Scillies 2017

My third Autumn Scillies trip in a row, 2 weeks on st Agnes in beloved Roseveer Cottage with Lee Amery, Graham Gordon and Laurence Pitcher and for me at least, the best trip yet.  2 weeks earlier than last year with the last week of September and the first week of October was, luckily, a great period; a mix of genuine rarities, scarcities, lots of common migrants, met some new people,and spent time with friends, good food, drink and the best scenery.


 1cy Bee-eater

After mixed weather for our first few days the winds settled in the West and South West with fronts moving through and clearing with rain over night and some very wet days. A blast of south in the wind on our first full day and a Bee-eater and Red-eyed Vireo were found within 20 minutes of each other. The Bee-eater (found by Lee) was seen and heard by most birders on the island eventually but the Vireo proved very elusive.


Red-Eyed Vireo

Next, my personal highlight: The Scillies dream is really finding north American passerines and on the morning of the 29th of September a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak flew out of cover infront of me.  You can read finder’s account here . The moments surrounding the initial find will be with me for ever and the below image gives me the shivers, seeing it there on the granite looking like a real vagrant. Stoked!


1cy f   Rose-Breasted Grosbeak


The bird went from wingletang (where i originally found it, to a a field along Barnaby lane and then ended up opposite the post office where it was seen by most who came and twitched it over the 4 days it was present. By the end of its stay it was seriously tame and would hop around near bags of fertiliser and sit in a low bramble feeding, all under the watchful eye of the local cats….



This was a great ‘warmer upper’ for the following American rarities. Another Red-Eyed Vireo in the parsonage, a Cliff Swallow, found on Tresco on the 2nd of Oct, which eventually gave LP and I great views and shared air space with 2 of the Bee-eaters whilst a Yellow Browed Warbler called behind – very memorable bit of birding.


Cliff Swallow (above and below)


Whilst we relaxed with a bonkers overpriced coffee moments after viewing the Cliff Swallow LP recived a text “Who found the Waxwing?”… excitement and frustration ensued but we decided not to get on the charter back to Agnes, where the bird had been found, and remained on Tresco to kick about and see what else was lurking there until our boat returned later in the afternoon. nothing really was the answer.  


juv Cedar Waxwing

We got back just before the Cedar Waxwing was re-located and eventually saw it a few times away from the crowds and even in our little garden. (below)


Other highlights were a day trip to st Mary’s to see the Isabelline Wheatear, which was a success with the bird showing down to 10 meters or so and although both distant the American Golden Plover and Pectoral Sandpiper were present around Porth Hellick.


1cy Isabeline Wheatear


Besides the Bee-eaters, Scarcities and less common migrants were reasonably well  represented however there were a few obvious things missing but between a couple of Wrynecks on Gugh, a Marsh Warbler that GG picked up, a migrant Hawfinch, couple of Lapland Buntings, Yellow –Browed Warblers (which were only really apparent towards the end of the trip) there were plenty of Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, a Turtle dove and whinchats etc to keep us entertained.   




m Hawfinch


Lapland Buntings


Yellow Browed Warbler


Pied Fly-catcher


1cy Mediterranean Gull


The original site of the Grosbeak find, a granite formation I’ve always loved aesthetically 


Looking West from Perigilis beach st Agnes

The return crossing on the Scillonian wasnt bad either and thanks to the help of a group of young(er) birders who were doing a count the following numbers were recorded. 100+ Balerics, 10+ Sooties, 1 Pomerine, 5 Arctic, and 10 Great Skua. thanks to Jake G/Micheal M for figures.

Added bonus – a finders report in the back of the 2016 Scillies Bird Report for the Caspian Gull last year, 1st for Scillies (hence the fuss!) 



28 Aug – 10 Sept

Last Weekend was spent doing mainly other things but Rich, Dante and myself spent a few hours at Thames Barrier Park where Rich picked out this first Calendar Year Caspian Gull, the first ‘new’ bird of the season! Also present was a first summer bird that last winter we reffered to as ‘Mucky’ and a handful of Yellow-Legged Gulls.



With the Lockwood Levels still dropping I’ve been up there after work eveyday. The Spotted Redshanks are unbelivably still around, a number of Common Sandpipers are also present joined by a couple of juvenile  Dunlin but nothing else of interest… still time! My first 1cy Yellow Leg of the year was with other large larids on the 4th (below) If you look carefully you can see about 3 replaced inner median wing coverts, the first bit of wing moult I’ve seen this year



Willow Warblers are drying up as Chiff-Chaff numbers build. a few Common and a Lesser White throat have been present. An Adult Spotted- Flycatcher was in willows between number 1 and 2 on the 31st Aug. I’m still seeing one or two first winter Wheatears on the Lockwood and one or two Yellow wagtails over and now a small trickle of Meadow Pipits has begun.





Swifts were present in ones and twos untill at least the 4th House Martins have been coming through early monrings and flocks of 2-300 have been feeding high over the southern reses. Hobbys have been present on a couple of mornings in conjunction with this.


The marsh has been quiet on my visits, but the local male Kestrel has switched his preferred morning hunting spot from the cow field to horse paddocks.


Saturday 3.00 am and I’m on my way to pick up young Dante in a hire car. The final round of the Matin Garner young Birder of the Year was being held at ‘Migfest’ , Spurn. No suprises he won! well done lad.  450 miles driven and 23 hours awake were worth it.


There were some good birds turn up on the peninsular, which mainly we didn’t go and see except a tired Wryneck first thing. We had more of a ‘finding’ agenda…so birded away from the crowds but the finding only extended to a few Whinchats down the point and an ad male Redstart up by the Easington Gas terminal-I had ear marked a small group of trees here as a perfect Red-breasted Fly spot Shame it wasn’t something more fitting to the date .  Great place though and good vibes.


25 – 27 August Beachy Head


A well-timed weekend visit to Beachy Head, staying with Laurence P.  We birded the entire headland over the two days and covered c22 km on foot.  Pretty careful and concentrated bush bashing revealed great numbers of common migrants but the highlights were 2 Honey Buzzards, moving east two hours apart.


The above adult Male bird went straight over our heads a couple of hours after the below bird  (looks ad female) had been picked up as a speck in the distance. Both heading east and gaining height, probably in order to cross the channel on a perfect day for it.


Totals were as follows; 23 Common Redstart, 1 Black Redstart (juv), 13 Whinchat, 18 Wheatear, 9 Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Pied Flycatcher, 19 Tree Pipit, c60 Yellow Wagtail, 4 Alba Wagtail, 2 Grey Wagtail, 8 Meadow Pipit, 44 Willow Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, 8 Lesser Whitethroat, 100+ Common Whitethroat, 33 Blackcap, 12 Reed Warbler, 2 Sedge Warbler & a Reed Bunting. Around 2000 hirundine were seen and along with them, 10 Swift.







The below juv Pied Flys were particularly settled and I watched them feeding in the hedgerow behind the pub regularly whilst we skywatched on the sunday. A particular favourite of mine and I especially like them like this, preferring autumn plumage or spring females to black and white males.





A few waders were heard and seen, all flyovers including a Wood Sandpiper at night on our way to the pub! 3 Dunlin, During the day singles of Golden Plover and Ringed Plover were also noted fly overs.


19 – 28 August

A trip to Oare Marshes with Rich and Dante was succesfull in that we caught up with two returning American birds – the Long-Billed Dowitcher was present, although distant amongst a group of Golden Plover on the East Flood (a new bird for me). Also present was the returning adult Bonaparte’s Gull which I saw in 2015 aswell.


After Oare we visited a Kent Honey Buzzard site and after 20 minutes of scanning we had mediocre views of what seemed to be a male and a female – based on size alone really as the birds were completely silhouetted.

The week was spent birding Walthamstow Marshes and the Waterworks in the mornings before work.  Highlights were 2 gounded Tree Pipits on the 22nd,(rare here and my first for a couple of years on the patch, the eventualy moved on south calling) 3 Whinchats on the 23rd aswell as a couple of Wheatears and yellow Wagtails over and present on most days. Common Warblers still coming through in no great numbers.






David Bradshaw found a Spotted redshanks on the now well-drained Lockwood on Saturday. another was found shortly after! First on the patch for a few years and new for my patch list.  I was down visiting Laurence P at beachy (and seeing some great birds, more on that later…) and i was convinced they woudn’t stay however upon my return I broke free from the tropical temperatures in my flat and caught up with them, and David.



We will regain access in the mornings during the week soon and I will be up there every day. it looks fantastic.





1 – 15 August


A few times a month my strange (non birdy) job takes me to rural Norfolk, near ten mile bank which is over the Ouse from Welney WWT.  Over the years I’ve found a few nice birds there, highlights being a flock of six Common Cranes one winter, an out of place Hawfinch over one spring and things like Brambling, the occasional Hen Harrier and fields full of Yellow wags on passage.


With abit of fieldcraft and abit of luck I got close to this (first year?)  Kingfisher at the bottom of a standard fenland ditch on my lunch break recently. I spent probably 15 mins getting close and 10 mins shooting and watching through bins as the bird changed position, perch and stretched its wings.



This photoshoot came at an interesting time, especially shooting pictures of a Kingfisher – quintessential ‘Nature Photographer’ species. I had just read the recent British Birds article about birder-photographers.  (and spent some of the earlier part of the year cursing ‘no bins’ camera heads in hides in Hong Kong)  I often think about how using a camera as part of my birding affects it, I think its generally a good thing; It can be sort of used as a scope, It can allow me to appreciate commoner species more… it prolongs the experince and makes the birding more visual. Getting into position for photography and taking in a close up wader for example is indulgent in a great way (if the bird doenst mind) and akin to looking at an amazing living illustration in a bird guide… More on this another time.

Fast track to today in London, a visit to the patch before work and a fairly disappointing session although almost all the commoner warblers present.



Willow Warblers, Common and Lesser White throats , below.



The below male Kestrel is half of the local pair and may be the reason why the cow field has not yet yielded its annual Whinchats so far.


After work a quick circuit of the Lockwood turned up 2 Greenshank, an adult and a juv (pictured below) a Juvenile Little ringed Plover, c10 Common sandpipers and my first Wheatear of the autumn. Showing 7/8 primaries in the closed wing and buff panel mid wing sort of points to Greenland but perhaps too early?. dunno.



Strangely, this Kingfisher allowed me to get fairly close this evening. There are 3/4 birds hanging around, the others I suspect are first year birds. This and last weeks shots are the closest I’ve been to this species for a prolonged period, funny its happened within a week. Nice though.





YLG season…


Just an Update of some recent juvenile Yellow Legged Gull images from Thames Barrier Park and the O2. I’m not really seeing the numbers I was expecting just yet but theres still time.



The below individual has been around since the 8/9th of July, a real beauty to my slightly gull hungry eyes.




Below a contrastingly dark individual.



Next up… either some more YLGs or hopefully a nice juvenile Caspian Gull. I’m putting in the hours before and after work so fingers crossed.

26 June – 9 July


Its that time of the year again. A full week at the end of June desperately trying to find an early continental juvenile Yellow Legged Gull on the Thames and on the south Coast. An early flock of 16 birds were around the patch at Dunge on the 27th of June – Surely a concentrated rather than wide influx. A couple of days later and Rich Bonser had a nice Juv at Thames Barrier park and a trickle of these fresh beauties ensued in London since.  Its taken me up till today to see one and I actually ended up seeing about 4/5. Below is a flash flood of images from today where Rich, Dante and I had 13 YLGs of different ages, with the juveniles as the stars of course…. first though an O2 tick for me – adult Mediterranean Gull flew in to join the Black Heads at the O2 on the 29th.  Enjoy the rest.














There were also a selection of first and second summers throughout the day, aswell as a near adult.






Get used to it as this is going to be pretty much all your getting this month!

South End Mediterranean Gulls


Today the ‘East London Gulls’ Lads and I took a trip to Southend and Gunners park in the hope of seeing an early Juvenile Mediterranean Gull. Perhaps abit early Although apparently some of the Minsmere Juvs are flying about now. We made do with around 15 individuals coming to bread and allowing some flight shots. I love all ages of these Gulls but a fully hooded second summer really gets my juices flowing…












Basel, Switzerland



Two weeks away with work in the small land locked city of Basel in Switzerland. Not that the job allowed me much free time but the time I had was spent in the nearby park and local Nature Reserve.


Like many other cities on the continent the streets are full of Singing Black Redstarts and the parks are packed with other birds that over here we associate with specific rural habitats; Common Redstarts, Spotted Flycatchers, Fire Crests, and even Hawfinch were present and seemed to be breeding, (see juvs recorded and photographed below)  in a small urban park, as well as White StorksBlack Kites and Alpine Swifts flying Low over the Town.







25 mins from my Apartment by Bus was Le Petite Camargue de la Alsacienne. A reserve roughly the size of Walthamstow Reservoirs, highlights at this site included, Squacco Heron (unusual for the area) Purple Heron, Great Egrets, Western Bonelli’s Warblers , more Hawfinches, Wrynecks, Lesser Spotted Wood peckers... (Black, Middle and Grey Headed can be seen here but I had no luck with them)



Nightingales, Marsh Warblers and Golden Orioles were the main birds still in song…





Red-Back Shrikes were well represented and a few Pairs were present in front of one of the hides.






A really great city and also home to many more common migrant birds. I also encountered Wild Boar piglets, many Red Squirrel and a friend told me of a Pine Marten crossing a suburban street!  No doubt I will return next year for work so will aim for the Woodpeckers again and try to get some good Alpine Swift Photos. Such great birds to watch whilst sinking some large euro beers with your feet in the Rhine!







June Iceland!

No sooner had a drafted I dull summer time blog post, a final day out on the Thames (before 2 weeks away with work) and I pick up a 1st summer Iceland Gull at Thames Barrier park!  Just over a year since the last one in the area that Rich B found on the beach at the O2 April 2016.  The bird flew westward and we lost it, despite our ziggzagging across the Thames in a attempt to refind it in the usual gathering spots.


There were 4 different 2nd summer Yellow Legged Gulls between the Cable car and the beach at the O2, heres 2 of them.




So June is here and things are, as expected, pretty quiet across the patches.  Rich had a nice new 2cy Caspian Gull at the O2 the other day and there are still some Yellow legged Gulls around on the river. Walthamstow is proving good for taking pics of juvenile wagtails and starlings and thats about it. The Common terns are paired up on a couple of the rafts, good numbers of Little Egrets seemed to be breeding and I’ve seen Swallows around recently which are probably the riding stables pair, fingers crossed.


The next post you read will probably be about Juvenile Yellow Legged Gulls. I will be out looking in the last week of June and first of July Looking for the country’s first continental birds. Here’s a post from Eastbourne last July to help get your eye in.

For now however, here’s one of a local and familiar Thames YLGs, been around since last October and is a real looker in my opinion. regulars to this blog (if such a thing exists) will probably recognise the bird. (why not comment if you do… or be damned if you dont!)