Friday, 9 October 2020

Herr Schwarzi

Well I was supposed to be en route to Cape Clear Island, Cork for my annual autumn birding holiday but sadly Covid has taken care of that. It never really looked likely though, so it seemed appropriate to be seeing a bird today that I last saw in Cork (specifically in 2007 on the Old Head of Kinsale). That bird being Radde's Warbler. The species is named after one Gustav Radde who accompanied Professor Ludwig Schwarz on the East Siberian Expedition of 1855. Radde's Warbler's scientific name is Phylloscopus Schwarzi.    

Mid-morning I drove down to the charming town of Southwold on the Suffolk coast. When I arrived the bird had been missing for at least an hour. The wind had picked up and although this bird had been showing well, the species is notoriously skulking so I was starting to worry a little. My views of the bird in Cork were just about tickable so I really hoped for better. And I wasn't to be disappointed. As is often the case, just wait patiently. I positioned myself close to where it had first been seen and set up my camera up on the tripod. After an hour the bird passed my way and fed down low at the base of a small Tamarisk. A small group enjoyed excellent views down to within twenty feet for about a minute before it moved on.


                                                Radde's Warbler - Southwold, Suffolk - 9th October 2020

And as it moved on, in case we were in any doubt as to its identification, it gave us all a quick flash of its arse, showing that apricot vent to full effect.

                                         Radde's Warbler, Southwold, Suffolk - 9th October 2020

I hung around for another hour, I had one shot that was tantalisingly close to being as good as you could hope for in this species but a frond just blocked the cruel!

Radde's Warbler, Southwold, Suffolk - 9th October 2020

Back at the carpark another birder told me of a rather obliging Purple Sandpiper at the end of the pier. He wasn't wrong there.

                                                Purple Sandpiper, Southwold, Suffolk - 9th October 2020

Time was running out and I needed to get back, but another birder got me onto this striking looking 1st Winter Caspian Gull. A very upright, long-legged and long-necked Gull and well worth a good look.


1st Winter Caspian Gull - Southwold, Suffolk - 9th October 2020


Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Follow-up Chat

So, a quick update to my last blog post (A day to remember). If you read to the end you'll know that late Saturday evening Nick and I came across an odd looking chat at the end of Doggett's Lane. I got stuck somewhere between Whinchat and Stonechat and to be fair to Nick at the time he called Sibe Stonechat and possibly 'Stejneger's'. However, all this was based on about a total 30 second view. We did get a pale, apricoty, unstreaked rump and a off-white chin / throat plus that nice 'gentle / open' expression. However, that was it. We coudn't re-find it despite searching in the gathering rain and gloom. On the way back towards where we first had it, I saw what I thought was the bird but we both kind of dismissed this as a female European Stonechat (we had about 9 hours in the field by then and our brains were addled). It flew further away and perched on a bramble. I wasn't sure so decided to take a record shot. The second I pressed the shutter it flew off, curses I thought! I didn't bother to process the image until last night and here it is.

                                Probable Siberian 'Stejneger's' Stonechat, Cart Gap, Norfolk - 3rd October 2020


I wish I had processed the photo earlier but in any case, it was the Sibe Stonechat after all showing a nice unstreaked rump and dark auxiliaries. If it had stayed perched none of these features would have been visible.

Nick searched the following day (Sunday) but to no avail. On Monday Richard Moores re-found the bird (I'm assuming the same bird based on the photos he posted) and managed to obtain a faeces sample which has been sent away for DNA analysis. Top work there Richard.

As of today 6th October, the bird is still present though does go missing into the adjacent beet field at times. I will try later in the week to get back there and see it well. Meantime, let's wait and see what the pooh sample tells us.

Sunday, 4 October 2020

A day to remember

Yesterday was possibly one of the finest day's birding I ever enjoyed. To try and summarise it all in one single blog post is not doing it enough justice but I'll try. To create some context, the wind had been blowing from the east for the previous 24 hours. It had been raining overnight and was still wet and grey when I pulled into the car park at Happisburgh Cricket Club at 7.30am on Saturday morning. I had tempered my expectations, too often its easy to get over-excited with conditions like this and then walk away later in the day, empty handed and despondent. But small groups of Redwing and Song Thrush going over already plus several Robins squabbling in the hedgerow by the bowling green were good signs. 

Nick and I walked to the Coast Watch whereupon we met with Richard Moores who'd already had a Common Redstart and several Brambling en route there. A Dunlin flew in off the sea and joined the Wheatear already present on the muddy patch in front of the Coast Watch building.

                                                    Dunlin - Happisburgh, Norfolk - 3rd October 2020


                                                Wheatear, Happisburgh, Norfolk - 3rd October 2020

 Soon after Nick picked up a smart Shorelark in the same patch of mud.

                                                   Shorelark, Happisburgh - 3rd October 2020

Nick and I headed south along the cliff walk whilst Richard headed back to the Cricket Club. However, we didn't get too far before Richard called us back as he'd found a Wryneck at the Paddocks.

                                            Wryneck - Happisburgh, Norfolk - 3rd October 2020

It was still early doors but already shaping up to be one of our better days at Happisburgh. 

Meanwhile out at sea, stuff was on the move. Every time I looked out there was a small of flock of something, Teal, Common Scoter, Brent Geese and this small band of Eider.

                                        Eider - Happisburgh, Norfolk - 3rd October 2020

We walked the cliffs, through the old caravan park and as far as the Lighthouse where we flushed a tired Woodcock. Heading back towards the village we flushed a second Woodcock and watched as it flew up along Beach Road. Arriving back at the Cricket Club we thought it was probably a good time to draw breathe and make a pit stop. We drove up towards Walcott for a full English in the Kingfisher Cafe.

As we munched through our healthy breakfast it was clear from scanning WhatsApp, Twitter and various Bird News Services, that stuff was continuing to arrive and whats more Happisburgh was faring as well as anywhere else along the east coast. With that in mind, we decided after breakfast to head back to the Coast Watch and see if anything else had dropped in. 

It was now close to 1pm, and numbers of Song Thrushes and Redwings streaming in off the sea over our heads were building. In fact, it was constant and continuous, every time I looked up I could see them and hear them. The gardens along the path to the Coast Watch were hopping with tired and bedraggled thrushes feeding up after making the sea crossing. Robins were everywhere plus it seemed a lot more Dunnocks too. I wondered had these birds left the coast of Belgium or Holland that morning and were now hitting the east coast in a wave, or maybe they left the coast of Norway the previous night and were now reaching landfall after over 12 hours on the wing. I don't obviously know but one thing for sure there were lots of them, they were tired and soggy and no dount relieved to reach 'dry' land.

At the Coast Watch, the Shorelark, Dunlin and Wheatear were still present but they were joined by Blackcaps, Goldcrests, Robins, Meadow Pipits, two more Wheatears and several Song Thrushes. All fresh arrivals since we were there a few hours ago. 

                                        Goldcrest - Happisburgh Coast Watch - 3rd October 2020

We walked north along the cliff path towards Ostend. Flushing several Mipits as we went plus Lapland, Snow, Reed Bunting and more Wheatears.

                                   Lapland Bunting, Happisburgh / Ostend - 3rd October 2020

We checked several sheltered spots around Ostend and found a Common Redstart and another Woodcock plus many more Blackcaps, Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs, Robins and of course Song Thrushes and Redwings. At the allotments, I picked up two flyover Hawfinches which briefly alighted on a tree before setting off again - the hours listening to nocmig calls clearly paying off. I was pretty chuffed with myself for recognising the call.



                                                 Hawfinch, Ostend, Norfolk - 3rd October 2020

Arriving back at Happisburgh we had another flyover Hawfinch as we walked past the horse paddocks. We could have called it a day at that stage but there was still a little gas left in the tank (although I was flagging as we must've been heading for 9 hours in the field by then). We drove over to Cart Gap and walked Doggett's Lane. Still the Song Thrushes and Redwings were arrriving plus this tired and soggy looking Short-eared Owl that just look like it wanted to sit down and rest but kept getting mobbed by the local Corvids.

                                                    Short-eared Owl - Cart Gap, Norfolk - 3rd October 2020

At the end of Doggett's Lane, we chanced upon a juvenile type chat that immediately had the alarm bells ringing. At first it was fly-catching from a distant Hawthorn bush so a little difficult to make out what it was. Then it dropped down and came closer, it sat up facing me on a dead Umbellifer where I thought it looked like a funny Whinchat - but not a Whinchat if you know what I mean and not a European Stonechat either. Pale and 'apricoty' looking with a 'gentle' expression. It flew away from us where it revealed a unstreaked apricot rump. And that was the last we saw of it. It just vanished. We searched in the rain and gathering gloom but couldn't relocate it. Nick checked the next day and no sign - pity! 

I arrived back at the car at about 5.30pm. I got home about 6.20pm, ate and then went to bed. I was shattered. Its taken until now to gather my thoughts and run through the day in my head. Apart from the interesting chat at Doggett's Lane, there were no major rares, but just birds, birds and more birds all day long. There was something at every turn and never a dull moment. To see migration in action like that, as masses of thrushes streamed overhead, no doubt relieved make landfall, tired, wet and hungry. How many didn't make the journey, nature is cruel. And to the Wrynecks, Chiffs, Redstarts and Blackcaps, that's only part of it. They still need to cross the channel, the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara before they can rest for the winter. Good luck to them all!


Saturday, 26 September 2020

Shrikes and seawatching

Following my yomp down Blakeney Point and despite the aching and tired limbs, I returned to north Norfolk on Sunday morning to catch up with the 1st winter Brown Shrike found by Alex Berryman earlier that week. This was only the second record for Norfolk. I had seen the first one a few years ago at Weybourne but that was a very fleeting glimpse. 

I arrived at Warham Greens bang on 7am and walked towards Garden Drove and along the coastal path to where I met with three other birders who immediately got me onto the bird. The light was poor but the bird was sitting up on a dead branch with the distant pines of East Hills as its back drop.

                                    1st winter Brown Shrike, Warham Greens, Norfolk - 20th September 2020

It didn't sit out like that for long and soon went missing. We relocated it 10 minutes later sitting in the hedgerow of the nearest field but it kept the assembly of birders at arms length. 

After enjoying the bird for a further 30 minutes I decided with Nick to head towards Burnham Overy Dunes and see if anything was doing there. The winds were a brisk east blow but without any rain to drop migrants, we didn't expect too much. And that's more or less how it turned out. 2 - 3 Common Redstarts and a few Northern Wheatears including one very bulky and upright male, were the best we could muster. 

I returned home and was pleasantly surprised to see this juvenile Grey Wagtail in the back garden. I never even had a fly-over bird so this was an unexpected and most welcome garden visitor.

                                   Juvenile Grey Wagtail - Norwich, Norfolk - 20th September 2020

I didn't see it again after that. We recently had a pond put in the garden so I suspect it was passing over, saw the pond and dropped in to check it out before moving on.

I 'nocmigged' most evenings the following week until the weather turned on Thursday. Best I had were a couple of Dunlin and a fly-over Coot (which was new for the garden).


This recording would have been almost perfect if I hadn't left the sitting room window open and the tv blasting out - d'uh!

Once the weather turned there was no chance for much birding. The rain on Friday was incessant and the winds really picked up later that day and overnight. However, myself and Nick did give Happisburgh a go for some seawatching and managed an adult Sabine's Gull, Sooty Shearwater and two probable Arctic Skuas. However the winds had clearly done a bit of damage at the local cricket club.

Fallen trees at the Cricket Club - less cover though for rare Phylloscs!! 
Part of the cricket club pavillion roof - at least the football that was stuck up there is down now!


                            And the 'piece of resistance' - A Full English from the Kingfisher Cafe in Walcott


Saturday, 19 September 2020

A quick round-up

Its continued to be a busy period of time since I saw the RB Shrike at Waxham. I've been recording nocturnal flight calls most nights and while its often quiet, there's still enough going on to keep me interested. In the last few weeks I've recorded Dunlin, Common Snipe, Green Sandpiper and a juvenile Sandwich Tern passing within the vicinity of the house. It helps that I splashed out on a parabola and microphone that connects to the Olympus LS-P4 that I was already using. 'Shout-out' (as they say) to Dodotronic who I bought the gear off. The results so far have been outstanding and it should come into its own in the coming weeks. 

Here's the Sandwich Tern recording as an example.


Last Sunday I drove the short distance down towards Diss and picked up the Pectoral Sandpiper at Dickleburgh Moor NR. I'd not previously heard of the spot but it looks nice. The Pec Sand shared company with three Spotted Redshanks, a Ruff and several Green Sandpipers. A Great White Egret has also been seen there since and a Little Stint today. 

I'm working from home these days and a quick run to the local bakery for my lunchtime sandwich last Monday turned out to be very fortuitous as I picked up a flock of 9 Common Cranes moving westwards on my way back. A quick sprint home and I managed to see them with bins from the back garden before they disappeared from view - an unexpected and very welcome garden tick.

Mid-week the winds swung around to the east. I rolled the dice and decided to take Friday afternoon off and walk Blakeney Point. I'm not as flexible as some birders can be and can't just hit the coast when the conditions suddenly look good. So, I gambled all on Friday afternoon and a trduge down BP. It was hard work as usual, no surprise there but the returns were meagre enough. 1 Redstart, 1 Pied Flycatcher, 2 Spotted Flycatchers and ~10 Wheatears. A juvenile dark phase Arctic Skua on the way back was probably bird of the day for me. Nice to be out and nice to bump into Sacha Barbato and Rob Holmes but I had higher expectations for passerine migrants.

                        Spotted Flycatcher, The Plantation, Blakeney Point, Norfolk - 18th September 2020


                            Pied Flycatcher, The Plantation, Blakeney Point, Norfolk - 18th September 2020


                               Juvenile Dark Phase Arctic Skua - Blakeney Point, Norfolk - 18th September 2020

Thursday, 17 September 2020

The Phil More's Corner Podcast - Episode 7

This time we're joined by Dublin birder and Stockholm resident, Alan Dalton. Alan can lay claim to have been the only Irish warden ever of Cape Clear Bird Observatory. Alan recounts the story of the famous migrant fall on Cape Clear Island in May 1994. We talk about Irish versus Swedish birding plus Alan shares some of his favourite recordings including River Warbler, Tengmalm's Owl and Velvet Scoter plus we finish up with a Snowy Owl twitch that went a bit awry.
Last of all don't forget to tell us the mystery bird by leaving a comment on our twitter account @phil_podcast - answer in episode 8.

Episode 7