Sunday 31 December 2017

Rarities in December 2017

This is my summary of records of rare birds from the UK in December 2017, this is not aimed at being a comprehensive account of all the rare species in the UK in this month, for such accounts see the Birdguides review of the week or the Rare Bird Alert weekly round-up. I am largely writing this as a personal record of rarity records to aid my knowledge and feed my interest in UK birds. The dates provided under each species are only the date of the finding of that bird, 'megas' are shown in red and a full date range for these species is shown. I have only included confirmed records and, generally, have not included possibles or probables. The photographs that I used have been gleaned from the internet, I aim to provide the photographer with full credit and a link to their website or blog, if you see that one of yours has been used and you object to this then please email me and I will remove it immediately, alternatively if you would like to supply a better image or additional information or links then I will add. Contact me at


Pacific Diver
Marazion, Cornwall - The returning bird was present off Marazion until at least the 16th December.
Pendower Beach, Cornwall - One found offshore on 26th November remained until at least the 4th December.

Pied-billed Grebe
Loch Feorlin, Argyll - The adult male first recorded on the 6th May 2016 and intermittently since was reported up to 6th December.
Loch of Spiggie, Mainland / Shetland - Found on 4th November and present until at least 28th December.

St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly - One found on 29th December between Parting Carn and the airport road could not be relocated the following day.

Semipalmated Sandpiper
Clogheen Marsh, County Cork - 7th December.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - 1st December.

Bonaparte's Gull

Lulworth Cove, Dorset - 1st December
Dargan Bay, County Antrim - Adult on 6th December.


Red-breasted Goose
Gilston, Moray and Nairn - 6th December.

King Eider

Castlegregory, Kerry - Female on 28th December.

Ross's Gull
Longhougton Steel, Northumberland - Adult on 31st December.

Desert Wheatear
Happisburgh, Norfolk - Male from 2nd to 4th December.
Whitby, North Yorkshire - A male showing well from 23rd-31st December.

Desert Wheatear, Whitby, North Yorkshire by Ian Bollen, more of Ian's fantastic images including a good selection of rarities can be seen on his Flickr site here

Pied Wheatear
Ballymacoda, County Cork - 1st winter 11th-15th December.

Pied Wheatear, Ballymacoda, County Cork by Gerard Murray, more of Gerard's images 
can be seen on the Rare Bird Alert gallery here

Italian Sparrow
East Budleigh, Devon - A sparrow showing characters of this species found on 12th November was present until the end of December.

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll
Halligarth, Unst - 25th December.

Two-barred Crossbill
Hamsterley Forest, Durham - Male on 11th December.

Parrot Crossbill
Following the mini invasion in the northern islands in October many of the flocks recorded in November remained with the following new birds being confirmed:

Woodbury Common, Devon - Female on 8th December.
Broxbourne Woods NNR, Hertfordshire - 3 from 18th to 25th December.
Howden Reservoir, South Yorkshire - 12 on 28th December

Saturday 23 December 2017

Eurasian Penduline-tit, Longford, Gloucestershire - 22nd December

A male Eurasian Penduline-tit had been present on the small wetland at Plock Court, Longford since 16th December and with a long break at our cottage in Cowley over the festive period I was keen to pop by and see this bird. Bearing a ring, it was ringed on the 28/10/17 on Alderney, Channel Islands as a first-calendar year female, see here. On my arrival at Plock Court the bird was skulking in the Greater Reedmace (these are not Phragmites or Reeds as most of the birders on site were stating) and I had fleeting glimpses before the bird flew to a new patch of Reedmace and showed well often associating with a male Stonechat. The bird then flew to the boundary hedgerow and showed well in the gloomy conditions for the next 30 minutes or so. This male is remarkably close to Horsbere Flood Alleviation where two males spent much of January and February 2016, these birds were the second and third birds recorded in Gloucestershire. The habitat at Plock Court is very limited in extent and it will be interesting to see how long this bird sticks.

The Eurasian Penduline-tit often associated with this male Stonechat

Friday 22 December 2017

Barred Warbler, Titchfield Haven - 20th December

First found on 19th November a Barred Warbler had been showing very well at Titchfield Haven but I had not had the time to visit this bird having been tied up with work since my return from India. Today I had a spare couple of hours and so took the opportunity to visit the bird. After a short while it showed well feeding on Cotoneaster berries at the rear of the visitor centre. The bird looked rather tatty and perhaps not in the best of health, probably because it should be in Kenya now and not on the English south coast! While the bird is being reported widely as a 1st winter this bird is actually an adult bird based on its moult sequencing (Trevor Codlin per comm). This was the last day the bird was seen and I suspect it may well have succumbed.

Barred Warbler winters in East Africa, mainly Kenya and also, less frequently, in southern Sudan, eastern Uganda and North Tanzania.

Breeding (yellow) and winter range of Barred Warbler from HBW Alive

Sunday 10 December 2017

Western Ghats - 9th and 10th December (Day 15 and 16)

9th December
Another sleepless night due to a bad cough and I was somewhat relieved when the alarm went off and it was time to get up. We headed to an area of forest known as Oolanthanni outside of Thattekad located at the end of the road that extends south-east from Kuttampuzha. We had one remaining target, Flame-throated Bulbul, and saw this as we ate breakfast out of the back of the mini-bus. Walking along the track through the forest we came across another small flock of five Flame-throated Bulbul with two Yellow-browed Bubul. We headed off the track a short way and marvelled at a pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouth perched on a horizontal branch just above head height, sitting tight and relying on their cryptic plumage to avoid detection. They looked remarkably like a bundle of dead leaves. We spent the remaining couple of hours birding in a clearing and at a watch point where we saw Malabar Barbet, Indian Swiftlet, Imperial Green Pigeon, Nilgiri Imperial Pigeon, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Large Hawk-cuckoo, Grey-capped Green Pigeon and Southern Hill Myna. It was time to head back to Hornbill Lodge pack our bags and have some lunch. The journey to Cochin International Airport took around one hour 40 minutes and we checked in with two hours before our 18:00 Spice Jet flight back to Chennai. We landed at 18:30 and taxied to our hotel, the rather grand Hotel Accord after a somewhat protracted check-in process we quickly changed and enjoyed a fabulous Indian buffet before crashing at around 23:00.

Sri Lanka Frogmouth - Oolanthanni, Thattekad

Flame-throated Bulbul - Oolanthanni, Thattekad

Large Hawk-cuckoo - Oolanthanni, Thattekad

Large Hawk-cuckoo - Oolanthanni, Thattekad

 Oolanthanni, Thattekad

View Point at Oolanthanni, Thattekad

The view from Hornbill Camp - Thattekad

Hornbill Camp, Thattekad

10th December
I was up at 03:50 for my taxi to Chennai International Airport after a swift check-in and security check I relaxed in the airport lounge awaiting my 07:30 flight to London Heathrow. The flight left on time and I relaxed with a couple of glasses of wine and caught up with my notes. It had been a fantastic couple of weeks of intensive birding. We flew over the snow-capped mountain ranges of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, over the open expanse of the Karakum Desert over the Caspian Sea and into Europe landing one hour ahead of schedule at 12:30. But, as we landed it was snowing and we had to wait to obtain a stand, we were 44th in the queue! The issue seemed to be that there were few flights departing and those that were required de-icing before leaving the stands, some planes having been on stand for six hours waiting to depart. We eventually disembarked at 18:00 having spent 5.5 hours waiting on the plane.

List of Birds Recorded in the Western Ghats
We recorded 210 species 71 of which were ticks for me (shown in bold).

Red Spurfowl
Indian Peafowl
Painted Bush-quail
Grey Junglefowl
Rock Dove
Nilgiri Woodpigeon
Eurasian Collared-dove
Western Spotted Dove
Grey-capped Emerald Dove
Grey-fronted Green-pigeon
Yellow-footed Green-pigeon
Green Imperial-pigeon
Nilgiri Imperial-pigeon
Sri Lanka Frogmouth
Jungle Nightjar
Jerdon's Nightjar
Indian Nightjar
Crested Treeswift
White-rumped Spinetail
Brown-backed Needletail
Indian Swiftlet
Asian Palm-swift
Alpine Swift
Pacific Swift
Little Swift
Lesser Coucal
Blue-faced Malkoha
Western Koel
Banded Bay Cuckoo
Grey-bellied Cuckoo
Fork-tailed Drongo-cuckoo
Large Hawk-cuckoo
Common Hawk-cuckoo
White-breasted Waterhen
Purple Swamphen
Asian Openbill
Indian Pond-heron
Cattle Egret
Grey Heron
Great White Egret
Intermediate Egret
Little Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Yellow-wattled Lapwing
Red-wattled Lapwing
Common Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Whiskered Tern
River Tern
Sri Lanka Bay-owl
Jungle Owlet
Spotted Owlet
Indian Scops-owl
Oriental Scops-owl
Mottled Wood-owl
Brown Fish-owl
Black-winged Kite
Oriental Honey-buzzard
Crested Serpent-eagle
Rufous-bellied Eagle
Black Eagle
Bonelli's Eagle
Booted Eagle
Western Marsh-harrier
Pallid Harrier
Crested Goshawk
Lesser Fish-eagle
Brahminy Kite
Black Kite
Malabar Trogon
Malabar Grey Hornbill
Common Hoopoe
Asian Green Bee-eater
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
Blue-tailed Bee-eater
Pied Kingfisher
Stork-billed Kingfisher
White-breasted Kingfisher
Coppersmith Barbet
Malabar Barbet
Brown-headed Barbet
White-cheeked Barbet
Greater Flameback
Common Flameback
Black-rumped Flameback
Rufous Woodpecker
Indian Pygmy Woodpecker
Yellow-crowned Woodpecker
Common Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Vernal Hanging-parrot
Plum-headed Parakeet
Malabar Parakeet
Indian Pitta
Black-hooded Oriole
Indian Golden Oriole
Small Minivet
Scarlet Minivet
Indian Cuckooshrike
Black-headed Cuckooshrike
Ashy Woodswallow
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike
Malabar Woodshrike
Common Iora
White-browed Fantail
White-spotted Fantail
Black Drongo
Ashy Drongo
Bronzed Drongo
Greater Racquet-tailed Drongo
Indian Paradise-flycatcher
Brown Shrike
Bay-backed Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike
Rufous Treepie
White-bellied Treepie
House Crow
Large-billed Crow
Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher
Great Tit
Black-lored Tit
Malabar Lark
Jungle Prinia
Common Tailorbird
Sykes's Warbler
Blyth’s Reed-warbler
Clamorous Reed-warbler
Common Grasshopper-warbler
Red-rumped Swallow
House Swallow
Barn Swallow
Dusky Crag Martin
Square-tailed Bulbul
Flame-throated Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Red-vented Bulbul
Yellow-throated Bulbul
White-browed Bulbul
Grey-headed Bulbul
Yellow-browed Bulbul
Tytler's Leaf-warbler
Tickell's Leaf-warbler
Green Warbler
Greenish Warbler
Large-billed Leaf-warbler
Western Crowned Leaf-warbler
Lesser Whitethroat
Oriental White-eye
Indian Scimitar-babbler
Dark-fronted Babbler
Puff-throated Babbler
Brown-cheeked Fulvetta
Rufous Babbler
Jungle Babbler
Yellow-billed Babbler
Wynaad Laughingthrush
Palani Laughingthrush
Nilgiri Laughingthrush
Indian Nuthatch
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Chestnut-tailed Starling
Jungle Myna
Southern Hill Myna
White's Thrush
Orange-headed Thrush
Indian Blackbird
Oriental Magpie-robin
Indian Robin
White-rumped Shama
Brown-breasted Flycatcher
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Nilgiri Flycatcher
White-bellied Blue-flycatcher
Tickell's Blue-flycatcher
Blue-throated Blue-flycatcher
Indian Blue Robin
Nilgiri Blue Robin
White-bellied Blue Robin
Malabar Whistling-thrush
Rusty-tailed Flycatcher
Black-and-orange Flycatcher
Blue Rock-thrush
Pied Bushchat
Asian Fairy-bluebird
Golden-fronted Leafbird
Jerdon's Leafbird
Pale-billed Flowerpecker
Nilgiri Flowerpecker
Little Spiderhunter
Purple-rumped Sunbird
Crimson-backed Sunbird
Purple Sunbird
Loten's Sunbird
White-rumped Munia
Scaly-breasted Munia
Black-throated Munia
House Sparrow
Chestnut-shouldered Bush-sparrow
Olive-backed Pipit
Nilgiri Pipit
Paddyfield Pipit
Grey Wagtail
White-browed Wagtail
Common Rosefinch

Links to Other Days of the Trip (Click to View)

Friday 8 December 2017

Western Ghats - 8th December (Day 14)

Our final full day at Thattekad and after a sleepless night, having developed a terrible cough, we were up at 05:30. As we left the room at just after 06:00 a fantastic Indian Pitta was hoping around on the ground metres away from our tent. We had a coffee and headed into the field. We drove towards Makarachal and birded a quiet road leading to the dam. This was a fantastic forested valley and provided us with a few hours of highly enjoyable birding. One of the first birds we encountered was a calling Mountain (Legge’s) Hawk-eagle which flew across the road and perched in a roadside tree but was directly into the sun and it was not possible to obtain any photographs. I snuck a little nearer to obtain a sound recording but the bird dropped down the valley giving good flight views. Next we encountered the remarkable Fork-tailed Drongo-cuckoo, a Cuckoo that looks just like a Drongo but few its head shape. Other new birds included Malabar Woodshrike, Indian Cuckooshrike, a sub-adult male Grey Junglefowl, Indian Pygmy Woodpecker, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Banded Bay Cuckoo plus Dark-fronted Babbler, a female Malabar Trogon, White-bellied Treepie. This was some of the best birding of the trip to date and as the heat increased through the morning we were reluctant to leave. We headed back to the hotel for the heat of the day and, for me, a welcome siesta.

Chestnut-tailed Starling of subspecies blythii, sometimes split as Malabar Starling but HBW Alive consider the song, plumage and genetic differences too small to justify the split - Thattekad

Fork-tailed Drongo-cuckoo, this species is a brood parasite on a range of species including Babblers and Ioras. In the north of its range it is nomadic but in south-west India it is resident - Thattekad

Fork-tailed Drongo-cuckoo - Thattekad

This spectacular vine like plant was common along the forest edge - Thattekad

Green Warbler - Thattekad

Common Lascar Pantoporia hordonia - Thattekad

Malabar Woodshrike - Thattekad

Banded Bay Cuckoo, the host species are Common Iora and Scarlet Minivet - Thattekad

A skulking young male Grey Junglefowl - Thattekad

Male Crimson-backed Sunbird - Thattekad

Female Malabar Parakeet - Thattekad

Dark-fronted Babbler of the nominate subspecies which is endemic to the Western Ghats - Thattekad

Small Minivet of the subspecies malabaricus - Thattekad

Changeable Hawk-eagle of the nominate subspecies cirrhatus, sometimes split as Crested Hawk-eagle - Thattekad

A spectacular bee probably of the genus Xylocopa - Thattekad

The beautiful forests at Thattekad

Three on a bike

The forest and track we birded this morning produced one of the most enjoyable sessions of the trip

We birded this quiet track all morning

The birding bus

We were out again at 15:00 and after stocking up on further beer supplies we wandered an area of plantation woodland. It was fairly slow going but we recorded Rufous Woodpecker and had fantastic views of a party of stunning Grey Jungle-fowl plus rather fleeting views of Mottled Wood Owl. As darkness fell we waited in a clearing and the Mottled Wood Owl again called, this time we were able to obtain better views as a pair responded and came into playback. Crested Treeswift flew over the clearing calling loudly and eventually three Jerdon’s Nightjar began calling and showing well. They have a remarkable bouncing ball call created through resonation of the chest but this is difficult to hear until the sound is slowed down. It was time to head back and we celebrated a very successful trip and our last full day birding with beers, Vodka and Whiskey on the veranda while taping in an Indian Scops-owl.

Loten's Sunbird (female) - Thattekad

Loten's Sunbird (male) - Thattekad

Cattle Egret of subspecies coromandus, sometimes split as Eastern Cattle Egret - Thattekad

The superb Grey Junglefowl - Thattekad

Indian Scops-owl, obligingly came to our chalets as we drank beer and completed the log - Hornbill Camp, Thattekad

I made a lot of recordings today most of which have been uploaded to the Internet Bird Collection. The downloads that can be generated are great as they produce a fairly good sonogram with the recording embedded and if clicked on one can listen to the recording or be directed to the IBC website where a larger version and details of the recording can be viewed.

This is a recording of the Mountain (Legge's Hawk-eagle) from first thing in the morning. This I believe to be the territorial call.

This is a recording of two Crested Serpent-eagle that were heard but not seen as they soared over the forest canopy.

The rattling tacking of a Dark-fronted Babbler reacting to a small amount of playback. The bird was in a bamboo thicket and moved into the canopy.

A Blyth's Reed-warbler with tacking calls and harsh alarm calls, the tacking calls are distinctive but the alarm calls are fairly similar to Common Reed-warbler.

Calls of a loose flock of around 20 Crested Treeswift as they flew above a woodland clearing at dusk.

Call of Mottled Wood-owl at dusk.

Duetting Mottled Wood-owl described in HBW Alive as the main breeding-season vocalisation and described as quavering 'chuhuawaarrrr' which seems fairly accurate to my ear. In this recording there are two calls and I believe the hoot is the female while the 'chuhuawaarrrr' is the male. Below shows the ''chuhuawaarrrr” (first note with harmonic) followed by the hoot.

This is the remarkable bouncing ball song of Jerdon's Nightjar, the enlargement of one of the calls shows the unusual waveform of one of the calls.

Links to Other Days of the Trip (Click to View)

Thursday 7 December 2017

Western Ghats - 7th December (Day 13)

We were up at 05:30 and I was feeling dreadful with heavy cold, cough and aching muscles. We had a light breakfast and then loaded the bus and began the 120 kilometre drive to Thattekkad in Kerala. The route that we took was somewhat convoluted via Vagamon, and Thodupuzha to take in a couple of sites that Jijo had for Broad-tailed Grassbird and Legge’s Hawk-eagle but we had no luck with either. But recorded Common (Eastern) Stonechat of the subspecies indicus and Paddyfield Pipit. The drive took us through spectacular rolling hills with cardamom and tea plantations and numerous villages decorated with red flags and with trees clad in red tape showing the seemingly widespread support for Communism in this area of India.

Common (Eastern) Stonechat of the subspecies indicus - Near Moolamatton

The village of Vagamon decorated with the red flags of Communism



Communist flag in Vagamon

Tea drinking in Vagamon

Tea plantation outside of Vagamon

We arrived at Hornbill Lodge at Thattekkad at around 14:00 with a good supply of beer and whisky acquired. This was supplied by a salesman in a room behind bars with well stocked shelves of various spirits, rum, Bacardi and the like. Hornbill Camp like some other hotels we had stayed in does not supply alcohol or allow its consumption in the restaurant and so we had got into the mind set of making appropriate provision – a cold beer is a must after a long day in the field.

Liquor store Thattekkad

The approach to Hornbill Camp is lined with rubber plantation - Thattekkad

Barry in his suitably named lodge at Hornbill Camp, Thattekkad

After lunch we headed into the heat, Hornbill Camp is only 40 metres above sea level and so was the hottest and most humid area we visited in the Western Ghats. We birded a short stretch of partially forested track where we saw four Black-throated Munia endemic to south-west India and Sri Lanka, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, a perched female Grey Junglefowl and a stunning Brown Fish-owl being mobbed by three relentless Large-billed Crow. As dusk approached we headed to another area of forest to try for Jerdon’s Nightjar but despite hearing a couple of bird’s calling we failed to connect but did see a Jungle Owlet, these fabulously marked small owls with a great deal of character.

Oriental Magpie-robin of subspecies ceylonensis  - Thattekkad

Jungle Babbler of subspecies malabarica - Thattekkad

Jungle Babbler of subspecies malabarica - Thattekkad

Brown Fish-owl - Thattekkad

Indian Pond-heron - Thattekkad

In the darkness now at around 19:00 we headed to another nearby area of forest, this was to be our first attempt at a very special night bird and one of the top billings on the list of the birds in the Western Ghats, in fact one of the top birds in the whole of India. We began walking the track with Jijo occasionally playing his recording of the bird while his assistant occasionally scanned the branches with his red headlamp. After several tries and around one hour later suddenly there was a response, it sounded very distant but then eventually nearer – much nearer. We waited and tried playback once more but the bird was not budging so we decided to head into the forest, off trail. Moving through the tangle we were clearly closing in but the bird began to go silent and I was beginning to think we had blown it when suddenly there it was, in the spotlight right in front of us, a stunning Sri Lanka Bay-owl. Only 15 metres away and perched crossways on a vertical branch we studied this fantastic owl with its golden brown upperparts speckled with black and white, buffy underparts spotted buff and peculiar heart shaped facial disk. After spending 15 minutes with this fantastic bird we decided it time that we left it in peace and walked back through the forest to the minibus jubilant. A cold beer back at Hornbill Camp and we raised glasses to an amazing birding experience.

Sri Lanke Bay Owl a species confined to the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. The subspecies in the Western Ghats is ripleyi 

Sri Lanka Bay-owl - Thattekkad

Sri Lanka Bay-owl - Thattekkad

Sri Lanka Bay-owl - Thattekkad

Links to Other Days of the Trip (Click to View)