Thursday 29 September 2011

Little (Ringed) Improvements

I did the patch for a longer period of time today. The highlight was this juvenile Little Ringed Plover on the new slurry pools; definitely my latest ever at BLGP and possibly a latest for the Peterborough recording area (waiting to be confirmed):

There were also singles of both Common and Green Sandpipers there, as well as a Snipe. Haven't given up hope of a Pec there this autumn but it seems unlikely given that I'll be in the Azores for two weeks from Saturday. Also today, a new singing Cetti's Warbler on the ARC Pit, as well as these beasts:

It's very good to have so many back in September but alas there was no token yank wader amongst them. Not even a measly Dotterel.

Here's to tomorrow.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Ruddy Dross

These two foul beasts were on my patch this afternoon. Guess they've come from Rutland.

Get me back to Ireland, please. Or the Azores.

Monday 26 September 2011

Ireland, 20th - 23rd September


Following an eventful day on St. Mary’s the previous day, Oliver Metcalf and I drove straight back north to Bristol from Penzance following the docking of the Scillonian. We then headed back west to Pembroke to catch the 02:45 ferry to Rosslare, docking just after 06:00. First port of call before the long drive to Mayo was Lingstown reedbed at Tacumshin. In the early morning light, up to 6 Hen and 2 Marsh Harriers were noted before the target bird – the long-staying juvenile Pallid Harrier – appeared and gave stunning views at close range. A good start, especially for Ollie for it was a lifer for him.

And so the tedious drive northwest to Mayo began. We stopped at only a couple of sites (Shannon Airport Lagoon and Rahasane Turlough), although both were uninspiring due to an over-abundancy of water. I haven’t seen Shannon looking good for years! So it was some relief when we finally arrived at Carrowmore Beach, just north of Louisburgh (Mayo) mid-afternoon to find this little beauty bracing the blasting westerly by the river outflow:

A fantastic start to the trip that was soon to be made far better as we arrived at Corragaun Lough, some 12km to the south. This site is one of Ireland’s hidden jewels; basically a mini Carrahane Strand with open machair, saltmarsh, a muddy lough and lots of small pools that constantly look like they will imminently attract Nearctic shorebirds. And it doesn’t even get checked much!

We soon got on to Richard Bonser’s adult White-rumped Sandpiper from the weekend, and there were also 2 juvenile Little Stints and 2 juvenile Curlew Sandpipers present amongst around 25 Dunlin. A short while later, a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper popped out of nowhere to join the flock:

And then, in came another flock of Dunlin (perhaps 20 or so). With them were these two stunning juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers:

By this point, exhaustion and fatigue had been entirely over-ridden by adrenalin. Such a yank-filled start to the trip had not even been anticipated despite the deluge of rarities further south and some very exciting weather charts in the days leading up to our visit. With great excitement we headed round Clew Bay to Achill Island for the final couple of hours of daylight. Needless to say, we couldn’t locate anything of note on Achill in our two hours there, which brought us back down towards earth somewhat. Still, there was always the next morning.


Overnight, the weather had gotten pretty serious as a front swept through off the leading edge of what had been Hurricane Maria. As we emerged from the car at dawn, we were greeted by a howling southwesterly wind that must have been gusting to as much as 60mph. We struggled in to the wind as we walked south from the clubhouse at Keel golf course towards the area of rough ground where Rich had found two Baird’s Sandpipers on Saturday. As well as a Ringed Plover struggling in to the wind, we noticed a wader flying towards, calling with a distinct (almost Spotted Redshank-like) “dluu-eeep”. It turned and landed around 10 yards away, showing lovely grey underwings as it did so – a smart juvenile American Golden Plover! The bird lingered for just a few seconds before getting up in to the wind and subsequently blown inland across the golf course – really encouraging early score on day 2; judging by behaviour it must have just arrived in off the Atlantic. Fired up once more, Staines and I set out on our twice-daily hike around the golf course. We soon located one of Rich’s Baird’s sheltering with a few Ringed Plovers and Dunlin just inland of the shingle bank some 400 metres or so southeast of the clubhouse, but the golf course was otherwise quiet. On the way back, we checked the small flock with the Baird’s again only to see a juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper fly in and begin to feed – things were getting better and better!

We headed around to Doogort, at the northeast end of the island, in order to check one of last year’s hotspots – the wet machair around Achill Rovers FC football ground and the adjacent Barnynagappul Strand. We had a Pec and a couple of Buff-breasts here last year, although the area was disappointingly devoid of birds this time around and we struggled to find little more than a Black-tailed Godwit and a few Sanderlings. With that, we decided to head around to Sruhill Lough to see what was happening. We located the usual adult drake Black Duck with relative ease, and I also noticed that there were a few small waders on mud and sand by the lough outflow. As a result, we decided to walk along the beach south to the outflow to check the flock – on the approach it was clear there were two stint-sized waders running around amongst the Dunlin (c.40) and Ringed Plovers (c.40). Closer views confirmed that there were in fact four stints, and all of them were Semipalmated Sandpipers!

Whilst I blasted off some record shots, Staines located a juvenile Sabine’s Gull feeding off the outflow with Arctic and Sandwich Terns. Afterwards, we headed back to Doogort valley and had a sniff about for passerines, although the best it got was a flock of 25 Chough and a couple of Chiffchaffs plus small flocks of Lesser Redpolls heading over. Another walk of Keel Golf Course produced the three yanks from earlier, although the AGP was still very unsettled.

With much of the late afternoon and evening left, we decided to head back around to the sites around Clew Bay and further south. First stop was the harbour at Mulrany, which has always looked decent but never really produced anything. The tide was out, and there were plenty of smalls (mainly Ringed Plovers with about 10 each of Sanderling and Dunlin) feeding on the mudflats. Eventually, a juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper appeared from nowhere amongst the flock, and proceeded to show very well – our fifth of the day and seventh of the trip, it was perhaps not surprising to hear the words “another Semipee?! Why not something else” uttered from Staines’ lips. We weren’t complaining, though.

The rest of the evening was spent around Louisburgh and down at Corragaun Lough, where the White-rumped Sandpiper was roosting on the beach with other smalls and an adult Whooper Swan was amongst the Mutes.


With lighter winds forecasted, today was planned as a day to hammer the bushes across Achill as hard as possible. The usual dawn walk around the golf course revealed the American Golden Plover, and Baird’s and Buff-breasted Sandpipers still just inland of the shingle bank, and generally associating together:

We spent a couple of hours walking around the gardens in Dooagh and Keel, although many were too difficult to view to work properly. Needless to say there was a dearth of migrants save for a single Yellow-browed Warbler that was head calling in the Art Gallery garden. With that, we headed round to the valley at Dooagh where we spent a couple more hours. Once more, there was little on the bird front save a couple of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests, and 20+ Lesser Redpolls flying around. Of greatest interest was a very large dragonfly found over a boggy field at the end of the cul-de-sac off the upper road in the valley; my initial impression was of Emperor (size-wise) but with this being somewhat unlikely on Achill Island in September in big westerlies, I began to think of Green Darner. Although I never managed perched views, the dragonfly seemed uniformly brownish in flight, but little more detail was obtained. Guess it will have to go down as one that got away.

Round at Sruhill Lough, the four juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers were still performing well by the outflow, but the arguable highlight was a brief juvenile Red-necked Phalarope that spent about five minutes on the lough before flying out to sea. There were also a couple of female Black Duck x Mallard hybrids; one looks particularly like a female BD, being very dark and uniform:

A dog Otter was also a pleasant bonus as it showed very well at the south end of the lough. Nearby in Dooniver we had a second Yellow-browed Warbler in roadside bushes – found by call as we drove past at 70kph! I slammed on the brakes, reversed and we enjoyed brief flight views and more calling before it flew north and buried itself in a thicket 100m or so from the road. A Pintail was also on a nearby lough; the first I’ve seen on Achill.

With evening fast approaching, we decided to head back off Achill to Mulrany, to see if the Semipalmated Sandpiper was still present. Rather remarkably, yesterday’s bird had been joined by a second juvenile, and we enjoyed fine views of both birds in the fading light alongside increased numbers of Dunlin (25) and Sanderling (15).


Our final day began with the usual early morning walk around the golf course revealed the Baird’s and Buff-breasted Sandpipers still together in the wake of the shingle ridge, although we couldn’t find the AGP. We also spent an hour or so walking the marsh at Sruhillbeg Lough, but couldn’t find anything new in there either. An adult Arctic Tern was on Keel Lough, but there seemed little else about.

A search of the machair around Achill Rovers was again quiet. This site still looks excellent and it is perhaps just chance that birds are not present this year. Round at Sruhill Lough, we found two juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers still amongst reduced wader numbers – it probably didn’t help that a massive immature Peregrine had scattered the flock on our arrival. The drake Black Duck was still on the lough with associated Mallards and hybrids, but there wasn’t much else immediately obvious. Then, on the far bank, I noticed an Actitis sandpiper feeding amongst a group of Teal. Distance and strong winds were making a sure identification impossible, so we decided to head around the lough to try and get closer views. As well as Teal, the sandpiper was also in the immediate vicinity of a roosting flock of Curlews and Greenshanks, and I discussed the realistic probably that the bird would flush with Staines. Once we had halved the distance, we had another scan and were relieved to find the bird still there but mobile. From this distance the legs looked obviously yellowish and the bill had an extensive ivory-pink wash to the base – it seemed likely the bird would be a Spotted but we needed better views to confirm. Walking further round the bay we flushed the Curlews, Greenshanks and Teal as suspected, and frustratingly lost the bird. Not for long, however:

Out it popped from a hidden bay – a stunning juvenile Spotted Sandpiper, showing very well indeed! I called Ollie over and we enjoyed some point-blank views of the bird as it fed around the south shore over the next 45 minutes or so:

The Spotted Sand proved to be the final find of the trip, being the thirteenth Nearctic wader found over the few days we spent in Mayo – the rest of the afternoon was spent at Corragaun where the two Semipees were still present. Although we had been very fortunate with the weather and year (it has been one of the best Septembers for American waders on record), we hope that our experiences around the County through the week further highlight the huge potential that it offers, further backing up the efforts put in by ourselves and others last year. Since we left, it seems the Punks have gone to town in Kerry, finding both Semipalmated Plover and Least Sandpiper amongst more ‘regular’ vagrants. If only time was on my side; I think both Ollie and I would have been more than happy to spend another week out west! I guess that Nearctic passerine will have to be a find for the future.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Scilly 19th Sept

Really good day on Scilly last Monday. The Black-and-white Warbler was all I ever expected and more; a stunning humbug of a bird with striking call and lovely ochre-yellow feet. Outstanding. Other great birds seen included a Red-eyed Vireo, Ashley Howe's remarkably tame juvenile Blue-winged Teal, and of course a splendid juvenile Solitary Sandpiper thrown in for good measure. Scilly on fire for the first time this century? Let's see how the next month goes.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Next week on Achill Island....

.... should hopefully be pretty good. If Richard Bonser doesn't find everything (he's already scored two Baird's Sandpipers this morning).

Now a Black-and-white Warbler on Scilly; gutted, but perhaps the big one is lurking in the bushes at Dooagh. We will see...

Thursday 15 September 2011

Ruff @ BLGP

This juvenile male Ruff was on the North Pit at Baston & Langtoft Pits this evening; remarkably it is only my second patch record of the species since I started watching it seriously back in 2003! Not really sure why they've been so rare here, perhaps it has been a lack of habitat.

Anyway, this bird went some way to explaining why I've seen so few waders at BLGP this autumn - it was incredibly flighty, and soon flew off high to the north just after 18:00. I suspect this behaviour is down to the large number of skittish birds on the pit (predominately Greylag Geese, Black-headed Gulls and Lapwings) which are constantly coming and going, thus flushing other species on the pit. Knowing how skittish waders can be, I guess we are still getting a few but they are probably being flushed soon after arrival by larger species moving about. Sure is going to make finding a Pec even harder this autumn...

1cy Caspian Gull again

I popped in to Dogsthorpe Tip on the way back from Grafham this morning; although there was again a lack of tipping activity and therefore gulls, there were still a couple of hundred birds on the pool. Amongst them, on the very same spit as where I first saw it as a fresh juvenile back on 17th August, was the 1cy Caspian Gull again.

It's fascinating to see how much it has moulted since then (see pics here). As well as the head and body already appearing much paler, note the rapid scapular moult since August, most prominent in the second photo below. The third image is just another showing upperwing pattern; shame I couldn't capture it with the wings at a slightly higher angle to reveal fully that wonderfully pale underwing.

A 1st-w Yellow-legged Gull was also present today.

Grafham Seabirds

An hour or so on the dam at Grafham Water this morning produced the lingering adult Sabine's Gull as well as a couple of splendid first-winter Grey Phalaropes. Easily my best views since the Lowestoft bird in 2003, the Sabine's was a pretty gritty-looking bird - knackered flight feathers and moulting its hood, it looked much better once it got up and flew around. There were also alot of Rainbow Trout being caught off the dam this morning, as well as a couple of dying/dead Bream in the shallows. The shot with the fisherman illustrates just how much the Sabine's seemed to care about people...

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Picking up binoculars almost felt strange...

Got back from an exhausting interrailing trip around Europe late last Thursday, and have been catching up with friends in the meantime, as well as recovering from Outlook Festival. I've developed a nice cough and cold, too. The only interesting birds I saw whilst away were a couple of Spoonbills from the train somewhere near Amsterdam, and a few Black Kites here and there.

So today, it felt almost alien to be hanging my bins round my neck again. With seabirds and Nearctic waders seemingly littering the west of Britain and Ireland, surely it was only fair to hope for a possible straggler this afternoon. So, with that in mind, I headed out to do a few local Deepings sites that have traditionally been decent for both the families mentioned above.

First stop was Deeping Highbank. Whilst concentrating on a large (predominately Black-headed) gull flock on and around the River Welland, I was pleasantly surprised to see two terns struggling into the gale towards me. Bins up and yes, nice one! Two splendid juvenile Arctic Terns, that proceeded to give fantastic views as they slowly moved upriver and past where I was parked. Shortly after, a juvenile Common Tern came cruising by, providing a useful comparison for someone as rusty as I with juvenile commic tern identification (or just birds in general to be honest). Encouraged by a bit of dynamism, I decided to head upriver to Deeping Lakes - the old stomping ground of birder-cum-butcher Will Bowell. The main lake here (imaginitively known as "The Lake") produced another (or the same?) juvenile Common Tern and a lot of common ducks, but not much else. A turquoise-green nasal-banded female Pochard was also there but wasn't close enough to read the lettering.

And so, via a trip to see my Gran, I headed back to my beloved patch of Baston & Langtoft Pits. Amongst the throng of myxomatosis-filled rabbits, there were a few birds. On the ARC Pit, a small collection of Lesser Black-backed Gulls revealed a surprise - a 2nd-winter Yellow-legged Gull. Now, I've seen michs on my patch before, but most have been adults (plus one 1st-winter in September several years ago). To see a 2nd-winter was really quite surprising, especially amongst so few gulls! Nice bonus anyway.

2nd-winter michahellis giving it some wing, tail and leg action on the patch

On the nearby old Slurry Pit were a couple of Green Sandpipers, with a third over the road on Corner Pit. I checked the Jet Ski Pit for any terns or gulls but there was nothing, so I headed round to North Pit. On arrival, it was clear there were a few more birds here but, true to form, a juvenile Peregrine bombed through and scattered everything but the geese and a mass of Pochard. Most the gulls came back down but I suspected any waders present would be heading away from the area as rapidly as possible as I set up my 'scope. Never mind; there were over 100 Pochards present - no Ferruginous Duck yet but a nice eclipse drake Tufted x Pochard hybrid. It looks darker than the 'usual' Deepings hybrid and thus may be different, although perhaps this is because it's plumage is still a bit grotty. There was also a yellow nasal-saddled female Pochard.

Another hybrid - where are the genuine rares?!

There were also a few of the ever-present Little Egrets, and about 20 or so Teal. Then, quite remarkably, my second Yellow-legged Gull of the evening dropped in with an adult Lesser Black-backed - bizarrely, another second-winter. Definitely a different bird due to much more advanced scapular moult, bill colouration and tertials:

More patch michahellis action

The new Slurry Pit revealed a mini gull roost including about 30 or so LBB Gulls (couldn't see either of the michs but they were flighty). Another Green Sandpiper was here but no other waders tonight. I didn't care though, I was chuffed with my Yellow-legged Gulls. Call me distasteful.

Anyway, things seem alot more dynamic now than when I left two and a half weeks ago. Will be interesting to see if anything new drops in in the next few days. Fingers crossed.