2016 Review

Compared to 2015, 2016 has been a much quieter year from a birding perspective. It began well however, when I saw my 300th species in Britain, a Snow Goose, on the Solway Firth on the 14th January. This was followed by a long self-imposed birding break whilst I completed my studies at Swansea University, and so I didn’t see any noteworthy birds for a whole five months (although Lesser Canada Goose was armchair ticked in March).

broad-billed-sandpiper-0022-cedA few trips out in early June produced some reasonable birds including Goshawk, Nightjar, Bearded Tits and Grasshopper Warblers, but nothing particularly good was seen until the 18th June when a Broad-Billed Sandpiper showed up at Goldcliff lagoons. I was very quick off the mark with this bird (having missed one there in April during my birding break), and was rewarded with excellent views and a few poor quality photos to boot.

The summer lull then set in, but a non-birding Scotswainsons-thrush-0012-cedtish holiday with friends did manage to produce some good birds, notably, Golden Eagle, White-Tailed Eagle, Black Guillemot, Osprey, and Rock Dove. A second holiday to Scotland, this time with the family and in late August, allowed for a days birding on the East coast, the days highlights were the White-Winged Scoter and Surf Scoter with the large scoter flocks at Murcar.

Wryneck, Pectoral Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper and lapland-bunting-0031-cedWood Sandpiper and  were the highlights of early Autumn, all at the Newport Wetlands reserve. But it was not until the Autumn got into full swing that things really got going with an eleven day October holiday on Shetland. Good birds were seen during the journey north, with a showy Brunnich’s Guillemot in Fife and a Red-Backed Shrike at Forvie near Aberdeen. Highlights on the Islands were as follows: Pechora Pipit, White’s Thrush, Lanceolated Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush, (self-found) Red-Throated Pipit, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, red-breasted-flycatcher-0027-ced2Arctic WarblerRadde’s Warbler (2), Dusky Warbler, Red-Flanked Bluetail, Arctic Redpoll, Short-Toed Lark, Red-Breasted Flycatcher (2), Black Redstart, Bluethroat (2), Red-Backed Shrike, Icterine Warbler, Yellow-Browed Warbler (50+), Common Rosefinch, Lapland Bunting (9) and Little Bunting (2). An absolutely brilliant trip, and one which will last long in the memory, especially the 2nd October on Fair Isle!

On returning to the mainland, and with winter approaching things quietened down significantly, and p1320892-cedthe highlights in November were a Scaup and two Egyptian Geese seen at the Wetlands during a high tide count there. December was even quieter until a Blue Rock Thrush was successfully twitched in the last few days of the year.

It had been a strange year and would have been notably quiet if it wasn’t for those remarkable 11 days spent on Shetland. I hope I can visit again soon!

Blue Rock Thrush Twitch – 29/xii/16

I’ve had another lull in birding over the past month or so, but when news came out of a BLUE ROCK THRUSH less then two hours away in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, I decided it was worth a look. I arrived at around half twelve, and was enjoying good views of the bird just after 1.

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It showed well on the rooftops for a while, though it was quite flighty and seemed to constantly be on the move. There is some debate about the origins of this bird, belonging to a species which is kept in captivity in low numbers. Furthermore, it appears to have an injured wing and blunted bill. However, it has been suggested that it appears to be of one of the eastern subspecies, rather than the European one, and may therefore have arrived earlier in the autumn amongst the glut of eastern rarities, some of which have also wintered such as the Dusky Thrush in Derbyshire. Whatever its origins it was a smart bird and well worth a visit! If accepted it will be only the seventh British record.

Back to Reality -26-17/x-xi/16

Since returning from Shetland I haven’t had much time for birding, sadly, although I have seen a few bits and pieces over the intervening month.

I have made two visits (26th October and 2nd November) to the Rhyswg Moors (part of my old patch – the Gwyddon Valley), where I have previously seen Jack Snipe at this time of year. Sadly I had no such luck this year, but a few other species were seen including 2 Crossbill, 4 Snipe, a Skylark and a Stonechat. Generally pretty quiet though…


I have also helped in two BTO surveys at my current patch – Newport Wetlands. First a low-tide count on the 10th November produced totals of: Canada Goose (1), Teal (13), Wigeon (22), Mallard (3), Little Egret (1), Kestrel (1), Black-Headed Gull (2), Herring Gull (1), Grey Plover (6), Curlew (26), Redshank (9), Dunlin (97), Snipe (3) and Carrion Crow (8). Again, not exactly worth writing home about.

The second count took place on the 17th November, and was a bit more impressive. The totals were; Egyptian Goose (2), Canada Goose (122), Shelduck (2), Wigeon (1124!), Teal (35), Shoveler (4), Mallard (17), Little Egret (1), Marsh Harrier (1), Black-Headed Gull (5), Greenshank (3), Redshank (20), Curlew (17), Lapwing (12) and Oystercatcher (39). A bit more like it! The Egyptian Geese were a patch tick for me. Two birds flew in and landed with the other wildfowl on the pill for less than a minute but were very wary and soon flew off south and were not seen again.

The morning finished with a nice bonus bird as I made a brief stop at Uskmouth to see the 1st-winter drake Scaup that had been found the previous afternoon. It was still present and gave half decent views for the short time I was there. My second patch tick of the day!

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Shetland Trip – Day 11 – 6/x/16

The final day of my trip dawned, and I decided to do some birding at Cunningsburgh on the south mainland. I met with two other birders from Wales and together we spent several hours working the site. Our reward was a total of eight Yellow-Browed Warblers (three self-found), a ‘tristis’ Siberian Chiffchaff, several Redwing, a Merlin and a ‘Greenland’ Wheatear (identified by the upright (tall) stance, extensive buff on the underside, brown feathers in the grey mantle and seven primary tips visible), see the pictures below:

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And here are some pictures of the other migrants and vagrants in the area:

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It had been a pleasant morning, though relatively quiet given the weather conditions. As the evening approached I bade farewell to the archipelago and boarded the ferry. As I did so, I was gutted to see that a Siberian Thrush had just been found on Unst! Ah well, you win some you lose some, and with it disappearing overnight it’s unlikely that I would have seen it anyway. Besides, I’d seen some fantastic birds during my visit so I wasn’t complaining!

In summary, it was an unbelievably good birding trip, just look at the list below:

PECHORA PIPIT, WHITE’S THRUSH, LANCEOLATED WARBLER, SWAINSON’S THRUSH, BRUNNICH’S GUILLEMOT, Red-Throated Pipit, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Arctic Warbler, Radde’s Warbler (2), Dusky Warbler, Red-Flanked Bluetail, Arctic Redpoll, Short-Toed Lark, Red-Breasted Flycatcher (2), Black Redstart, Bluethroat (2), Red-Backed Shrike, Icterine Warbler, Yellow-Browed Warbler (50+), Common Rosefinch, Lapland Bunting (9), Little Bunting (2)

I’m sure I’ll be back one day!

Shetland Trip – Day 10 – 5/x/16

Before I begin, apologies for the lack of pictures in this post (there are links to other people’s).

Day 10 was very much a day of two birds. I had a slow start on Unst, having a much needed shower at the leisure center before enjoying a bacon butty and mug of tea at a local shop. At about 10 I checked the news, and learned that there was very little about, other than an Arctic Redpoll (of the subspecies ‘hornemanii‘) had been seen briefly the day before near Baltasound. I decided it was worth a look, so headed down. There were a few others present, but sadly no sign of the bird. However, they informed me that it had been present earlier in the morning, so we continued our search. After a short while, I was scanning the burn through my bins when a large pale finch crossed my field of view – that had to be it! I followed it and watched as it landed on a small rock in the stream – an enormous pale redpoll, pure white on the front with a steep forehead, buffish wash to the face and neat red forehead patch. No sooner than it had landed, it flew again disappearing over a bank but revealing its clean white rump in the process. We followed and soon found the bird feeding at the bottom of a fence. We watched for a short while at some distance, before the bird flew once again, this time disappearing away to the east. At this point several other birders arrived, and we were just about to tell them it had gone, when I once again picked it up in flight. It flew straight towards us, went low overhead, then continued west until it was lost from view. It was an all-to-brief encounter with a stunning bird. Here’s a link to a photo of it:

http://www.nature-shetland.co.uk/naturelatest/pics16/ared-dc0410.jpg

Delighted that I had seen this bird, I jumped back into the car and made for the mainland, planning to spend my remaining time there. However, as I reached the ferry terminal a text came through from Geoff Wyatt:

White’s Thrush, Houbie, Fetlar

Not for the first time I quickly changed my plan and after a few hours around the ferry terminals I found myself at Gutcher, waiting to board the Fetlar ferry. However, as time ticked by more and more cars full of birders filled up the ‘booked’ queue and I soon realised there were no remaining spaces. Ditching the car, I walked along the queue of waiting birders asking if anyone had spaces. Fortunately two kind souls did, and we soon boarded the ferry. It was early afternoon when we arrived, and the convoy of cars raced over to Houbie. The crowd assembled quickly on arrival, and after a short time the WHITE’S THRUSH was flushed from the plantation. It flew down the burn in full view, the striking black and white underwing pattern and large size were striking! Over the next ten minutes it did several more flyby’s showing well, but never landed in the open. After a little while, it settled into some dense willows, out of view, but with some careful positioning several of us were able to obtain views into the undergrowth. By doing this I was able to get two brief glimpses of the bird, but it was incredibly well camouflaged – an absolute stunner!

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It was also nice to see my self-found Red-Breasted Flycatcher still present at the site too!

As darkness set in, I grabbed a lift back to the ferry with two welsh birders I had met, and then followed them back to mainland, finally getting to bed at around 1. Well worth it though for two cracking birds!

Shetland Trip -Day 9 – 4/x/16

As dawn broke, I grabbed a quick breakfast and drove the short distance back to Aith. I began to search the site, and covered it thoroughly during the first hour of light but with no sign of the bird. By this time, large numbers of other birders were arriving, so I decided to move on, realising that in all likelihood the bird had gone.

During the drive (the previous evening) I had noticed a promising looking area, and soon realised that this was the fabled burn at Houbie, where many very rare birds have been seen including Britain’s first Chstnut-Sided Warbler – I decided it would be worth a visit… My plan was to park at the south end and work my way upstream away from the sea towards a plantation some 150 metres up. The ditches and iris beds failed to produce anything of note, but a Chiffchaff appeared as I approached the plantation. I headed around and as I viewed the sheltered side I noticed a small bird working its way along the fenceline. Looking through the bins, I quickly realised it was a 1st-year Red-Breasted Flycatcher – a good self-found bird! It continued to work its was along the fence, so I sat quietly and was soon enjoying excellent views of the bird at only a few meters range!

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It soon moved into the plantation so I decided to leave it and peace and try a new area.

As I drove I noticed a large flock (of several hundred) Golden Plover in a field near Tresta. I parked and began to scan. After a few minutes I noticed a strikingly pale bird. My initial thoughts were that it was an American Golden Plover, but something didn’t seem right. The supercillium was not particularly bold, and the birds shape was that of a Golden Plover, with only a short primary projection. After some discussion with other birders nearby (including Geoff Wyatt) it was concluded that this was simply a pale Golden Plover – an educational bird.

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Several of the other Golden Plovers also showed well:

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As we had been discussing this bird, news came through that the SWAINSON’S THRUSH has been refound. Everbody raced back to the site and was pleased to learn that the bird was still present, but was currently inside one of the ruined farm buildings. A crowd gathered a short distance away and intently watched a small hole in the roof, whilst one birder went inside. After a few tense moments the bird popped out and sat on the roof in the open for all to see! The neat eye ring was striking.

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As it flew, the bold underwing pattern was seen, and I managed a poor quality image of that too:

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It was quickly relocated, and showed well on the ground for a short time, showing the bold breast spotting and buff wash, before working its way back to the ruin and hopping inside where it was thankfully left in peace!

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It was now early afternoon and I fancied a change of scenery, so I headed back to the ferry terminal and made for Unst. There, I drove north and arrived at Norwick with a few hours of light remaining. The highlight was a Little Bunting. This may have been the same bird as was seen on the 28th September, or could have been a new bird. Either way it was a pleasant way to round off a good day on the northern archipelago.

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Shetland Trip – Day 8 – 3/x/16

After the previous days excitement I decided it would be worth the early start to see what the days net round produced. And I wasn’t disappointed! As head warden Dave Parnaby came entered the ringing room he announced that they had caught a 1st-year Common Rosefinch and that it was in one of the bags! After processing a few commoner migrants including a Redwing and a Garden Warbler, the finch was pulled from the bag, processed and shown outside. The relatively plain streaked brown plumage, bold black eye and typical finch bill allowed easy identification. The bird was shortly released and seen briefly when it landed in the plantation before being lost to view. One of the less inspiring additions to my British list but still interesting to see. Hopefully the next will be a spring male!

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After breakfast, I headed out for my last few hours on the island before my 11 o’clock flight. I began by photographing the Great Skuas on the hillside behind the observatory.

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I spent the remaining time in the south, where there appeared to have been a bit of a clear out. The highlights were only one Yellow-Browed Warbler, two Lapland Bunting and a Whinchat. The Short-Toed Lark showed very well again in the Cra – a nice conclusion to my time on the island!

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I grabbed my things from the obs, hopped aboard the plane and enjoyed the short flight back to the mainland. After a bite to eat in Lerwick, I checked the bird news but was disappointed to see that things were very quiet!

I took the decision to head north towards Unst in the hope of finding something myself. However, as I headed towards the ferry terminal, a bleep from the pager informed me that a Swainson’s Thrush had just been found on the Fetlar! A change of tack was in order. I boarded the Fetlar ferry, but was becoming increasingly aware that I was racing against the light. It was already past 5 o’clock when I landed, meaning that I had only an hour of light left. When I arrived on site it appeared that everyone else had left, but one other local birder arrived and joined me. Inevitably, we couldn’t find the bird as dusk turned to dark but I decided it would be worth a go the following morning so hunkered down in the car for some shut-eye.