Thursday, 30 October 2014

Scilly 2014

4th-11th of October 2014 saw the Stu Crew reunited for its third outing of birding, beer and pasties on the Isles of Scilly. After a fairly quiet 2013, hopes were high that this year would deliver... it didn’t, and overall our week was again quiet, both in terms of rarities/scarcities, and also for other migrants. The good news (for us) was that the following week was pretty quiet too (if not even quieter); there’s always that fear that something good will turn up the day after you’ve left. 

Carl and Stu feeling optimistic on the boat out

But here is what we did see:

Blyth’s Pipit

On 6th October news came over the radio of a ‘Richard’s or Blyth’s Pipit’ on the airfield. Later, this was ‘confirmed’ as a Richard’s Pipit. Being as we were at the opposite end of St Mary’s, we didn’t rush across to see it. But that night at the log, there seemed to be some doubt about the bird’s identity, and the following morning, it was reported as a Blyth’s Pipit, now in a bulb field at Old Town. This time we decided to check it out, but by the time we arrived, it had done a bunk. It later transpired that both Blyth’s and Richard’s Pipits had, apparently, been present the previous day, which had caused the confusion.

We thought that was that, but the Blyth’s was relocated a few days later, on the 9th, behind Old Town Bay. After missing the bird fly on a flush of Standing Stones Field (we weren’t the only ones), we eventually had flight-only views of it on a flush of the small fields behind the bay, when it gave a quiet ‘chip-chip’ call; probably not tickable views if this was a new species for anyone, but luckily all three of us had seen one before (me, the Languard bird in the ‘90s, the other two the Gringley bird).

Blyth's Pipit twitch

Our only BB rarity of the weekend; and it wasn’t seen again.

Barred Warbler

Things actually got off to a good start on our first full day, when, strolling towards Old Town from Hugh Town with Stu, I noticed a pale Sylvia warbler on the edge of a Pittosporum hedge near the health centre. It was a bit distant for bins, but looked interesting. Getting the scope on it, it proved to be a Barred Warbler. It actually showed pretty well, and we managed to get plenty of people onto it, including Carl who’d had to go to the Co-op to buy a toothbrush.

Barred Warbler

Still present after we left, this bird was presumably the one that was seen previously in the allotments, just a few hundred metres away as the warbler flies. However, on the basis that it hadn’t been seen for six days, it counts as a self-found bird under Punkbirder rules. Boom.

Rose-coloured Starling

A juvenile had been hanging out at Green Farm, Pelistry for a while, and after a failed attempt on the 6th, we tracked it down on the 7th (after a bit of stringing on my part). Only my second British bird, it showed well as it fed around some cattle.

Rose-coloured Starling
With its buddy
Carl searching hard for the Starling... or is he picking blackberries?

Red-breasted Flycatcher

A birthday treat on the 8th, this elusive bird showed along the bath between Porth Hellick and the Tremelethen Trail - although the other two almost gripped me off; I had wondered off to look for the bird elsewhere (after it hadn’t shown for a good 40 minutes), and when I came back, I thought they were joking when they said it had shown 20 minutes previously. Luckily I picked it up again a few minutes later...

Looking down onto Porth Hellick 

Short-toed Lark

Having dipped this bird on the airfield on the 10th, we went back for a second try on our final morning on 11th. Initially there was no sign, but Carl picked it out in flight, and we then had pretty good views of it on the deck, along with 4 Skylarks.

Short-toed Lark

Balearic Shearwater

Due to pretty choppy conditions on the sailing out of Penzance, seawatching wasn’t exactly easy, and despite spending most of the sailing looking for seabirds, we failed to see a definite Balearic Shearwater – although did have c.10 Manxies and 6 Bonxies. On the sailing back, however, conditions were much better, and we bagged two nice Balearic Shears, as well as another 4 Bonxies. No Grey Phals unfortunately though - some had been seen on the morning sailing from Penzance.

Balearic Shearwater 1
Balearic Shearwater 2

Other birds

The supporting cast included a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers (in fact, apart from a regular bird at Newford Duck Pond, the only other one our group encountered was a bird I had briefly in a hedge near Borough Farm), quite a few Firecrests (we seemed to stumble on these wherever we went), 3 Snow Buntings (2 on Peninnis, one on the airfield), up to 3 Whinchats at Higher Moors, the odd Spotted Flycatcher, and a single Redstart. Other warblers etc. were in very short supply.

Stu and a Wheatear
Song Thrush - marvelously common on Scilly

The ones that got away

On the 9th, a Rustic Bunting turned up on St Agnes. Carl decided to go and look for this the following day, whilst me and Stu stayed put on St Mary’s. Unfortunately it wasn’t relocated, although an Ortolan Bunting was; a would-be tick for Carl, and for me! I’d like to say that I felt bad for Carl that he didn’t see it...  A Tawny Pipit (or was it a Richard’s..?!) also put in a brief appearance whilst Carl was on Aggie, but he only had brief tail-end views of it as it flew off.

Non-birding highlights...

Less snoozing – there was a lot of snoozing last year. This year, Carl didn’t go back to the flat once for an afternoon snooze, and Stu only did once. That said, there was a bit of snoozing whilst out and about, and definately lots in the evening...

Snoozing in Old Town churchyard
Meeting some birders from the West Midlands, especially Richard and Kay - some kindred inland-birder spirits; Kay was the first person we got onto the Barred Warbler, and Richard relocated the Blyth’s Pipit.

Snoozing in Holy Vale

Winning the quiz in the Atlantic - after a traditional birthday lasagne (can something be traditional when you’ve only done it twice?), we took part in the quiz, bolstered by a couple from South Yorkshire who we had met last year. And our team, ‘Happy Birthday Nick Crouch’ (I had no part in choosing that name, I would like to point out), won, quite comfortably! And beat the West Midlands birder’s team, ‘Peregrines on Toast’ in the process. But we promised not to mention that again... Our team of five won... four pints of beer. Hmm.

Snoozing on the boat

Hustling some Irish navvies - one night in the Mermaid, we were playing pool, and got challenged to a game of doubles by some Irish lads working at the airport (which is currently being redeveloped); having seen us play a couple of unconvincing games, they obviously thought they could take us, but they hadn’t banked on Stu pulling off an amazing shot to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. They looked a bit deflated at the end...

Snoozing in the flat - when we're meant to be going out!

... and lowlights

Arriving at the wrong Travelodge in Okehampton - we began to check in, only to find that we were needed to be at the other Travelodge in Okehampton, 10 minutes back the way we had just come. Not a big deal perhaps, but not great when it’s nearly midnight and you’ve got to get up before 6. I blame Carl.

Next October?

During my three visits to Scilly in the last three autumns, I have had just two ticks – and one of those was Rose-coloured Starling; and in the last two years, there have been just single BB rarities during our week stay. In fact, this must be one of the worst autumns on record for Scilly. So the question is, is this a good enough return, or should I be casting my eyes north next year...? Scilly is lovely and I have a great time there, so it will be a big decision to make! 

Scilly looking lovely - Old Town Bay from Peninnis

Less of the same

Another look at the gull roost on Ferry Lane Lake tonight; numbers of large gulls were well down on last visit, with 3 Yellow-legs (all adults) and just 3 Herring Gulls (1cy, 3cy and adult). The 2 Pintail, 2 Goldeneye and 1 redhead Goosander were still present, but no sign of the Red-crested Pochard. Also waves of Starlings, hundreds strong, overhead on their way to Langford - I love that sound as they pass overhead. 

Adult YLG

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The nights draw in

After an uneventful visit to the patch this morning (no Siskin or Brambling...), I returned for the gull roost this evening. Still no Caspo, but 6 Yellow-legs (4 adults and 2 1cy), 15+ Herring Gulls (at least 9 adults and at least 6 sub-ads), and 2 GBB's. Still present was the Red-crested Pochard, 2 Pintail and 2 Goldeneye.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A winter duck selection

On Ferry Lane Lake at Collingham Pits tonight, 1 female Red-crested Pochard, 2 female Pintail, a redhead Goosander and 2 Goldeneye amongst the duck, and 3 Yellow-legged Gulls (2 ads and a 1st W) in with the Lesser Black-backs. 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Belated WeBS

After a lie-in this morning, a visit to Girton Pits was necessary to do the WeBS count which I failed to do last weekend. There was nothing unexpected; single Goldeneye and Red-crested Pochard (a female on Spalford Pit) were the wildfowl highlights, although I also spent some time watching a bathing Sparrowhawk

Bathing Sparrowhawk (digi-binned)
Red-crested Pochard

A visit to Collingham then produced 368 Wigeon, 164 Pochard, 2 Pintail, 2 Egyptian Geese and a Common Sand on Ferry Lane Lake, along with a Redshank on the Silt Lagoon. After lunch, a session picking sloes at Meering produced a Merlin, but little else. 


Yesterday I spent the fist two hours after dawn vis-migging on the patch, along with a few other Patchwork Challengers at other sites. It's fair to say that conditions weren't exactly ideal, but I was hopeful I might get a patch yeartick like a Brambling, Siskin or Tree Sparrow. I didn't, and my rather modest totals area as follows:

  • Redwing - 46
  • Meadow Pipit - 15
  • Skylark - 4
  • Pied/alba Wagtail - 13
  • Grey Wagtail - 1
  • Reed Bunting - 2
  • Golden Plover - 300
  • Curlew - 2
  • Snipe - 1
  • Lapwing - 3
There were a few other things moving around, such as Goldfinches, Linnets and wildfowl, but I assumed these to be local birds. The Pied/White Wags were probably most interesting (for me), as I think I would otherwise assumed these were just local birds moving around the site, but it appeared these were definitely birds moving south. 

My vis-mig vantage point
I curtailed my vis-migging session at the start of the third hour when I saw two waders drop into the Silt. Assuming them both to be Ruff, I nevertheless had a nagging thought that the smaller of the two could be something more interesting (e.g. Pec Sand). Tracking them down, they proved to be a Ruff, and a smaller Ruff. Oh well. The Silt Lagoon also held a Redshank, whilst there were 103 Pochard and a Goldeneye on Ferry Lane Lake. 

2 Ruff

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Redwings back

After a dentist appointment I managed some birding on the patch; best were my first Redwing of the autumn, with 54 (3 + 16 + 6 +29) heading in a westerly direction. Always nice to have these back. 

Other stuff included the first Redshank for a while on Mons Pool and 2 Common Sands on Ferry Lane Lake; the gull roost here hosted 5 adult Yellow-legged Gulls, but I gave up due to driving rain... No skuas though.

Back in Newark, and there were a few more Redwing over my street just after 6pm, with another overhead just now when I stuck my head out of the front door (8.20pm). With others being reported across the county, it looks like they're arriving back en masse

Monday, 13 October 2014

Back to the joys of gravel pit birding

After spending last week in (mainly) sunny Scilly - more on that in another post - it was back out to Collingham Pits last night. A skein of 110 Pinkies flew over heading NW, and a Green Sand called unseen on Ferry Lane Lake, where there were also nearly 200 Wigeon. However, the main attraction was the gulls. 

Whilst I'm pleased that Ferry Lane Lake seems to be developing as a good roost site, I find roost watching tricky; key features can be difficult to see/interpret, and time is not on your side; indeed, all the interesting gulls appeared as the light failed (or perhaps they just looked interesting in the half-light..??). There were at least 10 'grey-mantled' gulls in with the Lesser Black-backs, of which one was a Herring, and at least 3 were Yellow-legs - the rest were left unassigned in failing light. A juvenile gull was also intriguing, seemingly an LBBG but looking very white-headed with a slender dark bill. Hmm.

White-headed juv gull
White-headed juv gull
3cy Yellow-legged Gull
3cy Yellow-legged Gull
Gulls, gulls, gulls