Monday, 8 October 2012

October 2012

Since the turn of the month I have moved back up to Carlisle for my final year of University, so I don't intend being back in Hampshire till the christmas break now. Being based in Carlisle during the autumn period is usually quite rewarding putting me in a prime position for twitching any of the Northern or Western Isles. So with this in mind when news of a Swainson's Thrush broke on Barra (Outer Hebrides) I was initially enthusiastic to go. But after speaking to various mates I decided not to go since the species is almost annual nowadays. The following day the bird was still there and apparently showing well, but I had a lecture that I didn't want to miss so the answer was still no. The next thing I know that lecture had been cancelled and I've got five days spare!

At that point I simply decided I wanted to go to fill up my time despite getting the feeling that it was going to be an unsuccessful trip. We left during the early hours of the 4th and caught the ferry from Oban to Castlebay - via Coll and Tiree. The highlights were about a dozen Harbour Porpoise, Black Guillemots and two amazing adult White-tailed Eagles fishing successfully in the Sound of Mull. Though we still had no news of whether the Swainson's was actually still there...

On arrival at 15:00 we dashed to the Northbay Hotel, only to be greeted with a letter addressed to us that the bird had relocated. Interestingly 3 miles to the south to Brevig (coincidentally the 2010 Hermit Thrush did a similar thing), so off we went to Brevig. Once there we found out the Swainson's had only been seen for a matter of seconds in the early afternoon and not again since. Our hearts sunk, this was probably the most vegetated place on the island and knowing how skulky these birds can be; knew it would take something special for us to see it!

Our luck was really in with this one when a ringer then appeared pointing to a bag in his other hand. He had only gone and caught the Swainson's Thrush in a mist net running through one of the adjacent gardens and therefore treated us to close-up in hand views!! After being processed it was released into another sparcely vegetated garden where it simply skulked, before flying to another bush and remained mostly out of view until we left. Meanwhile two Golden Eagles soared overhead. The Swainson's had a fat score of zero so the outcome of this bird is anybodies guess.
We spent the night on South Uist, ready to depart from Lochmaddy (North Uist) at midday; the highlights were a couple of Black-throated Divers in the Sound of Barra, Common Redpoll in a garden at Bornish, and an eclipse drake American Wigeon on Loch Bee with 20+ Greenland White-fronted Geese. Two more adult White-tailed Eagles also flew past us in Lochmaddy with yet another in Uig (Isle of Skye). Big news of the day concerned the remarkable news of an Eastern Kingbird found on Inishmore (County Galway; Ireland), a first for the Western Palearctic that I simply had to go for!! Unfortunately I was probably in one of the worst places possible but still had an outside chance of getting there the following morning...

We drove non-stop for 10 hours to Holyhead where I teamed up with Fred Fearn, Pete Antrobus and John Gregory. The trip ran surprisingly smoothly; we caught the 02:30 ferry to Dublin and drove to Rossaveal (Co. Galway) in good time ready to catch our connecting ferry to Inishmore at 10:30. Unfortunately news had filtered out the Kingbird had gone. Gutted!! Then things got manic; a Belted Kingfisher was found near Letterfrack and a Myrtle Warbler on the same island the Kingbird was. I hadnt seen either, but knew immediately which bird I was prioritising. We dashed up to Letterfrack but had no idea where the Kingfisher actually was; no maps and no signal we just drove around aimlessly trying to locate likely places without success until one of us managed to get a signal and phoned Alan Lewis; who we knew was watching the bird!! Thankfully we were close and were there watching this amazing beast within five minutes! This was without doubt the best compensation I have ever had from dipping another bird, and I have always wanted to see one since missing the touring 2005 bird!
Logistically I couldn't make either of the Myrtle Warblers (by that time there was apparently two) on Inishmore so we went to Slyne Head to see what we could find. The answer was not alot so we headed back to Dublin for our ferry.

The week leading up to my birthday was pretty unproductive with casual local birding, and I spent my birthday (12th) marching back and forth on top a quarry in Durham trying to see a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler. Another waste of time, but I did see a Locustella sp twice, once inflight, the second moving quickly through the low branches of a young pine but too quick to focus and get a decent view. One that got away; though it was good to see that things were on the move again with small numbers of winter thrushes arriving in off the sea.

So on the 13th I headed back East with Tristan and Chris to hit some of the regular sites in search of some migrants, first up was Newbiggin where we checked the bushes surrounding the Ash Lagoon. Nothing spectacular but good numbers of Goldcrests and Robin and the occasional Brambling passing overhead. A Paddyfield Warbler was then reported from St. Mary's Island just down the coast, so as Chris needed this for a British tick we immediately headed back to the car. On arrival the warbler was showing well as it sat out in the open sunning itself in willows around the dipping pond and I instantly took to the camera to grab some record shots, once I had a few I then had a proper look through the bins and realised instantly that the bird we were watching was not a Paddyfield! Initially I was stumped, the bird had quite a limited supercilium, no way near as prominent as Paddyfield, no rufous tones, seemed uniform brown all over, plain tertials and a short clustered primary projection. The bill was also spikey and so after a quick discussion we decided that all the features seemed to point towards a Blyth's Reed. We saw the bird again several times after once it had adopted a more typical behaviour; it became very skulky but showed its classic banana-like posture that it usually associated with the species. Unfortunately we did not hear it call.
The same bushes also held a vocal Yellow-browed Warbler and just across the way was a Red-breasted Flycatcher and another Yellow-browed called (though this may have been the same bird). Once we had had our fill we continued down the coast to Tynemouth where there was again lots of common migrants (mainly the same mix of stuff we had seen at Newbiggin) with the addition of a Yellow-browed Warbler tagging onto the end of a large Tit flock moving around the car park.

Impressed with the day, I went back the next (14th) with Colin Lister but there had unfortunately been a total clear out with nothing really noteworthy seen, although a band of rain in off the North Sea about midday dropped a load of Goldcrests and Robins, but that was it for us. It must have deposited more though as there was a Pied Wheatear new in just up the coast at Holy Island and an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler in Fife. We didn't have time to see neither that day.

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was a bird I thought I'd eventually see on Portland so had been waiting for a close one for quite a few years. Fife Ness was only 2.5 hours away from me in Carlisle so I decided straight away that I'd head up for this bird in the morning (15th). It was an early start - meeting with Mick Frosdick and arriving at Fife Ness before dawn. There were migrants everywhere, prodominantly finches and thrushes; all of which on the move in the clear conditions. Two Yellow-browed Warblers were found around the car park whilst we waited for the sun to get high enough in the sky to light up the rose bushes behind the ruined toilet block. As soon as it had the Olivaceous began to 'tjack' and before long the bird was giving fantastic views. This was another educational bird; olive-grey upperparts, grey legs but the primary projection didn't seem all that short, neither long. White outer feathers to the tail that the bird frequently pumped downwards as it 'tjeck'ed regularly. The bill was long and pointed, yellow-orange lower mandible that was very wide at the base ruling out other similar species! Later that day I headed south back to Southampton to work for a week.
Thankfully nothing good broke that week whilst I was busy till the weekend when a Siberian Stonechat was at Birling Gap (East Sussex). I went Sunday 21st with Lee Fuller, we instantly connected with the bird from the car as we drove past. The bird was chased back and forth along the road but the best line of attack was to just sit in your car with the windows down and wait for it to come your way. In the end I drove right up to it and we papped the first winter male from the car; for a bird I always thought was quite a dross species, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised and it exceeded expectations by far, this was a stunner of a bird. Another stunner was the juvenile Sabine's Gull we saw on the way home along Brighton Promenade that literally walked between residents and flew low over peoples heads. Absolutely incredible! The final highlight of the day was the regular french ringed Great-white Egret back along the Avon Valley (Hampshire) at Bickerley Common on the flood.
BOOM!! The head gasket went on my car on the way home...and I was stranded down in Southampton for a few more days whilst it was fixed. It couldn't have happened at a worse time. I had absolutely no way of getting up to Uni for my lecture and assignment hand-in and no way of getting to Shetland for Britains second ever Chestnut-eared Bunting and was left pocketless. Oh well...theres been two now...and three in the WP since 2004 so I'll give it less than 10 years before the next...
Three days later I got my car back and headed straight to Portland (Dorset) to do some uni work. It just so happened there was an adult male Daurian Shrike there the day before. There were birds everywhere on Portland; again mostly a mixture of finches and thrushes but there was no sign of the Shrike during the morning but a Siberian Stonechat had been found up at Culverwell so off I went. But as it turned out I ended up seeing the Daurian Shrike before the Stonechat. Both of which mobile in the windy conditions so I only managed to obtain a few record shots with my phone. The Stonechat was noticeably different to the one I saw the weekend before. The light could easily change the colour of this and although pale in its overall appearance the underparts were strikingly bright and the rump cleanly unmarked but again peachier in colour. It has since been suggested this bird may be of the form 'stejnegeri', and shortly after trapped and ringed so I'm sure its not the end we'll hear of this bird...
The final few days of the month were spent in Worcestershire with Emma and her family for their annual autumnal holiday.  I took a few detours enroute to take in the drake Lesser Scaup in Villice Bay, Chew Valley Lake and Long-billed Dowitcher at Slimbridge WWT which were nice. We also discovered something else sharing the house with us:


  1. Lucky B*****d with the Swainson's!! lol

  2. We DNA'd the Culverwell Sibe Stonechat and it was stejnegeri.

  3. Thanks Martin; it was great to hear the DNA results confirmed it as a stejnegeri. Well done. I almost didn't get the chance to see it as I was there doing uni work but had to be back in Southampton early for work. Luckily it just popped up next to me in an adjacent field as I walked back down from the Daurian Shrike!

    It is even more remarkable to hear that this bird is likely to be the same that was in the Netherlands just a day prior to the Portland bird appearing! Incredible stuff!