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EAST LANCS NEW YEAR

THE NEW YEAR STARTED OFF VERY WET INDEED. I got soaked three times on New Year's Day taking part in ELOC NYD listing. Although I saw some interesting birds like Snow Bunting on Pendle Hill, Pintail and Pink-footed Goose at Stocks, Little Egret, Little Grebe and oystercatcher at Ribchester and finally a brief adult Glaucous Gull in horrible conditions at Fishmoor Reservoir I was still 20 behind the Breakses total as usual. The time taken on Pendle kills the chances of enough small birds and I was rained off twice when I planned to look for them. I caught up five on my first day back at work on 2 January including a male Brambling, which has been on the office feeders this week.

In contrast the first Sunday of the new year was freezing cold and icy. An all day effort produced a similar total between Pendle, Ribchester and Fishmoor. Highlights included two Snow Buntings over Pendle Summit in a freezing cold wind before dawn. I gave up taking landscapes when my camera lens frosted over. This never even happened in Ladakh!!! The wind chill was very severe indeed this morning. The walk around my BTO birdtrack location at Ribchester produced 52 species including Peregrine, 7 buzzards, 4 ravens, 10 oystercatchers, 3 Little Grebes, 4 Goosanders and record totals of Stock Dove (6!) and Long-tailed Tit (19). A skylark flew over the village calling, a scarce bird around Ribchester in midwinter. Finally the late afternoon Fishmoor gull roost in Blackburn produced a terrific 2cy Glaucous Gull by Mark and Jack and what was almost certainly an adult Caspian Gull in rapidly fading light by Pete.

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THE SMALLEST LIST PLODS ON

Whooper Swans, Stocks Reservoir.

THIS YEAR HAS APPARENTLY ALREADY SEEN A GOOD PASSAGE OF WHOOPER SWANS THROUGH EAST LANCS and I thought my chance had gone until the autumn. So I was very happy to see a flock of 25 resting in the Hodder Inlet of Stocks Reservoir today. Then I looked at my phone and saw they had already been reported. A guy who I chatted to briefly about photography was being frog-marched around the circular walk by his disinterested mates and didn't want to walk a few metres down to the hide to look at them. 'I've seen them at Slimbridge already' he said. I didn't have the inclination to tell him that they would have been Bewick's Swans and not Whoopers. A Black-tailed Godwit at Alston was also my first of the year in the ELOC area. Uncommon shorebirds have been scarce there so far but April is THE month for them so hopefully there are more to come soon. The smallest list plods on then. Otherwise Alexander also saw his first adders today, a very exciting moment for him to get very close to them and see what beautiful and placid creatures they are.

ELOC year list: 103. Black-tailed Godwit 104. Whooper Swan

Black-tailed Godwit, Alston Wetland.

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WILD PENDLE

Pendleside, January 2015

FOUR SNOW BUNTINGS WERE THE HIGHLIGHT of a wild and very bleak winter's day on Pendle Hill's summit. Just how I like it! However, they were the only birds up there today in a very strong gusting northwest wind. I could hardly stand up at times and there was zero chance of holding the camera steady enough for a photo, the wind even blew it out of my hands a couple of times! Lower down on the Pendleside slope were three stonechats, a kestrel and a flock of around 50 Fieldfares with a similar number of starlings towards the Barley Road. Well at least a hike up Pendle is good excerise!

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YORKSHIRE LITTLE BUSTARD

Little Bustard, Auburn Farm, Fraisthorpe, East Yorkshire

A NEW YEAR'S DAY LITTLE BUSTARD was a great way to start 2015! A couple of hours driving across the Pennines and then the Yorkshire Wolds in the dark ensured that owls were my first birds of the year though, with a Tawny followed by four Barn Owls before I set eyes on the bustard. Predictably there was a big dawn turn out with lots of southern accents, who couldn't make it to Fraisthorpe on New Year's Eve. There were somewhere around 700 twitchers at any one time with a constant trickle of new arrivals throughout the morning and this event put the tiny hamlet of Fraisthorpe firmly on the birding map, I had not even heard of it before yesterday! Back to the bustard itself, which was rather inactive and didn't fly once during the 6.5 hours I was there, only spreading its wings on one occasion spending most of the time either standing around in its chosen kale field or tucking into the crop and not moving more than about 20m in the whole time I watched it. For anyone wondering, digiscoping was obviously the way to go today, it was a little out of range for most DSLRs.

I also thought of Stuart Warren today, who missed the 1988 New Year's Day Little Bustard in Dorset after his bino eyecups filled with rain water just before it flew off as Dave Russell told me something similar happened to him too, both of them driving home as the only ones in their respective cars who had not ticked it off. There are other stories of guys who were still too drunk to see it as well. Even though I've seen lots of Little Bustards and taken thousands of photos of them, I still find the thought that one made its way to Yorkshire thrilling. Bird migration is a wonderful thing! It is also interesting that 75% of all English records up to 1996 have been between November and February, no doubt birds retreating from hard weather on the continent. It is pretty cold there right now, minus 17 Celsius in Eastern Hungary last night for instance! These twitching events are also great for catching up with old friends, we are all a bit fatter, with more lines on our faces and more grey hairs (as well as less hair) these days. A Lapland Bunting flew over the bustard calling as did a few skylarks on a windy, grey and bitterly cold morning on the Holderness coast. A sparrowhawk and a kestrel also passed overhead but there was not much else happening here today.

New Year's Day Little Bustard watchers, Fraisthorpe

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