Saturday, 31 October 2015

Egrets, I've had a few.

Earlier in the week (Wednesday I think) I paid two visits to fields next to the A46, just north of Bingham, in search of a Cattle Egret that had been reported there. Unfortunately, this bird wasn't seen after the initial report; I managed a visit over lunch before a site meeting, and another on the way home; during the latter, an egret stalking around in a grass field had me going for a split-second as I drove past, but it was a Little; I see one in this area most days from the bus, fishing in the nearby balancing pond. A shame this bird didn't stick, as I didn't see the 2008 bird, so this would've been a county tick. 

Today, the only birding I could manage (due to hockey) was a look at the gull roost at Collingham this evening, where I met Rich Challands and his mate - Rich was after a Yellow-legegd Gull for his Notts yearlist. We duly located a nice adult, with a second, less straight-forward gull then appearing. I'm fairly sure this was a 4th winter Caspian Gull, but couldn't quite nail it in the field - I was unprepared for a quick wing-flap and missed the wing pattern, which I would like to have seen. I'll have another look tomorrow night. A second YLG appeared just as it got too dark to do much else with the gulls. 

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Across heath and field

On Thursday I had just over an hour at Budby Heath before a meeting in Edwinstowe, with thoughts of Great Grey Shrikes foremost in my mind. An hour is not long enough to have a proper look at the site, but I did manage to bag 12 Crossbills, which flew in from the NW and appeared to land in Seymour Grove, on the southern boundary of the heath, and a Woodlark which flew North. I had another look at Budby this morning, and with more time, I covered the site more comprehensively, but still no shrike; best were single Stonechat, 2 Ravens, 25 Fieldfare, and 10+ Lesser Redpoll

Yesterday, after a belated WeBS count at Girton (good numbers of wildfowl, but nothing of note), I visited Meering. There was a big flock of Golden Plover on the fields to the north, but having got about halfway through the flock, the 1000+ birds were flushed by dog walkers. They circled round for a good half an hour or so, refusing to resettle, before dispersing. I could only find a smaller flock of 380 birds on Smithy Marsh this afternoon; no AGP. 

I wrapped the weekend up at Collingham Pits, checking the gull roost. This was rather down on numbers, with c.260 LBBGs, plus 2 adult YL Gulls; best though was a drake Red-crested Pochard, my first of the year. This puts me on 137 species for Patchwork Challenge, now my record total, and with 2 months remaining. Tawny Owl is my only remaining 'banker', so I've got to hope for things like Caspian Gull and Jack Snipe to push me up to 140. 

A very 'hooded' LBBG

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Shetland 2015

After three autumn visits to Scilly, this year I instead headed north to Shetland, joining Garry Taylor, Gav Thomas and Bill Aspin for two weeks on Unst, based at the northern end of the island in the Shetland Nature lodge, overlooking Burrafirth. 

Most days involved Garry, Gav and myself birding various locations around the island, with Bill heading off to do his own thing. Weatherwise, we started with bright, calm conditions for the first few days, which then changed to strong westerlies with some rain, eventually switching to two days of very strong south-easterlies in the middle of the second week, before becoming calmer again. These strong winds made it hard going at times, bordering on unbirdable - and resulting in a couple of late starts...

Unst is an exciting place to bird, even on the slow days, and it was good to see places like Skaw and Norwick in the flesh.  But I was surprised by how few other birders there were around on most days - expect, that is, in the back bar at the Baltasound hotel, where multiple members of BBRC, and one of the Western Palearctic's top listers, could be found on occasion during our stay.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable fortnight, despite the fact that the mega failed to materialise, with a couple of quality rarities and a good supporting cast - but best was the freedom of 15 days of solid birding. Oh, and Garry's steak and Guinness pie.

Wild weather for birding

Headline birds

The two star birds, from my perspective, were Pechora Pipit and Swainson's Thrush - both ticks. Having been present for a few days, the pipit  motivated us into heading for mainland Shetland for the only time during our time on Unst (going had been a bit slow, which aided the decision). It was hanging out in a patch of meadowsweet and rushes next to the Loch of Norby over in the far west of Shetland. We quickly located the bird upon arrival, but it took us quite a time to get satisfactory views, not aided by a moron photographer who kept flushing it. Garry had decided to take the approach of sitting motionless on a bank waiting for us to flush the bird in his direction (which we didn't), eventually giving up when the bird finally alighted on a bed of vegetation in the stream and showed beautifully. What stunner - just a shame about the grass between it and my camera lens....

Initial Pipit views
After an hour of this, Garry's fingers went blue...
Pechora Pipit
Pechora Pipit
Pechora Pipit
Pechora Pipit

The Swainson's Thrush showed up for one lucky birder when he'd popped into the Final Checkout cafe for a cheese toastie; when he came back out of the shop, it was hopping around the cars outside. We were in Baltasound seeing not very much when news broke, and high-tailed it the short distance to the bird. It showed for a few minutes until disappearing for an hour or so, eventually being relocated a short distance away and showing only occasionally. It sparked the only big twitch of our fortnight, with several car- and minibus-loads arriving from the mainland. The bird did a bunk overnight, leaving disappointed groups of birders wondering forlornly around the island the next day. Funnily, we never found our own Catharus when stopping for lunch in cafes...

Swainson's Thrush - initial views
Swainson's Thrush
About to hop back out of view

Other rares

Upon arrival in in Shetland, and having picked up Gav from Sumburgh airport (minus his luggage, which the airline had left in Aberdeen), we twitched an American Golden Plover at Sandwick. In a nice piece of symmetry, on our way back to Lerwick we saw a second AGP on Yell at Cullivoe. 

American Golden Plover

Our first good bird on Unst was the Arctic Warbler which had been hanging out in the garden of the hostel in Uyeasound. It didn't exactly show well, and I hadn't realised that it had lost its tail - allowing an Arctic Warbler on the mainland later in the week to be identified as the same bird. 

Arctic Warbler

Our first day on Unst also allowed us to catch up with one of the two Pallid Harriers that had been doing the rounds - the other seemingly having headed south (with one/it being seen on Yell that day by fellow Notts birders Rob Hoare, Sean Browne and Paul Buxton). It came into its favoured roost site at Northdale, after we'd picked it up flying around nearby. We saw the bird on a couple of other locations, and it was nice to be able to spend some time with this species.  

Pallid Harrier
Pallid Harrier
The snipe escaped

The only decent bird we managed to find in our fortnight was an Olive-backed Pipit at Norwick on our last day. We'd been watching a Little Bunting, when it landed on a fence post in front of us and showed quite well for a few minutes before flying up the hillside beyond Vaylie. Another OBP located in Baltasound the following morning was perhaps the same bird. This made up for a bird earlier in our stay which me and Gav had seen in flight and heard call a couple of times whilst photographing a YBW near our accommodation; it appeared to be coming onto land, but we couldn't relocate it - and it had sounded a lot like an OBP... 

Olive-backed Pipit
Olive-backed Pipit
OBP heading off

The supporting cast

Yellow-browed Warblers were a real feature of the fortnight, being easily the commonest migrant; my personal tally amounted to at least 31 encounters, although obviously many of these were duplicates. A species you just can't get bored of.

Yellow-browed Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler

After seeing Barred Warblers in Uyeasound and in Norwick at Vaylie, me and Gav kicked a third bird out of a nettle patch in the quarry at Hagdale. None wanted to be photographed. 

Having bombed up to Skaw in pursuit of a 'Booted Warbler' (which turned out to be a Garden Warbler - and apparently the guys who put the news out had been told it was a Garden Warbler by some other birders...), a tristis-type Chiffie was feeding around the buildings. Later in out stay, we had closer views of a Siberian Chiffchaff which we found along a burn at Westing, and I had a third at Clibberswick. All looked good plumage-wise, but remained silent. 

Sibe Chiffchaff at Skaw
Sibe Chiffchaff at Westing
Sibe Chiffchaff at Clibberswick

We only saw a handful of Lesser Whitethroats during our two weeks, two on Unst itself (only seen briefly), and two in one of the quarries at Sumburgh on our first day. The photos below are of one of these birds, which had a distinct brown caste on the nape, crown and earcoverts. It didn't call, and I've got no photos showing wing structure or tail pattern, but is it a blythii..?? 

Lesser Whitethroat
Lesser Whitethroat
Lesser Whitethroat

Having dipped a Bluethroat on the way back from the Pechora Pipit, and somehow missing another at Quendale, Gav kicked one out of the dune grass at Norwick in our second week, before relocating it a bit later in a sheep field nearby, where it gave better views - although it was very mobile and wouldn't allow close approach. 


There were a few of Richard's Pipits around in our second week, including birds at Hardoldswick and Westing, below; the latter was drenched. 

Richard's Pipit
Richard's Pipit

A nice juv Red-backed Shrike turned up at Burrafirth, showing well the second time we went to see it. 

Red-backed Shrike
Red-backed Shrike

The second shrike species of the fortnight was a Great Grey in Baltasound, which we pinned down for a while behind the Setters Hill Estate. With a moderately large white secondary patch, this is an 'excubitor' variant rather than a 'melanopterus'?

Great Grey Shrike
Great Grey Shrike

After twitching the Pechora Pipit, we went to a garden in Hestingott for a BRW (see below), where a Red-breasted Flycatcher popped up for a short period, despite the wind.


Last year on Unst, Gav found two Little Buntings at a ruin in Baltasound. Checking it out one day with Mark Breaks, who'd come to stay with us for a few nights after some time on Fair Isle, Mark, remarkably, found... a Little Bunting. It was mobile and didn't show particularly 
well for me (a 'Rustic Bunting' in the same location the following day was presumably this bird). Whilst at Hagdale for the Swainson's Thrush, I picked up this, or a second bird, calling as it flew over from the direction of Haroldswick. A few days later, another bird was in Norwick, which showed much better (there were three here together after we'd left). 

Gav papping the first Little Bunting
My best views of the first bird
Much better at Norwick!

And the rest

We only saw generally small numbers of 'common' migrants during our stay; Blackcaps, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, and Goldcrests, were all rather thin on the ground, and we saw only a handful of Tree PipitsRedstarts and Whinchats. Redwings began to appear during our stay, with the first sizeable flocks after the south-easterlies; Robins also increased at this time, with only one having been seen prior to this. 


Other stuff seen during our two weeks included a couple of Short-eared Owls, including a very confiding (and clearly knackered) bird at Sandgarth (Mainland), single Hen and Marsh Harriers on Unst, a few Jack Snipe, and a single Turtle Dove

Short-eared Owl trying to catch some zzzz
Hen Harrier
Garry and Gav papping a Jack Snipe
The Jack Snipe in question
Turtle Dove

We also encountered a few Redpolls on our way back south, including a group of 6 at Sandgarth. They refused to show well, and most intriguing was a very white bird that me and Garry saw briefly - it was fluffed up with white flanks and a big white rump, but we only had a brief views. I managed to photo what was presumably the same bird at range. It sure does look pale (right-hand bird in the pic below). 

Distant redpolls

Aside from passerines and raptors, there were a few waders to look through (Bill had had a Pec at the Houb before we arrived), and on the second day of howling south-easterlies we attempted some seawatching, with single Sooty Shearwater and three Long-tailed Ducks, plus a few blue Fulmars being the highlights. 

And the one that kept getting away

The species which rapidly developed into my bogey bird during our visit was Blyth's Reed Warbler, a species which I have never attempted to twitch before. We dipped a bird shortly after arriving on Shetland, and then another the same day after picking up Gav. We then missed a third in Hestingott after our pipit twitch; very windy conditions that day certainly didn't help (the bird was seen in the same garden the following morning). But I've since seen one, so all's good.

Gav, Garry and Richard Thewlis
Aspin - the lone wolf. Doubtlessly thinking bout Lana del Rey at this moment

I guess the good news is that in the week after we left, Unst didn't produced anything too monster - a Pied Wheatear, but hey, even Collingham has had one of those. Although a White's Thrush in Baltasound today is more like it...

Oh, and one last thing - we saw the aurora borealis - amazing!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Back to the patch, and a bit of twitching

After a fortnight's birding on Unst (of which, more in another post), I managed my first patch visit in 26 days on Friday. It was uneventful, bar a fly-over Brambling which was my first patch bird of the year (and a species I failed to get last year), putting me on 136 species for the year at Collingham, one more than 2014 and equal with 2013. I had another brief trip out to the patch this evening to check out the gull roost; the large gulls were dominated by Lesser Black-backs, of which there were around 380, but there were also 3 adult Yellow-legs, and 10 Herrings. Pochard numbers were also up markedly since Friday (when there was just one), with a notable 65.

Back to yesterday, and I decided to treat myself to a trip to Norfolk, with lots of good stuff on offer in the Wells/Holkham area, including a tick. Unfortunately, I seemed to spend the whole day about half an hour behind the birds, and ran out of time to clean up. Beginning at Holkam, I missed the Isabeline Shrike by 10 minutes on my way to the Red-flanked Bluetail, which showed for all of 30 seconds before vanishing (and then not showing for the next 40 minutes). On my way back to Lady Anne's Drive, I had another failed bid for the Izzy Shrike, which was then seen later in the morning after I'd gone to Wells. 

Awful Bluetail pic #1
Awful Bluetail pic #2
Awful Bluetail pic #3

At Wells, I spend a fair while standing around not seeing (or even having a sniff of) the Blyth's Reed Warbler (arriving 15 minutes after it was last seen), before heading off to see the Hume's Warblers. There was a complete melee where they were, and after hearing one of the birds call several times, and lots (and lots) of people chasing off in pursuit, I'd had enough, despite having not seen anything more than the silhouette of a bird flicking through the canopy. And no Pallas's Warbler either, but I did locate one of the Great White Egrets on the fresh marsh.


After another half an hour waiting, unsuccessfully, for the second Bluetail to show at the drinking pool, I went for another crack at the Blyth's Reed, as this was the bird I really wanted to see. This time I actually heard the bird call, frustratingly just 5 metres away on the other side of some bramble, having been glimpsed by a few others. More waiting without luck followed, and I had to go back to the car to extend my parking (now up to £13, yes THIRTEEN pounds, into the Holkham Estate coffers). One last try, and this time a shout went up that the bird was pinned down, about 100 yards away from its last location. Rushing round, it was in a small, isolated patch of bramble, popping up several times into the open. Success! 

Blyth's Reed, almost showing well...
Blyth's Reed
So, a slightly frustrating day, but at least I saw the BRW - good to tick this one off after three dips in Shetland recently...