Friday, December 30, 2016

Portugal - Portimao and Alvor

Sun, tasty healthy food, a steady flow of local wine, and fireworks over the sea was a great way to see in the new year.

A real highlight was seeing my first Black-shouldered Kite hovering by the side of the highway as we made our way back to the airport.

Other sightings during our stay were plenty of Azure-winged Magpies around the hotel, urban Cattle Egret, two stately Caspian Tern and Kentish Plover on the Alvor Estuary, and plenty of Blackcap and Chiffchaff within the scrubby areas not far from the beach.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Blue Rock & Dusky...

...are not members of a Country and Western band.  They are two mega Thrushes, one spanking brand new, the other still in the courtroom... while the jury ruminates.

It was an icy start.  It was an early start, arriving in Stow through isolated but impressive blankets of fog.  Graham and I watched the sun sparkle against the technicoloured sky as it lifted out of a crisp eastern dawn.

The crowds were assembled, scouring rooftops for any signs of vagrancy.  The Blue Rock Thrush then surfaced, appearing incongruous as it blundered around a residential garden before announcing it's presence on top of a TV aerial.  It all felt rather unsatisfactory.

My mind was drawn to a spectacular Spanish rock-faces, listening to the fluty abbreviated melodies of this mountain dweller while peering furtively from behind rocky crevices.

Plonked on a satellite TV dish wasn't the image I really wanted to 'entertain' for very long.

Bemused but reasonably content, we left the village, heading onto our next target while patiently awaiting news of its presence.  The Dusky Thrush was still in situ.  After a brief hiatus at a conveniently located coffee outlet, we were back out on the road as news broke.

The village of Beeley is set within the wonderful backdrop of the English countryside settled at the periphery of the Peak District.  

A small group of birders were lined-up halfway up a grassy knoll.  And there we joined them. 

Skittish but elegant and appreciatively distinctive, the Dusky Thrush dwelled for long periods along a tree-line interspersed with brief nervous forays onto the frosty turf in search of lumbricids.

Now this was utterly satisfying, particularly with the obliging weather and the picturesque surroundings.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rainham Marshes

A glorious day on the Marshes, the diluted winter sun hanging low, piercing through a milky blue sky.  There wasn't a breath of wind.  I love days like these.  They make dank winter days seem infinitely more bearable.

The aim was to see sixty species.  The end result was sixty-two (including two Peregrine seen on the drive home).

The highlights were;

a Short-eared Owl that perched on top of a small bush at Wennington

the Barn Owl roosting at its usual residence,

ten Avocet feeding in Aveley Bay,

Seven Curlew on Purfleet,

The continuing Water Pipit seen in front of the Butts Hide,

A couple of Stonechat around the Butts Hide,

Two Marsh Harrier quartering Wennington,

five stunning drake Pintail,

Small flocks of Redwing and a single Fieldfare,

A lone Chiffchaff behind the Ken Barrett hide,

...and hundreds of Lapwing.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


Not to do Jersey any injustice at all, but this weekend trip may fade quite quickly from the memory.  Arriving in gloomy conditions on the short flight from Gatwick, we headed into town on the local bus.

The cold and low cloud had transformed the beaches to barren sandy wastelands as the bus skirted past the bay en route to St Helier.

The town was busy throughout the weekend, the festively-lit high street full of shoppers stock-piling for the holiday season.  There was no spirit here to find.

The Christmas market was embarrassing.  A cheap marquee filled with tack with nothing to fill the senses with festive cheer.

Sunday was better.  A nice afternoon spent in St Aubin feasting on a cracking Sunday roast at The Tenby.

And that was that really - until on the Sunday on arriving at the airport, the fog that had lingered all weekend cancelled most flights during the day - including ours.

A night at the Radisson Blu overlooking the harbour expensed by the airline wasn't bad at all.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mistley Quay - Forster's Tern

I had one hour.  With the Forster's Tern reported again for it's second day, the twitch-mobile was fired up where it was then seen powering up the A12.  A Peregrine and Buzzard were seen en route.

Thankfully the site was easy to find.  The tide was out.  The weather typically autumnal.  There were plenty of waders out on the mud exposed by the receded tide.

Flocks of Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Knot, Shelduck, and smatterings of Redshank, Turnstone, and Grey Plover present.  A group of Pintail were roosting by the edge of the channel.

Standing with Josh Jones, we picked up the Tern distantly.  The bird flew around before resting on the exposed mud.  This may have been the best view which was fine.  Time was limited.

The bird then alighted, making steady progress toward us, following the channel before meandering round and flying swiftly by much like the time I was restricted to.

Extremely elegant, the dark mask revealed during the winter gives this bird real style.

Time to get a decent camera I think.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Minsmere RSPB - American Cliff Swallow

It is quite extraordinary that this resident of the Americas was found, ostensibly, on the wrong side of the UK.  Extraordinary that it should linger all day in brutish weather.  It was cold, and the northerly wind bared its' teeth.

Leaving at 5am, I arrived dead on seven.  There were murmurings that the bird had already been sighted.  There were already around c300 twitchers on site.

Moments later, a group of seven Barn Swallow flew over.  Mass panic. A bird, shorter tailed hung back from the group then disappeared.

Then the show began.  The American Cliff Swallow appeared, joining rank with it's European cousins.  Perching on top of a hawthorn for long periods appeared incongruous.  It was hard to imagine there was any food here for them.

What appeared to be a juvenile, the short tail, dusty rump and nape, and a distinctive pale face mask made this bird really rather attractive. Then I left the assembled crowd.

Spending time strolling round the reserve was inevitable. Needless to say... [it's a fabulous reserve].

The East Scrape held five Bewick Swan, a species I very rarely see these days.  A Purple Sandpiper picked off bugs along the outflow opposite the south sluice.  A late Spotted Redshank fed on the adjacent south scrape.

Two Bittern were seen, one flying daringly close past the Island Mere Hide.

It was a relaxing time, sat in the Wildlife Lookout hide watching the wildfowl.  Two Kingfisher, line astern, zoomed by.  Two Swallow flew through accompanied by the Cliff Swallow.  A really surreal moment, having this yank vagrant pretty much to myself.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Rainham Marshes - Dusky Warbler

Shaun Harvey is a hero.  He found a Dusky Warbler near to the Stone Barges at Rainham.

I headed down on a dismal Sunday morning.  It was gloooomy.  Staking out at the appropriate location I waited along with a few faithful London birders. The bird began to call.  Brief ticks then silence.

It then appeared from the gorse, and flew over to an adjacent clump of gorse and hawthorn.  It did that a couple of times.

And that was pretty much it.  Rather low-key for a mega London bird.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Needham Market - Black-bellied Dipper

It was almost out of view when I arrived on site, largely obscured by overhanging nettle on the banks of the stream.  The setting was somewhat picturesque.

The Black-bellied Dipper at this quaint Suffolk site then flew out into the open to feed again, diagnostically plunging into the shallows of the River Gipping.  Lively and energetic.

It then flew towards the gasping onlookers and settled on a line of exposed stones close into the viewing area.  My camera wouldn't focus on it.  It then exploded off again.  Upstream.  Later seen dashing back and forth - appeared slightly unhinged.  A dazzling bird.

Of the nominate form C.c. cinclus this is the Western European race of which our C.c. gularis is the subspecies.  In the main, the underbelly is ostensibly uniformly dark.  The contrasts are striking.

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.