Sunday, 19 December 2010

Northern Harrier, Thornham

After having a wasted journey into London yesterday for the cancelled Arsenal v Stoke game, I hoped to have a slightly less wasteful day today by heading up to Thornham Marsh and try to get some better views of the Northern Harrier that has been hanging around in Norfolk since October. Mark Golley and I saw the bird a few weekends ago at Stiffkey, but the views weren't great and I wanted to see the bird a bit better. After standing around in temperatures well below zero the bird appeared and promptly dumped itself onto the side of a water channel, where it sat in the open for about half-an-hour giving really nice views. After this the bird got up and spent some time hunting around the harbour, west towards Holme and then headed off towards Titchwell (from where I saw it again later). There were two other ringtail Hen Harriers around too, giving a good comparison to the much darker, rufous Northern Harrier.

Most of Titchwell was frozen over, but there were 3 Water Pipits showing well from the shiny new Parinder Hide on the Saltmarsh and 15 Twite flew over calling. There were a few hundred Common Scoter on the sea, but there was a bit of a swell so it was really hard to look through them for anything more interesting.
Finally, on the way back to the reserve visitors centre, there were a couple of Water Rails showing quite well  in the ditches near the feeders.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Glossy Ibis, Welney

I spent the first half of today on the Norfolk/Cambs border watching a Glossy Ibis near Welney. The bird was feeding at the far end of the cow field when I arrived, but no sooner had I put up my scope, the bird took off and flew to the roadside pool, just down the road from the cow pens where I was watching. I jumped back into my car and spent the next 90 minutes photographing the bird from the car. By the end of my visit, the bird was very comfortable with my presence, not bothering about me getting out and moving around by my car (although it did become very alert when newcomers arrived at the site and tried to get closer to the bird).
Here are the pick of the bunch, click on a photo for a larger image...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

St. Agnes

Spent the day on St. Agnes today, which relieved the relative (for Scilly) boredom of slogging around St. Mary's and seeing very little. Mark and I headed straight for Gugh once we left the boat. The sandbar separating the island of St. Agnes from Gugh was just starting to become uncovered, so I did a bit of paddling and scampered across to be first on the islet. There were quite a few birds around the plantation, including my first 2 Fieldfares of the autumn. Ring Ouzel, Redstart, Black Redstart, Pied Flycatcher and a few Wheatears were also a nice supporting cast. Mark got onto a Wryneck, twice, but a never managed to see it and I couldn't really be arsed to hang around and wait for it to come back out, so we headed off to St. Agnes for some lunch at Covean Tearooms. My first cream-tea of the trip was greatly appreciated and I even helped Mark finish off his, as he also had the mushroom soup (5/5 Mark gave it) and couldn't just manage the rest of his cream-tea. Well, that's what mates are for, eh.
It was really nice to bump into Graham Gordon on Gugh, a friend that I first met when I was in the RAF in Norfolk and he was at the UEA, and whom I subsequently spent a lot of time with at Cape May in New Jersey. Graham now lives on St. Agnes and he spent the rest of the afternoon taking us around fields and hedgerows that were off-limits to most visiting birders. Firecrest, Ring Ouzel, Garden Warblers and lots of finches were our reward.
All-in-all a nice day, with lovely sunny weather (shorts and t-shirts weather really). At least when there are now birds on Scilly it's still really enjoyable to walk round.

Reed Warbler


Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Double wheatear combo

Most birders are no strangers to seeing the phrase "Black-eared or Pied Wheatear at..", for a bird that hasn't yet been identified from this difficult to ID species pair, but it's not often (ever?) that you actually get to see both Black-eared Wheatear and Pied Wheatear in the same place! This was the case on St. Mary's today when a Pied Wheatear was (finally!) identified on the golf course to join the Western Black-eared Wheatear that has been present on the island for the past 4 days.
Mark and I saw a few nice birds on the island today on our walkabout. A Jack Snipe and an obliging Common Snipe on Lower Moors, a few Ring Ouzel dotted around the island, 2 Common Crossbills flying over the island and a rather grey Willow Warbler by the Rat Pond.
Pity the England football team couldn't make my evening as enjoyable as my afternoon.

Jack Snipe, Lower Moors

Common Snipe, Lower Moores

Common Snipe, Lower Moores

'Eastern' Willow Warlber, Rat Pond

Pied Wheatear, 1st winter male, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly (HD video below)

Part 2

Pied Wheatear, 1st winter male St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly

Western Black-eared Wheatear, 1st winter female, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly

Monday, 11 October 2010

Racist Robins


Now, most people think of Robins as nice cheeky little birds that hang around on spade handles in back gardens and make their living from their annual appearance fee on Christmas cards, but what isn't widely known is that Robins are really racist. I've witnessed this first-hand over the past few days. Scilly has a healthy population of resident Robins, but currently is being hit by a wave of Eastern European migrants. All these poor, tired migrants want to do is to spend a bit of time to rest and recover from their long trip, feed up and be back on their way, migrating south in a couple of days. But NO! Those nasty resident racist Robins don't like it. I had a taste of this a few weeks ago when I was birding on the Norfolk coast during a good easterly wind and I've seen it time after time, day after day since I arrived on Scilly – migrant Robins being mercilessly harangued, harassed and pursed by resident Robins. I don't know what their problem is. Perhaps they think the migrant Robins are going to steel their Christmas card appearance fees, perhaps by appearing for less than the resident Robins charge, or perhaps the resident Robins have some unfounded distrust of migrant Robins, thinking that they will rape and pillage their beautiful and fair land, but whatever the case, the resident Robins just won't leave the migrant Robins alone. I'm sure the resident Robins vote for RNP (Robin National Party) or at least UKRIP (United Kingdom Robin Independence Party).
Rant over.

Today was a bit slow on The Scillies with no new rarities turning up. A couple of Lapland Buntings on the golf course were nice along with a Red-breasted Flycatcher in Holy Vale and 2 Little Buntings at Carn Friars again. Other 'filler' species such as Ring Ouzel, Pied and Spotted Fly, Yellow Wagtail and Firecrest made the day acceptable. Probably the biggest highlight of the day was the Apple Strudel and vanilla ice-cream at the Countryhouse CafĂ© for lunch – yum!

Photos, from top to bottome: Yellow Wagtail, Little Bunting, Lapland Bunting (2), Small Copper butterfly, Red-breasted Flycatcher (2)

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Lark-ing about

So, apparently, we don't identify falcons on the Scillies anymore. No, instead we have 'large falcon', 'dark falcon' and 'large-dark falcon'. Heavens forbid if anyone who saw a falcon on the Scillies would actually identify it!
OK, gripe over, on to what we found/saw/identified today….
After a solid nights sleep (I'd only had 30 minutes, max, the night before), Mark and I headed out into the field at 8.30, with the plan to meander up to the airfield, see the rare waders up there and then head up to the north of the island, trying to avoid any large party of dudes. As the school was closed (Sunday) we headed down into the playground and looked around the wood areas around the school. Common Redstart, Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were all present, making us hopeful that there would be more of the same over the island. Old Town Churchyard was devoid of any life (well, it is a cemetery after all!) so we headed up to the airfield. When we got there, the first bird we saw was a Whinchat, and then we realised there was a nice big flock of Meadow Pipits making use of the lack of Sunday flights and feeding on the airfields short grass. About 100 birds were feeding on the southern slope and we slowly made our way through them to see if we could find anything interesting (a Red-throated Pipit had been reported earlier). Although nothing other than Mipits could be found, I noticed a small pale bird feeding with the Mipits. It was barely bigger than a Mipit and was dwarfed by a nearby Wheatear. It then turned round to face side-on and it was then that I realised that the bird was actually a lark! The penny dropped – Short-toed Lark! Mark got onto the bird and agreed and we watched the bird for a few minutes feeding with the Meadow Pipits until it was flushed by a dog walker and flew north over the airfield. It was seen again later in the morning, but disappeared after midday, but was possibly seen by Ian Lewington on Tresco at 2pm. The American Golden Plover and Buff-breasted Sandpiper also put in an appearance, but only in flight before touching down out of sight near the airport buildings.
We spent the rest of the day in the north of the island, seeing some nice migrants such as Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Firecrests and a smattering of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs. We finished the day at Carn Friars where we met Ian Lewington and watched 2 Little Buntings and a few Yellow Wagtails feeding quite close.
So a nice haul of birds for the day and with 5 Mega Alerts for birds in other places in the UK from both sides of the globe, we hopeful of an even better day tomorrow.
Prediction: Red-eyed Vireo (and more dark falcon sightings of course)

Little Bunting, Carn Friars, St. Mary's.