Saturday, October 22, 2016

Burnham Overy - Isabelline Wheatear

More of the same.  There was one at Easington.  I was there last week.  Then one turned up in Norfolk.  At Burnham Overy.  So I went.  I saw it.  It was lovely.  An Isabelline Wheatear.  Only the third for Norfolk I'm told.  A rare bird indeed.

I also saw a Pallas's Warbler (4th).  My third of the autumn.  Brief though.  There was also a Shorelark.  Looked like a young bird.  Not as gaudy as the adults.  Quite a scaly mantle.

Two Northern Wheatear also present.

A few conversations had.  A thoroughly satisfying afternoon.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sibe storm - Siberian Accentor

I headed out of the Hope and Anchor pub as the light began to fade away for one last scan of the trees that surround the car park.  Birds were active, and within the foliage a Pallas's Warbler, a Yellow-browed Warbler, and a Firecrest were picked up within ten minutes.  And this was pretty much the order of the day.

There were birds everywhere, and having driven up the night before and rested in a hotel on Hedon, Kat and I were up at first light to head over to Easington for the SIBERIAN ACCENTOR.  I'd seen the photos from the day before of queues wrapped round corners as hundreds of anxious birders descended on this migrant hotspot for their moment with this super-sibe, The 'invasion' of this species across northern Europe has been unprecedented.

There was a queue, but it was a relaxed atmosphere, a few familiar faces mixed into the homogonised crowd, a convivial atmosphere, and an abbreviated wait before groups of 30 were allowed access to a tarmac area opposite the gas terminal.

The experience at the same location was in stark contrast of events three years earlier.

The bird however was an absolute pearler.  It fed voraciously out in the open in what were dull and drizzly conditions.  Attracting attention of the local Robin, it was unceremoniously chased off on a couple of occasions.  But Siberians are hardened creatures and the bird duly returned before retreating into a nearby pine to dry off.

It was a wonderful experience, exemplified by the wonderful organisation of the staff from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for providing parking, directions, and the meticulously choreographed operation ensuring that all had sufficient time with the bird.

The weather was awful but it made for a most spectacular scene.  There were birds everywhere.  Flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare pulsated off the North Sea in their hundreds, tumbling out of the sky at the sight of land.  Small groups of Brambling were associates, their distinctive harsh calls adding to the ambience.  Goldcrest and Robin were present in large numbers, dripping out of bushes and reedbeds.  Very rarely do I experience scenes like this.  It was miraculous and overwhelming.  The Accentor was awesome, but this autumn spectacle was something very special indeed.

We headed over to Kilnsea where the generous provision of free parking allowed us to pick a central position and just walk circuits for much of the day.  Incoming winter migrants continued to fill the sky, that included a couple of Woodcock that flew in low over the triangle.

There were so many birders here, enjoying a 'gripp-back' day during the morning twitch.

Heading up toward the Hope and Anchor, a few birders were hastily marching back toward church field.  A Pallas's Warbler (2nd and 3rd, one of two seen today including the tail-less indivdual) had been trapped and was ready for release.  To see this stunning sibe-sprite at close quarters was a real privilege.

Dusky Warbler (2nd and 3rd) was a popular bird, reportedly seven were seen today.  I saw two, one of which showed ridiculously close along the path toward Canal Scrape and was pretty much there all day.  The other was seen south of Canal Scrape.

The day was spent walking circuits round the triangle, with regular excursions into the Bluebell cafe for bacon sandwiches and sweet treats.  This Shorelark showed really well close to the cafe - just one of the many treats enjoyed along the way.

Then there was the supporting cast, this Ring Ouzel rested along the fenceline within the triangle, three Bearded Tit were vocal within the reedbed that included a rather splendid male.  They were later seen flying high toward the Canal Scrape.  Two young Common Redstart, ten Swallow, a Willow Warbler, two male Blackcap, and around hundred Chiffchaff were yet more migrants on the move.

Then there was the call that a possible Pallas' Grasshopper Warbler had been seen  darting into the long grass, again within the vicinity of the Triangle.  An organised flush was arranged and forming a line, we crept forward filled with wild anticipation, mist-nets in place in the hope of trapping this much sought after vagrant.  The first phase drew a blank, but an alternative strategy flushed the Locustella from deep with the vegetation.  It was a Grasshopper Warbler.  A surreal few moments watching the events.  I think I held my breath for fifteen minutes.

Reports went round of a Radde's Warbler (2nd) found by the big hedge.  Taking position, I was fortunate to see the bird briefly as it skulked low down in the ditch.  It's behaviour was just not acceptable considering just how showy everything was today.

Other odds and ends were a Purple Sandpiper associating with Turnstone on the shoreline of the Humber, with small groups of Dark-bellied Brent Goose loitering offshore.

It was a special day, the gloomy conditions of the morning gave way to warm sunshine in the afternoon.  There were a lot of birders there, it felt a little overrun, but I met a lot of really pleasant people.

It was a one of the best days birding I have experienced.  The miracle of migration.

Saturday, October 8, 2016


Another enjoyable day at Titchwell with a few highlights that included at least three Yellow-browed Warbler that at times showed well around the visitor centre with another low down along Meadow trail.

The continuing Pectoral Sandpiper strutted along the near shoreline of the freshmarsh totally oblivious to the many onlookers lined along the path.

Of course there were plenty of waders again, 20 species in total seen throughout the day that included Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper in addition to the Pec.

A single Pied Flycatcher sortied for insects from trees along the main path and a single Swallow flew over the marsh.

Small groups of Redwing passed through and Goldcrest were foraging for insects after their impressive voyage across the sea.  Brambling were also present close to the visitor centre.

Reports of a Black-browed Albatross moving along the North Norfolk coast had birders hopping into a frenzy.  Lining up along the beach, a few claimed to have connected with it, but the general feeling was that 2nd year Gannet were causing a bit of confusion.  I personally don't think it was seen at all from Titchwell that day, but it is only the feeling I got as part of the assembled crowd.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Oare Marshes

A day out with a friend to have a look at some waders.  Oare Marshes is surely the best site in the south-east for wading birds.  The East Flood as always was packed with them - hundreds of Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Golden Plover, with around 25 Avocet, a few Ruff, and two Little Stint, with Grey Plover, Curlew, and a Curlew Sandpiper picked out on the shore on the receded tide-line.

A few Swallow were still on the move and a couple of Bearded Tit noisily alighted from the reedbed.  The easterly breeze had pushed in seabirds with Skuas seen by visiting birders which we missed, but at least 20 Gannet had flown into the channel, circled, before heading away.

Mediterranean Gull were present on the water off-shore.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sail to Santander

It's something I have wanted to do for a while and eventually I focused myself on booking a berth on the Brittany Ferries Pont Aven cruise ferry for an overnight sail to Santander.  I had heard that Biscay is rich in marine-life with a third of the world's species having been recorded in these waters.  The combination of the shallower waters around the British and French coasts, with far greater depths of around 4500m beyond the continental shelf provide the variety of cetaceans that over the years have made this a popular route for nature lovers.

 On board, the presence of the Orca team are primed and positioned to pick up all occurrences of mammals and birds encountered en route.  Their work provides vital information toward the protection of our sea-life.

The Pont Aven, is a floating behemoth and by far the largest vessel I had ever travelled on.  Despite the complexity of the boarding process, the mix of passengers, vehicles including freight, we left ten minutes early and trundled down the Solent between the mainland and the Isle of Wight.  It was a still evening, cool, with high cloud, and quite peculiarly, I was quite looking forward to this.

The night drew in quickly, and a half hour spent on the top deck (level 10) yielded a couple of Mediterranean Gull close in to the vessel.

The boat is extremely comfortable with plenty of distractions on board to entertain the occupants.  It wasn't full by any means, and neither was it opulent or high-class.  At times it felt to the contrary.  This surprised me a little.

We ate and retired early, the tip was to arise at first light and hit the deck.

It was serene.  Progress was languid, and as the sun emerged lazily in the east, it cast a mirrored sheen across the water.  It was a wonderful sight.  On the water, small pods of Common Dolphin were observed around the boat, where the first blows of Fin Whale were also seen, a few emerging distantly before heading down into the depths.

By far the most numerous birds were Great Shearwater with over 50 individuals seen as they glided alongside the boat.  There were also a few Storm Petrel and Gannet.

The day was spent out on deck, the weather was perfect, and the sea an agreeable calm throughout.  We picked out a total of 15 Fin Whale, around seven Pilot Whale, and numerous Dolphin.

Inevitable, the total count was greater than this, with watchful eyes concentrated on both sides of the ferry of the wonderful and accommodating volunteers on-board recording every sighting.

En route, a Yellow and White Wagtail were seen flying alongside the boat, a significant distance from land, but committed on their journey south.

The ferry eventually made it's way into dock at Santander after a full twenty-four hours on the sea.  Time sailed by - so to speak - the end of the beginning of a really fantastic journey.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A weekend at Titchwell

It was ultimately a lacklustre weekend at Titchwell RSPB, an assessment made purely on the lack of returning migrants, and the absence of any autumn rares.  The trip was more in anticipation of what is to come over arguably the most exciting period for a UK based birder. The chance of an encounter of a rare vagrant, a UK mega, forcing local birders away their patches for a week or two for the outer isles where birding bounties lay in wait.

It is always a joy being in this part of the world but alas, my arrival was inevitably a little premature.  The freshmarsh is always a hive of activity regardless of the seasons.  The sea however drew most of the interest with a bracing northerly blow that was forcing seabirds reasonably close to shore.  I however opted spend most of the time in the relative shelter of the reserve.

It ended up being quite a lethargic couple of days, content with just mooching around, sitting in hides, and convivially bidding everyone a good day as I walked the paths of the reserve.

So to the sightings, six Spoonbill flew low west on the first morning under grey leaden skies before dropping down distantly onto the marsh.  The floods were awash with Bar-tailed Godwit with at least a thousand there.  Other wader highlights were a maximum of three Little Stint, single Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, at least 50 Ruff, with Avocet, Golden Plover, Sanderling, Knot, and Grey Plover (including two in fine summer plumage) all present.  A male Bearded Tit appeared briefly from the reedbed but disappeared out of the fresh breeze.

A few parties of Brent Goose flew in formation low over the sea, and around 10 Pintail loitered on the freshmarsh, presumably fresh arrivals onto the reserve.

For a change of habitat, I tried my luck for autumn migrants within Wells Wood but could only uncover a Spotted Flycather, Garden Warbler, and few Willow Warbler, Blackcap, and Treecreeper amongst the roving flocks of titmice.

Hardly an inspiring visit to the coast, but it was nice to be out and about.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Dungeness - Buff-breasted Sandpiper

I'll have to remind myself about the fortuitousness nature of this one and how it went some way to banishing the disappointments of recent failed missions.  A little late starting out after Friday drinks yesterday evening, the head was feeling a little tender, but the plan was to get out and see something new.

A Buff-breasted Sandpiper had arrived at Dungeness yesterday afternoon and was still present this morning.  The weather wasn't great in London but was agreeably pleasant on the promontory of Dungeness, warm sunshine coupled with a keen but warm southerly breeze.

I decided to head for the Makepeace Hide where the neartic wader had been reliably observed during the length of its short stay.  It was picked up distantly on one of the islands half way out on Burrowes Pit where it was evident that the bird was extremely mobile.  I decided to stay put while the other birders made for the Firth hide.

It was only after a couple of minutes or so when I picked up the sandpiper right in front of the hide.  Bizarrely, there was no one else with me to share the moment.  Predictably, it took flight and headed further along the pit where it fed voraciously along the edge of the shingle, had a quick wash, and then headed off high to the west.  It was not seen again!

Also on the shingle islands were a scattering of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, and at least one Little Stint.  Four Black Tern were present in front of the hide.

The walk round the reserve was a soporific one, no passerines of note, but three Great White Egret were present on Denge Marsh along with a Ruff, four Marsh Harrier, and 12 Common Snipe.

At Boulderwell Farm, the Cattle Egret finally showed itself as it perched up on a gate before flying across to the ARC Pit.  Three Little Egret completed the hat-trick.

Five Bar-tailed Godwit were roosting on islands from the Hanson ARC hide.

The NNR down the road was particularly quiet apart from two Northern Wheatear and two Arctic Skua past the seawatching hides.