Thursday, 30 September 2010

Another trip to Lancs

I went over to Lancashire again yesterday (and today) and was met by horrendous weather, poor visibility and driving rain, luckily I was able to make the most of the land rover so kept fairly dry during the worst of the weather, lots of Pink-footed Geese and large gulls (mainly Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls) were more-or-less the only birds noted - visibility was appalling. Once the weather improved and I could actually see and hear the birds activity went through-the-roof with raptors, waders, wildfowl and passerines all on the move. Large numbers of Pink-footed Geese and Snipe were recorded with a fair amount of Skylark, Swallow and Meadow Pipit passage. A nocturnal survey produced very little (Mallard, Snipe and Lapwing), however it was interesting listening to at least 6 different Tawny Owls calling from different plantations on my side of the site - with at least 3 or 4 on the other side of the site too.

This morning my survey was incredibly busy, no sooner had I got out of the car I was aware of a Peregrine gently drifting over me, it didn't really look like it was hunting, maybe just assessing the area... an hour or so later presumably the same Peregrine (a juvenile female) came powering right past me, 10ft off the ground about 20m away! I watched it as it went low across the ground - certainly hunting this time - before I lost it as it went down over a hedge. A cloud of corvids and Wood Pigeon exploded, but I didn't see the kill (if there was one), however I didn't see the bird again during the day.

A juvenile Marsh Harrier was noted quartering the stubble field, putting up clouds of Linnet and Skylark, but constantly mobbed by various corvids. Visible migration was noted early doors with the following noted: Skylark, Meadow Pipit, 'Alba' Wagtail, Chaffinch, Corn Bunting, Linnet, Goldfinch, Siskin, Redpoll, Swallow, 4 Coal Tit and a singles of Redwing and Mistle Thrush.

Plenty of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese were observed - in ever increasing numbers (a very small percentage of Pink-footed Geese shown in the photo from my phone below - along with the setting moon).

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Rustic Bunting & Barred Warbler - Flamborough

I managed to get away from work at a reasonable time today and since the Empidonax Flycatcher was a no show I thought I'd head to the coast - Flamborough is fairly close so I thought I'd go there instead of Norfolk. A quick call and Dave made the short journey from Harrogate to York and we set off to the coast.

On the way I joked with Dave how I'd be annoyed if the best bird of the day turned out to be a Red-flanked Bluetail (we'd seen 3 in the last 2 years) and I said I'd much prefer something like a Rustic or a Pine Bunting....!

We decided to try the North Landing area of Flamborough Head, a section I'm not too familiar with, despite spending lots of time at the other areas on the headland. We pulled up, and set off birding. We noticed a nice looking area called (Holmes' Gut - I think) and were called over to look at a tail-less Yellow-browed Warbler by a guy who had arrived a few minutes before us (John). Whilst watching the warbler it became immediately evident that there was a lot of birds moving through either feeding up or flying through, several Brambling, Redstart, Whinchat, Song Thrush, Redwing, Robin, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Blackbird, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Sand Martin, Swallow, Tree and House Sparrow, Linnet, Goldfinch, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting.

As we stood in the open area we were constantly keeping an eye on an elder bush, ever expecting a Barred Warbler to pop out. Dave saw a Reed Bunting whilst I was looking at Whinchat and Redstart, as I took my scope down we all noticed a bird fly up into the elder bush 30m in front of us, I put my scope straight up onto it and bang, RUSTIC BUNTING!!! Just as I was opening my mouth to announce it, John (rather calmly stated "Rustic Bunting"). The bird, a 1st winter, was sat in the elder bush next to a Reed Bunting giving excellent scope views (all three of us saw it in the scope) as it preened. The features noted included a peaked crown, a buffy supercillium, white cheek 'spot' to rear of orangy/brown cheek, white median coverts (this with the reddish/brown colouration of the closed wing looked a little Tree Sparrowish). The Rustic was a similar size to the Reed Bunting it was sat next too, the side of the breast was in view briefly, it looked a little blotchy/streaky - reminiscent of American Sparrows I've seen. After a short time the Rustic and Reed Buntings flew towards us, looped closely before dropping over a hawthorn hedge and out of view (presumably into the stubble field behind where we were watching).

We phoned it out immediately and within 20 minutes people were arriving to look for it. A nervous 90 minutes passed before Rich Baines et al re-found it further along the stubble field - it was seen by several other people at this point I believe.

Very satisfied with this, Dave and I decided to try the area we had originally planned to visit near North Moor Farm, this area was full of Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff with large numbers of Linnet and Goldfinch (constantly hunted by Sparrowhawk and Kestrel). A large bird shot across the road over our head and I shouted BARRED WARBLER, this bird gave us the typical Barred Warbler run around as it completed its small circuit of hedgerow and garden, before eventually giving itself up and showing well, out in the open in the hawthorn hedge. A fly-by Peregrine and 2 Barn Owl rounded off the day nicely!

The day had started disappointingly with news that the Empidonax Flycatcher had gone, however ended on a high after finally seeing one of my bogey birds! The fact that I'd co-found it made it even sweeter, especially considering my conversation with Dave on the way to Flamborough!!! Roll on autumn...

Sunday, 26 September 2010


Good to see the first winter migrants within the local area today in the form of a couple of skeins of Pink-footed Geese powering south (no doubt aided by the wind!) with a couple of loose groups of Redwing also recorded heading south, Skylark over the garden was also heading south.

It's also good to see that the Empidonax (presumed Alder) Flycatcher is still present down at Blakeney, Norfolk - along with a decent supporting cast in the local area ('Western' Bonelli's Warbler, Radde's Warbler, Little Bunting, Richards Pipit, Yellow-browed Warbler, Barred Warbler, Common Rosefinch, and Red-necked and Grey Phalaropes). I wonder if it will hang around until I can get there!???

Also great that the Northern Parula is still up on Tiree, please fly southeast, say 250 miles...

The Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler is apparently still on Fair Isle (with another caught in The Netherlands yesterday), a White's Thrush on Mainland Shetland and a smattering of Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll on islands around Scotland. Interesting birds in Europe in the form of Siberian Stonechat and Rustic Bunting in The Netherlands with the White-winged Lark amazingly still present in Sweden.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Alder Flycatcher and Northern Parula

Unfortunately I didn't get to see either of the monster birds of the day today. An Empidonax flycatcher species was discovered at Blakeney Point, Norfolk. Initially reported as either Alder/Willow/Least, then latterly as Yellow-bellied it was with baited breath that I waited for the photos to emerge. I've seen all 4 of the aforementioned species in Costa Rica and I think it looks more like Alder Flycatcher than anything else, however Alder/Willow are generally considered unidentifiable unless heard calling (and known as Traill's Flycatcher). My experience with Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is that they appeared more greenish overall compared to Alder/Willow and also had a larger, more distinct eye-ring with variable but generally distinct yellow bellies. Kevin Du Rose' excellent photo certainly goes a long way to suggesting Alder/Willow Flycatcher for me.

The other mega bird was a 1st winter female Northern Parula, this one was up on Tiree, Scotland, John Bowler obtained these shots of the bird as it fed in Hawthorns and Willows. According to Slack (2009), Rare Birds Where and When: An analysis of Status and Distribution in Britain and Ireland there has only been 17 records of Northern Parula (Britain - 14 and Ireland - 3), with a strong SE bias (e.g. Scillies, Cornwall, Dorset, Cork) with not many further records from other European countries, a northern mainland bird would be very much appreciated - please! When I lived in Costa Rica I used to get Tropical Parula in my garden, the parula genera has some stunning species, Northern Parula was a rare vagrant over there and it's one that I'd love to have seen there, just as much as I'd love to see one over here!

Hopefully something might turn up a bit closer to home!

Geese and Pere's

I spent the end of the week surveying over in Lancashire. The weather forecast had been for poor weather so already 'full of cold' I couldn't wait to spend 2 days and a night looking for birds in the cold north wind and rain! Luckily the weather wasn't as bad as was expected, though there had obviously been a lot of rain looking at all of the flooded fields and roads.

It didn't take too long to find some interest, a large flooded field was full of gulls and Lapwing with an adjacent field full of 'alba' wagtails. As we were counting all of these a large juvenile female Peregrine stooped in and had a half-hearted attempt for a Lapwing, however it got away, just!

A bit further around our route and we came across a few Pink-footed Geese dropping into a distant stubble field (family groups and several flocks of 10's and 20's), the area was busy with raptors with a hunting male Marsh Harrier being the pick, fantastic to watch as it too did a stoop down to the ground but again to no avail, save flushing several Snipe. Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and at least 7 Buzzard were also seen. One of the aforementioned Buzzards decided to drop low over the stubble field where the Pink-footed Geese had been dropping into. From our distant viewpoint we were amazed as 'a few' Pink-footed Geese erupted into about 5,500 birds as they gained height and flew around a bit before going back to the stubble field/moving to other areas. Large flocks of Linnet, Corn Bunting, Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Swallows were all noted.

On Friday visible migration was noted amongst mainly Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Chaffinch with Swallow, 'alba and flava' Wagtails and a single Lapland Bunting recorded (unfortunately the Lap Bunt didn't fly over my side of the site so I didn't see it). The first 'target species' I got my eyes on was a pair of Mallard flying north through my site, the second 'target species' I saw was a juvenile female Peregrine that was tanking after the Mallard, again another close chase ensured and again the prey got away, but it was really close! A spectacular sight as the big female shot low across the ground before powering up into the Mallard! Later, presumably the same juvenile female Pere came back south, slowly drifting about 15m directly over my head! Excellent stuff! Not a huge deal else was recorded of note, lots of Lapwing, Snipe and Geese, making for an enjoyable couple of days, only spoiled by being full of cold!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Dutch Northern Waterthrush Video

Check out this really cool video footage of the the dutch Northern Waterthrush from Natuurdigitaal! Good stuff! And this video showing some twitch scenes, the bird even made the first minute of the news!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Black Terns!

Nothing too exciting on the local patch over the last couple of days, lots more Meadow Pipit, Linnets and Chaffinch through, with lower numbers of Swallow and House Martin noted. Single Yellow Wagtail and Pied Wagtails went through as too did the first Lesser Redpoll of the Autumn, 1 yesterday and 2 today. Thrushes appeared more evident with several vocal Song Thrush seen moving through the scrub with a couple of Blackbirds flying high over. Several Chiffchaff were still singing away.

Some more interesting birds arriving today in the form of Pallas's Gropper and another Brown Flycatcher new in on Shetland with the Buff-bellied Pipit still present up there. Check out Punkbirder for details of the Brown Flycatcher (and yesterdays River Warbler) finds and check out FIBO Warden's Diary for an incredible full-frame picture of the Pallas's grasshopper Warbler - stunning (and the recent Buff-beiiled Pipit)!

Good numbers of Black Tern in the UK today with counts of 75 Grafham Water, 71 Rutland Water, 26 Audenshaw Reservoir, 22 Holme Pierrepont, 22 Dungeness, 21 Alvecote, 14 Swillington with lots of other sites having under a dozen or lone birds. A decent count at Tophill Low too so hopfully Rich got some photos - check out the Tophill Low Nature Reserve Blog.

In Europe the White-winged Lark and White-crowned Wheatear are still present in Sweden and Germany respectively. Norway had it's first Olive-backed Pipit of the Autumn today so hopefully one will turn up over here soon - preferably on one of my sites!

I'm off to Lancashire for a bit, so will hopefully get something interesting over there, but it is unlikely to include PGTips of Brown Fly!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

I managed to get away from work a little bit earlier today, hoping that the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper would still be up at Greatham Creek. After a nervous couple of hours during the late afternoon I found out the bird was still showing so decided to risk the evening rush hour traffic and head north up the A19.

I arrived at site about 18:00hrs and stayed until it was dusk and had some really nice views of the adult Sharp-tailed Sandpiper as it was feeding. At a quick glance the bird appeared similar to a Pectoral Sandpiper, had a distinctive white supercillium with a dark cap. The Sharp-tail was a similar size to the 4 Dunlin that I could see but the Sharp-tail appeared to have longer legs with a slightly thinner, more elegant body with short, slightly decurved bill and greenish legs.

I managed a brilliant photo of the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper on my phone (see below):

A very enjoyable 'twitch'. There has been around 30 records of Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in the UK, with two recent records (2007 and 2010) from the Spurn Area, East Yorkshire. I'd not had a chance to go for either of these due to work commitments so am please to have finally caught up with this one!

I'd like to thank IanF for letting me use his images of the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper below (These images are © IanF 2010): Visit the Teesmouth Bird Club for further images, sightings and information on birding in this area.

Monday, 20 September 2010

A little bit of Vis Mig and 2 new 'office ticks'!

Early morning and the local patch seemed busier than it had been for a few days. As I stepped out the back door Swallow and House Martin passage was evident, as too was the ever increasing flock of c60 Greylag Geese (unfortunately the 20 'Snow Geese' reported in York last week haven't made it into my Greylag flock yet!).

Plenty of Meadow Pipit were recorded heading southeast and an increase in the numbers of Linnet and Chaffinch was noted. Several Chiffchaff were still calling away.

New office ticks were of the not-so-mega variety, Grey Wagtail and Mallard!!! Well they all count!

More good birds have been found today including Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Bobolink, Buff-bellied Pipit and River Warbler in the UK, with the White-crowned Black Wheatear and Northern Waterthrush still present in Germany and The Netherlands respectively. However bird of the day has to go to the White-winged Lark found in Sweden. Having only been recorded (accepted) twice in the UK (1869 and 1981 - and seen only by the finders) an occurrence of a twitchable bird over here would be huge! I've learnt a lot on White-winged Lark today and I'm glad I purchased Rare Birds Where and When: An analysis of Status & Distribution in Britain and Ireland (Vol 1) by Russell Slack which provides a great deal of information on the past records of this central Asian vagrant.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Potteric Carr - Wet!

Spent the afternoon on a family trip to Potteric Carr, South Yorkshire with Jenny and her parents. The weather forecast was showing better weather in the Doncaster area so we thought it may be worth a go, however the forecast was wrong and it was just as wet down there as it was in York! First stop was the cafe for some truly excellent hot chocolate and bacon sandwiches!

Fuelled up we started properly around the reserve where we enjoyed great views of a range of species including 2x Water Rail (including a showy one below that allowed me to get a record shot on my phone!), Little Egret, Snipe, Lapwing, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Pochard, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Little Grebe, Coot, Moorhen, Grey Heron and various Gulls were all recorded around the scrapes/marshes/waterbodies.

While other birds seen included Jay, Kestrel, Stock Dove, Pheasant, Wood Pigeon, Green and Great-spotted Woodpeckers, and several mixed foraging flocks of Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Willow Tit and Chiffchaff. Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Dunnock, and Robin were also seen well.

There was a huge number of Fungi species out on show around the reserve so if you're into that sort of thing I'd recommend a visit. Giant Puffballs are awesome!!!

Not a huge species haul, and nothing particularly rare but good views of many species, despite the horrible weather, and we all had a good time!

There's been some really interesting rarities recorded in the Western Palearctic this weekend (White-crowned Black Wheatear in Germany, A Tropicbird sp off Spain, Great Blue Heron on the Azores, Little Curlew in Belgium, and Northern Waterthrush in Netherlands), hopefully something Mega will drop into the UK this week!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Tree Pipit @ local patch

I went out on the local patch this morning and was rewarded by a flyover Tree Pipit. The last few days have seen a considerable passage of Meadow Pipit with regular flocks of 50-80 birds passing southeast and I've been hoping for something like a Lapland Bunting or something better in amongst them, however this morning the lack of Meadow Pipits was noticeable, only a single bird heading southeast. Whilst reaching the furthest section of the patch I picked up a slightly larger pipit undulating towards me, it called a couple of times (tree pipit) as it passed over and carried on southeast (probably going straight over my garden!)

There was little else of note, a few Swallow heading high northwest, a few Chiffchaff singing and calling, a single Whitethroat. A brief glimpse of a small bird vanishing into cover was interesting if a little frustrating.

Friday, 17 September 2010

New Links Added

I've added a range of new links to my blog today including:

The Biggest Twitch: the website detailing Alan Davies and Ruth Miller's new world record. Alan and Ruth visited 27 countries, recording 4,341 species in a year! Awesome stuff, can't wait to get my book!!!

Birding Frontiers: Martin Garner's excellent and thought-provoking website discussing up-to-the-minute UK rarity identification issues of those potentially mega (often difficult to identify species) birds (e.g. Zino's Petrel, Marsh Hawk, Yelkouan Shearwater, American Lapland Bunting, Collared Flycatcher etc...).

Several websites for rarity news, e.g. Birdguides, Rare Birds in Spain and Icelandic Bird Sightings, these might be useful for thinking about what might be the next good bird on the local patch! (will add some more of these from Europe soon e.g. Netfugl's Western Palearctic sightings)

And for some light relief you can't beat Punkbirder, Reservoir Cats, Of Pies and Birds.

Don't forget to check out my friends websites:

Rich Birder: Currently at Lista Bird Observatory, Norway
Binocularface: Cumbria and UK birding
Bob The Birder: Warwickshire and UK birding
Spurn Bird Observatory: Spurn Point

Enjoy them!

Blue-grey Tanager, Costa Rica - no doubt one of the 4,341 species seen on The Biggest Twitch!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Great White Egret

I was working down the A1 today so I decided to drop in on the Great White Egret that had been in North Nottinghamshire for a week or so. I'm glad I did as I got some really good views as it sat out in the open preening before dropping down to feed. I'd had a Great White Egret on one of my sites not too far from where this bird was a few months back so it may well have been in the area for a while (assuming it's the same bird). I managed a few photos with my phone before I had to carry on my journey to my site.

My site also proved interesting this morning, all of the passage birds that had been present a few weeks ago appeared to have gone, no real surprise there but there was still plenty to keep me occupied... A flock of approximately 150 very vocal Meadow Pipits feeding on the deck was frustrating to watch due to the rolling terrain they were foraging in, occasionally something different would appear, firstly several 'alba' wagtails, then some 'flava' wagtails, then a Wheatear and finally a Tree Pipit, something unseen flushed them all and they all flew up and flew off south never to be seen again. A constant stream of Meadow Pipits went through (south) most of the day, with the odd House Martin and Swallow also recorded, however the hirundines were all heading north!

Gulls were more numerous on this visit with many Great Black-backs in with the Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls, however the highlight was definitely an adult Yellow-legged Gull that dropped down briefly.

Several Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and a number of Buzzard were all recorded however raptor highlight was easily a juvenile female Peregrine that after spending a good 10 minutes flying about being mobbed by a couple of Buzzards decided to drop down to eye level and fly straight towards me! The bird banked and then landed at the edge of a pool only 50m away, it didn't hang on for long before flying off to the south, a spectacular view!

Another enjoyable day!!

(NB The top two GWE photos are from Costa Rica - digiscoped, the bottom 2 are from the site this morning - phonescoped)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A few roadside birds

Spent the weekend driving from mine (in York) to my parents in Nuneaton, then heading on to Swindon to visit family and friends. Interesting birds seen along the way included several Buzzard, including one by the M18 that almost landed on my car! A few Kestrel hunting along the verges, a single Sparrowhawk fly-by, however the highlights were definitely a single Red Kite somewhere in the Cotswolds and a Hobby close to the Cotswold Water Park.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Osprey, but still not the best bird of the day...

Whilst the east coast has been sinking under the weight of migrant birds I decided to visit the west coast! Well when I say decided I really mean work sent me over that way and I couldn't get out of it! Nevermind, I wasn't too worried as i haven't 'needed' anything yet so didn't feel too upset about driving the wrong way and into Lancashire again.

A range of surveys including some nocturnal surveys were the order of the visit, which went fairly well, apart from getting a roasting from a Tw*t of a gamekeeper who'd not been told I was coming onto the site - turns out he's not as important as he thinks he is!! After the way he shouted at me he was lucky there was a ditch between the two of us!

Highlight of the trip was definitely a single Swift that flew through the site in amongst several hundred Swallows, House and Sand Martins. In addition to these, a single Osprey drifting southeast over the site was another good bird to add to the increasingly large site list (and a new 'work' tick for me!). Walking about the site it was clear that autumn is on its way/here with plenty of Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Grey, Yellow and Pied Wagtail all noted heading south. (Tree Pipit was also recorded south but not seen by me this time). Amongst the birds dropping in a couple of unidentified distant chats were noted briefly before being lost, then a couple of Wheatear were also found. Lapwing, Curlew and Snipe appeared to be building up and the first Teal of the autumn were recorded.

I'm looking forward to heading back there in a couple of weeks, if only to take my terriers to have some fun with the gamekeepers Pheasants and Partridge!!!

Friday, 3 September 2010

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler

It's a few days now since I had those great views of the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. It appears as though the bird suddenly became a lot more tricky to connect with soon after my departure on Wednesday afternoon so I was glad I was able to get there when I did! However it is apparently still present this evening though very elusive.

Steve Race has very kindly let me publish one of his Eastern Olivaceous Warbler photos below. It goes without saying that this image belongs to Steve Race ©

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A Busy Day!

My day started at 4am to get down to my site in Nottinghamshire for sunrise, it was cold but beautiful as the Sun came up. Birds were everywhere with several Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Snipe and Woodcock all recorded flying about the flashes I was checking out, in addition plenty of ducks and geese.

As the sun kept rising out shot a Hobby, complete with the prey it had just caught.

All in all an enjoyable survey, and completed by mid-morning, home for lunch, however things were set to take a dramatic twist and I headed straight up to Flamborough after a tip-off from a friend that I really should be there. I shot up as quickly as possible (as fast as the combines, tractors and coffin dodgers would allow). Parked up, donated some money and rushed down to Old Fall plantation for excellent looks at the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. On my arrival there was approximately 40-50 people present round the back of the plantation, a wait of a few minutes was all that was required before the bird was sat out in the open on the edge of a hawthorn bush, continually pumping its tail as it foraged about the place. It was nice to catch up with this species in the UK, it's been a few years since I last saw it abroad.

I even managed to get home in time to pick Jenny up from work!