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.


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 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:


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!


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!


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 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!


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.





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!


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.

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 6 – 1/x/16

The first day of October dawned bright and windless, and I was ready for a full day of birding having caught up on sleep. I began by birding the observatory plantation, and was rewarded with better views of yesterdays’ redpolls, and confirming they were Lesser Redpolls albeit fairly pale ones. Slightly frustratingly these are much scarcer on the island than Mealy Redpolls, which would have been a lifer for me. A Yellow-Browed Warbler was also present and showing well on the fence above the plantation.






I continued down, birding thoroughly around Setter and Pund, and being rewarded with a flyover Siskin, a Swallow and 5 Jack Snipe. A Garden Warbler and a Whinchat were at the Stackhoull Shop, and whilst there I heard that the Bluethroat had been seen again at Shirva. I headed up there quickly, and as I arrived the bird hopped into view in a gateway ahead of me. It showed well for several minutes feeding around a small shed, and even coughed up a pellet at one point! The head markings were bold, but with no evidence of blue or rufous in the breast this is likely to be a a 1st-winter female.




The rest of the day was a little disappointing, with some hard birding producing relatively little. The afternoons highlights were: a showy Slavonian Grebe in North Haven, along with several waders, a few Lapland Buntings kicking about and a grey looking Whitethroat trying to look rare at Stackhoull.






With the conditions looking very promising for new arrivals tomorrow, there was a bit of a buzz at log. Hopefully it would live up to expectations!