14 Nov 2020

A rare chat and a rare bunting

 When news broke of a Rufous Bush Chat at Stiffkey, Norfolk my immediate thought was 'that won't stick around'. However it did and a number of people managed to see it the same day. Thinking it would disappear and I could forget about it I was surprised that it was seen again the next day. Turning down several lifts I eventually cracked and went down with Jase knowing there was also a Stejgeners Stonechat just down the road at Holkham Freshmarsh and a number of Red-flanked Bluetails nearby. With wintering geese already around in good numbers it made for a good day out whatever happened. 

When we arrived at Stiffkey it was obvious the bird wasn't on show. People were standing in the car park looking vainly out towards patch of sea- surrounded suaeda where it had been re-located the day it was found or standing in the stubble field right up against the game crop where it had been seen well the previous day. 

As the tide dropped we decided to go and check the suaeda out as there were lots of people standing checking out the game crop. After an hour or so it was obvious it wasn't there so we headed off to Holkham to look at the Stejgeners Stonechat. That was easy enough and as we were returning tho the car we got the news that the chat had just been seen in the game crop! Needless to say we rushed back to find the crowds had started returning and were again standing right up against the game crop. Asking them to move back and give the bird some room had the desired result and the majority of people did move. Unfortunately the bird still didn't show again and we reluctantly decided it was time to leave. Just as we were saying our good byes to friends I noticed a bird fly up from the field edge and dive into a tree. It looked good for the Rufous Bushchat but there was no further sign of it so I didn't mention itas the views were so brief. It preyed on my mind all the way home. Later that evening it transpired that someone else had seen it in the same area as me but he didn't put the news out as he didn't get his binoculars on it fast enough. 

The next morning the news came out early that it was still there and in the same area - the observer sent me a map with a dropped pin at exactly the same bush! Forgetting to even eat my porridge that I'd left in the microwave (my wife sent me a photo!) I quickly contacted Jase who was unfortunately at work and set off for Norfolk again......

The weather was appalling and when I arrived there were only about 10 people looking with as many again sat in their cars. Again people were right up against the birds favoured game crop so I asked them to move back. As the weather worsened people drifted away and I decided to walk the footpath between the game crop and saltmarsh as the bird had been seen here as well. walking slowly and softly so as not to disturb anything I walked along peering under brambles and overhanging bushes reasoning that any self respecting Bush Chat would want to stay dry! Boom! Suddenly there it was - it hopped up off the floor onto an overhanging bramble! Unfortunately, as the weather was so bad, I'd left the camera back in the car so I just took in the details before it disappeared back into the thickest part of the bush. During this brief encounter I'd  forgotten to breath so grabbing a quick lung full of air I ran back to the stubble field, squelching and sliding on the muddy path, to let others know. Despite waiting another two hours the bird didn't show again.

Above: the hollow where the Rufous Bushchat appeared and then hopped up onto the bramble stems at the back of the bush between the two dead cow parsley stalks.

As it started getting dark I decided to leave. Squelching back to the car I peeled off my sodden coat and fover trousers promptly getting a dollop of cold water down my neck where it had collected in the hood of my coat. With the heating on max, heated seats turned right up and wipers going full speed I sat off back to Cheshire a happy birder. Although I didn't get any photos my mate Chris Griffin got some superb ones earlier in the week which he's kindly allowed me to use. Cheers Chris! 

The bird was never seen again. When I saw it it was pretty bedraggled and my feeling is it probably died overnight.

Thinking there'd be no more twitches this autumn I was proved wrong when an Indigo Bunting turned up on St Agnes in the Scilly's.  Family commitments prevented me from going the next day but it was only seen up until midday so friends that had left Cheshire and got the Scillonian across were to late to see it. Taking a gamble that it might still be around Fred & I set off for the drive down to Lands End airport for the 08.30 flight to St Mary's from where we'd get a boat across to St Agnes. A gamble that didn't pay off......... there was no sign of the Indigo Bunting but I had some consolation in the form of my 2nd Red-eyed Vireo. Crazy as it seems, as this is one of the commonest vagrant American passerines with 146 accepted records up until the end of 2018, I'd only previously seen one - see here. This is mainly because I prefer to spend my birding holidays on Shetland where Red-eyed Vireo has only been recorded twice. They really are a Scilly's speciality. I've actually seen more Siberian Rubythroats than Red-eyed Vireos. Madness.

Hopefully autumn is now over and with another lockdown in place I can't see me going on another long distance twitch this year.

8 Nov 2020

Redwing season

 Each year I look forward to the arrival of Redwings and Fieldfares arriving from Scandinavia and Iceland. At night you can hear their calls as they pass overhead. Normally my first ones of the year are seen on my annual autumn trip to Shetland and this year was no exception. It was almost a month later that birds began filtering down to our NW corner of Cheshire and only more recently they began descending on the berry laden hawthorns in our garden.

Although I don't catch many I manage to ring a few every year at dawn & dusk and this year has been quite good for them. Interestingly the majority of the birds I initially caught were adults with a second wave of mainly juveniles. The ones I've been catching are the Scandinavian race 'iliacus'. Redwing arrivals sometimes coincide with big arrivals of Song Thrushes and I caught two recently  - the only two I've caught in the four years we've lived here! 

Redwings can be aged by the white tips to the greater coverts and tertials. Adults have plain greater coverts and tertials whereas young birds have the white tips. The shape of the tail feathers is also a help in ageing as it is with most passerines. Younger birds have more pointed tail feathers whereas adults are rounder.

Above: Redwing Euring age 3 (1st calendar year) showing white tipped juvenile greater coverts.
Below: Redwing Euring age 3 showing white tips to tertials.

Above and below: upper and lower tail photos of juvenile Redwing tail showing how narrow and pointed the tail feathers are. Comparew this to the adult lower down.

Below: adult Redwing tail showing broad blunt tail feathers.

From the photos above you can also see the variation in the dark centres to the undertail coverts. Bothmthese birds are the same Scandinavian race and the Icelandic race, coburni. See here for details of a trip to Fair Isle where we caught both races side by side.

Both Song Thrushes were young birds identifiable by the 'rose thorn' patterned tips to the greater coverts and median coverts.

It's great to see Song Thrushes in the hand again. Although we've several pairs breeding locally that feed in the garden they're very secretive and don't come in when theres activity outside! 

Below: mist nets set in the garden for Redwing.