31 Oct 2013

Octobers over & relax.

What an incredible October. Capped today with Hermit Thrush but inluding Thick-billed & Cape May Warblers, Semi-palmated Sandpiper and today's reclusive religious catharus. A month of grip backs. Autumns definitely not over yet & I'm sure the next couple of months will reveal a Yankee mega wintering somewhere  - like the Yellowthroat of last year? Now where did that Ovenbird bog off to? Maybe the Scilly's White Thrush will stick around and start getting easier to see or maybe there'll be a more accessible Myrtle Warbler.

Here's a view of the wooded garden favoured by the Hermit Thrush. It favoured an elderberry tree right in the middle but was also seen on the ground and from further up the road.

No photographs of the hermit so I've posted some of Kermit instead.

Enjoying the wet weather in our garden.

30 Oct 2013

Hilbre maintnenance work

With the migration season almost over for Hilbre, apart from the winter thrushes, its time to undertake some maintenance work on the heligolands. Clearing the lanes and cutting back the bushes is essential as left to grow to tall the birds don't get funnelled into the traps and the roofs suffer damage as the branches push their way through the wire netting.

Arriving at dawn in a beautiful sunrise we caught a few Blackbirds before setting about the task of getting scratched and pricked by the overgrown blackthorn and brambles.

We finished just in time and as the Chairman cooked up the bacon sandwiches the rain came rolling in.

Brent Geese numbers have built up to 77 with a single Dark-bellied amongst the Pale-bellied. There was a bit of overhead movement with Grey Wagtails, Skylark and a few finches being logged on the day sheet.

25 Oct 2013

I told you I'd be back - Cape may Warbler, Unst

On my return from Shetland I said I'd a funny feeling I'd be back before the month end..............
Mike Pennington's stunning find of a Cape may Warbler on Unst gave me suitable enough reason. Fred & spent time looking at all the travel options.With no scheduled flights available, as many people had booked to go and see the Siberian Rubythroat on Fair Isle and work commitments meaning a three day round trip on the ferry was an impossibility. Fitfully sleeping I was aware of my phone ringing downstairs around 11.30. It was Dave Mac. He'd organised a plane and someone had dropped out and Dan Pointon had given him my name..........Nice one Danny boy.

Was I interested? A no brainer. Moving my stuff into the spare room I didn't sleep at all and was up and on the road at 04.00 to meet up with the other guys. A tense couple of hours until news broke that the bird was still there in poor weather and we were off. Luckily permission had been granted  to land at the deserted Unst airfield so we saved a good 2 hours travelling time from Sumburgh.

Bad news greeted us on arrival. The bird had gone AWOL and everyone was splitting up and looking in different areas. I stayed looking in the flower bed of the Old Manse reasoning that, with no phone reception, I could see others at all the points it had been seen the previous day. As I was talking to someone I caught glimpse of a small streaky bird fly up out of the overgrown flower bed and over the garden wall. Now, this bit is important. It flew over the side nearest the deserted church where it had been regularly seen in sycamores.

Entering the field I started walking the long grass adjacent to the garden wall and up popped.........a male Blackcap. Hmm. This definitely wasn't the streaky little bird I'd seen.

Just then Jim Nicolson pulled up in his car and we got chatting. He told me the birds favourite place was the sycamores behind the ruined church and I should stake it out. After a few minutes idle chat he headed . The church was literally 2 minutes walk away from the Old Manse and the next nearest area of cover. Suddenly the shout went up. It was back in its favourite place!

30 seconds later and severely out of breath I joined a happy group of birders watching Britain's first twitchable Cape May Warbler showing down to a couple of metres in the leaf litter.

The bird performed well for over an hour and a half to its appreciative audience. It's quite a bright bird for a first winter so I'm assuming its a first winter male.

22 Oct 2013

Snow Bunting Wallasey

I couldn't resist this little gem on the way back from Liverpool. Reports saying it was showing ridiculously well were for once true.

As well as picking at seed heads amongst the seaweed washed up in the recent storms it spent a lot of time catching small flies on the seawall.

It also found a few caterpillars in the grass alongside the cycle path and disembowelled them as adeptly as a Cuckoo. I've never seen Snow Buntings eat caterpillars before!

20 Oct 2013

If plan A doesn't work try plan B....... Then C. Semi-palmated Plover,Hampshire

News of a Semi-palmated Plover being found in Hampshire didn't fill me with much enthusiasm. I'd already done an early stint on Hilbre Friday and was spending the day ringing waders on the N Wales Coast Saturday. I honestly didn't expect it to be found again but sure enough if showed over the high tide Saturday and a plan was developed involving Fred & Malc. Fred had a survey to do near Southampton so if was decided we'd take his company vehicle, do the survey at first light, get to Hayling Island for the tide, see the bird, home by 4 pm. Job done. The best laid plans and all that......
Setting the alarm for 04.00 stupid o'clock  I duly picked up Comberbachs finest and arrived at Fred's on the dot at 5.30. Off we set down the M6 only for the car to start swaying alarmingly followed by a graunching noise from the rear suspension. Something was seriously wrong and it felt as if a major suspension component had come adrift. Not wishing to risk the long journey south and back we limped back the way we'd come to pick up another car from Fred's companies premises. Plan B. Only the fecking gates were locked and we couldn't get in.....we were were doomed. Plan C involved going back to Fred's house and picking up his wife's car.
At last we were on our way. No time for the survey. That would wait until after we'd, hopefully , seen the bird. Unfortunately the third choice mode of transport possessed no map or sat have but there were a suitable array of kiddies books and toys to keep me amused in the back whilst Malc & Fred tinkered with the intricacies of the sat nav on a smart phone. At last we arrived at the designated spot only to find a load of people actually standing on the sand spit where the bird was want to roost - including a handful of numpties that decided breaking the skyline and standing on the highest point was the ultimate in birding fieldcraft. A few Ringed Plover and other waders turned up but as the tide flooded they got jittery as, with everyone on the spit, they had no where else to go. Along with the fieldcraft was the usual misidentification such as 'it's next to the pale Dunlin' . It was a Sanderling for fecks sake not a pale Dunlin. After awhile all the birds flew and after asking the numpties to move to give the birds room in case they came back we decided to cut our losses and look further down the beach where it had been relocated yesterday. Most others stayed hopefully scanning the rapidly diminishing spit but from further back.
About a dozen  drove into town and parked up before walking down the shingle beach towards the mythical groyne 24 where we saw a small group of Ringed Plover & Dunlin hunkered down on the beach amid the spray. As we crouched down ourselves out of the wind someone picked it up flying in and everyone soon got on to this diminutive banded plover. The photos don't do it justice as it was actually very distinctive.

As more people turned up disaster struck as a white terrier ran through the whole flock flushing them. Seeing an angry group of birders standing less that 100 m in front of him the owners did the sensible thing and put fido back on a lead.

Luckily the waders came in and settled again . This time even closer. After an hour or so and with time pressing we left to carry out Fred's ecological survey and set off for the long journey home.

I didn't take the camera as I knew photography would be difficult but managed a few shots with the Kowa iPhone adaptor that fits the Swarovski scope. All in all a successful day despite the less than perfect start.

14 Oct 2013

And relax.........................

A more relaxing weekend than of late - if you count trimming a massive laurel hedge and carting all the cuttings to the tip and trimming the ivy on the front of the house as relaxing! A beautiful day Saturday had me staring at the aforementioned hedge and procrastinating to myself with reasons why I should leave it another day. With thoughts that future brownie points might be usefully banked I got dressed and got on with it.  Still it did give me a chance to note some visible migration with umpteen Redwings passing overhead. That in itself is unusual this time of year as I normally hear them first at night. Three grey Wagtails together also passed over as did several small parties of Pinkfeet.

Sunday saw a relatively leisurely start on Hilbre as the early tide meant we had to wait until it had dropped sufficiently to get across. Expectations were high. The wind was in the NE and the east coast was swamped with rarities. With hundreds of Yellow-browed Warblers in the country surely we'd get one today............................................................we caught a Dunnock.

Still we had good views of a juvenile Peregrine on the beach and six Mute Swans dropped in briefly on the sea before continuing west.

Sunday afternoon I decided on a long walk around the local fields checking all the stubble and ploughed areas for anything unusual. Five miles later I'd notched up an adult Med Gull with a large group of Black-headed Gulls and another field containing a flock of 72 alba Wagtails. An amazing sight.

I've got a funny feeling autumns not over yet for me and there will be one more long distance twitch before the end of the month.................

10 Oct 2013

The last day on Shetland

The trip this year has been as fantastic as usual. This year I actually got 1.5 'lifers' with Thick-billed Warbler not even being on the rarities radar. The 0.5 is the potential split of Eastern & Western Subalpine Warbler into two separate species. Its not all about getting ticks though. The enjoyment is being out in the field and seeing birds you'd normally only get fleeting views of at close range - I reckon the Voe Arctic Warbler must be my best ever views of this species. Even Yellow-browed Warblers can be mega elusive once they filter down to the mainland - like the one at Leasowe I got fleeting glimpses of the day before we left for Shetland. One day I will find a Lanceolated Warbler.....

There were more commoner migrants this year than last year with good numbers of Wheatears, Blackcaps, Redstarts, Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs.

I'll be back again next year.

One of the highlights this year was the influx of greater-spotted Woodpeckers. We found at least 4 with this one at Kergord, 1 at Voe and two at Quendale.

Red-breasted Flycather and a problem 'acro'

Deciding to head north and explore the area around Vidlin and Luna we stopped again at the Voe plantation. Although the Arctic Warbler had seemingly moved down to Seafield in Lerwick a Red-breasted Flycatcher had been reported a couple of days previously and as we had to pass the plantation anyway it would have been rude not to look in.

Voe. Home of the best pies on Shetland.

We found the 'RBF' showing well and doing a circuit of the loch side vegetation.

With a Common Redpoll dropping in briefly, two more Yellow-browed Warblers and a great-spotted Woodpecker (a Shetland rarity) we spent a happy couple of hours before moving on to Vidlin and Luna.

Vidlin. It rained. Constantly.

Two more Yellow-browed's later & Pod casually reveals he's found an 'acro' in one of the gardens further down the hill. This certainly gave us the run around for a couple of hours before we agreed it was a juvenile Marsh Warbler! I managed one shot that seemingly shows all the relevant features.

From here we drove to Luna and, guess what, another Yellow-browed Warbler!

7 Oct 2013

Sunday blues.

Sunday morning on Shetland and expectations are high. The weathers grim but we're determined to get out in the field, walk the ditches, search gardens and peer into dank woods. Then we are hit with a double whammy. Ovenbird on Papa Westray and later a Lanceolated Warbler on Fair Isle. As Ellesmere Ports finest always says 'they might as well be on Mars'. With no flights available on the Sunday to either place and no internal flights available from Kirkwall to Papa Westray we consoled ourselves with a slap up Sunday dinner (cooked by Groucho) and a count up of the number of Yellow-Browed Warblers we'd found.

The total of YBW's we've seen is in excess of 30! Quite stunning really when you think that when I were a lad at University they were mega rare.

More rain today (Monday) and a thrash up Quendale Burn added 4 more Yellow-broweds to the total, loads of Blackcapsa Garden Warbler & two Reed Buntings. And the piece de resistance - a Dunnock for the trip list. Happy days.
Yellow-browed in nettle bed right up by the rifle range at Quendale. 

6 Oct 2013

Another gripping day on Shetland

After the Thick-billed Warbler of the previous day there were a few thick heads amongst the group and a leisurely start was in order. Deciding to start with a very showy Arctic Warbler we set off for Voe where we spent a couple of hours in glorious sunshine watching a ridiculously tame Arctic Warbler down to less than 1 metre as it flitted around low in the willow scrub hunting insects. To say the bird was 'showing well' was an understatement. This will count as one of my best ever experiences on Shetland.


Searching the gardens around Lower Voe resulted in yet another Yellow-Browed Warbler and massive disappointment in finding the pie shop had run out of pies! 

Once again we found our plans being interrupted when an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was found at Hoswick..... In the very garden we'd spent ages looking into when news of the Thick-billed Monster broke. Local news suggested the bird was showing very well so we headed down. Sure enough the bird excelled by being on virtually constant show despite the occasional bout of bullying from the local House Sparrows.

One of the things we've learnt over the years is to keep plugging away. The previous day we'd been at Hoswick in the pouring rain with a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers to show for our's Chris & Pod optimistically playing Siberian Blue Robin on the iPod at the very same garden the Eastern Olivaceous appeared in overnight.
As well as the Eastern 'Ollie' the same garden hosted a fresh- in Garden Warbler feasting on the rose hips.
With an excellent night organised by the Shetland Bird Club and a few beers in town with some of Shetlands finest it was another good day.