Rose-Coloured Starling

Rose-Coloured Starling

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Crag Martin in Chesterfield, Derbyshire

One of the very last places I thought I'd be twitching, let alone seeing a 10th record for Britain in form of a Crag Martin, was a historic church located in the middle of Chesterfield city centre. The bird has remarkable remained faithful to the city commuting between the famous old crooked spire and the Proact Stadium (home to Chesterfield FC).

The famous crooked spire
News alerted us on a miserable Sunday lunchtime back on 8th November and after a quick exit from North Wales, we found ourselves dipping this first winter beauty. Disheartened and truly gutted, this autumn was obviously just not happening for us knowing that our chances of it sticking it out for a week was unfavorable. However, the unthinkable occurred and after a tense and stressful week, the Crag Martin was still present come Friday lunchtime. It seemed to have a pattern - the bird was regularly sighted around 9am and but was rarely ever seen after 2pm.. Up this this point, we hadn't learnt where it was commuting between throughout the day but from Saturday afternoon, this was discovered to be the Proact Stadium. This also happened to be where the bird was roosting!
Birders lined up right up the highstreet

Saturday morning started cold, quiet with the element of suspense. If were were going to see the Crag Martin, it had to be before 11am at the latest. With the weather suitable for a Crag Martin, we were secretly and silently confident that we would strike lucky. 150-200 birders were present by 9am and the general consensus was that if the bird was still local, it would show imminently. 9:30 came, and no sign - 10am... still nothing - maybe it was too cold? 10:30 approached and it we were starting to acquire the feeling that it wasn't going to show... Maybe it had moved on ahead of the incoming weather front? A couple of birders had given up, packed up and gone. 10:45 broke and suddenly news swept across when a 'hirindine' shot behind the tower of the church. The Crag Martin!! 

You could hear the relief of the 200+ birders that had almost written off seeing the bird! It intermittently spent the next 40 minutes twisting and turning around the crooked spire of the church. I for one was blown away by how fast it cut through the air. Acquiring pictures was very hard especially with a small Powershot camera like mine so silhouettes were the best it could produce
Can just about make out the Crag Martin heading for the 12!
It was well worth the wait and really good to see the details closely as it passed within a matter of metres above my head. Bringing me within a handful of birds to reach the milestone of 400, the Crag Martin was my 386th bird in Britain and 10th 'mega' bird of the year!

Monday, 16 November 2015

North-East Wales Bird Report

The North East bird report (2014) is available from Conwy RSPB on the 20th November and RSPB Burton Mere on the 23rd November for £5. The book covers all species recorded throughout NE Wales and BirdTrack is fast becoming one of the best ways to get your reports noted. All but a handful of species can be seen down to at least 1 km level. Those that cannot are currently the species that are on the NRW ‘Sensitive Species’ list. They can be seen at the 10 km level. 

Please keep submitting bird records, from wherever you happen to be, via BirdTrack. If you use the BirdTrack App, please have a look at the article with advice about grid references in the App that is in the 2014 report.  For more information, please visit An excellent and very valuable resource! Please spread the word!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Short-Eared Owls

Its been a good season for Short-Eared Owls with many birds reported around the Dee Estuary across to Anglesey especially during the high tides. It was to my great delight to find one on patch this evening hunting along the marsh on the River Clwyd. Perched on a post, it then moved further upstream in the fading light. Other birds included a nice Barnacle Goose, Grey Plover, a couple of Goosander and hundreds of Lapwings, Oystercatchers and gulls.
Short-Eared Owl - taken by S.Leese
Barnacle Goose associating with the Greylag Geese
A stunning sunset to complete the day!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Scaup at Eirias Park, Colwyn Bay

A nice immature Scaup was found earlier in the week on the small boating lake at Eirias Park in Colwyn Bay. Luckily it was still there by today so myself and Steff took a trip down there to see it. It was showing very well for all of 5 minutes before a dog walker let her dog go too far towards the water where it flushed north. However it sounds like it's the not the first time this has happened with the Scaup returning to the same site. The bird appears to be latching on to a group of Mallard at the moment. Two Little Grebe were also present.
Immature Scaup at Eirias Park Boating Lake
 This is the fourth Scaup I've seen in the last year or so locally with the latest I found at Rhyl Brickworks earlier this Spring and others being at Pentre Mawr Park and Conwy RSPB.
Rhyl Brickworks drake found back in April
Elsewhere across North Wales, a couple of Firecrests at multiple sites; Conwy RSPB, Llanddulas and on the Great Orme. A Great Grey Shrike has been inhabiting Llyn Ddu and best seen at SH 557425 

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Isabelline Olive-Yellow Browed Pallas's Hume's Red Flanked Long-Eared Bluetail Warbler-Shrike Pipit!!

After a real disappointing start to Norfolk dipping everything in sight on the Saturday afternoon following a long 4 and half hour drive, we knew we had it all to do on the Sunday. Myself and Steff started off nice and early that morning at Wells Wood and targeted a species first thing that gave us the run-around the previous day. Blyth's Reed Warblers are a rare but annual migrant to Britain with the reputation of being secretive and elusive. This certainly proved itself to be just that. Luckily on the Sunday, the bird was nailed down to a specific location of a rather large twist of brambles after a relatively short wait. It was only a matter of time before a 'tack' was upgraded to a good few seconds view of this eastern warbler. The bird appeared a lot more paler and greyer than our Eurasian Reed Warbler and had a more complete eye ring, and then it was gone! As far as Blyth's Reed Warbler views are like, a prolonged view of a few seconds from just over 5m away was the best I was going to get!
Onto the Red-Flanked Bluetail whereby the last one I saw was back in October 2009 at Flambrough Head. This was another bird we previously missed the previous day but this time again we were blessed with good views of this first winter/female type occasionally flicking its tail upwards to reveal its beautiful feature as it's name suggests. Moving on another 5 minutes down the path, I found a beautiful Firecrest whilst attempting to refind a Pallas's Warbler that had been moving through the vicinity. Hume's Yellow Browed Warbler and then Pallas's Warbler followed in quick succession with both showing well. The Hume's called subsequently and gave good close views highlighting its visual lighter appearance to that of a Yellow Browed Warbler. The Pallas's was stunning and I could've watched this striking beautiful species all day What an amazing spectacle migration can be when you time it just right!
Although this was birding at it's best, I was keen to leave to catch up with the Isabelline Shrike at Beeston Common near Sheringham. On arrival I spotted the shrike straight away on the nearest bush to the path - that's the kind of twitch I like! One where I can jump out of the car and the bird is on show straight away giving maximum views!
It had spent the last week at this site and had continued to show off to its many visiting admirers!

The bird occasionally hopped from branch to branch, flying, hovering and catching mainly wasps. The video below demonstrates this well!
This had been one of three Isabelline Shrikes to settle in Norfolk during that week on the back of the prolonged easterlies.
After fab views, we moved on to see a Long Eared Owl opposite the layby in an Oak tree at Beeston Common and then the Olive-Backed Pipit that was present at Muckleburgh Hill.. after another short wait, the pipit showed very well on the deck under the canopy of the trees. It was great to catch up with my second OBP in Britain after a Spurn bird last autumn.
Olive-Backed Pipit - Tricky to get an image without the noise due to the poor lighting
Beeston Common Isabelline Shrike video
With two excellent lifers for the weekend and 4 for Steff, Norfolk had exceeded all expectations and delivered all. One of the best day's birding for a very long time in the UK.


Nope, not the warbler, but the Phalarope! It's been a good while since I updated the blog due to work commitments however, it's also been a while since I've seen a decent bird this autumn. In that time, there's been a first and a second for Britain in form of an Acadian Flycatcher and a Wilson's warbler (both missed) but I did managed to get down to Essex a few weeks back to see a Wilson's Phalarope - not quite a Wilson's Warbler but it was considerably cheaper!
The drive down was a drag with the M25 adding to the 'agg' of things, we finally arrived at Vange Marsh RSPB in the sunshine. On arrival, a Marsh Harrier flushed everything up from distance but I automatically locked straight on to our target bird in flight revealing its rather lovely white rump and bright yellow legs! Looked good and when it landed it continued to potter around feeding up on the small insects around and on the water's surface using it's pin-sharp bill.
Wilson's Phalarope facing right
Despite the distance involved, the bird showed well through the scope and with a good supporting cast of Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint, Ruff, Green Sandpipers, Spotted Redshanks and Marsh Harriers, the trip was a great success!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Caspian Gull at Ainsdale

Large gulls have been a particular focus this summer all for the wrong reasons. Reporters/journalists know next to nothing about them mainly picking up on the negatives drawing attention to what are genuinely interesting birds. There's so much to learn about gulls and there's always new things to learn. I've always had a keen interest in them, however I do struggle at the best of times with aging and ID if their not familiar and when you think you're getting there, you get a hybrid thrown in the mix like the Great Black-Backed Gull x Yellow Legged Gull of Richmond Bank a couple of years back but that's another story!
Caspian Gulls are one of the main reasons for people questioning ID... Is it? Isn't it? What are the ID features? Many Caspian Gulls that are called, are Yellow Legged Gulls or something else although numbers are increasing on the near continent and more are making it across to Britain. Slowly more and more people are getting to grips with what to look out for and the over all 'jizz' that screams out for a classic Casp.
One has spent most of it's time on Ainsdale beach, Lancs during the last 5 weeks as it undergoes a wing moult into a second winter plumage. With the bird reported showing down to a few metres, it suddenly dawned on me to why I hadn't been sooner.

I arrived not really knowing where to look... low tide, hordes of people, dogs barking, barbeques; you name it but not a gull in sight. As I looked beyond the chaos, there was one lone gull stood straight out towards the tideline... Looked liked the pics, surely can't be that easy?! On closer inspection, it was, and remarkably tame. With some of the stories of how people have been walking the length of the beach 5 or 6 times without a glimpse, I felt I had stroke it lucky.
There are many features that should be picked up on when identifying Caspian Gulls. Note the crisp, clean white head on this first summer bird and it's small dark/black beady eye which are also good indications on adult birds and something that can come in useful for when you're picking out birds in a gull roost. Luckily here it is stood on the beach giving close views and it's upright posture is one of the first things that should attract attention to a bird being questioned as a Caspian.
Caspian Gulls always have pale/white under-wings so if you have a bird in question without one, it certainly isn't a Caspian.
From a distance you can see it's clean white head stand out like a beacon - Herring and Yellow Legged Gulls have way more extensive streaking at all ages.
Juvenile and first summer birds have pinkish legs whereas adults have a lemon-yellow coloured legs. It's also worth noting that they're longer than Herring and Yellow Legged Gulls. Caspian Gulls have a long, slender bill which again came be quite distinctive at range.
This angle of the bird shows it's long sloping forehead and bill length. Although it is difficult to see as the bird is under-going moult but in a strong juvenile plumage, the greater coverts are quite finely patterned rather than more chequered like a Herring Gull/Yellow-Legged Gull would have.
Caspian Gulls are still a difficult bird to ID and even though one can't rule out a hybrid, traditionally, the main features talked about are generally a good indication that you'd be on to a winner. Getting a variety of pictures is also a vital piece to the puzzle as they can be used after to compare and check for finer details such as the amount of black colouration on the primaries
The bird at Ainsdale spent most of it's time on it's own only associating with the local Herring and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls when there was free food on offer. I used that as a good time to compare and contrast plumages. A real class, educational bird and well worth going to see if you have the time.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Booted Warbler at Gramborough Hill, Norfolk

After a great day at the Birdfair in Rutland on Saturday, we were assessing our options for the rest of the weekend. With a Booted Warbler just over 2 hours on the Norfolk coast, we decided to take a punt on getting there before dusk and seeing the elusive warbler. We arrived in good time however the sun was quickly descending and the wind was becoming stronger.
A few tense minutes passed with tantalising flits and flights between the gaps of the dying sycamore leaves hence why confirmation was delayed earlier that day. A female Pied Flycatcher also added to the tension fly catching in the depths. A few moments later, it popped up briefly onto a branch in a sheltered patch of the sycamore. We hadn't planned this trip and this was evident with one scope and one pair of binoculars between myself, Steff and Christopher Bridge which caused chaos on the first show. Luckily, however, it continued to show better as the evening progressed and as it did, I was able to really study the features of what made it a Booted rather than anything else.
On quick, brief views, it had a rather phyllosc-like movement and resemblance to it. It's grey-brown appearance was rather apparent; more greyer than I had expected in fact and with a nice widening prominent supercilium. I could also make out the shorter but pinkish bill (compared to the much rarer Syke's) and although my images don't show Booted Warblers have pinkish coloured legs and much darker browner toes (another key feature and seperaration from Syke's Warbler).

Friday, 14 August 2015

Great Shearwaters on the Scilly Pelagic - Part 2

Great Shearwaters were one of my most wanted birds to see on the Scilly Pelagic and luckily I got my wish on the third and final pelagic of the weekend to save the trip. It had been a quiet weekend in terms of scarcities and rarities. Ireland seemed to be fairing better with both Wilson's and Fea's Petrels seen off their pelagics during our stay in Scilly. 

We will have to wait for them for another year at the very least but this year was devoted to Great Shearwaters. In total, we had at least 5 showing off around the boat on the Monday evening whilst we were out chumming and drifting. Attracted to all the commotion of the gulls, it was a mad 2 minutes when it started after a Great Skua was called as it landed on the sea. We edged closer in order to have a better look when a Sooty Shearwater was shouted out as it glided to the right of us. No more than a couple of seconds later the Sooty was replaced by a Great Shearwater shearing within a few metres of us. 

Great Shearwaters are the more striking of the two large shears that enter british waters with Cory's being the other. We didn't see any Cory's Shearwaters on the pelagics sadly but having seen them in the Canaries, it wasn't too much of a disappointment. 

Even from a distance on a seawatch, Great Shearwaters can be remarkably easy to ID; it's striking head patterning with a dark cap and white neck collar does stand out. Great Shears are also darker on the back than Cory's and is slightly smaller in size and less powerful with a stiffer appearance in flight as seen in the image below.

The underparts between the two species differ marginally with Great Shearwaters acquiring some distinct stained markings whereas Cory's have a pure, clean, white underparts. Another useful ID tip will be drawn to it's tail where it has a prominent white patch but beware at a distance they can be misidentified for a juvenile Gannet with very similar markings including this white rump patch, dark wingtips and a hint of a dark cap. 

Great Shearwater diving for food - note the unclean appearance of the underwing
The Great Shearwater carried out a short circuit of flying around the boat, landing, diving and taking off again as seen in the video below. It completed this at least 5 times wowing the observers

Also the trip blessed us with some cetaceans in the form of Common Dolphin and Bottled Nosed Dolphins. The latter being a lot more elusive and keeping well beneath the ocean surface.
Common Dolphin blasting through the water alongside the boat followed us for a good 10 minutes

Bottled Nosed Dolphin were more elusive but were great to witness
The Scilly Pleagics were an amazing experience in a fantastic part of the world and I know I for one will be wanting to return soon!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Scilly Pelagic Magic - Part 1

The Scilly Isles are renowned for it's capabilities to produce a mega bird more or less at any time of the year especially during migration hotspots with the most recent being the second record of Great Blue Heron for the UK back in the Spring. The pelagics that Bob Flood puts on for both birders (and fishermen) brings people up close and personal to what would normally be a distant flyby from the coastline with Skuas, Terns, Gulls, Shearwaters and Petrels. 

I went on 3 pelagics over the weekend and saw a fantastic amount of quality birds that you never really get the opportunity to see every year. Gulls were enticed from the very start in order to attract attention to other passing seabirds. Inquisitive Fulmars were a familiar site throughout keeping within close range to the boat 

The Friday evening was a nice introduction and brought us close to European Storm Petrels as we chummed and drifted on the ocean attracting them in on the fine breeze. 

This Storm Petrel decided to dice with death hovering between two Great-Black Backed Gulls

A nice Great Skua ended the day keeping a watchful eye for a last minute scavenge at dusk

Saturday brought sunshine, calm seas and light easterlies - a truly nightmare situation for anyone that was expecting a rare seabird. However it was a very enjoyable day at sea being rewarded with Long-Tailed Skua and Sooty Shearwater. Both were resting on the sea due to the such calm conditions which allowed the superb views and photo opportunities. 

Long-tailed Skua - First summer individual

This is a short video of the Sooty Shearwater we encountered on the Saturday Pelagic

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