Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Autumn sprites

Joined our University ringing group this morning - similar to last year we held a ringing demonstration for the fresh MSc students at Waxham, our regular site. I love this site. Even when migrant numbers are low (as is normally the case), it delivers the goods. This morning the wind was sort of alright but no rain to knock birds down. This resulted in few migrants in the air and on the ground. Throughout the morning we had a few mini-waves, or trickles of fresh-in migrants. Even these micro-events are magical. Suddenly Goldcrest calling from the surrounding bushes; or a small group of Song Thrushes dropping out of the sky. But lack of numbers was compensated by quality. First smile of the morning came in the form of the expected Yellow-brow, our first of the season, right on schedule:

Yellow-browed Warbler

A very bright individual. Note the pointed and abraded tips to tail feathers, indicating this is a young bird. Fresh in from Siberia.

Next reason for a big smile was this brilliant male Firecrest - fantastic little bird:

We had a good team and lots of eyes and ears, so throughout the morning a few more good birds were picked up - Short-eared Owl zooming across accompanied by angry crows (Phil); a few Brambling calling, in-off; a second, unringed Yellow-brow; and Purple Sandpiper down on the beach (Daniel). Early on I heard a Red-breasted Flycatcher inside our trapping area, but only in the late morning I managed to see it. It dodged our nets and eventually went missing, but nice bird anyway. Anyone who might try to search for it, I suggest to give it a miss - it's deep inside an area with no public access, and anyway the bird did not stick around.
Later on in the morning we had some Lesser Redpolls flying over and we caught two males:

Great day to be out with the team - Iain, Dave, Phil, Jen, Harry and Daniel. Thanks.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

No pain no gain

What an exhausting day, both physically and emotionally. A day that everything that could go wrong, did. But there was a happy ending to the day. Yesterday evening my mate Stu exploded with a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler (aka PGTips) at Burnham Overy. I could not make it yesterday, so this morning I met up super early (again) with James to get to the spot before dawn. We searched for the bird for a couple of hours with a few more tens of people, without success. Dave and I did our very best, alas without reward. It was very windy and cold, and things really did not look good. After the relatively clear night, we all thought the bird had made a move. James had to make a forced early departure, so I thought I'd be a responsible adult, return early to Norwich and go to work. Fail.

Of course, as soon as I got back to Norwich news came of the bird been seen. And again. Another friend, Robin, was heading out there, so I made the quick decision to return to Burnham Overy just few hours after leaving there, demonstrating again that I am not a responsible adult. Arrrgh. While we were on our way, we got some gen that those earlier reports might have been unconfirmed. Noooo! But it was too late to turn around, so we headed on and decided first to visit the Arctic Warbler at Wells Woods and wait for the pgtips to get nailed. The little arctic sprite was easily located by the hordes of twitchers looking at it. It kept high in the treetops, and was pretty mobile, but it did show alright and I even got some half-decent pics:

Smart little bird, but not the one I came for

Everybody look up!

I wondered off with some mates to search for more birds but it was really quiet in Wells Woods. Then I returned with Robin to the pgtips site. We were greeted by quite a large crowd gathered there - gotta love Norfolk birding:

For a couple of hours we saw nothing. Then we saw even less. Things were looking very bad. Had the bird really disappeared? A total fiasco was looming. The wind was still blowing strong, and there were few birds to be seen. I walked and worked very hard with another mate, Ashley, and we didn't produce much more than this Reed Bunting:

But then Ashley saved the day, spotted THE bird briefly, and madness began. Over the next hour or so a handful of us had some brief views of the bird. It did give us the runaround, and never gave itself up. Personally I saw it twice - once in flight, just enough to appreciate its large, dark tail. Then I saw it again in the reeds - I had a good head-on view from very close (3m?) - I saw well the bold supercilium, spotted breast on a yellowish background and streaky back. Phew. I was so pleased with this WP tick - one of my most wanted birds. I hoped for better views, or even a photo? That will wait for the next one. For the time being, celebration time.

It was nice to welcome back the Pink-footed Geese. I estimated 3000 birds. Welcome winter.

What a day. Now, good night.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Twitchin' Aileen

Storm Aileen that crossed the Atlantic and hit UK last week deposited a good number of yank waders in the west and south. Dorset fared especially well with three quality species few miles from each other. That was too much for me and yesterday I joined a car full of Norwich birders for a muddy twitch. We left Norwich at silly o'clock to get to Dorset in the early morning. Driving down we already got news that all three were present. Smiles and cheers in the car. We started off at Lodmoor RSPB. Both local stars were on show - first Stilt Sandpiper. Quite a big WP bird, this lovely juvenile showed very well, albeit slightly beyond my camera capacity. Very elegant on those long, yellow legs; a fine supercilium gives it character; and that long, downcurved bill is so special. Brilliant bird.

In this case, phonescoping didn't get any better results:

Next up was the Least Sandpiper only 200m away. It was even more distant, so my photos are worthless, but another fine little bird. Nice supercilium again, and nice breast pattern. Good size comparison with Dunlin here.

In this case phonoscoping got slightly better results:

Birding there was pretty good with lots of migrants and local birds. Supporting cast to the yank waders was this Great White Egret:

Rubbish bird and two quality geese

While birding at Lodmoor we learned that the Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Portland, just a few minutes down the road, had made a bunk. We decided to search for it anyway, hoping it reappears. But that did not happen. I was quite disappointed - in fact it was my most wanted species of the three. We had a good walk around Portland Bill that produced rather little. A few migrants around - one paddock had over 30 wheatears; and there were pretty good numbers of chiffs and willows; that was no consolation prize. The others connected with a Wryneck in the quarry but I spent that time chatting to the mighty warden Martin Cade, nice to meet at last. In hindsight we were pretty lucky, because a short while after we had left Lodmoor the Stilt Sand flew off never to be seen again. So it could have been worse.

On the long way back to Norwich we picked up a couple more coastal birds blown inland by the storm. The Sabine's Gull at Daventry CP in Northamptonshire went missing for a few hours. However, a few minutes after we had arrived it reappeared and showed really well. Gorgeous-looking thing, though it looked quite miserable with its eyes half-closed and a 'I'm-going-to-die-soon' vibe to it.  

I don't like Northamptonshire!

Eyes closed even when flying

Why are those funny looking Polar Bears looking at me?

Then in the fading light, a few miles down the road, we paid a quick visit to the Grey Phalarope at Hollowell Reservoir. Sorry, until I see a red one in Iceland I will continue calling it Grey!
Beautiful bird. Shame about the (no) light.

I can swim!

Many thanks to Jake, Michael and Daniel for a great day out. Lots of driving (by Jake) but a good daily tally overall.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Spurn Migfest 2017

Glad to be back home after another brilliant Spurn Migfest weekend. So many stories to tell but in short - great birding, good time with friends old and new, fantastic talks (hope mine was good too?), incredible young birders and lots of smiling faces. Stellar job, as always, by Spurn Bird Observatory team, BTO, RSPB, Migfest volunteers, Westmere Farm - congratulations!
For me, personally, it was a charged weekend. Last time I was here, in 2015, I spent most of my time with Martin. Since then also Andy had passed away and the gap in the Spurn heart seems to have increased even more. But Migfest team, led by chairman Rob Adams, certainly made this weekend so good for me - thank you!
Birding was very good - beyond weather-expectations. On Saturday morning vismig was brilliant with huge numbers of Meadow Pipits, hirundines and Tree Sparrows going through. I heard one Richard's Pipit call but nothing more than that. Other vismig and seawtching highlights were Roseate Tern (sweet call! First time I hear it), several Short-eared Owls and two Bonxies.

Short-eared Owl

Tree Sparrows

Great Spotted Woodpecker working the fence poles by Numpties. Yummy grubs!

Then I lead a walk with Terry. Five minutes after starting news broke of the headline bird of Migfest - Long-billed Dowitcher at Corner Pond / Holderness Fields. Brilliantly picked up on call by Paul - legend! We did make the group run a bit; completely ignored a cracking juv Little Stint en route. By the time we got there quite a crowd had already assembled. Great bird - distant views though.

Long-billed Dowitcher

Digiscoping results were not much better

Dowitwichers (copyright Jonnie Fisk)

The great Darren Woodhead in action. That's how far the bird was

After a few minutes of admiring this beauty of a shorebird, we moved on to look for the Wryneck at the top of Beacon Lane. We saw the bird immediately as it was feeding on aphids. As I was leading I spent no time on photography, hence the poor photo. Others got some great photos and footage of this cooperative bird.

Then a few minutes of seawatching produced Little Gull and 2 Arctic Skuas. Not a bad walk... And look at this daily summary, complete with a swallow:

Enjoyed this brilliant Comma sunning itself

On Sunday morning I helped with ringing at Church Fields. Pretty quiet but nice to see the Caspian Gull fly over, first seen over Numpties a few minutes before. This female Migrant Hawker was sweet:

Perhaps my best photo of the weekend was taken on Friday morning near Kings Lynn - while waiting at a meeting point to swap cars this Muntjac sped across a cut wheat field in the warm morning sun. Stunner.