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Friday, 16 December 2016

Autumn Round Up with an all-star cast

Golden Pheasant, Nr Thetford, Norfolk
What an amazing Autumn for migrant birds. The action kept coming after my Shetland trip finished on October 5th, first with the White's Thrush on Holy Island and a nearby supporting cast of Baird's Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Yellow-browed Warblers and Bittern. Not to mention dipping Franklin's Gull.
White's Thrush, Holy Island
At Bempton and Flamborough I dipped (for the 3rd time) an Eastern Crowned Warbler and also the Greenish Warbler. However, I did manage to see the Arctic Warbler and a tristis Chiffchaff. The number of migrants that weekend was jaw-dropping! Everything from Bean Geese to Brambling to Paddyfield Warblers seemed to be reported between Whitby and Skegness.
Male Brambling, Flamborough Head
Siberian Chiffchaff, Bempton Cliffs RSPB
By mid-October it was plain to see that the Russians were coming. Numbers of rare Eastern migrants were astonishing. Take Siberian Accentor...the only bird in history to go from a British First to scarcity inside of a week! A supporting cast of Dusky and Radde's Warblers, Pine Buntings, Mealy Redpolls, Stjeneger's Stonechat etc. etc.
I went up to Spurn Point a few times this Autumn. Obviously I went to see the Siberian Accentor (on one of October's wettest days) but also a host of other rarities such as Isabelline Wheatear, gutted though because an Isabelline Wheatear was found in Norfolk as I was walking to the Easington Bird. Rectified that for my Norfolk list next day. Back at Spurn it seemed that every bush either had a Dusky or a Radde's Warbler in it. Pallas's Warblers appeared, as did the first Waxwings of the Autumn.

Isabelline Wheatear, Easington
Shorelark, Bluebell Café, Spurn
a very soggy Siberian Accentor, Easington
The South side of the Humber was also productive. A trip to Donna Nook led to some awesome views of Red-flanked Bluetail, Pallas's Warbler, Firecrest and Siberian Stonechat.
Firecrest, Donna Nook

Red-flanked Bluetail, Donna Nook
The influx of migrants extended into Norfolk & Suffolk. Again, with Dusky & Radde's Warblers, Olive-backed Pipits, Little BuntingsDesert & Isabelline Wheatears. One of the big Autumn surprises was the young Cliff Swallow that turned up at Minsmere.
Sea watching has been extremely productive, with large numbers of Little Auks, Long-tailed Duck, Velvet Scoter (sometimes inland) and also occasional Leaches Petrel and Grey Phalaropes.

Cliff Swallow, Minsmere

A shy Radde's Warbler, Garden Drove, Warham

Little Auks, Cley
Some of the 60+ Long-tailed Duck at Titchwell
female Velvet Scoter, Whitlingham Country Park, Norwich
On the coast the cold snap forced the Titchwell hideaways to show themselves. Jack Snipe, Kingfisher, several Water Rails, Bittern and up to 8 Water Pipits.

Kingfisher, Titchwell
Water Rail, Titchwell
In the Brecks on the Norfolk / Suffolk border birds were also massing. Near Santon Warren I counted a flock of over 300 Brambling, a dozen Bohemian Waxwings and 23 Hawfinches. Goshawk, Red Kite and Tawny Owls were also observed, as well as several Golden Pheasants and Reeve's Pheasants.
Hawfinch, Santon Warren
Golden Pheasant, nr Thetford.
So you think Autumn is over then someone throws you a curve ball! Enter Beeley, Derbyshire, and what a "ball". A 1st winter female Dusky Thrush
1st winter, female, Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire
Finally, I have found 2 pieces of very poor quality video from the Hebrides in May 2009. View both without sound unless you like wind. Small screen is best for the wader.
Semipalmated Sandpiper, Balranald
Long-tailed Skuas...en mass, Balranald

Monday, 17 October 2016

04/10/16 L.G.O.T. Last Day On Shetland

Hoody by Flashlight
OMG it's early! I wanted to make the most of my last day on the islands so I was heading back up to Unst to connect with my long time Blocker and personal nemesis...the Paddyfield Warbler. I don't care if the bird is in good or poor condition, or even if it's wearing a pink Tu-Tu with bright green socks! I want that bird.
First I had to catch the ferries to Unst and I arrived at Toft in the dark. As I pulled into the boarding lane I could see two Otters tumbling, playing and chasing each other around the car park on the dock. "This has to be a good omen" I thought. I got out of the car and immediately got straight back in. It was bloody freezing and the wind was mad. I added several layers of clothing and ventured out again. Ringed Plover, Curlew and Turnstone on the beach but no sign of the Otters again. A single female Snow Bunting foraged around the high tide mark.
The ferry journeys were unremarkable except for an unexpected pair of Little Auks that whirred south like two wind-up toys.
On Unst I thought I would travel straight to the Nemesis den of Norwick but I noticed that there was no-one at Haligarth so I had a little snoop there first. The Wood Warbler, perhaps surprisingly, was still alive and doing well, growing accustomed to the human intruders to its larder. There were a few Yellow-browed Warblers and Goldcrests, the latter, finally, in decent numbers. The Lesser Whitethroat was also there with a large warbler which was probably Barred Warbler but it hid well. A Little Bunting paid a fleeting visit and then flew of towards the beach.
 Raven, Haligarth
Wood Warbler, Haligarth. A real fighter.

From Haligarth I travelled to Norwick and parked by the beach. I could see several people walking through the fields trying to flush the Great Snipe from the day before. Unsuccessfully. The path and fields around Valyie held another two Little Buntings, Mealy Redpolls, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Common Rosefinch.
A walk up to and around the site for the Paddyfield Warbler gave nothing until a birder flushed a yellow-brown warbler from the field. Unfortunately it was not the Paddyfield but a Lesser Whitethroat. I have never seen a Lesser Whitethroat that colour. A true Desert Lesser Whitethroat.
Back at the car I scanned the beach and sea. Loads of Gannets and Fulmars including a nice Blue Fulmar. The beach had a Ringed Plover, Wren, Wheatear and the local Rock Pipits. There was also a Scandinavian Rock Pipit of the race littoralis which was quite different from the local kleinschmidti. As I drove off the long staying Osprey flew over from the east mobbed by a Hooded Crow.
Little Bunting, Norwick
 littoralis Rock Pipit, Norwick
 Mealy Redpoll, Norwick

 Osprey, Norwick
 Ringed Plover, Norwick
zetlandica Wren, Norwick
Then it was time to head for the ferry to Aberdeen with just time left for a short walk around Sandgarth. Plenty of Mealy Redpolls, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher and the ubiquitous Yellow-browed Warblers. The last bird, I'm pleased to say, was the Blyth's Reed Warbler. What a finale.
 Kittiwakes, Lerwick Ferry terminal
 Gannet on a mission
Black Guillemots or Tysties, Bressay Sound

Friday, 14 October 2016

03/10/16 L.G.O.T. The "Two Bird Theory"

Northern Fulmar, Sumburgh Head
Ahh, Spiggie Bay...Up at the crack of dawn and the world to myself. Or so I thought. I was listening and watching Curlew and Whooper Swans in the lightening gloom when a pair of headlights bounced down the track and a small brown car pulled in. The girl driving was giving me a funny stare so I ignored her and turned away. The next thing I knew was the girl walking past me to the beach in a swim suit! Let me tell you, it was bloody freezing and she jumped straight into the sea. I was speechless, and, if you know me, then you know how rare an event that is. She had more cojones than me. I just drove off to the site of yesterdays Lanceolated Warbler, still shaking my head.
I shouldn't have bothered. I had a walk around the, now trampled flat, field but there was no sign of it. Not surprising really. I must have been the only birder on Shetland who didn't see it. A recompense (a tiny, extremely small, microscopic recompense) were my first Redwings of the Autumn flying in off the sea. A look at the waters edge at North Voe only produced Meadow Pipits, Teal and a Grey Heron. Exciting stuff.
Redwing over Boddam
Juvenile Teal having a morning brush up.
Somewhere that can produce excellent rarities is Quendale Burn and that's where I headed to next. Lots of Pipits and Blackbirds on route plus one or two Whimbrel with Curlews. As I parked at Quendale Mill I could see a group of birders walking several hundred yards in front. I thought "There goes the neighborhood". However, it wasn't so bad as there was stuff constantly falling out of the sky. A Northern Wheatear on the path, a Whinchat on the fence and Meadow Pipits everywhere.
As I approached Quendale Dam I could see two very enthusiastic but very mad Welsh birders walking through chest high nettles or in the burn itself. Their tactics paid off when a familiar call made me look up to see a Richard's Pipit flying away from them to the top of a nearby hill. I stood watching them and a warbler flew out in front of them and the guy in the burn shouted "Blyth's Reed Warbler". So that was me for the next 3 hours. Only it wasn't the recent Blyth's Reed was so much better. It wasn't an acrocephalus we were chasing, it was a locustella, an, apparently unstreaked locustella. Visions of Gray's and Middendorf's Grasshopper Warblers flashed through my, barely working, brain cells. It wasn't one of the last two, heart attack inducing, wallet emptying, denizens...but it was good. It could also hide. So well in fact that it could give lessons to Lanceys. Up and down that burn we (now 12) marched and thrashed and fell. No-one had any prolonged views of the damned thing. There were two camps of thought. River Warbler or an eastern form of Savi's Warbler. I was, and still am I suppose, in the River Warbler camp though a chat with Judd (of Siberian Accentor fame) gave me some doubts. I give up! first the Lanceolated Warbler and now this! Woe is me. Most of the day gone and no new, positively ID'd, birds except the Richards Pipit. Lots of Chiffchaffs and Yellow-browed Warblers...of course. Can you tick Muscovy Duck at Quendale?
 Northern Wheatear, Quendale

Yellow-browed Warblers, Quendale
What now? Haven't been up to Sumburgh head recently and you can't really come to Shetland and not go to Sumburgh Head. I stopped at the Quarries on the way up but only Stonechat, Wrens and Fulmars for company though the Fulmars were very aerobatic.

Fulmars, Sumburgh Head
Sumburgh Head from the 1st view point.
Next on the agenda was the long-staying, Stinky Pinky (Rose-coloured Starling) at Scalloway. A typically confiding juvenile, it tended to stay near the bird table and take on all comers from House Sparrows to Hooded Crows. Smart bird.

Rose-coloured Starling, Scalloway
The rest of the afternoon was a blur as I made my way North to spend the night near Brae. An Olive-backed Pipit came on the pager for Ollaberry. This bird had taken lessons from that locustella at Quendale!. It had learnt well. One glimpse and it was gone.
I headed back to Brae to partake of Fish and Chips from Frankie's (most northerly chippy in the British Isles and fully recommended). Pager comes up with a mobile White's Thrush at Hamna Voe! "Sod it" I thought and bedded down for the night. Last full day on the islands tomorrow.