Monday, 23 November 2015

North East Norfolk Bird Club talk this Thursday

I will be at Aylmerton village hall from 19:30 onwards on Thursday to give a talk about birding in the Azores throughout the seasons. Hope to see some of you there and, more importantly, hoping that I can inspire others to visit this fabulous archipelago.

Visit for more info.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Grip-back Crag

Sunday lunch was fast approaching and the glorious smell of a home-cooked roast had literally just infused my nostrils as the unmistakable sound of a singing Black-billed Cuckoo resonated from my mother's living room. Nonchalantly making for my phone, assuming it would be another feeble excuse for mega-rarity that I'd already seen (what else would be breaking on a quiet, grey Sunday in November?), I was therefore a little surprised to read that the aforementioned mega was actually something I very much did need - and something that I'd missed in the most hilarious of circumstances in April 2014.

I realise that I didn't post anything on my blog at the time so to fill those in who don't use Twitter (where much of the fall-out occurred), essentially I fell asleep reading my book on my bed a short while before David Campbell was picking me up from my flat in Chiswick. I didn't wake up until nearly 08:00 the following morning, by which time David (and everyone else) had got to Flamborough Head and watched the Crag Martin fly off down the headland until it was nothing more than a speck on the horizon. Disorientated, disappointed and feeling downright stupid, it's fair to say I was absolutely seething with the entire episode - particularly as, at that time, it was the most twitchable Crag Martin ever to be seen in Britain and a bird I hadn't anticipated clawing back in a hurry. Surely it would be years before another was so accessible?

Fortunately, that assumption proved to be wrong. Although there wasn't anything I could do about it that afternoon, I arranged to meet Dan Pointon on site early the following morning with the thought that the bird would probably be back around Chesterfield's famous 'crooked spire', which sits like a witch's hat atop the Church of St Mary and All Saints in the centre of town. A number of previous November/December records in Northern Europe have lingered for several days, so hopes were high that this one would do something similar.

And so it proved. The bird was there just after 08:00 the next day, flying round the spire as it had done the previous afternoon. The only problem was that I wasn't - I'd slept in again, ignoring my 05:30 alarm. What a cretin! Fortunately, the martin decided to linger throughout the morning and even had the decency to fly right over my car as I pulled up at 10:15. The weather was miserable, but it gave great views and even briefly landed on the church on a couple of occasions.

Almost as worthy of the #ThingsYoureUnlikelyToSeeInChesterfield hashtag was a female Merlin that zoomed over shortly after I arrived. I had my camera poised for the martin and had blasted off a few shots without really thinking about what the bird was, only realising the ID when reviewing the photos a little later in the morning!

So on the martin front, all's well that ends well - even if I am a bit of a shit twitcher.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Weekend wildfowl

Drake Ring-necked Duck, Startop's End Reservoir, Hertfordshire

Female Long-tailed Duck, Deeping High Bank, Lincolnshire, 7 November 2015

Called in to see the Ring-necked on my way back up to Lincolnshire this weekend - a nice bird nearly back in full breeding plumage, and quite showy to boot (as all the ducks are at this site it seems). The Long-tailed is my third in the Peterborough area following birds in 2004 and 2006 - the latter, which was on my old patch, is apparently also the last area record!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Last weekend in Norfolk

A few images of a memorable couple of days in Norfolk. Among the thousands of Goldcrests we saw two Red-flanked Bluetails, two Isabelline Shrikes, Olive-backed Pipit, Hume's Leaf Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, two Pallas's Warblers and a good selection of commoner migrants.

Great Grey Shrike found by Dan at Stiffkey campsite car park

One of a couple of Common Redstarts towards Wells

Goldcrests - thousands right along the coast - this one enjoying a sizeable meal

Olive-backed Pipit at Muckleburgh Hill

Record shot of the Hume's Leaf Warbler at Wells

Brilliantly tame Daurian Shrike at Beeston Common

Monday, 19 October 2015

New paper in Dutch Birding

Our exhaustive paper covering the birds of European Russia has now been published in the excellent Dutch Birding. It details locations for all the region's key birds and is up to date with all 2015 sightings. Many thanks to Felix Timmermann, Radoslaw Gwóźdź, Rami Mizrachi, Janne Aalto, Paul French and many others for their valuable contributions.

Jones J, Monticelli D, & Crochet, P-A (2015) Birding in European Russia: Ural mountains, Yekaterinburg and Orenburg region. Dutch Birding 37 (5): 302-320

Friday, 9 October 2015

Reflecting on Shetland

Though it was my first time on Shetland, I haven't come back feeling particularly put out after eight fairly challenging days. Despite conditions being sub-optimal at best our team still managed to unearth a decent selection of scarce between us: Arctic and Blyth's Reed warblers, Bluethroat, Nightingale, Common Rosefinch and four Barred Warblers. A decent result and reward for the effort put in by the team, particularly Dan and Guernsey Dave who were unrelenting!

There's no denying that working the iris beds, gardens and fields all day is tiring but in my mind the challenge doesn't compare to that in the Azores, where steep slopes, subtropical forest and dense scrub dominate. Therefore the next person to suggest birding on Corvo is easy will feel the full force of my wrath! :-)

The good thing about Shetland (unlike the Azores) is that there is always something to look at in late September. Common migrants - particularly the endearing Yellow-browed Warblers - keep you going, even during the slowest periods. Their presence encourages you to keep plugging away - if they're there, then theoretically something much rarer could be too. Early in the week it seemed that just about every garden with sycamores had this species, though they were sometimes found in the burns and in weedy areas, too. I had a ringed bird at Easter Quarff on our penultimate day, which I only realised when reviewing photos.

Here's a selection of other pics taken throughout the week.

Olive-backed Pipit, Lerwick, 3 October

Red-breasted Flycatcher, Bigton, 3 October

Bluethroat, Quendale, 4 October

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Hard work in westerlies

A couple of days plugging away in brisk westerlies has resulted in Guernsey Dave pull out a tail-less Arctic Warbler at Cott, on the west side of Weisdale Voe, and today I inadvertently disturbed a juvenile Common Rosefinch from a patch of nettles by the road at Easter Skeld.

This has been interspersed with tens of Yellow-browed Warblers. Today we've seen a minimum of 46 and yesterday around 40 - they're in most gardens you check, sometimes in amazing numbers. Easter Skeld, a small village in West Mainland, had 16 this morning!

Other than that, it's pretty quiet. New birds keep getting found but they're evidently not new in and we won't be graced by fresh arrivals from the east before we leave on Sunday. Yank or bust!

Arctic Warbler, Cott


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Update from Shetland

A brief update. No spectacular discoveries yet but John's Blyth's Reed Warbler was rewarding and the team has also unearthed Bluethroat and a couple of Barred Warblers. Lanceolated Warbler was an entertaining tick and the Pechora Pipit today was good despite the crowd. Two Grasshopper Warblers have both been claimed by others as Pallas's. Yellow-browed Warblers are literally everywhere. It seems every sycamore patch has them in - today we had 47 and yesterday well over 30. There must be hundreds on the isles.

Yellow-browed Warblers at Collafirth (top) and Scousburgh

Blyth's Reed Warbler at Bardister - stupidly elusive but pretty vocal, great find for John

Nightingale looking stupidly rare just north of Ollaberry

Guernsey Dave's Bluethroat at Culsetter

Juvenile American Golden Plover at Sandwick

Pied Flycatcher at Scousburgh

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Dungeness Empidonax

A wet and windy afternoon at Dungeness watching a generally elusive Empidonax flycatcher - a truly stunning find for Martin Casemore that took everyone by surprise.

As always with these things, identification is some way from straightforward. General consensus seems to favour Acadian (E virescens) but, like the Blakeney Point Alder Flycatcher of 2010, different images seem to suggest different things. Compared to the Blakeney bird, the Dungeness Empid seems more green (rather than olive-grey) above, not too dissimilar to the upperpart colouration of e.g. Yellow-browed Warbler. Below it is somewhat yellower and, crucially, the bill is quite long and gives a downturned impression in some images thanks to a slightly hooked upper mandible (compared to straight/almost upturned in the Blakeney Alder). The dull light seems to inhibit these yellow tones showing so beware some photos where it looks greyer (and more Alder-like!) - just look at my shots below. At this point in time, Alder(/Willow) is considered to have been ruled out and the main emphasis of today's discussion, both across the internet and on site, referred to separating Yellow-bellied and Acadian, though a range of features seem to rule out the former.

A nice bird but one of those that, once the stress and adrenaline of the twitch subsides, you wish you'd spent a bit more time watching and had a bit more knowledge about at the time. That said, the weather was bloody grim this afternoon and I've had a nasty bout of flu since returning from Ireland on Sunday evening, so probably best not to have spent several hours in the wet.

Presumed Acadian Flycatcher, Dungeness, Kent, 22 September 2015

Monday, 21 September 2015

Back out on Achill

I spent the weekend with Rich Bonser out on Achill Island, Co Mayo - my first autumn visit here for three years. Overall it proved a quiet weekend and thus we were pretty pleased to find a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper along the north shore of Lough Nambrack mid-morning on Sunday.

I first visited Achill back in September 2008 and left greatly impressed with the island, despite seeing little more than a trio of Curlew Sandpipers. September visits in 2010, 2011 and 2012 were all fruitful, the middle year being truly brilliant. While our fleeting visit this year was far from vintage, a lack of any meaningful weather and a general dearth of Nearctic shorebirds throughout Ireland meant that a Pec arguably wasn't all that bad a result.

In fact it was probably the best Pec I've ever seen. Although it was occasionally spooked by nearby Meadow Pipits, it was utterly fearless when on its own. You could lie on the lough shore and it would just meander its way by. Sometimes it passed less than a metre away, and you could actually hear the water splashing as it pattered by - just brilliant.

Juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper, Achill Island, 20 September 2015