Thursday, 25 November 2021

The only way is Essex for Red-breasted Geese

Red-breasted Geese
At last !

Sea wall very quiet

Brent Geese in flight

Hugh flock
Holliwell Point marked in red
Video Footage

Red-breasted Geese have become my bogey birds in recent years, after a couple of painful dips in the north west I'd been following the reports of a pair at Holliwell Point, Essex. Whenever they appear on the news you have to dismiss them as escapees however these birds looked to be excellent contenders and had been pushed to the Esses coast with a large flock of Brent Geese. The Red-breasted Geese breed in Siberia but migrate to eastern europe. 

After getting thumbs up regarding their origin I decided I'd try and go on Sunday when traffic would be at its quiestest and I was also concerned about the weather changing. The drive down was very smooth and after parking up I'd just have to navigate the last 45 minutes on foot via footpaths. Not ideal but it was a georgeous day for such a walk. I picked up a Merlin, Kestrel & Skylarks as the sea wall appeared in the distance. High tide would be in another two hours but I could see the geese flying around in the distance. 

Once I reached the sea wall I could see huge rafts of Brent Geese on the sea but non yet in the fields. With no other birders present for clues, I started north and edged down a bit at a time. There were huge number of geese to work through and I knew this was going to be tricky as the geese could easily be hidden by the Brents.

As I returned to my orginal stating point for a second sweep I picked up a small flock feeding in a field and with every minute more birds were flying in to join them. This was my best chance so I just sat my scope up and went through flock with a fine tooth comb. Then I picked up the first of the Red-breasted Geese and then the other.....I was very pleased and so were the couple of walkers I met who were hoping to see the birds but only had poor optics. The ATX 85 gave us all amazing views of the birds. 

As the walkers carried on their coastal walk, I stayed on the sea wall enjoying the sight and sound of the hugh flock of winter geese. Eventually some fishermen banged their van door which flushed the birds back onto the sea. I took this as my queue to head back. My sandwiches prepared by Mrs D did taste very good on the drive home. I've only twitched Essex once previously for a Wilson's Phalarope, so Essex remains in my 100% successful counties. This will be (in all probability) my last lifer of 2021, what a year it has been for rare birds.

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Long-toed Stint becomes diversion of dreams

The mythical Long-toed Stint

The distance really tested the camera

I tried different settings to get a better shot
Absolute scenes as the bird attracted visitors all weekend

YouTube Footage (Alan Shaw)

This year has proved exceptional for me to see new rare birds. As every year passes you expect to see less, however this year I've seen more than the previous three.

On Friday of our Shetland visit news emerged that a Least Sandpiper had been re-identified as a Long-toed Stint at St Aidan's RSPB in West Yorkshire. The bird is just the third record for Britain with the last record being in 1982. This was going to be a big twitch if it stuck until the weekend. 

And so it stuck and there was over 2,000 people to have seen the bird during the Saturday, pictures on social media looked crazy. Thankfully the lakes and paths formed a natural barrier to control anyone over keen. As the rain fell in Shetland we said we would divert on our homeward jouney if it was still there on Sunday morning. There were many birders on Shetland who were desperatley trying to leave on the same ferry.

As ferry docked at 7am the birders on board were revving their engines hoping that the Stint was still in Yorkshire. By 8am it was confirmed and the car suddenly started going an extra 5-10mph. We were just off & flying .......we just had to hope that a pesky Sparrowhawk would leave this Asian wader alone.

There were loads of messages about traffic, progress and where to park but everything went smoothly. Our parking spot ensured just a ten minute walk to Astley lake where the bird was located.

With a decent spot we set the scope up to enjoy nice views of the adult bird. It was very much like a smaller Wood Sandpiper when on occasions the bird stood more upright. The long toes need the full magfication and you needed the bird to be on the nearside of the island.

Apologies if this appears out of sync but it was sat in drafts.

Sunday, 7 November 2021

Scillies - Day 8 - Homeward bound via Pendeen Brown Shrike

 Pendeen Brown Shrike
Only a dozen birders present

Best shot of a mobile bird

With Pendeen just ten minutes from Land's End Airport I couldn't resist the chance to see my second ever Brown Shrike. Knowing how Brown Shrikes can be illusive I decided I'd give it an hour before setting off up the M5. Any such concerns were completely not needed as this stunning small Shrike was showing as soon as I arrived. The bird was quite mobile and on occasions went into cover but it wasn't long until it showed again to a group of around a dozen birders and photographers. A great way to end the holiday.

Scillies - Day 7 - Western Subalpine Warbler on quick return from Bryher

 Western Subalpine Warbler
Rainbow days


Spoonbills (Heather Bennett)
Glossy Ibis (Paul Freestone)
Black Redstart
Richard's Pipit
Rosy Starling
Richard's Pipit
Richard's Pipit

My last full day on the magical islands before heading for home. The forecast was for sunshine and showers so I headed over to Bryher with Adam. Bryher isn't a island I visited on my early visits to the islands but now it's really grown on me. The crossing was a little choppy in more ways than one. A local sat next to Paul made a really rude comment about holiday makers which Paul duly addressed with her. Thankfully we sat on the right side of the boat to avoid waves but also see the Spoonbills on the beach.

Our first target bird was Wryneck which proved very illusive. We saw it twice but both times briefly. From the same view point we could see the Hoopoe previously seen on St Agnes. Two Pink-foots flew off the pool as we approached and other sightings included a Peregrine and a Kestrel.

Then a message landed from Adam - Subalpine Warbler (Telegraph,St Marys) - most likley to be western. Another great find and was a bird I'd not seen and would complete my Subapline set.  How to get there was the next problem. So we elected to get the first boat at 2.30pm and whilst waiting a Glossy Ivis flew in over our heads. Telegraph is a big walk from the Quay and with light against us we tried taxi companies but they were fully booked. Thankfully Spider agreed to meet us and whizz us up to the bird. Upon jumping out there was negative news that bird had flown and had not been seen for over 90 minutes.  Whilst looking for the warbler we picked up a juvenile Rose-coloured Starling, second of the Autumn but the priority was still the pesky warbler. I then bumped into Adam and Heather after trying the duckpond, he was convinced it would it be in same hedgeline. You can't ignore that advice. So James & Emma Packer, Tim & myself returned to the field and decided to work through it bit by bit. A bit of movement raised hopes so we stuck to it and there feeding on the blackberries was the female Western Subalpine Warbler. (highly probable given call and tail photographs). Both myself and Emma were elated as we both needed the species on our life lists.

We were not done there either, hopping and skipping back down the road I'd try for the reported Richard's Pipit which had been eluding me and by magic it was feeding just thirty yards away from the road enabling me to get the best views I've ever had of this species also. Scillies delivers yet again........


Scillies - Day 6 - Woodlark at 12th attempt on wet & windy day


                                                Penninis Head

                                               Penninis Head

Woodlark have given me a run around before and despite missing this one a number of times I would not be beaten on day 6. My tactics would be stay in area and just keep trying and at the same time work through finch flocks.

Due to the weather we didn't leave the house until late morning and after a few more tries there was the Woodlark feeding along the hedge. I watched the bird well for over ten minutes before it took flight into a field out of view. Persistence paid off. I'd never got an image of Woodlark before so this was a first. Scilly giving me great views I'd not seen well previously. The forecast looked better for following day, so fingers crossed.

Scillies - Day 5 - Chiffs & a Flycatcher


Portuguese man o'war
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Red-breasted Flycatcher
St Marys Harbour
Red Admiral
Painted Lady
Siberian Chiffchaff (Paul Freestone)

A nice day without any superstars is probably the best summary. A Siberian Chiffchaff was singing throughout the day at Lower Moors. I'd previously not heard one sing which was interesting.

I managed to miss the reported Woodlark for the 10th time, it seems to come and go in a particular bulb field, I'd be trying again for sure. At the top of the Sunnyside trail, just up from the Woodlark, I spent an enjoyable forty minutes watching a Red-breasted Flycatcher.

Only other noteable sightings were good numbers of Painted Lady & Red Admirals and a Portuguese man o'war on Porthcressa Beach.

Scillies - Day 4 - Tresco tickage

Lesser Scaup
Drake Eider
Whooper Swans
Golden Pheasants
Spotted Redshank

                                                    Red Squirrel

Coastal walks

                                      View towards Abbey Gardens

Tresco always offers a great variety of birds whatever the season and day 4 proved to be no exception.

The Great Pool had plenty of birds to study, the star attraction was a Lesser Scaup discovered the day before. The bird was always distant making photography impossible in poor light. Other sightings included 2 Pink-footed Geese, 4 Whooper Swan, 20 Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Redshank, Shoveller, Pintail and a few more common species.

Walking to the southern shoreline we stopped to watch a very pale Stonechat and the shoreline held a flock of Turnstone and a White Wagtail. Paul then picked out a drake Eider swimming east so we edged round the shoreline to get some pretty good views.

A juvenile Red Squirrel posed lovely for us close to the Abbey Gardens when we called in for a cuppa and from there ran into some of the local Golden Pheasants up on the ridge. Whilst released they we enjoyable to watch so well.

Evening meal was fish and chips from the shop two doors up, organised by Adam.