Sunday 29 October 2017

Final day on Shetland... then back to London

It's the last day of half-term and it has been a really poor one. I should, in retrospect, headed out west to Corvo but you shouldn't look back with much anger. Instead, I came off Shetland on Wednesday night due to the onset of westerlies and a bit of work I needed to do back in London.

The last day on Shetland, Wednesday, I decided to head west again to an area I'd not really explored. And it was a delight, with loads of habitat and obviously no birders. And at Dale of Walls, there weren't really any birds! Just a few crests but also loads of thrushes piling through. As well as the odd Brambling. I headed around after this to the small village of Walls, parked by the quayside at Pier Road and had a wander. I was mildly contented to find a Yellow-browed Warbler in one of the gardens, my second of the five days, and fairly welcome considering I saw none this time last year. After they occur in almost abundance in late September and early October, numbers considerably tail off by this time of year!
Yellow-browed Warbler Walls, Shetland 25th October 2017
After having a whack around Walls, where there were three typically interesting looking Chiffchaffs, I headed back east and stopped off at Tresta. I'd done a little bit of research, and all the birds here in the past seemed to be in the gardens by the methodist chapel. And so I stopped here for a gander - another 'eastern-type' Lesser Whitethroat was pecking about on the lawn, and there were a few Chiffchaffs too and a couple of Lesser Redpolls.
Siberian Chiffchaff Geosetter, Shetland 25th October 2017
Goldcrest Geosetter, Shetland 25th October 2017
With a late afternoon flight, I headed south through Scalloway, and picked up my route along the west side where I hit Wester Quarff first - which was very quiet - and then Maywick, where a Chiffchaff was the only bird of note. Geosetter Burn had the usual Brambling flock and a lovely Siberian Chiffchaff, as well as some showy Goldcrests, while the highlight was just north of here where I booted a Richard's Pipit from the roadside ditch, where this large pipit rasped away as it headed west with vitesse. The last bit of Shetland birding was, as usual, in the quarry at Sumburgh where there were a couple of redpolls, including this male Mealy: -
Mealy Redpoll Sumburgh, Shetland 25th October 2017
And that was that. Having got back to Aberdeen for 6pm, I was back in London for 3am and out with the gulls a few hours later. Unfortunately, the last few days in London for gulls have been really poor for some reason and so I couldn't find a Caspian Gull for love nor money! Thursday's highlights included seven Yellow-legged Gulls (five at Thames Barrier Park, a 2nd-winter at the O2 and then a showy adult on Greenland Dock) while Friday was even more of a struggle with a couple of numpties on the beach at Thames Barrier Park, which was a site first for me, meaning no gulls there and just single first-winter Yellow-legged Gulls in Rotherhithe and at Creekmouth. Yesterday wasn't that much better with four Yellow-legged Gulls at Thames Barrier Park and the adult Yellow-legged Gull once again showing nicely on Greenland Dock. However, it was nice to see a returning Norwegian Black-headed Gull JZ35 back in Rotherhithe - ringed as an adult near Oslo in 2016, I saw it last here on 4th March 2017 before it was back in Norway from April to July this year.
adult Yellow-legged Gull Rotherhithe, London 26th October 2017

Black-headed Gull JZ35 Rotherhithe, London 28th October 2017

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Shetland - tough going

It's a couple of days since the last update. So yesterday was gale force southeasterlies and rain - if I was at home in London, I would have been quaking in my boots wondering what would turn up. Reality is that in those conditions, it was essentially unbirdable! And I don't say that lightly, as I'm not someone bothered by wind or rain generally. It started off dry but blustery, and a check of Wester Quarff produced a Water Rail that I flushed from a dyke along with a couple of Chiffchaffs. And so I then did a couple of sites on my usual Shetland circuit - Maywick and Geosetter. The former was quiet, but wow was I in for a treat at Geosetter where I stumbled upon... a Blue Tit! Relatively scarce up here, so not something to turn your nose up at.
Blue Tit Geosetter, Shetland 23rd October 2017
And then the heavens opened. Stef M and I got soaked to the skin walking the Sumburgh area - from the quarry to the farm and hotel, then back via Grutness garden. And all for a sodden male Reed Bunting and Redpoll, along with good numbers of arriving thrushes. There was a change in tact needed, and so we ventured up north to Kergord - slightly drier, but not much, with a handful of Chiffchaffs (including a couple of Siberians) and a few crests about in the murk. Doing the line of trees that head east and into the field, we picked up a raptor that made me go silent for a few seconds. It was small, with an obvious moustachial and pointed wings as well as a relatively short tail, but that's all. In the hideous conditions, any plumage traits really weren't possible as we were wet and so was the bird. It circuited a couple of times before heading north and into the valley where we lost it, and the heavens opened again. It was either a juvenile Hobby or Red-footed/Amur Falcon but one that got away of no fault of our own. And on that frustration, it was time to call it a day...

So to today. I started off at Sumburgh in much better conditions, and as I pulled up at the quarry it was great to see Richard Fray - last time we met was at his place in Arizona a couple of years back! And into the quarry we went, where a couple of Woodcocks were kicked up while it was time to get in on Shetland's Firecrest action with this cracking little bird...
Firecrest Sumburgh, Shetland 24th October 2017
And with Richard getting texts from his brother just over the other side of the airport, where he had a Hawfinch in his garden at Virkie, it was rude not to pay a visit. Thanks for the hospitality Rob!
Hawfinch Virkie, Shetland 24th October 2017
I headed back up the A970, and stopped at Boddam for an hour or so, where it felt quiet. Just a Woodcock to show of any real note. I got news that there was a Siberian Stonechat at Sandwick, and so with a bit of info gleaning I turned up at the allotments at Houlland and quickly located the pallid little thing: -
Siberian Stonechat Sandwick, Shetland 24th October 2017
There was also this female Black Redstart further up Swinister Burn, near the Rompa junction, which allowed a few shots using the car as a hide: -
Black Redstart Sandwick, Shetland 24th October 2017
I'd already decided that I'd spend the afternoon up north. I chose to do Voe, Brae, Hillswick and Esha Ness - as much because I'd never been to the two last sites than anything else, and wanted to have a search about to see what they looked like. Esha Ness was barren, and reminded me of a few Irish headlands so it's not surprising this is the Buff-breasted Sandpiper capital of Shetland these days! Not today though, with the best I could must being a Ruff in among the Golden Plover at Heogland and a smart flock of 50 or so Brambling on the road to the lighthouse.

There was little happening at Voe, but Brae Community Woodland was a site I actually quite liked. I had a pale looking Lesser Whitethroat (presumably an eastern bird) briefly as I arrived, and a couple of redpolls, which I'll leave at just that these days. And so that was today's haul.

Sunday 22 October 2017

Shetland - starting the late shift

I decided to give Shetland a go during this half-term break, just like I did last year where I had some success (which I never got round to writing up!). I really was in between coming here or giving SW Ireland a blast what with Storm Brian having just hit. And of course, having done Corvo from 2009 to 2015, there was always that as well to consider within my week slot. But despite it being rammed full of yanks out there, I've come to the conclusion that 5 days on the island really isn't enough while getting caught out over there by birds in Britain (Eastern Crowned Warbler x2 and Chestnut Bunting) really isn't very pleasant. So that is why I am sitting writing up the last couple of days here in Lerwick!

I really wished there were more people opting for the late show here because with these favourable conditions there must be so many quality birds going undetected. The signs are obvious just with what has been found on tomorrow's date, 23rd October - Cape May Warbler Unst 2013, Chestut-eared Bunting Virkie 2012 and Rufous-tailed Robin Fair Isle 2004 - but still everyone feels that it is too late. It is quite nice though to be able to go from site to site, seeing nobody but there genuinely must be so many birds not being found up here.
Brambling Geosetter, Shetland 21st October 2017
Anyway, so having landed yesterday morning, I spent the day in South Mainland. Loads of Redwings around, as well as good numbers of Brambling and Goldcrests. They were the stand out species. At Geosetter, I found a Yellowhammer which had the pulse racing momentarily, saw a late male Redstart and an eastern-type Lesser Whitethroat at Levenwick and located a handful of typically pale Chiffchaffs that seem to be the norm up here this time of year. All very enjoyable, until the conditions became unbearable late afternoon with the wind strengthening and the rain incessant. So it was off to bed for a nice 12 hour sleep, having managed just half an hour on the solo drive up.

Today dawned calmer, and a little bit brighter. I eventually decided where I'd go, and plummeted for the Vidlin area first off (I ditched Kergord as it was raining and looked set in), and set off into the small woodland by the cemetery. There were a fair few Goldcrests about, and then I saw a wing-barred phyllosc which was inevitably a Yellow-browed Warbler - nice enough, as I didn't see a single one up here during my stay this time last year! And then at the base of a mossy tree, a movement caught my eye, which quickly unveiled itself as a Treecreeper. Very content with this, and in the dark conditions, its coldness was immediately apparent and so I was happy in the knowledge this was a northern bird (subspecies familiaris). As it turned out, it was outrageously confiding and seemed oblivious to me being within just a few feet of it. 

Northern Treecreeper Vidlin, Shetland 22nd October 2017
There was also a Siberian Chiffchaff in the same bit of cover, while an amble into the village didn't produce much of note - just more Brambling, Redwings and Goldcrests. And so I decided to have a quick trip to Whalsay, which was actually a new island for me. After the half hour ferry crossing from Laxo, and a ten minute drive, the 1st-winter Steppe Grey Shrike showed itself nicely as it perched on the peat moor and telegraph wires. This was only my third one of the species, following a first-winter at Frinton-on-Sea, Essex back in November 1996 and a spring bird on the Isle of Man in 2003.
Steppe Grey Shrike Vaivoe, Whalsay, Shetland 22nd October 2017
I had a quick look in a few gardens on the way back to the ferry, but all I had was a decent sized Brambling flock at Symbister. And then back on the mainland, I paid homage to the Northern Treecreeper before heading to Lunna where I spent the last hour or two of light - a tremendous looking place but not too much doing, with a couple of Chiffchaffs among the busy Goldcrests. And that was that, back to Lerwick for the night and to decide where to head tomorrow.

Saturday 14 October 2017

A day of two good halves

It isn't often I venture too far out of London these days. But given that it was over two decades since I saw my last British Rock Thrush, as well as fairly poor local coastal potential, a quick trip along the M4 and into Wales was in order. Dante, Josh and I set off at a very reasonable hour and arrived on cue - just as the male Rock Thrush was relocated.
Rock Thrush Pwll Du, Gwent 14th October 2017
The bird favoured a fairly spectacular setting at Pwll Du quarry, Blorenge, Gwent and was pretty active on the grassy slopes before headed up onto the rocks later in the morning. It was a really good bird, much better than I'd been expecting and despite the gloom, it showed nicely. I'd also never seen a Rock Thrush in autumn anywhere, so that added interest and I still need to do a bit of reading up on ageing but with the reddish underparts, defined pale mantle patch and what seemed like rounded tail feathers, I guess the adult prognosis must be correct.
Rock Thrush Pwll Du, Gwent 14th October 2017
With little else to do locally, we headed back towards London late morning as the tide was favourable for a bit of Thames gulling. Having dropped Josh off at Hammersmith, Dante and I headed east to Thames Barrier Park where we met up with Jamie P. Within an hour, there was our seventh Caspian Gull of the season (1st July to 30th June) and it was a German ringed 1st-winter. Not a bad bird at all, especially given it was from the infamous 'swarm' colony at Grabendorfer See, Brandenburg where it was ringed as a chick on 29th May this year.

1st-winter Caspian Gull X841 Thames Barrier Park, London 14th October 2017
There were also three Yellow-legged Gulls about too, an adult and two first-winters.

Just one more week left of school now before half-term, so I'm hoping there is still life left in the autumn. I've still yet to decide where to head - Shetland, Scilly, Ireland, Hebrides - but one thing is for sure it'll be far away from London...

Saturday 7 October 2017

American duo at Oare Marshes

It's now just two more weeks until I have the freedom of a week wherever the weather dictates - could be Shetland or may even contemplate going way out west if this westerly weather continues. It was certainly an eventful week of yanks the week just gone, but despite headliners of Cedar Waxwing, Cliff Swallow and Scarlet Tanager there hasn't been anything for me to make a sudden move on. And so, with an open morning keeping me in London til midday, Dante and I headed out to Oare Marshes, Kent for a couple of hours late this afternoon.

Oare is always full of waders, and a nice place to spend a bit of time, so it was great to see the target bird - a Wilson's Phalarope - twirling around before I'd even stopped the car. It was a nice first-winter and much more advanced than one I'd seen in Lancs earlier this autumn. Initially it showed well until some plum decided to noisily crash their tripod over the fence just so they could get a yard closer. Inevitably, the bird flew and never came back close again.

1st-winter Wilson's Phalarope Oare Marshes, Kent 7th October 2017
The longstaying adult Long-billed Dowitcher was also on East Flood, and despite the murky conditions, was showing the best I'd ever seen it. Now in its full winter body kit.
adult Long-billed Dowitcher Oare Marshes, Kent 7th October 2017
A couple of Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers, colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits and a nice flock of Golden Plovers were also about. A pleasant effort, but with waders and gulls so far this weekend and last, it isn't ideal times for this time of year. Some decent passerine action is needed before the month's out...

Sunday 1 October 2017

Another day and two more Casps

With strong southwesterly winds, any chance of passerine migration around London was going to be limited. So I opted with a sleep in to rejuvenate, and then met up with Dante mid morning. After the inevitable boredom in Russia Dock Woodland, with just a Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests to show for our efforts, we headed to Hornchurch CP where I got a second helping of the Spotted Crake. And it was Dante's first, and it showed fine in the gloom, despite a load of cows munching through its favoured habitat, loads of dogs barking and the usual Sunday morning plebs shouting the odds unnecessarily.

So that was that, and it was back to the serenity of Thames Barrier Park with eight loaves of bread and a blustery wind 'in your face' wind. Loads of birds were about, just as the first mud was becoming exposed - often the best time here, as it is the first place to get mud on the ebbing tide (and the last mud on the incoming tide). As it turned out in the couple of hours we were here, Dante and I had two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls (both new individuals) and nine Yellow-legged Gulls (two adults, 3rd-winter, two 2nd-winters (including 'pinky', a distinctive bird from last winter and four 1st-winters). All very nice, though as the years go on, these Caspian Gulls become more variable and you'll notice how retarded moult wise the second bird is: -
Caspian Gull bird one

1st-winter Caspian Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 1st October 2017
Caspian Gull bird two

1st-winter Caspian Gull Thames Barrier Park, London 1st October 2017
And so another week of work begins.