Thursday, 18 December 2014

Blyth's Pipit and Caspian Gull

Megas have a habit of breaking usually on a Monday morning and of course the Blyth's Pipit was no exception. Another Monday morning, another mega. Usually the trend when we're all back in work, so again, the long wait to the end of the week began. After the Blyth's Pipit showed well for the majority of Monday, it was last seen flying towards the M1 after spending the day on an industrial estate adjacent to Pugney's Country Park. That meant one thing; it had either gone to roost or it had buggered off, never to be seen again!
Luckily, it returned and favoured the same grassy, flooded field from where it was found in up to the Saturday where myself and Steff went to see it. Blyth's Pipits are very rare birds in the UK with the majority of records coming from Shetland and Scilly. This bird represented the first for Yorkshire and it was pretty much the closest we were going to get to one as far as UK records were concerned.
Breeding in Mongolia and neighbouring areas, it's usual migration path would take it towards Southern Asia but this bird hit Britain! This year alone has seen a tiny influx of 2 previous records this autumn coming from Scilly and Pembrokeshire. We travelled down on Saturday and found the site quite easily. With it being relatively elusive, we were worried that our only views would be flight views like many others have acquired. To our delight, our first views were after 20 minutes of arrival of the bird on the near bank preening. I got on it straight away and immediate differences were noted from the accompanying Meadow Pipits: Longer, stubbier bill, pale yellow legs, dull, mostly plain breast and a visibly streaked mantle were to name the obvious. It reminded me of the Tawny Pipit I saw earlier in the year!!
The bird showed well from distance for a good 5 minutes before flying low in the grass and lost to view. Although, I didn't see the tail of this bird in flight very well; it is very worn and ragged differentiating it (along with it's overall, stockier size) from the Meadow Pipits. There has been much controversy over the dealings of viewing this bird with people taking upon themselves to purposely wade through it's feeding area to flush the bird as well as organised flushes. In my opinion, neither are necessary as the bird has been showing well enough of its own accord throughout the day.
After leaving the bird behind, we decided to wait for the gull roost at Pugney's. With up to 5 Caspian Gulls seen in the roost in the previous night, we were quietly confident a bird would turn up that evening. Luckily, our dreams came true and Jonathon H (who also found the Blyth's) picked out a second winter Casp as dusk was in full flow. Caspian Gulls are far commoner in the East rather than the West and that showed with just 2 records for Wales (which happened to be this autumn). It was a much needed bird for me and one I was relieved to see!
2w Caspian Gull - Taken by Steff Leese

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Shorelark at Rossall Point, Lancs

I've always been lucky enough to see Shorelarks on the west coast and locally. I last saw one back in February 2010 at Gronant and two 3 months before; there were two at Point of Ayr. Norfolk and Suffolk are much more reliable sites for these birds regularly holding them each winter. With a first for Wales and lifer up to grabs in form of a Caspian Gull in Wrexham, it made sense to drop in on the Shorelark first thing and catch up with the gull later on that day at it's preferred drop in time. We drove up to a dull and gloomy Lancashire with threatening rain. Luckily the worst held off as we made it over walking South from the beach car park along the sea wall. As we approached, I picked up a small bird flying across the shingle and of course, what else would it be but our target Shorelark!
With it's lemon-yellow breast providing some brightness on the shingle, it showed well from the sea wall. It wasn't phased by passing dogs or walkers as they strolled within meters from the bird. Keeping a year list doesn't half keep you in touch with good birds and keeps you up to date with good scarce birds like this one (not that you need that as a reason to see a Shorelark).
Hopefully this little lone bird will stick about and over-winter although with storms forecast later this week, it might force it on to a North Wales coast nearer me to find at the weekend!

As for the Caspian Gull, we got there in good time to only have learnt that the reported first winter bird has showed first thing but was put off later in the day by model boats on the lake. So if all is good, a visit will be on the cards in the coming weeks!
A short video at Rossall Point on Saturday 6th December

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Purple Heron at Capel Gwyn (Anglesey)

Following reports of a first winter Purple Heron in the fields adjacent to the caravan park at Capel Gwyn on Anglesey, I went down at the first opportunity which happened to be Sunday. The day's aren't long enough anymore to get out even at the earliest point after work in the week so weekends are the only option! As we arrived on site, the bird hadn't showed for over an hour and a small crowd had assembled.. Steff needed this as a lifer so the pressure was on. Fortunately, we were granted permission to access the field it was in and within minutes the birders stumbled by luck with it right in front of them.
Although much further behind, I expected the bird to take to the skies but it seemed blissfully unbothered about people standing a matter of metres away from it. There has been reports that the bird had a broken leg, although this, thankfully wasn't affecting it's ability to fly, feed or forage. Anyone who has seen the bird would probably agree that it certainly looks vulnerable and with local farmyard dogs and probably foxes, it's certainly at risk.
The bird stayed put for the half an hour I was there and then was reported flying into the adjacent field after lunch. One thing that did strike me was the size of it's bill which is maximised best in the image below. You rarely acquire such close views from a Grey Heron, never mind Purple! A great bird to see nevertheless and fingers crossed it keeps out of trouble and makes a recovery.
A small and short video of the first winter Purple Heron below too


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Eastern Crowned Warbler, Brotton

After seeing my first Eastern Crowned Warbler as a first for Britain back in a small South Shields quarry on 23rd October, 2010, I didn't think there would be another record for many years to come. Then, we were all surprised when another was trapped and ringed 2 years later in Hertfordshire. This was later followed by this years' record when a bird was found in a small plantation in Brotton, Cleveland. The bird stayed 3 days in total and wowed all that went to view it favouring a sycamore tree.
I was keen to see the bird again, as the first bird I went to see was distant and the best views to be acquired was through a scope. This was not the case, this time although we did spend the majority of our time with our necks put to the test as the bird remained at the top of the canopy.
The Eastern Crowned Warbler has a more contrasting head pattern over the much more frequent and familiar Yellow-Browed Warbler and also has an additional faint crown stripe over the top of it's head. The bird also had a slightly longer and thicker bill over the Yellow-Browed and this is quite easily apparent in the field. The Eastern Crowned is also a larger bird than both Yellow-Browed and Pallas's Warbler.
 With 3 records in the last 6 years, some might ask why? 'Sibes' seem to be getting commoner in Europe with more records occurring year by year. Red-Flanked Bluetail and Pallas's Warblers are a good example; at one time, neither were heard of in Britain, but now both are an annual expectancy to our coasts. Siberian Rubythroat in the last few years have reached Shetland and it is only a matter of time before a twitchable bird hits the mainland.
It appears that some 'sibes' are taking a different migration route to how they used to which is why Britain and Europe are having increased records now. The furthest Yellow-Browed and Pallas's Warblers breed in the same region as Eastern Crowned so it is possible that this bird has migrated along with our more familiar migrants to reach Britain.
An incredible record nevertheless and one that will probably be expected again in Britain in the coming decades. With more people aware of it's identity, it is a real possibility and an ID that should be considered every time you see a 'sibe' warbler like Yellow-Browed Pallas's or Arctic Warbler!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Snow Bunting at Llandudno

I've never usually had to travel too far for Snow Buntings as I've always been able to get a good reliable small flock at Kinmel Bay for a few winters up until last year, when they didn't return. This could've been due to the main development of the new bridge in Rhyl creating a footpath over to the site and as a result, the disturbance was increased. Having already seen Snow Buntings on the Cairngorms earlier in the year, I was still keen to see this bird.
The lone male showed well and favoured the breakwater about half a mile south down from the café where it pottered around feeding occasionally and enjoying the backdrop of the Snowdonia National Park in front of it.
A lovely male Stonechat wasn't too far away and obviously was keeping it company.

Red-Breasted Flycatcher at Beachy Head

Being down on the south coast, we'd already jammed into some excellent birds; Pallid Harrier, Siberian Stonechat, Ring-Billed Gull, Firecrest, American Golden Plover, Rose-Coloured Starling and Balearic was to name a few!
It's not very often that a male Red-Breasted Flycatchers make it to Britain and for pure appearance, myself and Steff decided to drive the 80 odd miles to see it. We certainly weren't disappointed! We associate Red-Breasted Flycatchers with the plain first winter types that turn up but this male was a Sussex county first and one not to be missed.
The bird was present in a small plantation and over all, stayed 7 days - departing the day after we saw it! With it's grey face, orange breast and while eye-ring, no one was getting this confused with the local Robins!
It showed very well down to a few feet at times as it awed both birders and photographers that had travelled to see it.

Ring-Billed Gull back for it's 13th year!

Whilst down in the Hampshire region, we were lucky to jam in on the returning adult Ring-Billed Gull that has literally just made it back from wherever it has spent it's summer for it's incredible 13th Winter at Walpole Boating lake in Gosport. The bird was reliable and was easy to pick out amongst the Black-Headed and Common Gulls.
It was my second in Britain behind the Yorkshire bird that also returned for a few winters on the run. Let's hope the Gosport Ring-Billed Gull stays well and keeps returning for many winters to come.
It would however, be incredibly interesting to find out where it spends it's summer? One would assume it surely doesn't travel back and forth across the Atlantic, so does it stay in Europe? An interesting thought!

Black Redstarts

I like to keep a year list as I feel it keeps me in touch with good birds. Good birds like Black Redstarts. It's a bird that can easily be missed and you need to go out of your way to find or see one!
Whilst at Beachy head, there was news of a Black Redstart near the lighthouse, so we went in the hope to locate it. After a couple of minutes of searching; low and behold it was there. It showed well at times pottering around the lighthouse garden although it made it rather difficult to photograph. It was only when we returned back to the car park that I found a second which showed much better allowing a couple of record shots.
There's usually one that over-winters on the Little Orme quarry, near Llandudno, which is where I usually see mine and is always worth a check with any spare time.

American Golden Plover at Davidstow Airfield

Davidstow Airfield has always had great reputation in producing great yank waders in the form of White-Rumped Sandpiper, Long-Billed Dowicher, Buff-Breasted Sandpiper and has had recent records of American Golden Plover too! After dipping the Cuckoo, this was one of our target birds to get and after dipping it on the Saturday, we decided to give it another go in the morning. We arrived for around half 10ish on no reports and with the place being quite large to check thoroughly, we welcomed 5-6 other cars looking for the AGP too. After a further hour of no sign, I was almost ready to admit defeat on yet, another lifer. Cornwall was proving to be making this weekend far too grim for my liking. I happened to stop outside the pool it was supposedly favouring and looked out onto the runway, and there it was; standing just outside the passenger door window.
It had obviously been there the whole time not phased by passing cars or people but in the process, remained undetected. The last place you'd expect is the bird to be on a small patch of grass on the runway itself in the opposite direction it was suppose to be in!
It gave great views clearly showing it's clear features of American opposed to our much more familiar European Golden Plover.
As you can see from the images, it appears a whole lot greyer and duller than European complete with a stronger, more prominent supercilium.  


With the recent hurricane Gonzalo bringing strong winds and wet weather to the UK, it was expected that with it, it would bring a few goodies. Hermit thrush, followed by Gray-Cheeked Thrush was found first on the Western Isles and then things truly started when a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo was found on the Thursday at Porthgwarra and a Black-Billed Cuckoo briefly seen on North Ronaldsay. The Yellow-Billed was only really the accessible bird and with it looking relatively healthy still on the Friday evening before dusk, myself and Steff decided to give it a go.
Yes, there was an element of big risk as far as history shows, and we knew it might not make the night but we remained hopeful as you have to be in it to win it. Of course, Saturday morning arrived with no sign of the Cuckoo and Porthgwarra looked a rather bleak and unforgiving site. We knew this might happen, so we sat down and decided to do a bit of seawatching.. straight away, as I was setting up a guy picked up a Storm Petrel and I just got on it as it moved left out of sight. From then on, Arctic Skuas (both dark and pale phased) moved through and with no less then 6 Balearic Shearwaters which are always great to see.
Putting the depressive mood behind me, what more could make up for it than a dirty heinous-looking juvenile Rose coloured Starling. Even this proved a difficult bird to catch up with! We spent the best part of 45 minutes driving from Morrison's car park to B&Q car park, over to Sainsbury's car park and KFC car park three or four times over before I eventually locked it down in neither car park, but on the wires above a field opposite associating with Starlings.
The bird showed well briefly and appeared very mobile around the shopping park of Penzance.
You'd swear that they'd have nothing to do with this bird though - this was an adult Rose-Coloured Starling from Rhos-On-Sea (North Wales) a couple of years ago.
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