Tuesday, 10 December 2013

An Early "Merry Christmas"

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my blog readers. My next post will (hopefully) be about some amazing Thai birds...

Robin taken in Cornwall this November after successful Hermit Thrush twitch.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Two Firecrests in York!

Firecrest is a rare/scarce passage migrant in the York Area and is far from annual. 2013 will go down as a bumper year in the York area. This year has seen birds reported on the south side of York, right in the city centre, and at Skipwith Common. Three birds, all single observer records and either untwitchable or just not seen again (but considered 'good records' by good birders so not in question). These have proved very frustrating to try and catch up with though. Lots of hours walking round looking for them with no joy!

Mid-week last week news came out of a Firecrest photographed at Redhouse Wood on the west of York (it was actually photographed last weekend but remained a mystery until a few days later). Anyway, it was seen on Tuesday morning and afternoon, Wednesday morning and Friday morning. I spent 3 hours there on Wednesday afternoon but dipped it. Maybe it was a morning bird?

I went back this morning, got there near first light and waited with a few other local birders who'd come to look for it. A couple of hours passed with no sign of the bird, but distraction in the form of a very smart Kingfisher (a little out of context in the middle of a wood!), Bullfinch, Marsh Tit, Lesser Redpoll, Long-tailed Tit, Jay, Fieldfare and lots of Goldcrest. I started to feel a bit disheartened, surely I couldn't dip it again!

As the sun moved round and came out a bit more a new flock of tits and crests moved through and came to the small pool to bathe/drink. It was here that the Firecrest suddenly appeared. Firecrest is my favourite British bird so I always enjoy seeing them. In this context I was extra happy! It dropped down to the water and as it was low down another bird caught my eye, it was a Firecrest. But I was already looking at the Firecrest???!!! After a half-second of disbelief I realised there was two Firecrest, I'd just found a second bird! Result!

One Firecrest in the local context is big, two is huge - possibly unheard of? I need to check.

I got another couple of birders onto the two birds together as I didn't want to be the only person to be seeing/claiming two birds! They moved into the nearby Silver Birch trees that were draped in the bright sun where they actively fed and showed well, always moving away from us though. I grabbed a couple of record shots (below) but was unable to get both birds in the shot at the same time unfortunately. Did get an interesting in-flight shot!

Firecrest record shot (Andy Walker)

Firecrest record shot (Andy Walker)

It really makes me wonder how many Firecrest (and other interesting birds) must be out there, in a local context....

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Today was hard work birding in the freezing cold with the occasional snow shower. The first proper cold day of this winter. All I managed was this rather spectacular Red-legged Partridge whilst I ate my lunch - soon to be the winner of a special photo competition....

Red-legged Partridge (Andy Walker)

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Serin at Flamborough

I'd planned on going for the Flamborough Serin on Saturday, that was until news of the Western Orphean Warbler was out. So I had to wait until today until I had the chance to go for it.

I got to Falmborough mid-morning and was surprised to find about 20 cars parked up on the verge! I was hoping for a quiet twitch after yesterdays crowds of 100+ people! In reality it wasn't that bad and there were many familiar faces looking for the bird.

After an hour of waiting and getting my bearings in the set-aside field a single small bird flew into the bushes I was looking at. It called once as it dropped in before vanishing out of sight. About 15 minutes later I got another very brief look at it from behind. It looked like a smaller Lesser Redpoll from behind, but as it turned I got a flash of bright yellow on the face/throat. It then flew down in to set-aside where it vanished for another 10 minutes! A Sparrowhawk went through and flushed out loads of Chaffinch and Goldfinch but I didn't notice the Serin leave. A short while later more birds flew out of the field, then one on its own - the Serin.

This time it landed in the hedge and was more in view that the last brief view. It sat in the hedge preening for about 5/10 minutes and eventually showed numerous different angles, including opening its wings to display its bright yellow rump (not visible on my first sighting). It turned round and faced briefly and was quite impressive yellow on the breast and head.

I've got a new Iphone this weekend and haven't had time to learn how to use it properly however I grabbed one record shot (below)

Serin (phone-scoped)

I guess the reason for the 20 or so cars is because although Serin is pretty much annual in Yorkshire most of the records pertain to flyover birds at coastal watchpoints like Spurn and Flamborough with not many being twitchable. The last twitchable bird in Yorkshire was probably about 10 years ago...

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Orphean Warbler in Wales

I was in France when the 2012 Western Orphean Warbler visited Hartlepool so missed it and didn't really expect the opportunity to see another on for the next 10 years or so based on the previous records (see below). However, surprising news coming out from Wales got me a bit excited... A 'Lesser Whitethroat' in a garden for a few days got re-identified based on photos put out on the internet... Orphean Warbler sp...

After work on Friday Dave and I took a drive down to deepest darkest south Wales in order to be in the first 40 people to be allowed access into the garden to look for the Orphean Warbler. Our plan worked and we were in-situ looking for the warbler as it got 'light'. It was a pretty overcast morning to be honest but was milder than expected. Cetti's Warbler song blasted out from nearby as we waited for the target bird which was nice to hear.

After a while of looking at Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinch and Robin a warbler was sighted - the next half hour or so was spent trying to see the bird properly/at all, through the crowd of people and the vegetation (mainly apple trees full of fruit, and leaves). Eventually, with a bit of perseverance we both managed to get ok views of the bird, then just as we'd decided to leave the garden to let others have a chance it hopped out into the open where it sat eating at an apple - a brilliant side-on view. We then left pretty happy.

So the bird, Eastern or Western Orphean? I'm thinking Western Orphean based on main plumage features and an adult due to the eye and a female based on the head pattern/colouration, though need to look at what a late-autumn/early-winter male may look like at this time of year. I'll have to do some more research...

I think this record would relate to the 7th British record of 'Orphean Warbler'. If racially assigned to 'Western' it would be the third Western Orphean after the following:

1. 1955 Dorset (Western)
2. 1967 Cornwall
3. 1981 Scilly
4. 1982 Northest Scotland
5. 1991 Cornwall
6. 2012 Cleveland (Western) - Pending

No photos I'm afraid, the best I've seen so far are here by Paul Rowe.

I wonder what else is lurking about out there in peoples gardens/parks...?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Carnaby Rosefinch: Best shots yet?

A fan of my blog got in touch today with some photos of the Carnaby Common Rosefinch as he thought everyone would appreciate these cracking images of what is possibly one of the best looking birds on the British list, and since I've not bothered to go birding this weekend this'll have to do!




If you look carefully at the above images you can even see the bird... Thanks Rodney!

More grotfinch

More Grotfinch

More Grotfinch

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Hermit Thrush Twitch

An enjoyable 880 mile round trip to Land's End resulted in some very nice views of the Hermit Thrush in Porthgwarra, Cornwall.

The bird showed nicely on and off for about 2 hours as Dave and I were there, feeding on berries, possibly insects, preened a bit etc. The 11th UK record, but the first on mainland GB, 9 previous records have all been on islands (Fair Isle 1975 and 1995; Isles of Scilly 1984, 1987, 1993; Shetland 1998; Cape Clear Island Cork, Ireland 2006; Outer Hebrides 2x 2010), the only other mainland bird was at Galley Head, Cork Ireland in 1998. Not surprisingly this was going to be a popular bird!

It actually turned out to be a lot easier than I'd expected with people staying out of the bushes, allowing the bird to go about its business as it wanted to do so. I'd seen Hermit Thrush in Virginia in 2006 and this bird behaved in exactly the same way, keeping low down and remaining stationary for prolonged periods, appearing fairly shy. It was small, smaller than Song Thrush but appeared long-legged. It cocked its tail up and down a few times whilst I was watching it. A very smart little bird indeed.

I managed to get a couple of record shots below - I had to have the camera on a really high ISO as it was practically dark at first and the one time it popped out in the open it was partly obscured by a branch from my position!

After we'd had our fill of the Thrush we headed into the Nanquidno Valley where Dave picked out a rather smart Yellow-browed Warbler as it made it's way through the vegetation. There was also a rather brief glimpse of a very pale Lesser Whitethroat, but it flew out of sight and we didn't see it again. A flock of 6 Chough flew about giving good, but again brief views. We had one bright Common Chiffchaff a few Goldcrest, all well checked through in light of the recent Kinglet in Ireland!

Our next stop was Marazion where there was no sign of the White-rumped Sandpiper, but late news of two on the Hayle saw us heading over there but we were beaten by our lack of knowledge of the local area! Notwithstanding, it had been a fantastic day! We enjoyed a couple of celebratory pints of Rattler!

Next morning saw us at the Hayle (in gale force wind and a heavy shower), armed with slightly more knowledge of the local area, though there's little you can do when the birds fly off! Dave saw them in flight, I didn't as I was driving!!! A mere 5 hours later two of the three birds returned - an adult and a juvenile. We got some really nice views of these birds, too far away for my camera so I got a couple of record shots on my phone. Other birds noted in the area included about 25/30 Mediterranean Gulls, Water Pipit, juvenile Arctic Tern, Peregrine, seven Barnacle Geese etc.

A great weekend. Thanks to Dave and Rodney.

Hermit Thrush 

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush
Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler

White-rumped Sandpiper (juvenile and adult)

Celebratory pint of Rattler - essential!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Leopard at Skipwith???

Had a few local walks this weekend around the Lower Derwent Valley visiting Skipwith Common, North Duffield Carrs, Wheldrake Ings, Pocklington Canal, Allerthorpe Common, North Duffield Village.

The highlights were:

Peregrine Falcons - a big one sat on the deck at Wheldrake Ings, huge bird! Then had two males fighting with each other today - very vocal, very aggressive and into a headwind of 30mph! They were properly trying to kill each other! Very impressive to watch.

Pink-footed Goose - a flock of 105 flew south near my house this morning, struggling into the very strong headwind. 55 of them (the sensible ones) gave up and went back north.

Kingfisher - one heard only flying south along the River Derwent behind Tower Hide, with another later seen flying north over the Bailey Bridge heading towards Bank Island - a nice view.

Crossbill sp. - one seen and heard flying west over Skipwith Common - strange call... don't think it was Common...

A few Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Jays, Fieldfare, Redwing, Great Spotted Woodpecker. Lots of small passerines blowing around in the wind, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Siskin, Redpoll, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Treecreeper, Yellowhammers. Just lots of nice farmland/woodland birds and a few waders (Green Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Golden Plover, Lapwing and Redshank) and ducks.

Unfortunately no sign of the Firecrest that was present at Skipwith last weekend.

There was also a lot of mammals around this weekend: Fox, Hare, Hebridean Sheep, Longhorn Cattle, Exmoor Ponies, Squirrel though looks like we just missed the Leopard that had the sheep below.

Leopards Lunch

Male Bullfinch - almost in focus!

Fox after just waking up in the reedbed

Long-tailed Tit interested in the pishing

Long-tailed Tit interested in the pishing

Close Sparrowhawk

Late last week had  an impressive day including 2 Goshawk and Hen Harrier amongst a host on interesting birds. Also had 10 Whooper Swans flying southeast over the Designer Outlet on the edge of York in the dark, picked out by Tim as they called and seen in the car park lights! Also a few Siskin and Redpoll flying over.
Distant Goshawk

Distant Goshawk

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Swift Trip to Hartlepool Headland

Took a drive up to Hartlepool Headland this afternoon. The main target was the Pallid Swift but I knew there was a couple of other decent birds about if I had time.

The Swift was seen pretty much as soon as I got out the car. I spent an hour or so watching it as it hawked low down over the roofs of the houses around the headland. Just as I was leaving a Sparrowhawk made an attempt at it, missing by only an inch or so, was incredibly close to GAME OVER for it! All of that went on about 12ft over my head! Incredible views! I managed a couple of record shots on my camera (below).

Whilst there I spent some time chatting to Richard Taylor who gave me some directions to the Jewish Cemetery so I could go and look for the elusive Dusky Warbler later in the day. However first up was the Western Bonelli's Warbler and a very nice chip butty. As I enjoyed my chips the warbler was seen, but not by me. Another half an hour or so and it again re-appeared in the same tree (which also held several Blackcap and Chiffchaff), I only managed one quick record shot, but at least you can just about tell what it is! It was rather hard to keep with it due to the Sycamore and Poplar leaves blowing around all the time. I think Richard mentioned this was a first for Cleveland - so a very good record, and a great one for my Cleveland list!

Using Richards directions I found myself outside the Jewish Cemetery; a graveyard and a long line of cars but no birders in sight! I got my boots on and straight away herd a repeated loud 'teck-ing' coming from the bush right next to where I'd randomly parked! It was the Dusky Warbler! I walked over to the bush and immediately saw it, right in front of me! A brief but brilliant view as it came right out into the open before getting spooked by a person on a bike with a dog, it then flew into the next bit of cover where it stopped calling and wasn't seen subsequently to my knowledge! It was then that I noticed a birder so I relayed my info and put the news out. It appears I was incredibly lucky with seeing this bird at all, let alone so quickly after getting to the site! A great end to the day!

Speaking of great ends to days, yesterday I had a bit of a nightmare getting a puncture that ended up ruining my days work, though finding 10 Jack Snipe on a single pool made me feel a bit better!

Pallid Swift

Pallid Swift

Pallid Swift

Pallid Swift

Sparrowhawk - eye on the prize

Western Bonelli's Warbler

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Time flies when you're talking Izzy Shrikes

9th November 2000, Old Fall Flamborough saw my first UK Isabelline Shrike - I remember the day like it was yesterday. The bird had turned up the previous day, we were on a University field trip to the Sea Life centre in Scarborough so Ade and I went in his car rather than on the coach with our fellow students so we could nip off pronto to get to Flamborough to see the shrike. After a hike down to Old Fall we sat and waited and got some fairly nice views of what I considered to be a pretty grotty looking 1st winter bird. I'm pretty sure from my notes it was a fairly good fit for a Daurian Shrike with the caveat that it was a 1st winter bird... This bird did give quite close views but I don't have any photos myself - would be keen to see if anyone else has any - will check my back catalogue of reports? (It may have just looked grotty due to the weather!)

Skip forward almost 13 (!!!) years to today, I was working within reach of the coast so after my survey I headed across to Flamborough to see the current Isabelline (Daurian) Shrike. Totally different weather than the my last Flamborough bird and whether the bird was a bit smarter or the sun and bright sun made it look smarter I'm not sure. It showed distantly, but well in the scope as it fed on various insects in various gardens. I got a couple of phone-scoped record shots (below), it does seem to fit Daurian more than Turkestan Shrike I think.

I did see the 'Buckton Shrike' in 2007, which was also an interesting bird... possibly of a race of Turkestan Shrike I believe?

There's an interesting article by Dutch Birding on the Occurrence and Identification of "Isabelline Shrikes".

Daurian Shrike (phone-scoped)

Daurian Shrike (phone-scoped)

Daurian Shrike (phone-scoped)

Monday, 14 October 2013

The East Coast is Awesome!

So after a few days slumming it around the York Area I went to the East Coast to get my fix of birds. It was pretty good to be honest. As soon as I neared Easington it was apparent there was thrushes everywhere...

I spent the day at Sammy's Point and between there and Easington village. Just took it nice and slow and tried to avoid the crowds. The area was totally stacked out with thrushes and robins - a spectacular sight.

Highlights were:

Richard's Pipit - found in a long grassy field after I flushed a Short-eared Owl, which in turn put up a load of unseen Meadow Pipits and a single Richard's Pipit that called twice before dropping back into some long grass (record shot below).

Richard's Pipit in flight (record shot)

Little Bunting - I was glad this was still about, saw it at lunch time but didn't enjoy the crowd so soon left if. I returned very late afternoon when practically everyone had gone and had it to myself for a while which was better. Such smart little birds (record shots below - too distant for camera really).

Little Bunting (quite late in the afternoon)

Little Bunting (quite late in the afternoon)

Little Bunting (phone-scoped)

Little Bunting (phone-scoped)

Hawfinch - Had one fly over the Stables at Easington towards the car park at Sammy's, got nice scope views.

Great Grey Shrike - Difficult to say how many birds, at least 3 possibly 4. Hard to see the movements as I was often in the bushes!

Ring Ouzel - 20+ birds a range of ages/sexes in with the thousands of Redwing and hundreds of Fieldfare and Blackbirds. Also loads of Song Thrush and several Mistle Thrush.

Yellow-browed Warbler - One late on sallying above the Hawthorns for insects.

Reed Warbler - One showing well this evening (pics below). Acro's are always worth a good grilling at this time of year.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler

Short-eared Owl - Two birds flushed out of a field of grass.

Woodcock - Three birds, one flushed from bottom of a bush, two others presumably flushed by other people.

Jack Snipe - One flushed flew inland.

Lapland Bunting - One possible distant and briefly in flight only.

Woodlark - One flew east mid-morning.

Best of the rest: Robins (100s), Common Redstart (1), Wheatear (3), Chiffchaff (75+), Goldcrest (75+), Blackcap (4m, 3f), Garden Warbler (1), Pied Flycatcher (1 - Easington Church), Mealy Redpoll (3), Lesser Redpoll (10), Siskin (20), Linnet (80), Great Spotted Woodpecker (1 nominate), Swallow (5), Skylark (15), Meadow Pipit (20) and Brambling (10+).

Finally, although Little Egrets are fairly common down on the Humber I noticed two that had Darvics on them - picture of A4 below, the other bird was A7. Any info appreciated!

Little Egret A4.

It's days like this when I wish the York Area was on the coast, but am grateful that I can get there in a hour or so from my house. I'd take one or two of six of those species for my local year list please...

Sunday, 13 October 2013

In hindsight...

In hindsight after the amazing Gannet of Friday night I should have thought, "well that's that I'm not going to get another local year list species for a while", and then gone to the coast for the weekend as I was originally planning to do.

Today was another case of hard labour, or "Character Building" as a friend used to say... I don't like ducks yet seemed to spend most of the day looking at them. "Highlight" was the Common Scoter that remains at Castle Howard. I had only a handful of Redwing and one Fieldfare today.

The real highlight happened early morning as a Peregrine tried to grab a bite of Wood Pigeon for breakfast near the house, very nice view.

Tomorrow I may go to the coast, I don't "need" anything that's been reported so far, but would just to see some birds please!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Jack Sh1t

A long day in the local area today. Should have gone to the coast but the potential for Bonxie, Grey Phalarope and Stormies for my local list was too much to ignore! Needless to say I got none of the above!

The highlight today was a Jack Snipe, my first in the local area this autumn. Other highlights included 2 Mediterranean Gulls (1 adult and 1 1st winter), 1 Greenshank and 2 Green Sandpiper.

Not so many thrushes today, just Redwing (c300) and 1 obvious migrant Blackbird.

Had 1 House Martin heading west, first hirundine I've seen for a week.

See what tomorrow brings...

Friday, 11 October 2013

If Carlsberg Did Garden Birds...

Sat in the office working away, news flying about all over of Gannets and Bonxies and the odd Arctic Skua inland, including all along the corridor to the south of the York Recording Area... there had to be something, most likely a Gannet in the York Area. A quick chat with Tim and I decided to leave the office a bit earlier and try my luck down at Hemmingbrough, pelagic-central in the York Area... first I needed to call in at home to pick my optics and dogs up as they were coming with me.

A quick turn around and I was on my way, about half a mile down the road and I pick up a huge bird powering low down into the NE wind, 6ft off the ground. Instantaneously I thought GANNET. Slammed the car into a ditch, grabbed my bins, yep definitely a Gannet! Amazing, brilliant. I needed to get a photo to document it. Spun the car round raced back towards the village, the bird was flying parallel to the road so I could track it. It flew right over my dog walk circuit (tick), then I worked out how I could get ahead of it and get a picture. Pull into a gateway jumped out with my camera and as luck would have it the bird (a juvenile) turned and chose this point to alter its easterly direction and fly north, firstly right over my head (amazing view) and then secondly, right over my garden (mega tick!!!).

Unfortunately I then lost the bird as it was so low I couldn't see it past the houses. It looked like it flew out the back side of the village and carried on North.

What a bird - I was totally buzzing! I rang a few local birders but unfortunately I don't think anyone managed to pick it up. Last year Tim et al got mega jammy and got Gannet following the A64, I now know how they must have been feeling!

This bird (assuming it is accepted by the records committee!) will be the 14th or 15th record for the York Recording Area. There is one record pending from earlier this year, there was 2 records last year, but before that it was 2009. I think is my 91st garden bird, need to check... I managed the following shots of the bird. I didn't get time to fiddle with the settings so this is as good as it gets, but at least you can tell what it is!!!

Russ, this one's for you mate. The big mans bogey bird!

Gannet - Incoming

Gannet - Heading towards me

Gannet - Heading towards my garden

Gannet - Over my garden...

What feels like a long time ago, this morning, back in my garden I had my first Fieldfare of the autumn - a flock of 55 flew NW with 185 Redwing and another (1) Brambling too.

I did end up at Hemmingborough, the dogs had a nice walk eating cow poo. I didn't see much else, but I didn't care!

Bonxie tomorrow...