31st May. Day 2 Monfrague

After yesterdays stress today would be a much more relaxed affair. A pre-breakfast jaunt to the Belen Plains produced the first Great Bustards of the trip, but they as always here were too far off for photos. A rather showy Bee-eater along the fence and an obliging Thekla Lark made up for an otherwise quiet visit.



A quick - though substantial - breakfast back at the hotel and we were on our way to spend the rest of the day in Monfrague. Here was the first and only disappointment of the holiday. A fair chunk of money has been spent of the Castillo - including a safety barrier on top of the Moorish keep. Personally I found the old barrier, a painted red line coupled with a pretty nasty drop enough to keep me away from the edge. The steps up to the castle have been improved and an additional viewing platform provided all adding to the attractiveness of the location for visitors, making it a bit crowded for birding.  That said we still enjoyed the view and the very easy White-rumped Swifts overhead.



The Pena Falcon, below the Castillo, was typically busy with birders and visitors alike and a dog Otter on the opposite bank increased the popularity, though for me it was as ever the Vultures that made the visit. Also some very showy Crag Martins feeding young on the cliff face.






After spending several hours in this area we moved further along the river. Pulling in just beyond the viaduct I immediately picked up two Bonellis Eagles over the road. Probably the best views I've had in four visits to the area.



Calling at the small village of Villa Real de San Carlos for refreshments we studied the bewildering array of Ice Cream on offer only to be met with a resounding 'no' at every selection. It turned out that only two types were available!

At Portilla del Tietar we were a little too early in the day for the Eagle Owls, but had spectacular views of Spanish Imperial Eagle the photo does it no justice at all.


Happy with our lot we headed back to Trujillo.

30th May. El Viaje

Way back at the end of last year Jo and I started to make plans for a holiday location for her forthcoming 40th (cough) birthday. I left the decision to her, after all it was her birthday. To my delight she chose a week in Extremadura staying in our favourite town of Trujillo.

So on the 30th May I bid farewell to the patch - to be honest after almost 3 months of consistently early mornings I was glad to see the back of it - and headed for the warmth of Spain.

An early morning flight would ensure that we'd be in our hotel just after lunch. After a combination of lost boarding passes and Jo's lack of basic physics  i.e. what constitutes a liquid in your hand luggage, that saw us become those twats that get their names called out just before the flight leaves. Despite this the flight went okay. The car hire cost us just £58 for eight days (plus £40 insurance) so I wasn't too upset at having to queue for over an hour to collect it. Leaving the airport at midday we were still on course to arrive by 2.30pm, still plenty of time for birding.

On the drive to Luton Airport Jo started that thing that all women do. The thing where they start going through a list of things that you might have forgotten. First on the list was "did you pack the guide book?" My response "er no!" This then fired up the part of my brain that remembers such things. "We've also forgotten the map and notebook" Note at this point the 'we'. Fortunately we had the sat nav and map of Spain loaded on the tablet pc. Yes the sat nav that got us f**king lost for over an hour and insisted on taking us into the centre of Madrid. After stopping to calm down, answer a work related text from a colleague (bastard!) and convince Jo* that we should look at the map on the tablet rather rely on the stupid cow inside the machine to direct us, we finally started to head in the right direction.

*that might not be exactly how it happened

Arriving in Trujillo just after 4pm I pulled out at a crossroads straight into the path of an oncoming van. By nothing short of lucky it stopped less than a foot from our car and after a few gesticulations from the occupants and words of encouragement from Jo I pulled myself together and made it safely to the hotel.
Despite Jo's insistence** that we should get straight out birding I suggested that we should call it a day, as far as driving was concerned, and stay within the safety of the hotel.

**a complete lie

On our previous trips here we've generally stayed in budget (though always pleasant) accommodation. On this trip we opted for the relative luxury of the Palacio de Santa Marta just off the main square. This proved to be an excellent choice a great hotel with stunning views over Trujillo and eye-level views of Lesser Kestrels, Pallid Swifts (probably about 20% of the swifts in the square), Crag Martins, plus Storks, Black Kite, Black Redstart, Serin and Blue Rock Thrush all from the balcony. After a dip in the pool, several cold beers and a great meal we turned in eager to greet the following morning.






26th May. I'm Still Here


If there's anyone still out there, and after a four month absence why would there be, then hello I'm still here.

Blogging hasn't come easily this year, and eight hours a day sat in front of a computer kinda makes you start to hate the thing by the end of the day.  Combined with the early (pre-work) starts on the patch I really am too knackered by the evening and like most zombies of the 21st Century I watch shit TV and look at videos of cats on the Internet.

Anyhow:

After a very quiet start to the year with only a couple of noteworthy birds namely
two Iceland Gulls, one of which was probably something rarer, but I have to let that one go..

The mantle and upperwing really were this dark!

Other than a Sanderling no other winter highlights spring to mind. I managed to miss most of the Whooper Swans, just scraping a couple at the end of March, but wildfowl numbers on the whole were very low and for the first time in five years the patch never froze..

Despite the promise of an early Spring, with the first Wheatear on the 20th March things soon went belly up with migration almost grinding to a halt until the third week of April.

Almost daily Whimbrel.

A better than average Spring for Arctic Terns

Then came May..

May always arrives with great anticipation, but more often than not it ends with a great deal of frustration.
The 3rd was one of those typically frustrating days, warm sunshine light south-west wind and very little movement. After a lap of the two lakes I decided that a circuit of the site, taking in the hawthorn hedgerows and young trees would prove more fruitful. A couple of Lesser Whitethroats singing in the southwest corner were a good addition - and at the time of writing still the only ones this year - and a Cuckoo (the first since 2012) almost deserved a little dance. Other than the aforementioned it was generally very quiet though.
Trawling through my Twitter notifications I scowled enviously at a report of a Glossy Ibis at Carr Vale and carried on round the perimeter stopping to scan over the seemingly birdless lakes. A quick look at Twitter again revealed that the Ibis had flown north from Carr Vale. Hmm. I stood on the causeway between the two lakes scanning the skyline all around me. I could see distant Swifts and Skylarks and mused to myself that even I could pick up a distant Ibis - though in all likelihood it would be miles up by now. As I turned from looking over the near woods at Treeton I was immediately faced with the site of a Glossy Ibis slowly dropping out of the sky towards the largest lake.
For a second or two I was stunned, then grabbed the camera and rattled off a few shots before it disappeared briefly. As I picked it up again it headed towards me and to my amazement dropped at the waters edge just in front of where I was stood. Okay Glossy Ibis aren't the best lookers in the world, but this was the first Sheffield area record (though strictly speaking Messrs Beevers and Gould can claim that honour as it headed north from Carr Vale) and one that had avoided our area for too long. Despite the good weather there wasn't and hadn't been a single dog walker onsite all morning and as the Ibis fed at the edge there was no danger that it would be flushed. After making a couple of panicking phone calls whilst firing off the camera like a three year old with a machine gun (the photos were all shit) the Ibis realised that it wouldn't get a decent meal disturbance or not and promptly left for the Old Moor area where three weeks 
on it still resides...
Disappointingly only two Whinchat so far.
Hobby can be tricky some years.
The first Spring record of Black Tern

My run of good luck through May continued adding Little Egret, Hobby, Grey Plover, Whimbrel (almost daily in the early part of the month), Little Stint (4 in total including a very tricky grey looking bird that had me completely screwed at the time), Black Tern and a fine drake Garganey on the 24th.



The Patchwork Challenge has totally taken all my birding time so far this year and to say that I'm addicted would be an understatement. As I write I've amassed a total of 120 species and 142 points, slightly ahead of last year but on course for a record year. Again August will be the make or break month and there's still lots of waders to aim for....


Easy when you've got a comparison species.







Only the second record of Garganey and the first drake
For once a peaceful  year (so far) for the many Hares

25th January 2014. The Pie To End All Pies

As a child the highlight of my Saturday would be a quarter share of a freshly baked pork pie - bought from the local shop and more often than not still warm. Unfortunately the baker, Coopers of Rotherham, went into liquidation sometime in the mid-1980s, but my love for pork pie was born.

Sadly good pork pies are a rare thing these days. Supermarkets stock things that are labelled as 'Pork Pie' but they are vile mass produced mechanically recovered grey mush surrounded by an over thick lardy pastry, guaranteed to have you reaching for the Rennies.

Fortunately South Yorkshire is blessed with several excellent purveyors of pork pie, among them  are; Elmhurst of Goldthorpe, Percy Turner of Jump and Waterall Bros in Sheffield Market. There may be others but these are my personal favourites.

I discovered Waterall Bros' several years back. One of my colleagues would occasionally take pity on me and on return from her weekly market trip present me with a small (ish) pork pie and a piece of black pudding. It was love at first bite - the light crisp golden pastry surrounding the delicious pink (proper) meaty filling with just the right amount of jelly to seperate them. A pie so good that any accompanying condiment would be deemed sacrilegious - even Henderson's! Followed by the most delicious black pudding it was a true northern delicacy, even if it was a little calorific.

Shortly before Christmas, via Twitter, I suggested to Steven Waterall (pork products supremo) that he could create a combination of his pork pie and black pudding. This wasn't exactly a eureka moment as I had tasted a similar creation from Elmhurst of Goldthorpe some years back.  To my delight a few days ago Steven 'tweeted' that his prototype pork and black pudding pie would be available for sampling this weekend. Steven kindly reserved me a 'review pie' and here it is in all it's delicious glory.

On the outside there's nothing to tell it apart from it's pork only sibling. But, once under the knife it becomes obvious. Rather than mix the two ingredients together (which I had expected) he has opted to lay about a half-inch of black pudding on top of the pork.  The real test is of course in the eating. First bite in and I was in pie heaven (and already regretting sharing it between the three of us) this was, to quote once funny comedian Peter Kay "a taste sensation" the pork complementing the pudding and vice versa. It was better than I could have imagined, no pie in my forty odd years of consuming savoury pastries has attacked my sensory organs in quite the same way, pure pie alchemy. Seeing the empty plate, now in front of me, left me feeling just as sad as the last day of the school holiday. Unanimous verdict in our pie loving household was that this simply was the best pie that any of us have ever eaten. One hour on and I'm still drooling - hopefully these will feature regularly on top of the Waterall Bros' counter.




Waterall's can be found in the new Sheffield Market situated at the bottom of The Moor - just look for the stall with the longest queue.

2013 The Patchwork Challenge

Thought that it was about time that I summed up 2013 from the aspect of my Patchwork Challenge attempt - it was pretty good! That was easy. Now, in the style of some of those lazy arsed bloggers who have nothing to say but feel obliged to post any old shit  here’s a YouTube clip of a cat licking his balls….


Joking of course.. Patch birding in 2013 was made all the more interesting by the Patchwork Challenge. This gave me the impetus to keep going during those dull days - of which for the inland patch birder - there are very many.


January


Much of my visits in January were taken in as part of the Foot It challenge (the brain-child of two idiots and a member of the BBRC) though despite this I managed not to miss too much, though missing the Waxwings on the 2nd would prove costly..


A couple of adult Caspian Gulls eluded me on the 6th but I eventually caught up with one later in the month. Bird of the month was a Jack Snipe, a new Orgreave bird for me and the first of three during the winter. An adult Whooper Swan, Merlin, Short-eared Owl and Red-crested Pochard were all good list padders and species that I’ve failed to get in previous years.



By the end of January I had notched up a reasonable 70 species though still lacked some, normally, very easy birds..


February


Typically one of the years quietest months this February was no exception. The first returning waders trickled in with Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and Golden Plover. A site record count of 54 Whooper Swans went west at dusk on 17th, but otherwise it was very quiet.







March


March always fills me with anticipation for the coming spring, more so because after a long winter I can finally get down for an hour or so before work. The first of several Rock Pipits (littoralis) was feeding around the edges on the 17th. On the 18th an obvious movement of Kittiwakes was occurring throughout the Midlands. Jonathan Holliday had a couple at Pugneys, there must surely be one at Orgreave. Engineering an earlier than normal exit from work I headed straight to the patch where smack in the middle sat an adult Kittiwake, totally expected but self-found nonetheless.



March continued to be a better than average month with more Whooper Swans (a bumper year indeed) an obliging adult winter Little Gull (found by a dog walker) and bird of the month an adult Iceland Gull (2nd record) briefly on 28th.




April


Potentially one of the best months April really came up with the goods and visits were daily and usually twice. Aside from the expected migrants the accelerating list was boosted with Pintail, Ruff, Sanderling, Arctic Tern, a Blue-headed Wagtail (that was found by Pete Wragg) and Whinchat. Best of all was a partial summer plumaged Spotted Redshank, my first here - though I did record one in 1995 before the site was opencast.



May


The 15th May 2013 will stay with me forever and go down as probably the best days (mornings) birding I have ever had locally. No major rares but an amazing fall of waders; Turnstone 3, Sanderling 10, Knot 5, Black-tailed Godwit 3, Ringed Plover 20, Dunlin 30+, Common Sandpiper 4 and Wood Sandpiper. Quite a spectacle and one that wasn’t echoed elsewhere locally.



The 18th of May was my first twitch of the year. Whilst watching the Dusky/Naumann’s/intergrade Thrush in Margate Cemetery I was gripped by news of a Sedge Warbler adjacent the River Rother - a species that I have only recorded on one previous occasion (most reports from here involve bush singing Reed Warbler). The feeling of dipping such a relatively common migrant made me realise just how hooked on patch birding I had now become.


The end of the month finished with a flurry with two ticks in the same evening visit; Barn Owl and Red-legged Partridge.


June


Generally I take a break in June and this year was mostly spent in the garden. A Red Kite over the house whilst glazing the greenhouse headed straight towards Orgreave where I would normally have been. Despite the migrant lull I still added a couple, namely Common Scoter (7) and Green Sandpiper - the latter a species that my Patchwork nemesis Johnny would fail to see during 2013.


July


July was quiet but Sanderling, Black-tailed Godwit and Little Gull brightened up the quiet days the only new bird was Yellow-legged Gull.


August


During July I commented to Jonny that August would be the make or break month and with just a couple of species between us it could potentially be game changing.
I wasn’t wrong. The 1st produced an eclipse Garganey (another patch first) followed by the next new bird, a Great White Egret that came in low from the east being replaced an hour later by two Little Egrets. The 10th produced the only Mediterranean Gull of 2013, a juvenile, with an area record count of 14 Yellow-legged Gulls the following evening. A few more Yellow-legged Gulls, Black-tailed Godwits and Turnstone filled the gaps up towards the month end.



Bird of the year decade (so far) came on the 24th with a sadly all too brief juvenile Long-tailed Skua which headed south after being flushed by a dog walker, full story HERE. A Grey Plover later the same day whilst not so rare was just as welcome, “they’re all the same size on the list” as one local birder might say!





September


With such a good spring and late summer the autumn was always going to be difficult. The new birds dried up and apart from Little Egret (4), a few Ruff, Sanderling, Arctic Terns, Little Gull and a Rock Pipit there was little else to sing about. The only list addition being Goldcrest!


October


A trip to Spurn, in westerlies and gale force northerlies, took me away from the patch for the first week of October, but as no other birders reported anything I wasn’t too upset. The 12th and 13th would prove to be the last good days of the year. Classic ‘clag’ conditions brought Marsh Harrier another Great White Egret and a Rock Pipit. The following day two Red-breasted Mergansers added themselves to the list (1st record) with a late Arctic Tern and 2 Pintail later in the day.



Pre and post-work visits were now at an end and weekends and every other weekend were my saviour. By now I had conceded to the Pugneys stalwart Johnny and my only goals were beating last years self-found patch list (138) and holding on to 2nd place in the Inland North Patch Challenge League.  


November


Surprisingly the Daily Express’ predicted winter armageddon didn’t materialise and Novemeber was mild and wet. Consequently the hoped for winter bonus birds didn’t happen, though I finally caught up with Water Rail (3).


December


Stuck on 136 I still needed two species to equal last years SF list. The lack of cold weather meant there was no hard weather movement and it didn’t look likely. I tried in vain to flush Woodcocks (a patch tart) I even scanned the Greylags and Canada Geese for just about tickable wildfowl, what I wouldn’t have given for a Mandarin, Egyptian Goose or Parakeet (two of which Johnny had ticked) but alas it was not to be…


Despite ‘failing’ to beat the previous year and visiting on approximately 300 occasions, having had just a dozen or so good days, 2013 was by far the best years birding that I have had. My final Patchwork Challenge total was 137 (136 of which were self-found) netting me 167 points, overall 8th in the national inland section and 2nd in the Inland North League (the Doc’ Martins League of the Patchwork Challenge).


I missed a few birds, namely; Waxwing, Cuckoo (no records), Little Tern (2 on the May wader day), Black Tern (a very early bird) and a Curlew Sandpiper but you can’t see them all.

Already 2014 looks interesting with some excellent inland north sites such as Swillington, Alkborough, Brokholes and Pugneys the competition in 2014 looks tough - all these sites have a good track record and unlike Orgreave have all recorded BB rarities - maybe that will change this year...

28th December. Long Time Coming

I don't recall, in 30 years of birding, that I've ever had a tick during the Christmas period and given that I haven't had a sniff all year (excepting the pending Duskyish Thrush and the Flamborough Baikal Teal) I couldn't see this year being any different. So whilst driving towards the Broomhead Crossbills Jo showed me a picture of an 'interesting' Guillemot that the Portland Bird Obs' had 'Tweeted'... It certainly was interesting - it was a bloody BRUNNICH'S!! Unfortunately a prior Boxing Day arrangement meant I couldn't go and as Jo had foolishly agreed to work the following day it meant sweating until the Saturday.  The Bird was still present Friday afternoon and arrangements were made for an early departure south. Despite Roy having an unscheduled lie-in he managed to get us at Portland by 9:30 where the bird was still performing to the crowd of a hundred or so. So on the final weekend of the year I finally got to put a firm indelible tick at the side of this chunky Arctic Auk.



This wasn't however my only tick. At the other side of the breakwater was a Black Guillemot my first English record.

It was also nice to catch up with the Brixham White-billed Diver and indeed another first for me - 4 species of diver at the same site.


A handful of Purple Sand's just over the wall.


21st December. Pigeon in Flight

Finally one of the half dozen or so Ivory Gulls, that turned up following the recent tidal surge, stuck in the same place for more than just a few hours and conveniently just an hour and half away. Jo could hardly contain her excitement at this rare chance of seeing this high Arctic scavenger almost six years after we first met - I really spoil that girl.

Sat out on the salt marsh, when we arrived, Jo looked through the scope declaring "It looks like a Pigeon" and showed no further interest in it... Obviously not cute enough.

After meeting up with my Patch Birding nemesis Jonny Holiday and having a mutual moan about how crap our respective patches have been for the last few months the gull had the decency to come closer and investigate the festering fish that had been laid at it's table - clearly affluent southern birders had visited as smoke Salmon was on offer and seemingly favourable to the poor northerners offering of Mackerel..








1st December. Oh Go On Then

After what I can only describe as a spell of the birding blues, pretty much affecting me for the whole of the autumn, it's time to pick myself up and get back into it.

With exactly one month left of the Patchwork Challenge it's looking highly unlikely that I'll catch Jonathan Holiday, whose now at least 18 points ahead. Jonny and I had a little side competition back in January to see who could get the highest self-found total, currently he's about 6 species in front and again I'm unlikely to catch him, unless there's a sudden drop in temperature coupled with Jonny falling off a ladder. Hmm.....

Aside from the above I'm just two species off equaling last years self-found patch year list currently standing at 136 and for the next 4 weeks that's where my efforts are going.

As we rapidly approach the year end I've had a few inquiries as to whether I'll be running the Footit Competition again.  Well, I was thinking maybe not - but after several requests from Twitter followers and a telephone conversation with Mr Garner I thought what better way to start the years and shake off the Birding Blues?

So there it is, Footit 2014 officially launched. However this year they'll be a few changes..... though at the moment I'm not entirely sure what they are.

Entry details and the rules will be on the Footit blog in the next few days..




 

13th October. Deadlock Broken

The only saving grace of coming home from Spurn in easterlies was the apparent flood of inland seabirds, mostly Gannets and Great Skuas. So filled with enthusiasm I hit the patch at first light, I say first light but at 07:30 it was still dark and in fact it didn't get light for another hour.

The rain was relentless and with the strong north easterly wind keeping the rain off optics and specs was near impossible - I really need to get some contact lenses sorted. In the gloom I picked up a Rock Pipit, a coastal species but by no means a lost seabird!

The first lap of the lake was fairly uneventful though the second lap was better. High up in the gloom I picked up an egret slowly heading south. Slow wing beats, long projecting black legs, an apparently pale bill and a neck like the Toilet Duck bottle referred to in an earlier post. Unfortunately after my first lap I'd ditched the camera in the car - due to the incessant rain - and now relied solely on my now fogged up bins, subsequently these were the only points that I picked up, but surely this was another Great White?

I was still in need of that all important patch year tick, having gone a full six weeks since the last one, and I finally got it when I picked up two crows mobbing an immature Marsh Harrier as it headed east. At last deadlock finally broken..

Despite getting soaked for 8 hours I was keen to get back the following morning. The rain and wind were even worse this morning and after getting drenched on the first round I sought shelter at least from the wind. This paid off when two Red-breasted Mergansers appeared in front of me, a new bird for the patch.


A return visit in the evening finally came up with a disorientated seabird - an Arctic Tern and two very wary Pink-footed Geese.


Having spent a total of 13 rain soaked hours on the patch this weekend I'm slightly miffed not to have a sniff of either a Gannet or a Skua - I'll probably see one from the bus on the way home tomorrow!










12th October. A Break

As compensation for not going to Shetland again Jo suggested, earlier in the year, that we might take in a short break on the East Coast during October. I settled on a few days at Spurn. Unfortunately we arrived just as one batch of easterlies finished and left the day that another wave arrived.

I did however manage a few bits and pieces with a couple of Firecrest and a Yellow-browed Warbler and a few amazing high tide wader roosts. On Thursday the wind swung north hitting speeds, at times, in excess of 50mph. As a result I spent the day sea watching and had probably one of my best spells ever of staring at waves on the Yorkshire coast, that included 4 Leach's Petrels, 50+ Sooty Shearwater, Grey Phalarope, 3 species of Skua; Arctic, Great and Pomarine.

Not suprisingly following a combination of high tide and high winds the road to the point was subsequently closed to vehicles. Having walked up to the point (for the first time ever) on Tuesday I was curious to see just how much damage the storm had caused:

The Rufous-tailed Robin at the point in the next few days, will require a 6 mile round walk.