Slow Start

A slow first half of April for me down here despite taking this week off work I’ve struggled to find many migrants since the previous post beyond the trickle of Swallows, a handful of Common Whitethroats and a high count of 9 Wheatears at Reach road and 1 or 2 Black Redstarts remaining. The weathers not really conducive for coastal falls here but today’s light winds and poor(er) visibility first thing helped a little with (at last) 6/7 Willow Warblers and a noticeable increase in Blackcaps. Still loving it though!

5/04/21 White Tailed Eagle

Another windy and cold weekend delivered a mere morsel of migrants including my first of the year Common Whitethroats (one on Saturday and another today) and half a dozen Swallows in of the sea, 2 White Wagtails, a few freshly arrived Chiffchaff (complete with Pollen horn) and Blackcap but Im still to see or hear a Willow Warbler.

Black Redstarts continue to be present and entertaining with a high count of 9 today including a singing male.

The highlight of the weekend was picking up a White tailed Eagle that had reportedly flown in off the sea at Samphire Hoe 5 minutes beforehand. It came in high over Dover Castle, drifted over my house and got higher higher. I lost it in the sky whilst dicking around with the camera, poor shots as a result but enjoyed the views and Ive just learned that its an Ilse of White bird that flew out into the Channel before coming back inland.

The Ravens have been hassling the Peregrines near me for the past few days, you can hear the stress in the female Peregrine’s calls, I wonder what their up to.

The Iceland Gull was flying around the eastern end of the Harbour after not seeing it for a week. I had nothing more interesting than two Argentatus Herring Gulls at my Gull spot, a 2nd Winter and a 4th winter, big northern looking beasts. Numbers of small gulls really down.

P10 mirrors on the 2nd winter is pretty cool and black on p5 of the 4th winter, both were large birds.

27th-28th March, Wheatears etc

A blustery weekend with Friday and Sunday being abit too windy for my liking although Saturday was bearable with bright sun and some sheltered spots as the wind was a straight westerly.

A little arrival of Black Redstarts was apparent with 6 or 7 birds seen including a very smart adult male, between the undercliff and south Foreland lighthouse with most present in Langdon Hole itself.

I checked the old airfield strip at Reach road, as the spot is a migrant Wheatear’s heaven and had 4 smart males, my first of the year – an uplifting 20 mins watching them sheltering on the lee side of the mound there.

Skylarks, Corn buntings and Yellow hammers were all in good numbers and good voice though the Tree sparrows seem to have moved on heres a photo of a few from back in Feb.

Peregrines were entertaining to say the least and I’ve managed to figure out where a nest is, the male was mainly patrolling and calling to the female who I think might be on eggs although she made an appearance briefly.

A Black Redstart was heard singing from the bedroom window early Sunday morning, I couldn’t locate it and it appeared to have moved on by 11am. Another exciting house tick came in the form of a Wall lizard! my neighbour says there’s lots of them!

More working in London for me so I wont be around till next weekend but I have some time off from the 10th so looking forward to that.

A new era.

In mid February we got the keys to our new house, a couple of minutes walk from Langdon hole and the cliffs to the east leading to South Foreland. Ive wanted to move to the coast to get more out of birding for a while and we have friends down here so it made sense. The house itself is situated under the ‘East Cliff’ and directly below Dover Castle. It needs alot of work! but theres been some time for birding so far.

Ive been keen to catch up with some interesting birds wintering locally; a pale juv Iceland gull that is very faithful to the east side of Dover Harbour, usually following each ferry out a few hundred metres and then following the next one in, easily picked up with bins from the cliff. Also notable is up to 4 Lapland Buntings that are frequenting the stubble fields and along the main path, One bird approaching summer plumage and was in subsong a week or two ago.

Theres a small flock of Tree Sparrows wintering in Langdon hole also, high counts are around 12/13, I’ve only seen them on passage here before but it seems whatever the national trust are up to its working as theres good numbers of the kind of birds they want to attract (Corn buntings, YellowHammer, Tree Sparrow etc)

The other morning there was a notable passage of Chaffinch, c1,000 east, a few siskin, 3 Golden Plover in off, a Woodcock east that was chased by a patrolling Peregrine (not sure of the outcome) and a ChiffChaff that appeared to be freshly in. Springs not far off.

I also gave the Gulls a quick blast on Sunday evening . Dover harbour itself seems to be a decent roost , 1,000+ small gulls including a few Meds and Kittiwakes, large Gulls where slightly less well represented but this smart 1st winter Caspian Gull made a loud entrance after 20 mins or so. A significant moment for me, with a Casp only seconds away from my new home, feels good.

2 x Snaresbrook Casps

I made an effort to go and look at the regular and returning Caspian Gull (now in it’s 6th calendar yr) at Eagle pond Snaresbrook today. As I arrived, with a loaf of bread or two, I could see what I thought was the bird towards the back with the naked eye, as soon as I threw some bread the original adult flew in calling from the other end and I realised the first bird I’d seen was an apparently ‘new’ 3rd winter bird.

Above, alongside the returning adult. It’s almost certainly a bird seen last year, as a 2nd winter, by Josh and Dante and also close by on Wanstead flats by Tony Brown. I recognise the head shape, nice delicate structure and it being quite a streaky bird, these points remain notable into its 3rd winter. Mad to think there will be 2 returning adults here in a couple years. they were the ONLY large gulls on the pond today, pretty cool. Adult below.

Heres a few Caspian gulls from various Thames sites since I came back from Scilly in late October, enjoy!

Sub adult, late October – hence still growing p10.

First winter, December

Advanced first winter, December

First winter, December

Scillies 2020

The second part of my ‘two months off work’ Autumn: 3 weeks on st Agnes, isles of Scilly from the 5th of Oct after a long drive down from Shetland. This year was always going to be a bit weird, with some of the regulars not able to make it as well as new Covid rules affecting things that I’ve become used to and look forward to somewhat. But despite these setbacks st Agnes was as beautiful as ever and in the end the birds were pretty bloody great.

Slow to begin with as the winds had been in the dreaded North West and numbers of migrants were low, the odd Yellow Browed warbler and Pied Fly around one or two Lapland buntings etc

Flushed a showy Wryneck on Gugh on my first full day. A guaranteed bird on st Agnes in autumn.

Three days in and an atlantic depression dropped in 2 Swainsons thrushes a Red-Eyed Vireo and a Black and White warbler across the Islands to the north but apparently nothing for st Agnes! We made our way over to Tresco the following morning but no sign of the B&W warbler, the American Golden plover out on the rugged area in the north of the island was almost just compensation.

A Buff-bellied pipit had also been found a few days later and perhaps the same bird (or potentially another) was found by Neil Wright out on Horse point on the 14th. The bird was vocal, regularly showed well and I paid 3 or 4 visits during its time with us.

Horse point also played the somewhat unlikely setting to a couple of arboreal species: Red breasted Flycather and Pallas’ Warbler, the former found by new-comer Lol, fed amoung the boulders exclusively. The latter was a very bright individual, this photo was taken by Lee Amery, mine just didnt do it justice!

A Siberian Stonechat was found on Gugh by a visiting birder. A nice, peachy toned frosty bird with a slightly two-toned white and peach rump, DNA sample recovered so will be interested to see if indeed it is a female maurus as it appears to be overall considering underwing also.

Whilst watching the stonechat on the 17th I had a Little bunting drop out of the sky calling, only to perch up 50 yrds away and then disappear off towards the garden. The following day I was again in the same spot looking for the Stonechat when a Red breasted Flycatcher caught my attention towards to higher ground above the house, nice to find birds whilst watching someone else’s. (excuse the poor pics!)

Also on the 17th, near the site of the Stonechat, I was chatting to birding Hero Paul Dukes when I caught sight a 1st winter Caspian gull flying across the Gugh bar and heading away from me. “Shit…. sorry Paul Ive got to run, thats a Caspian Gull” I legged it after the bird which luckily had joined a group of gulls on the water 300 metres away. There are only 3 records of Caspian Gull for scilly up to now (I found the first record in 2016 which also coincided with a large arrival of lesser black backs around the island as these did), hence the legging it.

A small group of birders saw the bird with me and I got a couple of texts saying that some Scilly listers would be interested in the bird if i could refind. I made an effort later in the day to check the areas that gulls gather in but all drew a blank until I joined Paul Heaton at the campsite where around 10 birds were feeding near the tideline, one of which was another 1st winter Casp, a completely different bird!

A few more Agnes birders got onto this bird but neither could be found the following day for the Scilly listers.

In the following week st Agnes played host to another 1 or even possibly 2 Pallas’ Warblers, a few Dusky warblers including one Mike and Lee found below the parsonage and Graham came across one calling on Barnaby lane whilst there had been another elsewhere. Other islands held Radde’s Warblers but I was holding out for one on st Agnes, alas. An increase in Black Redstarts and Chiffchaffs including a couple of tristis birds (below). Small numbers of Bramblings amoung the growing number of Chaffinches and increasing numbers of winter Thrushes were noted.

An American theme to the start of the trip followed by some scarce eastern birds and I was feeling like Scillies 2020 was coming to an end for me, I was joined for my final 4 days by my girlfriend Amy and thank god she came because it was her idea to walk around on Gugh after the rain (associated with a seriously fast moving atlantic depression!) had cleared on Saturday the 24th.

We split up so she could watch the waves and I birded around the back of the plantation. Suddenly a song thrush flew almost right over my shoulder and I caught a split second glimpse of an oddly sized bird chasing behind it. A moment passed and I heard a short sharp “Chik…chiik” call. I froze, my heart started racing and a phrase came to mind “like sneakers on a basket ball court”, my brain told me I’d just heard a Rose-breasted Grosbeak; a speices I have invested special interest into since finding a a first winter female on Wingletang in september 2017, In both Canada and Mexico I’ve paid them special attention and in particular the call whilst working alongside them this year in Feb at the latter location.

With slightly shaky legs I moved towards the calling bird, hearing it again and suddenly it flew infront of me perhaps less than 10 metres distance, I saw it with the naked eye only and in flight but I could see clearly that it was a Grosbeak as it disapeared through a wall of pittosporum. Fucking hell… The bird was still calling and moving away unseen, I anticipated where it might have moved to and got near to the garden where it flushed from some brambles into a Pittosporum 10 metres away from where I was standing.

I finally got bins on it…A Male! I thought to myself, as I watched it cleaning its bill on a branch, it had obviously been feeding on blackberries but didn’t seem too bothered by me. I ,on the other hand was near exploding with excitement but also wanted to take in the bird and the moment before putting out the news.

After what felt like a good length of time watching the bird some more and checking i had at least one or two ‘decent’ photos I left it to get signal and put the news out, by the time I’d got back it was no where to be seen. I could see Amy in the distance and I waved her over frantically, I don’t think she’s ever seen me so excited, hands shaking etc, I think she thought it was hilarious. The bird was now lost and people arriving. It was getting towards dusk but luckily Mike young Powell had relocated it giving point blank views above the house. Kathy YP, Renton R, Chris W had all seen it too and I ran up there to see it for a few moments before it disappeared into the pittosporum again.

Sadly The bird wasnt seen again, I would have loved to spend more time with it.

The following day was my last full one and we’d had a good time in the pub the night before (following covid guidelines) there were a couple of boat loads of people over looking for the Grosbeak and with no show someone ended up finding a Red-eyed Vireo at lower town farm, I was only about 100m away when I saw the news (aaarg) but the excitement from the previous day was still at the forefront so I happily lapped up my best views of the species ever (including on the other side of the Atlantic) as it lazily fed in the low bows of the apple trees.

Thinking to myself that was an excellent end to the holiday Amy and I went for Icecream when suddenly my phone , which had been without signal for a while, went crazy; pinging and alerting , INDIGO BUNTING st AGNES BIG POOL!!! I quick footed over there to find a load of birders not looking in any direction, Myself Steve Brayshaw and Chris Williams and Doug Paige went round threshing mill to get a different angle on the bonfire where it had been seen originally and I picked up the bird on the floor 5 metres infront of us. its there!!! where? there!!!

I wish I had a photo of it looking more lively, an amazing record and hopefully will re gain its strength. I watched it get blown over by the wind on the morning I left. They can have such a big, bug-eyed look, this one hardly at all probably due to fatigue but some nice tones across the plumage and indigo colouring was apparent in brighter day light.

So that concludes my Scillies trip, which was great. Just a shame I couldn’t share it all with everyone who couldn’t make it. still was great to spend time with everyone who could and perhaps next year will resemble something closer to normal.

Unst. Day 31, PALLAS’ GRASSHOPPER WARBLER!

1st of October, my final full day on the island and the weather was wet and windy but the first day of proper south easterlies and simultaneous high pressure further east, of the trip. I had a frustrating 30 minutes chasing around an Olive Backed Pipit that I’d seen closly in flight and heard call a few times near Setter’s Hill Estate, most likely the bird Brydon had found some days before. It flew over the houses and I just thought ‘fuck it’ (He’d had a similar experience with it a day or two before also apparently.)  After lunch at my new accommodation, Shore station, Burrafirth I had a little Bunting feeding at the bottom of the wall 10 metres from my door. Quite a dull bird, occasionally flying around calling but approachable.

Rachel, the owner of the property had mentioned previously that I should walk around the grounds of the main house and have a look, as I hadn’t done up to this point I began walking up the steep drive only to flush a large, dark looking Locastella out of cover on the grassy bank just below me, It had flown over the wall and out of sight, I rushed round to the rockery area, a small hillside with mostly ferns and long grass cover broken up with regular large flat rocks. The bird flushed out of a tussock and back over the wall again, I quickly approached the chest height dyke and peered over. Amazingly, the bird was out in the open next to the tyre of the owners Landrover out on the black gravel. Fucking hell…PALLAS’ GROPPER!!!

…It  dashed underneath the Landrover only to return to its initial spot with its back to me and facing back in my direction ,I could see its warm brown and streaky mantle, rusty coloured rump contrasting dark tail with some unworn white tips just visible and white tertial spots. The bird quick stepped over to some cover in the corner of a walled section of garden gas canister, old pallets and timber and some tall grass too.

I was very excited, and told pals on private message groups and made some phone calls to Allan, Brydon and David and knew I needed to speak to the landlady before putting news out ‘nationally’ it had also started to piss it down.

A few minutes later and the news went out, a search ensued but the bird was nowhere to be seen. It took a while but eventually it was picked up down near the walled garden and a good number of people saw it that evening, everyone was well behaved and the following morning was even better without any need for organized flushes as the bird was sitting out in the open and showing in the grass every so often. It proved Easy enough to keep tabs on with the number of eyes on it.

Thanks to Pete Morris for the incredible above image and to Simon King for the equally brilliant one below.

Im really happy to have found it on my last day, rounds the trip off beautifully despite my undeniable worry that Im leaving the place where most of the action will be for this week. But Im keen to keep plans, fate and all that. Scillies is next for me, three weeks on beloved Agnes, bring on the Americans.

Id like to thanks Paula and Allan Conlin for putting me up at the lovely Bordanoost lodge, the Jewel of Haroldswick 😉 Check out the link if you’re thinking about going up in future and staying, I can throughly recommend. Ive kept the blogging fairly brief but i could go on and on about things like an amazing Aurora one night and a day where i counted 44 Yellow-broweds across the island.. lovely stuff and plenty more for things i want to see next time. Im happy with the finds, saw some brilliant birds and met some really great people.

Thanks also to David Cooper, Brydon Thomason and Robbie Brookes for being so nice and hope to see you all again, heres a few images from the last week or so…

Above pic courtesy of Allan Conlin

Unst. Day 29, Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll

Early morning at Burrafirth I came across large, tame Redpoll. It appears to be a 1cy Hornemanns Arctic Redpoll on account of its overall (BIG) size, deep bill base, bull necked appearance. The white base colour, warm buff tones about the head and face. Its definitely at the streakier end of the spectrum and this would i think usually warn people off as it did me somewhat initially. thanks to Dave Cooper and Brydon Thomason for their input, coming to see it and agreeing on the ID and also to Geoff Wyatt who saw the bird respectively and has come to the same conclusion of its identity.

The undertail coverts show ‘pencil line ‘central shaft streaks, which is in keeping with the whole birds vibe really: streaky. In fact this could be a downfall of the bird generally infront of a commitee but i’ll do my best to convey the birds presence in the description. Being used to looking at a very variable group of birds (Gulls) , Im enjoying my baptism into these , evaluating things like; overall structure, stance , bill shape and expression in a passerine that stays mostly still (whilst feeding) as you watch has been great.

Since the last post the highlights have been Dave Cooper’s Buff breast, which was joined by another the following day. I didn’t get to see Brydon’s OBP or Blythes Reed despite looking but i did see Geoff Wyatt’s lovely Red flanked Blue tail at vaylie, nice one Geoff!

Last couple of days now before i make the long journey to scilly…

Unst. Day 23, Booted Warbler

Fairly quiet in between my last post and now although since the 17th we’ve had autumns little blessings: Yellow browned warblers in small numbers but widespread over the island.

David cooper found 2 little buntings at Burrafirth on the morning of Thursday the 17th and David Haigh and I found a very secretive Red-breasted Flycatcher at Valyie in the same afternoon. Al found a Bluethroat close to home on the 18th but not too much to write home about since, until todays Booted Warbler, found by Brydon near Halligarth. A charismatic bird which I thoroughly enjoyed.

The bird showed well on occasion and called a handful of times. Perhaps some promising weather between now and when Im scheduled to leave on the 2nd, fingers crossed for both!