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.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Arctic and Radde's Warbler at Donna Nook

With a depressing dip the previous day (which I don't care to go into anymore details about) myself and Steff decided to drive back in the direction of 'home' but via Donna Nook in Lincolnshire where the target was an Arctic Warbler. It was a bird that I had targeted to see this Autumn and one that was quickly slipping away as October progressed. With news coming out early of the bird showing well for it's second day, we drove up! We arrived for lunchtime and it didn't take long to locate the group of birders revealing it's exact location.
The bird showed really well on a gorgeous day weather-wise and this allowed for a couple of nice record shots showing the bird in all it's glory!
Evident, was it's nice thin long yellowish supercilium and it's small single white wingbar, although if you look very closely, there was a very subtle hint of a second above the main one. It seemed very active and very happy catching insects within the Hawthorns.
With the day wearing thin, we decided to go for a walk further North up the path where we jammed into a superb little Radde's Warbler briefly showing in the Buckthorn. Always nice to be at the forefront of a twitch as we watched people running up leaving the Arctic Warbler to some peace.
Record shot of the Radde's Warbler

Steppe Grey completes a rare Autumn hatrick!

It's certainly been a good Autumn season for shrikes: kicking off on 7th September with a Lesser Grey Shrike, followed by an unexpected 3rd for Britain in form of a Masked Shrike on 20th September and finishing off up to date with a lovely Steppe Grey Shrike 11th October.
There seems to be quite a bit of confusion with where a Steppe Grey Shrike fits in with taxonomy so I'll try and simplify it as best as I can! Steppe Grey Shrike is a race/form of Southern Grey Shrike and is up for being split from the many races that range across Europe and Asia. It is also the only form of Southern Grey Shrike that has turned up in the UK of which there has been 24 accepted British records up to now!
Driving down on a quiet and clear Friday night is always pushing it when you're going for a bird but I had faith that it would stay as it seemed settled and in all honesty, why would it need to go when you're being fed a constant supply of mealworms? On arrival, the bird was showing up to 25 metres away and within the next hour it came closer and more active as the morning began to warm up a little.
The first winter bird continued to give good views and showed well to the many who came to visit it.
It's been nice to see all similar species in the last few weeks and in doing so; compare and contrast Great, Lesser and Steppe Grey Shrike.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Grey Phalarope, Morfa Madrhyn

After dipping this bird last week, I returned to the site of Morfa Madryn (which is however, ridiculously under-watched) and after 10 minutes of looking located the bird nearby the concrete outflow. The bird was very approachable and it did what Phalaropes are best known for... spinning around and feeding up.
Grey Phalarope
The Grey Phalarope has been present at the site now for 10 days and seems to have settled in temporary before it moves on and out to sea for the winter in a warmer climate.
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