9 December 2012

Cuba 2012 - Part three

So, when we left it last time, I concluded by announcing that our wedding guests had arrived. These consisted of a small handful of my wife-to-be's close family friends and my best man Mike Feely. Due to their late afternoon arrival, the only correct thing to do was to give MF a brief tour of the complex, visit the beach to look at some sand and the sea and then get tipsy on rum & other delightful alcoholic beverages (all free of course!).
Caribbean brotherly love.
Feely discovers he has crabs...
The next day, 28th April, dawned wet & grey so MF & myself headed for the Eco-Marsh for a spot of pre-breakfast spotting. In a tight 50 minute window we managed to connect with the following species - Tri-coloured Heron, Cattle Egret, Snowy Egret, Great White Egret, Green Heron, Little Blue Heron, Cuban Emerald, 3 Yellow Warblers, 3 Smooth Billed Anis, 2 Spotted Sands, 2 Lesser Yellowlegs, Clapper Rail, Cape May Warbler and some Antillean Nighthawks.
Yellow Warbler
Clapper Rail
Cuban Emerald
After breakfast and with the inclement weather moving out to sea, we headed for an area of different habitat just NW of the resort but still within sight of the  beach bar. This habitat consists of thick scrub, almost mangrove like but without the boggy understorey. Again, it appeared that the preceding shitty weather had dumped an whole plethora of gems. It was here that we experienced the highlight of the trip (birding wise). In just over an hour of easy laid back birding, in a relatively tiny area, we were smothered in yanks. The list reads - 3 Cape May Warblers, 6 female & four male Yank Redstarts, Common Yellowthroat, 2 male Blackpolls, 6 Parulas, 2 Black & White Warblers & a Western Spindalis. At one point, MF announced ''Why isn't there an Ovenbird sat on them branches over there?'' - Within minutes, there was!
Feely watching Yank Redstarts
Cape May Warbler
Mid afternoon was spent catching some rays on the beach and sipping far too many ice cold rum cocktails (this became a recurring theme naturally).
The 29th kinda followed the same pattern with birding around the 'Scrubby Area' in the morning and drinking & perving around the pool in the afternoon. Highlights from the morning however included a fucking corking male Black-throated Blue Warbler, 15 Yank Redstarts (7 males), 5 Parulas, Blackpoll & a Cuban Pewee! The afternoons highlights included some rather skimpy bikinis, 15 Turkey Vultures kettling over the pool and an Anhinga bombing overhead and out to sea.
Yank Redstart
Some Turkey Vultures
The 30th (two days til the beach wedding) once again dawned wet (very wet) but warm. From what I recall, I didn't go out birding in the morning (I think Mike might have done tho). Instead I lazed around in the lobby, drinking rum, playing pool and enjoying not doing much. Just after midday, due to a break in the weather, we met at a restaurant for some grub. This was a very brief gathering though as a proper mental tropical storm swept in and caused us to dash back to our apartment. During a 90 minute spell from 2pm, I witnessed rain and thunder & lightening like I have never experienced before. Stood on the balcony, squinting thru sheets of torrential rain at bolts of lightening hitting the ground only a few hundred yard away whilst having ones ears demolished by the monstrous sound of thunder directly above was pretty exhilarating yet terrifying too!
Before the rain came...
Back at the apartment - wet.
We named this 'Tropical Storm Wank Bastard!'
During this time, a flock of 6 'Yellowleg Sp' flew over to the south, a Zenaida Dove dodged the lightening and an amazing spectacle of over 16 Antillean Nighthawks; normally a crepuscular species, these creatures were swarming around above us in the middle of the afternoon taking advantage of the insects that were being pushed down by the rain! Stunning!

So, with less than 48hrs to go til the ceremony and no sign of a break in the constant precipitation (and now most of the complex flooded), we were becoming increasingly concerned. Would our dream of a gorgeous caribbean beach wedding become a wet nightmare...

To be continued.

21 October 2012

August & September.

Well nothing to report from August I don' think so that's that month out the way.
September - The first new addition to my UK list this autumn came on the 8th when at Lodmoor in Dorset, the juv Short Billed Dowitcher was spied. A Monarch Flutterby was also witnessed, stomping around on some flowering bush at Portland.

Azorean Photo shoot...
The 15th saw me, Archer, Snapper, Smythers & ShakerMaker down saaaff. We were at Rainham Marshes in London, locked in a box that overlooked some reeds and would not be allowed to leave until we saw our target. Thankfully, after 6.5hrs of waiting, the juv Baillons Crake eventually decided to creep about on show for c25 seconds. Nice. The highlight of the trip however was a stunning Lancaster Bomber that did a bit of a fly-by as we were casually traipsing aroud the reserve.

Some folk just ain't got the staying power!
Snapper celebrates the Baillons with a fat sandwich.
Da Bomb!


Smythers, I, Snapper & Archer

The final episode for September involved a day out at Spurn on the 23rd. Despite a decent fall of migrants the previous day and the weather looking good for more of the same, it was actually piss poor. The only bits of slight interest were a Yellow-browed Wblr, Redstart and an adult Long-tailed Skua. Shite!


17 August 2012

Cuba 2012 - Part two

So, we'd arrived.
After the usual nonsense regarding booking in to the resort, sorting luggage and a rather lengthy mooch about waiting for a new room to be allocated to us (the one we had last year and had requested was now not available) we were eventually transported to our accommodation around 7pm. Unlike last year, we were given a first floor apartment and has returning guests, who were getting married, a bottle of champers & a cool bottle of Havana Club rum! After having a quick snoop around the room, I strode on to the balcony to overlook my empire for two weeks. Sadly, we were not situated on the edge of the resort, instead we were about 200 yards away from the surrounding habitat with a layer of apartments between us and the scrub.
The view from the balcony on that first night. The closest tree on the right held a surprise...
Leaving the wife-to-be to unpack the gear, I popped open the bottle of champagne and had half an hours posh birding. My notebook claims I saw Greater Antillean Grackle, Cuban Blackbird, House Sparrow, Turkey Vulture, Yellow faced Grassquit, Cuban Emerald, Northern Mockingbird, Red-legged Thrush, Gray Kingbird and a strange blob in that tree! Thru bins I knew what it was so I wapped the scope on it and Ka-Boom! Now although I'd seen loads of Antillean Nighthawks last year, I'd not seen one like this -

This creature roosted on the same bit of branch daily for the duration of our stay. A second bird was also discovered roosting in another tree to the right of this.

Start 'um young eh! A young Nighthawk spotter!
Our first full day (26th) dawned hot and humid. Heavy rain and thick cloud wasn't exactly Caribbean but the birds definitely were. As well as the stuff seen on the first night, additions in the morning included Western Spindalis (Stripe-headed Tanager) and a stunning male Cape May Warbler (in The Nighthawk Tree).
Western Spindalis (or Cabrero if you're Cuban). 
Cape May Warbler - YES!!
Later in the afternoon, after a meeting with 'The Wedding Organiser', the three of us (Lisa, my bins & I) went for a romantic stroll along the beach to a very romantic area that I had discovered last year. It just happens that this lovely spot is also good for birds but she wasn't to know that. In little over 45 minutes 'we' notched up 3+ Oriente Warblers, 2 Blackpolls, Palm Warbler, Black 'n' White Warbler, Yanky Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-whiskered Vireo, Mourning Doves, White-winged Dove & a Cattle Egret. This was amazing, for me anyhow. I hadn't witnessed anything like this last year and it was obvious that the north coast where we were situated was experiencing a bit of a fall due to the shitty weather that we were having. This area of coastal scrub was doing it's best to impersonate Spurn and I was doing my best to impersonate a dude at Spurn (minus the Sco-Pac)!

April 27th was initially another dull, grey but hot day but the sun soon broke thru again. In the morning I visited the 'Eco-Marsh' - This is basically a fresh water nature reserve (supplemented purely by rain I believe) about 50 yards inland from the sea. It's surrounded by tall trees and scrub and has patches of reeds and dead wood and stuff. It has a long bridge that spans the lagoon and it's this bridge where you scan from. I only had about 50 minutes this particular morning but the list of sightings included Cuban Emerald, 3 Green Herons, 2 Tri-coloured Herons, 7 Black-necked Stilts, 3 Spotted Sands, single Lesser & Greater Yellowlegs, Great (white) Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, (Black crowned) Night Heron, Common Yellowthroat & Tawny-shouldered Blackbird. Twitchwell Marsh eat ya fucking heart out!
Eco-Marsh & Tri-coloured Heron
 Today was also the day our other wedding guests arrived including MIKIPEDIA!
Mikipedia arrives...
....and can't wait to get stuck in!
To be continued...

5 August 2012

Cuba 2012 - Part one.

I've been meaning to do this for a while but kept putting it off. However, an extreme lack of decent birds in the UK leads me to be sat here on a Sunday morning, bored, hungover and preparing to scribe what you'll eventually end up reading; if you're lucky! Ok, there are a few decent bits about at the minute but they're either too far away (and too regular to even think about traipsing over to west Wales for) or just not rattling my passion.
So, this blog post. In 2011, I went to Cuba on a family holiday. It was basically a week of sunbathing, drinking, eating & perving with a very small dose of birding thrown in. Nothing hardcore, just a lazy meandering week of seeing what I could see where ever we happened to be. I notched up a small but interesting list of species, many that were new for me, a few endemics and an handful of familiar ones that I'd witnessed previously in Britain. On returning from Cuba, I was immediately hit with P.H.D (Post holiday depression) and one evening, after about a week or so, I happened to mention to my fiancĂ©e that I wanted to return to Cuba in 2012. I wasn't expecting the thundering volley of a reply that returned and hit me square in my ears - ''Yeh we can go, only if we get married over there!''.
Now I may have been on one of my regular rouge juice consumption missions that evening, I'd probably been perusing my holiday snaps with a desperate desire to return to the Caribbean, relishing the thought of lounging on those gorgeous white sands, frolicking in the crystal clear warm sea, sipping too many rum based cocktails... I'd have done anything to go back and that was made more evident by my unexpected (to me & her) riposte. ''Ok, yeh, let's do it!''. Now, anyone who has known me for a long time (pre-2008) will tell you that I was one of those small minded individuals (some might say I still am...) that never wanted to settle down, never buy a house, never have a pet and certainly not get married! But, here I was, in summer 2011, sitting in the house I own, with a pet hamster, agreeing to tie the knot! What was I doing! Something was insidiously wrong, surely!
However with the second bottle of rouge juice inevitably opened and the 'wife to be' instantly nabbing my laptop to start showing me wedding ideas, I recall kicking back, feet on the coffee table, hands behind my head and with a inner smile, I closed my eyes and let my brain seduce me into that Caribbean paradise that I now knew I was definitely gonna see again.
April 25th 2012. We're were at Manchester airport, about to board the plane to Cuba. Destination - Holguin airport on the NE bit of the island. I have a massive fear of flying. Not flying like Superman, cos that'd be mint, but sitting on a metal tube with wings whilst it spanks it across the vast Atlantic ocean at about 600mph at a height of over seven miles. But even this wasn't going to stop me, I'd mentally prepared myself for the journey by combining the thoughts of the paradise I was heading to with a few healthy glugs of scotch and a generic calming remedy that can be obtained from all good chemists. At this point, I can honestly say that the forthcoming wedding couldn't have been further from my thoughts. The weather in Manchester was grim. heavy rain and wind, a far cry from the melting sun and glorious blue skies that would be waiting for me at the conclusion of my nine hour journey. It was 9.40am. Most folk in the UK were already hard at work. By the time that some of them finish their day to day routines, I would be there...

San Salvador - 40 minutes to destination.
We arrived at Holguin at 7.40pm (UK time). In Cuba it was only 2.40pm and we had the rest of the day in front of us. The weather wasn't exactly mega but it was hot and the sun was trying to shine thru the huge dark clouds which hung in the sky like those horrible Dementors off of Harry Potter. Collecting our gear, we boarded the coach for the hour long drive to our resort.
En-route, I began to once again become acquainted with the familiar birds of the island. I counted 32 Turkey Vultures before it struck home that my final tally could be in the thousands, so I stopped looking at them. They are absolutely everywhere. It is solid fact that whenever you glance at the sky in Cuba, you WILL see a Turkey Vulture (except at night of course).

Turkey Vulture - number 14,562
A few Northern Mockingbirds and Red-legged Thrushes were noted, a single Cuban Blackbird and 22 Cattle Egrets.
At 4.55pm we arrived at our destination - Playa Pesquero. I was here. I felt at home. Cuba 2012. It had begun.

1 July 2012

Hello, Hello, It's good to be back...(?)

Hello! Yep, it's me! I'm back..... well I haven't really been 'anywhere', I've just been incredibly fucking lazy and not 'blogged' for about two & a half months!
I've also been a bit busy doing non-birding stuff and these inconveniences have actually restrained my time for 'Blogging' but now these are out of the way, I can get back down to scribing more (usually alcohol induced) bullshit on here.
Right then, just a little catch-up on what I've been up to since my last 'post' back in early April...

On the 21st of April, I went and had a look at a Black-winged Stilt that was being all gay and residing in Lincs (Frampton).

Be wary if you come across this creature. Known to frequent Lincs, Doncaster and working mens clubs.
I then went to Cuba again from April 25th - May 9th. Once again I had a mint time, saw some cracking birds, got a decent tan, drank far too much Rum and got married (the volume of rum has nothing to do with the latter). I'll try and write something up about the excellent birding I experienced but here's some pictures for you to look at.
Mike 'Fidel' Feely scoping the sea; he saw fuck all.

Snoop Dunn

Colourful Warbler

Fuzzy Red legged Thrush
Upon returning from the Caribbean, I did very little until May 21st when after work I visited a golf course somewhere near Wales to look at this -

On May 23rd I managed to sneak a peek at a snazzy Notts Wood Warbler at a garden centre and on June 1st I spanked it up into Yorkshire to wank over this creature -

June 2nd saw me listening to a Quail in Notts and 25 minutes later I was listening to a much sweeter Quail in Derbys - Much sweeter due to me 'self-finding/hearing' that one.
Lastly, on June 4th I went to Willington GP's in Derbys to watch a distant Red-footed Falcon flying about behind some trees. I've been told by a Willington regular that the rumours that this bird was found dead are actually a load of bollox and were probably started by one of them fish people cos they were pissed off with the bird people walking on 'their' land.

I think that covers the majority of the important 'bases' for now.

Oh, and I got a dog on June 23rd. well a puppy actually, a friesian hound called Brody, Chief Brody. He's a little bastard!

10 April 2012

Staggered weekend(s).

Late last year some one said to me ''So, ya getting married eh? S'pose that means ya'll be having a Stag Night...''
Well over the weekend of 31st March/1st April myself and a motley crew of ugly birders from all over middle England descended on the sleazy east coast town of Bridlington for a night of drunken debauchery. En-route to Brid' we bagged a snazzy Red-necked Grebe at Ten Acre Lake on Hatfield Moors, missed a couple of Cranes & a Garganey up near Scarborough and stared at some Purps in Bridlington Harbour. Then we had a night out and the next day we somehow managed to wake up and hang around with the plebs at Flamborough & Bempton. We had a few bits like Ring Ouzel, Black Redstart, Wheatear and stuff but nothing too exciting. The weather was hot and my hangover got worse. In fact the weekend is a bit of a haze and the above is about as much has I can remember.

Hangover cure

 The annual 'four days off' at Easter was eagerly anticipated and on 'Good Friday' (6th April) myself & Mikipedia headed into Staffs to year-tick a Common Crane & Garganey. Nearby, Blithfield Res' gave us all three flavours of Hirundine and an handful of LRP's.

The next day I made the foolish decision to head to North Lincs. I didn't really desire to see the target bird (possible Thayer's Gull or something) but knowing the bird would not be there, I relished the chance to 'pap' some ugly disgruntled faces. The only birds of note were a 2w Iceland Gull which tanked it over the pig shite site and a Peregrine spanking it NE. Having had to drop one of the crew off home in Doncaster so that he could watch 22 blokes boot a bag of wind around, we decided to drop into Boston Park Lake at Hatfield Moors where a couple of Black-necked Grebes were the only highlight.

Fot some unknown reason we then headed back to Brigg where we still didn't see that brown seagull but did add to our shared fuel cost! Nice! Below are a few shots of some of the mugs I 'papped' during the day. As you can see, with these beasts on site, no wonder the bird didn't turn up!

The next couple of days (8th & 9th April) were spent doing very little other than eating well, partaking in a moderate amount of alcohol consumption and generally being a lazy cunt.

(As regular readers will obviously note (I hope), this blog post has been constructed with a liberal helping of  'Can't be arsed').