Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Shetland day 1 - boom! What a day

A great first day on Shetland - couldn't have asked for much more. Early in the morning Paul dropped me off at Hestingott to look for the long-staying Blyth's Reed Warbler there. At first it was cold and I 'only' had about four Yellow-browed warblers in that garden there. As the sun warmed the atmosphere up a bit, there was more bird activity in the sunlit side of the garden and sure enough the Blyth's reed showed very well. It was feeding busily on insects and I had plenty of time to study the important ID features: bold supercilium, very cold toned flanks and underparts, generally very plain from above - especially tertials and alula very plain, with slightly contrasting rufous wing panel, short primary projection, and long and broad tail, often cocked up.

Blyth's Reed Warbler, Hestingott, Shetland

In this image the very blunt-tipped and rounded wing is apparent - P4 clearly emarginated, and P3 is equal in length to P2 and P4 is only slightly shorter: 

I was very pleased to see this bird - it was a WP tick for me, and it has been many years since I last saw one in India. 

After I had enough of this bird, I walked down Toab and birded in the gardens there. Very soon I came across another acro in a garden, and immediately I knew it's another blyth's - my eyes were tuned in on the ID features I had studied just a short while before. It showed quite well too. Again in this image you can see the whole set of features:

Blyth's Reed Warbler, Toab, Shetland

I was really chuffed with this bird - to find one after two hours of birding in Shetland was quite awesome. 
There were many Yellow-browed Warblers today - by far the commonest migrant around. My daily total must have been over 20. Some showed pretty well, such sweet little tough birds:

This individual is on the duller end of the variation spectrum, but not quite there for a hume's:

There were 3-4 Wheatears here and there:

I met up with Martin, Sharon and Will and we headed slowly towards Lerwick to pick up our car. Soon we received news about a pod of 5 Killer Whales of Boddam. We spent the next couple of hours trying to intercept them as they made their way slowly north, but sadly failed. We did have to cute Otters though. After a short stop in Lerwick I checked with Will the area of Leebotten, Noness and Sandwick. There were plenty more yellow-brows and one Lesser Whitethroat that Martin says must be a blythi, and that's it more or less. Two Harbour Porpoises were nice. Several flocks of Pink-footed Geese went through all day long:

Rock Pipit

Meadow Pipit

In the afternoon Martin, Ian and I headed to the wild west to chase after the Pechora Pipit at Norby. We saw it quite quickly with a large group that was there. Mainly brief, silent flight views but it did perch exposed for a few seconds after having a dip in a small stream:

Pechora Pipit, Norby, Shetland

These images don't do it justice. The bird is very wet here and plumage patterns are diluted. In typical views the mantle pattern was bold, and the head pattern was nicer. Another great bird, another WP tick. Gripped.
On the way back we stopped for the Arctic Warbler at Weisdale Voe. It was wet and cold and windy and it was getting dark, but we did relocate the bird and I had brief views of it. Not the best views ever but good enough to identify. Yet another quality bird to end this fantastic day!
Can't wait till tomorrow. Good night.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Shetland Appetiser

On my way to Shetland now for a week of exploration and frontier birding with Martin and Sharon. This is my 40th treat to myself. I have read about Shetland from a very young age, so this is a real dream come true. Yesterday Martin asked me what am I looking forward to most. So I want to kick bushes and find rarities; I want to photograph them; I want to enjoy the wild scenery; I want to enjoy some spectacular migration experiences; I want to explore some interesting species, variation and ID limits issues; I want to spend time with good friends; and I want to see some good rarities found by others...

These are among the birds at the top of my list - not the rarest of all but I'd be very happy to find or see at least one of them. Images courtesy of James Lowen - he took them in Shetland last year:

Pechora Pipit

 Lanceolated Warbler

I will be spending long days in the field and will probably be knackered in the evenings, but I will do my best to update the blog regularly. Stay posted!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Acadian twitch and bonus!

As I was heading out to work this morning a flood of messages started raining on me, and 15 minutes later I was heading to Dungeness NNR to twitch what was then an Empidonax sp., a notoriously difficult to identify group of American flycathcers. It would be my first Nearctic landbird in the WP, and the first images that came out demonstrated that the bird was showing ridiculously well, so I was very keen to go. I joined James, Will and Michael and as we sped down the motorways we learned that the bird is an Acadian or Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. It went missing, then it reappeared and we all sighed in relief. By the time we got there it evolved into 'probable Acadian'. We arrived in Dungennes at about 14:00 and it was pissing down with rain. Really horrible weather. The bird was sheltering in a private garden with no access and limited views. Because of the weather the bird didn't show for the first hour or so, but slowly it did become active again and eventually showed reasonably well by the front of the house. It was never a crowd-pleaser though - all its appearances were rather brief and then it would disappear back into the depth of the garden. I was badly positioned among the large crowd so missed the best photo opps but had good views of it. I am no expert on empid ID at all, but from what I gather the identification as Acadian Flycatcher seems correct - long primary projection, greenish above:
Acadian Flycatcher

 It's a 1cy - obvious moult limit in greater coverts, and pointed tail feathers:

There seems to be another feature to separate Acadian from Yellow-bellied - whether P6 is emarginated or not. So this bird does not have emargination on P6 therefore it should be an Acadian.

If accepted as Acadian, it is a monster WP record. The only previous record was of one found dead in Iceland in November 1967!

Good to meet up with lots of friends there. I wish we had more time and better weather to explore Dungeness and its crickets but that will have to wait for another time as we had another bird to see. The only other bird of note at Dungeness was a Yellow Wagtail.

Our next stop was RSPB Vange Marshes in Essex. Beautiful small wetland just off the A13. We headed the to see the Wilson's Phalarope that took up residence there since yesterday. We parked the car and walked off the road. The bird was showing well albeit very distant. We enjoyed good scope views but photography was rubbish. It was feeding very actively in the open water. Not sure about its age.

Wilson's Phalarope 

This was another lifer for me - I did not see any during my visits to the USA.

There were quite a few other shorebirds there - 4 (!) Little Stints, Green Sandpiper etc.

Then it was the long way back home. Many thanks to James, Will and Michael for the good time. Bird on!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

RSPB Titchwell

Went with my family and another family of friends to Titchwell. Haven't birded there for quite a long time and really enjoyed it. It's such a great place for families - the kids enjoyed an all-around wildlife experience, the parents had some minutes of peace and quiet when the kids played on the beach, and I even managed to see some half-decent Norfolk scarcities. Highlights were 2 Little Stints and 2 Curlew Sands, four Spoonbills and a Peregrine (don't believe I'm writing this). On the sea some scoters and Red-throated Divers. 
I was carrying too many children and their stuff on my back today, so left my camera at home. Played around with phonescoping - it was quite fun. All these images were taken through Swarovski ATX95 with handheld Samsung Galaxy S2:

2 Little Stints



Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rattle and hum

Went birding this morning with James - we checked our regular area: from Stiffkey Campsite to Warham Greens. The campsite area was pretty dead, but the walk towards Garden grove was better. The sun came out and there were some birds around. Highlight was a 'rattling' Lesser Whitethroat. I only heard it calling but couldn't see it. We searched for it for a while but found only some normal Lesser Whitethroats. I managed to sound-record it with my phone - I apologize for the horrible quality - the bird was distant and it was windy. You need headphones and full volume to hear something... This type of call is associated with eastern taxa (blythi / halimodendri), though about half of the birds in Israel call this way and look standard.

First for the season were Pink-footed Geese ( a flock of 25) and a flyover Rock Pipit. Lots of shorebirds on the saltmarsh including an impressive flock of 370 Golden Plovers.

Long-tailed Tit

So much food around but no birds to eat it! So I had to eat some...

Common Poppies 

Hope for more birds next time but it was a beautiful day and good to be out.

The best track IMO from Rattle and Hum by U2, 1988:

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Spurn Migfest 2015 lecture

For those of you who missed my lecture in Spurn that was part of the Migfest, now you can watch the video courtesy of Dave Tucker. So if you have a spare hour, hope you enjoy my talk: "Israel - Where Migration is Defined".

Friday, September 11, 2015

East Hills

Nice day on East Hills today - another one of those sites I had heard so much about. Low tide was at midday so we were forced to a late start, which was a good excuse for us lazy and mildly hung-over birders not to make an early start. The weather was brilliant, too brilliant in fact - pretty strong easterly but sunny and warm, but no rain. We parked at Warham Green and had a look around - some migrants there, including 2 Pied Flys, Spotted Fly, Redstart and I also heard a Yellow-browed Warbler. Two Spoonbills were on the saltmarsh. We headed off towards East Hills and the walk was rather quiet, a few Wheatears and a Whinchat, and some Greenshanks in the creeks. East Hills themselves felt rather quiet, but eventually we picked up some migrants in OK numbers. Some of my UK friends called it a fall but it certainly didn't feel like one, birds were quite few and far between. Total migrant numbers were 10-12 Pied Flys, 20 Wheatear, 5 Redstart, 2 Spotted Flys, 1 Reed Warbler (sadly just an out-of-place Reed Warbler), which is alright I guess but not more than that. One Hobby flew over and on the way back I flushed two Short-eared Owls - they flew off with the wind directly into the sun, and all I managed was some distant record shots, but they were the highlight of the day.

Pied Flycatcher


 Common Redstart

Short-eared Owl

Many thanks to Keith, Reg and Dougal for the great company.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Spurn Migfest 2015 summary

Over the weekend I participated in the third Spurn Migration Festival, better known as Migfest. On Friday headed up there with Nick. When we drove past the Blackborough End Landfill near King's Lynn there were many hundreds on large gulls sat in a field by the road but we were in a rush to get to Spurn and did not stop. Of course on the way back Mr. Murphy made sure that there were no gulls there. 
We arrived pretty late in the evening, and jumped straight in to the opening event. On Saturday the weather was quite bad - very cold and blistering NW winds. In the morning I co-led a short walk to Kilnsea Wetlands, that was nice without real highs. Quite many Mediterranean Gulls, and one Whinchat was the only true migrant passerine. Because of the exceptionally high tide large numbers of shorebirds flew low over our heads to roost in all directions - impressive 'murmurations'.

2cy Mediterranean Gull (right) and Black-headed gull (left)

Mediterranean (left), Common (center) and Black-headed Gulls (right)

Then we went for a magical hour or so of seawatching - it produced Balearic Shearwater, 3 Sabine's Gulls, several Sooty and Manx Shearwaters, 2 Arctic Skuas and generally good stuff. In the afternoon went to track down some scarcities - there were 3 Barred Warblers around but I saw briefly only one. There were a couple of Red-backed Shrikes around, and a few drift migrants - Spotted and Pied Flys, Lesser Whitehtroats etc. 

Red-backed Shrike

Rather spotless Spotted Flycatcher - it chose such a beautiful perch

In the evening I gave a talk about how fantastic birding in Israel is - I really enjoyed the evening and hope I enthused some people to come birding in Israel. It wasn't difficult because Israel really is an amazing place for birding.
On Sunday the wind dropped and birding became quite pleasant. I spent the morning birding with MG around the Warren, checked the ringing, did some vis-migging, kicked the Triangle bushes and a few other bits and pieces. 
Pied flycatcher - ringed by Spurn Bird Observatory

Around the Canal Scrape hide there were three young Yellow Wagtails. I think they are siblings, but note how different they look like. I guess these are two females and a male (the brighter bird).

Before noon co-led another wader walk that was nice. There was a probable hybrid Med X Black-headed Gull - funny looking bird.
After lunch headed back home, exhausted but very pleased. It was a great event, brilliantly organized - the organizers and volunteers worked exceptionally hard to make sure all were happy. The birding was good, but for me what made Migfest so special is the people. Spurn attracts special people, and I was fortunate to spend time with old and new friends. Huge thanks to Martin, Rob and Andy who invited to to take part in the epic event.

Challenge Series team - Martin Garner and Ray Scally

The Red Underwing went for a walk...