Monday, 22 January 2018

The Black Rodney

Being cooped up in a hotel on a training course all week had me ready for a little bit of birding on the weekend. I had to decline the kind offer from James Lowen to join him on Saturday to see the Black Redstart at Sheringham but I was able to make it up there with Nick on Sunday morning and despite the biting cold the conditions were otherwise not too bad at all. The bird was favouring an area of open lawns that are part of an apartment complex on the sea-front just beside the RNLI carpark (which may have  been something to do with the supply of mealworms it was getting).
Normally a wintering Black Redstart wouldn't tempt me out like this but this bird was a cracking male. For all the female type birds I've seen wintering in coastal locations like this one, I have only ever seen one other male Black Redstart.

Male Black Redstart, Sheringham, Norfolk - 21 January 2018
By the way the name Black Rodney is a county Cork thing (specifically a Tony Nagle thing), how Tony came up with the name I don't know and there's no logic to it because Common Redstarts are not Rodneys either. In any case, the name has stuck!
After an hour of lying on the hard ground of the carpark in order to get eye-level shots, I decided I'd had enough. The temperature was still only 1oC and lying on the hard, cold ground was a really fast way to loose body-heat, despite the many layers I had.

Almost frozen!
We replenished our energy levels with a fine full English breakfast in nearby Cromer and from there went on to Letheringsett to search for the Coues's Arctic Redpoll(s). The Redpoll flock was flightly to say the least, added to the fact that there was a mobile flock of Goldfinches, another flock of Linnets, some random Bullfinches thrown in, plus the light was dire and the cold was numbing. All in all the whole thing was a bit of a mess. We had brief views of a possible Coues's Arctic as it perched above our heads, the bill looks good but I couldn't see the rump and the undertail coverts were obscured by a stray twig - still, make your own mind up.

Possible Arctic Redpoll - Letheringsett, Norfolk - 21 January 2018

Sunday, 7 January 2018

A visitor to Shangri-La

Well I didn't expect to find myself peering into the garden of the Shangri-la cottage at Waxham in early January - I usually reserve this particular activity for Spring or Autumn. However, a report yesterday of a Hume's Warbler was too good to miss. I haven't seen Hume's up to now - dipped on a few alright - so I had to make the effort.
However, I wasn't too optimistic after seeing the words..... 'tho elusive', 'very mobile' and 'heard calling'. What's more I expected a bit of crowd too.
Yet, when I arrived there were maybe ten birders on site and most had already seen the bird with the last sighting only ten minutes before I arrived. I found a sheltered spot in the sun on the edge of the garden and waited. After twenty minutes or so a small bird flew into the hawthorn above me and gave a call that to me sounded like a disyllabic version of Yellow-browed Warbler - that must be it. However, it didn't hang around and immediately bombed off into the thick trees at the rear of the garden.
Anyway to cut along story short, it was calling from time to time and that was the best way to locate it. Eventually we pinned it down to a favourite area (basically at the back of the garden viewed with your back to the sea looking in from the narrow path). It mostly fed down low or amongst the Celandines (I think that's what they are) and occasionally popped up onto a low branch. It is exactly as described in the literature - like a dull Yellow-browed Warbler, the call is similar to YBW but to me appears to lack the second, middle syllable.
The bird was very active and difficult to photograph but I did manage a couple of shots - backlit and high ISO but still happy enough with them.

Hume's Warbler, Waxham, Norfolk

Monday, 1 January 2018

The final fling

2017 had not been a vintage year for birding as far as I was concerned. But with one day left there was still a chance to salvage something.
Myself and Nick Watmough headed down to Suffolk on the morning of the 31st December. The Coues's Arctic Redpoll was still present at Hazelwood Common near Aldeburgh and I had never seen Arctic Redpoll (seeing as I would be losing Lessser Redpoll as a species from midnight I might as well cancel out the loss by adding another Redpoll species!).
Anyway, when we arrived the weather conditions weren't great (wind and rain), the Redpoll flock was skittish but we managed to get views of the bird as it perched in the trees belonging to the garden of the white cottage.

Coues's Arctic Redpoll, Hazelwood Common, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
We didn't really improve on those initial views, the flock was very mobile and when perched in the tress there was usually some twiggery blocking the shot. We decided to come back later when the weather was set to clear a little and meantime we would head towards the Martello tower at Aldeburgh and look for some Snow Buntings.
We parked near Slaughden Sailing Club and walked along the sea wall towards the Martello Tower all the while scanning for Snow Buntings. We got nicely distracted along the way by two Purple Sandpipers. They weren't too perturbed by our presence and we managed some nice close-up shots as they dozed on the rocks just yards from the crashing surf.

Purple Sandpipers, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
While we watched, a flock of 5-8 Snow Buntings flew over our heads and pitched down somewhere near the Martello Tower. They were a little difficult to relocate at first but eventually we found them feeding behind the shingle ridge at the back of the tower. They too were skittish (there were lots of walkers by now), so we figured the best option for photos was to retrieve the car from the car park and use it as a hide. This worked out very nicely and the birds fed within a few feet of us as we snapped away from the warmth and comfort.

Snow Buntings, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
After a coffee break we headed back to Hazelwood Common for another go at the Arctic Redpoll. The skies had cleared and the wind had dropped but the flock remained mobile. I managed one shot of the bird as it sat out in the open for a few minutes, sadly a little too distant but you can't always have it everyway.

Coues's Arctic Redpoll, Hazelwood Common, Suffolk

Showing its white bits nicely!
And then it was time to head home and call in the new year.
So, despite it being a relatively poor year for birding, this last day out was one of the best. Thoroughly enjoyable, good company (thanks Nick), good birds (including a lifer) and obliging subjects. Feeling a bit more optimistic about birding now too!!

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

2017 Highlights

Well, another year almost done. 2017 draws to a close and with that its time to cast my mind back and look at some of my birding highlights.

This year was a hard pick, when spring finally rolled around it was a quiet enough affair for me. The summer brought its usual doldrums and the quietest autumn I can ever remember almost had me hanging up the bins! April and June trips to Mallorca and Latvia respectively just about saved the year.

In reverse order, here are the highlights!

3. Garden Redstart

No not in Norwich - but in Latvia. A male bird was visiting the garden frequently so I set myself up and finally suceeded in getting some respectable shots of one of my favourite bird species (See more photos on Chat show).

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2. Collared Flycatcher, S'Albufera, Mallorca

A short trip to Mallorca in April with Nick Watmough really exceeded my expectations. I had been twice before but still enjoyed several lifers in Spectacled Warbler, Moustached Warbler and this superb male Collared Flycatcher. A relatively rare bird for Mallorca and a fine male to boot! See more on Mallorca trip

1. Corncrake, Lielupe, Latvia

A long awaited lifer! I had first heard one at the tender age of 8 back in County Sligo and several times since in Donegal, Offaly and various parts of Latvia, but getting even so much as a glimpse had been impossible - up until last summer. I had a very close encounter with the bird (as you will see if read back on Crex crex at last). I didn't get any photos but have this short movie clip as a reminder of an unforgettable encounter.

And that's it - fingers crossed for a better year in 2018, it can't be much worse that 2017 - right? A trip to Western Sahara for Golden Nightjar might be next time I have something birdy to write about but in the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The end?

By morning the wind was up again. I decided to check Happisburgh and if nothing was doing there then I'd call time on the whole thing and go home early.
As usual the churchyard was empty, there was no shelter there from the brisk west wind. However the band of trees by the cricket club was a little better with a busy tit flock that included several Goldcrests and I thought I had a brief glimpse of a Yellow-browed but couldn't be certain. I checking the willows at the pond just as bird flew in and perched up - Black Redstart (or Black Rodney to use its County Cork name).

The Black Rodney!
This put a little spring in my step but to be honest from that point onwards it never got any better. I completed a circuit around Happisburgh and later on walked the Nelson's Head track as far as the container but all I had were Blue Tits and Wrens. With no sign of any other birds around Norfolk (apart from a fly-over Serin at Hunstanton) - I called time on my week, returned to caravan, tidied up and headed back to Norwich.
The next a Great Grey Shrike was found at Happisburgh (well done Richard Moores) and a Barred Warbler at Trimingham - what did I do in my past life to deserve such luck??
I think every five years or so you get a dud autumn - and I was due one. The last one I had was in Cork in 2012. But this on this occasion, with precious little time off available, it felt like a waste of my holidays. Maybe its over-familiarity, or the over-crowded UK birding scene - or whatever but I'm not enjoying birding as much as I used to and really need to think about whether I change my attitude towards it or drop out altogether.

October week- part 3

Thursday morning I birded Horsey gap first but the only migrant at all was a rather rotund an upright looking Northern Wheatear (thinking maybe leucorhoa?). 

Northern Wheatear - maybe Greenland race?

At least this Kestrel stayed still long enough for a decent shot.

Happisburgh was dead with no sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler. I stopped for forty winks at the "bird obs" and finished the evening with a very pleasant stroll along Trimingham beach. There were no migrants to see but as the sun dropped the wind eased off considerably and I rather hoped that combined with the clear skies – maybe, just maybe something would show up on my final day!!

Trimingham beach, Norfolk

October week - part 2

I started Tuesday morning with a pre-breakfast walk along the beach at Trimingham, the wind had picked up and there was no sign of any migrants. After breakfast I headed for Happisburgh where the Yellow-browed Warbler was still present in the same spot. Otherwise it was as dead as a door-nail. With better light I decided to head back to Kelling and try for better shots of the Red-necked Phalarope. However on the way I picked up news of an Olive-backed Pipit at Wells Wood – a much desired lifer. I met the finder James Lowen at the car park in Wells and got directions for the drinking pool. I was feeling optimistic as I walked the track but after two hours searching the area I had to come away empty handed. Still, a great find by James. I didn’t bother looking for reported Radde’s Warbler either and instead decided to head back to Trimingham stopping off at Kelling along the way. I have to admit that at this stage I was ready to throw the towel in on the entire week. The winds were all wrong, what few birds were around I had dipped on and the forecast was looking grim for the rest of the week. Kelling saved the day though, the Phalarope was around still and had company in the form of two smart looking juvenile Curlew Sands and two equally tidy looking Spotted Redshanks. 

Juvenile Red-necked Phalarope

One of two juvenile Curlew Sands

One of two Spotted Redshanks
That night at the Trimingham bird obs I could hear the wind picking up. By morning it was blowing a gale and I decided to take a break for the day and catch up on some stuff at home.