Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Brown Shrike on Holy Island makes it a north east double

Brown Shrike
Pictures sadly don't do this cracking bird justice
Safely spread out
View to Lindisfarne Castle
Day break over the causeway

 A bit of an arty pic

I was away in Devon when the Warham Green's Brown Shrike was showing off to the crowds, so when one was reported an hour further north than the Taiga Flycatcher it was always going to be in the plan. Sadly due to the tides there wouldn't be any access during the afternoon after the Flycatcher so we stayed over night in Ashington (where the famous Charlton brothers were born) for a morning assault.

A pretty dreadful nights sleep meant we were up early and on the road to Holy Island where we had seen the Asian Desert Warbler in the spring. My local contact Ross, kindly gave us some directions to walk from the car park. Rain and heavy cloud over night gave us a relative amount of hope as we walked through some pretty muddy terrain. Suddenly we saw two birders walking very intendly and in the distance were a small group of birders! This looked hopeful.

When we reached the group they informed us the bird had been seen ten minutes ago, so it was just a waiting game. It did seem very quiet and we did wonder perhaps it wasn't the bird they had seen at a distance. Then after around 20 minutes our target bird, the Brown Shrike, popped up on the fence line and duly performed like you would expect a Shrike too. The scope provided some fantastic views but the bird was in fairness too far for photographs & video. 

We were both delighted that we had seen both our north east target birds. It's certainly been a great year for birding that is for sure. Before we left we saw a Red-flanked Bluetail & Barred Warbler in the village. Around the island there were thousands of geese and waders to enjoy. We set off for home late morning both rather shattered and keen to recharge our batteries.

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin at Stiffkey makes it 3 in 3

My best shot in difficult conditions 
The Nikon doesn't like twigs in the way
Big crop on this one but does show the tail
My first view of this mega rarity
Ready & poised
Muddy access only
Parking carnage but could have been worse
More muddy scenes
 The crowd awaits the star attraction
Video when seen close to car park
Salt marsh footage

We were about thirty minutes south of Holy Island on Saturday when the MEGA alert went off to tell us a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin had been found in Norfolk.  There was no chance of us turning around as we already had a morning planned we were both looking forward to. We just considered what carnage would be taking place in of all places Stikley. A tiny village with very tight roads and limited parking. It was 40 years since (Prawle Point 1980) one was twitchable so a bit of planning would be needed.

I spoke to Craig Reed during the evening who happening to be within 15 minutes of the bird when it was found as he and Mike were just exploring the area for the day. Great timing for sure! Craig marked my card with where to park and head for so I decided I'd wait for first news and then take the pain and go. It would be solo trip with the rest of the gang tied up elsewhere. It's always harder to go when solo but I had a couple of podcasts and playlists ready to keep boredom away. The sat nav said 3 hrs 15 but I was parked up in 2 hrs 55. I managed to get a pitch at the top of the lane which was handy as the rest of the lane was carnage. A recovery truck had arrived to help a stranded birder which made it worst. I thankfully got the pitch as an early arrival had left.

After walking down the lane I was greeted with news it had flown into salt marsh! Hey ho....I was prepared with my wellingtons so off I marched. There were many who were not prepared for the awaiting mud bath. 

Very consious of social distancing I set myself up in spaced second row and decided I'd just be happy to see the bird. Photos and videos were not on my agenda. The crowd seemed very confident the bird was the area they were watching and they were right, after about 20 minutes the bird popped out for quick view before taking cover again. Now I just had to sit tight and wait for improved views.

I'd estimate there were 200-300 birders on and around the mud channel all looking at this large clump of suaeda in the marsh land. I got increasingly improved views during my visit but lets be honest this was no beauty! This scruffy robin, skylark sized, would never be winning any beauty contests. It perched occasionally and fanned its impressive tail but its upperparts where unremarkable with a buff dark breast. It's head had a dark supercilium and dark eye stripe. 

The experts considered the bird to be from the Cerchotrichas galactotes syriaca or C.g. familiaris race meaning the bird had strayed from around the middle east.

To be honest it was not a great experience and the previous two day had been much better but sometimes we go months without seeing anything new so I took the pain and did it. Right, next stop Scilly (fingers crossed).

Taiga Flycatcher (?) kickstarts a VERY big weekend

Taiga Flycatcher
About the closest view I got
I'm bottom right - very socially distanced
Looking for insects

Capture success
                                                    Nicely posed
Headland views north
Captain on patrol
                                         Socially distanced twitch

                                                    Views south
Video footage

Sometimes you don't always want certain birds to be reported. One such bird is a Taiga Flycatcher. This is another one of those split species that makes birding tricky at times. (2005 from Red-breasted Flycatcher)

This eastern beauty had been located at Trow Quarry on the coast line of South Shields. After a bit of "shall we/sharnt we", I met Ian on the edge of Leeds before going directly to South Sheilds. The weather wasn't great on our journey but brightened up as we arrived on Tynside. We parked up and walked across the sea front to a crowd of around 30 birders & photographers looked at a old quarry face. We didn't have to wait very long to see this Flycatcher going about it's lunchtime duties. Apparently many early visitors had a difficult wait to see the bird. The Flycatcher look regular flights up the cliff face to catch an insect and then would perch lower down to eat what had been caught.

The bird wasn't easy to photograph as it was very dull in its plumage. The exact identification will be decided by DNA again like many these days, surely birding years ago was easier. Someone did however record the bird calling and the sonagram suggested it was a Taiga Flycatcher.

The bay looked stunning from the headland and we added Velvet Scoter, Common Scoter, Eider & Red-throated Diver to the day list. We also saw a Sparrowhawk in the hand at the local ringing station which was impressive. Next stop would be Holy Island next morning......

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

East coast gamble lands Western Bonelli's Warbler

Western Bonelli's Warbler (Luke Nash)
Western Bonelli's Warbler  (Luke Nash)
Socially distanced twitch at Easington
Red-flanked Bluetail
Yellow-browed Warbler
Female Redstart
Spotted Flycatcher
Red-flanked Bluetail

After a quiet day on Saturday, I was determined to make the most of the rest of the weekend. With easterlies blowing & a decent forecast, Spurn beckoned again. Squire was on driving duty and a plan was hatched to leave at around 6am. 

The rain hammered down all the way until we reached Sheffield and then as every mile passed the weather improved. Early news on Bird Guides wasn't overly positive but the Red-flanked Bluetail was still at Cliff Farm.

That turned out to be our first stop but it was rather chaotic so we decided to get parked up and get birding. There were alot of cars everywhere considering there wasn't really a mega in town. The Blue-tail was clearly a big draw for many.  

There were hugh numbers of waders swirling around the Humber as high tide was reached. A Bluethroat was found down in the dunes but we never really considered that. There was a huge influx of Song Thrush & Robins closely followed by Redwings as the morning continued. A Short-eared Owl flew past us which was then attacked by Greenshank of all things. 

We estimated we saw 15+ Redstart during our day, the most either of us has seen at Spurn. There was at least four on the back of Cliff Farm when we reached the northerly tip of the triange. We watched the Blue-tail away from the crowd and I took a few pleasing photos before we scoured the Crown & Anchor car park. Sadly we only found a Spotted Flycatcher and good numbers of Goldcrest & Chiffchaffs.

The Squire is also now a Friend of Spurn so I took him up to Church Field where they were ringing. We saw some lovely birds in the hand including Brambling, Dunock, Robin & Song Thrush. Whilst in this area we noted more Redwings coming in and a Tree Pipit sat up nicely.

Just as we left Church field news reached us of a Bonelli's Warbler species by the gas terminal. Thankfully I knew the location and we were quickly on the march. Given how busy Spurn was it was going to be important we saw the bird fairly quickly then get out of there as we didn't want to into any scrums. We parked in village and strode up Vicarage Lane with our fingers crossed. A short walk took us to the south of the gas terminal and there straight above us was the Bonelli's Warbler, wow! We doubted if the type would be called by the bird gave sufficient calling evidence to be called as a "Western".

Western Bonelli's Warbler is a phylloscopus warbler that breeds in south west europe or north africa and has a browner tinge to the upper parts than an eastern type. 

From there we had a good hunt up and down Beacon Lane where the only bird was a Yellow-browed Warbler. There had been showers forecast which we hoped might bring another fall of birds but this never materialised. Our final stop was Sammy Point where were recorded another Shortie, Redstart & yet more Chiffchaffs. 

Many thanks to Luke Nash who kindly forwarded a couple of warbler images.


Monday, 5 October 2020

Rain, rain & Pinkies

                                               Pink-footed Geese
            All images taken by Richard Harbird (Morton Bagot Birder)

                                           Greenshank & Dunlin

My dreary site visit on Saturday had to be early due to the local shoot arriving to blast more simple partridges out of the air and with forecast very grim for next 24 hours I was plotting an east coast jolly on the Sunday.

Jon however stuck to his guns and although got a severe drencing also recorded four year ticks for us with them being Greenshank, Rock Pipit, Pink-footed Goose and Knot. Much respect ! This took us to 136 for the year, just one below last years total but 7 off the 2018 record year. Richard Harbird visited during the afternoon and also had an excellent visit.

Jon's count included 48 Little Grebe, 14 Cormorant, 4 Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret (Pophills), 17 Mute Swans, four Pink-footed Geese on the flood, 195 Greylag Geese, 410 Canada Geese, 1 Wigeon (12 Saturday), 2 Gadwall, 36 Teal, 400 Mallard (plus 150 more on the Broom flood), 5 Shoveler, 36 Tufted Duck, 95 Coot, 1 Golden Plover, 1 Knot (second for site) on flood, 2 Dunlin, 1 Snipe (2 Saturday), 2 Greenshank on flood, (1 Lapwing Saturday) 1 Kingfisher, 65 Skylark, 40 House Martin, 5 Swallow, 250 Meadow Pipits, 1 Rock Pipit on flood, 1 Yellow Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail, 40 Pied Wagtail, 3 Stonechats, 5 Chiffchaff, 25 Long-tailed Tit and 4 Raven.


Sunday, 4 October 2020

Ruddy Unbelievable

Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Duck
Little Grebes
 The duo in action together
Marsh Harrier (Dennis)

Access to the pits during recent weeks has been very difficult with the start of the shooting season & the restoration of the farming areas has gone up a gear.

There have been five addtional year ticks in recent weeks which are juvenile Scaup, Redpoll, Marsh Harrier, Grey Partridge and a female Ruddy Duck. The Ruddy Duck's brief visit, now been departed for over a week, was the first sighting since 2006 when a post breeding flock of 23 were recorded by Jon. Four pairs raised young in the year before their habitat was destroyed the following year. 

We had seen an increase in waterfowl in recent week and its always great to see and hear the Wigeon. With difficult access and a lack of management at the site it's ceratinly effecting my enthusiam to visit the site.