Wednesday 21 October 2020

Stiffkey and Shuart Lane Twitch - 18th October

On 17th October I had promised Sarah and her Sister's that I would provide a taxi service so that they were able to go to a restaurant for lunch and indulge in a few glasses, but when I switched my phone on at around 08:00 news had already broken of a mega rarity in Norfolk - a Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin and I began to feel decidedly unsettled. I dropped the girls off and was to spend the day with Tobias - he wanted to head to the New Forest to look for Red Deer and Fallow Deer and particularly wanted to see stag's of the two species. Luckily we saw the deer fairly readily and managed to find a fantastic bellowing male Red Deer with a harem of around 35 hind's. Satisfied, Tobias and I headed home and I began to consider my options for getting to the Scrub-Robin, with Tobias encouraging me to do it! Now, I would not normally drop everything to travel for a bird, largely because of work and family commitments, but with such a mega rare bird - the first on mainland UK for 40 years, and with Sarah with her Sister's for company I had the opportunity. I booked a hotel and then headed off with Tobia's to collect the girls at 16:00, I announced that I would drop them at home and then leave for Norfolk, the plan was now secured. 

I arrived at my hotel in North Elmham at around 21:30 and after a swift glass crashed for the night, now only 30 minutes from the bird. The alarm went off at 06:00 and by 07:00 I was driving to Stiffkey through heavy rain; the rain did not bode well but at least the overcast conditions probably meant that it had not departed. But, the bird looked a little tatty from images posted yesterday so the big question was 'had it survived the night?'.

I need not fear as within around 15 minutes of my arrival, and with barely time to don my boots and coat, news of the birds continued presence broke. The tide at Stiffkey was exceptionally high and the bird had been picked up flying from the saltmarsh, which it frequented yesterday, to the stubble field to the west of the car park as daylight broke. When I arrived the bird was feeding along the edge of the stubble field and showing well. Over the next couple of hours I watched this mega rarity feeding in the stubble and bordering Alexander's and occasionally flying into the adjacent hedgerow and showing itself well. Let's be honest, this bird is not a looker with it's tatty tail and drooping wing's, but what it lacks in looks it makes up for in rarity value, this is the first bird on the UK mainland since 1980's. With the following accepted records from the last century and with a further four records from the 1800's, before yesterday, there were very few UK birder's that had seen this species on home territory;

1998 - Jersey with no location given, 7th June.

1980 - Prawle Point (Devon), 9th August.

1972 - Flamborough Head (Yorkshire), 5th-6th October 1972.

1968 - Cape Clear (Co.Cork), 20th April.

1963 - Butlin's Holiday Camp, Skegness (Lincolnshire), 2nd-9th September.

1959 - Gammon Head, near Prawle Point (Devon), 20th October

1951 - Great Saltee Island (Co.Wexford), subspecies C. g. syriacus, 22nd September - 4th October.

1951- The Wicks, Dungeness (Kent), 12th September.

My eBird list for Stiffkey and additional photograph's of the Rufous-tailed Bush-Robin can be viewed here.

Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin - Stiffkey, Norfolk

Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin - Stiffkey, Norfolk

So, with the Scrub-Robin under the belt I checked the rarity news and to my relief another UK tick was still present and showing well, and so after a three hour drive, roughly southbound, I arrived at Shuart Lane near to Birchington, Kent and after a 20 minute march was watching a fine 1st year Masked Shrike as it fed on flies and wasps along its chosen hedgerow. There are actually fewer UK records of this species than the Scrub-Robin with only three accepted UK records plus two additional birds (including this one) in 2020. But, with the first record of this species being a long staying bird in 2004 and further records in 2006 and 2014 this species lacks the mythical status of the Scrub-Robin.

My eBird list for this site can be viewed here.

After spending around 30 minutes with the Shrike I decided to gather some Brownie points and headed home in time for Sunday roast and a celebratory red wine with the family. A fantastic day was had.

Masked Shrike - Shuart Lane, Birchington, Kent

Masked Shrike - Shuart Lane, Birchington, Kent

Sunday 11 October 2020

Pennington Marsh - 9th October

After dropping my son at school I spent a couple of hours at Pennington Marsh before work, it was a lovely sunny morning and I planned to walk a short loop out to Fishtail Lagoon and back east. When I got to Fishtail Lagoon two Grey Phalarope that had been found yesterday were showing superbly well in the south-east corner of the lagoon and so I spent some time with these fantastic little birds as they fed at close quarters. A Woodlark flew over heading south, a new site bird for me.

The time was pushing on and so I headed quickly out to Keyhaven Lagoon, which was somewhat disappointing as is so often the case, and then headed back east along the seawall seeing a couple of Yellow Wagtail and Bearded Tit.

My eBird checklist can be viewed here.

Grey Phalarope - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Grey Phalarope - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Grey Phalarope - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Meadow Pipit - Jetty Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Yellow Wagtail - Jetty Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

On reaching home, I checked my phone and to my shock the top message was 'Wilson's Phalarope showing well at west end of Fishtail Lagoon', reported at 11:15 I must have walked right past this bird at around 10:15. Absolutely gutted! I sat at my desk and completed some urgent work, the rest can wait till later and I headed back down to Pennington. After a slightly mad drive and a quick dash along the seawall I was watching this superb and very confiding Wilson's Phalarope as it fed amongst the rush in the west corner of Fishtail - I was made up. A fantastic bird that I have only seen a handful of times before, the last in the UK being the summer plumaged female just across the water at Yarmouth on 21st June 2013.

My eBird checklist and additional photograph's of the Wilson's can be viewed here.

Wilson's Phalarope - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Wilson's Phalarope - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Pennington Marsh - 6th October

On a mainly sunny morning I walked a loop from the car park at Lower Pennington Lane west to Keyhaven and then back east along the seawall. I spent a great deal of time along the Ancient Highway looking for migrants in the bushes seeing a few Chiffchaff but little else. At the plantation at the west end of the Ancient Highway I started to 'pish' and a few Chiffchaff appeared and then a fast moving dart of a bird and a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared in an Oak in front of me, the first I have found in Hampshire. I shall never tire of seeing these fantastic little long distant migrants.

Along the seawall, it was evident that there has been a large influx of Wildfowl since my last visit with large numbers of Wigeon, Pintail, Teal and Shoveler present. At Butts Lagoon four Bearded Tit appeared high from the east and dropped into the reedbeds and at Fishtail Lagoon a Spotted Redshank flew north calling. It had been a very enjoyable morning at Pennington but very subdued compared to the recent excitement of Shetland.

My eBird list for the morning can be viewed here.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Ancient Highway, Pennington Marsh

Yellow-browed Warbler - Ancient Highway, Pennington Marsh

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Shetland - 4th and 5th October

It was my final full day on Shetland and I awoke to a dreary day with rain and a north-east wind. After a brief scan too sea at Scord I headed to Sumburgh Head and birded the farm area. Numbers of migrants had dropped off considerably from yesterday with a substantial fall in Blackcap, Goldcrest and Robin numbers. Barnacle Goose flocks were heading south and a large flock of around 175 birds roamed the Fitfull Head and Sumburgh area, a single albino amongst their ranks. The Little Bunting from yesterday was still around the farm but was rather flighty. The Great Grey Shrike was still in the boulder field at Grutness and showed a little better than yesterday's rather fleeting view. My eBird lists can be viewed here and here.

Barnacle Goose flock over Fitfull Head - Sumburgh, Mainland Shetland

Great Grey Shrike - Grutness, Sumburgh, Mainland Shetland

I then headed a short way north to Toab where a 1st winter Bluethroat showed occasionally but a little distantly in a potato field near to the post office. Also in this field were four Brambling and a Siskin. My eBird checklist can be viewed here.

Bluethroat - Toab, Sumburgh, Mainland Shetland

I then headed a short way north again to North Town close to Exnaboe. Here a lovely Red-breasted Flycatcher showed well in a garden, calling frequently and occasionally being chased by Robin's. My eBird checklist can be videwed here.

Red-backed Shrike - North Town, Exnaboe, Mainland Shetland

With little else being in the south of the mainland I headed up to Asta, just to the west of Lerwick for an Olive-backed Pipit that had been showing well in the Sycamore's around the village. This is a superb area that I had not visited before but am sure to head back to. After a little searching I located the pipit feeding in the leaf litter below the Sycamore's and spent a ten minutes with the bird before it flew, seemingly a short way south, and could not be relocated. My eBird checklist can be viewed here.

Olive-backed Pipit - Asta, Mainland Shetland

Olive-backed Pipit - Asta, Mainland Shetland

Olive-backed Pipit - Asta, Mainland Shetland

I then headed back south with the intention of doing some general birding but decided to call in on the Red-backed Shrike at Boddam which eventually showed fairly well as the rain began to fall. I wandered to the derelict cottage at the summit of the hill north of Boddam and in the garden here were a Blue Tit (scarce on Shetland), Yellow-browed Warbler and an Olive-backed Pipit. My eBird checklist can be viewed here.

Red-backed Shrike - Boddam, Mainland Shetland

I then birded Leebitten and Sandwick but saw relatively little, the highlights being two Red-throated Diver and six Swallow at Sandwick. My eBird checklists can be viewed here and here.

On my final day I only had an hour or so before needing to get my 10:10 flight back to London. I birded Grutness and saw relatively little, the Great Grey Shrike was still present and I had good views of a lovely male Siskin. And that was it, time to head back to Hampshire after a fantastic trip to Shetland. My final eBird checklist can be viewed here.

Siskin- Grutness, Sumburgh, Mainland Shetland

Sunday 4 October 2020

Shetland - 3rd October

In a stiff south-east wind with occasional showers, some heavy, I began the day birding the Sumburgh Head and Grutness area. There were good numbers of migrants with Goldcrest, Blackcap and Robin seemingly in every patch of cover. At Sumburgh Farm a superb, self found, Little Bunting got the pulse racing and raised the expectations. A Lesser Whitethroat was flushed from a weedy field where there was also a small flock of Brambling. At Grutness a brief flight view of yesterday's Great Grey Shrike was a Shetland tick.

Little Bunting - Sumburgh Farm, Shetland

Brambling - Sumburgh Farm, Shetland

Goldcrest - Sumburgh Farm, Shetland

I then headed up to the headland where the Lanceolated Warbler from yesterday was still showing superbly as it fed along the wall and Goldcrest flitted in the tussocks of Red Fescue. Checking my phone there was no news of anything of great significance which was somewhat surprising given the weather conditions and so I decided to head to Rerwick near to Bigton where a Radde's Warbler was found yesterday. I gave the bird around an hour to show in its chosen tiny clump of Willow and Sycamore but there was no sign - the bird has generally been very elusive.

Goldcrest - Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Lanceolated Warbler - Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Lanceolated Warbler - Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Lanceolated Warbler - Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Lanceolated Warbler - Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Lanceolated Warbler - Sumburgh Head, Shetland

I then found myself at a bit of a loose end, my camera's electronics seemed to have completely failed and so I fiddled with this a while scanning Loch of Spiggie to add a few water birds to my trip list. There were 38 Whooper Swan present and a passage of 246 Barnacle Goose moving south overhead.

Whooper Swan - Loch of Spiggie, Shetland

I then headed to Levenwick where I birded the area around the stores, the highlight here was a Jack Snipe at the mouth of the quarry. I then headed to Hoswick Burn and worked the bushes lining the burn, here the highlight was three Yellow-browed Warbler and a female (type) Redstart. News then broke of a Siberian Stonechat on the road between Cunningsburgh and Blett and so I headed here and got rather brief and distant views. The light was now closing in and I decided to head back to Lerwick to try and sort my camera out. The day had offered so much by, generally, had failed to deliver on a significant rariety. Maybe tomorrow.

Friday 2 October 2020

Shetland - 2nd October

In a Force 6-7 south-east wind I opted to start the day on the west coast of mainland Shetland hoping to find some shelter. In a light rain under heavy grey skies I birded Geosetter, there were good numbers of Redwing and Song Thrush, a couple of Goldcrest and a Blackcap but little else and there was little shelter. My eBird list for the site can be viewed here.

At around 09:00 I received a message to say that the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler found yesterday afternoon at Burrafirth at the far end of Unst was still present and showing well occasionally. I have only seen two Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler previously in Malaysia and Thailand and so this would be British tick. I plugged in the directions to the sat nav and off I set.

Having traversed much of mainland Shetland, all of Yell and much of Unst I was pleased to finally arrive at Burrafirth some 2.5 hours later but it was not long before the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler was seen, first in flight and then over the next two hours or so very well perched in vegetation and on the tops of walls and fences. It was a cracking little bird and great to see so well. Also here were a couple of Yellow-browed Warbler and a Little Bunting. Having had my fill I decided to make my way back south.

My eBird checklist for the site can be viewed here.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler - Burrafirth, Unst, Shetland

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler - Burrafirth, Unst, Shetland

Little Bunting - Burrafirth, Unst, Shetland

Little Bunting - Burrafirth, Unst, Shetland

At the Unst to mainland ferry I got chatting to Mark House who was just heading for a Lanceolated Warbler that was showing well on Sumburgh Head. I knew of this bird but hadn’t considered driving there this evening but having spoken to Mark realised that it was doable and that a 18:00 arrival at Sumburgh was possible. As I drove south, following Mark through rain and fog and failiyng light, it was not until a message pinged that said the bird was showing well that I decided to commit. Following Mark, we arrived at Sumburgh head at 17:50 in brilliant evening sunshine and quickly located the Lanceolated Warbler. The bird was showing amazingly feeding along the foot of a wall in the open and occasionally skulking through the dense Red Fescue matts and on a couple of occasions perching on top of the stone wall. It was a fabulous little bird reminiscent of a Pipit with those chunky legs and streaky plumage and a mouse in the way it walked through the grass and scuttled along the wall. A real highlight.

As we left, Goldcrest's, Robin's and two Redstart appeared to be arriving from the skies, what will tomorrow bring. My eBird checklist for the site can be viewed here.

Lanceolated Warbler - Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Lanceolated Warbler - Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Thursday 1 October 2020

Shetland - 30th September and 1st October

With an increasing rate in Covid-19 cases in the UK during our second spike of the global pandemic and numerous cancellations of my flights by British Airways I was in two minds as to whether to cancel my trip to Shetland entirely. But, with news of the finding, on Yell, of the fifth Tennessee Warbler for the UK and the forecast of a steady stream of easterly winds my mind was made up and on the morning of the 30th I found myself at Heathrow Airport.

My flights were surprisingly all on time and I landed on a very soggy and wind swept Shetland at 15:15, and while there was just possibly time to get to Yell the Tennessee Warbler had not been seen today other than a brief possible glimpse early in the morning. I opted to bird Grutness, Pool of Virkie and Levenwick but saw little in the strong winds and driving rain. I headed to my hotel for a much needed sleep after a 03:00 start.

On 1st October I headed out into the field following breakfast, it had been very windy overnight and had rained hard right through to just before 07:00 but as I headed out the weather was calm and with the south-easterly airflow I was optimistic. I started by birding at Fladdabista but there seemed to be very few migrants around, the highlights here being a fly over Hawfinch and a Yellow-browed Warbler. Just as I got to my car and began chatting to a couple of other birders news broke of a White’s Thrush at Quendale Mill and so a mad dash ensued and I was soon looking at a rather distant British tick. The bird had been showing in the small garden near to the mill but once surrounded it, naturally, decided to fly and by the time I arrived it was perched on a pile of wood at the end of the Burn to the east. I watched it for a few minutes before it decided to distance itself further flying down the Burn not to be seen again. While driving for the Thrush news broke that the Tennessee Warbler was showing and so I headed north to Yell.

I caught the 11:45 ferry across to Yell and arriving at Burravoe at around 12:15 I was soon looking at the Tennessee Warbler. Over the next couple of hours I watched as this fantastic little bird fed within the Sycamore in its selected garden. Its usual mode of feeding seemed to be to hang upsidedown to glean beneath the leaves, when doing so its white belly was very prominent and often the easiest way to detect the bird. It was a sluggish, moving slowly and steadily through the canopy and lower levels of the Sycamore. There were at least six Yellow-browed Warbler here and occasionally the Tennessee Warbler seemed to be loosely associated with them.

As the wind increased the bird became more elusive and so I decided to make a quick dash to the north of the island where an Arctic Warbler had been present at Gutcher for a few days but in the now strong winds and heavy rain I had no luck. I headed back to the mainland with a brief stop at Voe, where I saw little, before heading to my hotel in Lerwick.

There are four previous records of Tennessee Warbler in the UK as follows:

  • 1995 - 20th September - Hirta, St Kilda.
  • 1982 - 5th-7th September - Holm, Mainland, Orkney (trapped)
  • 1975 - 24th September - Fair Isle, Shetland (trapped)
  • 1975 - 6th to 20th September - Fair Isle, Shetland (trapped)

My eBird post for Fladdabist can be seen here and for Burravoe here. There are a few additional photographs of the Tennessee Warbler in the latter list.

Tennessee Warbler - Burravoe, Yell, Shetland

Tennessee Warbler - Burravoe, Yell, Shetland

Tennessee Warbler - Burravoe, Yell, Shetland

Tennessee Warbler - Burravoe, Yell, Shetland

With the winds in the east or south-east for a few days and flowing all the way from the Caspian region we could be in for some fantastic birding with two Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, Lanceolated Warbler and Radde's Warbler all new in to the islands today this could, hopefully, be a sign of things to come........