Saturday, October 31, 2015

Rainham Marshes - Short-eared Owl

The Short-eared Owls were a joy to watch as they quartered the center of the reserve between the shore path and Aveley Pools.  It was mid-afternoon on Halloween, but despite the sunshine, the high cloud created an eerie feel to a cool autumn day.  A light mist hovered ghoulishly above the reed beds as the ghostly movements of the Owls patrolled the sinister marshland.

A flock of Lapwing, with 10 Dunlin, 17 Golden Plover and a Curlew were spooked from Purfleet Scrape, and a pair of Stonechat appeared over the reeds, before apparating into thin air.

A chill began to descend over the reserve, but we left the Owls to conjure up a few morsels before light began to creep toward darkness...

Thursday, October 29, 2015


It started off bright but then clouded over, the rain held off though.  On the Waterworks, 18 Gadwall and 10 Shoveler were on Bed 17, with a total of eight Snipe (2 on Bed 17, and 6 on Bed 16).

Five Chiffchaff and six Goldcrest were mixed in a mobile group.

A Jackdaw flew low over, a Shelduck flew high over, and a Common Gull drifted through.

There were two Redpoll and Siskin flyovers.

A single Meadow Pipit and a Fieldfare flew over the pitch and putt.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


A mild and slightly breezy morning - but with a real autumnal feel.

The roll call for today were two Goldcrest, two Siskin, a Chiffchaff, and a Peregrine flew up onto the pylon.

A vocal Kingfisher flew through.  There were a total of 33 Teal and nine Shoveler on Bed 17.  A Redpoll called is it flew over and a Common Gull flew through.  The Cetti's Warbler was still present.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


It started off grey today but gradually the clouds thinned and the sun began to appear.  It was a lovely morning and it felt like something interesting might fly through.

Have starting off at the increasingly depressing Walthamstow Marsh, I watched a Sparrowhawk successfully impale a Pied Wagtail not too far from where I was standing.  A truly impressive sight.

I was however keen to make it over to the Waterworks which started off with a minimum count of six Goldcrest and three Chiffchaff.  There was a total of 36 Teal on the beds along with three Shoveler.

I then stood in the 'circle' and gazed at the sky for a while.  Most suprising were small groups of Lapwing flying through, first eight, then 16, then a group of 4, a total of 28 and I'm sure a few more either side of my stay.  In addition, there were three Skylark and four Redpoll flyovers, a relentlessly calling Cetti's Warbler, and a 1st winter Common Gull.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pennington Marshes - Long-billed Dowitcher

The plan today was to head down to Pennington Marshes - a bit of a drive but thoroughly worth the effort.  The place looked magnificant - the light was brilliant, that was faintly softened by a subtle aquatic haze that just made the surroundings look perfect.  The walk along the Solent Way trail was just so relaxing, we were both enjoying the convivial surroundings.

Of course there was avian interest here, the pools were filled with wildfowl, mostly Teal and Wigeon, and a few Pintail more than making up the numbers.  On the Solent side, the tremulous call of the Dark-Bellied Brent Goose could be heard against mirrored waters.  There were plenty of common waders here too, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Curlew and Oystercatcher on a receding tide.

Of course I can't deny that the Long-Billed Dowitcher was a target today that was picked up without fuss on the Jetty Pool, roosting peacefully in the company of Teal, Redshank, and Common Snipe.

It then preened for quite a while showing off its almighty dark bill, broad white supercilium and diagnostic green legs.

Arguably a nicer bird to see was the juvenile Spoonbill that fed on Pennington Lagoon and close in to the main path totally disregarding the onlookers as it stomped around the pool with a Little Egret.

We then continued round the 'red' trail, back to the car and headed to the Filly Inn for an immense Sunday roast.

Friday, October 23, 2015

American Golden Plover

Thankfully the American Golden Plover that had previously been observed at Eyebrook Reservoir was relocated on private farmland near the Stockerston Junction where it was seen in company with a party of European Golden Plover and Lapwing.

The bird was easily identifiable, standing out from it's european cousins adorning its clearly visible white eye-stripe, its striking adult moulting plumage, and also appearing more upright and elongated.

A really lovely bird.

This was apparently the first for Leicestershire, but definitely a first for me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Wells Wood - Pallas's Warbler

There was a feeling of 'after the Lord Mayor's show' about this morning as I made my way up to North Norfolk.  The previous days had seen a veritable bounty of eastern migrants propelled by favourable winds off the continent and devoured gluttonously by many twitch-hungry birders.

It did however look ominous today when by 10am and in clear blue skies, the bird news was relatively bereft of the rares that had graced the arboreal northern coastline.

My pursuit was not tempered by these unwelcome developments and deciding to park up on Lady Anne's Drive, was unceremoniously robbed of a fiver for the privilege of parking the car there for four hours.

Despite the extortion, the clock was set and I marched into the forest.

There were plenty of birders around, we were even graced by the presence of Lord Evans whom at every sighting seemed to be harassed by something or someone.

First at the drinking pool, the hushed silence was palpably audible as we all waited for the sighting of one of our autumn jewels.  Out of the shadows, a Red-flanked Bluetail appeared from a sallow and then continued to perform circuits briefly showing very well in the canopy-pierced sunlight.  The constant harassment from territorial Robins did not seem to break its resolve.  They are just delightful little birds and a second Bluetail of the week - that really is a joyous thing.

While waiting for the Bluetail, the Olive-Backed Pipit that had been present in the area, lifted off from a nearby pine and flew past overhead uttering a rasping mono-syllabic call, obviously discernible to that of a Tree Pipit.  This was my third OBP and my second for Wells Wood having seen one there last September.

Buoyed by this, I wandered back up the main path towards Holkham as another striking autumn gem had been reported from the woodland.  Heading up, I drew a blank from the oak that it had been reported from so instead ambled slowly back along the path, checking trees for any subtle avian movement.  A small bird flew alone into a Holm Oak.  I looked up.  It was a Pallas's Leaf Warbler.  This was my first, I was on my own at the time, I felt a little panicked by the experience, but a birder further along the path thankfully heard my painfully subdued verbal and wildly semaphorical gesticulations at the finding, and so together enjoyed reasonable views before it darted away along the avenue of trees.  What a beaut.

This was all going rather well I thought considering my initial despondancy.  The supporting cast were the numerous Goldcrest, occupying many of the trees along with a few Chiffchaff mixed in, and a couple of Treecreeper there too.  A surprise was a Woodcock that was flushed from the undergrowth and flew low past us as we were staring into the woodland.

It would be rather inconsiderate for me not to mention once again the many friendly birders I met today that were willing to share, chat, and co-observe.  I was cheered by the conviviality.

And that was that really, five hours driving, four hours loitering, and not a dust-cart in sight.

Monday, October 19, 2015


Back down to earth in gloomy conditions.  It felt cold.

Best of today were two flyover Redpoll with three Common Snipe on Bed 16, three Goldcrest in a small flock of titmice on Bed 13, five Shoveler on Bed 17, at least five Chiffchaff, and a calling Cetti's Warbler.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Scillies - Roundup

93 species:

House Sparrow - common
Collard Dove - common
Mallard - common
Song Thrush - common
Shag - common around the rocks
White Wagtail - seen regularly on Porthmellon Beach
Robin - common
Firecrest - 1 at Lower Broome Platform
Willow Warbler - 1 at Lower Broome Platform
Goldcrest - common
Swallow - regularly seen with a group of 40 over Porth Hellick
House Martin - seen in small numbers
Herring Gull - common
Greater Black Backed Gull - common
Curlew - seen regularly
Oystercatcher - common along the shorelines
Chaffinch - small numbers seen around the island
Starling - common
Feral Pigeon - common
Blackbird - seen regularly around the island
Goldfinch - small groups seen regularly around the island
Meadow Pipit - common with a flock of 150 seen on Penninis Head
Chiffchaff - common
Peregrine - seen daily, two over Beachside
Redwing - large influx midweek
Carrion Crow - regular throughout the island
Pheasant - a cock and hen seen on different occasions
Wren - common
Woodpigeon - small flocks seen daily
Radde's Warbler - first winter at Porth Hellick
Black Headed Gull - group of c25 at Porthcressa Beach
Gannet - seen regularly out to see
Common Snipe - small numbers seen at Lower Moors and Porth Hellick
Grey Heron - singles seen throughout the week 
Turnstone - small groups on Porthloo
Kestrel - regular, 2 together on St. Agnes
Dunnock - common
Blackcap - max of 5 on St Agnes
Blue Tit - regular throughout the week
Red-flanked Bluetail - 1st winter on St Agnes
Siskin - small groups flying over later in the week
Canada Goose - 7 on Tresco Great Pool
Common Stonechat - common
Ringed Plover - max 9 on St Agnes
Rock Pipit - regular around the shores
Dunlin - 2 seen on St Agnes
Northern Wheatear  - regularly seen around the island
Linnet - groups of 20+ on Penninis Head
Common Swift - 1 seen on St Agnes
Whinchat - 1 on St Agnes
Spotted Flycatcher - 1 on St Agnes
Yellow-Browed Warbler - 1 on St Agnes
Short-eared Owl - 1 on Penninis Head
Greenfinch - group of 11 on Penninis Head
Blyth's Pipit - 1 on Penninis Head
Moorhen - seen on pools around the island
Jack Snipe  - max of 5 on Lower Moors
Greenshank - small groups seen around the island
Teal - seen on most pools around the islands
Great Tit - group of 5 at Porth Hellick
Skylark - group of c10 on airfield
Merlin - singles regularly seen most days
Little Bunting - 1 on the standing stones field
Osprey - 1 on Tresco Great Pool
Red-throated Pipit - 1 on Penninis Head
Short-toed Lark - 1 on airfield
Snow Bunting - 1 on Giants Castle
Kingfisher - 1 on Porth Hellick, Porthloo, Old Town Bay
Water Rail - heard only Lower Moors, Porth Hellick (dead bird there)
Black Redstart - 2 seen on Porthloo and Porthcressa Beaches
Spoonbill - 1 distantly on Sansom
Cormorant - 1 past Sansom
Shelduck - 3 on Sansom and later on Tresco Great Pool
Great Northern Diver - 1 summer plumage past Sansom
Little Egret - 9 on rocks from Tresco
Whimbrel - 1 at Porthloo
Grey Wagtail - 1 at Lower Moors and Porthmellon Beach
Red-Legged Partridge - plastic birds on Tresco
Coot - present on Tresco Great Pool
Pink Footed Goose - 2 on Tresco Great Pool
Sparrowhawk - singles seen on Tresco, Holy Vale, and Porth Hellick
Mute Swan - present on Tresco Great Pool
Gadwall - present on Tresco Great Pool
Wigeon - 13 on Tresco Great Pool
Common Redshank - 6 on Tresco Great Pool
Raven - 1 past Tresco Great Pool
Little Grebe - single on Tresco Great Pool
Fieldfare - small groups on St Mary's
Siberian Stonechat - 1 in paddocks off Pungies Lane
Lesser Black Backed Gull - 1 off Porthloo
Golden Plover - 3 high over the golf course
Redpoll - 1 over Beachfield
Mediterranean Gull - 1st winter on Porthcress Beach

Grey Seal - 1 from boat between St Mary's and Tresco, 1 from Porthloo
Common Dolphin - 2 off Penninis Head

Red Admiral
Small Tortoiseshell
Large White
Speckled Wood
Painted Lady
Clouded Yellow
Small Copper

The Scillies - Flowers

Some of the exotic flowers scattered around the island.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Scillies - Day Six

Well it was a great trip, an exceptional trip, replicating the heady days of the 80's and the 90's were never going to happen.  This was about making a first well overdue trip to some of our most stunning out-islands, to get a feel for the place, to experience the nuances of island life, the exceptional scenery from one coastal path to the next, the warmth of locals and visitors alike, and the palpable aura of a birding history that still permeates through each scrape and hedgerow.

The place has left an indelible mark on me that will see me returning back in the years to come.

With one last walk before the long journey home, I took a circular walk through the Lower Moors, up to Penninis Head and through the town back to Beachfield.  Along the way, a first-winter Mediterranean Gull was present on the shoreline of Porthcressa Beach along with two Black Redstart on the rocks.

The Blyth's Pipit continued to show well in its favoured field.  I, well I had a heavy heart about returning home.

But I will be back next year.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Scillies - Day Five

A totally different day weatherwise.  it started off cold and overcast which was a bit of a shock.  It felt cold, there was a breeze and it took a few by surprise including me.  However, it was business as usual, lots of walking and lots to hopefully see.

The main target was the Siberian Stonechat found the previous evening, but due to a total lack of energy, decided against making the long walk from the Quay up to Pungies Lane in the hope it would be there the next day.

Indeed it was, but it gave us the runaround eventually showing reasonably well under duller skies.  A difficult bird to clinch but well worth the scrutiny to claim a sixth new species.

Thankfully it brightened up and warmed up.  I rather regret not going for the Hudsonian Whimbrel on Tresco choosing instead to go for a long walk round the the lower half of the island with little reward.

A flyover Redpoll and three Golden Plover over the golf course were the best of the day. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Scillies - Day Four

The day started again in glorious morning sunshine.  Viewing from Porthloo beach, a couple of Black Redstart were flitting around the rocks.  In the distance, a Spoonbill was picked out on rocks on Sansom Island, as were three Shelduck, distance specks for sure but obvious nonetheless.

A summer plumaged Great Northern Diver cruised past the island, again distant, but all features conspicuous.  A Whimbrel roosted on nearby rocks, not quite ready to awake from its slumber.  

This was altogether a more relaxing day, so deciding to head over to Tresco, it was nice to wander round a different island.  Again, really very picturesque, unsurprising really, and a few interesting things to see.  Most noteworthy was an Osprey feeding high up on a tree on its latest catch.

The Great Pool also held some interesting things, two Pink-Footed Goose was a locally rare bird, with 13 Wigeon, six Redshank, and a Raven flypast.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Scillies - Day Three

Same balmy weather - different day.

Felt a bit battered by the exploits of the previous day but was really satisfied with the effort.  I was able to ramble today so started off with a stroll through Lower Moors where a Jack Snipe was seen feeding at the back of Shooters Pool but partly obscured by the vegetation.  However, the views from the ISBG hide were exceptional with at least five birds there.

A Greenshank also flew onto the scrape which would be a regular sighting throughout the trip.

From Lower Moors, an attempt was made for the Little Bunting on the standing stones field but there was no sign of it so I headed instead up to the airfield where the Short-Toed Lark had been present for the last few days but there was no sign of this either, apart from a female Merlin that dashed through low by the terminal building briefly sitting up on the brow of the slope, and a group of around ten Skylark all but disappearing behind the long grass.  I headed back to the standing stones field and right on cue, the Little Bunting appeared which was a little fortuitous I must admit.

Making tracks up to Penninis Head I once again bumped into @birdingprof and @notquitescilly, where a group were searching for the Red-throated Pipit that had again been present on and off for a couple of days.  It didn't take long to track it down in the corner of a field with a group of Meadow Pipit.  The light wasn't particularly favourable in direct sunlight, and the long grass made viewing a little tricky, but the bird did appear out in the open, the dense black upper-front streaking clearly visible contrasting with pale underparts, as well as the dark parallel lines on the mantle.  These were exciting times - four new British birds in two days.

We headed back up the path from the Old town cafe toward the airfield to find the Greater Short-toed Lark feeding close in near to the turning circle.  This wasn't boring for sure.

A little further on, this elegant Snow Bunting sat obligingly on a rock on Giant's Castle.

We continued round the path toward Porth Hellick, enjoying the conviviality and the wonderful views beyond the rocks and onto the sea.

At Porth Hellick, the main pools held at least one Jack Snipe, but this individual wasn't following Jack Snipe rules, instead feeding openly directly in front of the hide.  Not entirely sure what was wrong with it.

There were also squealing Water Rail here, Swallow flying overhead, and five Greenshank roosting at the back of the pool.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Scillies - Day Two

Leaving the B&B, I headed out for what would be my first full day on the island.  I meandered slowly down the sandy track that passed the gorgeous Porthmellon Beach, the glint of the golden sands, accentuated by the blue sun filled morning sky.

The plan was to catch the 1015 boat to St Agnes where the Bluetail had been present for a couple of days.  Heading onto Telegraph Road toward Hugh Town, a steady stream of birders were displaying the diagnostic 'twitchers march' heading in the opposite direction.  For a moment, I stood and observed this phenomenon but then thought it best to politely enquire about the reason for their haste.  Well as luck would have it, a Radde's Warbler had been trapped at Porth Hellick and I wanted a part of it - so I joined the party and expressed my own level of intent to get there before it was released.

I joined the strident advance of small interspersed groups that like coiled springs, had been released into action by the news.  They don't miss a trick.  For me, I was merely engaged in a clumsy idle thinking more about how I was going to make it to the otherside of the island.  Jeez, it was further than I thought.

It was ultimately worth it.  The bird was presented to the assembled crowd in hand before being released into the nearby scrub never to be seen again.  The mysteries of avian vagrancy witnessed here on the Scillies was quite a thing, and I was so relieved to see this little beaut.

But it was now 9.35am and I had to get to the quay by 10.15am - so I marched back.  Having been resigned to ill-health for the last couple of months, I was not in great shape, and could feel every muscle in my legs and back, or what remained of them anyway.

I made it, I procured my ticket, and I was on the boat to St Agnes.  The Bluetail was on.

On site - a small group with the same objective assembled together within the canopy of trees by the Bulb shop in hushed silence.  It didn't show for a while but then miraculously, Walthamstow Birders began to appear, first @porthkillier, then @birdingprof, then later @jarpartridge.  What a curious place.

We searched, and I headed round to search the corner of a smalled tilled field where I noticed the bird sitting halfway up a hedge on the opposite side to where I had been standing previously and my first Red-flanked Bluetail - such a magical bird.

With some fine conjuring by @porthkillier, we later managed some rewarding views of a much sought after species as it fed on the periphery of an adjacent field.  Within two hours, I had managed to see two new species.  A Yellow-browed Warbler high up in the deciduous canopy added to the haul of birding riches.

This was going really rather well.  St Agnes is a splendidly beautiful island, and accepting an invitation from @porthkillier for tea, we reclined in the garden bathed in the warm autumn sun and the planet for a change felt utopian.

The afternoon was spent wandering, a semi-search for anything interesting but nothing really that serious because, the environment was captivating.  It was warm, the sun was shining, there was barely a breath of wind .  An aberrant 'white' Small Copper was an interesting sighting but in all honesty, it didn't really register.

A diversionary walk round Wingletang Down produced a Whinchat, a Common Swift and a Spotted Flycatcher which were nice late autumn migrants.

More excitement though. a Sea King made a visit to St Agnes as we stood by the Sports Field next to the Big Pool.  The search and rescue helicopter had flown in from RNAS Culdrose on a farewell visit to the islands that had been commissioned to provide medical and rescue services to and from The Scillies.  The future for these services have been privatised but whatever the arrangements are for this essential provision, this final visit was enjoyed by school kids and big kids alike.

It's still the same day, and we're not done yet.  Having got the boat back, I followed in @birdingprof and @notquitescilly 's shadow grateful to be accompanying them on a walk up Penninis Head in search of a reported Short-eared Owl.  This seemed like a reasonable idea despite my ailing body.

Heading up to the tops, the Owl was seen at distance perched up on an exposed rock just off the main promontory - a challenge to locate, but obvious when pinned down.  An incongruous spot for an Owl, but chilling out in the sunshine never hurt anyone.

What happened next was a bit surreal.  As the three of us continued our walk toward the point, a pipit species, alighted from an adjacent field.  It called, a toned-down punctuated 'sheeeoo' with a reasonably lengthed tail but without the more obvious dimensions of a Richard's Pipit.  It certainly didn't sound like one which is where my limited expertise on the matter ended whereby handing over the proper identification stuff to the big boys.

So we followed it's flight, having seen it drop down onto the next field and connecting with it immediately - shorter tail, shorter legs, pale throat, dark malar stripe, obvious dark median coverts - well - we give you a Blyth's Pipit.  It showed well, really well, and well done to the boys.  They really are very good and again, a lovely bird, seen well in good light.

This was an exceptional day, it had everything, and it felt a million miles from the worries of the world.