Sunday, 4 June 2017

Orchids at Brascote

Brascote Pits is once again festooned with orchids.

Many of them are hybrids (I think) between Southern Marsh and Common Spotted Orchids. These seem to favour the shaded areas amongst the young trees. Bee Orchids are much in evidence in the more open areas. The Southern Marsh Orchids have increased in number, but there are fewer Common Spotted Orchids.

I remember visiting Ketton Quarry many years ago to see my first Bee Orchid, but Brascote Pits to the west of Leicester puts Ketton into the shade with the numbers of orchids present.

Southern Marsh Orchid

Southern Marsh Orchid

Hybrid Southern Marsh x Common Spotted Orchid

Hybrid Southern Marsh x Common Spotted Orchids

Bee Orchid

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Green Sandpiper - An Exceptional Record

Whilst I was up in Scotland I took an early morning stroll into the forest. I was pleased to see a Crested Tit and half-a-dozen crossbills. Through the trees I could see a lochan (small lake). A path snaked its way through the trees to the waters edge, so I followed it. I disturbed a small wader, which flew to the other end of the lochan. Through my binoculars my first thought was Wood Sandpiper. Apart from Common Sandpiper this was the obvious choice, as they do breed in the Highlands in small numbers and the forest habitat seemed right for this species. I decided to walk back to my car and get my scope, as I felt I needed a closer look.

It was a good job I did, as it turned out to be a Green Sandpiper. I took some video to confirm the sighting.

The Highland Bird Recorder described it as an exceptional record as they only get one or two in the Highlands on passage each year (sometimes none) and this one was recorded during the breeding season. He initially questioned my record before I sent him the photo below.

Friday, 2 June 2017


It had been a while since my last trip to Scotland and I was itching for a bit of peace and quiet and excitement.

The weather forecast for the latter part of last week looked good for an overnight adventure in the Cairngorm Mountains. I hastily arranged a few days off work, found my kit and jumped in the car and headed north.

I set up base camp at Glenmore near Aviemore. Once that was done I headed to the ski car park and into the hills, but not before filling out a form in the Mountain Rangers hut just in case something drastic happened to me. My rucksack was a little heavy with tripod, camera, food and drink plus tent stowed inside. I had only just left the car park when I spotted a very pale warbler. It's bill was quite orangey and it looked a little larger than a typical Willow Warbler. I spoke to another birder later in the day and he said that it was most likely a Northern Willow Warbler.

It was very hot and I soon began to feel the effects of carrying my heavy pack. My route took me past the magnificent Corrie an Lochan. I always feel the urge to get out my camera and take a few images at this point. It was around here that I encountered the first Ptarmigan.

Corrie Lochan

After a quick drink I continued upwards towards the plateau. Near the plateau I felt a searing pain in my right thigh. It wasn't cramp as the pain wasn't right for that. I decided to try and walk it off and luckily the pain began to subside. I had an idea where I was going to camp, so I limped off across what I call the 1083 plateau. I chose a campsite close to the edge of the Larig Ghru: a chasm, which cuts through the Cairngorm massif. The area was one of the few locations where the ground is flat enough to be comfortable to sleep on. It was warm, so I had only brought my outer tent and a sleeping bag.

I left all of my heavy kit in the tent and started searching the plateau for birds. A pair of Ptarmigan were feeding quietly close to my campsite. I stopped to photograph the female, as females are often harder to find during summer.

Female Ptarmigan

Just south of Cairn Lochan I found a pair of Dotterel. The male was keen to defend his female and always made sure he put himself between me and his mate. Another female was close by and in total I saw five individuals - three males and two females.

Male Dotterel

Dotterel are having a hard time in the Cairngorms especially in the more accessible places.

By know it was almost 9.00 pm and I had the plateau all to myself. I planned to be back at my tent to enjoy sunrise and a miniature bottle of Glenfiddich 12 Yr. Off in the direction of my tent I could hear a Snow Bunting singing. It was perched on top off a small cairn. It was a friendly chap and remained there singing whilst I sneaked up on it.

Snow Bunting

Back at my tent I watched the sunset and drank my whisky. As the sun was setting I noticed some cloud oozing across Breariach and down into the Larig Ghru. As it did the wind started to pick up.

I retired to the comfort of my tent, but the wind speed was increasing all the time. The tent was being buffeted quite severely and despite using anything I could to block the gaps it soon became quite cold. My sleep came in fits and starts, but by 3.00 am I'd had enough of being woken up by the wind and decided to head towards the summit of Ben Macdui. If I moved quick enough I would enjoy the sunrise although I'd run out of whisky.

Just a singing Snow Bunting and I were in place to watch the sun come up above the summit cairn of Britain's second highest point.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Swan Lake

It's been an odd spring. At times the local birding has been first rate, but at other times a bit poor. I'm not on my own in thinking that the recent unsettled weather might have grounded a few more migrants. It's not too late though and I can't complain too much really as I've seen two Wood Sandpipers, two Bar-tailed Godwits and two Whimbrels locally plus the splendid Grey Plover at Brascote Pits. It's more of a case of trying to work out the optimum weather conditions.

The Whooper Swan was still at Shawell A5 Lagoons yesterday, so I took the opportunity to photograph it with my DSLR. It was a good job I did because it looks as though it has moved on today.

At Stanford Res yesterday it was generally quiet apart from an immature White-fronted Goose and a very showy Hobby that was hunting insects above the reed bed on the Leicestershire side. It was difficult to get a good photographic opportunity, but I did grab a record shot of it.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Another South-West Leicestershire Tick and a Bonus Wader

Steve Nichols sent me a text this afternoon to say a Whooper Swan was at Shawell A5 lagoons. I rang Dawn and told her to cook tea on a low light, as I would be late home from work. The swan was tucked up in the corner of the furthest lagoon, but I got reasonable views through the hedge along the side of the A5. This is a local area tick for me.

Whooper Swan, Shawell A5 Lagoons, May 9th 2017

A few gulls had gathered on the bank between the lagoons and amongst them was a second-summer Yellow-legged Gull. I scanned the shore hoping that a wader had dropped in, but nothing was doing. I walked the short distance between the viewings points and thought about packing up. I had just one last scan as always and this time I was in luck! A smart Wood Sandpiper had appeared.

I walked along the footpath which runs along the side of the lagoon and managed to get close enough to get some good quality video.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

A County Tick and a Local Area Tick in One Weekend

The weekend started well when I found a Whimbrel in a field in the west of Leicestershire. I then made my way over to Stanford Reservoir where a nice gathering of waders was present although most of them were in Northants. My phone rang as I was scanning for new birds: it was Dave Gray calling to let me know that a Great Reed Warbler was at Albert Village Lake. The only record of this species in Leicestershire & Rutland was way back in 1963.

I made my way back along the Northamptonshire side of the reservoir stopping to admire a subtle looking second-summer Caspian Gull. Stanford Res. is not the best place to be when heading for Albert Village Lake, but it didn't take too long to get there with the help of the M1.

The Great Reed Warbler was very vocal, but elusive wasn't the word. After about three hours I managed to get one brief view of it. I don't think anyone else did much better than a brief view.

Well done to Rhys Dandy, Dave Gray, Ben Croxtall & Marc Lansdowne for breaking the highest day total for Leicestershire & Rutland with 121 species and finding the Great Reed Warbler in the process.

On Sunday morning I announced to Dawn that I was going out to find a Grey Plover for my 'South-West Leicestershire List'. I missed one last year at Brascote Pits when I was on holiday in Portugal, so I needed to make amends  Things didn't go quite to plan, as it was actually Adey Baker who saw the it first. Adey called Grey Plover and I was on it about a second later. We had been grumbling about the lack of good birds at Brascote these days, but we shouldn't lack faith! I was really chuffed to see another good wader species in the area some describe as the desert of Leicestershire.

Here's a short video showing the beautiful summer-plumaged Grey Plover...

Grey Plover, Brascote Pits, May 7th 2017

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Stanford Reservoir

Having obtained a permit for Stanford Res I have been taking advantage of the great conditions there. The water level is low and the exposed mud has been attracting lots of birds.

Highlights today included eight Bar-tailed Godwits and single Little and Black Terns.

The terns were on the Northamptonshire side all the time, which was a shame as I need Little Tern for my Leicestershire list.

The short video below is of the godwits and the terns.

The long staying immature Long-tailed Duck was still present on today, however, it has not been seen since.

Long-tailed Duck, Stanford Reservoir, 29/04/17

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Black-winged Stilts

Before work this morning I went to Brascote Pits. It was fairly quiet there but I did see my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year. Unusually for a spring bird it showed well on the outside of one of the hawthorns.

Just as I was about to leave a text came in from Chris Hubbard saying three Black-winged Stilts had been seen early morning at Stanford Res. They were a county tick for me, so I rushed over and luckily they were still there. A male and two females as far as I can see. One of the females was still quite immature.

I couldn't stay long, so I had to make do with some distant images from the Leicestershire side. The birds were feeding while I was there in the channel showing the course of the River Avon. The water levels are low enough to show the channel that marks the county boundary. They were mostly mid-channel, but they did come on to the Leicestershire side at times. The agreement between Northamptonshire and Leicestershire for recording purposes is birds on the water are counted for both counties. Birds on the banks are of course counted for the single county they are in.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Iceland Gull is Still Enjoying Shawell

I have been spending some time at Stanford Reservoir recently, but I still can't drag myself away from Shawell for long.

You would have thought we were still in the grips of winter with the amount of gulls at Shawell yesterday. I spotted the pale juvenile Iceland Gull that Steve Nichols and I first saw on April 1st. It was a quite mobile initially, but showed well later in the afternoon at the lagoons. I also saw a couple of first-winter Caspian Gulls as well.

The weekend before another German ringed Caspian Gull  (yellow X312) was at the lagoons. X312 was a slightly odd looking, so it might have a bit of Herring Gull in it.

Juvenile Iceland Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, 15/04/17

First-winter Caspian Gull, Shawell A5 Lagoons, 15/04/17

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Iceland Gull

It has been a difficult month at Shawell - plenty of gulls, but difficult to pin down. Today Steve Nichols and I were scanning through a group of gulls when Steve spotted a a second calendar-year Iceland Gull.  It's hard to tell whether it is the same juvenile that I saw in both January and February with faded plumage, or is it a new bird?

Iceland Gull, Shawell, 01/04/2017

Iceland Gull, February 11th 2017

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Birding The Algarve

I'm a bit late posting this, as I've been busy with other jobs since returning home.

At the end of February Dawn and I made another journey to the sunny Algarve. I have now been to The Algarve six times including autumn, spring and winter trips. One of the tasks I have been doing before writing this was to work out my Portuguese bird list. My total is 208 species, with an average of around 125 per trip.

I managed to get some new ticks on this trip, which included Dunnock! Also Arctic Skua, Common Scoter, Great Black-backed Gull, Razorbill, Purple Sandpiper, Song Thrush and Sora.

A storm at the end of the trip proved excellent for sea watching. I was able to watch Great Skuas passing along the coast right from my hotel balcony. At Cape St Vincent Cory's Shearwaters were passing by continually and amongst them I counted 20 Great Skuas in an hour.

Cape St Vincent

The following morning after an even stronger blow I picked up 11 Common Scoters passing westwards just offshore at Praia da Rocha. At the eastern end of Praia da Rocha the Arade River empties into the sea. At this point there are two breakwaters and along one of these I found a single Purple Sandpiper. These are quite scarce down in The Algarve, so a good bird to find for a visitor.

Purple Sandpiper

Before I set off on my trip I knew that a Sora Rail was wintering near Silves. This is only about 20 minutes from Praia da Rocha where we stay, so as soon as we picked up our hire car we headed to Silves. It was high tide when we got there, so we had plenty of time to kill. Dawn had a look around Silves, which is a splendid old town with a fortified town wall and castle. I spent some time photographing some metal ringed Black-headed Gulls. One had been ringed in Poland and the other at Silves. Eventually the water level dropped as the tide fell and as soon as the mud was exposed out came the Sora. The viewing position is much higher than the riverbed, so it was difficult to photograph well.


We visited the usual spots in the course of the holiday. Salgados Lagoons had been drained of much of its water and so fewer birds were there than normal. In contrast we had a great day near Faro at Ludo Farm and Ria Formosa West. Here we recorded 73 species in the day. The highlights were a couple of showy Glossy Ibis and a female Little Bittern.

Glossy Ibis

Little Bittern

I always search the harbour at Portimao for colour-ringed gulls. Since my first trip in 2013 I have been on the lookout for colour-ringed Yellow-legged Gulls from further north in Portugal - the supposed heartland of the sub-species lusitanius. Since 2013 I have actually realised that the breeding Yellow-legged Gulls along much of The Algarve's rocky coast are also of the sub-species lusitanius. On this trip I was pleased to find two first-winter Yellow-legged gulls that had been ringed on Berlengas Island near Peniche.

Yellow-legged Gull (L. m .lusitanius)

These first-winter lusitanius Yellow-legged Gulls are slower to moult their tertials and coverts compared to their michahellis cousins. This is the same with firs-winter LBBGs, so identification can be tricky at times.

Another challenge I had set myself was to find a colour-ringed gull there that I'd also seen at Shawell. Well there was something familiar about the code DLDA. When I checked I realised I'd seen this one at Shawell during June 2016. It is a Lesser Black-backed Gull and was ringed as a chick in 2012 in Suffolk.

I'm also always on the look out for one of the Severn Estuary Gull Groups colour ringed Lesser Black-backs. I had only seen one during my previous trips, so I was pleased to find another this time.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

The two hour drive to Castro Verde was once again worthwhile. We arrived at the LPN centre just after the sun had started to peak above the distant horizon. Approaching the reserve we spotted Crested Larks frozen to the spot, as they were caught in the beam from our headlights. As we parked up a Lesser kestrel landed in the tree right by our car. It sensed our presence and disappeared as quick as it had arrived. I was surprised to hear many Quail singing, as it was still February.

We set off on the circular walk and found it difficult to avoid standing on the thousands of slugs and caterpillars that covered the path.

I missed out on seeing a Great Spotted Cuckoo last May, so I was delighted when I saw one flying towards us on this trip. It alighted on a fence not too far away and stayed there for at least five minutes. The caterpillars that were everywhere proved attractive to the cuckoo and in the video below you can see it enjoying eating a few.

Little Bustards avoided us this time, but we did enjoy watching a male Great Bustard displaying.

The video below shows the Great Spotted Cuckoo, displaying Great Bustards and a Lesser Kestrel. Don't forget to set it to HD quality.

I had always wanted to visit Sines on the west coast of Portugal, because of its strategically placed fishing harbour. I did this time, but I was very disappointed. There were few gulls there and the fishing fleet didn't arrive with a good catch to bring the gulls in. I'm sure another time it would be much better. I did enjoy seeing the surfing waves rolling in on one of the beaches near to Sines.

The harbour at Sagres proved better, although the rare gull I hoped to find was avoiding me. I did enjoy photographing a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls there, which was a new bird for Portugal for me.

Great Black-backed Gull

It felt like spring in the Algarve with Swallows and House Martins already nest building. The White Storks were also on their nests, but they are always on their nest in The Algarve.

House Martins
White Stork

The Algarve is a great place for birding and as you can see it has quite a lot of diversity.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Easiest Twitch Ever

I am a bit slow off the blocks these days when collecting new British Ticks. I had seen a sickly Blue Rock Thrush at Hemel Hempstead many years ago and I missed a good one on the Scilly Isles by a day, so when one turned up in Stow on the Wold I was not really that tempted - that much! I was a bit fed up last Sunday due to the weather, so I decided to have a ride down to the Cotswold's in search of a bird that was confusing the yellowy coloured Cotswold stone for a rock face in the Med.

It took just over an hour to get there. I walked into the Maugersbury Close and soon spotted my target perched on a roof top. No wait for hours to see this bird. After a couple of minutes it flew off and didn't reappear. I was back home almost before anyone knew I gone.

The light was terrible, so I videoed it.


Saturday, 18 February 2017

Today's News From Shawell

I was looking forward to today's session as Steve Nichols had seen two adult Glaucous Gulls yesterday on the tip. He had managed to distantly view the landfill area from the small lane on the north side.

The weather was against me at first with fog making viewing difficult. As it began to clear I spotted a juvenile Glaucous Gull distantly, but soon lost it as the gulls took to flight. I re-spotted it several times before it came close enough for a record shot. It appears to be another new one, as last week's Glauc was really dark whereas this one was a typical biscuit brown.

Juvenile Glaucous Gull

At the same time as the juvenile Glaucous came close so did the regular juvenile Iceland Gull.

Juvenile Iceland Gull

After taking record shots of the two gulls above I began to scan through the gulls on a raised plateau situated about another 100 metres behind the main flock. Amongst them was an adult Glaucous Gull. It may have been last week's colour-ringed one, but its legs were hidden in a rut. It was too distant to photograph well, so I didn't bother trying

Four Caspian Gulls were around too. Three first-winters and a second-winter.

First-Winter Caspian Gull
First-Winter Caspian Gull

Friday, 17 February 2017

The Vikings Have Arrived

Over the last week I have seen not one but two Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrids - aka Viking Gulls. Both in the Shawell area.

Both were structurally very similar to Glaucous Gulls - large size, shortish primary projection and large bi-coloured bills. The first one, a first-winter, was a large gull with pale buff upperparts and greyish brown primaries. It had a full greyey brown tail band, which is not that common, but certainly not unprecedented for this hybrid type. The other was a second-winter. When I spotted it it was facing head on and I thought it was a Glaucous, but as it turned sideways on I could see its primaries were not right - too dark.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

White-Wingers at Shawell During My Watch - 2012 to Present Day.

White-wingers (Iceland and Glaucous Gulls) are the highlight of the winter months for any gull watcher prepared to suffer the cold. Below is an account of all the denizens of the frozen Arctic wastes that have graced Shawell since 2012. I have been lucky enough to have seen all of them apart from a juvenile Glaucous Gull seen by Neil Hagley on January 4th 2012. No Glaucous Gulls had been recorded at Shawell prior to 2012, as far as I know. In comparison six Iceland Gulls had been recorded at the site between 2009 and 2012. 

The finder is the first name or initials. I have used my initials (CDB) and everyone else is named.

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gulls are a scarce but regular winter visitor to the Shawell area of Leicestershire.  2013 was the best year so far with seven different ones: six in the first winter period and one in the second. 20 in total.


  • Juvenile, Cotesbach Landfill site on December 28th (CDB). At the time it was raining very heavily and it was very windy, so I didn’t risk damaging my camera.


  • Fourth-winter at both Cotesbach Landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on February 16th (CDB, Andy Forryan and  Garsham Roberts). 

  • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on February 22nd (CDB). 

  • Second-winter at both Cotesbach Landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on March 9th (Steve Lister, CDB). 

  • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on March 16th (CDB). It spent all afternoon on the lagoons.

  • Juvenile at Shawell A5 Lagoons on March 27th (CDB).  I consider it to be a different individual to the one on March 16th due to its small size and plumage differences.

  • Adult at Cotesbach Landfill site on March 28th (CDB). 

  • Second-winter or pale juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on December 14th (CDB, Steve Nichols). 


  • Second-winter at Cotesbach landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on January 18th (CDB). 


  • Second-winter at the A5 Lagoons and Cotesbach Landfill site on January 20th to 24th (CDB, Steve Nichols, Dave Scott and Andy Forryan). 

  • Third-winter at Cotesbach Landfill site on January 25th (CDB). I


  • Juvenile at Cotesbach Landfill site on January 9th (CDB). 

  • Juvenile on January 16th & 21st and February 18th (CDB, Steve Nichols). I

  • Second-winter, January 21st at the A5 Lagoons (CDB, Steve Nichols). It had an injured leg.

  • Fourth-winter at both Cotesbach landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on February 18th (CDB). 


  • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on January 11th (CDB). 

  • Juvenile at the sand quarry on January 21st (CDB). 

  • Juvenile at the sand quarry on January 27th & 28th and February 4th (CDB, Steve Nichols, Mike Alibone).

  • Juvenile (dark individual) at the sand quarry on February 11th (CDB, Tim Kociuch, Steve Nichols).

  • Adult at the sand quarry on February 11th (CDB, Tim Kociuch). This one had a colour-ring (orange G1NT) that was fitted by the North Thames Gull Group in March 2015. It has also been seen in Northamptonshire and Cheshire. It or another was again seen on February 17th at the landfill (Steve Nichols) and on February 18th in the sand quarry (CDB). On both the 17th & 18th its colour-ring was not visible, but on the 18th CDB saw the same or a similar mark on the adults neck that is visible in the photo from the 11th.

  • Adult with some vestiges of winter plumage at the landfill on February 17th (Steve Nichols).

  • Juvenile at the sand quarry on February 18th (CDB).

Iceland Gull

They appear at the same time as the other large white-winger although they can turn up later than the Glaucous Gull. Sightings have been made as late as April. 2012 is the best year so far with five individuals. I have seen 16 so far at Shawell since 2012.


  • Third-winter at the A5 Lagoons between January 9th and 28th (CDB, Neil Hagley et al). 

  • Second-winter at the A5 Lagoons on February 29th (CDB). This one was probably a male and it had a distinctive bill pattern. Not photographed due to camera failure.

  • Second-winter at the A5 Lagoons on March 3rd (CDB, Steve Lister, Garsham Roberts).

  • Adult at the A5 Lagoons on March 1oth and 17th. (Neil Hagley, CDB and Steve Lister). Seen by Neil on the 10th and re-found by CDB on the 17th. Not photographed.
  • Second-winter at the A5 Lagoons on March 23rd (Dave Gray, CDB).


  • a biscuit coloured Juvenile at the landfill site on February 9th (CDB). Not photographed.

  • a pale juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on March 9th, 27th and 28th plus April 6th (CDB, Steve Lister).

  • second-winter at both the landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on January 18th (CDB, Steve Nichols, Dave Gray).

  • Adult at the A5 lagoons on march 15th (CDB).

  • Third-winter at the A5 Lagoons on December 17th and 20th (CDB, Steve Nichols)

  • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons briefly on March 14th (CDB).


  • Juvenile at the A5 Lagoons on February 12th (CDB). 

  •  Faded juvenile at the A5 Lagoons regularly from March 16th (CDB, Steve Nichols). Sadly it broke its wing and had to be taken into care and put to sleep as the injury was too severe. 

  • third-winter at both the landfill site and the A5 Lagoons on April 9th (CDB).

  • juvenile at the sand quarry on January 21st and February 7th & 11th (CDB, Steve Nichols, Tim Kociuch).

  • Adult at the sand quarry on February 4th (CDB).

To be continued...