Sunday, 27 October 2013

Not birding in Norfolk

We were in Norfolk last week (monday to friday) on holiday - not a birding holiday, but a holiday on which I was able to do a bit of birding; in fact, I did quite well, managing visits to Titchwell, Cley, and several places in between.

The beach at Titchwell

Best bird was a 'possible/probable' Pallid Swift at Cley on the Wednesday. Given the strong southerly airflow and birds present elsewhere in the country (and indeed, county), this was a species I thought I had a shot at finding. I was therefore actually a bit disappointed to be sat in North Hide at Cley to see that a 'probable' had been seen over Dauke's Hide half an hour earlier! After a bit of scanning, a swift sp. materialised over the landward side of the reserve, which I watched for maybe 40 minutes or so as it cruised back and forth over the visitor centre. Always distant, it appeared dark against the bright sky, but did drop down below the horizon several times, where it appeared more promising as a Pallid, in particular showing pale secondaries and inner primaries contrasting with darker fore-wing and outer primaries, and a paleish body. The bird then went missing, and we walked on to the coastguards carpark, where several of Norfolk's birding glitterati arrived at pace, saying that they had been watching the bird over North Hide - and there indeed it was. As before, the bird was difficult against a bright sky, but it again showed the wing pattern described above, as well as a hint of a dark mask, and possibly a fairly large pale throat patch..? It was only ever put out as a 'probable' at the time, but is listed as a definite Pallid on a few websites/blogs... Shame I just didn't quite get good enough views!

A probable bird at Cley

Aside from this bird, other nice bits and pieces included a Lapland Bunting on the West Bank at Cley, 4 Long-tailed Ducks on the sea off Titchwell, several Crossbill (or should that be Crossbill sp.?) heard and seen in flight in Wells Wood, Great Northern Diver and Red-necked Grebe on the sea off Brancaster, and 3 Swallows at Holme. 


This site, which we called in at briefly on our way home on Friday, also yielded a long-anticipated self-found tick (and a species I'm hoping will one day grace Collingham Pits with its presence), in the form of 2 Great White Egrets flying west over the sea. I managed to grab a few hand-held digiscoped shots of these, but you have to squint a bit to make them out...

In terms of dips, we managed to walk past a Western Bonelli's Warbler in Holkham Woods on the Thursday during a nice walk from Burnham Overy Staithe to Wells, which must've been found just a few minutes after we passed. I take comfort from the fact that it was on the north side of the George Washington hide, which we didn't call in at. Being 'not a birding holiday', we didn't double back for it. It was also a shame not to see any Shore Lark.  

The dunes at Burnham Overy

A storm is brewing

With storm St Jude due to hit tonight, it was already pretty windy on the patch this morning. Maybe it'll blow some seabirds in, but if it does, work will probably prevent me from finding them. 

Unlike the weather, however, it was a bit quiet on the bird front; there was one adult YL Gull in with 30 or so LBBGs on Ferry Lane Lake, where 2 Grey Wags flew over and there were at least 9 Little Egrets - including a colour-ringed juv (green ring on right leg with X, red ring on left leg with K - seemingly not a locally ringed bird?). The Silt Lagoon held 2 Redshank, 2 Green Sands and 2 Snipe, whilst water levels were right up on Mons Pool, and bird numbers were right down. 

Friday, 25 October 2013

After a week away

The last 5 days were spent in Norfolk (more on that in another post), so after getting back home mid-afternoon, I couldn't resist a quick trip out to the patch. Overall, wildfowl numbers were noticeably reduced compared to last visit, and waders were thin on the ground; other than small numbers of Lapwings, 4 Redshank and 2 Green Sands were all that was present. As the light faded, the numbers of gulls on Ferry Lane Lake began to build up, with around 700 Lesser Black-backs present when I left the site, as well as 2 adult Yellow-legged Gulls and the 'hooded' gull noted on 19th - definitely an LBBG, but a striking bird nevertheless. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

October WeBS

I did my WeBS count at Girton Pits this morning; numbers of wildfowl were pretty unremarkable, but I did have six Redpoll sp. fly south at Spalford Pit. One of these birds goes down as 'most frustrating bird of the week', as it was pretty pale and showed a large white rump...

A quick spin round Collingham produced a couple of Redshank, 1 Common Sand and 1 Green Sand, and Peregrine washing in the new workings on Ferry Lane Lake. No sign of yesterday's hooded gull amongst the LBBG's.

I then couldn't be bothered to go over to Annesley Pit Top for the Hoopoe, a decision I will probably live to regret.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

A hooded gull at dusk

A trip to Collingham Pits this morning before hockey (2-1 loss, no goals for me) produced a fair amount, although nothing out of the ordinary. There were lots of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits moving around, as well as parties of Starlings heading west. There were also quite a few Redwing in the area, including a flock of 70 which contained 10 Fieldfare.

Inspired by the finding of a Yellow-browed Warbler earlier in the week at Marston sewage works in Lincs (a rival Patchwork Challenge site) I had another go trying to find one on Northcroft Lane - if there's one on the site, it's going to be here. However, the best I could find was 3-4 Chiffchaffs, a Blackcap, and single Brambling and Siskin

On the pits themselves there was a pair of Red-crested Pochards on Wharf Pit, and 1 Green Sand, 1 Common Sand, 1 Dunlin, 2 Redshank and 9 Snipe around the site, as well as a Grey Wagtail. No Rock Pipits though; I was feeling hopeful for one today. 

The Silt Lagoon

Another look this evening pushed the Snipe total up to 18, and there were now 3 Red-crested Pochards, on Ferry Lane Lake (2 males and a female). As dusk fell I had a quick scan through the Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, locating a large gull with a full hood formed by dense streaking on the head. It was front-on and by then it was pretty dark (the pics below are 1/6th of a second at ISO 3200), but it looked like a LBB rather than an atlantis-type Yellow-leg... But definitely one to keep an eye out for next visit. 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Scilly 2013

Featuring the “Stu Cru”:

Stuart ‘dull’ Davenport

Carl ‘invisible’ Cornish

Nick ‘man up’ Crouch

Day 1 – 5th October

The as-yet un-named Stu Cru arrived on St Mary’s after an uneventful, but woefully overpriced flight from Land’s End. After dumping our bags, we headed out onto Peninnis Head and on to Old Town, then Newford Duckponds, before heading back to Hugh Town via Porthloo. After a quick pit stop, we went out again, looping round through Lower Moors and the Dump Clump.

Old Town Bay from Peninnis

Best birds were Arctic Warbler at Newford (pretty elusive), a couple of Spotted Flys at Maypole, and the Purple Heron in flight over Lower Moors, but we couldn't find the Bluethroat at Higgo’s Pool. Other birds during the day included Redstart, Whinchat, Lesser and Common Whitethroat, plenty of Wheatears, and a Med Gull.

Distant Purple Heron over Lower Moors

That night saw the first of several/many visits to the Mermaid; it was here that the Stu Cru acquired its name after discussions about birding on Shetland and inappropriate use of the word ‘crew’, and then had a fateful encounter with some local Scillonians (who will remain nameless for the sake of all concerned). It was during said encounter that the members of the Stu Cru then acquired their pseudonyms, and yours truly beat a reigning world champion gig racer at an arm wrestle (we’ll ignore the fact she was a girl).

Day 2 – 6th October

We began our day at Old Town Church, where Carl found a Yellow-browed Warbler, I dipped a Firecrest, and we also had a Pied Fly. We pulled in the Purple Heron, decked in a field next to the school, and then headed towards Porth Hellick, ticking the Turtle Dove at Porth Minnick and a Lapland Bunting on the airfield. At Higher Moors, I had a heard-only Yellow-brow on the Loop Trail, but the little blighter remained hidden. 

Purple Heron lurking
Entertainment during a stop at the Old Town cafe

Me and Stuart then worked our way slowly up Holy Vale (I think Carl had gone home for a snooze by this point – hardcore), which paid dividends, first for me with a ‘new’ Yellow-brow, and then better for Stuart with a Red-breasted Flycatcher, which he beckoned me over for whilst I was trying to pin the Yellow-brow down for a photo. The RBF was extremely elusive, but eventually showed briefly for the assembled crowd which materialised surprisingly quickly, given that we’d barely seen another birder over the preceding couple of hours.

Continuing on, we found another flycatcher, this time a Pied, between Holy Vale cottages and Maypole, and then had brief views of the Wrynecks at Borough Farm. A Spotted Fly on Telegraph Road made it a three-flycatcher day. Lower Moors produced a Jack Snipe from the ISBG hide, and as we passed by Old Town Church we had what was probably another Red-breasted Fly zip past us, but it quickly vanished – one had been seen in this area earlier.

The boys in Lower Moors

Our evening meal was taken in the Bishop and Wolf, where fate saw us pitch up on the table next to three of the group we had encountered the night before – all looking slightly sheepish. A more civilised conversation ensued, where they realised that Stu wasn’t actually that dull. We also went to the log.

Day 3 – 7th October

Beginning at Lower Moors (no sign of the Spotted Crake on Shooters), Carl located a Whinchat on Standing Stones field (bird of the trip for Carl), and we then had Pied and Spotted Fly at Old Town Church. There were a few waders at Porthmellon, and on the golf course we found a new Lapland Bunting (gripping off a fellow Notts birder in the process who’d just come from that way), and for Carl’s benefit, two more Whinchats.

Lapland Bunting checking out the greens 

Another amble down Holy Vale produced what was presumably yesterday’s Yellow-brow again, which soon melted into the willows, and a tree-feeding Acro only seen briefly (no doubt a Blyth’s Reed). What was a rather quiet day was completed at Higher Moors, where we had another Yellow-brow at the pumping station end.

The only picture I could manage all week of a Yellow-brow

During the day there had been a brief sighting of a Grey-cheeked Thrush at Old Town Church; apparently the bird was seen on a gravestone, but by the time the observer had turned to reach for his camera, the bird had gone (and wasn’t seen again during our time on the island... although it has subsequently been relocated!).

Not a Grey-cheeked Thrush on a gravestone

The Mermaid was our pub of choice for tonight’s meal, which passed without event, excepting that on the walk home Stu’s wookie got a high-five. 

Day 4 – 8th October

I made an early start at Shooters Pool, later joined by Carl who’d failed to set his alarm correctly (which I had guessed was the case as I left the flat judging from what sounded like the distant thunder emanating from his room). We eventually enjoyed decent views of the Spotted Crake, although not before we’d witnessed some good stringing of Water Rails in its place. Onwards to Old Town Church, we had Red-breasted, Pied and Spotted Flys in the space of an hour.


Leaving Carl in the flat (I can’t remember what the reason was this time?), Stuart and I had a walk onto the Garrison, seeing the Yellow Wag on the football pitch but not much else of note. Whilst we were there, news came through of an Olive-backed Pipit at Porthloo Duckpond. We were in no rush to see this, but Carl (once he’d stirred himself), made his way expectantly there, looking forward to a tick.

A black bird on a white wall

When we arrived, the bird hadn’t been seen for a while, and Carl expressed his doubts about the bird’s identity. Having a look on the back of a photographer’s camera, it was clear that if it was an OBP, it had a very plainly marked head… Over the next hour and a half or so, the bird showed briefly once, and then again (albeit partially obscured for much of this time). By now Filby had arrived, and as soon as the bird did show in the open, it was a relief that he proclaimed it over the radio as… a Tree Pipit, a conclusion which I think Carl had already come to about two hours earlier.

The 'Porthloo Pipit', looking very unlike an OBP
Carl meditating on the finer points of pipit ID

After all that excitement, we had a saunter through Lower Moors (Purple Heron in flight again), before finishing at Old Town Church. Another fairly quiet day…

Purple Heron, closer this time

Supper was taken in the Atlantic, where I had a lasagne to celebrate my 33rd birthday, followed by the log, where much hilarity ensued when it came to Tree Pipit.

Day 5 – 9th October

We decided to have an off-island trip today, choosing Tresco, despite the fact that it was apparently ‘dead’. However, I pulled out a Red-breasted Fly in the woodland next to the Abbey; unfortunately neither Stuart or Carl (or anyone else) managed to get onto this, and I had to make do with a 5 second view - which was a shame, as this individual had a nice orange wash on its breast. However, the other two did hear a Yellow-brow in this area.

Bryher from Tresco

News then came through that a Sora had just been found on the Great Pool, from the Swarovski hide. We high-tailed it round there, and after a tense few minutes, the bird wandered out of the edge of the reedbed, and showed fairly well to the 10 or so of us who were on the island. We then vacated the hide before boats from the other islands started to arrive, failing to locate anything else of great note during our remaining time on the island, although 3 Whinchats got Carl excited, and we also had the resident Garganey, a Black-wit and 2 Skylarks.

Sora behind some reeds
Sora behind some more reeds
Sora almost not behind some reeds

Despite this being our one night in of the week, two of our number did make it out for the log – you can probably guess which of the Stu Cru didn't make it.

Day 6 – 10th October

Starting on Peninnis with a fly-over Lapland Bunting, Stuart then kicked a Short-eared Owl out of the heather, which promptly flew straight out to sea, where it was lost it in the light. Another was reported at about the same time in-off at the airfield, so hopefully this was the same bird – otherwise Stu is responsible for it having a long journey down to Spain (although it did have a nice tail-wind, as the wind had gone round to the north today after south-westerlies). 

The back end of a SEO

Lower Moors produced the Purple Heron, again, and continuing on to the gardens at Carreg Dhu, Stuart remarked that we needed a Firecrest to make up for the one I had missed at Old Town Church previously. Right on queue, a Firecrest hopped out into foliage above the track in front of us. We then had this, and a second bird, in Carreg Dhu, which caused a mini influx of Firecrest-twitchers. 

Firecrest trying to avoid being photographed, which it mainly succeeded in doing

Continuing on, we dropped onto a twitch for a Richard’s Pipit in a field next to Pungies Lane. The bird showed fairly well, although bizarrely when it flew off, most people were still watching something in the field… presumably a Meadow Pipit

Dick's Pipit

On the way back down the island, we came across a very loud cricket, which Stu zeroed into on a bracken frond - a huge Great Green Bush Cricket.

What a monster!

We then decided to give the Bluethroat another go, enjoying close views of this confiding bird on the muddy path down to Higgo’s Pool. The light was poor so my pics don’t do it justice (high ISO, slow shutter) – it was a super-smart little thing.

Spot the Bluethroat
Bluethroat from the back...
... and from the side...
... and from the front

So, a better day, and with lots more Goldcrests around things were looking up?

After another meal in the Mermaid, we went to the Atlantic so Stu could catch the end of the quiz, and terrorise some local girls by feeding them answers and berating their spelling of English counties. Lincoinshire?!

Day 7 – 11th October

Our last full day; it was now or never for that Grade A Mega. Things looked promising as we made our way up onto Peninnis, with small flurries of Redwings overhead. Carl then almost stepped on the Snow Bunting which was feeding on the track – I think his words were something like ‘bloody hell it’s just here’. This bird, located yesterday, was completely fearless, allowing approach to just a few yards (yet I still failed to get most of my pics of it in focus). 

Snow Bunting
Having a stretch
It was even close enough for phone cameras

Further on, we had a Lapland Bunting and 5 Skylarks, our highest count of the week. News came over the radio of a Woodcock flushed at the northern end of the island. It looked like new birds were in.

At Porth Hellick there was a Jack Snipe on the pool, and a young Arctic Tern in the bay. Onward to Carn Friars, I had a Yellow-brow briefly, but Watermill was quiet. A Yellow-brow at Newford Duckpond was comparatively vocal (with most other birds this week being silent, or almost so). 

Stu, on-it at Newford

Carl then headed home (this time to do some gift shopping), leaving me and Stu to find a Firecrest at Trenoweth. Heading back home via the golf course, we then located a Redstart feeding along the northern edge; having hardly seen another birder over the last couple of hours, it was surprising that seven people popped up within seconds of Stu putting this bird out on the radio. 

A male Redstart which tried to look rare
And some Redstart twitchers

In Lower Moors, a Jack Snipe showed well on Shooters, and brief, final excitement came in the form of another tree-feeding Acro. Based on brief and obscured views, it looked like nothing more than a young Reed, but no doubt it was another Blyth’s Reed.

A Jack on Shooters

Our final night on the island was spent, once again, in the Mermaid (with a band in the Slip Bar), where we met our local friends once again, and made some new ones too.

And that was that. The Grey-cheeked Thrush came on the pager on our drive home, although having all seen at least one before we weren't too distraught - although where it had been hiding since monday is puzzling. Although that said, I for one never checked the overgrown path behind the monument...

Oh, and one last thing: check your vox button!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Back to normality

This time last week I was wandering around St Mary's on Scilly in my t-shirt (I've come back with a tan) - more on that in another post. Today was a complete contrast back on the patch - wet and windy, and not exactly warm. After a week of rarity hunting and bush bashing, it was necessary to refocus; I was hoping for maybe a diver or a merganser, or perhaps a straggling seabird if I was really lucky. 

None of the above were seen; best was an adult Yellow-legged Gull on Ferry Lane Lake, where there were single Redshank and 2 Dunlin. The Silt Lagoon held one each of Green and Common Sand, whilst at Mons Pool the rain was so heavy, and my optics so fogged, that I could only just about make out some duck (there were clearly a lot more Wigeon around than my last visit).

At Meering, there was no sign of the Pec Sand (which was still being reported a few days ago), but I did have 2 Snipe and my first 5 Fieldfares of the autumn flying west; small parties of Redwing had also been in evidence during the morning, along with plenty of Skylark (although none of these seemed to be heading in any particular direction). Off to the north, towards Smithy Marsh, at least 1100 Goldies were feeding in the young winter wheat.

Finally, a quick look at Girton didn't produce much of note (and annoyingly I'd forgotten it was WeBS weekend so will have to visit again next week...), but another 32 Fieldfare flew north-west over Spalford Pit, and there was a tightly packed flotilla of 75 Cormorants on the A1133 Pit. 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Another peek at the Pec

I wont be able to get back down to the patch for a while as I'm off to Scilly for a week's birding tomorrow (just hoping some birds start turning up...), so I decided to visit Meering this evening for another look at Monday's Pec - it had been reported a couple of times yesterday, so I assumed it would be there. And it was, with it's two Ruff companions.