Thursday, 15 December 2016

Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire - 5th December 2016

More twitching, and this time for a fabulous female Dusky Thrush in Beeley, near Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire. It was found on Sunday 4th by Beeley resident Rachel Jones, though she wasn't aware of the bird's ID at the time - you can read her finder's report here.

 Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire - 5th December 2016

Late that same night the ID was confirmed and access was arranged, and the following day the bird was seen and reported again in the village. Twitch on! Except, not for me. I was at work and had a stack of stuff to complete before the Christmas break. But, as the morning wore on, and I remembered my frustration at not being able to go and see the last (and only other twitchable) Dusky Thrush in Kent, May 2013, and couldn't focus on work that well. My boss, understanding as ever, let me take the afternoon off, and I was on site by 13:30.

The village was full of cars, although most of the birders were obviously hdden behind wall somewhere, as I couldn't see many. The bird was around the feilds and orchard near Dukes Barn, and just as I arrived a group of three birders ran in from stage left breathlessly saying "it's heading this way". And all of a sudden the bird was there, in a tree in the orchard in front of us, soon dropping into the grass. Pretty lucky on my part, having avoided a long wait, and being at the front when a approximately 150 birders rushed around the corner to join us!

 Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire - 5th December 2016

The bird fed in the long grass for a round five minutes, seemingly oblivious to the noisy work on the roof of the nearby building. It then flew up and over our heads, out of view.

After taking a coffee from the great Dukes Barn staff, I got some prolonged views of the bird from the adventure playground. It seemed to be trying keep a low profile, so as to avoid winding up the Blackbirds, while going after the same food as them (apples, haws, and worms and other inverts). The Blackbirds clearly didn't appreciate the competition, and the Dusky Thrush had to fight off a couple of attacks. The Redwings kept out of the orchard, preferring to stay in the treetops bordering the nearby fields.

The Dusky Thrush was smaller than the Blackbirds, more like a Song Thrush or Redwing in size and plumage, though perhaps a shade bigger than either of those. The striking aspects of the plumage were the thick supercilium, which widened behind the eye (unlike a Redwing), and the distinctive patterns of the throat, belly and flanks. The underparts had a background colour of an off-white grey, including the think feathering around the tops of the legs The throat was pale, bordered by dark malar stripes and a mottled ring across the upper breast. The belly and flanks had a wonderfully characteristic chessboard pattern.

Solid brown ear coverts, and the same colour on the mantle, though with some streaking. The flight feathers had rusty orange-brown fringes. There appeared to be a pale patch between the wings, and the tail was long and dark on both upper and undersides. The bill was mostly dark, with an orangey base. The legs were dark too.

 Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire - 5th December 2016

 Dusky Thrush notes - 5th December 2016

Credit must go to the staff at Dukes Barn, who were generous with their time and assistance on the day (and throughout the week by all accounts). They even rustled up some food for me when I popped in to say thanks for the twitch and ask about places nearby to get some grub. They got an extra tenner from me for that. After looking at the services they provide, I donated some more online - please consider donating via their page here: Support Dukes Barn.

Seeing this bird obviously made up for missing the last one, with the bonus of it being so much closer to home, and so obliging. I genuinely believed I would never have a another chance to see a Dusky Thrush in the UK after failing to go for the Kent bird. It's been a good year for that sort of thing. I've "gripped back" some great birds this year that I had twitched and dipped previously and had regretted ever since: BrĂ¼nnich's Guillemot, Great Knot, and the less rare Booted Warbler.

Later the same week, on Sunday 11th, I had a couple of hours at Rodley NR. A quiet morning, but some good views of a male Kingfisher at the dipping pond and then later at the reedbed hide. I counted 85+ Redwing flying over in three groups while I was there, though I reckon there were probably hundreds more. I had a fantastic close encounter with a female Sparrowhawk as it flew on to the Poplar Carr fence right beside where I was stood. A single Red Kite was over Barmley Falls Wood, being mobbed by Jackdaws and performing some wacky manoeuvres. A lovely male Pochard on the lagoon, a smart pair of Goosander on the river, and a couple of adult Herring Gulls on the farmer's field.

 Kingfisher, Rodley NR, West Yorkshire - 11th December 2016

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Pied Wheatear, Redcar, Cleveland - Sunday 30th October 2016

Another great bird from earlier in the autumn, and on the same morning I saw the great Eastern Black Redstart at Skinningrove.

This Pied Wheatear had been reported late the previous day, initially as a Black-eared Wheatear. I'd headed to Skinningrove for the Black Redstart first, and wasn't aware the Pied Wheatear was still present just along the coast at Redcar, until I'd got a signal when back on top of the hill. As this bird was a lifer for me, I was pretty happy!

 Pied Wheatear, Redcar, Cleveland - 30th October 2016

The bird put on a great show, fly-catching from a perch at the back of the cinema on the beach, and occasionally landing on the beach.

The bird, a male, had a lovely pale buff breast and belly, and a grey-brown mantle. There was a cold paleness to the plumage, with a strong contrast to the upper and under parts. The back had a feint mottling, and there was a nice contrast to the back the  covert feathers and their white edges. As always with wheatears, the tail pattern was really informative: predominantly white, with a thin and variable black distal band and strong central column (forming the inverted T), but also black extending halfway up the upper tail feathers.

 Pied Wheatear, Redcar, Cleveland - 30th October 2016

Some photos and video below, showing the bird and the setting...

 Pied Wheatear, Redcar, Cleveland - 30th October 2016

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Eastern Black Redstart, Skinningrove, Cleveland - Sunday 30th October 2016

Eastern Black Redstart, Skinningrove, Cleveland- 30th October 2016

A few photos of the fabulous Eastern Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros phoenicuroides) from Skinningrove in Cleveland a few weeks ago. Yes, still catching up on the photos and blogs for some recent outings, and this bird is too good to leave out.

It was feeding among the rocks on the northern side of the jetty, occasionally disappearing behind the boulders for a 10 minutes at a time. An, active, bright, beautiful bird, almost constantly on the move. When stood still it wobbled its tail in classic Redstart style. It was frequently harassed by the Robins. but always returned to the same area. As I write (30th November 2016), it's still present at Skinningrove. Photos and video below...

Eastern Black Redstart, Skinningrove, Cleveland- 30th October 2016

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Siberian Accentor, Easington, East Yorkshire - Friday 14th October 2016

I've fallen behind on my blogging in the past month. I've been busy (birding, as well as working, living, etc), but still wanted to share this particular bird with you, even though it was over a month ago when I saw it. One of the already legendary Siberian Accentors of 2016...

Siberian Accentor, Easington, East Yorkshire - Friday 14th October 2016

You may have heard about the Siberian Accentor invasion this autumn; it's become the stuff of memes and t-shirts...

There were 32 records in Europe before this autumn, and none anywhere near the UK. But, the strong easterlies thought out late September and early October started to push Siberian birds this way, and Siberian Accentors started appearing in Scandinavia... Then one was found on 9th October on Shetland (where else?), and a big twitch was on. It only stayed two days, and no one knew for sure if that would be it. Until this one was found by Lance Degnan, next to a yellow skip on hard standing, by the gas terminal. That was on Thursday afternoon around 3pm, and I immediately started packing up to leave work, only to realise I had family commitments that evening. Sob. So, a dawn raid was on the cards...

I arrived well before dawn in Easington, around 06:10, and the place was already heaving with birders. Hundreds and hundreds, huddled under a street light on Vicars Lane. Despite this I managed to get a a decent spot at the front (all those years getting through crowds at gigs, eh?!), and we waited... Someone a few metres over to the left called out, and within a blink of a eye there was chaos, more like a mosh pit than a twitch!

And yes, there it was! In the half-light, picking around the moss on the old tarmac was a the little sprite. After things had settled down, and a queuing system was imposed by the great team from Spurn Bird Observatory, we all got great views.

Siberian Accentor, Easington, East Yorkshire - Friday 14th October 2016

Very slightly smaller than a Dunnock, with a Zorro-like mask over a yellow head, a patterned mantle in black, chestnut and white, and with a suggestion of rufous tinge to the breast,  it looked like a Dunnock in Cirl Bunting fancy dress. It didn't seem as wary as the Dunnocks, and didn't fly off like them when a pigeon flew low over - preferring to hunker down. It came ridiculously close too, but unfortunately the light meant my photos were a little dark.

Hedge Accentor and Siberian Accentor, Easington, East Yorkshire
Friday 14th October 2016

Before long I had to set off on the two-hour trip to work, but in great spirits! It had been a great twitch - one that will be talked about for years. Lee Evans estimated there were 1400 birder there that day, and for once I wouldn't quibble with his figures. Quite an experience...

Friday, 28 October 2016

Take care, my friend

Birder, photographer, and good friend, Chris Morgan died suddenly in late September. It was a shock, not least because the last time I saw Chris (birding Norfolk earlier this year) he was in fine form - healthier than at any point I'd known him. He died from a heart attack while at home.

Although I'd only known Chris for just over five years, I've spent many, many days birding with him. We birded together all over the UK on several trips, many of which I've described on this blog: Spurn and Flamborough, Norfolk several times, Shetland 2014 and 2015, all over the place. He was a barrel of laughs and great company - a true character with a massive sense of humour. It became clear at Chris's funeral in Norwich that everyone who knew him felt the same. The service was punctuated with laughter as people remembered his jokes and puns, and his cheery farewell of "Take care, my friend".

 Chris in Sheringham, Norfolk - 23rd January 2016

On Chris's 60th birthday at Quendale, Shetland - 2nd October 2016 

After paying my respects to Chris's family, I decided to stay in Norfolk on Friday 7th and Saturday 8th to do some birding before heading to Spurn for Sunday 9th - something I sure Chris would have appreciated.

I got to Titchwell by mid afternoon, getting great views of a Red-breasted Flycatcher in the tress near the car park. There was one of the many this autumn's UK Yellow-browed Warblers with Goldcrests behind the visitor centre. A couple of Brambling too.

Out on the fresh marsh were good numbers of Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit, and close in was this brilliant showy Pectoral Sandpiper.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

On the (brackish) Volunteer marsh were some very confiding birds, including Grey Plover, lots of Oystercatcher, and these three Curlew Sandpiper with a Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and Little Egret.

Curlew Sandpiper, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

Black-tailed Godwit, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

Little Egret, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

The beach was quiet and mild, with the tide out. I wandered down to the shore, followed closely by a Black-headed Gull. Loads of Dark-bellied Brent Geese in the water.

Brent Geese, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

Black-headed Gull, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

"Take care, my friend", Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

I saw three Marsh Harrier going to roost as darkness fell as I headed back inland. A beautiful evening for reflection.

I have to say, I wasted wasted the following day unsuccessfully twitching a Radde's Warbler at Holkham. At least I had the opportunity to see a few more Yellow-browed Warblers, brush up on my warbler calls, and compare the (often not-so-subtle) variations in Chiffchaff plumage. I also had the opportunity to twicth (again, unsuccessfully) a Black-browed Albatross. It had been seen in the mid afternoon at Scolt Head Island, then Titchwell, so I (and several others) dashed to Hunstanton cliffs to scan the sea from the wind farm to deep into the Wash for the last two hours of daylight. No luck, but I felt I was getting closer to this most-wanted of birds.

I arrived at Spurn around 09:30 on Sunday 9th, having had a lie-in after lots of night-time driving. A Rustic Bunting had been seen in Church Field at 08:00 (for it's third day I think), so I headed there first. There were loads of Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs in the scrub, and the trees were filled with Redwing and Blackbird, with the occasional Brambling with the Greenfinch and Goldfinch flocks. The ringers were busy, particularly with Redwings and Goldcrests...

Goldcrest, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016
 Redwing, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016

The Rustic Bunting didn't show again, but I enjoyed me tine spent watching these migrants going about their feeding, with the Goldcrests giving very close views.

Goldcrest, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016

A female Sparrowhawk tried unsuccessfully to catch a meal around the Heligoland trap and I decided to go birding around the Triangle. The weather was lovely, just as it had been for most of the weekend.

Looking towards the Humber, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016

There was a Yellow-browed Warbler in the Crown and Anchor car park, a Common Redstart on the path and many more Redwing with a few Fieldfare and Brambling along the Canal Zone. I flushed a couple of Roe Deer from the bank and they ran out across the mudflats towards Sammy's Point.

 Roe Deer, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016

The protests against the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust continue - quite rightly in my opinion. I really don't see why the YWT can't repurpose the existing the buildings at the Blue Bell and extend the car park there. I've again lodged my opposition with East Riding Council.

 The site of the old YWT information centre at the Warren

Protests again YWT at the car park by the Blue Bell

I'd been hearing about an Olive-backed Pipit at Easington gas terminal throughout the day, and decided to pop in there before heading for home. I'm very glad I did! What a superb bird - the best I'd ever seen this species (and probably ever will).

 Olive-backed Pipit, Easington, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016

Before starting for home, I took some film of the wind turbines in the late afternoon sun (probably for use in my band's video). I never get tired of this area.

Wind farm, Easington, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016