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!