Friday, 5 December 2014

Quick trip to North Yorks

Imagine opening your curtains one morning and seeing this hopping about in the road!

Popped up to North Yorkshire in the ever-delightful company of Dan Pointon to have a look at this gorgeous Eastern Black Redstart (P. o. phoencuroides), which had been busying itself about a housing estate on the north side of Scalby for a few days. I can't entirely remember why I didn't see either of the 2011 birds, though I suspect the reason was something list-orientated - not bothering to travel for a subspecies (or similar).

Male Black Redstarts are seriously brilliant birds and this one, with its brick-red breast and belly sharply demarcated from the black face and throat, grey forehead and brownish upperparts was one handsome beast. At times it looked remarkably Common Redstart-like but both behaviour and structure were much more reminiscent of Black Redstart. I'd actually go as far as saying this is one of the best-looking birds I've seen in Britain and the fact that it's not a species in its own right shouldn't detract from that.

Unfortunately behaviour didn't match appearance and while it did show incredibly well on a few fairly brief occasions, it was utterly restless and kept zipping off in to gardens. It appeared to be conducting a fairly loose circuit, ranging over a good few hundred metres (at one point it stormed off down the hedgerow of an adjacent field and didn't come back for a couple of hours). As such it proved a frustrating subject for the lens but there are some decent pics floating about the internet now. Here are a couple of my best, more on Flickr as always:

We also popped up to nearby Cloughton Wyke where we found the Richard's Pipit in its favoured field south of the Hayburn Wyke Inn. A really big and obvious bird that called frequently, it was also typically mobile and wary.

I suspect that will be it for the good birds now this year, unless someone turfs out a surprise passerine. Come to think of it, has there ever been a better year for a late, late autumn hyper-rarity? The mild weather seems to be encouraging a number of common migrants to attempt to winter here - think Swallows, Whinchats and two species of warbler on a Leyton traffic island, for example. A Siberian Accentor would be ideal, as would a Black-faced Bunting - though I'd settle for a Pine!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Black Brant hybrids

My guess is that these birds are probably well known to Norfolk birders but, not spending the timethat I once did in the county as teen, I've lost touch and so it was a pleasant 'surprise' to come across them on the saltings at Holkham. I guess one of these birds is responsible for recent reports of a Black Brant in the Burnham Overy area.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Peru album on Flickr

I've put a bunch of Peru photos on my Flickr page.

Along with a small party of journalists and tour operators, I was fortunate to participate in an eight-day trip to Northern Peru in mid-September, hosted by PromPeru and Green Tours ( The seven days spent birding was far too little to appreciate this incredibly diverse region fully and I intend to return in the not-too-distant future. I couldn't recommend the place enough, and Wilson Diaz (of Green Tours) did a fabulous job of organising our birding.

A couple of photos, lifted straight from Flickr. Head to my page for more:

A full report of my trip will appear in Birdwatch magazine in the not-too-distant future, and likely on the BirdGuides website too.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Desert Wheatear

Arriving from the second half of October onwards, Desert Wheatears tend to mark the conclusion of the autumn period in Britain. There have already been three this early November, including the extremely tidy male pictured above at Reculver, Kent.

With Sunday free and having not seen a DW in Britain since the female I ticked while dipping Chimney Swift on Holy Island in 2005, I met up with Rich and headed down to Kent for an hour or so in the company of this bird. The light was grey and flat but the bird made up for it, despite the seemingly endless procession of lens wielding admirers parked flat on the beach about ten metres from its favoured rocks. This species has a habit of being pretty fearless and so it proved; though not bothered by humans, it wasn't quite as ridiculous as the Lowestoft bird looked! You'll notice that the DW is facing left in every shot - all thanks to a light but persistent southwesterly.

More wheatear pics on my Flickr pages:

Having had our fill and taken enough photos to add to the ridiculous total already taken by others, we headed down to Dungeness for the afternoon. The best bird was a brief first-winter Yellow-legged Gull but we did speed by a Great White Egret, which was mincing around in the usual corner of ARC Pit.

Brief (shite) Desert Wheatear vid:

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Porthgwarra, 24 October 2014

Comfortably the highlight of my British and Irish year. What a cracker!

Unfortunately not the easiest bird to photograph despite being pretty tame, it generally sat partially (or totally!) obscured and thus 'clean' shots were very difficult to obtain.

Left London on news at 09:30 on Friday morning, arriving at PG around 14:30. Bird last showed a short while after 17:30. It appeared to be feeding quite avidly on caterpillars (not sure of species) and generally seemed quite healthy, though it did spend one ten-minute period sat out on closing its eyes late afternoon. I was pretty surprised that it wasn't there on Saturday morning, but Friday evening was cold and clear - perhaps it simply moved on?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


Found by Hannu today - a lovely first-winter male in da Ponte. Cracking bird, terrible photo. Otherwise I appear to have hit a mental and physical brick wall. Saw a flock of White-rumps and a Pec bombing around the village. It's still blowing an absolute gale; the novelty is kind of wearing off now. Plane cancelled today, and not looking good for Friday.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

More wind than birds

As I type this the wind is absolutely howling outside - the storm is well and truly here. Looking at the forecast this isn't even a patch on what's coming in on Thursday!

So it's all very exciting being on a tiny island in the mid-Atlantic when the wind is blowing like this. Surely the birds will come? It's been surprisingly quiet today despite intensive coverage. The east side of the island is nice and sheltered, particularly at lower altitude, and the occasional sun today gave us hope that there'd be a few new discoveries. As it turned out Pierre's Northern Parula in Lapa late afternoon rescued a generally disappointing day (though I didn't see it). Three White-rumped Sandpipers and a Wilson's Snipe crash-landed in the old harbour were also new in.

Earlier in the day, the Wilson's Snipe that I'd photographed on Sunday was seen again around Fojo and later Poco de Agua. We chased it round for a bit attempting flight shots before leaving it be. The under and upperwing only confirm it as a classic Wilson's Snipe; sadly my handful of pics are awful (in poor light and at distance) but others managed far better of the underwing especially. Still, you can get an idea of the restricted white on the secondary tips from the image below - as well as the heavily barred outer tail feather if you squint hard enough.

Wilson's Snipe in flight

Hopefully more news to bring you in the next few days. Currently looks touch and go with regards to getting off the island on Friday. High seas today.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Pete's cake

Not much to report on today from the field - had a Red-eyed Vireo at the Cape Verde Farm late this afternoon. The plane arrived safely this morning but soon after things got pretty windy and it's been worsening ever since - currently raining quite heavily. Let's hope birds will follow in the next few days.

In the meantime, Peter arrived and so a little party was thrown at the Comodoro (thanks Kathy) to celebrate his tenth autumn on the island. It's been said before but both birders and many islanders alike are indebted to Pete for finally realising the island's potential back in autumn 2005 and starting off what has become the highlight of many annual birding calendars. Cheers Pete.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Another slog for not a lot

When I woke this morning it was clear the weather had changed overnight - it was altogether windier and there was quite a bit of murk above the Miradouro. Still, I took the early taxi up in to the fog with a bunch of other optimistic souls and opted to head for Lighthouse Valley, as no one else fancied it. It turned out to be a long old morning with heavy rain ensuring I spent an hour sat under a rock while waiting for the weather to pass.

Eventually it cleared and I gave the valley a good thrashing but to no avail. I got back to the middle road about midday and ambled back to within phone signal range - Northern Parula and one or two Red-eyed Vireos had been found. Shortly after, bumped in to Hugues who'd also seen a probable Wilson's Snipe flying around near Fojo.

Went down towards the parula at the picnic site and as I ambled down the road I inadvertently surprised a snipe, which had evidently been feeding along the roadside. It only flew a little way but was immediately striking in appearance, despite the split-second view. Calmly rounding the corner, I found the snipe settled on the edge of a track. Slowly edging in to position, some great views (down to 10 metres or so) were had and it also afforded great photo opportunities. I'll let the photos below do the talking in terms of appearance but I can confirm that the axillaries were heavily barred and the secondaries showed only inconspicuous white tips when it flew off, flushed by the taxi coming down the road! For me, it's a really good Wilson's Snipe - incidentally one thing I noticed was that the bird routinely bobbed as it probed around in the track, rather like a Jack Snipe but less pronounced. Apparently V Legrand noticed this on the Ouessant bird of 2005 - is this behaviour a feature of delicata?

Wilson's Snipe, Fojo, 12 October 2014

The rest of the afternoon was spent working Lapa, the reservoir and the west side of the island. Best bird was a Pectoral Sandpiper flying around high above Lapa, but we couldn't relocate it up at the res - as I anticipated we would.

Lots more new birds today - Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat, a number of Red-eyed Vireos etc etc.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Quiet day in the woods

After a couple of great days I guess I was due a slow one, and that's exactly how today panned out. My recent success (in fact, pretty much all of it on Corvo in the past four years) has been in the more open areas - fields, open valleys etc. So far this trip I'd managed to avoid going deep in to any of the wooded ribeiras altogether but that changed today when Pierre dragged me in to Cancelas. Three hours working up the valley produced absolutely nothing, though in the calm and sunny weather it certainly felt promising. Later I tried the southern fringes of do Vinte and also the top half of da Ponte. Nothing. Zilch. Sod all. There were a few new birds seen by others today though.

Woods. Too much time in the woods.