Saturday 1 October 2016

A New Month, October, Month 22 and the Reason Behind the Biking Birder

A new month with new target birds; a new month and, as this is also the start of the last quarter of the year, I will remind everyone that I am doing my Big Green Year for charity.

Today I have given the last three donations given directly to me to Chaskawasi-Manu, the children of the Manu rainforest in Peru.
At this very moment their future is being made ever more precarious by the building of an illegal road into the Manu. The National Park is surrounded by the pernicious interests of oil companies, illegal tree loggers and businesses that want to exploit the resources to be found there.

The children from communities deep in the protected area of the Manu come to Chaskawasi-Manu to access the local school. The children, and the people of their communities, want to have an 'outside' education. Chaskawasi-Manu provides a home away from home. The people who run Chaskawasi-Manu are loving, caring people but they are running short of funds.

Maybe you are a young person and are thinking of a place to go and volunteer. Well have a look at the Chaskawasi-Manu website for opportunities to do just that. Going there and working (!) with the children and staff will change your life. I am not so young and I know that I am forever changed from what I experienced there. Indeed I will be back there next year. My education needs to be ongoing and the children give so many life lessons.   

Away from my love of Chaskawasi-Manu, there are the other three charities I am supporting.

The RSPB I will always support as no other environmental charity does so much to not only protect British wildlife but also carry out projects around the World. With Climate Change and Global Warming being the biggest threat to our way of life and the future of our children, the work carried out by the RSPB is immense and vital.

The Wildfowl & Wetland Trust, the WWT, based at Slimbridge gets my support due to the influence of a simple act of a fmaous man back in the 1960s. Sir Peter Scott replied to a simple letter from a young ten year old. His kindness instilled in the boy a love for nature that still drives him to cycle each day to areas new.

Finally there is Asthma UK. 5,400,000 people suffer from the debilitating condition and those figures are rising. As one of those people I know the effects and the problems faced by all who have asthma.

So, it is October, the 22nd month of my cycling adventure and once again I ask whether you could please make a donation of any size to one of the charities. Please use the links to be found on the right hand side of this page. Every donation is such a thrill to receive and your support is vital and very gratefully received.

Maybe you would prefer to sponsor me. Way back at the beginning of the year I asked people to sponsor me 1p (a penny in UK) for every bird species I see during the year. Having seen 293 different birds so far that would make a commitment of £2.93. Thank you to all who have said that they would do just that and you know I will be in touch on January the First 2017!
If you would like to sponsor me 1p a bird, or even 1 cent, 1 sole . . . then please either email me, message me on facebook or the blog or twitter me.

Donations and sponsoring really do give me such an emotional and physical boost. There are days, thankfully not many, when the loneliness of the journey gets me down and to access the internet and find a donation is the best pick me up I can get. Oh, maybe seeing a new bird does as well . . and meeting people. OH let me just say that donations are fantastic!

Thanks to you all,

Gary Prescott

The Biking Birder 2016

Facebook and blog - Biking Birder 2016 – The Quest for 300

Logo design by Lauren Edson

Friday 30 September 2016

A September Summary. Fifteen Year Ticks. Fair Isle Splendour.

September on Fair Isle summary

Green Year list now on 293 having had 15 new birds whilst being on the Fair Isle, 14 of them during September. I had a booted warbler on arrival at the end of August, so let's start with that wonderful bird.

BOOTED WARBLER Iduna caligata 30th August 2016

Seen in the small reedbed that makes up Meadow Burn, a small, very pale warbler that showed well on the wires that surround the area. Booted warbler comes from Central Russia and Asia.

There were a lot of migrants around on my arrival day; 63 willow warblers, 176 wheatear, 106 white wagtails as well as a couple of barred warblers,and singles of marsh warbler and common rosefinch. Welcome to Fair Isle. A.D.I.P. ….. a day in Paradise.

My second Rose-coloured starling, Pastor roseus was found by Cath Mendez at the Bird Observatory, coming down to feed on apples put out by Lee Gregory for just that possibility. A juvenile bird, pale and obvious, rosy is a vagrant from Central Europe.

Into September. The target was for 15 year ticks and a spreadsheet was prepared months ago detailing the year tick bird species seen on Fair Isle during this month for the last 11 years. A percentage probability is mentioned after each of the following year ticks seen in brackets.

WOOD WARBLER Phylloscopus sibilatrix 4th September 2016

One would have expected me to have added this bird to the year list whilst on the UK mainland but no, I wasn't near any of the declining breeding birds' areas during those crucial times before mid-June when they go quiet. One turning up on Fair Isle was a bonus not too unexpected. Sitting on a barbed wire fence with the occasional jump down onto the grass to catch an insect, a beautiful, bright warbler with white underparts, yellow throat and green back. (45.5% chance of occurrence in September)

ICTERINE WARBLER Hippolais icterina

David Parnaby, the Fair Isle Bird Observatory warden, had found a greenish warbler, Phylloscopus trochiloides, in Tyneside Geo. I saw him walking on the other side of the long, tall dry stone wall called Hill Dyke and thanked him for the text message telling me of that bird. As I turned away a large Hippo' warbler landed on the barbed wire fence about thirty yards away. I emmediately shouted to David, “Icky.”
Another hoped to see warbler went onto the list; an obvious Hippolais, large and stronger than similar Phyloscs. After walking to the greenish warbler, I carried on exploring the geos, high cliffed areas of coast that provide shelter and food for many fresh in migrant birds. At Grey Geo, one of my favourites with a fast eroding cliff line and colourful rock and mud sections, another icterine warbler was foraging in short grass. Classed as a rare vagrant to the UK from the continent. (45.5% chance of occurrence in September)

Good numbers of migrants today, I found not only the couple of icterines but also a sunbathing barred warbler on the cliff at Copper Geo. 4 swifts were swirling just west of Ward Hill and the greenish warbler was my second of the year.

ORTOLAN BUNTING Emberiza hortulana 8th September 2016

Not an easy one to find, the bird hid in thick grass in the marshy area just above the Gully trap area. Eye ring and moustachial easy to see once it allowed good views. Another vagrant from Europe. (45.5% chance of occurrence in September)
LANCEOLATED WARBLER Locustella lanceolata 13th September 2016

Great to see one in the field, the bird was at first seen sitting in the open on short grass where it stayed for a few minutes before diving into some longer grass in a nearby ditch. Even in there it could be seen occasionally crawling between the grass blades. The very rare warbler eventually flew to an area of thicker grass but just sat in between grass tussocks in full view! A small, streaky warbler; they always look to me as though they have been squeezed from behind to give a front heavy appearance. A true Sibe goes onto the year list, another I saw in the marshy area of Kirki Mire later in the month. That bird was found when everyone was searching for a great snipe! (54.5% chance of occurrence in September)

CITRINE WAGTAIL Motacilla citreola

A citrine wagtail had everyone searching around the island but couldn't be pinned down to one area. In the evening though a different bird was found by Cairan Hatsall, one of the two assistant wardens at Da Water. A good day for Cairan, this bird was added to the lanceolated Cairan had found earlier. The lancy was the first one that Cairan had found.
The citrine, not a showy bird, kept amongst the tall grass tussocks of Da Water, only showing itself briefly on the mud. Vagrant from Asia, obvious wing bars with pale around the cheek. (72.7% chance of occurrence in September)

SHORT-TOED LARK Calendrella brachydactyla 14th September 2016

Lee Gregory found this bird and despite it flying some way off when I arrived, I found it an hour or so later by Setter, the croft of my late, dear friend, Gordon Barnes. It flew with a skylark back to the original place where Lee had found it and is still there today; 16 days, a long-staying and welcome scarce migrant. Smaller, greyer and paler than skylarks, an obvious bird with white underparts and streaky uppers. A vagrant from Southern Europe. (36.4% chance of occurrence in September)

COMMON ROSEFINCH Erythrina erythrina

Seen at last in Neil Thompson's garden, Lower Stoneybrek, a finch with pale wingbars noted deep down amongst some roses. I have since seen two more rosefinches; one at the Bird Observatory perched high in the garden and another one I found perched on some wooden pallets near to the Fair Isle School. A scarce but regular vagrant from NE Europe. (100% chance of occurrence in September)

As well as the above, a lot of Lapland buntings were on the island today with 74 recorded.

YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER Phylloscopus inornatus 15th September 2016

It would be a very strange year if one wasn't to see a yellow-browed warbler on Fair Isle in September. Gone are those days of the 1980s when one scratched around St Mary's on The Isles of Scilly looking for one or two. Here one has dozens and the first one for the year list was found by Lee Gregory in the Gully. A smashing tiny warbler with wingbars and eyestripes. More of them seem to be coming to Britain from their Siberian breeding area and one can only hope that they are finding a way to their wintering grounds. (100% chance of occurrence in September)

Since that vanguard bird I have seen 48 more!

BLUETHROAT Luscinia svecica 17th September 2016

Nick Riddiford, an ex- warden of Fair Isle Bird Observatory, thought that he had seen one at Shirva. Indeed he had for I found it there a short while later. A rare migrant from Europe I have since seen another that was at first running down the road in front of me as I cycled along. (90.9% chance of occurrence in September)

GREAT SNIPE Gallinago media 18th September 2016

Now was this one a hard one to find!? Lee Gregory, who else? Found this in Da Water and after seeing it fly three times eventually thought he had it at a spot where everyone could get onto it. Birders assembled, a walk towards the bird's location gave no views and a continued search of the area did likewise. All went to lunch leaving me to search the marshes for over two hours, in two metre lines from one end of each marsh to the other. Only when I reached the end of a tatty (potato) crop did the great snipe suddenly emerge and how. Calling roughly it flew off over towards Kennaby where I subtly called to two birders. Did I heck! I screamed “THE snipe!” With larger size and darker belly noted as well as the call, great snipe not only goes onto the Year list but also my life list.
This bird has given everyone trouble since it's original finding. The whole process of found by one, searched for by many but not seen was repeated over a week later when Deryk Shaw, another ex-warden of the Observatory found it in the field south of where I had found it previously. It may still be out there. (9.1% chance of occurrence in September)

RED-THROATED PIPIT Anthus cervinus

Lee Gregory looked a bit vacant as we talked about the great snipe and where it might have disappeared to. He was thinking about a strange pipit he had just seen by the American Tommy Hyndeman's Guest house, Da Haa. Luckily Lee realised that it was a red-throated pipit and so another great year tick went down onto paper.
A grey looking pipit with obvious braces, the first time I have seen one whilst Biking Birding. Rare vagrant from Scandinavia. (27.3% chance of occurrence in September)

LITTLE BUNTING Emberiza pusilla 20th September 2016

In an oat crop this smashing little bird came out to sit as many birds do on a wire fence. This bird had a louse by it's right eye and so could be told from the next one seen at nearby Field a few days later. (81.8% chance of occurrence in September)

I have now seen three little buntings; the last one a very t bird near to the Bird Observatory.

RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER Ficedula parva 21st September 2016

It never seems right to tick a bird in the hand, the first red-breasted flycatcher for the year was caught in the Heligoland trap at the Gully.
Much better was watching one fly catching on the rocks far below on the beach at Hjukni Geo. This bird's white sides to it's tail made it easy to see as it flew from rock to rock in search of flies. An Eastern European vagrant. (63.6% chance of occurrence in September)

A week goes by then . . .

PADDYFIELD WARBLER Acrocephalus agricola 28th September 2016

Over breakfast a birder, Andrew sitting opposite asked for a prediction for the day.”Paddyfield would be nice,” I said.
Paddyfield warbler in Walli Burn, another LIFER for me. A cracking small and very pale acro', it flew around birders like a small moth, fluttering between iris beds.

So a month on Fair Isle, maybe another month to enjoy as well. What will October bring? Barnacle geese and olive-backed pipits are 100% birds but then again, with an average of 9 year ticks over the last ten years there will be some surprises. Male Siberian rubythroat?

All photographs by Lee Gregory.

Thursday 29 September 2016

A Gale & Heavy Rain So . . . Here is The Tale of The Birding Clams

Thursday 29th September Gale Force W to NW Heavy rain

Special Birding Days with The Birding Clams

The weather outside is brutal; 60 to 70 mph gales and heavy rain so I turn to a book to while away the morning hours. Birds New To Britain, 1980 - 2004 details the finding of the first lesser scaup back in 1987 at Chasewater, Staffordshire. Mentioned are two ex-students of mine, Jason John Oliver and Alex Barter. The former is a twitcher going strong. The latter sadly dies over ten years ago. Bart, very affectionately known as The Bear, was a phenomenal birder and all round brilliant bloke. Here are a few photographs from birding days with Bart, Jase and another Coppice High School student, Richard Southall. 

For a few years in the 1980s they, with their teacher, me, birded around the UK. As they grew into lads and then men, the friendship grew and now they and the birding students that followed have a bond beyond mere words. We are 

The Birding Clams

1. A First Outings of the CTC – Coppice Twitchers Club

They haven't always been called The Birding Clams. Back in 1984 a group of three Secondary-aged lads; Jason Oliver, Alex 'The Bear' Barter and Richard 'Dicks-out' Southall, were in the back of a yellow Nissan Cherry with their teacher. Destination, the famous olive-backed pipit that had found a back garden in Bracknell to it's liking.

Flickr user CharlesLam

A first trip for what was to become regular overnight twitches by a number of council estate students from Coppice High School, Ashmore Park Estate, Wolverhampton.
The trip was memorable for the four involved. The pipit was seen easily enough but the other two scarce bird targets that day caused just a few problems. The fudge duck at gravel pits south of Uxbridge wasn't seen. Victorian bottles were found though and a couple of carrier bags full of them were taken home. The area was pock marked with pits where London collectors had dug into the Victorian rubbish tip to find bottles rarer than the ones discarded by them but picked up by us. The ferruginous duck, to give it it's proper name turned out to have been hiding under branches overgrowing the gravel pit margins. Unknown to us at the time, all we had was a handwritten list of possible birds with the name of the site; no specific details of which tree, bush or lake to look on.
Smew at Wrasbury was written down. Little did we know that Wrasbury was more than just an immense curved reservoir with a very high bank around which ran a road.

Workers had waved to us as we drove through gates they were painting. Workers had disappeared when we returned to those gates an hour later having not seen any smew. The wet paint gates were locked.
Two hours later police arrived to deal with a group of lads who were trying to lift a different gate off its hinges so that an escape could be made.
Two hours later an old man arrived on a push bike with a key to open those gates.
The smew. So it turned out weren't on the reservoir but on some gravel pits a little further on!
My wife had begged me early that morning not to go. She said something bad was going to happen. Being locked in Wrasbury reservoir for four hours watching ducks and the planes taking off from the nearby Heathrow may just have been what she foretold.

Actually all this happened three years after a more successful birding weekend with J.J. Holian, Bill Low, myself and another Coppice student, Steven Turner, better known as Smoothie.
A weekend in Norfolk, with the four of us sleeping in the car, gave us pallas' warblers, richard's pipits and various lesser scarce birds.

Those same three lads, Jase, Sout' and Bart, were in the car, March 1985, as we careered extremely excitedly, down the hill at Cuckmere Haven. A little crake had practically allowed birders to stroke it. We arrived the day after it was last seen. To make matters worse, later that same day I managed to flush a red-breasted goose not once but twice and both times before Jase had managed to see it. Rumours that one of the lads had a tattoo of the goose made in order to grip off Jase are surely found-less; too cruel a jest.

2. 1989 Two months, two 'Firsts'.

The Nissan Cherry had a leaking radiator. A first for Britain was at Charlton Poll, Billingham, Teeside. Eggs and large bottles of water got the lads to the, hate to say it, most boring 'First' ever seen. The double-crested cormorant arrived at the pool at the allotted time. “Be there at 7:45AM,” we were told. In it flew at 7:45AM. It landed on the water, caught a large fish, swallowed it and then stood on a pontoon for the next hour. There are only so many plumage and bare part details to take in and so after that scintillating hour we were off to more exciting birding at Bamburgh Castle to the north.

Chalk and cheese, ying and yang; how different a bird only a few weeks later. Thousands trying to see a golden-winged warbler. It took us seven hours of searching around a housing estate near Maidstone, Kent before we found it on some pyracantha surrounding a town house.
 photograph by Tim Loseby

3. Two Coppice Twitchers Thought They had Twitched Their Last.

A new wonderful girfriend for the teacher and an American vireo, red-eyed, to go and see. Diane had already rescued the team from the disaster of having an old Escort blow up on the A2. Diane had even taken the team; the teacher, Ian Crutchley and Steve Allcott, onward to see the target bird of the day; the marsh sandpiper at Elmley.

The vireo though was to bring terror into the proceedings. Who but Diane would, whilst driving at a naughty speed down the A30 through Devon, swerve off without thought or reason up the slip road. In fact a reason for such erratic driving was never given and two shaking lads on the back seats will recall with horror the moment of screeching brakes and pending doom. The vireo was secured later after a different driver had negotiated the narrow lanes around and to Cot Valley, Cornwall.

4. Clam Days Return

A name for the group, not CTC but a name with fun and movement; now known as the T.I.T.S, each rare bird was greeted by a small dance from the lads. The Terpsichorean Inspired Twitcher Society racked up the list in 2005 as each tried to complete a Big Year and see 300 bird species. 

The ex-Coppice students, now into their thirties managed it; their ex-teacher didn't. He had spent too long watching The Ashes series, the best ever cricket Test match series, to get the extra birds that would have lifted his respectable 292 to the magic 300. Mind you, he was with his son, Josh, at Edgbaston when Kasprovic gloved the ball to Jones off Harmison.
A few of the birds seen by the group that year:-

5. Clams Today

Nowadays the glory of the Coppice High School Twitchers Club, now known as The Birding Clams, meets up every year on Shetland. The first week of October sees the group assemble and bird. The exploits of the C.L.A.M.S, the Clear Lunacy & Madness Club, can be seen on Facebook. There is a group page called just that, The Birding Clams.
The Clams have even enjoyed birding in France!

Some members have stayed faithful since that long off time back in 1984. Others are new and some didn't even go to the same school or have that teacher. Yet the group is strong is, the fun is still there and the most important thing, after the birds that is, is the deep friendship and camaraderie of the group. 

Yet to come . . .  

Clam Days On Shetland.....

BB 2010 Oops, crash and a motorway Abominable Snowman in Hemel Hempstead January 5th

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