Sunday 9 November 2014

If you do not like Desert Wheatears, look away now

Go see a Desert Wheatear down to 20 feet or spend  5 hrs in the car to tick a roosting gull (Franklins) - no choice really. Desert Wheatear smart, Gull boring. Hawky and I waited on news before heading to Reculver, Kent to pap the smart showy bird.  

The wheatear (my 3rd in the UK) showed fantastically well as you will see below. I have to warn you there is Desert Wheatear overload below, so be warned. It was a shame it was overcast and dull but you can't have everything.


Not a Desert Wheatear phhoto - Shore Lark 

Friday 24 October 2014

Shetland 2014 round up

Shetland 2014 certainly was a trip to remember. Many of the cracking birds we saw and found have been detailed in previous posts, but there were plenty more birds and episodes that took place that'll be remembered:

  • The evening Lanceolated Warbler twitch at Quendale
  • Finding a Long Eared Owl at Sumburgh Farm
  • Finding an Olive Backed Pipit at Wester Quarff
  • Little Bunting-gate in the lighthouse garden - was it or wasn't it, the jury is still out
  • RB Fly at Toab
  • The cracking Pallid Harrier
  • Black Redstart, Brambling, Ring Ouzel, Twite, Yellow Browed Warbler, Jack Snipe all in and around the lighthouse garden (where we stayed)
  • Tony leaving his rucksack containing his camera, passport, drivers license and wallet on a bench at Sumburgh hotel and realising over 2 hours later it was gone! It was still there when we got back - it is Shetland not London!
  • Tony then hilariously falling over in pure comedy style, then again realising an hour later he'd lost his phone and walkie-talkie in the process and having to go back again to find then sitting in the long grass where they had fallen out
  • Great Grey Shrike at Virkie
  • Northern Bullfinch at Geosetter (that I missed - grrr)
  • Horny Redpoll for the 3rd Shetland trip running
  • Thrashing our birding buddies Andy Lawson, Gary Bagnell, James Hanlon and George Kinnard on the listing challenge - they cried foul play, we cried "Losers!" - lol - it was just a bit of fun
  • All in all it was probably my favourite Shetland trip to date, and don't get me wrong the previous ones were great, but we had such a laugh, saw some great birds and of course who can forget the Siberian Rubythroat! I am already looking forward to next year's trip. 

The Long Eared Owl we found at Sunburgh Farm - pic by Hawky 

Photo: Lanceolated Warbler, Quendale, Mainland
The Lancy showed well the next day, we saw it the previous evening 
 picture by the bird's finder Chris Griffin, great find by a really nice bloke

Pied Flycatcher at Geosetter

 Blurry Little Bunting at Boddam

 Pole Cat at Geosetter

Great Grey Shrike at Virkie 


Monday 20 October 2014

Eastern Bonelli's Warble -a MEGA way to end our 2014 Shetland trip

When news broke of a Western Bonelli's Warbler at Scalloway on day 6 of 7 of our holiday, we immediately set off knowing assuming someone had heard it call and therefore had nailed it as a Western; a good bird but nowhere near as rare as its Eastern cousin.

As is quite often we arrived in a residential area to be told it hadn't been seen for quite a while and was very elusive. We gave it around 2 hours with no further sign before we decided to head off and twitch a couple of near by Olive Backed Pipits.

OBPs in the bag and with an hour and a half day light to play with, we headed back to Scalloway, where on arrival we had been told by Baggers, Andy and crew, that it had been seen well just 10 minutes earlier. After another 30 minutes if searching we had a brief flight view as it appeared in front of us flying across the road from tree top to tree top. Still no one to our knowledge had heard it call and still it was being put out as a Western BW. And that was that for that evening.

That night many of the birders on Shetland met for a curry in Lerwick and there were a few people sceptical that the bird was a Western, given the winds of late.

The flollwing morning with just 4 hours to play with before we headed home, we found ourselves back at Scalloway, via a Little Bunting and a group self found OBP (yay!) at Wester Quarff.

On route we checked birdguides to read that it had been reported that the bird was now believed to be the rare (4 previous British records) Eastern Bonelli's Warbler. Based on what we did not know. We desperately needed it to call, and be heard by a few people.

On site again it played hard to get, but after an hour or so it eventually gave it self up. Initially skulking up in the canopy but in the end providing pretty decent views. By the time we left we had not heard it call, but with it now being reported as an Eastern all of Shetland's resident birders were on site, and by the time we got to the airport, it had been MEGAd, Boom! It had called and the ight people were there to hear it. A great way to end to the trip.  
Playing hard to get a first

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Brambling, a Shetland beauty

There were hundreds of these smart birds on Shetland, including some very large flocks. We never tired of seeing them.  

Olive Backed Pipit, Shetland

Two of the three Olive Backed Pipits seen last week, the first bird below was one of two together at Lower Voe (Voe, Voe Voe - private joke).

The third bird was something special as our group found it whilst stomping around an overgrown field at Wester Quarff, looking for yet another Little Bunting. 

Long Eared Owl, Virkie Willows, Shetland

A Long Eared Owl down to 15 feet. It doesn't get much better than that. This was one of two seen during our week on Shetland.

Yellow Browed Warbler, Shetland

We saw plenty of these lovely small warblers during our stay on Shetland, including this showy individual at Geosetter.

Monday 13 October 2014

Siberian Rubythroat - Shetland 2014 kicks off with a bang!

I am just back from yet another cracking week (4th - 11th Oct)on Shetland. It was my 4th visit and the 3rd in the last 4 years. Shetland really is the place to be in late September, early October, when anything can, and invariably does happen. On this occasion the crew consisted of myself, Paul Hawkins, Tony Brown and Nick Croft.

Tony, Nick, me and Hawky

 I had almost finished packing on Fri 3rd, when I got a text from fellow birder, Lee Brown, which read something like "You lucky b*stard, Siberian Rubythroat, mainland Shetland". I immediately got on-line for more details. Not only was it an adult male, but it was at Levenwick, just 10 minutes from Sumburgh airport.

I went to bed very excited that evening, crossing everything that it would be there the following day. I got virtually no sleep as I had to be up at 2am to go collect Hawky, then meet the other guys and drive to Birmingham for our first flight. Most of the talk on route was about the Rubythroat, all of us hoping it would do the decent thing and stay. Our first flight left on time and we arrived at Aberdeen at 8.05am. Checking Birdguides, there was no news! Surely if it was there it would have been reported. We started to get that sinking feeling. Then 15 mins later, via Twitter, we are informed "Rubythroat still present". "Yes!"

 It was pouring with rain as we took off from Aberdeen, landing around 50 minutes later at Sumburgh, Shetland, in equally wet conditions. Playing it cool, we pick up the hire car and drive to Sumburgh lighthouse, where we are staying for the week.

After changing into our wet weather gear we drop off our bags and head to Levenwick. We arrive to find 30-40 birds surrounding a garden. There's loads of cover and the bird was only being seen for a split second every now and then. The rain continued to fall and wet got wetter, colder and less convinced we would see the bird. 2.5 hours later with no sign of the Rubythroat and soaked to the skin, we had, had enough. Very disappointed we left. Back at Sumburgh lighthouse we unpacked, had a hot drink and as the rain eased headed back out to bird the local area.

As luck would have it by late afternoon it brightened up a bit and we decided to check the walled garden at Grutness, which just a few days earlier had hosted a Yellow Rumped Warbler. As we walked up another birder was already checking the garden and had found 2 Yellow Browed Warblers (the first of many we would see during the week). We chatted, and asked what else he's seen, when he quite nonchalantly said "Oh, I take it you know the Rubythroat has been relocated in another garden". "Whaaaat!". We'd birded our way down to Grutness from the top quarry, so we had no car with us. Luckily Hawky was feeling fit and said he's go get it and off he ran. He was back impressively quickly bearing in mind it was all up hill, and we were zooming the 10 miles up the road for the 2nd time in a few hours.

We arrived to find a big crowd gathered at the end of a hedge lined driveway, and advised it had been showing on and off on the drive way, including just a couple of minutes earlier. The crowds got bigger and bigger as more people arrived, people straining their necks to try and get a view. After a short while a quick glimpse was had as it scuttled across the drive from under one hedge to another. Another 20 minutes passed and no further sign.

The hoard of photographers at the end of the drive

Then from around the corner and birder is waving for us to move to the side of the house where apparently the bird had been giving great views to the few that had been stationed there. Everyone piled round where unsurprisingly, it was no longer showing. The light was now starting to go. It was gone 6pm and I was beginning to worry I wouldn't get a good view of this smart bird. Then out of nowhere, there it is, on a set aside patch of dirt away from the drive away. Its beautiful ruby red throat glowing in the rapidly fading light. 2 minutes later it showed again, under a small Sycamore where is hopped around for a 10 seconds giving almost everyone on site a decent view. Everyone except Nick! Myself, Hawky and Tony couldn't celebrate too much as Nick was still Rubythroat-less, but inside I was jubilant. Fingers crossed it would still be there tomorrow so we could get Nick onto it.

Over the next few days we saw the bird on a number of occasions, including one special session where we were the only 4 birders on site. We stayed in the car and blocked the drive and the bird performed amazingly well showing down to 15-20 feet for decent chunks of time. The only slight downer was that I had left my camera back at the lighthouse, so the cracking pic below is from Tony.

 Boom! The back of Tony's camera!

 Another from Tony

I popped back later and again parked the car across the drive but the bird only showed once and at least twice the distance. Photos aside, what a bird. Probably may favourite bird ever seen in Britain.

The best I could do

Sunday 28 September 2014

Nightjtar, London

Not the greatest photo ever, but great scope views were had of my first ever day light views of a nightjar. I spent most of the weekend up a ladder, painting the outside of the house so a late afternoon jaunt up the road to north London, was a great way to round off busy and until that point, birding-less, weekend.

Monday 22 September 2014

Masked Shrike - Kilnsea, East Yorkshire

So 2014 has produced some pretty special birds, and come the end of the year it'll be tough to decide which was the biggest. One thing is for sure that Britain's 3rd ever Masked Shrike will be up there with the best.

For once I had planned to keep Sunday free for birding and boom, my luck was in, a mega turns up and it's not on an off island and within driving distance for a day trip. Hawky was keen so I set the alarm for silly o clock, packed a few sarnies, and I was on the road by 4.30am.

Two ish hours later Twitter informed us that the bird was still present and it was hard not to begin high fiving, even though we were still around 2 hours away.

On arrival there were birders everywhere. Parking was well organised and we were soon viewing the bird distantly across a field. It seemed pretty settled so we decided to head off and see what else we could find.

A Red Breasted Flycatcher showed well at the side of the road, and one tree in a garden at one point contained all three flycatchers, and a couple of Winchats. Cracking.  

Just 100 yards up the road a Barred Warbler skulked in a road side bush providing the kind of views you usually expect of the species.   

We gave the Olive Backed Pipit in the Canal a go but it was ridiculously elusive only providing views when flushed so we gave that a miss and headed back for more views of the shrike, on route again passing the R B Fly.

This time we were lucky with the shrike. As we arrived in the designated viewing area,the  the bird began making its way down the hedge line in our direction. Closer and closer it came, eventually getting to around 100 feet away. Birders piled in to get a view of a bird they had probably only seen at 3 times that distance earlier. Luckily I had my scope on the bird and a queue of around 20 birders thanked me for letting them get a decent glimpse. 

  Hawky in the thick of it

All in all it was a very enjoyable, if tiring day, with plenty off good birds, with the rare little shrike on the top of the pile.