Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Scilly Season Day 2 – Storm Brian & a funny Snipe

View left from our house
View right from our house
Morning march north
Squire on jellyfish duty
Port Hellick beach for the American Golden Plover
American Golden Plover
American Golden Plover
Leach's Petrel
Portugese Man o War Jellyfish
Local signage
Wilson's Snipe
Possible Siberian Oystercatcher 
Evening meal watching the Saints

With gale force winds and rain forecast to hit St Mary's in the early hours and stay all day we were surprised to find the wind was the only hindrance as we set off after breakfast.

The day’s plan would be to head to the east side of the island and try and make use of any cover available

A quick check for the previous weeks Corncrake was unsuccessful as we edged round the bay to High Moors. From the first hide we recorded our first Scilly Moorhen & Teal (3) before moving down the boardwalk to the Seaward hide where the reported Wilson Snipe was showing very well. We got a quick glimpse of the under wing as the bird preened before feeding. Certainly not one for us to decide it’s credence. To the right of the hide a Firecrest was calling and showed well whilst I was trying to get a record shot of the Snipe.

From there it was on to the beach which was a stunning bay which a superb collection of waders including 5 Greenshank, 20+ Ringed Plover, Turnstone and my second only American Golden Plover. The views were quite distant when we first refound it but we edged round the bay to get some fantastic views.

Also on the beach were 15-20 Portugese Man O'War's, despite its appearance they are not actually jellyfish but a marine animal called siphonphores. The venom from it's tentacles is used to paralyse its prey, normally small fish. They had deliver a nasty sting for humans so we kept our distance.

With an early report of a Leach’s Petrel we then headed towards the quay where we set up to observe any passage between St Mary’s & St Agnes. After about thirty minutes the Squire found his next lifer, “Leach’s” was the call enabling everyone in our small group to get on the bird. The bird stayed on view for around five minutes before edging round the headland.

After a quick break we were back out and marching to Porthloo. The wind seemed particular fierce with the sand granules feeling like tiny bullets on your face. Our target bird was a reported Siberian Oystercatcher we thankfully picked out quickly. More of a dull brown than black with longer legs & a beak it made of an interesting session of birding.

We didn’t add anything extra as we past through Lower Moors as we headed back to the digs. After a quick shower I headed out to the pub early to watch the Saints beat the Albion thanks a Boufal wonder goal.  A lifer and a Saints win…….if Carling did Saturdays……..

Scilly Season Day 1 – Yellow-billed Cuckoo MEGA

On board & ready to go
Red-throated Diver
Summer plumage Red-throated Diver 
Mega twitch to St.Agnes
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Little Bunting
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Afternoon twitchers
Black Redstart

The lure of six small islands off the south west of Cornwall was too much to resist this Autumn following an offer from Paul Freestone to join him & three friends for a weeks birding. 

An alarm call at 1.00am was the signal for start of my first ever trip to the Isles of Scilly. I traveled South with the Squire before teaming up with our organiser in Hayle.  Our trip would start a day earlier than originally planned due to Storm Brian hitting Britain & the islands on Saturday and no ferries would be running.

Thankfully I got a couple of hours sleep in the car & a tea stop at Exeter broke the journey up. A McDonalds breakfast lined the stomach before it was boarding time on the Scillionian from Penzance. A pair of Red-throated Divers including one in summer plumage was a stunning sight & not one I’d seen before, it was a sign of a few good days ahead.

A Sooty Shearwater (a lifer for the Squire) flew past in Cornish waters, also passing were a steady flow of Gannets & a few Guillemots.

Then there was a crescendo of pagers & phone alarms going off an hour into the crossing, YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO – St Agnes. Wow, but could we get there. The early indication was that there would be no afternoon boats due to storm Brian. Within an hour (I was still gripping the seat, counting the minutes to get off) news was confirmed we could dump the bags & jump on a crossing to St Agnes.

Whilst the weather was deteriorating the crossing wasn’t that bad and the walk to the Cuckoo was only five minutes. When arriving there no birders, no bird !  Thankfully the exhausted bird had moved closer to the iris’s to take a bit of cover. The poor bird looked to be struggling & whilst it would have been great to see the bird feeding & flying this was never going to happen. Everyone was attentive to the fact it was in a islanders garden and duly took turns to see the bird on arrival (bar one knober).

After a pleasing view we carried on our walk to get to the reported Little Bunting. As per the reports the bunting was feeding very well out in the open. A much improved view from my previous views earlier in the year at Great Barford. A real little cracker.

Along the coastal path we bagged a Wheatear, 3 Black Redstarts, Common Redstart, 5 Rock Pipits & a fall of Song Thrushes.

Quite a first day………….

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Pwll-du Rock Thrush on Friday afternoon twitch

Rock Thrush looking down at a growing audience
Nicely posing

Pwll-du hillside
Scope views were excellent but shots with camera was difficult
The Captain looking for a captive audience for his Albatross story
Interesting Fungi 

ID welcome please

The phone made that dreaded noise on Thursday afternoon and review showed a Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush had been found near Abergavenny. A check on Twitter revealed photographs by more than one birder so it was all systems go. A dental appointment kept me from going on Thursday so a planned was hatched to start early at work then go late morning upon positive news.

A clear night & no early news indicated the bird had moved on, however at 11.15am news emerged it had been re found. A quick scoff of the Friday morning cooked sandwich & change of clothes and I was bound for Upton Warren ready to be picked up by @1stbirdoftheday. 

The journey down the M5 took about ninety minutes and thankfully there wasn't any parking issues as we snatched a place in an ideal location. The walk took about 15-20 minutes dodging the puddles on the rough gravel patch to the edge of an old quarry. The views were stunning adding some extra pleasure to the trip. On arrival the news was the bird hadn't been seen for 20-30 minutes. After trying a couple of different area's we decided on the best place to scan from. This position came up trumps as we found the bird sat on one of the large rocks after a short flight view. I even managed to get a few distant record shots. There were about 50 birders present that kept increasing as we ended our stint. Those arriving as we left had to deal with driving rain on top of the very strong winds.

The male bird was certainly not in summer plumage when seen in the Mediterranean however it seemed most comfortable among the rock crevices on top of the escapement. You have to take your hat off to the finder of this super bird in this remote location. The same location produced a Marmora's Warbler in June 2010. This was certainly a species I didn't expect to see in the UK and comes on the back of the Blue Rock Thrush. Other sightings included the Captain from north Wales, two Wheatear & a number of Meadow Pipits. It's not been a bad Autumn has it ?

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Creeping closer to 140

The gravel pit restoration has now reached the edge of the pits so all of us have to be careful to avoid the contractors who are progressing quickly. In a frustrating development the edges of the pits have been completed flattened wiping out the best butterfly area but also more areas used by nesting birds each spring. 

The Little Stint was present until Tuesday 3rd October before heading south. The most movement has been around the influx of Wigeon to a count of 36 & also gulls with 18 Lesser Black-backed Gulls being joined by 2 Common Gulls. The Teal count was 35 on Sunday which is well below the normal level given the time of year.

Midweek sightings included the regular Red Kite & five Ringed Plover.

Sunday produced a number of new sightings including a Redpoll(a first for the year) Crossbill heading south, female /eclipse Mandarin duck on far lagoons & the strangest sighting was an escaped adult Saker falcon (or perhaps a Saker x Gyr cross) in poor condition on mounds around the site.

The monthly count also produced: 22 Little Grebe, 33 Cormorant, 10 Grey Herons, 12 Mute Swan, 205 Greylags, 260 Canada Geese, 8 Shelducks (first on Pophills and later on main pit), 17 Gadwall, 245 Mallard, 2 Pintail, 6 Shoveler, 47 Tufted Duck, 1 adult Water Rail giving good views out in open at main pit, 247 Coot, a Ringed Plover, 29 Lapwing, 4 Dunlin, Ruff, 3 Snipe, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper (Pophills), 270 grounded Skylarks and 150 Meadow Pipits first thing, a Grey Wagtail, a Redwing south (first of autumn), 3 Chiffchaffs, a big tit flock in plantation included 15 Goldcrest, 25 Long-tailed Tits, 10 Coal Tits, 30 Blue Tits, Nuthatch and Treecreeper; 4 Jays, Raven, 50 Goldfinches on thistles and 105 Linnets in the oat crop. 

Autumn Dorset getaway

 Lulworth Cove 
Durdle Door
Spoonbill galore
RSPB Arne Cafe
Poole Harbour
Avoid the memberships sales 
Fly Agaric ?
Ring-necked Parakeet
Just a short blog to round up a terrific autumn break, ending with two fantastic days in Dorset. We hadn't explored this area before and we were not disappointed. The weather was very kind and it felt like mid August rather than October. 

Durdle Door & Lulworth Cove was our first port of call. Durdle Door is a limestone arch that is part of the amazing jurassic coastline. Bird wise we were restricted in Skylarks, Stonechats and plenty of Rooks after scraps on the car park.

We then made the 25 minute journey to RSPB Arne, host of BBC's Winterwatch. The car park was full and it took a while to realise that Arne was more than just a nature reserve. There were families, couples & a few birders on the reserve enjoying the fantastic habitat. 

The reserve overlooked Poole Harbour where we got great views of 25+ Spoonbill, 5 Swallows, Sandwich Terns, Little Egret, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Wigeon & a single Spotted Redshank. Of the 25 Spoonbills we observed a Poole Harbour record was declared at 75 birds ( 40 at Arne & 35 at Brownsea Island)

We did use the cafe which I can recommend. Both our meals were excellent and served in good time despite the staff being run off their feet.

After an evening of over indulgence we headed into the New Forest for a couple of hours ride on mixed terrain, only notable sighting was a couple of Redwing passing over. 

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Autumn form continues with Ryhope Scops Owl

September proved to be fantastic months birding, deciding to stay flexible certainly paid dividends. The question would be could my luck possibly continue. 

Last Wednesday a Eurasian Scops Owl had been discovered in Ryhope, County Durham by local school teacher Tom Middleton. There was the normal stampede however I was at work and a planned visit was aborted on the Friday when it wasn't reported. I was still hopeful of it being reported again and it duly was from Saturday onwards bar Monday. The strategy would be to go on next reported morning news being fairly confident the Owl would stay in its roost position for the day.

After a day of local birding Monday, news broke Tuesday of the Owl roosting in view. With the Squire at work & Chris with his phone off, I headed up north plotting my way up the M1 / A1. Thankfully the traffic was very kind and I was parked up by 11.15am. 

A walk of less than two minutes through an underpass took me to a small rough valley on the seaward edge of Ryhope Village. There were around 50-60 birders present all enjoying great views of the Scops Owl that was roosting in an elderberry bush. 

Scops recorded sightings are rare (40 post 1950 records) and I believe the last one was in 2007 in Thrupp, Oxfordshire. It is also the first record in the north east for over 100 years. This Scops should be heading towards the sub-Saharan Africa on its migration from the Mediterranean. 

The tiny nocturnal Owl measuring just 20 cm seemed pretty comfortable in its temporary surroundings and looked to rotate which eye it used to watch the growing crowd. You can fully understand how the bird isn't seen some days due to it's heavily streaked plumage. These Owls have a very distinctive call that is best listened to on this page link

Pec Sandpiper & Rock Pipit become Autumn additions

Little Stint
Sunday brought more Autumn interest to Salford Priors when the site recorded it's second Pectoral Sandpiper (juvenile) . The bird must have come down in the westerly winds and heavy over night rain. Sadly the bird took flight as soon as the rain stopped so not all of us couldn't connect. 

The Little Stint, the star of Saturday, was still present on the main spit all day. The islands were pretty busy with waders including 4 Ruff, 5 Ringed Plover, Snipe, 15 Lapwing, 2 Green Sandpiper & 2 Common Sandpiper.

Our Pintail was joined by another drake whilst other wildfowl included 13 Wigeon, 7 Gadwall, 52 Teal, 300 Mallard, Chiloe Wigeon, 27 Tufties, 6 Shoveller, 5 Mute Swan, 320 Greylag, 275 Canada Geese and a Domestic goose.

Whilst other sightings included a Rock Pipit (136 for year) on puddles of restored ground near Snipe meadow, 33 Little Grebe, 28 Cormorant, 7 Grey Herons, 4 White Wagtail, 30 Pied Wagtail, 9 Swallows & 5 Chiffchaffs. 

On Saturday, Chris recorded a pair of Stonechat on the fence line at Pophills but these were not present on Sunday.