28 Oct 2012

First blast of winter.

With plans to travel north for the Chestnut-eared Bunting abandoned as the bird had done a bunk I reverted to the original plan A of going to Hilbre Saturday to ensure another weekend of good coverage. Arriving as dawn broke it soon became apparent there weren't many migrants around but the sunrise was pretty spectacular as the tide slowly cut us off from nearby West Kirby.

A cold N wind blew straight down the middle of the island and it was bitterly cold despite the clear blue skies. The only migrants of note were flocks of Starlings that flew in from various quarters including one flock of around 200+. A single Chaffinch and Robin were retrapped from previous days with the Chaffinch found to have put on 2 g in weight.

There were no Purple Sandpipers over the high tide roost but a good number of Turnstones (82) including two of our colour ringed birds - one from 20007/8 & one from 2008/9. Just imagine the miles these birds have flown back and forwards to their Arctic breeding grounds. There was also a right legged metal ringed Turnstone. Not one of ours as we ring on the left leg and this one was ringed on the right leg and below the knee whereas all UK ringed Turnstones, for a number of years, have been ringed above the knee. Intriguing.

Sunday saw a leisurely start to the day due to my wife and sister-in-law dragging me out, screaming, around Chester on a real ale pub crawl Saturday night. Actually we only reached one pub - Harkers - and basically worked our way through the guest beer list. Putting the nets up in the garden I was pleased to retrap a House Sparrow from a couple of weeks ago as this species is notoriously difficult to retrap. Another 8 Goldfinches brings the garden total up to nearly 100 over the year with only 1 retrap. It just shows how many birds actually pass through and use our gardens as a refuelling stop off for short periods before moving on.

23 Oct 2012

Malc's big six zero.

That scourge of the year listing community a few years ago - Malc Curtin - turned 60 last week and to help him celebrate a plan was hatched to spend a long weekend on the Scillies to join him, Rose & Jas for a few beers!

With Pod already camping on the Garrison it was left to Groucho and me to drive overnight from Cheshire to Penzance with me doing the final push from Taunton to the port. Knackered I promptly curled up on the back seat and fell asleep completely oblivious to the tapping on the windows of the local drunks as the clubs kicked out a 03.30.

Waking slightly refreshed and with a very sore back and neck we set off for breakfast at the Harbourside Cafe. Now under new management the ladies are doing a wonderful job and a full English and mug of tea for £4.00 can't be bad!

Meeting up with Steve Williams and Thomas we boarded the Scillonian in high expectation of picking up some good seabirds and cetaceans. A few hours later enthusiasm was dampened but we still managed a Puffin, a few Balaearic Shearwaters, a couple of Fulmars and a Long-tailed Skua.

With Steve safely ensconced with the rest of his family who'd helicoptered it over Mark & I set off for the Garrison to set our tents up before having a wander.

Most of the birds had cleared out but we still managed brief views of the Re-breasted Flycathcer in the Dump Clump and the three Ring-necked Ducks at Porthellick. These were very instructive  as its not often you get to see females. Well....... that's what we tried to convince ourselves.

Wandering back to our tents we enjoyed a fabulous sunset before setting of for the first of many beers at the Scillonian Club.

The next day dawned bright and clear and we soon had the stove going for a brew before setting off to try and find a few new birds. It soon became clear there wasn't much around with the highlight being a Firecrest, Great -spotted Woodpecker (Scillies rarity!), a Lesser Redpoll and a Yellow-browed Warbler. Still, on the bright side we met up with Malc & family and arranged a nights celebrating with him Big Al & Di who were also on the Islands. Oh dear.............................

With far to much Rattler inside him I was woken in the middle of the night by chunder sounds coming from the youngster in the tent next door. I wonder who that was.........................At least he did it outside his tent although only just. He blames it on to much of Malcs birthday cake.

Dawn broke bright and clear with plenty of visible migration. Parties of Chaffinch, Brambling, Siskin and Chaffinch's circled the Garrison and the highlight was a fly over Snow Bunting. An early meet at the quay side saw us heading to Annet courtesy of Higgo's tours along with Spyder, Chris & Ritchie. Unfortunately we couldn't land as the sea was to rough. Despite the beautiful warm weather with little wind a storm several hundred miles out into the Atlantic had whipped the sea up into an impressive swell.
Aborting the trip we diverted to St Agnes and spent a productive day there. There had obviously been a major movement of finches as we picked up loads of Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Bramblings and thrushes. Our first stop was the Richards Pipit by the pool. It showed well but unfortunately got inadvertently flushed by another birder so we didn't stop long enough to get any decent photo's.
We met up with Barry (who's been on Aggie for a month) and Steve and headed towards the Parsonage where we arrived just as a Red-breasted Flycathcer was found. A cracking little bird and it shared the same patch of cover with a Pied Flycatcher and a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers.

 Pied Flycatcher

 Red-breasted Flycatcher

Yellow-browed Warbler.

We also picked up several of the Coal Tits that had invaded St Agnes. Another Scillie's rarity! Several of these resembled the hibernicus race with a nice lemony yellow tinge to the cheeks.

Great stuff but with the lads wanting to watch the footie back in the Scillonian Club we had a quick bite to eat and a pint in the Turks Head before our journey back to St Mary's. As we arrived news broke of a Serin seen flying towards the campsite. I decided to rest for a couple of hours and look for the Serin before trying Lower Moors for the Spotted Crake that had been seen the previous evening. My much needed rest was rudely interrupted by the sound of a Serin. Rushing out the tent I was confronted by an embarrassed lad playing a tape. He promptly departed.

Luckily within 10 minutes of me arriving at Lower Moors the Spotted Crake showed after going missing for several hours. Photographing it in dense cover as it crept around was pretty hard! Texting the lads in the Scillonian they made it down before the main rush and we all enjoyed good but partially obscured views.

Good stuff! Another celebration was in order!!!!

Monday broke slightly overcast and after packing up the campsite we did a quick tour of the Garrison before heading to Lower Moors and having a wander around there pausing only to photograph a cracking Greenshank.

Hearing about a Snow Bunting on Porthloo Beach (probably my flyover bird from the Garrison) we headed that way before a pasty lunch and a coffee in the Mermaid and finally boarded the Scillonian for out journey home around 15.45.
Sea watching again from the Scillonian was unproductive apart from good numbers of Harbour Porpoise and Common Dolphins. An uneventful drive home had me tucked up in bed by 02.15 this morning.
A great few days and many thanks to Mark for driving and booking the campsite.

17 Oct 2012


All these records of flyover eastern pipits reminded me to post this photo from our recent Shetland trip. Wandering around Channerwick when a pipit flew out of a swampy area calling 'zeet, zeet' as it flew off and landed on a nearby fence. Holy shit! You don't expect a Tree pipit on Shetland in Autumn in a swamp but that's what it was!

Back to my regular routine now with a trip to Hilbre Saturday where I joined Alan Wraithnall who'd stayed overnight. Bird of the day was a Firecrest that zipped up out of the SK paddock at first light and flew south never to be seen again unlike the handful of Goldcrests that were duly ringed. Another good sighting was a Whooper Swan that flew over heading SW presumably to join the others already congregating on Shotwick fields. Joined by Steve after the tide the birds dwindled so we enjoyed the sunshine and nattered about what might turn up in the next few weeks......

10 Oct 2012

Shetland - the last day.

After the excitement of the aurora the prevuious night our last day dawned a breezy but dry one. After clearing up and packing we set off to Hoswick where Chris was going to meet up with some other mates before gettign the ferry back to Aberdeen later that evening.

Matt & I headed to Boddam where we caught up with a juvenile Common Rosefinch amongst the local Sparrow flock feeding on seed heads along the beach and occasionally flying back into willows by the farm yard.

Also present was the Little Grebe that had been around for a few days and a fresh in Jack Snipe on the beach.

We ended the trip on 93 species of bird seen including 5 BBRC rarities - Arctic Redpoll, Isabelline Shrike, Buff-bellied Pipit, Great Reed Warbler & Siberian Stonechat. In addition we logged 5 other less rare species - American Golden Plover, Yellow-browed Warbler (10), Barred Warbler (3), Common Rosefinch & Red-backed Shrike.

We found a possible Tree x House Sparrow hybrid that Chris photographed. The photo's will be sent around for comment and visited a new Island in Whalsay. We also discovered that getting onto Fair Isle is harder than getting to the moon. Despite a relatively poor week in comparison with some we've had I'll be back same timee next year.

8 Oct 2012

Aurora borealis

The aurora alert went off this evening in Shetland and from our apartment on the hills above Lerwick we had a stunning display. Many thanks to Chris Griffin for this long exposure photo showing the three amigo's standing beneath one of natures marvels.

Shetland - the penultimate day.

Still no flights to Fair Isle and we met a couple of birders today who'd booked into the Obs last Saturday and still haven't managed to get across. Today's flights were cancelled and they're now getting across tomorrow (weather permitting). With a Lanceolated Warbler still present for its 12th day (it has no tail!) its been tantalisingly close.

The weather today was still windy and showery wit ha strong north westerly. Deciding to head north and work our way south we first visited Voe where a single Goldcrest was scant reward for our efforts. Next stop was Lunna where a Goldfinch and a possible Tree x House Sparrow hybrid grabbed our attention. It looked all the world like an Italian Sparrow. I didn't have the camera with me but Chris managed a record shot. By the time I'd run back to the car it had flown off with the House Sparrow flock.

A bit of pishing along the hedgerow had this wren shooting out to investigate but nothing else.

Moving on to Vidlin we eventually tracked down a Barred Warbler in rosa bushes along side the road whilst a thorough search of the plantation revealed a single male Blackcap and the ubiquitous Goldcrest.

Next stop was Veensgarth for the American Golden Plover. We eventually tracked it down albeit distantly in a field with about 200 Golden Plover. We walked down a track to a remote farm and knocked on the door to ask if they had any objection to us viewing from their yard. No problem and we soon picked out the bird again and managed a few reocrd shots. We may not be premiership but at least we know what we are looking at!

7 Oct 2012

Another fine day

With Jase Atkinson on Whalsay we took the decision to spend the day with him and bird an Island I'd never been to before - after all we were very unlikely to miss anything on the mainland!

We arrived at Laxo in a strong breeze but a beautiful sunrise raised our spirits. We were travelling as foot passengers as Jase was picking us up.

As we approached the ferry our spirits were lifted even further by the sight of a dog Otter hunting on the nearby shore. A good start to the day.

Whalsay was bathed in sunshine but with a stiff breeze blowing - no chance of putting any mist nets up but we did drive the plantation at Skaw where Lanceolated Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler and Red-flanked Bluetail were all ringed within three days of each other a couple of weeks ago!

We also checked the nearby Heligoland trap - twice - but to no avail.

Jase knew all the local gardens and crop fields to check and we religiously waded through iris beds and ditches but all we turned up was a single Yellow-browed Warbler and a couple of Goldcrests. Poor return for our efforts. Sill the YBW showed well at the base of a large cabbage!!

Who can tire of these little Sibes?

Plenty of Kittiwakes were fishing in a local bay and we took a breather to relax in the sun and try to get some photo's. Its not often you get to see these beautiful pelagic gulls.

A cracking day on a beautiful island & I'm sure I'll be back.

6 Oct 2012

Macro Acro

Still no flights to Fair Isle! Apparently they've not only got a plane out of action but got a new plane which is heavier than the old one and only takes 6 passengers. With high winds no planes went today. There are none tomorrow as its Sunday and all the planes are booked up Monday with the backlog of people already trying to get on / off the Island. Meanwhile the Lanceolated Warbler (minus tail) is still there (growing its tail!). Arse.

Thursday night ended with us having poor views of the Buff-bellied Pipit at Rerwick Beach so we decided to try again Friday. The day dawned bright and sunny so we got there early and spent a few hours searching the area before helping meeting up with our neighbours in the Decca ,Jono Letheridge, Matt Eades, Paul Hawkins and the rest of their crew. Matt had found a Great Reed Warbler at the top end of the Rerwick reed bed but it was proving a bastard to nail down. We got flight views only and a few poor photo's to confirm its identification. It disappeared before  a tour group saw it so I decided to start walking the iris bed at the beach end of the burn. Up it popped to the delight of the tour group for whom, for many, it was a lifer.

Deciding to give up on the pipit for awhile we set off for Geosetter where we watched a very active Yellow-browed Warbler before walking the large iris beds on the opposite side of the road and finding a Short-eared Owl.

After Geosetter we worked a few fields before heading to Quendale where I found a typically elusive Barred Warbler in a nettle bed. With the Buff-bellied Pipit having shown in Rerwick Bay on two consecutive nights we headed back to try again and again got poor views but spent a happy hour or two watching the local Fulmars.

Friday dawned beautifully sunny but after a clear night most of the birds had departed by 10.00 am the rain set in and despite extensive searching all we found was a Redstart and a couple of Wheatear.

Deciding we needed t0 see at least one good bird today we twitched the red-backed Shrike at Grutness picking up a cracking male and female Long-tailed Duck on the way. The Shrike was very elusive - not surprising in the gale force winds! Cutting our losses we headed back to Tesco's for the makings of a chili  (cheers Matt) and a chill out. Tomorrow is another day...

4 Oct 2012

Elvis lives!

He certainly does. Not in his younger quondam days but in his later life when he was bloated and blinged up in his white suits.

We saw him to day on Unst. Filling his face on pineapple mayweed seeds on a drive.

As Mr Garner says ' Boom'.

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll! What a stunner.

What a start to the day. The weather was kinder today. Yes it was windy and rained at times but the sun came out and we saw some cracking birds. A small flock of Greenland 'rostrata' Redpolls showing their distinctive 'cats claws' markings on their backs were seen  near the Hornemann's but thought better about landing near its preferred food supply - it looked like the kind of kid that would steal your dinner money. A monster of a Redpoll. Nearby a Snow Bunting strutted itself in the middle of the road and was only given a cursory glance.

Migrants were few and far between and there was no sign of the recent Pechora Pipit even though we gained permission from the land owner to check her fields which held a prize Suffolk ram and a flock of sheep.

Moving from Norwick to Clibberswick we searched the grounds of a derelict building after hearing a Barred Warbler had been seen there the previous day. Another car full of birders informed us they'd searched for the bird but there was no sign but we weren't prepared to give up so easily as Chris needed it as a lifer as he hadn't seen the bird on the Mainland yesterday. There was a likely looking crop field behind the farm so we knocked on the door and asked permission to walk the 'tatty' field. Boom. Out popped the Barred Warbler.

A search of other likely spots revealed nothing more exciting than the odd Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Goldcrests.