and went back to spend an hour checking 60 foot cover some more for the warbler but without any luck. Back at the cottage I finished off sorting out the bookcase and then it was a day of family activities around the cottage and later in Penzance. We had lunch by the beach at Marazion and I took the opportunity to do a bit of digiscoping of the ringed plovers and dunlin on the beach though the light wasn't that great.

A juvenile dunlin having a good probe...

...and a juvenile ringed plover foraging

That afternoon it was rather frustrating to get regular Bird Guides text messages about how well the melodious warbler was showing at Porthgwarra albeit in a different location from before. A juvenile buff-breasted sandpiper had also appeared at Davidstow airfield though that was perhaps an hour away from Penzance. Unable to get out birding at all, we had a pleasant enough family afternoon in Penzance and L and I checked out the harbour's boats and looked in the rock pools whilst the others did some shopping.

Next morning at first light I was back yet again at Porthgwarra to look for the Melodious warbler once more. In addition, the wryneck had been seen again and a lapland bunting had been spotted yesterday morning on the cliffs by the coastguard look-out so there was plenty to look for. I checked out the trees where the warbler had been showing yesterday though without any luck so after I while I walked up to the Coastguard cottage for a snoop around (again no luck) and then on up to the look-out where I met a fellow birder who was also looking for buntings. Together we scoured the area, putting up all the meadow pipits in the process (there must have been at least 50). There was no sign of any buntings though we did have a calling tree pipit fly over by way of consolation.

I went back to the warbler spot and was just idly staring at the bushes again when the word went up that the wryneck had been seen again at the cottages. I nipped back to find several birders focused on a fence line from where it had flown down a couple of minutes ago. Thinking that it would probably return there I set up my scope and digiscoping gear in anticipation and sure enough a minute later it briefly showed on the fence again for a few seconds before disappearing once more. I managed to get just two shots off before it disappeared but they weren't too bad given the circumstances. I then when back to waiting for the warbler but it never showed and wasn't seen again that day.

A couple of record shots of the elusive wryneck whilst it was briefly on the fence

Back at the cottage I had to get the car loaded for a run to the recycling centre and then we had to pack and get ready for home. I did manage about ten minutes of sea watching at Pendeen Watch whilst on a break during which time, with a strong on-shore breeze, I saw hundreds of manxies and one arctic skua go through. Later it was reported that 15,000 manxies went through in five hours: an amazing 3,000 per hour!

After lunch we set off for home. As the sandpiper had disappeared from Davidstow, there was no need to persuade the rest of the family that they needed to make a detour on the way back to look at an abandoned airfield for a while: that would have been a rather hard sell anyway. Looking back on it, it had been a somewhat frustrating birding experience with many of the recent good birds having moved on before I arrived and the remaining ones proving rather elusive or at least not showing whilst I was free to go birding. Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed the sea watching at Gwenapp Head and no birding trip can be that bad when one gets a sighting of a wryneck. It really is such a wonderful part of the country and I can't wait to get back there again.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Birding USA - Part III

I'm afraid that there's yet more USA birding to report. In this section we're heading south towards canyon country, stopping off at various locations. It was very much a case of snatching a few moments birding when one could but I managed to see a few interesting birds en route. The main bird that I would see whilst driving was the red-tailed hawk which was pretty common place. However, as we were travelling south through Idaho I started to spot some birds with long necks and down-curved bills which took me a little while to place until I got a close enough view to realise that they were white-faced ibises. They seemed to be quite at home in the big open fields, sometimes congregating near the giant watering machines where the ground was softer. Once we got too far south I stopped seeing them but for a while they were quite frequent.

We had plenty of time as we headed south so we would often look out for somewhere interesting to spend some time before heading on to our accommodation for the evening and State Parks were often sought out. They cost a few dollars to enter and usually have sheltered picnic spots where we could have our sandwiches. The first one we went to was Bear Lake SP which consisted of a very large lake with a reedbed nature reserve next to it. A very brief stop at the NR found a couple of white pelicans cruising around at a close distance which all the family enjoyed seeing. There was also a pie-billed grebe at close quarters with its unmistakable bill and a more distant western grebe.

White pelican at Bear Lake NR

As we drove around the side of Bear Lake we came across a Bullock's oriole busily going back and forth with insects in its beak, obviously feeding a family.

Bullock's oriole

At the lake iteself an unidentified shore bird flew by and there was a large gull which I looked like a herring gull to me though according to my field guide these aren't too common inland. I also came across a norther flicker feeding on the grass nearby. We stayed the night at a town called Logan which was largely birdless apart from a fly-over house finch.

The next day we spent a very pleasant half day at the Great Salt Lake at Willard Lake SP. There were very few people here, plenty of shade, a nice picnic area and some warm salty water to swim in. What's more there were a few birds to look at including some gulls. On the shore I found several ring-billed gulls and also some California gulls: about herring gull sized though with a mantle colour that was a shade darker.

A ring-billed gull flanked by two California gulls.

There were several common grackles around, calling noisily from the trees and also some American goldfinches, including some bright golden males.

A male American goldfinch

On the lake itself were some more western grebes and I even managed to find a Clark's grebe in amongst them.

This western grebe got reasonably close...
...whereas this Clark's grebe was much more distant. Note the yellower bill and that the area around the eye is white rather than black (c.f. previous photo).

As we sat and munched our sandwiches I would keep an eye on what was flying around on the lake: a bit like sea watching though with much warmer temperatures! As well as spotting a flock of white-faced ibises I also saw some distant small gulls with black-heads and a dark grey mantle colour and a noticable white trailing edge to the wing which I deduced could only be Franklin's gulls. From the maps in my field guide I later found out that there seems to be definite colony of these gulls on the Great Salt Lake so I was pleased that my identification skills had been backed up.

I went for a little wander around the area whilst the rest of the family chilled out and I found a calling Eastern kingbird. I then discovered that it had a newly fledged chick which was sitting right in the middle of the grassy area. Fortunately there weren't many other people or predators around so it might have managed to get to some cover eventually.

Eastern Kingbird...
...and it's newly fledged chick, rather vulnerable on the grass

That evening we stayed at Park City, which once hosted the winter Olympics. It turned out that our hotel was right next to a very nice path which ran alongside a stream and some scrub area which was full of birds. There was a large roost of thrushes and on an evening stroll I saw literally hundreds of thrushes (mostly American robins) flying in to the bushes. The next morning I was out again early and I found: several song sparrows singing away, some lazuli buntings (very colourful blue and orange buntings), a black-headed grosbeak (large finch-like birds which have huge bills as suggested by their name), broad-tailed and black-chinned humming birds and quite a few cedar waxwings, which looked very out of place in the summer time, since I always associate waxwings with the winter.

A pair of cedar waxwings

The next stop-over was a real one-horse town called Beaver which had very little going for it. I went for my usual morning walk around the back of the hotel which was basically scrub land and which was quite close to the I-70 road so rather noisy. To my surprise I managed to find a few interesting birds. Firstly I came across a small flock of what looked like shore larks to me but which are called horned larks over there and which over there hang out in a wide variety of grassy areas rather than just along the coast as our birds do. I also saw some meadow larks, which are very large yellow-fronted larks with a flutey song. Another Bullock's oriole was also seen and along the fence posts I came across a flock of juvenile lark sparrows. Finally as I was walking back to the hotel I heard a familiar piping call and looked up to see what looked like a green sandpiper flying overhead though no doubt it was actually the American equivalent a solitary sandpiper. It was strange to see a wader flying over what was basically a scrub/desert habitat though there are quite a few lakes along the way for it to re-fuel at.

Juvenile lark sparrows

I'm afraid that there's still more to come so watch out for part IV.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Non-farm Payrolls or Spotted Crake?

The first Friday of the month is Non-Farm Payrolls day. I suspect that for most of you this won't mean much but it's the most important economic news release of the month and there are often extreme reactions to the news in the financial markets as it comes out. As someone who works with the markets I was keyed up to see what the new number was going to be and how the market would react. The news was to be released at 1:30 pm as usual and with 10 minutes to go my business partner had phoned up to discuss the pending number. Five minutes to go and I'm all action stations, ready to follow the volatility of the market. Then with four minutes to go I get a call from "Badger" saying that there's a spotted crake at Radley. What to do? Actually it was a pretty easy decision: the NFP will be there again next month but the spotted crake won't so a few minutes later I was bundling my gear into the car and heading off to Abingdon. Of course there's a slow tractor crawling along the road on the outskirts of Abingdon and of course it turns off at the Radley exit but eventually I arrived at Thrupp Lane, parked up and hot footed it down to the Small Ash Pit. Knowing how elusive crakes are I was expecting to hear that after having been seen initially it would be back skulking in the reeds and that I would have to spend the next five hours staring at the reedbed waiting for it to show but uncharacteristically it was remarkably showy and was on view practically all the time. It was rather distant as it was in the far corner of the pit but it was continually venturing out onto the mud (or ash actually) and even saw off a green sandpiper that got too close. The pit is looking rather good at present and in addition to the star crake there were three greenshank, three green sandpiper, one yellow-legged gull amonst the commoner loafers and overhead was a red kite and a couple of common buzzards. I took my usual record shots of the bird and spent some time chatting with the other birders present before making my way back home to review the carnage of the financial markets retrospectively.

A distant still photo, showing a greenshank and a lapwing as well....

...and some digiscoped record shots which were rather spoilt by the heat haze

Spotted crake is one of those birds that show up each autumn and which I've been meaning to go and see for a couple of years now but haven't yet got round to it so to have one fall into my lap like this was great and meant that I could get it for both the county and life list simultaneously. To get such great views was also really fantastic and has saved me many hours that I was going to have to spend staring at a reedbed which is much appreciated.

By the way, I've been thinking more about my honey buzzard sighting from last week and whilst I was fairly happy with what I saw at the time, with hindsight I'm not sure enough to have it as a county tick and I am therefore downgrading my sighting to a "probable" (and reducing the various list totals by one as well). I've also decided not to bother with keeping my year lists on the blog for the time being as certainly this year, listing is not something that I'm focusing on at all. I may change my mind at some point, we'll see how it goes.