Saturday, 29 November 2008

American Wigeon & A Pair of Farmoor Scaup

This Thursday just gone I had to get up unfeasibly early at 05:30am to take my eldest daughter K off to catch a coach for a school trip. I was thinking that as I was up I could go and do a spot of birding somewhere local such as Farmoor. I hadn't, though, quite realised just how late it gets light now so I was sitting back at home after the drop-off twiddling my thumbs waiting for it to get light before finally setting off at around 07:15 as the first traces of light were in the sky. I wanted to go to Farmoor partly to catch up with the two first winter scaup that were there and also to have another go at looking for redpolls which somehow have still eluded me so far this year.

I arrived just as it was getting light and was soon walking along the reservoir edge, thinking how nice it was to be up at first light. I saw a barn owl hunting by Lower Whitely farm, looking rather ghostly in the half-light. At that point a car turned up, driving along the perimeter road and it turned out to be a fellow birder whom I've met a few times on Port Meadow recently when we were looking for the American Golden Plover. He kindly offered to show me the Scaup and when I mentioned the redpoll also said that he would show me the redpoll "hot-spot". We soon pulled up by the Pinkill hide and walked up the slope to the west shore of Farmoor I. This was where the flock of tufted ducks roosted and we started to scan through them for the two scaup. Being first winters, the differences between the scaup and the tufted ducks were rather subtle: on the male there are some pale patches on the upper body where the full vermiculation would be on an adult; the female has the large white area around the base of the bill but when sleeping with her head tucked in it's not that easy and one has to rely on jizz and head shape. With help from my companion we soon found them both - not year ticks for me but Oxon firsts though.

We next retraced our steps back to Pinkill: the redpoll hot-spot turns out to be the path between Pinkhill and the Pump Station. We went slowly and carefully along this route but to no avail though at the pump station we did manage to hear a brambling calling from within the bushes. At this point my companion decided to continue on whereas I elected to retrace my steps to see if I could find the redpolls. I first hung around for a bit and managed a brief glimpse of the brambling. Walking back I managed to see a siskin and countless redwings and fieldfares but still no redpoll. Could this end up being my bogey bird of the year? Anyway, I walked back towards to car along the reservoir, seeing a redshank on the north shore of Farmoor II and one of the two great northern divers in the distance in the middle of the reservoir. Back at the car I heard the distinctive call of a marsh tit and managed a brief glimpse of it flitting around in the surrounding trees. I have now managed to see the marsh tit in the same location on three consecutive occasions. A very nice way to start the day with a spot of birding and I headed off home and to work.

Later that day I saw on Bird Guides that the american wigeon at Lower Farm GP had been seen again. I'd not heard anything more about it after my dip last Saturday and it's subsequent re-appearance (of course) on Sunday so had assumed that it had moved on. I wondered whether this had meant that it had been there all this time but since everyone had now seen it (apart from me) they hadn't bothered to report it. Anyway, I was thinking that another Friday birding trip was due to see if I could connect with this bird at the second attempt. Consequently the next day at around 1pm I was heading south down the A34 again to Lower Farm. As I was on my journey a text came through from Bird Guides reporting that the bird was showing well so it was with some optimism that I arrived at the Lower Farm GP car park. There were no other birders present which meant that I wasn't going to have the bird handed to me on a plate and that I would have to do some work to find it for myself. I set up my scope in the hide and started systematically scanning all the birds. The GP has a number of part-submerged trees and small islands which means that there is a lot of cover behind which vagrant wigeons can hide so it was possible that it might be out of sight but after scanning about three quarters of the way around I found the bird out in the open near the back swimming around quite fast and seeming rather at home. It was unmistakable even at a distance and I immediately set up my digiscoping gear and started to take photos. This proved somewhat troublesome as the light was very poor (so I had to go up to ISO 400 to get any kind of shutter speed) and the bird was a good 150m away if not more. Despite this I managed to get a few half decent shots, the best of which I've included here.

The American Wigeon with a Eurasian Wigeon for comparison.

As well as this handsome vagrant there were also a number of ruddy duck looking smart in their winter plumage. It was nice to see these pretty and unfairly persecuted ducks. Apart from the aforementioned birds there were a few pochards around, a grey wagtail, a kingfisher, some cormorants, great crested and little grebes, some shoveler and some gadwall. One of the latter was rather close to the shore so I took the opportunity, after the American Wigeon had gone behind an island, to photograph it.

A gadwall close to the shore

As I was leaving I met a fellow birder just arriving. He asked me nervously whether the bird was still there as he'd dipped twice before. I told him that it was but that it had gone behind an island so I hope that it came out again for him.

A very pleasant lunch-time trip to connect with this nice bird and another year (and indeed life) tick for me. Only a month to go now to the end of the year and I still would like to get lesser redpoll, merlin and white-fronted goose. It's probably going to be unlikely that I'll actually reach 225 unless a few good local birds turn up as I have a self-imposed limit of about an hour (or two hours at most) on how far I'm prepared to drive to see stuff. Also this time of year is rather busy and it's not so easy to find the time to get away so I may only have one or two more non-local trips left.

2008 Year List

218: American Wigeon.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Combe Wood Return Match & Looking for An American Wigeon

It seems to be becoming something of a habit that I go on a birding trip on Friday's with the last three weeks having produced some excellent little trips. Anyway, this Friday it seemed rude not to have a try for the first winter drake American Wigeon that had been reported yesterday afternoon at Lower Farm GP's in Berks near Newbury. Adopting my usual policy of always liking to have a back-up bird if possible, I realised that this was pretty close to Combe Woode, where I'd failed miserably to see a Willow Tit in the summer. Having been told that the autumn was much better I thought that I'd have another crack at it.

Heading down the A34 I was just approaching the turn-off for Newbury only to discover that the road had been closed and that the next obvious turn off was completely full of stationary cars so there'd obviously been some kind of accident. Thinking on my feet (or at the wheel rather) I decided to go straight on to Combe Wood, and to come back for the Wigeon, hopefully after the traffic had cleared. Having been there once before and having swotted up on the directions I found my way through the maze of back roads without incident, pausing only for the large number of pheasants that were running around in the road at various places. I parked by the church, put on my walking boots and taking just my bins and not my scope, started walking up the hill. By this time I was very confident in recognising the call and I kept a close ear out for birds as I went. There was precious little calling as I went up the hill and I was starting to think that I was going to blank again when I came to the top of the hill where there is a clearing and a line of trees going off to the left. Here there were loads of fieldfares in the trees all chattering away loudly. There were also some redwings in amongst them though in fewer numbers. At that moment I also heard the distinctive call of a tit which I immediately recognised as a Willow. I walked closer to the trees and soon saw the bird fly into a nearby tree. Raising my bins I was immediately able to see that it was indeed a lovely Willow Tit though without the call I wouldn't have easily told it from a Marsh at that distance though it did look rather untidy compared to the comparatively neat Marsh Tits that I'd seen earlier that week at Farmoor. I heard a second bird calling and spent a few minutes following the pair as they moved through the trees and hedges before they went out of sight. Well pleased with connecting with these birds I was starting to head back down when I heard the distinctive call of a couple of ravens overhead and looked up to see a pair flying low over the trees not far away. I am given to understand that these are comparatively rare in Berks though they are seen at nearby Walbury Hill from time to time.

Pleased with this success, I got back to the car and contemplated my journey over to Lower Farm GP's. A quick study of the map showed that I could most easily get there on the A343 which avoided the A4 altogether and so it was that some 20 minutes later I turned up at the gravel pits. There I met a fellow birder leaving the hide who informed me that there was no sign of the bird and that some people had been there for hours looking. My usual policy in such situations (á lá Combe Meadows in Glos. for the stilt sandpiper) is to go and have a quick look for myself but not to hang around too long if others have already put in the hours to no avail. A quick scan round revealed some normal wigeon, a few pochards, shoveler, gadwall, great crested and little grebes and a few gulls but no rarities. I therefore didn't stay long but made my way back to Oxford, pleased to have at least connected with my "reserve bird".

One more tick for the year list, and in fact Willow Tit was one of my target winter birds, the others being Jack Snipe (now seen), Redpoll (still proving elusive) and Merlin.

2008 Year List

217: Willow Tit

Friday, 14 November 2008

Tundra Bean Geese and a Caspian Gull

Friday lunch-time I was contemplating a lunch-time trip over to Farmoor to try to connect with some redpolls which, despite being told are abundant this season are proving rather elusive to me still. However a text message from Bird Guides just before lunch saying that a family of four Tundra Bean Geese had turned up at Hillesden in Bucks soon changed my mind and I knocked together a quick packed lunch, threw my gear in the car and headed off north on the 45 minute journey from Oxford up to Hillesden.

Hillesden is a funny little place: its basically some farm land with two pools and a wader scrape that I got to know last winter as there were some over-wintering whooper swans there. Having been there three times already this year I was able to navigate myself straight there and hurried over to the pools. There I met up with well known Bucks birder Lee Evans who was busy looking at the birds which were fortunately still present. I quickly set up my digiscoping gear and spent the next half an hour or so taking some photos of the party which, according to Lee, consisted of a male, a female and two juveniles.

The male, female and two juveniles

The family group
The male and darker female together
A close up of the male

After about half an hour a low-flying helicoper spooked the birds and they flew a few yards to the neighbouring wader scrape where they were partially obscured by some bankside vegtation so I could take no more photos. At this point Lee and I left, with me looking out (unsuccessfully) for redpolls on the walk back to the car.

When I got back home I got a call from the Oxon county recorder saying that someone had reported seeing the American Golden Plover back on Port Meadow again. I said that I'd not been down there that morning but would go to take a look. There was only about three-quarters of an hour of day light left but I took L, our now increasingly long-suffering and somewhat reluctant two year old son, in his all-terrain buggy out onto the Meadow. The extent of the floods meant that presently it was actually easiest to view the birds from across the river as there was only a narrow strip of grass between the much-extended floods and the river. Whilst L sat in his buggy and complained, I scanned the plover flocks but to no avail. I did notice a spectacularly large number of roosting gulls which I estimated must have been in the region of 5000 birds - it was quite a sight.

The next day I was back down there early along with a large number of local birders, all keen to see the birds. Needless to say there was no sign of it but there was a rather nice white-headed gull which I thought, despite being no gull expert, looked like an adult Caspian gull. I was delighted susequently to have the ID confirmed by the county recorder (who is a gull expert) when he turned up. I was really pleased about this as earlier this year I had rather optimistically ticked caspian off after finding what I thought was a likely looking candidate at Dix Pit but I have susequently learnt that there is far more to it than I realised and with hind sight it was a rather dodgy tick.

A record shot of the Port Meadow Caspian gull

A close up of the underside of the P10 primary. I have since learnt to look for the following: note the extensive white tip and pale base to the inner web, which extends well forward; the resulting pattern comprises a black lozenge within a whitish field.

One more tick for the year list and a rather dodgy caspian tick properly confirmed. I was pleased to have connected with a comparatively rare goose (outside a few east coast locations). I am also surprised with just how well I have been doing on the goose front with regards to the year list. I had thought that I would struggle to see many of these birds but the trip to Cornwall recently gave me the brent and the pink foot and now I've managed to see the bean goose as well that, apart from some comparative rarities, only really leaves the white-fronted goose which I hope to see at Slimbridge before the year is out.

2008 Year List

216: Tundra Bean Goose

Friday, 7 November 2008

Jack Snipe, Red-necked Grebe & Cattle Egret

On Friday I didn't feel much like working as I had too much on my mind to think about (more on that in due course) so I generously decided to give myself the day off and felt that some birding would clear my head. A couple of decent twitchable birds within reasonable distance that I needed for my year list were about: a jack snipe was showing well in front of the first hide at Calvert lakes in Bucks and the long-staying red-necked grebe had been reported as still being at Draycote reservoir in Warks. In the time I had, I couldn't really hang around too much at either venue but there was a good chance of connecting with at least one of these birds so I thought that I'd give it a go.

I set off just before 12pm and some 30 minutes later I pulled up at Calvert with the encouraging sign of three other cars in the layby. Within the hide I found Tim Watts and another Bucks birder both watching the jack snipe. They were both very kind and helpful in helping me pick it out amongst the reeds and I was soon able to get a good albeit partially obscured view of it. I decided to take a photo and it was as this point that I discovered that I'd foolishly left my camera at home. I'd been transferring the shots from my daily visit to the Meadow to my computer for my blog and had forgot to put it back into my bag. Most annoying. Since I didn't have my camera and so couldn't fiddle around digiscoping I decided to head on up quickly to Draycote.

This part of the journey actually took some 45 minutes, longer than I had anticipated so I arrived there at just after 1pm. The bird had been reported as being near the sailing club that morning so I started my search there. I soon came across a fellow birder who, when asked, said that he thought that the bird had gone "over there", indicating the far side of the reservoir, a good 30 minute's walk away. Dismayed, I was contemplating going back to the car and driving around to that side when I saw another birder close by intent on taking some photos. I thought that I would ask him before heading off to the far side and it was good that I did because it was the red-necked grebe that he was in fact photographing, some 20m away from him. It was diving frequently (and successfully) so one had to get a good look at it whilst one could in between dives. Again I was ruing having forgotten the camera but it was a lovely bird to watch and I came across some photos taken by
Bob Hazell which he kindly gave me permission to reproduce.
The Draycote Red-necked grebe © Bob Hazell

There was not much else around at Draycote so I didn't stay particularly long but it was great to connect with such a nice and showy bird. On the way back some lunatic in a jag shot across a cross roads just as I was crossing it with only violent braking on my part preventing an accident. Shaken but unharmed I made it safely back home.

The following day a message came through about a cattle egret at Days Lock near Dorchester in Oxon. Cattle egrets are new to Oxon this year with one possible sighting of 4 birds near Stanton Harcourt earlier in the year and one non-twitchable sighting from a reliable source a bit later on. If the bird stayed around then it would be the first twitchable one in Oxon and since I had L, our two year old son, for the afternoon I felt that he would be keen to add such a prestigious county tick to his list. We set off after lunch and after a bit of getting lost arrived at Little Wittenham, parked by the church and I pushed L in his all-terrain buggy down towards the lock. On the way there I met a fellow birder who told me where to go to find the bird and it was a few minutes later that I arrived in a field with cattle and some 100m away a wonderful feeding cattle egret with several birders watching it. L was very well behaved that afternoon so I had time to try to take some photos. This was a bit problematic as the bird was threading its way through all the cattle and it was often not possible to get a clear line of sight. Still I managed a few decent shots and also took some video footage. It was great to get such good views after my brief flyover sighting a few weeks earlier on the way down to Cornwall.

To view this video in high quality click here and select "Watch in High Quality Mode".

So three great birds in a couple of days. They were all out-and-out twitches which is always less satisfactory than finding something for one's self but still it was great to see them and there were two welcome additions to the year list. The jack snipe was one of the birds from my winter hit-list, the others being lesser redpoll, merlin and willow tit which I still hope to connect with some time though time is running out for the year.

2008 Year List
214: jack snipe

215: red-necked grebe

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Some good local birds

Recently, there seems to be a lot of interesting birds around nationally, with geese and swans arriving as well as a waxwing invasion that I am hoping will reach inland to places close to Oxfordshire. Locally there have been some good birds the last couple of days some of which I've managed to connect with.

Things started at my local patch on Port Meadow where on Monday I went for a post-lunch visit rather than my usual morning one. It was a good thing that I did because there on the far side of the floods was a single swan. Even at a distance through my scope a quick glance revealed that it was a lovely Bewick's swan. I decided to get closer to try to take some photos but when I got to the best position it had by then tucked it's head in and gone to sleep. I spent some twenty minutes waiting for it to wake up and managed to take a few shots of it occasionally putting its head up to check that all was ok before going back down. Then after a while it woke up properly and I was able to shoot off quite a few shots. It was a long way away and the light was so poor that I had to go to ISO 800 but with some post-processing to remove the noise the best photo came out quite well. Unfortunately the bird was gone by the next day.

The Bewick's swan on Port Meadow.

The next day at around 9:30am there was an announcement on Bird Guides that the grey phalarope was still present at Farmoor Reservoir but that there was also a great northern diver present as well. I already had seen a (different) grey phal a while ago on Farmoor but was very interested in the diver and needed no further encouragement. I generously suggested to my VLW (very lovely wife) that I take L, our two year old son, out for some fresh air to give her some time on her own so it was at around 10:15 that I pulled up at Farmoor and after some effort managed to get L and his all-terrain buggy up the steps that are around the back of the reservoir near Lower Whitely Farm. This south-west corner was the area where the bird had last been seen and using my local knowledge meant I could go directly there without the long walk from the car park. After some wrangling with L who seemed to want to run up and down the slippery steps, I settled down for a thorough scan of the water but try as I might I couldn't see any signs of any divers, just a few cormorants and great crested grebes. Cursing my luck for having dipped out I decided to walk around towards Shrike Meadow and Pinkhill to see if I could at least pick up a lesser redpoll which were supposed to be around. I'd gone about half way towards the causeway when I spotted something on the water and a quick glance through the bins immediately identified it as a cracking great northern diver. I then spent some twenty minutes digiscoping it though it was about 200m away and again the light wasn't that good. It was better than the previous day in that I could at least work at ISO 200 and the best shot came out surprisingly well. A few other birders were wandering around and I pointed out the bird to them, much to their delight.

The Farmoor juvenile great northern diver

After a while I decided to carry on towards Pinkhill to see if I could find any redpolls. I managed to hear the distinctive trill of one in the distance but wasn't able actually to see it. We made our way back towards the car, walking along the river part of the way and keeping my ears open but there were no further redpoll calls. Getting back to the car was a bit difficult as there were several narrow gates that required dismantling the push chair so it was all a bit of a struggle. However, as I was driving off, I kept the car windows open in order to listen out for birds and was soon rewarded with the distinctive "pitchoo"-ing of a marsh tit which was in the hedge row right next to the car. The bird seemed to be making its way back to the wood as I was driving slowly along so I saw and heard it a number of times. A most excellent sighting.

I'd already seen Bewick's swan this year though this one was a self-found life list tick. The diver constitutes one more tick for the year list.

2008 Year List

213: great northern diver.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

A Week In Cornwall

This week saw the family off down to the furthest reaches of Cornwall for a half-term holiday. We've been going to the end of Cornwall (i.e. around the Penzance area) for family holidays for several years now but it's only towards the end of last year when I took up birding again that I realised what a hot spot it is from the birding point of view. It was therefore with great keenest that I headed down there once more to take in the fantastic coastal scenery and hopefully some good birds too. As it was the last week in October it was getting rather late for some of the passing birds and a lot of the good stuff had already been and gone. The start of the month had seen several wrynecks, a buff-breasted sandpiper and several rose-coloured starling in the area as well as an American Wigeon and a red-eyed vireo. In fact the latter had even been discovered in the garden of the cottage that we were to stay in, in Trevilley, just a couple of minutes from Land's End and the famous Alder Flycatcher had also been discovered a few minutes walk from the cottage. Unfortunately all these birds had departed by the time that we were due to get down there but there were still some sightings of yellow-browed warblers and firecrests around in the valleys around there and these two birds, together with some brent geese and a couple of pink-footed geese which were in the area were my target birds for the trip. In addition, the area is well know for attracting rare passage birds and vagrants so anything could turn up. In particular there are a few key sights right near where we were staying which were know hot spots for rarities: Penberth, Porthcurno, Porthgwarra, Trevilley Farm & Nanjizal Valley, Land's End, Nanquidno Valley and Cot Valley were all within a few minutes drive. To make sure that I was going to know what was going on without the benefit of the internet I signed up for the Bird Guides text alert service, customised it to Cornwall only and headed off on Friday afternoon for the south-west.

The journey started off ok but we hit traffic as we joined the M5 southwards and so crawled along for an hour. We had just started moving again and entered Somerset which reminded my of my recent trip to Brownsea Island. There, on the ferry over, I'd met with a Somerset birder who was consulting for the BBC Autumn Watch program. He'd said that cattle egrets, having bred there, were very much still around. As I was just mulling this over I saw a couple of birds flying over the motorway in front of me. The time was 18:05 (I looked afterwards) and whilst it was getting dark the sun was clear of the clouds and shining quite brightly. These two birds were clearly egrets but were rather small and what's more both had yellow beaks and pale legs! There was no doubting them as cattle egrets and even though I only saw them for a few seconds before I had driven past it was a fantastic way to start the holiday. In particular I was most pleased to have connected with this species as I'd dipped out a couple of times earlier in the year in Sussex and with the large number of sightings in various parts of the country I was left feeling that I must be about the only birder left not to have seen one this year.

The next day was, from a birding point of view, one of misses and dips. Once we'd arrived at the cottage I'd received a Bird Guides text that a Richard's pipit had been seen in Sennen, not five minutes from where we were. I went out to look, meeting up with a local birder there, but the bird was no where to be seen. There was also a report of a blue throat at Land's End so on the way to Penzance to do some shopping we stopped off there briefly but the weather was atrocious and all I could find was a bunch of other birders all looking cold and not having seen anything. With a car full of children with a low boredom threshold, I didn't hang about long. Whilst in Penzance, we nipped over to Mount Bay to see if we could see the geese but again no luck. In the afternoon we went to the Cot valley to shelter from the wind. There I saw some goldcrests and a chiffchaff but no yellow-browed warblers nor any firecrests. Not a very good start to the week but I was expecting that it wouldn't be easy, especially for the yellow-browed and the firecrests which can be hard to pick out.

The following day we were lounging around in the cottage and I was wondering where to go out for a morning trip with L, my two-year old son, when a text came in saying that the blue throat was still at Land's End and was showing well! That decided it and within literally 5 minutes of having received the text I was pulling up in the car park. I decided to leave L in the car whilst I did a quick reccy and as I was getting ready I met a birder coming back who said that the bird was only about 40m away and was showing well out in the open. He directed me to a group of four other birds who were standing around and I hurried over. On arrival, a quick enquiry revealed that it was in a clump of scrub about 20m in front of us but had just nipped round the back so that we couldn't at present see it. A minute or so later it hopped back round the front in clear view. It showed well for several minutes before going off into a larger clump of scrub. I went back to the car to find that L had fallen asleep so I figured that I had a bit more time to see if I could take a photo and I went back to where the bird currently was. Unfortunately it was deep within the scrub again and it was starting to rain. I waited a short while to see if it would re-emerge but the weather was going to be difficult for digiscoping anyway and I didn't want to leave L too long so I made my way back to the car and the cottage. Below is a photo taken by Steve Rogers who has a great blog of Cornish birding at
SW Optics Photos

The Land's End blue throat. Photo © Steve Rogers

When I got back to the cottage, L was still asleep so I decided to leave him there. I was just getting out of the car when I heard a crest calling. What's more the glimpse that I got of the bird seemed to show an eye stripe so frantically tried to follow it as it moved around the small trees and shrubs of the cottage garden. After a minute or so I got a clear view and it was definitely a firecrest! I watched it for several minutes during which at one point it came so close that it was literally less than 2m from me, giving a crippling view of the wonderful firey crest and the elaborate markings around it's eyes and heads. What a fantastic view and in the cottage back garden too!.

Later that afternoon, after a walk down Nanjizal valley to the cove and back (no interesting sightings apart from a feeding gannet in the cove), a glance out of the kitchen window reveal to my delight a wonderful pair of black redstarts on the roof of the out building behind the house. Last year I'd seen quite a few black redstarts in the area so I was expecting them but it was great to see them so close to the cottage. I did look out for a suitable opportunity to take a photo but unfortunately one never arose. To round off the day we went back to Penzance for a wander along the beach. To my delight the pale-bellied brent geese were back in the bay and were feeding about 100m from the shore line so I managed some digiscoped shots of them. There were also a flock of 15 turnstones along the shore with 2 juvenile sanderling in amongst them.

Some of the pale-bellied brent geese at Mount Bay, Marazion.

All in all an excellent Sunday with two of my target birds (firecrest and brent goose) and a wonderful bonus in the shape of the bluethroat as well as the black redstarts which, although not year ticks, are always nice to see.

The next day, before the first outing and whilst staring out the door at the garden to see if there were any rarities present, I had a flyover which I am pretty sure was a lapland bunting. I only saw and heard it for a split second and I only know the call from a recording but it seemed to tick all the boxes. It's only that fact that my view was so brief and I'm not that familiar with them which leads me to leave it as a probable rather than a definite tick. In the morning I took L to Penberth to see if I could connect with any more firecrests or any yellow-browed warblers. Penberth is a lovely sheltered valley with a stream running down it and lots of trees and scrub leading down to a sheltered cove. There were quite a few birds around calling and I saw a female black cap, lots of tits, goldcrests and a flock of siskins. Towards the end, as L was getting restless I saw in the distance amongst the tits, a greenish bird with a long eye stripe. It took a while for my brain to engage, and I was thinking firecrest for a while until I remember the elaborate layers of black, white and gold/orange that go to make up a firecrests head colourings and this was a simple long eye stripe and therefore more than likely a yellow-browed warbler. It wasn't an altogether satisfactory ID so I decided to come back that afternoon with the rest of the family for another look. That afternoon, when we returned, having eaten our picnic lunch in the car as the weather was a bit dodgy, we set off for the cove once more. I'd only gone a few steps when I heard a very distinctive call which I immediately knew from my pre-holiday homework to be a yellow-browed. A minute or so of scanning in the canopy revealed the bird, which moved clearly into view, showing off it's two wing bars and elongated supercilium. I watched it for a few minutes before it moved away. A great view of a fantastic bird.

After that, the holiday started to go rather pear-shaped. First L, then my eldest daughter and then myself all came down with a bug that left us vomiting for a day or so. As bugs go it was rather mild but it rather put the dampers on the holiday. We did manage a couple of trips to stare at the sea from a car park - the it was too windy to get out for long though I did manage about 15 minutes of see watching: loads of auks, kittiwakes, gannets, fulmars and a manx shearwater. We also saw a pod of dolphins at Cape Cornwall which was great.

From a birding perspective there was little else to report on the holiday apart from on the day we were going home when I persuaded the family that it would be a good idea to stop off at Leylant Saltings Station for a few minutes whilst I scanned the Hayle estuary. This is a well known birding location and often home to vagrant green-winged teal and american wigeon. None of these were currently known to be around but there were supposed to be two pick-footed geese around which I was keen to see. I set up my scope and started a quick scan so not really checking the gulls for Meds. for example. There were loads of wigeon, some shelduck, a few ringed plover, a single bar-tailed godwit and plenty of redshank and oystercatchers, herring and black-headed gulls with a few lesser and greated black-backed thrown in. On the goose front there were a couple of dozen grey lags, a single dark-bellied brent, a few canada and also the two pink footed though they were half hidden in the channel and only showed relatively briefly. The estuary looked great and I would really have wanted to have spent much longer there but the family would no doubt be getting restless so reluctantly I headed back. Still I'd seen my target geese which was a great way to end the holiday.

So I got my four target birds and also two bonus birds that weren't expected. A great boost to the year list with 6 new ticks.

2008 Year List:

207: cattle egret
208: bluethroat
209: firecrest

210: brent goose - pale and dark bellied

211: yellow-browed warbler

212: pink-footed goose