Sunday 29 September 2013

Action patch

This weekend has been nice. Relaxing in London yesterday, with two 1st-winter Yellow-legged Gulls the highlight of my Rotherhithe patrol and then with east winds blowing (and a visit from Karen's parents curtailing me to just local stuff), I headed to Crossness mid-morning today where I met up with John A.

It started off pretty nicely, with only the second Garganey of the year found feeding in amongst Teal on the Thames foreshore just off the golf centre. A nice, relatively showy bird that seems to be a juvenile (though they're often quite tricky to age in autumn). Moving east, a check of the paddocks produced a juvenile Hobby, 3 Skylarks and a nice mixed finch flock but nothing to write home about. Walking back along the river, there was a NTGG ringed Herring Gull but all was rather quiet.
Garganey, Crossness 29th September 2013
So after both heading home, it was a bit of a surprise to hear that a Razorbill had flown through the Thames at Gallion's Reach, Beckton. As I was by the river at Rotherhithe - chucking bread out to just the local Black-headed Gulls - I prolonged my stay here, just on the off chance that this auk would have kept on coming west upriver. It didn't. Needless to say, just as I'd got back in I received a call that there was now a probable Fulmar at Beckton...

A pretty mega bird, the thought of one of these oil-spitting bastards on the Thames was more than enough to have me heading back out. It's often a strategy game when it comes to looking for seabirds on the Thames - knowing which urban shithole you can park in and where you can't, in order to access the Thames path. But as it happened, this boy was heading gradually east and, with John A on the case, it wasn't long before it could be viewed mega distantly from the west end of Crossness looking towards the Barking outflow.
Fulmar, Crossness 29th September 2013
Unfortunately it seemed quite weak, making just short flights before ditching back down again. It gradually made its way to the river bend by Crossness lighthouse, by which time it had got the attention of the local gulls. To be honest, I wouldn't rate its chances for lasting out the night but we'll see.
gull fodder?
Back at the golf centre, and it was now well gone 6pm, John A pulls out a nice Greenshank in amongst the Redshanks. And then, just having a quick scan before packing in for the day, I locate a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper too - a big bird for Crossness, and the first I've actually seen on the south side of the river (the previous ones I'd seen were in Barking Bay). So all in all a nice day's birding close to home, which is always nice.

Showy American waders in Ireland September 2013

It's been that time of year, and once again my Irish trips have been rewarded by some outstanding views of juvenile American waders. September low pressure systems always mean a few displaced birds from Arctic Canada and Greenland, and 2013 has been no exception. Although I'd stop at going anywhere near saying it's been a bumper year (with Buff-breasted Sandpipers being particularly thin on the ground), even an average year produces lost birds that have no fear...

Lesser Yellowlegs (1st-winter) Ballyconeely, County Galway September 2013 - above 3 photos

Baird's Sandpiper (juvenile) Ventry, County Kerry September 2013 - above 2 photos

Pectoral Sandpiper (juvenile) Ballinrannig, County Kerry September 2013 - above 2 photos

Monday 23 September 2013

Wilson's Warbler Dursey Island 21st September 2013

It's like the stuff of dreams this one. I must have read through Keith Pellow's finder's account umpteen times and seen that gripping photo (those old fuzzy ones really are the best!) every time I've thumbed through Vinnicombe and Cotteridge. Wilson's Warbler Rame Head, Cornwall October 13th 1985. The sole Western Pal record - 'the rock' has yet to get a sniff.

So once again on Friday night, I boarded the Ryanair Stansted to Shannon 7pm flight, this time with Josh J, intent on giving Achill Island a good bash what with the odd AGP, Pec, Baird's and Lesserlegs all fresh in on the Atlantic coast the past 24 hours or so. Business as usual commenced with the customary Papa Johns in Shannon town, before heading north up into Galway. Chatting the usual nonsense just south of Gort, I check the phone and it's the mega text so, opening it up just expecting another (presumed) Fea's to have gone past somewhere, it's proper adrenalin time. MEGA Co.Cork WILSON'S WBLR male Dursey Island at west end in Scott's garden tho elusive. Thrusting my phone to Josh, while the usual nonsense comes out of my mouth, the car is spun round and it's off to the badlands of deepest, darkest Cork and The Beara peninsular. Rock and roll time, here we go.

With a bit of Spin SW and Ferry Corsten churning out the tunes, punctuated by a Tesco stop in Limerick, we hit Eyeries on The Beara at 2am where we bedded down for a night in the car. Thankfully, although mega mild, it was nice and overcast and feeling pumped for the morning, life was good.

Waking up just shy of 7am, we gave a nice looking beach and outflow nearby a look but there was no rare there so headed west the half hour to Dursey Sound where Josh and I became numbers 11 and 12 in the queue respectively. The first Brits to invade the party. An hour or so wait for the cable car to open was perked up by the usual craic from the likes of Vic, Aidan K, John M, Conor F, Seamus E, Jimmy D and the king of West Cork Kieran G - the man who we've to thank for smoothing things over on this one.

No phone reception, we were all oblivious to the bird still being present until we got half way across Dursey Sound. The Dom Joly of 21st century twitching, Dan P, had kindly let me know the bird was still about. So in the gloom, things were big time cheery. Once on Dursey, three of the birders on our cable car got a lift while the couple of us that couldn't be squeezed in had to partake in the calorie crunching hour long walk to near the west end of the island. Still shrouded in mist, and with the weather quite fresh, it was pleasant enough but we'd have preferred to have got there a bit quicker given the circumstances...

After walking across the island, there'd been little in the way of real cover until we reached Derek Scott's garden. A veritable feast for any lost yank fresh in. Walking down into his place though was entering something almost unreal - a jungle of trees, purposefully planted by a birder to attract migrants on their first stop in or last stop out. This guy was a true gent, lovely and thankfully content with the behaviour of the small crowd that had descended. Giving us the lowdown, he welcomed us in and took a place looking over willows, conifers and an isolated sycamore. Just 10 minutes or so I'd arrived, the bird had been seen but had disappeared as they do. Within half an hour though, with a little bit of anxiousness in the interim, a bright yellow bird flitted up in the nearby willows, but before you could get your bins fully on it the bird disappeared down into cover. Obviously the Wilson's Warbler (doing what they typically do when I've seen them in the US), a short while later it flew up into the sycamore and I got a look of its rear end, wings and mantle though not ideally its face was covered by leaves - but within an instant it was off again.
Wilson's Warbler Dursey Island, County Cork
The crowd continued to behave really well, with just low level noise and the odd bit of moving around when someone had a sniff of it. Once we realised that the bird was doing a bit of a circuit, people thinned out a bit to search and the Wilson's Warbler then became seen more often. It wasn't particularly vocal, unlike a number of yank warblers I've seen either in Britain and Ireland or on the rock, but with patience the views ended up being more than ample. That yellow glow, black cap, beedy eye, greenish mantle, long tail and flesh legs made up a bit of a stunner of a bird. Moving its way through the pittisporum, feeding on craneflies, it for once felt like one of those days that you live for. Whatever you think of the whole twitching malarkey, this was really one of those days you'll take to the grave.

Everyone who tried to get on did in the end. Despite the rigidity of the Cork Council cable car initially (where locals are allowed to jump the queue!), later shuttles til 7pm were laid on as well as an enterprising boat-owning sheep farmer who ferried a few Brits over too. Most of all, Derek Scott - the gentleman that he is - needs to be sincerely thanked for his generosity, and openness to the whole event. If anyone's reading this and would like to thank him personally, email me as Derek gave me his email.

Proper old school twitch, and despite loving a bit of searching for my own stuff these days, you really can't beat something like this. The seconds are better than the firsts. Nice and chilled out too given our fortunate positioning. You just can't beat a good yank!

Unfortunately the bird wasn't about on Sunday, and I genuinely feel for those that made the effort. Nobody deserves that, not least some of the good lads that I know went.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Way out west again

I haven't stopped blogging, though I did get a concerned call from my mother asking me whether I was ok as this site hadn't been updated for a while. Truth is all has been rather quiet and I've not really managed to take any decent photos of birds either. Weekends locally at Crossness and Rotherhithe have highlighted with the odd ringed gull, but little more. The weekend just gone was slightly better, and at least I had a change of scenery, but despite the hype surrounding the Atlantic charts it didn't deliver that much. But it was nice all the same.
Keem beach at the west end of Achill Island, County Mayo
So, here goes it. It started as usual with the Stansted to Shannon flight on my lonesome, and after a drive northwestwards, ended up in the car on a remote beach near Louisburgh. A lovely dawn sunrise and all that, but the birds weren't about at Corragaun early doors (though Pat Lonergan jammed in on an adult AGP later in the day) while Roonagh had plenty of smalls at the outflow but nothing more. Itching to get onto Achill Island, I did just that by late morning and in no time at all the first yank was under the belt in the form of a distant and rather elusive Pied-billed Grebe. Certainly my first ever in Ireland, and probably my first in Britain and Ireland this millenium, this prehistoric-like beast was good to see; still sporting a bit of a bill band as it headed out of summer plumaged. The nearby areas of Keel and Dooagh were checked, as was the machair at Doogort, but all to no avail.
Sruhilbeg Lough, home of the Pied-billed Grebe

It was by now Saturday evening, and the sun had gone in and the wind was starting to get up signalling the start of a deep low pressure system that was going to rip through overnight. After seeing the regular Black Duck (and a couple of hybrids), I walked along the grass to Sruhill Lough and near the monument, amongst a couple of hundred Starlings, flushed a Buff-breasted Sandpiper which then appeared to head onto the nearby beach. Result at last; however, armed with the DSLR at the ready, I tried hard to relocate this bird - by which time Nick Watmough had joined me - but it wasn't to be. In fact, I was hoping this would be the precursor to a good day on the Sunday what with the weather turning bad.

Sunday morning was grim and even by the time I'd turned in for the night the weather was ripping through the place. Fortunately, after a decent meal and a couple of pints, I'd seen sense and opted for the 'soft' option of a night in a hotel rather than getting blown about in the car. Waking the next morning, rather expectant, Nick and I headed out to do the golf course and the west end of the Achill. Wader numbers had built up, and with a fair few Ringed Plovers on the golf course and Sanderlings on the beach, there was a bit to scan through. However, a search of all of Achill's sites drew and blank and it wasn't to be. Having spent a few hours in the afternoon at sites near Louisburgh, it was time to head back to Shannon and onto the red eye flight back to London.
Doolough Valley and the potato famine monument
It's a re-run this coming weekend so let's see how it goes. At least I took some nice photos of the landscape!

Sunday 1 September 2013

Swinhoe's, Sooty Tern and seabirds on the Azores

It's been a while since I've been on here. I've been away again, this time on the Azores, where I helped my mate Fred Vanhove with a group of 10 Belgian birders and did three days of pelagics off Graciosa. Then I went straight back into work the morning after the evening I got back, loving every minute of a senior leadership weekend that I was compelled to attend. That said, at least it was at the Hilton here in Rotherhithe, so I could sneak in a peek at the local larids on both days.

Anyway, just a quick first post. Bird wise, the undobted bird highlight from the Azores trip was a Swinhoe's Storm-petrel appearing for a minute or so from the boat - mega lucky here given that I'd been in China for the Fair Isle birds and, doubly fortunate, that it stayed long enough for me to get my hands out of the chum bucket and onto my bins! Thirdly, and thankfully, one of the Belgians got a shot of it because, to take a phrase straight from the Corvo scene 'no photo, no bird'. Really big birds, Leach's in size, and much browner than the Monteiro's, Grant's and Wilson's that were regularly seen.
Monteiro's Storm-petrel, off Graciosa August 2013
Seabird diversity on the Azores is never great, so a single Bulwer's Petrel and a Long-tailed Skua from the boat along with dozens of Great Shearwaters, was kind of what I expected along with the petrels. I guess a nice South Polar Skua was always on the mind given the time of year and the migratory track these beasts take, but it wasn't to be this time around. Although I saw a distant Fea's/Zino's Petrel from Lajes, Terceira (my first in the Azores) I really didn't think I was in the zone for rare pterodromas - I still reckon that May-June is the time to score that Black-capped or Trindade in Azorean waters.
Great Shearwater, off Graciosa August 2013
On the way out to the seabird feeding areas from Graciosa, it's always worth a punt to scan Ilheu da Praia (an uninhabited seabird island I've actually stayed on a few years back) for Sooty Tern... and this year, we lucked out with the bird coming out from the ternery and flying around the boat.
Sooty Tern, Ilheu da Praia August 2013
Back on dry land, just like last year in late August, I hit 'the quarry' [Cabo da Praia] a few times but in easterlies and sunshine it was desperate times. Even when it's quiet, there is always a couple of resident Semipalmated Plovers to have a look at, and the near resident Hudsonian Whimbrel when it decides to drop in. There was a nice juvenile Pec Sand during the last couple of days of my trip, and locating a nice summer plumaged Spotted Sand nearby at Paul da Praia was better than the damage you can do in London.

I'm still conscious the one China post doesn't do the place justice at all so I'll revisit that, and the Azores, over the next few weeks as the monotony of the new term kicks in. Enjoy the autumn boys and girls.