Portland Naval Cemetery, Dorset - 28th January 1999.
Long-eared Owls were regularly roosting during the day on Portland at the Naval Cemetery. It's probably the hardest of the resident 5 British owls to see and so I headed down to Portland. With other people already there I was fairly quickly able to find a roosting owl. It's great to be able to take your time with a sketch knowing that the subject is unlikely to move much. In fact the owl only moved once in the 45 minutes I was there and that was to glance at me briefly.
Thursley Common, Surrey – 25th May 1999.
Lodmoor, Dorset – 31st May 1999.
Lytchett Bay, Dorset – 13th June 1999.
Holes Bay, Poole, Dorset – 17th June 1999.
Titchfield Haven, Hampshire - 1st August 1999.
This rare visitor from North America was found at Titchfield Haven in Hampshire on the 28th July. I headed down on the Sunday. Bigger than a Little Stint but smaller than a Dunlin this American sandpiper was favouring the south scrape viewable from the Meon Hide. The long primaries which extend well beyond the tertials and the tail is the main diagnostic feature which separate it from other commoner UK waders. I often like to sketch roosting birds as it is easier and gives you time to get your eye in!
Hatch Pond, Poole, Dorset – 29th August 1999.
Farlington Marshes, Hampshire - 26th September 1999.
Warsash, Hampshire – 2nd October 1999.
St Mary's Airfield, Scilly – 12th October 1999.
Normandy Lagoon, Pennington, Hampshire – 14th November 1999.
American Golden Plover
Aldeburgh, Suffolk - 14th December 1999.
On Tuesday 7th December 1999 a 1st winter Ivory Gull was located on the east coast of Suffolk at Aldeburgh. This most northerly of all birds breeds along-side Polar Bears and in the winter ventures no further south than northern Iceland, 1,250 miles away. In Britain therefore sightings are rare, restricted to about 1 per year, and usually in the Northern Isles. There was no way I could get time off work mid-week and although I was on holiday from the Monday onwards I didn’t expect the Gull to still be present and so I made no long term plans to visit Suffolk. I rang Peter on the Thursday and got a recorded message saying that he was away for the day, I assumed that he was in Suffolk.
The bird was still at Aldeburgh on Monday afternoon and so I rang Peter again, he hadn’t been and so we decided to meet at South Mimms Service station, transfer into one car and then head to Aldeburgh. At about 5am Peter paged me while I was on the M25 to say that he may be slightly late as the roads were treacherous with ice in Gloucestershire. I hadn’t noticed how bad the roads were until I got out of the car at South Mimms and was astonished to see the tarmac below my feet thick with ice!!
At 5:45am Peter arrived, he got into my car and we headed off. We arrived in Aldeburgh at about 7:45am. After 10 minutes of getting ready we left the car and wandered over to the favoured beach. The first bird I saw was a largish, bulky gull – a brilliant white colour. It was tugging at a fish carcass , this was clearly the bird!
It was fairly tame and allowed close views only flying on about 4 occasions. It was bitterly cold and in the end Peter went back to the car to warm up. I was determined to get some field sketches and paintings completed and so I tried to ignore the cold.
The most obvious features were the chunky common gull size, strikingly white coloration, blackish messy face, green based & yellow/red tipped bill, short black legs and black tips to the bottom two tertials and the visible 5 primaries and several other wing covert feathers. Having completed a field painting we headed off, it was about 9:30am.
Morden Bog, Wareham, Dorset – 19th December 1999.
Great Grey Shrike
Lodmoor, Dorset – 2nd January 2000.
Morden Park Lake, Dorset – 6th February 2000.
Holes Bay, Poole, Dorset – 27th February 2000.
Pennington Marshes, Hampshire – 9th April 2000.
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Pennington Marshes, Hampshire - 29th April 2000.
A pair of Black-winged Stilts were found in Hampshire at Pennington Marshes. The last successful breeding attempt of this species in the UK was in Norfolk in 1987. On the Saturday morning I headed down to see them. Even though you know they have incredibly long legs it's still a surprise to see them. They were resting quite close by and the weather was great, perfect conditions for sketching. The only previous time I have seen this species was also in Hampshire, at Farlington Marshes in 1987.
Portland Top Fields, Dorset - 7th May 2000.
Martin Down, Hampshire - 15th June 2000.
Back in the year 2000 Stone Curlews bred at Martin Down on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border, there was a roped off section on the Down where this pair took up residency. They're a nice bird to sketch as they spend time motionless before taking a few steps and then they're motionless again. They visit us from southern Europe and northern Africa.
Upton Heath, Dorset - 25 June 2000.
While France were playing Spain in the quarter finals of the European Championships my pager bleeped the staggering news that a possible Black-eared Wheatear had been seen at Upton Heath only a mile up the road from me! Pretty soon I was in the car and on my way. As I arrived at the bend in Longmeadow Road I saw Hugo pull up and realised that if someone from Dorchester had got here already then the news must have gone around the loops already prior to being released to the pagers. This probably meant that there would be a fair few people up on the Heath already and because there had been no further reports about the bird it probably meant that it had gone.
It was with a fair amount of pessimism, therefore, that I headed off across the Heath following the pager directions. Hugo and I went too far up the hill and having seen the area of burnt gorse mentioned on the pager we realised we had to drop down the valley and across a slightly boggy area. As we approached the area in which it was last seen I began to wonder why there was no one else around, perhaps other people had more information than us and the record had already been discounted as an error.
It was about now that George Green appeared and just as he joined us I noticed a movement off to my right, it was a bird and it was very pale, the first thought that flashed through my mind was Snow Bunting! I got my telescope on it and immediately realised that this was the bird. I shouted out “I’ve got it!” and with disbelief we all got onto the Wheatear. It was 8:20pm and I rang the news in to RBA and before long my message was bleeping across the pagers and people began arriving. I quickly began making some sketches and paintings as it was likely that I would need to send in the record to the rarities committee.
It was a very striking bird being very pale almost white apart from buff patches on the nape and upper breast. The wings were dark brown almost black and the black mask was extensive but without a black fore crown. These features were fairly inconclusive although the overall opinion was that this was an individual of the eastern race. The combination of rarity value, closeness of occurrence and being the one who relocated the bird made this a particularly enjoyable twitch.
Weymouth, Dorset - 28th January 2001.
Greatham, West Sussex - 3rd February 2001.
St Agnes, Scilly - 12th October 2001.
Balvicar, Argyll - 9th November 2001.
Pennington Marshes, Hampshire - 26th July 2003.
Lesser Sand Plover
Kitty Down, St Mary's, Scilly - 16th October 2003.
Godrevy, Cornwall - 3rd January 2004.
St Mary's Airfield and then Golf Course, Scilly - 9th October 2004.
I didn’t renew my pager subscription in March 2004 and I hadn’t twitched a bird since the Cornish American Robin in January and so I was really looking forward to Scilly. There hadn’t been anything rare to get me anxious, that was, until early afternoon on Tuesday 28th September when my Dad texted me at work to ask me if it would hang around! He meant would the rare bird that he was referring to hang around until we visited the Islands together for a week from Friday 8th October. I checked rare bird alert on the internet to see what bird he was talking about and was amazed to see that a Cream-coloured Courser had been found on St Agnes, Scilly! The nearest breeding grounds are North Africa and there hadn’t been a British record since 1984. It seemed unlikely that the bird would hang around for the 10 days until we travelled on Friday 8th October.
I was very busy at work and so I ruled out twitching Scilly immediately, at around £110 each it is also an expensive business. I rang Peter who was already on his work land line to Richard Baatsen, they were discussing possible arrangements to head South West. I said to Peter that I wouldn’t be going although it seemed likely that there would be a car heading down from Gloucester and Swindon. I could hear Richard on the land line and it seemed that with work commitments they would be travelling on the Friday.
The bird had come down in the fields at the end of Barnaby Lane on St Agnes. At 3:45pm it was flushed by a cow and flew off strongly and wasn’t relocated by dusk. It was, however, relocated on St Agnes the next morning and with that news more than 500 birders travelled across on the Scillonian, Skybus and Helicopter. Unfortunately, there was no further sign by 5pm and most birders had departed the islands. However, the bird was relocated early that evening on St Martins and several birders managed to get there on chartered boats before dusk.
The next day, which was Thursday 29th, the Courser was still present in the sheep fields on the north side of St Martins and on the Friday morning it was obviously still present as at 9:05am I received the dreaded text from Peter saying that he was watching a ‘mythical bird and fingers crossed that it would stay another week’ - no chance I thought. I asked Dad to text me each morning if it remained on St Martins. At about 9am on Saturday morning I received a ‘still there’ message from Dad and over the subsequent days I received a regular 9am ‘still there’ text message. The message on the morning of Thursday 7th was greeted with a punch of the air as I knew that the journey down on Friday morning would be exciting.
On the morning of Friday 8th we drove down to St Just and flew to Scilly and then we got on the first available boat from St Marys over to St Martins. We made our way up to the sheep fields with 100 or so other birders. The Courser had been on St Martins for the last 8 days and so we were gutted as it slowly dawned on us that it appeared to have gone!
Later in the day we got the welcome news that it had been relocated on the airfield on St Mary’s, just where we had come from!!!! This was both a relief as the bird hadn’t ‘gone’ gone but it also meant a desperate and nerve-wracking dash back to the airfield. We ran back to the boats and returned to St Mary’s and we then made the 15 minute jog up to the airfield. We were exhausted but we finally had great views of this major rarity!
The bird was a sandy colour with a lovely bluish tinge to the back of the head and a black drooping eye-stripe and white supercilium lines which met at the nape. The Courser remained on the airfield until Sunday 10th October when it flew to the golf course. From then until the end of October it showed exceptionally well on the fairway, adjoining bunkers and rough.