Sunday 30 October 2016

Winter is coming

I always tend to think of the last weekend of October as being the end of the autumn season. Some years, particularily in Cork, if the winds stayed east November could produce some stragglers, but typically it seems to bring the curtain down on the best time of the year for birding.
Between one thing and another I didn't have much time available to get out this weekend. I suppose if there had been a Norfolk Pied Wheatear or Eastern Black Redstart - I might have made the time then.
As it happened I made it to Happisburgh late on Sunday afternoon for one final walk about. I birded around the cricket club, church yard and up as far as the coast watch buildings. A really beautiful warm, still and misty Autumn evening. The best I could muster up was a Black Redstart on the dung heaps up by the coast watch buildings.

Black Redstart, Happisburgh, Norfolk - 30th October 2016
So that is kind of it for Autumn. I'm back studying part-time too so there will probably be even less birding this winter than usual. Its been an OKish Autumn overall, not vintage for me. It started in mid-August with a nice smattering of Pied Flycatchers and Whinchats (Signs of Autumn), followed by a duo of Wrynecks (Double Jynx and Corton's Jynx), a Red-backed Shrike at Winterton (Slimish-pickings), my week off spent around Happisburgh was enjoyable though I failed to find anything other than Firecrests, Black and Common Redstarts and YBW. Siberian Accentor (The Russian Dunnock) and Isabelline Wheatear (Two good 'ears) were the highlights, I particularily enjoyed the latter especially with the bonus female Desert Wheatear thrown in.
Now its time for the Geese and Gulls though possibly the Waxwings and Shorelarks will keep us interested for the next few months.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Two good 'ears

Though pleased to have connected with the Easington Siberian Accentor, I was still a little disappointed not to have been able to pop back across from York during the week to see the Isabelline Wheatear. Alas the training course was full on and there was no opportunity to duck out. However, all was not lost. Hot on the heals of finding a Red-flanked Bluetail, Dave Andrews scored again with a very fine Isabelline Wheatear at Burnham Overy Dunes on Friday 21st October (see James Lowens superbly titled account on his blog - Isabella's knickers).
Tiredness, a head cold, anticipation of crowds (it was after all the first twitchable Norfolk bird in 39 years) and 'stuff' to do at home all added together and meant I didn't venture up there until Sunday morning to see the bird. That was taking a bit of a chance but I was lucky and the bird had stayed.
Numbers were not as small as expected on Sunday either. A female Desert Wheatear and a Pallas's Warbler were also drawing the crowds. When we arrived the Isabelline Wheatear was showing to about 20-30 gathered birders. The bird was distant though and mobile.
I moved up to the brow of the dune ridge and sat down. The bird was probably a good 500 yards away at this point and I felt my best chance would be if it moved closer in its own time. Which it did, though not that close.

Isabelline Wheatear, Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk - 23rd October 2016
With the crowds increasing and the bird being ever mobile, I felt the next option was to head further west and look for the female Desert Wheatear. Thankfully this bird was a lot more obliging.

Female Desert Wheatear, Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk - 23rd October 2016

And even sat still long enough for an obligatory video!

I have edited out the sound because the background noise of the wind is pretty annoying - which is a pity because there is also the background noise of an arguement between a birder and a photographer that was quite entertaining!
We should have finished the day at that point but instead drove to Brancaster Staithe and yomped out along the beach to where a Black-throated Thrush had been seen earlier that morning consorting with a Redwing flock (maybe the recent Scolt Head bird?). Anywho - there was no sign sadly and the walk nearly killed me - I arrived back in a total sweat to the car and have been laid up with a head cold since! The price you pay I guess.

Saturday 22 October 2016

The Russian Dunnock

I was in London when news broke of the Siberian Accentor at Easington in Yorkshire. The soonest opportunity I would have to see it would be Sunday 16th October. However when I saw photos of the twitch from Yoav's tweet and later on his blog (Sib Accentor), well I didn't feel too bad to have missed the initial rush. An estimated total of 1,400 birders saw it on that first day alone. It seems though the staff from Spurn Bird Obs and others did an excellent job of marshalling the crowds and all who travelled that day saw the bird.
I returned from London to Norwich on Saturday evening but as it happened I was scheduled to travel to York on Sunday evening for a training course starting Monday morning. Checking Rare Bird Alert first thing Sunday morning showed positive news so I cancelled plans to bird the east Norfolk coast and headed north early. I arrived in Easington at 3pm, parked the car and headed down Vicars Lane. Gone were the frightening crowds of the first day with no more than twenty birders there.

No need for a queue!

The bird was showing to within a few feet of the fence when I got there.

Siberian Accentor, Easington, Yorkshire - 16th October 2016
The light was directly against me so I needed to fiddle with the camera settings to capture any sort of an image. But at least the bird was close, sometimes too close even. Despite numerous photos on social media of this bird (and the others) - it didn't fail to impress. A really smart bird, very obliging and in excellent condition.
Here's a short and not so good movie clip of the bird. Turn the sound down a bit and forgive the poor quality.

I wasn't able to stay for too long, but I didn't need to either. The bird had put on a great show.

Job done and Sib Accentor seen well!
A quick donation to the collection bucket and I was back in the car and safely on my way to York. The only downside was missing the Isabelline Wheatear that turned up at Easington the next morning. Can't have it all.
So, hard to believe that within a few days of the first UK record of Siberian Accentor on Shetland, a further four birds turn up in Yorkshire, Durham, Cleveland and Holy Island. All north of the Humber. So far there has been unprecedented numbers in Europe with birds being found in Sweden, Finland, Poland, Lithuania, Denmark, Estonia and Latvia to name just a few.

Breeding Grounds (yellow), wintering area (blue) and red spots indicate occurences this autumn 2016 (map lifted from a tweet by James Gilroy)

Hopefully Norfolk will get in on the act and maybe one will reach the east coast of Ireland in the next week or so.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

One last shot

OK - one day left to turn it into something special. Still a final chance to dig out a decent bird. I had a mental image of an Isabelline Shrike spiking a freshly killed Robin on a hawthorn - that never happened of course!
As it had been for most of the last few days, Happisburgh continued to feel 'rare'. Strong east wind, intermittent showers and dark skies!!!
I was watching a group of six Reed Buntings up at the coast watch. They were joined by a very smart Mealy Redpoll. Just then a small form flitted past and dived into the nearest nettle bed. Did that Goldcrest have a pale rump? A Goldcrest called from the same spot.....darn! But that was a pale rump, right? A quick scan with the bins and there was this striking gold supercilium peeping out at me. James Gilroy's Pallas's was still here! Almost like finding one for myself - almost!
I tried for photos but the bird was really mobile. I re-found it twice but it was very good at ditching me each time and if only this blade of grass wasn't there!

Pallas's Warbler, Happisburgh, Norfolk - 12th October 2016
I had spent so much time with the Pallas's that I was running things very tightly if I was to check anywhere else in Happisburgh. I walked the trees along the edge of the cricket club but could only find two Goldcrests. However, at the church yard a female type Black Redstart was present, posing nicely on the headstones.

Black Redstart, St. Mary's Church, Happisburgh, Norfolk
At 5.30pm, I called time and headed home.
So overall, it's not been a vintage autumn for me. A chance to go to Fair Isle went a begging because I couldn't get a flight off in time. So, instead I picked a spot in east Norfolk and birded that each day for five days. I saw stacks of Goldcrests, Thrushes, Robins and Finches. Managed to pick out a couple of Firecrests, two Yellow-browed Warblers, a Common Redstart, a Black Redstart and a few Brambling. I had a two Pallas's day, re-found one of those Pallas's and added Dusky Warbler to my British list. Not vintage - but I've had worse.

Tuesday 11 October 2016

A quick round-up

Saturday 8th October
Birded Happisburgh all afternoon. Lots of birds around in a cold easterly blow with a leaden sky. Tonnes of Goldcrests, Robins and Thrushes (incl. Redwing and Fieldfare). Felt 'rare' but best I could dig out were two Brambling within a small Chaffinch flock. Still felt like a proper autumn day on the east coast. Great day to be out.

Happisburgh, Norfolk

Sunday 9th October
Birded Happisburgh from 9am onwards. Better conditions (less cloudy, less windy and sunnier - so no good for migrants). Clear-out of Goldcrests - still some but less than yesterday. Heard a Brambling, saw a single Tree Sparrow (a good bird for Happisburgh apparently) and found two Firecrests in the willows opposite the paddocks.

Firecrest in Sycamores, Happisburgh, Norfolk

Bumped into Richard Moores and chatted with him for a while. Headed over to Eccles and found a Yellow-browed Warbler in the sycamores at the entrance to Eccles Beach Caravan Park. My first mainland UK Yellow-browed Warbler.

Yellow-browed in Sycamores

Heard later that James Gilroy found a Pallas's Warbler on the dungheap at the coast-watch.....ouch!! Great find but just hope I didn't miss it earlier in the day.

Monday 10th October
Happisburgh again. Met Richard Moores at 8.30am. We re-found the Pallas's in the nettle beds around the coast watch buildings. I left to fetch my heavy lens from the car and when I returned the bird had vamooshed!!
I headed over to Horsey Gap. Walked to the pipe-dump and found a female Common Redstart at the cattle pens. Nothing else of note.

Common Redstart, Horsey Gap, Norfolk

Stopped off at Great Yarmouth Cemetery en route home and twitched Tommy Corcoran's excellent Pallas's Warbler - my second in one day and a well deserved find for Tommy. Goldcrests galore, Firecrest and Yellow-browed in there also. Many Chiffchaffs too.

Pallas's Warbler, Great Yarmouth Cemetery, Norfolk

Tuesday 11th October
Happisburgh from 8.30am but very quiet save for a male Yellowhammer near the coastwatch and a Merlin buzzing through. Decided not too waste any more time searching in vain for migrants so did what I said I would avoid doing this week and chased other people's birds.
Had brief yet tickable views of the Dusky Warbler at Cromer lighthouse. A UK tick and only my third ever Dusky.
Quickly pushed on to Well's Wood for Olive-backed Pipit. Spent four hours in vain, flushed what was probably it but for a lifer I need better views. Arctic Warbler also present (didn't see this) but a second Yellow-browed there too.
Only one day left to dig something out. There's always a chance but this is not turning out to be a vintage birding year for me so hopes are not high!!