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

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Glorious East Yorkshire

The previous weekend in Dorset had showcased a general paucity of migrants, but this weekend was altogether more rewarding. Following a promising forecast mid-week, Dan Pointon and I eventually decided to base ourselves at Spurn from Friday to Sunday as it was looking promising for a potential fall on the Saturday.

As it transpired the fall didn't happen and Friday actually proved the best day for new arrivals. A Barred Warbler proved typically elusive as it crashed about in hawthorns in the first paddock at Sammy's Point while an Ortolan eventually showed quite well in the evening sun at Middle Camp, very late in the day. The latter is only the second I've seen in the UK following a showy bird near Holyhead back in September 2008, so it was a nice bonus.

Heavily cropped record shot of the Ortolan at Middle Camp,

Each day we carefully scoured large parts of the Spurn recording area as well as spots around Easington, just to the north. The most prominent migrant seemed to be Common Redstart, with Friday and Saturday both producing totals in excess of 30 birds. In terms of numbers, Whinchats and Pied Flycatchers weren't far behind while Tree Pipits were noted regularly, both grounded and flying over. Singles of Common Swift were nice on Friday (Kilnsea) and Saturday (Point). A single Fieldfare at Kilnsea on Saturday was my earliest ever.

Pied Flycatcher at Sammy's Point

There have been some great counts of Mediterranean Gull in the Kilnsea area lately and they were seen anywhere that there were other gulls - particularly large concentrations were seen in fields north of Kilnsea and at Sammy's Point.

3cy Mediterranean Gull on the Humber at Kilnsea

Saturday proved miserable at first but it brightened up considerably throughout the afternoon. Ash Howe and James Shergold had joined us and we ambled down to the point in leisurely fashion, finding a good scattering of common migrants along the way. At the point itself the lingering juvenile Red-backed Shrike was bombing around and there were pleasing numbers of Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers, Whinchats and phylloscs.

Sunday morning dawned calmed and a juvenile Marsh Harrier flew south over the Warren early on. Our only Reed Warbler of the weekend was in the hedge opposite the Blue Bell and Ash found a moribund Guillemot on the Humber opposite the Crown and Anchor - unfortunately the latter seemed to have an infection which had blinded it in its right eye. We also enjoyed some nice views of a Yellow-browed Warbler found the previous day in the churchyard before departing Spurn.

Guillemot looking fairly unhappy about being rescued

The reason for our slightly premature leave was the continuing presence of an Icterine Warbler up the coast at Buckton (and another fresh in at Flamborough) - a potential new bird for James and an opportunity for me to see one properly after staring a singing movement in a bush for a number of hours at Spurn one sunny June afternoon, several years back. On the way we called in to see the Black Stork at Sunk Island, which was happily feeding in its favoured fields.

The drive up to Bridlington was tediously slow as always. Arriving at Flamborough we found out that the Icky there hadn't been seen since early doors and so we drove round to Buckton. A timely text from Dave Aitken alerted us that he and Mark Thomas had literally just re-trapped the Icky and so we hot-footed it down there to see see it in the hand. Very nice it was too, although I was equally as impressed with the dell and Heligoland set-up that Mark and others have worked hard to create here over the past decade. Envy doesn't cover it!

 Icterine Warbler in the hand at Buckton, 13 September 2015

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Weymouth weekender

While perusing Twitter last Thursday evening I came across Ian Barthorpe's fantastic blog post on the infamous East Anglian fall that took place on 3 September 1965, 'It was raining birds 50 years ago today'.

What a great read, and one that made me feel quite poignant (and envious!) as I ambled around Portland on Friday afternoon. The sad truth is that such a spectacle will never be seen again on our shores, or indeed probably anywhere. Migrant bird populations are just fractions of what they were 50 years ago, and one can only imagine that they are set to become fractions of those fractions in the coming 50 years, bar some sort of miracle.

Anyway, enough of being morose, despite the distinct lack of a fall during the four days we spent down in Weymouth - not that it was surprising given conditions were dominated by a light north-westerly and bright skies. Migrant numbers may have been at a premium, but it was still enjoyable to reacquaint myself with this beautiful part of the south coast on what was a largely non-birding trip. It was my first visit of any significant length here since September 2013, when the Short-billed Dowitcher was at Lodmoor, although I did visit briefly for the BrĂ¼nnich's Guillemot that December.

Birding may have taken a back seat but we still managed to see the Bill Wryneck on at least three occasions. Unfortunately it wasn't one of those 'porno' Wrynecks that you can virtually tread on; it tended to be elusive, skittish and consequently pretty mobile between the Pulpit Inn and the compound to the west throughout our visit.

On Sunday morning I sneaked out early and spent a bit of time with the bird. Though it was generally a little more confiding as it warmed itself up in the early morning sun it still proved difficult to get anywhere near, and this was the best of my rather average batch of shots.

The commonest migrants were Northern Wheatears, with a light scattering noted around the island on our Friday walk. After this it was probably Yellow Wagtails - small numbers were going overhead on most days. Sunday morning produced a flyover Tree Pipit and a couple of Whinchats, and I had a Garden Warbler in Culverwell on the Friday (but no Barred).

Best of the rest included a few Mediterranean Gulls seen daily around Weymouth and a handful of Yellow-legged Gulls dotted around among the loafing flocks of predominately Herring Gulls.

3cy Yellow-legged Gull, Portland Bill, 5 September 2015

1cy Yellow-legged Gull, Chesil Cove, 4 September 2015

There also seemed to be decent numbers of Painted Ladies on the wing around Portland over the weekend. We didn't see any other significant migrant Lepidoptera but I saw there was a Death's Head Hawkmoth seen near the Obs as well as plenty of Convolvulus Hawkmoths (seems to be a great year for them). There were still quite a lot of Chalkhill Blues on the wing but the battered state of many individuals betrayed the imminent conclusion of their flight season. It was actually a little depressing watching some of them flapping around pathetically in the grass, as if trying their best to defy an inescapable fate! In contrast many of the Red Admirals and Peacocks seen were in fine condition - I haven't seen many of either this year, so that was nice.

So, nothing particularly spectacular on the wildlife front but a great few days down in Dorset - hopefully the next visit isn't such a long time coming.