Saturday, 24 October 2009

Eastern Crowned Warbler Mega

Just my luck. I go back to work after my autumn break, and within 48 hours, the news broke of the Eastern Crowned Warbler at South Shields. The previous Western Palearctic records have never stayed more than a day, so it was fingers crossed for the weekend.
The initial plan was to go with Colin and a friend from Amwell Jan Hein. Unfortunately, being Dutch, the lure of a Long Toed Stint in the Netherlands was too much for him.
We arrived after a pretty good run at 1000, to find several hundred in and around the quarry. The wind was a bit gusty, but luckily the heavy rain held off. I had cracking scope views and then spent the next hour attempting to get decent images (most of which seem to be blurred sycamore leaves, sometimes with a small green bird partly hidden). On a couple of occasions it posed quite well, but the low light meant I was shooting at iso 800, and the results even cleaned up show some noise.

We eventually left and headed south to Middlesborough. Just south of the new RSPB reserve at Saltholme, a pool held a very nice drake Blue Winged Teal, and the grass helped to hide a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper. Neither were close enough to photograph.
We headed further south and over the North York Moors, hitting low cloud and rain and by the time we arrived at Bempton Cliffs, it had become very heavy. Despite this, we were able to get very good views-stunningly close at times of the Red Flanked Bluetail. The camera got soaked, and I could barely see through the viewfinder to focus, but the results were much better than I could have hoped for.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Autumn Colour

Not much happening in the birding world, at least nothing to justify a long trip, so I thought I'd wander along the river Beane and see if there was any autumnal colour.
Revisited the presumed Sulphur Polyphore on the remains of the Willow. Its starting to fade a bit now.
Locally, a lot of the colour comes from Spindle bushes.
And there is always the roses.

Apart from Dogwood and the Spindle, few trees and shrubs seem to be changing. Most remain greenish, or a pale yellow green, despite a few recent cold nights.

Saturday, 17 October 2009


Yesterday was another day that promised much. The strong northerly winds and overnight showers suggested that Norfolk would be a good idea again.
We started the day at Horsey Gap where a Pied Wheatear had been present for a couple of days. Getting out of the car we discovered how strong the winds really were-I should have taken by thick fleece with me. Unfortunately we met some of the birders that had been present the previous evening, and the Wheatear was being continually harassed at very close range, and it had in fact flown off. A Northern Wheatear had been seen earlier in the morning further down the track, and there was a hope that the Pied had joined it. The habitat was ideal, but there were no birds at all, apart from several photogenic Stonechats.
We eventually left and headed north, scanning the fields nearby in the hope of locating the resident Cranes, but presumably they were sheltering from the winds in the reed beds. A quick scan of the sea at Walcott suggested that conditions would be good for a sea watch and so we ended up at Sherringham.
The hardy locals had been present since first light and had racked up impressive totals of skuas, shearwaters and gulls. Over a period of three hours we managed to see all four species of Skua-Bonxies were abundant, often in flocks of up to six, plus a few Arctic and single juvenile Pomarine and Long Tailed. Manx Shearwaters were constant, along with a very close Balearic and distant Sooty, and huge numbers of Gannets, Little Gulls, Kittiwake and auks (Guillemot and Razorbill with a few Puffin plus a Little Auk that I missed) were streaming east. A few late Arctic and Sandwich terns lingered offshore.We missed the Leaches Petrel by arriving too late, and despite hopes, another never appeared.
As we were driving home, the pagers had peculiar 'possible' reports of a Swainsons Thrush at Beeston, and a Veery at Sherringham. Too cold and tired we carried on home.

Thursday, 15 October 2009


Spent the morning at Amwell.
The two Pintail are still around, and my first Goldeneye of the autumn was present. Two female Red Crested Pochard on Hollycross Lake were a bonus.
At least three Grey Wagtails flying around, a few Larks going over but little else moving. At least four Buzzards, three Sparrowhawk, one Red Kite and one Kestrel took advantage of the thermals.
The usual assortment of loafing gulls did not have anything unusual among them.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Brown Shrike

While we were returning from Norfolk, news came on that the Red Backed Shrike at Staines Moor had been re-identified as Brown Shrike. Too late for Monday though.
Colin was having a boiler serviced so I went down on my own. Luckily, even with the A1 and M25 roadworks it only took an hour-I held back until the rush hour had died down. Running into William Bishop, and several guys from the fields of West Runton, I learnt that it had been very misty earlier and it had only really cleared by the time I arrived at 1000. The Shrike posed very well for quite a while but gradually became more elusive through the morning. Occasionally it would sit for a while attracting the attention of Reed Buntings and Stonechats. Phil Ball arrived (despite his broken ankle) with Bill Last, and later on most of the Hertfordshire luminaries could be spotted while scanning the crowd.
After a while, I went for a wander hoping to pick up a Great Grey Shrike that had been found, but it had flown over the M25 to Wraysbury. While looking, I also heard rumours of a Red Backed Shrike, but only a few had apparently seen it.
I finally left at 1230 having had a very enjoyable twitch, and without the usual stress of a long drive.

Monday in Norfolk

The weather looked promising for a trip to Norfolk yesterday, and with a fair amount of scarce migrants around, plus the chance of sea watching as well it was too good to miss.
While waiting for Colin, i had a quick look at Venus, Mars and Saturn in the morning twilight. At 50x in the Leica, you could make out the gibbous disks of Venus and Mars, and the narrow ring system of Saturn looked very nice despite the low elevation.
We decided to start at Titchwell, and called in at Chosely on the way. Though we had encountered several flocks of Starling, the juvenile Rose Coloured was not around. Titchwell is gradually resembling a building site. We had hoped to visit Fen Hide and photograph the Jack Snipe, but it was closed so they could install new windows for trialling. The main lagoon was rather empty, with a small flock of gulls and duck. Waders amounted to a couple of Avocet, a flock of Dunlin, a few Ruff and Grey Plover, plus one or two Redshank.
Despite the northerly wind, sea watching was a bit quiet. The main bird seemed to be Kittiwake, thought here were a few Gannet and Manx Shearwater too, plus a couple of Bonxies. No sea Duck apart from a couple of Mergansers.
We ended up spending most of the afternoon at West Runton, tramping over the stubble fields. Sea watching was productive, and several Scoter flocks included three nice drake Velvet. The Short Toed Lark was seen frequently, always in flight, and the Richard's Pipit was seen occasionally in flight, coming quite close at times. I failed to locate the Lapland Bunting, which posed for Colin, and the Barred Warbler in the bushes by the buildings never really showed. All I saw was a large grey warbler being mobbed by Blackbird.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

October Holiday

Stared my main October holiday on Friday, and had a full day birding yesterday.
After an early morning flu jab, I went down to Amwell. Autumn migration seems to have kicked in with Skylark and thrushes flying around. Duck numbers are slowly building up, and at least two Pintail were present though they spent most of the time asleep. Several Buzzards took advantage of the thermals. Around mid-day news came on about the Azorean Yellow Legged Gull at Didcot, and after a quick phone call to Colin we arranged to get there early afternoon.
Unfortunately it had not been seen for a good hour prior to our arrival, and was not seen up til dusk. We did have a couple of Caspian Gulls-adult and first winter, and everywhere we looked we could see Red Kites. I did try to get a few images (hand held manual focus 500mm lens with a 2x converter!) but none were sharp. The Kestrel came out a bit better.
Hope to go back and try for the gull later in the week, hopefully when the tip is open, a routine will be established.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Bracket Fungi

Another quiet weekend, with very little happening to justify a birding trip. Had hoped that the strong westerlies would bring something in to the south west, but it all seems to be happening in northern Scotland still.
Went for a stroll along the river Beane, intending to get some autumnal colours, but so far there has been little change. I have seen Spindle and Dog Wood with some very nice colours, but the ones today had a long way to go.
I did encounter a nice bracket fungus on a log, and a Willow that had lost it's top in spring had several patches of what could be Sulpher Polyphore.
Not much bird movement, a few Skylarks and Meadow Pipit over. Several Buzzards and Sparrowhawks were enjoying the thermals and a Tawny Owl called from one of the small woods.