Sunday, 31 October 2010

Scilly 2010

I returned to the wonderful Isles of Scilly in October half term, the last week of the month, hopeful that I would get a handful of lifers. I went with my parents again (although I stayed separately to them and they only saw me in the mornings for breakfast!) and we stayed in Penzance Sunday night before getting the Scillonion on Monday morning. Funnily enough the journey down there provided arguably the best bird of the entire trip, American Golden Plover, a British tick for me, at Exminster. You probably know by now that I didn't see many rare birds . . .

American Golden Plover

Monday 25th

After a very birdless crossing I phoned 'Spider' the cab driver (a character who would become familiar throughout the rest of the week) up and he dropped me at Green Farm where I met Phil Wallace who was looking for a Serin. I half heartedly looked for about twenty minutes before walking over to the Subalpine Warbler site, a would-be lifer for me.

There were only a couple of other birders looking, after a while one called us over. He had just had the bird and I'd missed it by moments, dang. I staked the site out with a varying number of birders including Pete and Jamie (birders I met on the ferry who would again become familiar characters) as well as Rob Stokes until dusk. At one point I was told I had flushed the bird by accident! I had no luck and planned on returning but this never worked out and no-one saw the bird again. Interest was added with fly-over Serin (presumably the Green Farm bird) and Lapland Bunting (both of which I picked out myself).

Tuesday 26th

Pale-bellied Brent Goose

After breakfast I went for a walk with Phil Wallace around St Mary's. Porthloo rendered three Pale-bellied Brent Geese, a Bar-tailed Godwit, two Sanderling, 14 Ringed Plovers and a Curlew . . . not an awful start. Content Farm was busy with birds, the best of which being two female/1st winter Black Redstarts.


Following reports of an accipiter that sounded good for Sharp-shinned Hawk Phil and I headed to Newford Duck Pond which gave a good view over some fields in the general area that the bird had been frequenting. A Brambling flew over and Phil asked me to play him the call so that he could familiarise himself with it. In doing so I looked down at my phone and missed the bird - Phil and everyone else got it - sh*t. A theme of stake-outs seemed to emerge as I stayed till nearly dusk, with no further sign of the bird and one or two Merlins, a Raven, the odd Sparrowhawk and a late Swallow to keep me entertained.

Wednesday 27th

Red-breasted Flycatcher

News broke the previous evening of a Red-breasted Flycatcher on the Garrison and I looked at the pager far too late to act on the news (I wouldn't have got it anyway) so Phil and I made plans to have an early breakfast and get on the Garrison as close to first light as possible. This didn't really work out but we got there fairly early anyway and after a tense twenty minute wait we bagged the Red-breasted Flycatcher, my first lifer of the trip. It was a first winter but was really smart and a great bird. Also on the Garrison was a Black Redstart.

News then broke of a Dusky Warbler at Holy Vale, I forgot I'd already seen one and reacted as if I needed it so rushed off with Phil straight away (remembering half way there that I'd seen one in London!). The news on arrival wasn't good but soon the bird was relocated and I got some great views as it called. It then flew to some bracken in an adjacent field and two birders thoughtlessly went in after it, causing the bird to fly quite some distance away. Thankfully, it returned and more excellent views of it were had by all and the bird remains the day I write this.

There was a Spotted Sandpiper on St Agnes and I wanted to see this but a message came through on the pager regarding a possible Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler on Tresco. Decision time. In the end I decided to go for the one that would be a lifer and headed to Tresco. Shortly after arriving I bumped into the birder who had found the bird and he showed me a photograph of what looked like a Yellow-browed Warbler to me, I was plucking up the courage to say something when a message came through on the pager saying that the bird was a Yellow-browed. The birder apologised for wasting my time and I told him he did the best thing as it could have turned out to have been a Hume's. It wasn't a wasted trip anyway as I got good views of the bird in question, my first Yellow-browed Warbler of the year and saw my first Siberian Chiffchaff as well as a good number of Little Egrets.

Thursday 28th

Spider gave Phil, Pete, Jamie and I a lift to Trenoweth where he kindly arranged access to some private fields for us to search for the possible Sharp-shinned Hawk. We searched for a couple of hours but got nothing. Spider picked us up at 9.45am and dropped us at the quay, Pete and Jamie successfully got onto their Tresco boat but the St Agnes boat was full and could not take Phil and I. We got Spider to return us to Trenoweth but we failed to see the bird it was quite cool seeing a female Merlin take a Chaffinch though.

Spotted Sandpiper

We caught the 2.00pm boat to St Agnes and got excellent views of the SPOTTED SANDPIPER but not a lot else. It was a transfixing bird though and showed absolutely exquisitely! Easily one of the highlights of the trip. A male Peregrine was seen flying towards Gugh just before the return boat arrived.

Friday 29th

Jack Snipe

Supposedly our last full day, not a lot happened. Good views of the Red-breasted Flycatcher were had on the Garrison where a Peregrine dropped into the pines and two Stonechats knocked about. I heard a Firecrest at Carreg Dhu gardens. Good views were had of a slumbering Jack Snipe at Porth Hellick where I got good views of another Firecrest. I had another look for the Dusky Warbler approaching dusk but didn't see it, instead getting good views of a Yellow-browed Warbler. Common Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser in Porthcressa Bay were Scilly ticks for me.

Saturday 30th


I wandered over to Old Town with Phil in the morning. Opposite Nowhere Cottage we got good views of a Firecrest and I picked up the Red-breasted Merganser as it circled the bay before flying off around Penninis Head towards Porthcressa where it was the previous evening. At Lower Moors we got uber views of a Greenshank and heard a Yellow-browed Warbler. The Dusky Warbler was again enjoyed at the southern entrance to Holy Vale. Our boat was due to leave for Penzance that afternoon but it was cancelled and all flights were full meaning that we were forced to stay an extra night . . .

. . . so I spent the rest of the day on the Garrison where I saw an acrocephalus warbler that James Bloor-Griffiths had found the previous day and I had failed to connect with. I phoned Phil, who was around the corner photographing Goldcrests, immediately and told him to get the hell over there so that he could photograph it. Moments that seemed like hours passed and the bird worked its way further away. I started to panic, James has seen Blyth's Reed on Scilly and in India before and said he was 100% sure the bird was one the previous day. In my shaken state I tried to get as many features as I could on it in between shouting like no-one has ever heard me shout before like a mad man, ordering Phil to get the **** over there! Just as I lost the bird to view Phil appeared casually around the corner. The features I got on the bird were: grey legs,
relatively short primary projection, cold tones above and 'bowl' shaped posture. We did not see the bird again and I was frankly more than very pissed off that Phil didn't drop everything and run (if he had done he would have undoubtedly photographed it) - I would have if I was him . . . it would have been very exciting to be part of the clinching of a BB rarity and a lifer for both of us. Sorry Phil, but you said yourself you knew I'd go on about it on the blog ;-) Goldcrests or Blyth's Reed!?!? I know it's difficult to drop lots of equipment especially when you're in the middle of photographing something, sorry for getting so mad at the time Phil :-)

Sunday 31st

I was on the Garrison with Phil just after first light and we did not see the acro again and we had to get on the boat at 8.00am, I was completely gutted as clinching that warbler would have made the trip for me. We bode farewell to the lovely Red-breasted Flycatcher just before we went down to the key and I proceeded to over react and complain for about an hour about what I perceived as Phil's apparent lack of any sense of urgency. The crossing back provided 3 Bonxies. Phil and Josh Jenkins Shaw joined my parents and I on the drive back home and we stopped off at the American Bittern, which we badly dipped and the American Golden Plover again at Exminster, with which we connected as it fed with Grey Plovers.


one lifer - a poor showing but it was a nice bird however two very good back up birds with a nice supporting cast as well as the islands just being fantastic anyway made the trip worthwhile. Thankfull the hawk that I never connected with turned out to be a freaky Sparrowhawk!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

last minute ticks

My fortune has changed somewhat since last week. Yesterday I went up for the LESSER YELLOWLEGS at Port Meadow. I met James Grundy at Oxford train station and he kindly showed me to the site where the bird, my 288th species in Britain, performed wonderfully alongside two Ruff and good numbers of Golden Plover. It was nice to get this under the belt and to continue the recent theme of American waders.

This morning I had a quick check of the patch, and I'm very glad I did because I found my 91st patch tick in the form of a very overdue Reed Bunting, a female that showed rather well. This also represents the 96th species recorded at Canons Farm & Banstead Woods this year. I am writing this literally just before I leave for Scilly; tonight I'm staying in Cornwall before getting the Scillonian tomorrow morning . . . let's hope it provides a handful of lifers!

Monday, 18 October 2010

catch up

I've been held back from updating my blog lately mainly due to school work and there's a couple of things that have happened in the last week or so worth putting on here so I have produced a brief illustrated synopsis . . .

Black Redstart at Canons Farm last Tuesday

Last Monday I headed up to Wormwood Scrubs to check out the Great Grey Shrike and successfully added this splendid bird to my London list. All week the Solitary Sandpiper was tempting me and I nearly went on Saturday but decided better of it (very glad I did too, that would have been a very painful, very expensive dip).

Great Grey Shrike

The weekend did not go as planned. On Saturday, I went to Canons while waiting on news on the Lesser Yellowlegs in Oxon, considering going there on the train if news was postive. It came through that the bird was still present and I was just packing up to leave for Sutton station when I got a LondonBirds tweet saying there was a Bluethroat at Rainham. Decision time: go for a reliable but distant and expensive lifer, albeit not an urgent one or go on a shorter and slightly £10 less expensive trip for a potentially elusive but very good London tick (a bird much better for London than Legs is for Britain). I plumped for the Bluethroat on the basis that the Legs would be more likely to stay till the next day and was less urgent and less convenient anyway.

Rosy Starling

I should not have done this, I ended up dipping the Bluethroat (missing it by five minutes) with 4 Pink-footed Geese for company while the Legs was still showing in Oxon. On Sunday I was planning to go to Oxon but news came through the Legs had flown north - I knew that waders often do this and come back so put out an RFI, contacted a local birder who hadn't heard anything either way and waited an hour - nothing. With no reported sightings since 8.05am I thought going to Port Meadow on the off chance of the bird returning could end up being incredibly dull so thought I should make something out of the weekend and go to Newhaven to see my first adult Rosy Starling. A smart bird, though elusive and I got a couple of good views. I got back to hear that the Lesser Yellowlegs had returned later in the day . . . bugger.

No British ticks and no London ticks although opportunites were available for both . . . autumn is always a lot less lucky for me than spring.

Little Owl last Tuesday at Canons Farm

patch MEGA, Grey Wagtail last Thursday on the largest body of water at Canons Farm, a 2x2 metre puddle - long-staying though elusive first record

Sunday, 10 October 2010


I was very pleasantly surprised to find 3 Black Redstarts today at Canons Farm, in exactly the same place as the pair earlier in the year. I was even more pleasantly surprised that co-patcher Paul Goodman picked up a Common Snipe which I managed to get onto as it dropped into a nearby field, constituting my 90th species at Canons Farm & Banstead Woods and bringing me, for the first time, to number one in the patch leaderboard of five people listing above 70. This is the third site record of the species.

The next ten will be gettable but only with a lot of effort (which I fully intend to put in). I fancy that at least some of the following will be involved in my hundred, along with a few surprises: Mediterranean Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Whimbrel, Curlew, Reed Bunting, Merlin, Short-eared Owl, Ring Ouzel, Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher.

Other birds present today included a Brambling and a Northern Wheatear while 3 Swallows, c.50 Redwings, 6+ Siskins, c.30 Meadow Pipits and c.10 Skylarks moved overhead.

Also, some sort of rally was going on by Legal & General:

Friday, 8 October 2010

Bad Essex spell broken

After having a recent Essex dip rate of 100% it was nice to get two lifers today in the form of the last two regular American peeps that I needed. Phil could not believe his misfortune however when I rang him up telling him I had a day off college today and asking whether he'd like to head up to Essex; he had been planning to go up there himself and overtake me on my British list!

Baird's Sandpiper

Leaving at 6.50am we arrived at Holland Haven Country Park at about 9.45am. Upon entering the hide we were told that our quarry had just walked out of view. It took about an hour to get a conclusive view of the BAIRD'S SANDPIPER, after having inconclusive views only of its head for a long time. The bird was quite distinctive, being quite buff overall and having a very noticeable scaly pattern on the mantle and a long wing projection as well as quite a different profile to other calidrids. A Garganey, a Mediterranean Gull and a couple of Cetti's Warblers and Yellow Wagtails were also noted. Happy, we left for our next target.


After making a second attempt at asking for an RFI, RBA finally obliged and the news on our next bird was positive. In high spirits, he headed to Abberton Reservoir, one of my favourite birding sites. After checking in at the visitor centre we made our way to the Roy King hide where six or seven Little Stints were on view, one of which turned out to be the SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER, being noticeably stockier and greyer than the other birds and lacking any braces or rufous tones. Two new peeps in one day in one county, excellent! Also my third yank wader at Abberton in three visits!

Below are three awful phone-scoped images of the Semi-p Sand, the latter two show contrast with Little Stint best (Semi-p is far left and Little Stint is far right on both):

A good day, thanks to Phil (and my school/college) for allowing me to spoil your own gripping opportunity!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Well that took longer than I expected . . .

awful shot I know (can only use my phone as my camera got wet and broke), see if you can spot it

Perhaps not the same as a twenty nine year stake out for a Treecreeper but today I finally connected with my first Canons Farm Grey Wagtail. This follows a lot of running about and dipping following reports from two other local birders of this individual over the last week or two. Amazingly, after a lot of asking around before this bird turned up, nobody has ever had a sniff of a Grey Wagtail at Canons Farm & Banstead Woods, making this the first record for the patch. I've seen them flying over other places locally several times but you just don't get them at CFBW, it was nice to finally catch up with this surprisingly tricky bird and to have to follow up something that somebody else has found at my patch for a change!

This is my 89th bird for the patch

and here's a Common Buzzard at Canons from yesterday . . .

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Red legs can't run forever

After several attempts at nailing Red-legged Partridge for London/Surrey/local area at Epsom Downs I finally bagged a couple of birds on Sunday. This time Steve Gale told me exactly where was best to find the partridges, this happened to be exactly where I've focussed my efforts several times before but it seems he gave me some luck on Sunday. This is my 198th bird for London and 156th for my local area.

The patch hasn't been too bad in the last week with a 1st winter male Common Redstart with a very suspicious-looking pale secondary panel (didn't have time or knowledge/material at time to fully scrutinise), a flock of six Golden Plovers, countless Siskins (21+ one day) as well as singles of Brambling, Lesser Redpoll, Yellow Wagtail, Stonechat and Northern Wheatear. I'm still looking for a patch tick though.

In more negative news, I have had to remove one species from my British list as the Bonelli's Warbler in Norfolk is reported to have called both as Western and Eastern so it cannot be assigned to species. Bugger.