2017 Review

This is my first blog post for a whole year, largely due to the fact that I’ve been in full-time employment for the whole period and free time has been a lot more scarce. I have managed to do a fair bit of birding and its about time for a summary.

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The first two months were very quiet, the birds of note were 1 Black Redstart, 2 Egyptian Geese (seen at the end of 2016 also), 3 Spotted Redshank (including 1 self-found) and Marsh Harrier, all seen at Goldcliff (Newport Wetlands). Stock Dove was also added to my Gwyddon Valley list. A visit to the Poole harbour area in early March produced some reasonable birding; Green-Winged Teal, (58) (Dark-Bellied) Brent Geese, (15!) Spoonbill, Red-Breasted Merganser, Marsh Harrier, Green P1010520 CedSandpiper and Mediterranean Gull were all noted. I began work as an ecologist in March, and the survey work immediately brought reward; eight Goshawk flights were seen during a vantage point survey in North Wales.

A visit to the Redhouse area at the Newport Wetlands began the Spring with, (self-found) Garganey, Cattle Egret and Spoonbill all seen. In April, I dipped Black-Winged Stilt at Slimbridge, but a 1st-winter Little Gull P1010650 Ced

compensated. The first British tick of the year came on 2/x/17, when a pair of Temminck’s Stint were successfully twitched at Goldcliff. A relatively quiet Summer followed, with a heavy work load meaning little birding, though some reasonable birds were seen during surveys: excellent views of Nightjar at a site in the valleys, and at other sites; good numbers of Red Kite, Redstart and Marsh Tit at a mid-Wales site; and Lesser Whitethroat in Somerset. A Cuckoo was also seen at the Wetlands, and a trip to Cotswold Water Park produced a second
P1030093 CedBritish tick; Red-Crested Pochard with up to 30 birds seen.

The Autumn produced by far the best birding of the year. It began on the 1/ix/17 with a juvenile Woodchat Shrike near Chipping Sodbury. Things were quiet for a few weeks, with Leach’s Petrel dipped at Severn Beach, a very quiet visit to Kenfig and an uninspiring seawatch from P1030626 CedWooltack Point (Pembrokeshire) later in the month. A second seawatch early in October, from Strumble Head was much more productive, with 2 Pomarine Skua, 3 Great Skua, 3 Arctic Skua and 2 Red-throated Diver the highlights. Things really picked up with a visit to the Scillies from 11-14/x/17. A Stilt Sandpiper on the journey south kicked off the trip. The best bird was the Eastern Orphean Warbler  on St. Agnes – a first for Britain! It was incredibly elusive in the morning P1030956 Cedbut eventually gave itself up and was seen well feeding on berries down the hill from the parsonage. An Isabelline Wheatear was also seen well on the airfield and a probable Wilson’s Snipe on Porthellick pool stood out from the Common Snipe, looking much colder in colour. Other highlights were; 2 Great-Northern Diver, 4 Balearic Shearwater (3 self-found), 2 Great Skua, American Golden Plover, Rose-P1040408 CedColoured Starling, 2 Yellow-Browed Warbler (1 self-found) and 2 Hawfinch. Back on the mainland a memorable day was had on the 17/x/17, when I finally caught up with Leach’s Petrel (a long-standing bogey bird) self-found off Goldcliff point in the wake of storm Ophelia. Later in the day, I successfully twitched the Rock Thrush near Abergavenny, a smart bird in a fantastic setting and I had it all to myself.

P1040871 CedFollowing this, things settled down for the winter, with a Spotted Redshank at Goldcliff and a Merlin at a site in west Wales the only birds of note in November. The year ended on a high note though, with a trip around the Severn on 30/xii/17 with my girlfriend Sophie, producing decent views of Hawfinch at Parkend (Forest of Dean) a 1st-year female Penduline Tit near Gloucester (ringed earlier in the year on Alderney) and Bewick’s
P1050095 CedSwan, Merlin and Water Rail at Slimbridge.

This was a reasonable years birding given the lack of free time, with some quality birds seen. As last year it was greatly improved by a few days birding on an off-island in the Autumn.


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!


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:




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







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 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!


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.



Several of the other Golden Plovers also showed well:


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.


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


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!



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.


Shetland Trip – Day 7 – 2/x/16

As I walked into the main room at the obs on day 7, the excitement was palpable! It was clear that the light easterly winds overnight had brought in new birds, as the early morning net rounds had produced a good number of new in Yellow-Browed Warblers and a Rosefinch. After breakfast everyone headed straight out, and it wasn’t long before some good birds were found…

I headed south, and was just behind another group of birders at Chalet when they located a Bluethroat, a new bird and this one a 1st-year male with a little bit of blue on the throat!


It was a slightly more elusive bird, but still an excellent start! A quick scan of the chalet garden produced a ‘tristis’ Siberian Chiffchaff (my first of this subspecies) as well as a Garden Warbler and several nominate Chiffchaffs.

As I continued south, news came through of an Arctic Warbler and a Radde’s Warbler. I opted for the latter and joined the crowd around Midway for a short while but there was no sign. Seeing that good birds were being found all the time, I decided to try and locate some of my own. I trudged around Da Water and the ditches at Gilsetter but produced only a few Jack Snipe. Continuing back to the north I could see a crowd had gathered at the shop. On arrival I could see a large group heading up towards the junction, and joining them I found out that the Radde’s Warbler had been showing again. This time I did manage to see it, initially in flight only, then briefly in the school playground before it settled in the garden of Lower Stoneybrek. I spent about half an hour there but the bird was very skulking, though reasonable views were eventually had. A 1st-year Red-Breasted Flycatcher was also showing well in the area!



I wandered over to Shop to catch a lift back to the obs, and was pleased to learn that a Red-Flanked Bluetail and a Blyth’s Reed Warbler had been found. However, the Bluetail was in the south, and the Warbler was close to the obs. Deciding that the Bluetail could wait, I boarded the taxi and was soon enjoying good views of my first Blyth’s Reed Warbler from a bedroom window in the obs! It showed well in good light and the plain, greyish plumage was seen well.

Lunch followed and was made all the sweeter by the news that the Red-Flanked Bluetail was still present. Another taxi run from Susannah meant that I was soon enjoying the bird feeding actively in Dog Geo. The blue tail and orange-red flanks were seen on this 1st-winter bird. Unfortunately I couldn’t spend long enjoying this bird, as while I watched news came through of a PECHORA PIPIT at Shirva!! A mad dash up the island followed and I joined the crowd gathering next to a grassy field. Kieran (the assistant warden) who had originally found the bird, went in to see if it was still there, but unfortunately there was no sign. However, it was quickly relocated in a nearby field but took flight before anyone could get there. Thankfully it landed in the garden itself and was seen on the deck by a lucky few before it again took flight and flew in front of me calling loudly. Following this, most of the crowd moved off, but several of us stayed in the area hoping for better views of the bird. Unfortunately there was no sign.

Whilst we waited, however, another pipit flew overhead and gave a single high pitched note which I recognised to be the call of a Red-Throated Pipit!!! I called it out to the others and followed it in the bins as it descended and landed some way off in a field. Fortunately I had my scope to hand, and managed to find it quickly. The white mantle stripes were visible, and as it turned I could see a red flush to the face and upper throat, aging it as an adult bird! My first self-found BBRC description species! Several others present had heard it and one other had seen it through my scope, and all were in agreement. Unfortunately, a number of birders had decided to try and get better views, and as we watched they walked straight towards the bird and flushed it. Sadly it wasn’t seen again!

As evening drew in things seemed to quieten down a little. However, there was one last surprise in store. As evening drew in, news came through that another mega had been found, a LANCEOLATED WARBLER! I headed down to midway and joined several others at the site were it had been seen. We waited for a short time while everyone arrived, and once everyone was present, Steve Arlow (the finder) approached the tussock where the bird had last been seen. Sure enough, out it flew and did a close flyby before pitching back into the dense grass. This happened several times before I managed a brief close range glimpse of the bird on the ground! It was then seen again briefly on the ground an was somewhat mouse-like in behaviour. It flew again and this time the decision was made to leave it alone, as all present had had satisfactory views of the small locustella warbler. I had seen the small size, streaky plumage and stubby bill well (though had not been able to photograph it). Thankfully, Steve had nailed it with the camera along with several other of the days highlights and these pictures can be seen on his website (follow the link below):


The sun set and everyone headed back to the obs for tea. It was a lively log, after one of the best days birding on the Isle in recent times!! It had been a privilege to be there on such a brilliant day, and I was sad to be leaving the following morning. Fair Isle really does have the best birding in Britain!

Shetland Trip – Day 5 – 30/ix/16

I left mainland at 11 in the morning, with no news of new birds in. Flying from Tingwall we followed the cliffs of south mainland in the small aircraft and then headed out over open water until we reached Fair Isle; probably the best birding site in the UK, and a place that I have dreamed of visiting ever since I started birding.


And over the first few hours, the birding didn’t fail to deliver. As I got of the plain, a pair of Lapland Buntings flew over calling. My first birds on the island and my first self-found birds of this species. Not a bad start! I was greeted by the warden Dave Parnaby, and we set off down the hill in the car. We hadn’t got far though, when a medium sized, pale bird flew across the track in front of us. Dave stopped the van, and we quickly got onto the 1st-year Short-Toed Lark which had been present for a while previously. It showed well for a short time before flying off again, but it was a British tick for me and only my third bird on the island!

We headed down to the observatory where I was shown to my room and given a short introduction. After a quick look around I headed back out, this time armed with my camera, and quickly refound the lark showing well by the roadside. It was strikingly pale, with a sandy brown plumage, and a subtle peach wash to the unstreaked breast. The bill was short and deep, and the cap was darker and had a touch of rufous.




The bird eventually flew up the hill towards the water tanks, just as Dave Steel arrived from the obs. We headed up together and after some time we relocated the bird near the airstrip where it continued to show well until we left. We returned for lunch at the obs, where I learned that the Bluethroat was still showing well at Shira. I headed in that direction, and as I went, I noted several Lesser Redpoll, 2 Merlin, 2 Yellow-Browed Warbler, 1 Black Redstart, 3 Whinchat, 1 Whitethroat, 1 Blackcap and good numbers of Twite. A further four Lapland Buntings were also seen, including one very showy individual not far from the obs at Gully.




Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Bluethroat at Shirva, but there was plenty of other good birding to be had, with 50+ Golden Plover, 5 Dunlin, a Knot, over 100 Pink-Footed Geese, a Peregrine, Great Skua and Fulmar all seen. Not a bad first day by any means, though the general impression at the evening log was that it had been fairly quiet!

Shetland Trip – Day 4 – 29/ix/16

After an excellent 24 hours, day 4 dawned with strong wind from the NW and persistent drizzle. Things got worse when I discovered that my phone had broken, meaning that I now had to rely fully on the less than adequate pager which I had rented.

I decided to head to Laxo, Mainland, for the Bluethroat which had been reported for several days. It seemed like it would be easy, but unfortunately it wasn’t, the weather meant that the bird had gone into cover and refused to come out during the couple of hours that I was there. A distant Merlin was meager consolation.

With the forecast supposedly better in the north, I decided to try my luck on Unst again. A Blyth’s Reed Warbler had been in a small garden at Uyeasound for the best part of a week. However, the wind once again put paid to my plans, and in a couple of hours the only bird I saw was a Yellow-Browed Warbler. Meager consolation once again.

I headed back to mainland where I discovered that the Greenish Warbler at Aith (which I had dipped on my first day) had reappeared. Convinced I couldn’t dip a third bird within the same day, I headed to the site, arriving early in the evening. I remained in the area until dark but unfortunately I failed once again! And once again the only consolation was offered by a Yellow-Browed Warbler.

All in all a very tough day, and one which proves that birding on Shetland is not always easy!