Sunday 27 October 2013

The first day of winter

Not an early start today, stayed up a bit late last night and even with the extra hour I was still exhausted when the alarm went. At least by the time I headed out the rain had stopped and the sun was shining.
First stop was Winterton south dunes where a Pallas's Warbler was present among the sycamores beneath the Hermanus restaurant. It took around twenty minutes before giving itself up to the small crowd that had assembled. Up to then all we'd had was the occassional 'ju-wee' call. Nick and I watched it for about ten minutes as it fed very actively in the lower branches. As is always the case though, photographing it was very tricky. I got one record shot which just about out does the shot I got two weeks ago of the same species over on the north side of Winterton dunes.

Pallas's Warbler, Winterton Dunes, Norfol - 27th October 2013

I enjoyed good binocular views of the bird as moved around the sycamore, showing its lemon yellow rump to good effect and being quite vocal - always a very nice call to hear.
Two Pallas's Warblers in one autumn is good going. At this stage I still haven't seen a YBW. It's conceivable that I could finish the year with Pallas's and Hume's but no YBW - not the worst problem to have.

Birders wait for the Pallas's to show at Winterton south dunes
After that we moved over to beach and began to search for the reported Shorelark. A rare bird in Ireland and so a life bird for me. This was one I wanted to see. With a bit of 'gen' from another birder we easily found the bird feeding amongst some shingle about four hundred yards south of the car park. Unfortunately though, with it being a Sunday, there were plenty of walkers and loose dogs. The bird was mobile as it was being flushed quite frequently. Eventually though it returned to the spot where we first had it, I managed some reasonable shots as it fed on the beach.

Shorelark, Winterton Beach, Norfolk - 27th October 2013
It was actually walking towards us closer and closer, when a group of people disturbed it. Having spent over an hour watching it and having obtained reasonable shots we decided to head back to the car for lunch and then head northwards to look for late Swifts.

A small huddle of birders watch the Shorelark on Winteron beach

Before we departed, we spoke to several local birders who mentioned that news had been put out of a Black-browed Albatross seen from Gorleston (although reported by RBA from Hopton-on-sea). The news said 'possible' rather than 'definite' though.
At Trimingham we parked up and began scanning for the Pallid Swift. It had been reported before 1pm and several other birders had seen it twenty minutes before we arrived. The wind was starting to really strengthen and it didn't seem like such a good idea to stand on the edge of a cliff. At the same though, we read news of a possible Pacific Swift having been seen off the cliffs earlier in the day. With a White-rumped Swift being reported earlier from Sweden, birders were starting to get excited. A late House Martin had me going for a second or two.
In order to get better views without the risk of being blown off the edge, we drove on to Overstrand. We spent a good hour scanning for Swifts without any success. Meanwhile though, big news was breaking from my old stomping ground of Cape Clear Island. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet, first for Ireland and fourth WP record.....amazing. Trapped and ringed in Cotter's garden by Steve Wing. I couldn't be happier to hear that. With there being no observatory or bird warden any more on Cape, I am personally delighted that Steve Wing is till working the island and keeping it very much on the map!

View south from Overstrand, Norfolk

From Overstrand we gave it one last whirl and headed for the lighthouse compound just outside Cromer. We scanned carefully for Swifts but our luck was out, the light was fading now. At around four thirty we picked up news once again of a Black-browed Albatross seen heading west from Overstrand (where we had just come from.......darn!). We stayed until the light had gone, by which stage no Swifts and no Albatross.
Not too worry though, I still had a lifer in the bag not to mention a second Pallas's. Not a bad day's birding for the first day of winter.

Cromer Lighthouse - end of play!

Saturday 19 October 2013

A look back on autumns gone

As the evenings shorten and the leaves are turning, I'm starting to feel a bit nostalgic for all the autumn's I spent birding in the county of Cork.
Here's a little montage I cobbled together and loaded onto youtube..........I'm experimenting a little with this so bear with me.

Autumns gone by in Cork

Sunday 13 October 2013

"The seven-striped sprite"

I had it all worked out. I would wait until 10am so that the rain would have cleared by the time I went out. I would go straight to Winterton dunes and obtain crippling views and stunning photos of the Pallas's Warbler.
It never went like that though!
Just as I reached the site beyond the totem pole at Winterton north dunes, the bird did a disappearing trick. All I got was a movement at the back of the bushes. I waited for about two hours hoping for it to show without success. To put a 'tin-hat' on it all, a large group arrived and proceeded to wander around the area looking for the bird. In doing so they kept flushing everything out of the bushes. Robins, Redpolls and anything else wouldn't stay still. I decided to leave the area and come back in a few hours when the crowd would have thinned out.
I took my lunch in the car and then drove over to Winterton allotments where I hoped it might be a bit more sheltered.
As with the dunes and the cemetery yesterday, there were plenty of Thrushes and loads of Robins about. I was half expecting to find a Firecrest or a Ring Ouzel but the best on offer were two female Bramblings.
From there I moved on to Sea Palling where I intended to check the gardens of the small chalets behind the dunes. It was a lot more blown here than I expected and all I managed to turn up was a male Blackcap and a Common Scoter out at sea. I did stop to chat to another birder called Andy Lowe, who told me many years ago, when he saw his first Pallas's Warbler, it was only the third British record. He also had found two British firsts......Siberian Rubythroat and Pallas's Reed Bunting, both on Fair Isle in 1975 and 1976 respectively - he recommended I go to Fair Isle next autumn. I might take his advise. Here's a link to the BB article about his Siberian Rubythroat - Siberian Rubythroat - new to Britain and Ireland. Very interesting man to chat with.
After that, I headed back to Winterton dunes. The light had gotten a little better and when I arrived the bird was giving brief glimpses. I managed a quick view of the bright supercilium and median crown stripe - enough to tick it anyway. Just then the heavens opened and the bird dashed out of the bush it was in and disappeared into thicker cover.
I took shelter and covered my gear as the sky grew dark and the rain pelted down. A photo of any sort was looking less and less likely all the time.
After twenty minutes or so the rain eased back to being 'heavy' rather than torrential. I heard the bird call from the bush just in front of me. I stared straight in and could almost make out its bright supercilium without bins. I managed one record shot only. Even without cropping it you can see the golden coloured super. What a stunning little bird - the 'seven-striped sprite' as D.I.M. Wallace called it.

Pallas's Warbler, Winterton Dunes, Norfolk - 13th October 2013

Look at that 'super'!
As I made my way back to the car and I got chatting to Rob Holmes who had found a Pallas's himself only yesterday down in Southwold, it was in bush with a Yellow-browed Warbler, a Firecrest and a Goldcrest - a 'sprite quatro' as Rob himself put it.
At home I had to take all my gear out to dry it off. This is when our two Sphynx cats decided that my camera bag had a far better use.

Next time I'll take them birding with me - might be good for an organized flush!

Saturday 12 October 2013

R'ouzels, Robins and RBFs

Today was supposed to be a 'bird-free' day (if there is such a thing!). I had lots of stuff to do before heading back to work on Monday after my week off. However, the weather was looking reasonably good, calm and dry. All day long I was watching RBA, seeing what everyone else was looking at and by 2pm I cracked and headed out the door.
I hadn't a great deal of time, so went straight to Great Yarmouth Cemetery. An RB Fly was being reported in the southern section and a Ring Ouzel was present also.
I was hoping for some nice photo opportunities with the RBFly, but had to park that idea when I reached the spot. It was feeding high in the sycamores, against the light, which was pretty poor anyway.
I joined the huddle of other birders under the trees and enjoyed reasonable views of the bird as it flitted around the canopy of a sycamore.

Birders watch the RBF at Great Yarmouth Cemetery

Occasionally it dropped down a little lower and I managed one 'okayish' record shot as it did so.

1st winter Red-breasted Flycatcher, Great Yarmouth cemetery, Norfolk - 12th October 2013
With the light not getting any better I headed away to look for the Ring Ouzel. I found the Rowan tree in the southern section that the bird had been seen in. Two other birders told me that there had been two in fact, a first winter and an adult male. I've only ever seen first winter birds so it'd be nice to see a proper male with a full white breast band. I could see plenty of Blackbirds, Redwings and Song Thrushes moving in and out of the Rowan. I moved around, so I had what little light was left to my back, and waited. I was able to use a rather large upright stone memorial as cover. With a little patience the male bird eventually came in. I loved the sound of its sharp metallic call as it scolded a Song Thrush away.

Adult male Ring Ouzel, Great Yarmouth Cemetery

Bossing a Song Thrush away!
The first winter was present also but I never got a clear view of it in the Rowan. Hopefully both R'Ouzels will make it safely to the Atlas mountains of Morocco where they spend the winter I believe.
As the light faded slowly I spent the last thirty minutes watching the thrushes devour the berries. The Redwings reminding me that winter isn't too far off.

Lastly I must add that the place was absolutely choca with Robins. Must be mostly continentals, some did look a little greyer but its tricky to tell in poor light really.
Tomorrow is my last full day birding of the Autumn break - hopefully one last biggie!

Friday 11 October 2013

Rustic Bunting, Warham Greens, Norfolk

I didn't have high expectations for today, but it worked out well in the end. It was calm and bright at 8.30am this morning in Norwich, but by the time I picked Nick Watmough up at midday it was dark and wet with a strong north-easterly wind blowing. Even if there were birds around, I figured that wind would keep them down.
Having done a few hours on the east coast on Wednesday and having only two Firecrests and a Wheatear to show for my efforts, we both considered that the north Norfolk coast would be a better bet.
We headed first for Warnham Greens, a place I hadn't been to before. We headed down the track to Garden Drove and parked up. At least at this stage the rain had ceased, the wind was still strong but it was possible to find the odd sheltered spot.
We walked towards the saltmarsh, checking and listening as we went. The most small bird action was at the end by the steel gate. We spent about thirty minutes here but the best we could dig out were several Chiffers, two Goldcrests and the odd Redwing. Possibly there is more but the wind seemed too strong and you'd rather fancy that when it dies down, things will be found.
We spoke to a group of three birders who'd just come from Well's Wood, where they had a Ring Ouzel, Firecrest and both Common and Black Redstarts. It was better than what we'd seen so we decided to head back to the car, have our lunches and then head over there.
We were still chatting and birding as I drove back down the track away from garden drove. We stopped a couple of times as small birds darted across the path in front of the car, but each time it turned out to be either a Robin or a Chaffinch.
About fifty meters from the end of the track before it reaches the A149, two birds flew up from the ground within a short distance of the car. I braked immediately, one was a Chaffinch and the other......all I got was a silhouette perched in the ivy before it vanished. At the same moment Nick said 'what was that.........looked like a Bunting'. The shape I saw seemed to have a peaked hind-crown and was smaller than a Reed Bunting or Yellowhammer, Nick said he got a white stripe across the face and that it definitely wasn't either a Yellowhammer or Reed Bunting. His thoughts were leaning at this stage, towards it being a Rustic Bunting.
We decided it might be worth giving this a little time. I pulled the car over onto the ditch and we began checking the track and the adjacent fields. After fifteen minutes we had nothing. I arrived back where I had parked and picked up a small Bunting feeding on the track where we had flushed the two birds from earlier. I waved Nick over. When he arrived it had gone, but a minute later he picked it up further along the path and confirmed the ID almost straight away as an adult male Rustic Bunting. A brilliant find by Nick!
I popped off a few shots (handheld at 700mm in poor light I might add). This was the best I could do.

Male Rustic Bunting, Warham Greens, Norfolk - 11th October 2013
With the bird feeding in the open, along the track I expected to do better, but a short time later it disappearred.
We settled down by the car to have our lunch, this way we figured that other birders who we had already met at Warham Greens, would have a chance of seeing it along the path as they walked towards us.

However, by the time other birders arrived, we hadn't seen it for twenty minutes. The photo below shows a rather satisfied looking Nick Watmough (in the green jacket) leaning up against my car as birders search for the Bunting.

Rustic Bunting twitch starting at Warham Greens, Norfolk
We gave it until 5pm, but the bird failed to show. Maybe with the number of people on the track, it preferred to stay in one of the adjacent beet fields. Hopefully tomorrow it'll be re-found.
So, the day worked out well in the end. A great find by Nick and a life-bird for me. There has to be more out there before I go back to work on Monday.