Wednesday 30 October 2013

Hermit Thrush tales (30 October 2013)

1987.  On 15 October a Hermit Thrush was seen on St Agnes in the morning.  Friends, including Andrew Moon and the late and greatly missed Rupert Hastings, looked in vain in the afternoon but it was not seen again that day.  On that news I decided not to go down to the Scillies, big mistake in hindsight.  The next day it was refound in the bracken behind the Big Pool and most observers on the Scillies saw it although it was suspected that some ticked Wren, Dunnock or Song Thrush!  I drove down to Penzance that night, saw Parula Warbler at Nanquidno and went over on the Scillonian.  Halfway across news got around the boat that the Hermit Thrush was still present on St Agnes although it soon became apparent that this was a misunderstanding.  When we docked on St Mary's we were told it had not been seen.  I went through the motions visiting St Agnes but flattened bracken, Wren, Dunnock and Song Thrush was the closest I got.  To rub salt in the wound the 1987 hurricane had wrecked loads of Sabine's Gulls on the Sussex coast, all of which had gone a couple of days later when I got back.  A Blackpoll Warbler was the only bird of note seen on Scillies.

1993.  On about 12 October a Hermit Thrush was seen briefly by a couple of observers on Tresco but could not be relocated.  On the evening of 15 October (a Friday) it was seen again briefly, but on the other side of the Great Pool.  It didn't seem firm enough to go down for but I did not think it through - there was no transport to the Scillies on Sundays and the Scillonian was on winter timetable and not running on Mondays either.  The bird was seen on Saturday and Sunday but I was reluctant to go down on Sunday night and hope to be able to get on a flight.  I left it, compounding my error as Richard Kemp took a chance and got over on the Monday.  As soon as I heard that the bird was seen on Monday I booked a flight the next day, coming off on the Wednesday.  I drove down overnight, caught the flight and got a boat to Tresco.  There was no news of the bird and I joined another 10 birders looking for it.  After a couple of hours a pager message came through that it was still present.  Panic ensued but no-one knew who was supposed to have seen it.  Five minutes later the pager corrected to negative news and that was as exciting as it got.  On Scillies I saw Upland Sandpiper, American Golden Plover, Bluethroat and Little Auk.  On my last afternoon I walked back over the golf course to look unsuccessfully for a Tawny Pipit.  When I got home it had become a Blyth's, I went back at the weekend on a day trip and missed it again but the Upland Sandpiper, American Golden Plover and Little Auk were still there.

2013.  Having passed up on opportunities to go to Cape Clear or Barra it was not until 30 October 2013 that the next chance at seeing Hermit Thrush in the UK was presented to me when one was found at Porthgwarra the previous day.  Having been too slow to move for the previous two I was keen not to make the same mistake again and left Shoreham with John & David Cooper just after 8pm.  I drove non-stop, but rather slowly, seeing two Barn Owls and arriving at Porthgwarra at 02:30.  At 06:30 it was light, there was then 2.5 hours of nothing when I was convinced the bird had gone, a sighting on the opposite side of the wood which I was too late for and a couple more which I got closer to.  At about 09:45 I got a good view of the bird feeding on berries - what a relief!  In the next two and a half hours we saw it well at least four times, feeding on berries and on the ground and perched on low-mid level branches.  It was superb, especially through my telescope although the light was too poor for digiscoping (and I was enjoying watching it too much). Nice to see some Sussex faces there too - Matt, Chris & Ads and Gordon & Garry.  Also nice to see two old friends from my University and formative birding days in Cardiff - Maurice and Hadyn.

Hermit Thrush at Porthgwarra (very slow shutter speed)
most of my images were taken at 1/640 second - an erroneous setting that I wasn't aware of for most of the time.  As a result they were very dark.

By the way, its got a nice rufous toned tail!  About the only feature visible in my images.

Better images by David and John showing all its features can be found here:

Sunday 27 October 2013

Shoreham gulls (27 October 2013)

Strong winds and another afternoon commitment meant that I stayed local.  Only a Rock Pipit was seen at Shoreham Fort, only a Razorbill flew west off Widewater in half an hour (not even a Gannet) with 20 Teal and a Brent Goose keeping the swan family company on the lagoon. 500+ Herring Gulls on the Adur included at least 4 colour-ringed birds although they took a lot of reading with CR birds unhelpfully sitting down, wading into deeper water or walking out of sight. Also 4 adult Mediterranean Gulls, a good count for the Adur but only one Lesser Black-back.

An afternoon visit with my mum to see my dad almost ended in disaster when she opened the car door before I could get round to do it for her.  A very strong gust caught the door which she was still holding and violently ejected her onto the pavement head first.  Fortunately she was only shaken but the car bodywork and door was dented, one of the hinges sheared, and now only opens about eighteen inches.
Mediterranean Gull on the Adur
always very nice to see on one's local patch
especially when more than one is present
I've been on the lookout for yellow colour-ringed gulls from Poland, hoping for a Caspian, but unfortunately not all yellow CRs are from there.  This Herring Gull, 5R0B, was probably ringed near the Wash
North Thames Herring Gull UV1T
North Thames Herring Gull PY1T
North Thames Herring Gull ZH7T

Saturday 26 October 2013

Beachy (PLW & snowflake, 26 October 2013)

26 October.  I only had the morning free and with strong winds forecast had decided to stick locally but news of a Pallas's Leaf Warbler in Belle Tout Wood the previous day was too tempting even if something of a long shot given the weather.  I arrived at Birling at 07:30 and first walked the lane but other than 8 Goldfinches nothing was evident at all.  Walking over the top to Belle Tout was very exposed and looking into the rising sun for the most part and I only added a few more Goldfinches.  The most notable thing being a text message from T-Mobile informing me i was connected to a Maritime Network which cost £1.80 per minute!!  I met Bob Edgar at Belle Tout Wood and learned that disappointing news that the Pallas's hadn't been seen, the Beachy Head Marathon was due later (great) and Les Bird had seen a Firecrest.   The best part of two hours in and around the wood produced just a handful of Chiffchaffs, a Blackcap and a Goldcrest for me.  Bob telling me that Neil Greenaway had seen the Snow Bunting provided a welcome distraction and we soon found it in an area I'd walked past earlier.  I took 200 images of it, buffetted about by the wind.  Most turned out to be useless.  Back to the wood, seeing a wheatear on the way, and after another circuit I was about to give up when I thought that as I'd not yet bumped into the Firecrest the Pallas's Leaf Warbler could easily still be there.  I decided on a methodical search and had only gone 50m in from the top west corner when a bout of pishing seemed to attract a small group of small birds into the trees slightly below me.  The first I saw had whitish underparts but disappeared before I could see its upperparts.  Fortunately I quickly refound it and it was the Pallas's.  I saw it for a couple of minutes, decent views although I never did see the rump.  The super, crown-stripe, wingbars and tertials were great though.  Too soon I lost it but saw a Firecrest and two Goldcrests while looking.  Walking back to Birling a bunting flew west that I felt was a Lapland although I didn't hear it call in the wind.  Following it as it flew west it crossed the path of a Wood Lark flying east.  A day with little promise actually turned out rather well.
Snow Bunting near Belle Tout gulley

Bob Edgar told me that the shape of the tips of the tail feathers is the best way of ageing birds at this time of year.  Svensson's ID Guide to European Passerines shows adults with rounded and 1CY with pointed tips.  These look more pointed tan rounded to me.

the wind was certainly ruffling its reathers
Wheatear near Belle Tout
25 October.  Taking advantage of finishing work early for a dental appointment and my last chance at cycling home on daylight I stopped at Southwick Beach where there were two Wheatears.  It was high tide so I went on to Shoreham Harbour and saw the 2 Purple Sandpipers on the inner jetty but as I was on the East Arm the views through my 8x20s were about as good as I'd had of the Semiplamated Plover.

23 October.  Peregine on the Power Station Chimney.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Thorney (Semipalmated dot)

Sunday 20th.  The Hayling Island Semipalmated Plover had been expertly picked out on Pilsey Sands by Barry Collins.  A lunchtime high tide and not altogether bad forecast made it worth trying on the rising tide. The walk out to Longmere Point does not get any shorter.  John King and I arrived at about 08:45, soon after David Cooper and Brenda Kay.  DC soon picked up a smaller bird amongst the Ringed Plovers and got us onto it.  Unfortunately it was 200-250m away making seeing any critical detail almost impossible and although the tide was coming in it was still over half way out.  The bird flew a few times and came a bit closer.  It was sufficiently different from the Ringed Plovers that we managed to keep on it, or quickly relocate it, and we watched it continually for just over an hour.  Just after 10:00 all the waders flew and we were unable to refind it, even when the tide pushed the remaining birds closer (Barry had similar views to us when he first picked the bird up on Friday but it kept coming closer for him and he eventually saw it down to 20m and heard it calling).  A first for Sussex and barely a dozen turned up to look for it, says a lot about the County doesn't it!  The tide came right in, the bird was seen back on Hayling, a few heavy rainstorms past over, the tide went out (rather more slowly than it had come in), a lot of Ringed Plover returned but we had no more success in picking it out.  At 16:10 with the light getting much worse, the waders generally moving further out with the tide and another rain storm approaching we called it a day.  Rather frustrating to say the least.  Other birds seen at Thorney were a flyover calling Snow Bunting, 425+ Sanderling, 350+ Oystercatchers, 25 Sky Larks but just 3 Knot.
dot watching at Pilsea.
 I'm pretty sure the Semipalmated is extreme right bird but it was hard to tell through the back of the camera when digiscoping and half of the images I took were of Ringed Plover
one of these birds is almost certainly the Semipalmated Plover (not the one on the right). Comments above about taking images of the wrong bird are not thought to apply here.
Semipalmated Plover on Pilsey Sands.  It came a bit closer but then I was more interested in scrutinising it.  The small size, neat breast band, attenuated rear and dull legs were visible most of the time (through a 20-60X zoom) even at 250m range.  Careful scrutiny also revealed a small stumpy bill, contrasting paler edgings to the coverts, marginally paler mantle and shorter legs.  It appeared a very timid bird, perhaps no surprise given the greater bulk of its companions.  several times it crouched and spread its wings when a ringed Plover came too close.  It also made several 'nervous' short flights.

Saturday 19th.  In three hours around Shoreham in the morning I saw a Wheatear and 2 Rock Pipits at Shoreham Fort, nothing at New Salts Farm, a Sparrowhawk, 120 Lapwings and a Reed Bunting on the Adur and 2 Swallows, 4 Song Thrushes and 2 Chiffchaffs at Mill Hill.  A couple of slow-worms on the allotment and a hedgehog in our garden at dusk (light too ad for photos) when I returned from visiting my dad.
Wheatear at Shoreham Fort in very poor light

Monday-Friday 14-18th.  A Peregrine on the Power Station chimney most days with 2 on 16th.  A Wheatear on Southwick Beach on 14th and a Grey Wagtail on 18th.

Sunday 13th.  A brief visit to Shoreham Fort before the rain came in produced a Rock Pipit, 2 Sandwich Terns in the harbour entrance and 10 Brent Geese W.  Just the Mute Swan family (still 5 large cygnets) at Widewater. 

Saturday 12 October 2013

Beachy comes good (12 October 2013)

Saturday 12th.  I'd not intended going to Beachy but an improving forecast and conversations with John King persuaded me otherwise.  We arrived at Birling at 07:45, a bit later than usual, to avoid early morning rain that hadn't materialised.  Bob Edgar had already been up the lane and seen a number of Ring Ouzels in the pines at the top.  This was encouraging as I'd only had a brief flight view of one this year (at Mill Hill) but JK and I reached the gate on the track to Went Hill before I heard one.  It was to be a Ring Ouzel day. Previously my best ever day count was 69, at Beachy, on 12 October 1991 (22 years ago to the day) while in 2008 I managed to go all year without seeing one.  My record was set to tumble as I covered most of the head with JK, John & David Cooper and Brenda Kay.  I saw 19 at the top of the lane at Birling and c20 flying North.  We then went straight to Shooter's Bottom which is traditionally one of the better sites at Beachy for Ring Ouzels and were not disappointed.  At least 50 flew east across one of the eastern rides as soon as we arrived while at least 40 were sitting up and flying around the SW quadrant.  Others were zipping back and forth and an estimate of 100 is probably conservative. Next stop east was the old trapping area where about 10 seemed to be feeding in the bushes but they were suddenly disturbed and 35 flew out wit at least 5 still in there and another 4-5 in the next buses up.  About 60 flew out of the Beach Head Hotel garden with another 5 still feeding and 17 in low bushes by the cliffs at Icky Ridge.  The Cliff Path, another classic area for Ring Ouzel, was surprisingly disappointing with none seen.  A quick look around Belle tout wood also drew a blank but 7 were seen on the way back to Birling.  I estimated I'd seen about 273 but with a couple of hours in hand before visiting my dad we decided to try Crowlink in the hope of seeing some more.  Here we disturbed a large flock from a patch of scrub near the car park which flew off high N.  DC was better placed than JK and I counted 114.  I saw 6 more in Crowlink, 41 in the scrub below Crowlink and the sea and 5 in Flathill Bottom.  Returning to the car park there were still about 40 Ring Ouzels in the original bushes.  I estimated that I'd probably seen 162 in the Crowlink area making a day total of 435, fantastic!

Otherwise it was very quite with Sand Martin, 4 House Martins, 19 Fieldfares, 19 Song Thrushes, 3 Redwings, 2 Blackcaps and 6 Chiffchaff.

juvenile Ring Ouzel at Beachy

Ring Ouzel over Beachy, one of quite few!

Ring Ouzel at Crowlink

Much better images on the Beachy blog!

7-11 October.  A Peregrine was on the Power station chimney on 7-8th, Grey Wagtails were seen/heard over Southwick/Brighton on 7-9th, Herring Gull A4AH was seen at the University most days.  The locks at Southwick must be amongst the least efficient of any, at least for those wanting to cross them - after all one end of the lock or the other must be closed yet crossers are never diverted over the closed (western) gate when the normal one is open (it is possible as the western gates are used as the crossing point when the eastern gate is repaired).  However it is not all bad news.  On Monday while I was waiting 15 minutes with a dzen or so others for the smaller lock to be filled up and the lock-keeper finish a conversation with the yachtsman two Kingfisers flashed past heading low up Southwick Canal.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Disappointing Beachy (06 October 2013)

A nice calm warm sunny morning at Beachy appeared ideal for seeing migrants in the bushes.  It probably would have been if we (JK, JFC, DC, BK& I) had not started at Birling.  In six hours I saw Hobby (thanks to Simon), Wood Lark (thanks to Matt), 60 Swallows, 150 House Martins, 5-600 Meadow Pipits, 2 Yellow Wagtails, 5 Wheatears, Reed Warbler, 2 Whitethroats, 7 Blackcaps, 85 Chiffchaffs, Willow Warbler, Brambling, 4 Siskins and a Reed Bunting.  Being on the wrong part of the Head we did not see two Bearded Tits, a Yellow-browed Warbler or Red-breasted Flycatcher present for varying short periods between Shooters Bottom and the Beachy Head Hotel (well done Simon, Bob & Tony, grrr!!).  Things were made worse by having to leave at 1pm to visit my dad knowing the Red-breasted Flycatcher had just been seen again, after going missing for over two hours, although the views, at least for the next couple of hours, were very poor.  I'd also hoped to improve on yesterday's poor views of Ring Ouzel but no luck there either and although I was hearing birds flying over I was struggling to determine which direction most were calling from let alone pick them up.  All very disappointing but there is always next weekend ... 

Yellow Wagtail at Birling
Wheatear at Birling

Saturday 5 October 2013

Shoreham, Mill Hill and Goring Gap (05 October 2013)

Saturday 5th.  I couldn't go far so started at Shoreham Fort where 2 Wheatears were on the beach and 4 Chiffchaffs in a nearby garden.  The tide was low and a Kingfisher flew across the harbour.  Six Little Egrets were chasing around the western end of Widewater and 3 Chiffchaffs were in the bushes but the Mute Swan family appeared to have lost one of their cygnets since I last visited a month ago with just five seen.  There were few gulls on the Adur where 130 Lapwing and 18 Dunlin were counted.  A quick walk around Mill Hill produced a brief flight view of a calling Ring Ouzel, a Whitethroat, 4 Blackcaps and 3 Chiffchaffs.  Nine Sky Larks flew over as did 30 Swallows and 10 House Martins with an impressive flock of about 200 of the latter feeding on the ground.  I took my mum to visit my dad and then fitted two visits to Goring Gap around an MRI scan. The first was soon after high tide with at least 21 Mediterranean Gulls and 6 Sandwich Terns roosting in the fields but few Chiffchaffs in the trees.  The return visit probably took my Mediterranean Gull tally to 31.
House Martins at Mill Hill, part of a flock of about 200

Gulls at Goring Gap

Friday 4th.  Still 6 Wheatears on Southwick Beach on my way home.  Safe journeys and hope to see you back here next year.

Thursday 3rd.  Heard Meadow Pipits going over as I cycled to work but I was late leaving and didn't get to Southwick Beach on my way home until after dark.

Wednesday 2nd.  Eight Brent Geese flew east as I approached the King Alfred on y way to work.  On my way home 7 Wheatears were on Southwick Beach.  Lovely birds.

Monday 30th and Tuesday 1st.  Peregrine on Southwck chimney.