Saturday, 3 January 2015

At last.....

Another year, another year list. After an all-time high in 2015 it will be hard to keep up the pace, but lets set a target of 275 and see how we get on.
So, 1st of Jan means everything counts. Magpie was actually my first bird, closely followed by wood pigeon and carrion crow. Nothing that rare in the garden, although the coal tit which is now a regular on our front feeder is a good. By the afternoon I had completed all the relevant tasks around the house which needed doing so I dived out to Staines reservoir. Despite it's location under the Heathrow flight path it does hold some good birds. Over the Winter this normally means ducks, divers and grebes. When I go there another two birders were already on the causeway. They quickly got me onto black-necked grebes, which are pretty much resident all year. Right at the far-end was a nice male scaup, a winter duck quite reminiscent of a tufted duck but with a lighter back. Out in the middle was a lone great northern diver, also a winter  near resident on the reservoir. Most of the commoner ducks were there including goldeneye and wigeon as well as lots of gulls.  I then nipped round the aquadrome on the way home and ended up with 51 species for the first day with 3 nice birds.
Day 2 was mainly taken up with us returning Rita, my mother-in-law, to Weymouth. A few birds were got on the journey, like buzzard. We left the house about 1 though which left us enough time to head to Portland Harbour. As the weather has been relatively calm there were no big numbers of divers. There are always lots of over-wintering red-breasted mergansers both at Ferrybridge and Osprey Quay. The two birds I was after though were both on station. For the second winter a black guillemot has been hanging about near Portland Castle. Who knows but it is probably the same bird as it is in virtually the same place as last year. The other was a black redstart on the old derelict building. I was particularly pleased with the redstart as I missed it totally last year. A few other bits and bobs like med gull kept the list ticking over.
So, onto the main course. Over the last few weeks a Blyth's pipit has been in residence in a scruffy little bit of waste ground near Wakefield. It initially started a very large twitch as this is a pretty rare bird and a truly twitchable one is even rarer. With Xmas and bad weather intervening I didn't manage to get up in 2014. So, with Judith going to the sales and it still there on the 2nd I set off at 5.45 to drive up to junction 39 of the M1. The weather was truly foul until about Yorkshire when it at least dried up a bit. I parked up in a country park 5 minutes from it's favourite field and set off with another 6 birders.

This is the field. It's basically a small industrial estate with 20 birders scanning around. It took about 20 minutes for someone to get onto a largish pipit in the long grass. With all the 'scopes on it eventually it was nailed down as a Blyth's. Larger than a common meadow pipit, it is most commonly mistaken for a Richard's pipit, but has softer streaking. The call is also diagnostic.
I watched it for about 45 minutes, or rather I looked at the grass and occasionally it showed in the open. Often you just saw grass moving.
 This photo is still cropped in. It is a small brown bird in a large brown field!
The photos show the main characteristics of the bird. It is relatively long-legged, with a stout but not overly long bill. The upper parts are subtly streaked with clean underparts. The eye-stripe is not prominent. Of course, you can't get an idea of size, which is noticeably larger than mipit, or it's call, which it didn't give whilst I was there.

On the way back south I diverted via Northampton to Billing Aquadrome for the same ring-billed duck I saw in 2014, with awful views in pouring rain. Finally I stopped at Pitsford for a great white egret lurking in the gloom. These are becoming increasingly common now and can be told from the now common little egret by their size and large yellow bill. The only other confusion is with cattle egrets, which also have a yellow bill, but are little egret sized.

 With the weather carrying on being wet I did take a few photos of some confiding teal but without sun the colours don't shine.

So, 2015 off to a good start. 72 species in 3 days including one lifer. Without any waders of Norfolk geese that's not bad. Only another 202 to go then!!