Sunday 23 October 2011

The only way…

…is birding (in Essex). Thankfully, I didn’t go down to Cornwall where I would’ve dipped a Scarlet Tanager.

Too tired to write anything meaningful, but suffice to say I enjoyed a leisurely day out around Essex – there was even time for beer! Spent all morning working The Naze – so much great habitat – then Abberton and North Fambridge this afternoon. Sounds like we probably missed the big egret coming in ‘the wrong way’ tonight, but not to worry: the sunset was worth it on its own.


Tuesday 18 October 2011

Slavonian Raptorcy

I have no idea how I’ve missed it for the six weeks since it was first posted, but (thanks to a link from Pete Moore’s blog) I’ve finally stumbled across this latest comedy offering from Gyr Crakes. It’s pretty cleverly done, and had me laughing out loud (to the bafflement of my wife). Absolutely superb… especially considering the backdrop of bitching, moaning and pseudo-politics going on elsewhere in birding on the net.

So no apologies for reposting this video if you’ve already seen it elsewhere: it’s a reminder that birding is supposed to be fun, for goodness sake!

PS: Challenge: can you write out the lyrics to this version?

Sunday 16 October 2011

A very happy birthday!

Plenty of great birds today in glorious weather, and opportunities to say hello to a number of friends!

Jono and I started off at Thorpeness in Suffolk – it’s a good site for gauging what’s on the move early morning, has turned up numerous good birds recently, and offered options to move north or south up the coast. Plenty of finches were on the move, including c15 Redpolls and a few Siskin and Brambling. In the bushes, a few Blackcaps darted about in and around berry bushes but a vocal Yellow-browed Warbler refused to show more than briefly.

Shortly after leaving here, I received news of a Booted or Sykes’s Warbler at Landguard, no more than half an hour away. JL needed Booted, while I would still like to see Sykes’s properly after awful views of the skulking Channerwick bird before the ID had been clinched last year… so, a win-win situation! On arrival, the bird was showing superbly well…


The bird has swung to and fro throughout the day between probable and definite Booted. I’m far from expert, but still reckon it’s the latter, because:

  • there’s a lot of contrast in the tertials
  • the bill doesn’t look long enough to me - I’m also pretty certain it has a faint dark tip to the lower mandible (though this was hard to discern in the field, and Sykes’s can show it anyway, I believe)
  • the primary projection doesn’t look particularly short, nor the tail particularly long – the bird generally felt quite well proportioned to me
  • the head pattern also favours Booted in my view – super clearly extends back behind the eye
  • and finally, it always felt rather warm toned, albeit in strong sunshine – my sense is that Sykes’s tends to be rather greyer, colder toned on the mantle

Couple of relevant links and pics – check out tertials in particular:

There – I’ve nailed my colours to the mast, though would be interested to hear what others reckon. If I’ve screwed it up, then I’ve learned something along the way!

Our next move to East Mersea took in two rather less difficult birds to identify. A Glossy Ibis, noted for their incessant spinning while feeding:


…and a Grey Phalarope, with an abnormally long bill, I thought:


Excellent. Though for one twitcher, the other birds in the area were simply too much to resist, and he departed somewhat hastily after no more than 3 or 4 minutes on site:


Blimey, we thought… something must be good! Well, certainly not good enough to persuade me to run (and besides, in my fourth decade on the planet, I may not physically be able to any more, who knows?), but still very very nice: a Pallas’s Warbler at Bradwell. We turned up to find no-one really looking for the bird, let alone at it, but happily in a stroke of sheer brilliance birthday luck I found it (or it found me) within the first couple of minutes, and we enjoyed great views as it fed in small trees. Awesome birds, absolutely tiny, and so smart in a very stripy sort of way. I make it my sixth in the UK, only the second I’ve heard to call (a soft upslurred ‘boiiing’, like a distant quiz show buzzer) and the earliest date yet. Take that: stats, done.


Finally, we played the game of chance that is the Dartford Crossing on a Sunday night, and won! Our prize came in the form of the stunning adult Isabelline Shrike at Cliffe. Unfortunately, this wasn’t particularly close, but in still and crisp conditions, views were superb at 60x. “Always go and see shrikes”, said my chauffeur. In fact, said my chauffeur at least a dozen times while I was extolling the virtues of small stripy phylloscs in remote locations…

Anyway, thanks to all the folk who’ve wished me Happy Birthday or just said hello today – I apologise to anyone who expected a Rob Martin-esque find somewhere along the coast, but that’s setting the bar a bit high!

Saturday 15 October 2011

The last bird of my twenties…


‘Just’ another bluetail… my fifth in the UK. (Pleasantly surprised by the pic, given it was 1/50 at ISO 2500!)

Tomorrow, a new decade of birding begins – hoping for something good to kick it off!

Thursday 6 October 2011

Final day on Shetland – going out on a high!

[I’d hoped to post this a bit earlier on this week… but better late than never!]

We crammed rather a lot into the last half day on Shetland, before returning home to London on Sunday afternoon. The highlight was clearly a superb Isabelline Shrike (or Daurian, if you like), which Howard found as I was driving slowly through Levenwick this morning hunting for somewhere to park the car and start looking!


The following timeline summarises the rest of the morning, and hopefully illustrates how good the birding can be on Shetland when ‘it’s happening’…

0720: everyone’s all packed up, and we’ve departed the excellent accommodation at the Old Decca (see

0735: arrive Fladdabister – bit of speculative wandering around, then moved down towards Ocraquoy where yesterday’s Red-breasted Fly appeared to have been replace by our second Pied Fly of the trip. Already lovely warm sunshine, and no wind whatsoever. Heaps of Redwings still around, suggesting it’s a good day to be out searching!

0815: driving just south of Cunningsburgh when the Alpine Swift comes on the pager again from nearby: we stop for a quick look back up the coast, but get distracted by awesome scenery and heaps of Harbour Porpoise surfacing in flat calm water – somewhere between 50 and 100 animals involved.

0830: stop at Channerwick for a look round – find at least six, and possibly seven Yellow-browed Warblers feeding around the single sycamore of happiness, plus two Dunnock, the first for the week! Exciting times…

0920: heading for Levenwick, to check gardens, crops, irises, the quarry… only question is where to start, where to park the car

0925: driving along slowly, Howard calls out for me to stop: “That looked like a shrike!” He jumps out, relocates the bird on a garden wall: “Looked really pale”… and as it turns round “It’s an Isabelline!” – happy days! I reassemble the scope and tripod from the suitcase, put the news out, and after a bare minute viewing, the bird sets off on a series of flights southwards, with us in pursuit. Fortunately it settled down near the Southpunds junction, and a crowd of about 30-40 birders builds up to admire it.

Here’s some video, taken by Hugh Harrop:

1015: With the shrike showing more distantly, and conditions still looking excellent for more birds, we make a relatively swift departure, heading down for the area that’s felt most ‘birdy’ through the trip: Brake, Hillwell and Quendale.

1030: arrive Brake, get out of car

1032: Pager alerts to Citrine Wagtail just down the road at Quendale - excellent!

1035: Shortest twitch in history, move the car about quarter of a mile, and start admiring the wagtail! Say hello to newly arrived London birders Vince & Dick.

Citrine Wagtail

1050: wander back through Brake, casually note the Pallid Harrier flying past and a Whinchat, but probably pay more attention to 3 smart Siskin on the wires – further new arrivals.

1130 – 1300: head on down to Sumburgh, check out the quarries, drystone walls and nettles around the farm, the hotel garden, the gardens at Grutness and various bits and bobs in between… but despite considerable optimism, nothing else notable before we leave.

1300: into the airport, and spend a nervous afternoon hoping we don’t get a mega alert from the islands we’ve just left!

Great views of Virkie, Sumburgh and Scatness as we took off, though:

Saturday 1 October 2011

More quality on our last full day

There was clearly an arrival of new migrants on Shetland today, with Redwing in particular streaming in in decent numbers. Our day included at least half a dozen Yellow-browed Warblers, a juv Red-backed Shrike, a superb Olive-backed Pipit on the roadside verge at Brake (while two Pallid Harriers remained nearby), and awesome views of the Alpine Swift at Cunningsburgh. At one point it switched from feeding in big loops relatively low over a hillside to heading out high above the harbour… at which point we realised it was being actively pursued by a Merlin! Fortunately the swift was sufficiently quick and agile to avoid becoming lunch!