Saturday, 26 November 2016

It must be winter

I had yesterday off work, and decided that it might be time for the first visit of the winter to Cotham Landfill. I cycled down the recently re-opened cyclepath from Newark, and spent about 3 hours scouring the gulls. There were good numbers present, although the light was awful to begin with; a perennial problem with this site is that you have to view it looking south-east from the cyclepath, ok when it's overcast but not great on a clear day like yesterday.

Gulls gulls gulls

Highlights were two 1st W Caspian Gulls, both eye-catching beauties. The first was badly against the light, but had a snowy white head and underparts and ticked all the boxes. The second was initially picked up in the melee, and again was a stand-out bird, even doing the 'albatross long call' several times. I picked it out again a bit later, sat up on a mound - a genuine 'wow' moment; what a stunner. In typical fashion, a refuse lorry then backed in front of it, and it was nowhere to be seen by the time the lorry moved out of the way 10 minutes later. 

Casp 1
Casp 1
Casp 1
Casp 1
Casp 2 - first sighting
Casp 2 - first sighting
Casp 2 - second sighting
Casp 2 - second sighting

In addition, there were no fewer than 7 Lesser Black-backs (4 adults, and one each of 1st W, 2nd W and 3rd W), plus at least one 1st W Yellow-legged Gull

1st W YLG

And then there were the usual head-scratchers. The first was a striking 3rd W gull; it looked a bit Caspo-like, but I wasn't entirely convinced, and I lost it before being able to grill it properly; I think it was just a Herring. And an amazing-looking 2nd W Herring Gull - I'm not sure I've ever seen such a dark one before. Check out the wing coverts!

3rd W Herring(?) Gull
2nd W Herring Gull

And finally, I think this photo sums up gulls nicely - a huge Herring Gull (presumably an argentatus - I didn't see the spread wing though) the size of the GBBG to the right, stood behind two small argenteus Herring Gulls, literally half the size. That's variation for you, and the reason that every day's a school day when it comes to gulls...

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Wild Swans

There wasn't much of note around Collingham Pits yesterday - 3 Goosander flew over heading south, whilst a couple of Water Rail were being noisy in the Silt Lagoon reedbed. On Ferry Lane Lake, the juv Pink-foot was still in with the Greylags, whilst a single adult YLG was in the gull roost. 

Another quick look at Ferry Lane Lake this morning didn't reveal anything new, so I decided to check out Meering and the fields to the North - if I'm going to get Merlin for the patch yearlist, it'll be here. No luck today, but a scan of the swan herd revealed 2 Bewick's in with the Mutes, along with 4 adult Whoopers. I also recorded 2 Bewick's here during the first winter period of 2015, having never recorded them around here before, so not a species I was expecting to get in 2016. For Patchwork Challenge, this puts me on 153 species for 193 points. In addition, about 210 Pinkies flew over East. 

Bewick's Swan
All three Swan species

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Raven

Raven has been a long-expected addition to my Collingham list; I've seen them in Newark town centre this year, and encountered a pair behaving like they were breeding not a million miles away. They've been seen at Langford recently, and at Girton. Therefore, it wasn't a huge surprise when I heard one kronking when I was at Mons Pool on friday; I soon located it sat up in the tops of the trees on the island. It hung around for a while with a few other corvids, before heading south. A Water Rail again on the Silt Lagoon and an adult YLG in the small gull roost on Ferry Lane Lake were the only other birds of note. 

Another visit on Saturday produced another Water Rail on Mons Pool, with a Cetti's Warbler calling there as well, and 7 Whoopers still in the fields north of Meering Marsh. My WeBS count at Girton was fairly unspectacular, not helped by lots of disturbance (shooting and illegal fishing), but two female Common Scoter were on Spalford Pit, where they've been for a while now. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Unst 2016

AKA 'the one wiper tour'

Now that the dust has just about settled on a fairly spectacular autumn, it seems like an appropriate time to finally blog about my fortnight visit to Unst at the end of September. As well as myself, our team (or were we a massiv?) comprised Paul French (PF), Georgia Gough (GG), Paul Eele (PE), Rachael Eele (RE) and Andy Chick (AC). Arriving on the 18th, Noosthamar at Burrafirth (aka the Shetland Nature Lodge) was to be our home for the next two weeks (very nice it is too, only lacking some on-site habitat). Having also visited Unst for a fortnight last year, I began to feel like I knew the place reasonably well...

Burrafirth from Noosthamar
Noosthamar from Burrafirth

With two vehicles between us, PE and RE tended to head off and do their own thing (not least because their van doesn’t have any seats in the back), whilst myself and AC were in with PF and GG. PF’s car did a stirling job, although it had shed a wiper blade just before the journey up, and despite PE’s best efforts to glue it back on again, it was quickly shed again the first time it rained. However, GG insisted that she didn’t need to be able to see out of the passenger side of the windscreen, which was lucky. A puncture also didn’t help, but this was quickly resolved.

Dealing with the puncture (photo: GG)
And so, our days were spent happily wandering around Unst, moving from site to site. However, persistent southerly winds, switching to westerlies towards the end of the fortnight (with brief south-easterlies early on) meant that birds were a bit thin on the ground, and towards the middle of the trip this began to feel a bit samey. Things picked up in the last couple of days, although the peak came too late for us…

Some days the birding was a bit slow... we went out for tea and cake...
...or resorted to something harder when the birding was really slow...
... and everything was chronicled on Twitter by GG
RE serving up, and PE showing his sophisticated side

Star birds

Had our trip started a week later, then this section would be populated with pictures of Siberian and White’s Thrushes. Rare thrushes are about my favourite group of birds, and either of the aforementioned species would be a dream find, so it was a bit gutting that both these turned up within a few days of us leaving Unst. But there’s no good time to leave Shetland in the autumn.

From my perspective, there was one stand-out bird during our stay, and that only because it was a British tick for me. It turned up on the 27th, on a period of howling westerlies; that morning most of the others (except PE who’d gone to twitch a BRW) had decided to stay in for the morning due to poor weather conditions (part-timers), but I borrowed PF’s car, and headed to Skaw. However, it soon became apparent that I should have got there earlier, as there were about 15 birders already lined up on the road down to the beach. One of them was Dave Cooper, who showed me an image on the back of his camera – he’d found a Paddyfield Warbler. I parked up, had brief views of the bird, and then did the decent thing and drove straight back to Burrafirth to pick up the others, receiving various pleading text messages as I came back into mobile reception. Returning, we all had good views of the bird, despite the rain, as it fed in long grass and rushes along the burn. PE eventually turned up too.

The burn at Skaw
Paddyfield Warbler at Skaw
Paddyfield Warbler at Skaw
Enjoying the warbler

And then there was the Norwick warbler on the 30th - our last full day - which perhaps I shouldn’t mention… Walking up the road from the direction of Norwick beach, we had just passed ‘Wilma’s Garden’ when a rather sandy-looking warbler zipped past us and dived into a Rosa patch. That looked interesting! After a while it flew out, and PE announced ‘Paddyfield!’ Given the length of the super, this looked like a good shout. 

However, over the next hour or so the bird gave us the run around, but identification was far from straightforward, and we eventually talked ourselves into it being a BRW. However, news emerged the following day of a Paddyfield Warbler - at Norwick. Scrutiny of our photos and some independent comment confirmed that we'd cocked up the ID and this was our bird… I have to say, it does look a bit more obvious in the photos than it did in the field (excuses, excuses). The bird has been aged as an adult, and hence not the Skaw bird (which was a 1st W). Hey ho, you live and learn. 

Paddyfield Warbler at Norwick
Paddyfield Warbler at Norwick
Paddyfield Warbler at Norwick
Paddyfield Warbler at Norwick
Paddyfield Warbler at Norwick
Paddyfield Warbler at Norwick

Prior to this on the 30th, we’d been at Vaylie, where it was feeling rare, but we’d yet to find the big one. Walking back down the hill towards the cars, a redpoll flew in from our left, calling, and flashing a big white rump. It then dropped behind the house. However, it had settled on the fence at the bottom of the garden - a lovely-looking Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll. Sweet. I managed to cause some confusion at this point by announcing ‘it’s on the fence by the house’. In fact what I meant was it’s on the fence beyond the house. The RBF (see below) was on the fence by the house, and I think PF and PE thought any ID skills I may possess had completely deserted me (although even I would struggle to mix up a big white redpoll and a flycatcher).

Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll
Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll

The supporting cast

Blyth’s Reed Warbler: A real feature of our fortnight. The first was found by PF on the 20th whilst we were birding in Uyeasound. I was sat outside the big orange house watching the garden (seeing nowt but a Yellow-brow), when a calling Golden Plover made me look over to my left, where I saw PF and AC doing some sort of semaphore in my direction. The message was a bit scrambled, but the gist of it was *good bird over here*. As I arrived PF asked me what rarity I would be most disappointed with, which I didn’t take to be a good sign. Anyway, it transpired that PF, AC and GG had had a BRW, but it refused to reappear for me, which was a bit annoying (although it did show for us all on the 23rd).

BRW at Uyeasound

Redemption came a few days later on the 22nd when the four of us were at Northdale, checking the Rosa between the two cottages. I’d stuck my head into the bottom of the elders looking for Catharus thrushes, then hearing the flutter of wings as something flew in overhead. It then proceeded to ‘teck’, which sounded interesting. I called PF and GG over, and after seeing nothing of the bird I repositioned myself, eventually confirming that the bird was indeed an Acro, as hoped. We then had reasonable (albeit brief) views of it over the next 40 minutes or so, and confirmed that it was indeed another BRW, also seeing it the following day.

BRW at Northdale
The Rosa at Northdale

Out third BRW was a bird found by persons unknown at Houlland (Balista), which we saw on several days in the garden and down the burn, whilst PE found a fourth BRW as we were heading in convoy to Skaw on the 30th – it flew across the road in front of him and RE as they were driving past the willows at the bottom of the hill. It eventually showed reasonably well on a fence, confirming our team’s third BRW find of the fortnight. So, quite different from 2015, when we dipped four different BRW’s and found none..!

BRW at Houlland
BRW at Norwick

Dusky Warbler: This was a bit annoying. I had ditched Team French for the day on the 28th to join Team Eele, which was fun – although there was some strange behaviour exhibited during the day involving wellies. However, my lack of loyalty was punished immediately by PF finding a Dusky Warbler in the burn at Burrafirth, which we had been checking daily, and AC papping the hell out of it. PE, RE and myself eventually went to look at the bird at the end of the day. My first one of these for a long time, and a self-find tick for bird-finder extraordinaire Mr French.

No idea what's going on here (RE and PE)
Dusky Warbler
Dusky Warbler
Dusky Warbler
Me and some Dusky Warbler habitat (photo: PE)

Radde’s Warbler: This was another species which I hadn’t seen for a while, and which it was nice to catch up with again. It turned up at Vaylie on the same day as the Paddyfield Warbler at Skaw (27th), following strong westerlies, and eventually showed reasonably well. Amazingly, a first for Unst, and briefly we all had one bird on our list that Unst’s resident top lister, Mike Pennington, didn’t. However, he quickly rectified that, and amazingly this was something like his 314th Unst species.

Some nice Rosa leaves... with a Radde's in there somewhere
AC loving the rain
Mike Pennington and friend celebrating his Unst tick

Barred, Icterine and Yellow-browed Warblers: We saw/found several Barred Warblers in the first week, with birds at Norwick, Haroldswick, Baltasound and Clibberswick. An Icterine Warbler turned up at Setter’s Hill on the 24th, relocating to Halligarth where it gave great views over a period of several days. And Yellow-brows… these were the commonest migrant (excluding the likes of Meadow Pipit) by a mile. Our team’s collective best was 26 in a single day (on the 22nd), and that was without really trying. They were everywhere.

PE and the Icky
Habitat at Halligarth
Barred Warbler
YBW at Haroldswick
YBW at Northdale, plus an annoying twig

Little Bunting: Another feature of the trip. It’s impossible to say exactly how many were involved, but between us we seemed to find most of the birds concerned. My best was one at Baliasta on 20th, which was a nice little reward for flogging up the burn from the Loch of Cliff. Two took up residence at Skaw, and we also saw ones or twos at Lund (which was missing a Siberian Accentor at that time), Vaylie, Haroldswick and Northdale.

Little Bunt at Baliasta
Little Bunt at Haroldswick

Common Rosefinch: One at Northdale on or first day was presumably the bird that took up residence at Vaylie subsequently. It never showed well, and was always flighty.


Red-breasted Fly: One was found at Vaylie on 22nd, where it remained for the rest of our stay. There was a suggestion from members of our group that there was a second bird there on our final day, in the gardens of the cottages below. I remain to be convinced that this was indeed a second bird (probably because I didn’t actually see it).

The rare bird magnet that is Vaylie
RE and the RBF

Corncrake: This was another annoyance from the Burrafirth burn. I’d gone out on my own on the 22nd and upon entering the burn, had very brief views of a bird scuttling away through the long grass. My first impression was Corncrake. But could I find it again? Could I hell. I returned to tell the others, and all six of us then walked the burn, with no further sign. However, the following day, news came of a Corncrake in the same spot. And even worse, PF, GG and AC had great views of it at the same time as they found the Dusky Warbler, with AC obtaining some incredible shots. I never did get to see it properly!

Corncrake (photo: AC)

And the rest

Small numbers of Chiffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps made up the bulk of the migrants on the island, along with a few Garden Warblers, Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats, and single Reed and Wood Warblers. A Grasshopper Warbler that PE found in the thistle patch at Lund (where the Sibe Accentor turned up) caused some excitement on our penultimate day, giving us the run-around but eventually allowing itself to be ID’d as not a Lancy (and bringing the warbler haul to an impressive 16 species).

Wood Warbler
One of the Lesser Whitethroats - all blythi..?

Other things included a couple of Pied and Spotted Flys between us; small numbers of Chaffinches, Wheatears, Goldcrests, Whinchats, Siskin, and single Tree Pipit, Osprey and Water Rail. A few Fieldfares began to arrive towards the end of the fortnight, and we also saw two nice dark coburni Redwing at Northdale which may have attempted to breed there. A few Lapland Bunts were around (with a flock of 33 at Haroldswick), as well as a single Snow Bunting. Non-avian highlights included several Otters and Harbour Porpoises, and the Northern Lights on a couple of evenings.

Tree Pipit
Snow Bunting
Otter-let at Westing
Otter at Haroldswick

Northern Lights from Noosthamar

So all in all, it wasn’t a bad fortnight. It lacked a killer bird, and the two aforementioned rare thrushes turning up the following week were a bit of a ****. However, I love birding in Shetland (although sometimes I hate it) - and the freedom of doing nothing but bird for two weeks solid is fantastic. The company was ok too (#bants). But what to do in 2017? Back to Unst? A week on Fair Isle later in October? A return to Scilly? Or a stay-cation based at Spurn, given its amazing run this autumn..? Decisions decision. But I’m determined that one day, I’ll hit Shetland just right with the wind direction, having failed to do so on the last three visits. It will happen.

I clearly hadn't showered that day - PE, AC, PF, GG and me (photo: RE)