Thursday, 1 October 2015


It's never really officially Autumn until you see a Yellow-browed Warbler in a Sycamore or hear Redwings migrating. With a quick trip over to Spurn on Tuesday, I got to experience both. It wasn't quite the trip we were expecting as the two days prior had been fantastic and the continued eaterlies raised our hopes. Sadly, a clear night on Monday saw a big clear out and left only a handful of migrants. We managed to see a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers, 3 Redwing, a Wheatear and lots of finches. One thing we did miss and by only about 30-40 seconds was a juvenile Pallid Harrier which appeared in the Triangle and carried on south. We were on Beacon Lane at the time and had a mad dash north as everyone was following 'it'. We got poor views and saw what we thought was a small ringtail harrier. We were therefore surprised to learn that the Pallid was a juvenile. It later turned out the the harrier we saw was actually a Hen that u-turned and went north and the Pallid moved south. I guess the small size could mean it was a juvenile male or was just more distant than we thought. We later missed a male Bluethroat and a Red-breasted Flycatcher, but that's birding.

Late afternoon we stopped into Heysham Outfalls and saw the moulting adult White-winged Black Tern which took some searching but was a nice bird to see (espcially over the sea). Danni and I are off to Turkey tomorrow on an all inclusive holiday. It is purely a relaxing holiday, but don't worry, there will be a blog post upon our return as there is a river and reedbed next to our hotel and I know there are White-spectacled Bulbul, Spanish Sparrow, Syrian Woodpecker and Graceful Prinia within the resort grounds! Here's hoping for a wonderful holiday in a new country!

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Black-necked Grebe - Fairhaven Lake - 17th September 2015

 Popped over to Fairhaven this morning with the hope that the Black-necked Grebe found in recent days was as showy as the other grebes and divers have traditionally been. Whilst I was pleased with the views and photos I got, it wasn't quite as tame/oblivious as the others, but that didn't make the experience any less enjoyable. That lake really is a magnet for showy 'sea' birds!
Little Grebe and Black-necked Grebe

Monday, 14 September 2015

Super Saturday, Spurn Sunday and Monday Jinx

Saturday afternoon saw Danni and I watching the United/Liverpool derby and amazingly didn't end in a brawl despite supporting opposing sides. Sunday saw us head off early to Spurn hoping for a fall after the persisting easterlies and rain all of saturday. This wasn't completely accurate sadly but there were still lots of migrants about with Redstart, Pied Fly, Yellow Wagtails, Goldcrests and Willow Warblers about. The highlight came from the churchyard in Kilnsea, with a lovely Yellow-browed Warbler showing really well in one of the sycamores. To see a feeding YBW in a sycamore, calling loudly on the east coast is basically Autumn in a nutshell. Wonderful birds.

I managed to get some ringing done with several migrants ringed as well as two Lesser Redpoll. One adult with slightly rounded trail feathers and very glossy 'poll'. All the feathers were nice and neat, strong and fresh and came across very buffy. There was no obvious pale on the rump and there were ever so slight pink spots on the rump and upper breast. We also caught a 1cy male that again had a tiny bit of red on the breast and rump. This one had a distinctly pale grey face, paler rump and quite a lot of black on the face. This looked very similar to the Mealy ringed the weekend before at Migfest, but it wasn't particularly big, the greater coverts were buffy tipped and the overall colour was pretty warm, so just a pale lesser (perhaps from further north?). It does make you wonder the validity of the species though and also how many pale Lessers get reported and accepted as Mealy?
As I left Danni's this morning, I came home via Fairhaven and tried to see the Wryneck that's been present since Thursday afternoon. I gave it about half an hour and after about twenty minutes, it sat up on a prominent stick right in the open for about 15 seconds. Lovely birds and pretty much a Mega on the west coast.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Migfest and my Girlfriend's bogies

juvenile Red-backed Shrike
Another year, another Migfest! This weekend saw the third annual Migration Festival at Spurn held at Westmere Farm. I camped with Danni at the farm and arrived Friday evening ready for the first round at Crown and Anchor! Needless to say that wasn't the last!
We awoke at half five on Saturday and headed to the Warren to do some seawatching. With strong North North Westerlies, seawatching was really the only option. We found a spot and started scanning. It was pretty quiet to begin with with a few Gannets and Red-throated Divers moving through. It was about an hour into the watch before a Sooty Shear was called. I got onto it quickly and it was nice and close, so it was pretty easy to get Danni onto it. Her first lifer of the trip. Throughout the day, I had about 15 Sooty going North.
Tim Jones, Liam Langley and Scott Reid joined us and Tim picked up a Manxie which again was a lifer for Danni. I then popped to Warren to go through the Moth Trap where I saw a few nice firsts for me including Frosted Orange and Rosy Rustic. Whilst I was away, Danni got a Long-tailed Skua going south from the hut which was a lifer for her. I was a little gripped but I was happy to see a further two later in the day, including a really nice 1st summer with an Arctic showing the differences in decreased primary shaft flashes, skinnier body, skinnier wings and more tern like flight. The tail was also rather short and lacking any obvious spikes as in the Arctic. 
At 09:09, something crazy happened when I thought I heard word of a Cory's further down the line. I quickly ran over and turns out there was one flying north at mid-distance. I managed to get onto it after a short while and obvious the slow, lazy wing beats and effortless flight. I absolutely did not expect that when I stumbled out my tent on Saturday morning. Four lifers for Danni...not a bad seawatch!!
In addition to the seawatching we paid homage to a juvenile Red-backed Shrike at Corner Field, a Barred Warbler at Westmere played cat and mouse for most of the day, a Spotted Flycatcher and a Lesser Whitethroat at Rose Cottage and a handful of Pied Flycatcher dotted around. 
The Hogroast in the evening was quality with bacon sized pieces of crackling and a great talk by Yoav Perlman. 
juvenile Barn Swallow
1stw/female Pied Flycatcher
Sunday saw Danni and I walk to the point and saw some really enjoyable passage of Painted Ladies and Silver Y, plus a Bordered Straw and Gold Spot. Scott and Nathan found a Barred Warbler at Wire Dump, but despite much searching, Danni and I couldn't refind it. I got a couple of nice shots of two Kestrels, but that was only just about compensation. In the afternoon, we spent more time with the Red-backed Shrike and caught up with some good mates on a gloriously sunny day.
day flying Bordered Straw
day flying Goldspot
We headed back early afternoon and Danni quickly scrolled through my Birdguides app to check to make sure there was nothing en route home for us to see. For a long time now, Danni has tried and failed to see Black Redstart on numerous occasions. We tried ourself just last week for the Winter Hill trio, but hadn't realised it was a serious walk to the compound and we were very strapped for time. Anyway, there was one in West Yorkshire which would be very likely to be en route. It just so happened the location couldn't have been much closer to the border if it tried and was only 400m from J22 of the M62 which happens to be the one Danni comes off to go home!
We arrived mid-afternoon and walked round the outflow and spent around half an hour searching for it. There was no sign of it or indeed any bird. It was almost eerily quiet and Danni was understandably getting all the more frustrated about the prospect of dipping again. It was putting a dampener on what was a wonderful weekend and I was having non of it. Just as we'd started contemplating giving up and walking back, a bird shot out and landed on a pole about 10m in front of us. I recognised the flight straight away and as it landed, its tail 'wobbled' and was rufous coloured. Danni refused to believe me as I said 'that's it!'. She couldn't do much more than believe me when it took off and landed on the ground only 4-5 metres away showing really well. She just started laughing at the ridiculousness of it! Why does it always happens like that with bogey birds?! It continued to show well for about ten minutes and we then went back and had a lovely relax at the end of a fantastic weekend.
female/immature Black Redstart

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Caspian Gull - Cocker's Dyke, Lancashire - 3rd September 2015

 Having a bit of time off this morning, I thought I'd be productive and learn a bit about Caspian Gulls. Previous to today, I had seen a 2nd winter at Chasewater in December and a moulting 1st Summer/2nd Winter at Ainsdale recently (as you'll probably see below). 2nd calendar year birds really are striking things and I feel fairly comfortable with them. Juveniles really aren't that common yet in the UK (or at least they aren't getting IDd as readily as the older birds).
There has recently been a reliable bird at Cocker's Dyke in north Fylde in Lancs which is a juvenile. I arrived mid-morning at about 08:45, and began searching. It took about 45 minutes before anything other than a Greater Black-back or adult Lesser Black-back appeared in my scope. A group of 5 juvenile gulls appeared which were mainly Lesser Black-backs, but a really pale bird was very striking. Before I could get much on it, it fell asleep making it somewhat more difficult to ID.
It looked good though with really black primaries extending well beyond the tail, black centres to the tertials and clean white tips, faded brown juvenile scapulars and a couple of freshly moulted grey scaps. They were generally fairly clean with a single black line down the centre. The head was generally fairly clean with a slight mask and a streaked shawl to the nape. When it eventually woke up, it had a parallel sided bill, pear-shaped head and a long neck. It walked onto a bit of mud/sand and was incredibly long-legged, 'filled nappy' on the vent which was extremely clean and white.
It took off and revealed 'Venetian blinds' to the inner primaries, black secondary bar contrasting to the pale coverts and a white rump contrasting with the black tail tip. Very educational.

Monday, 31 August 2015

West Lancashire - 30th August 2015

 I couldn't leave it be. I had to return to Ainsdale to see the moulting Caspian Gull. I took Danni with me and, due to it not being right in front of where I parked this time, we had a lovely walk north along the tide line. We came across a large group of roosting gulls and slowly approached them. It took us about 10 minutes of scanning the gulls, before the long billed, white headed immature gull stood out like a sore thumb. The gulls were all wonderfully approachable, which was fantastic, until we noticed that the Caspian was quite badly limping and on closer inspection, it was tangled in what can only be described as kite string. It must've been quite tight on its leg as the right leg was almost limp. Luckily it appears to be able to fly quite happily, so hopefully it can evade danger long enough for the string to come free. A real shame that such a lovely bird (and the rarest bird on the beach...probably) happened to have got tangled in litter.

 The moult seems to be progressing quite nicely with p1-7 fully grown, p8 2/3 grown and p9 about 20% grown and p10 presumably in pin. The outer two secondaries are now fully grown and the third and fourth not far behind. Only two old secondaries seem to remain unmoulted.

 Along with all the roosting gulls, there were probably about 120 Sandwich Terns on the beach, which allowed for great views as they flew too and from the roosting flock, and therefore great photographic opportunities.

Several moulting Sanderling along the beach also made for lovely viewing of such a charismatic wader. I may have to pay homage to them this winter along the Lancashire coast in their winter finery.

 What was nice to see was how the Caspian Gull flew and landed near the burger van on the beach and the owner had noticed it was struggling with the string and after presumably being told about the gull by the visiting birders, was worried and alerted the local beach warden (?) and they were looking in to the possibility of getting the RSPCA in to help it out. Of course, this is just one gull out of probably hundreds along the Lancashire coast that are tangled or injured by rubbish. That is the nature of the beast when you choose to forage on tips and other wonderfully scenic places. Just because this one is rarer, doesn't mean we should target it for help. The real message here is that littering really is an issue. If one 'star' bird out of thousands on that beach can suffer from littering or poor recycling/disposing of waste, you can only imagine how many birds are suffering we don't even notice.
After our nice walk along the beach, we went up to Marshside and had a look through the screen at Sandgrounder's. Checking through the Dunlin flock, I was hopeful of a Little Stint, but it was my Danni who happened to find the juvenile (which was presumably the same as reported the day before) really quite close to the hide. I left my SLR in the car, so had to settle for Digiscoping and with such an active little wader, the above is the best video grab I could muster! Always a pleasure to see though and a nice bird for 270 on the yearlist

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Spurn Point - 26th August 2015

 After starting the week with a lot of surveys, I was allowed a day off. I should really have had a rest as I'm ridiculously tired, but the days leading up to this day off held record counts of Willow Warblers and also very good numbers of Pied Flycatcher at Spurn. In addition there were several Wryneck, Icterine Warblers and a nice Greenish Warbler...It was a no brainer.
After checking my moth trap early doors, I set off and arrived at Canal Scrape at about half 10 and met Liam, who was just about to see a juvenile Red-backed Shrike in Clubley's Field, which was the first bird I saw as I got out the car...not a bad start!
We had a quick brew ready to set off for the point and whilst we did, the bush outside the Warren common room held a male Redstart and 2 Pied Flycatcher.
Getting past the narrows, the first Willow Warblers were seen along with 2 Common Sandpiper. Around the Sheep Field, we saw our first Pied Flycatcher and migrants were certainly obvious with loads of Willow Warblers and a couple of Whitethroat. Just before the lighthouse, I spotted two brown birds flying into a bush, which on reflection were probably Dunnock, and curiosity got the better of me. We walked over and I flushed a brown/grey bird with a long tail and a rufous speckled back. As it was about to land, I was expecting a Shrike to appear in the bins, but it failed to land and started undulating and revealed a yellowy throat and a very skinny body. It just had to be a Wryneck! I managed to get a couple of perched views and was over the moon to finally see a Wryneck in the UK taking me to 362 species BOU.
Heading down to the end of the point, we picked up Spotted Flycatcher, Tree Pipit, 3 Wheatear and about 7 Whinchat. Pied Flycatcher numbers probably hit 40 with flocks of up to 6 and Willow Warblers must've hit 80 at least.
Moving back up, we sat next to the heligoland in the potato fields as there was a hive of activity in terms of willow warblers. We gave it a good 15 minutes and saw about 20 Willow Warblers.
A bird suddenly appeared in an Elder which Liam and I instinctively got onto as soon as we saw it. It was startlingly pale and looked almost silver with the naked eye. It was basically white underneath with a clean throat and pale face. It was an obvious supercillium that appeared to get broader behind the eye and a pale green upperbody. As it dipped down to fly, I am positive I noted a wing bar. It looked very good for Greenish, so we waited a good while for it to reappear but frustratingly, it never did. I have never seen Greenish, so I didn't know they could look that pale, otherwise I might've been quicker off the mark with the camera. Would've been a quality bird to end what was a fantastic trip to the point, but oh well....

 On the walk back up from the point, we stopped at Chalk Bank to check any roosting gulls and waders. In amongst the Sanderling and Dunlin, there was a lovely juvenile Curlew Sandpiper and in amongst the gulls was a bird that initially gave us a little confusion. Liam's first thought was 1st summer LBBG due to the paleness of it compared to a standarly dark juvenile. I was instantly struck by the rather chunky bill, white basal colour long legs. I also noticed it had all juvenile scapulars (with the exception of possibly a couple of replaced feathers (was hard to see). It wasn't a 1st summer and I had my suspisions that it was a Yellow-legged Gull. As it took flight, there was a pale window to the inner primaries, fairly white rump and black tail band. It was indeed a fantastic juvenile Yellow-legged Gull. The first I've found in the UK of this age.

(Liam Langley)
(Liam Langley)
(Liam Langley)
After a quick cup of tea post-point, I headed back to Preston, stopping just north of Kilnsea Wetlands to scan a flock of gulls loafing in a newly cultivated field. There were 23 Med Gulls in there, which was a real shock considering there were only about 150 gulls and 30 Sandwich Terns.