Monday, 17 October 2016

Siberian Accentor

 Siberian Accentor, along with the rather similar Black Throated Accentor is one of those birds that have always been a bit of a long shot once in a lifetime bird. There have been a few records from eastern and north eastern Europe over the years and it was always expected to appear one day.
 Since the end of September an easterly airflow extending an incredibly long way into the far north east has brought a large number of Sibes' into western Europe, and among them several records of Siberian Accentor. It was only a matter of time before the first UK record, which duly arrived on the 9th in the expected location of Shetland. A few lucky individuals managed to get plane charters organised at great expense (900 pounds has been quoted) and got to see the bird, along with the very fortunate ones already there having one of the best autumns in many years.
 Numbers continued to be reported across Europe and on Thursday evening the second UK bird was found at Easington in Yorkshire. A bit closer to home for most of us and quite a bit cheaper, so Friday morning saw large numbers queuing to see the bird. Although on holiday, I could not get there until Sunday and was hoping it would stick. Luckily a third was found in Saltburn so there was a back up.
 So Sunday morning Colin and I were on the road heading to Yorkshire. No news from Saltburn, but good news from Easington-it was still there! And by the time we arrived, yet another had been found in Sunderland. We parked in the muddy field, just as the rain started and headed up Vicarage Lane to the gas terminal fence and joined what appeared to be a rather small crowd.
 A late and rather damp Spotted Flycatcher entertained us flying from the fence, and feeding on the ground, as were a lot of Chiffchaffs Willow Warblers and Goldcrests.

 From time to time there were small Thrush movements-mainly Redwing with a few Mistle and Song Thrushes (substantially reduced from the numbers that were being reported on Friday), and every now and again a Robin or Dunnock would pop out and cause a bit of a scare. After about and hour we were getting very wet, and one poor guy had brought his young son with him who was not exactly enjoying things. Luckily just before he was getting ready to leave, raised voices to my left hinted that the Accentor was being observed. Took a while to get directions-it was keeping very low behind a raised kerb and in a gulley but it popped up some way off and I got my first view.

 It disappeared quite quickly and there was some confusion as to where it had gone, and as not everyone had seen it tensions were increasing rapidly. Soon after it was rebound, feeding in the ditch behind the fence and although obscured we were all able to get good views.

  A lot of very wet and very happy birders returned to their cars and contemplated the next move.
Over the weekend, an awful lot off birds had been seen in the Spurn area-maybe seven Dusky Warblers, at least one Raddes, several Pallas's and Yellow Browed Warblers. Olive Backed Pipits. Not to mention Woodcock, Owls, Geese and Quail.
 Heading down to Kilnsea and following directions we stopped briefly to have a quick look at the Tundra Bean Geese in one of the fields, along with many Mallard, Lapwing and Fieldfares.
 We parked outside the Crown and Anchor and joined a few birders in the car park. Unfortunately there weren't any birds, but the hedge across the road was alive with Goldcrests and one stunning Firecrest. We then walked down the path along the canal in the hope that the Raddes Warbler was still around, but the wind and rain was not ideal conditions to find this very skulking bird. Just about all we found were a few Rock Pipits on the boulders and a rather bedraggled Black Redstart.


 We returned to the car park and there were more birders now. It took a bit of time but eventually i found one of the Pallas's on the far side of the boundary hedge but it was very elusive, as was the Yellow Browed that also put in a brief appearance.
 Just as the rain was starting to ease off, we parked at the Bluebell and walked all of fifty yards to the large puddle that held the Shorelark that was putting on a very good show. A bit of a change from the long trudges to try and find the usually very flighty birds on the Norfolk coast.

  Having got completely soaked after several hours in the rain, and since it was now early afternoon, we decided to call it a day rather than hang around hoping to find something else.

 Writing on the 17th, I think the running total of Siberian Accentors in Europe has now exceeded 60, with many countries reporting multiple arrivals on a daily basis. No more for the UK as of yet, its incredible to think that in the space of a week its gone from a mega rare first to an almost expected rarity and rumour has it at least one keen birder has seen all four. Will it do a Bluetail and become a regular autumn visitor or will this be a one off.....

Monday, 10 October 2016

Another Titchwell Visit

 With the east coast heaving with scarce and rare birds all week, thanks to an easterly airflow from the furthest reaches of Siberia it was inevitable that Colin and I would head there on Saturday. Most of the really good stuff was of course up in Shetland, but  there had been loads of goodies at places like Spurn as well and  there was also a lot of really interesting birds in Scandinavia and the Low countries. Conditions haven't been this good for many years so the big decision was where and when.
 It looked like a really safe bet would be north Norfolk, around the Wash .  It would pretty much guarantee something and we would be fairly well placed for Lincolnshire through to the Suffolk coast. So Titchwell it was.
 We drove straight there with no detours and arrived around 9am, finding an already pretty full car park. The northeaster-lies were good, there had been overnight showers and it was overcast. Classic conditions.
Robins were ticking in the car park, Goldcrests were all over the place so things were looking good. We were told that there were at least four Yellow Browed Warblers around and a few minutes later on the path beyond the centre produced a calling bird, but deep in the woodland. We quickly carried on to the fresh marsh in order to see the Pectoral Sandpiper-having missed it last week we were lucky it was still around, but unfortunately was some way out on the big island. One or two Little Stints were still present as well, including a slightly odd plumaged individual which aroused some interest later when the images were posted on social media.
 A bit further on the brackish marsh around half a dozen Curlew Sandpipers were feeding. Everywhere we looked we could see Meadow Pipits and many were also passing over. A slightly different call alerted me to a Tree Pipit, and shortly after someone called out a Rock Pipit going over.
The sea was comparatively quiet this time (famous last words) with a few Gannets and Bonxies generally far out, plus a few small flocks of Brent geese moving through.
 We didn't stay long as the yesterday's Red Breasted Flycatcher had been reported again on the approach road so headed back, bumping into Ron Cousins at the start of the Fen Trail.  There was a female Pied Flycatcher here which took a while to find but posed quite well. Ron was heading for the Pec Sand but decided to try for the Red Breasted Flycatcher with us. Unfortunately it had not been seen for some time though another Pied Fly was present and the rather large crowd was causing a few problems on the road, as the approaching coach driver found out. We stayed a while but eventually returned to the car for a coffee-the car park being just as good a place to locate the Flycatcher.

After a break I dumped a lot of the gear as it was warming up and the scope was getting a bit heavy and we hit the Fen and East trail. Didn't take all that long to pick up and see a Yellow Browed Warbler feeding actively and fighting off some of the more aggressive Goldcrests. One or two Bramblings were also around in the low trees by the feeders.

Failed to locate the long staying Redstart on the tank road, but a spell by the gate looking into the nearby horse filed was very productive. More Bramblings were flying in and out of the hedge, along with Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinches. Lots of Blackbirds were also coming and going with at least one Ring Ousel, and Song Thrushes were flying over all the time.
Unfortunately the trail further on overlooking the Brancaster Marshes didn't seem to produce much apart from a few Bearded Tits and it was clear from the dropping winds and sunshine that things were starting to quieten down so after some thought we decided to call it a day having spent a good five hours here. There didn't seem to be a great deal happening elsewhere-Burnham Overy had a few things which seemed to be a lot of hard work, and the news from Holkham and Wells wasn't good either with the Raddes Warbler not being seen since early morning.
We were about an hour away from the coast when I got a garbled pager message of a Black Browed Albatross going north past Hunstanton. Colin thought about turning round but we had no idea where or when it would be picked up. Apparently it was seen an hour later off Scolt Head for ten minutes and then late afternoon it was back off Hunstanton having not been seen at Holme or Titchwell. Judging by later reports very few people-even those stationed on the Huntsaton cliffs saw it. Even more annoying, a Siberian Stonechat was found on Sunday at Thornham Point, and was there were suggestions that it might have been a Stejneger's (the first one on Portland a few years ago, the second  at Landguard on Friday).

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Phil Goes Birding

A bit of a novelty this weekend, Colin and I went to Norfolk to do a spot of birding. Makes a change from working in the garden.
Its been a bit interesting the past week, with a lot of very good American birds turning up on the western side of the country, and Ireland, but at the same time eastern birds are arriving all along the east coast and the northern isles. We decided to go to Norfolk on Sunday, based on the weather forecast of a low in the north sea producing northerly winds and the possibility birds coming down from Scandinavia and further east. Titchwell had a Pec Sand, which seemed like a good place to start and there were two Richards Pipits at Holme for later on.
We called in as usual at Chosely Barns for a quick look, but unfortunately there weren't many birds at all, and the same seemed to be the case in the car park at Titchwell. It was a bit chilly and there was quite a strong northerly wind blowing. Getting onto the path a quick scan of the fields didn't produce anything at all, but panning round to Thornham Point I noticed Gannets flying over the point. Seemed like the best bet would be to hit the beach and sea watch.
Plenty of others had had the same idea, and a quick chat suggested there were some good birds out there. Unfortunately I was just in time to see a bonxie go overhead and away from the camera. I settled down and started to get my eye in. More Great Skuas were obvious, with birds pretty much present all the time, some were reasonably close in, and over the course of the next hour or so I must have seen a good 15-20 but with birds milling around it was hard to be certain. A few Kittiwakes were seen, as well as a couple of Sandwich and Arctic Terns, though most of the latter were distant. I had just missed some Shearwaters but luckily two Sootys were eventually seen and a rather nice Manx zipped past the wind farm some way out. A few other skuas were also seen, there were certainly a number of Arctics out there, but someone called out a distant adult Long Tailed which most of us managed to get onto-one of three seen that morning. Auks were rather hard to see, being a long way out and moving very rapidly in between the waves, but there were a lot of them. Razorbills were pretty obvious at times and there were certainly a few identifiable Guillemots. Elsewhere on the coast a few Puffins were seen, and it was shame we never saw any Sabines Gulls or Leaches Petrels either. A few divers and grebes were seen, but apart from a two of Red Throated Divers and a Great Crested Grebe most were unidentified.
While all this was happening, reasonable numbers of Sanderling, Turnstones, Oystercatchers and Godwits were flying around the surf and beach, Black Headed and Common Gulls were milling around and a few flocks of duck were coming in.
Eventually around 1030 the wind started to ease off and it was clear that activity was subsiding so we made our way back to Parrinder Hide, with a nice female Stonechat eluding my camera. The water levels had dropped since the tide had turned, with the usual selection of waders. Grey Plovers and Curlew were on the brackish marsh, and there were good numbers of Golden Plover, Dunlin, Ruff, Avocets and Godwits on the fresh marsh. At least one Little Stint was present, along with a couple of Ringed Plovers but we never found the Pec Sand though it was reported.
A stroll round the Fen Trail turned out to be rather productive as it was warm and sheltered. Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters were everywhere, and there were still a few Ruddy Darters flying. We met up with someone trying to find the recently reported Willow Emeralds, and after a few minutes studying the sallows I picked up a nice female which perched reasonably close and gave very good views in my scope.

News from elsewhere in Norfolk was rather limited (apart from the early morning sea watch reports) and there didn't seem to be anything at Holme so we went to Turnham Deepdale where a Yellow Browed Warbler had been seen in the church yard. Unfortunately the news was later updated to no sign but a Pied Flycatcher had dropped in. By the time we got there it seemed that both birds had gone, but with a lot of inaccessible woodland between the church and the marsh, and the nearby gardens it wouldn't surprise me that we were just unlucky with the timing.
After spending a bit of time searching we called it a day , but before we left we  popped into the One Stop Nature Shop that Richard Campey had set up and spent a bit of time playing with the bins and digital microscopes-more toys to buy as finances permit.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

A week Off.

I am currently on holiday, but not doing a great deal of birding.
On Saturday I took Sarah to the RHS Hyde Hall gardens in Essex for their autumn plant fair, which despite the torrential rain the previous day turned out to be pretty good, apart from the cold wind. Autumn seems to have arrived. Naturally I overspent on a variety of bulbs, and herbaceous perennials, but I also picked up a couple of shrubs. The most interesting from a wildlife point of view is the Clethra alnifolia "Hokie Pink'. It seems to be a very good bee plant-one was glued to it while I walked around the fair and had to be firmly dislodged before I got back to the car. Seems to be a very useful late flowering shrub that shouldn't get too big.

The rest of the week so far has been spent revamping the pond which had dried up completely. There was a bit of damage to the liner on one side but that couldn't explain the water loss and I assumed that  maybe the bay tree roots had done some damage much deeper. However that wasn't the case and it seems that the plants were the biggest problem. The iris had covered about half the pond, and several loosestrife plants that had seeded and both were basically sucking up vast amounts of water.
So I have completely cleared it out, removed the paving around it and a new liner is going down.

So far there have been a few good birds and insects. A Dunnock has arrived and seems to be settled (as per recent years they seem to disappear during the summer months). Two Chiffchaffs were present yesterday-the first time Ive had more than one warbler in the garden, and one was still around today. Also today, there has been some movements, with several Swallows going over and two Meadow Pipits went over at lunchtime.
While I was having a coffee break, I noticed a Humming Bird Hawkmoth on the salvias, but by the time I got the camera down it had gone. Sarah had one today as well. About the only butterflies at the moment are Red Admirals coming in daily and Small Whites, which aren't lingering.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Walk around Aston End

Inspired by events over the previous week at Norton Green, I thought it might be worth a walk around Aston End and up the river Beane. There are a few spots that seem to attract migrants-Redstart being the most notable.
After yesterdays rain and drizzle, the bright sun and clear blue skies was nice. Not the best weather for birds though.
Started of in the conifer plantation where there were plenty of calling Goldcrests and Robins, but not much else. The first Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were found in the hedge by Redwings Farm, and the first Swallow was over Aston End. Didn't see anything in the fields around Lords Farm, and it was much the same heading down to the ford. Most of the fields have been harvested and ploughed, so I would have expected a few larks, finches and buntings but they were empty apart from corvids and pigeons.
A few gulls were loafing in the field east of the Aston playing field, and as I made my way down to the ford I picked up a big flock of Linnets-around 40 in total. A juvenile Kestrel was hunting the area as well.
Up along the Walkern road, I had hoped to pick up some warblers in a small elder and blackthorn hedge but it was hard work. Several Robins seemed to be flitting in and out, flying over the road and returning, there were a couple of elusive Blackcaps doing the same, and eventually a Lesser Whitethroat put in a brief appearance. Scanning westwards over Aston End was interesting as it had heated up sufficiently to bring the raptors out. Two Red Kites were being mobbed by two Buzzards, and two other Kites were drifting around. Eventually the Buzzards gave up and joined up with several others-I had at least six over New Wood.
Crossing the river over the wooden bridge I heard two Bullfinches somewhere in the riverside trees. More Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were in the horse paddocks, with several Willow Warblers but nothing else-no Redstarts but one Robin did try its best to impersonate one.
Since there was a lot of activity around the stables I wasn't expecting to find much here and a quick scan of the usual tree failed to find the Little Owl again. February 2013 was the last time I saw one here. Five Swallows flews out overhead, and two Grey Herons flew off as I went through the metal gate up to the willow copse. Thats where I heard the Little Owl alarm call. I think it was coming from one of the old pines and expecting it to be sunning itself checked them all out without success. This seems to be the spot for them now as Ive heard them several times over the last three years. Up by the radio mast I found another Bullfinch and two Meadow Pipits flew over as i reached the outskirts of Stevenage.
Butterflies were very scarce. Ok the weather yesterday wasn't the best for them, but the 4.5 mile walk only produced about a dozen Whites, one Red Admiral and four or five Speckled Woods. A probable Small Tortoiseshell was also seen but at long range and I couldn't get a positive id.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Third Time Lucky-Norton Wryneck

I thought about popping into Norton this morning just in case. Messages from Mike Illet over breakfast suggested it might not be worth it, so I went straight to work. Not long after, inevitably, I got news from Mike and Tom Spellar that the Wryneck was showing, as was the Dartford Warbler.
So another lunchtime visit was required.
Ran into Dave from Barnet who had been there for some time and apparently nothing had been showing since the early morning sightings and the wind not helping matters. Met up with Lee Evans and pointed out the area the Wryneck had been frequenting yesterday morning, and went over to check the area around the abandoned cars. Hardly any birds were showing at all and it seemed as if everything had cleared out. Lee rejoined me and we were making our way back to the bank adjacent to the camp when we noticed someone staring intently into some rose bushes. Ran up, as did everyone else on site and after a few frantic scans picked up the Wryneck tucked well into one of the smaller roses before dropping down.
shortly after it was picked up again, showed really well for a few minutes and then flew off west to the ousel bushes. Lee went off to get some photos while the rest of us stayed put and waited.
It then flew again and we lost it for a bit, but as I was leaving it was re-found in the brambles and teasels east of the cars-looking very much like the spot in Tom's morning images.
Didn't lose too much time with the extended lunch break this time, and hopefully (in a way) it will be a while before I have to do it again.


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Here We Go Again-Local Mega no 2

Another longer than intended lunch break again. This time the guys found a Wryneck at Norton.
By the time I got there it had disappeared-met up with Dave Beer and got pointers on its last known location, but although we spent some time it was a bit futile, being on the steep well vegetated wooded bank on the east of the old landfill.
The Dartford is still around but a bit elusive so Dave and I went to the western side where one or two elder bushes seemed to be holding migrants. We found several Willow Warblers, one or two Chiffchaffs, a Blackcap, a juvenile Whitethroat and a Spotted Flycatcher. The two long staying Whinchats that I had failed to look for yesterday also put in an appearance so all in all not a bad local haul. The Wryneck would have been my third for Herts and the first for the Stevenage area.
Darrel is currently taking bets on the next Norton Mega. Barred Warbler has been suggested. Preferably not in my lunchtime.