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

Wednesday 9 September 2020

Early Autumn Update

Its been an exciting and at times frustrating few weeks in birding terms. The recent August Bank Holiday weekend was full of eastern promise but, for me at least, it failed to deliver. It started with a yomp down Blakeney Point on the Friday morning. Some nice waders skimming along the surf as we walked out including a Little Stint but otherwise the point was quiet and well....pointless! We birded Burnham Overy Dunes that afternoon where we had two Pied Flys and one Spotted but left before the rain and missed a mini-fall that included two Wrynecks and a few more Pied Flys. Well done to the Wryneck magnet James Lowen.

Pied Flycatcher, Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk - 28 August 2020
Strong north winds on the Saturday morning meant a sea-watch from Cley. It looked very promising as I arrived at 7am but in the hour that followed it was just ducks, gulls and a few Sandwich Terns. Give me The Bridges, Cape, Galley or even The Old Head any day! At least on Sunday I managed to see the juvenile Black Tern at the local Colney GP (#92 on my 5kmfromhome list). On Monday I chased an elusive Temminck's Stint at Cantley BF and lost whilst Happisburgh that afternoon was deadsville!
However, the week did pick up. On the Tuesday night I had my Ortolan candidate over the garden (see Sounds in the night). The same night I added a surprise Barn Owl to my garden list also.

The next night a pair of Tawny Owls serenaded me from the garden too.

Richard Moores found a smashing White-winged Black Tern in the rain at Cantley BF on the Thursday morning that I managed to see that evening (sadly its been predated since).

Juvenile White-winged Black Tern, Cantley BF, Norfolk - 3rd September 2020
A supporting cast of fine waders included Green, Common and Wood Sandpipers, Greenshank, Redshank, Ruff, Snipe, Dunlin and Ringed Plover plus Yellow Wagtails and Hobby.
On Sunday I went late in the evening to Waxham where I stood alone in the mellow evening sunlight with just this smart Red-backed Shrike for company.

Juvenile / 1W Red-backed Shrike, Waxham, Norfolk - 6th September 2020

Monday 7 September 2020

Sounds in the night

On Tuesday 1st September, as I have been doing since mid-August, I put my Olympus LS-P4 PCM recorder out in the back garden hoping to record some passing waders. The evening was cool and clear with a slack east wind. I started to record at approximately 10pm. The next day I checked my recordings and in an otherwise quiet night I came across a single note nocturnal flight call between 10pm and midnight that I hadn't previously seen. The note appeared as a vertical line running from just below 4KHz to just above 5KHz.

The quality of the recording wasn't great but I felt it warranted closer examination. On the previous Sunday night, as part of The Phil More's Corner Podcast we had interviewed Magnus Robb of The Sound Approach. During our chat, Magnus had mentioned the nocmig pitfall of Song Thrush and Little Bunting. He described how on the sonogram the nocturnal flight call that both species make appears as a vertical line. My thoughts flitted to that discussion and I checked both species on Xeno-canto. Unsurprisingly I was able to rule them both out quite quickly as their nocturnal calls are a higher frequency to what I had recorded. However, I was now thinking Bunting spp. I shared the recording with my good friend Sean Ronayne who has been regularily 'nocmigging' in Catalunya since last autumn Catalan Wildlife. Sean's immediate response was that there was a chance it was an Ortolan but he promised to look into it in more detail as soon as he could. A few days passed and it was Sunday 6th September before he had a chance to really take a proper listen to my recording. His initial thought was that it was 'probably an Ortolan' but because of the quality of the recording it was hard to tell. The possibility of it also being a Yellowhammer was hard to rule out, especially given that I have seen that species within 5 kilometers of my home and they are known to migrate at night also. At the same time, Sean passed the recording on to Magnus Robb. Magnus has significant knowledge and experience of both the daytime and nocturnal calls of Ortolan Bunting (Nocturnal autumn migration in Dorset, England, and southern Portugal). This morning Magnus replied to say 'it sounds like a bona fide Ortolan to me'.
The above article on The Sound Approach website discusses eight different Ortolan Bunting flight calls and Magnus's view is that this is one of the so-called 'trsp' calls but it could in fact have a name of its own. Furthermore, Yellowhammer calls are shorter and have a less audible downward inflection because of that.


I have posted the recording on Xeno-Canto with the caveat that it 'may be an Ortolan Bunting'. I've not submitted the record to the Norfolk Records Committee but I would like to. I appreciate Ortolan Bunting is a description species in Norfolk and this is a recording of a single note nocturnal flight call. I don't know what criteria or parameters are used to assess such records and am trying to find out. However, with a proliferation of birders now 'nocmigging', I expect record committees will soon start to receive more 'nocmig' records for assessment as time goes by. I'm posting this on my blog because I'm aware that there are other birders 'nocmigging' in Norfolk and East Anglia and I would like to give people a 'heads-up' and request them to listen for similar calls this autumn.

Friday 4 September 2020

The Phil More's Corner Podcast - Episode 6

In Episode 6 we are joined by Magnus Robb of The Sound Approach. We talk about sound recording and the increase in the popularity of 'nocmigging' plus Magnus shares some of his nocmigging highlights like Upland Sandpiper from his garden and a Cyprus Scops Owl chewing his rather expensive microphone.


Episode 6 with Magnus Robb of The Sound Approach