Friday, 28 October 2016

Take care, my friend

Birder, photographer, and good friend, Chris Morgan died suddenly in late September. It was a shock, not least because the last time I saw Chris (birding Norfolk earlier this year) he was in fine form - healthier than at any point I'd known him. He died from a heart attack while at home.

Although I'd only known Chris for just over five years, I've spent many, many days birding with him. We birded together all over the UK on several trips, many of which I've described on this blog: Spurn and Flamborough, Norfolk several times, Shetland 2014 and 2015, all over the place. He was a barrel of laughs and great company - a true character with a massive sense of humour. It became clear at Chris's funeral in Norwich that everyone who knew him felt the same. The service was punctuated with laughter as people remembered his jokes and puns, and his cheery farewell of "Take care, my friend".

 Chris in Sheringham, Norfolk - 23rd January 2016

On Chris's 60th birthday at Quendale, Shetland - 2nd October 2016 

After paying my respects to Chris's family, I decided to stay in Norfolk on Friday 7th and Saturday 8th to do some birding before heading to Spurn for Sunday 9th - something I sure Chris would have appreciated.

I got to Titchwell by mid afternoon, getting great views of a Red-breasted Flycatcher in the tress near the car park. There was one of the many this autumn's UK Yellow-browed Warblers with Goldcrests behind the visitor centre. A couple of Brambling too.

Out on the fresh marsh were good numbers of Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit, and close in was this brilliant showy Pectoral Sandpiper.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

On the (brackish) Volunteer marsh were some very confiding birds, including Grey Plover, lots of Oystercatcher, and these three Curlew Sandpiper with a Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and Little Egret.

Curlew Sandpiper, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

Black-tailed Godwit, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

Little Egret, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

The beach was quiet and mild, with the tide out. I wandered down to the shore, followed closely by a Black-headed Gull. Loads of Dark-bellied Brent Geese in the water.

Brent Geese, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

Black-headed Gull, Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

"Take care, my friend", Titchwell, Norfolk - Friday 7th October 2016

I saw three Marsh Harrier going to roost as darkness fell as I headed back inland. A beautiful evening for reflection.

I have to say, I wasted wasted the following day unsuccessfully twitching a Radde's Warbler at Holkham. At least I had the opportunity to see a few more Yellow-browed Warblers, brush up on my warbler calls, and compare the (often not-so-subtle) variations in Chiffchaff plumage. I also had the opportunity to twicth (again, unsuccessfully) a Black-browed Albatross. It had been seen in the mid afternoon at Scolt Head Island, then Titchwell, so I (and several others) dashed to Hunstanton cliffs to scan the sea from the wind farm to deep into the Wash for the last two hours of daylight. No luck, but I felt I was getting closer to this most-wanted of birds.

I arrived at Spurn around 09:30 on Sunday 9th, having had a lie-in after lots of night-time driving. A Rustic Bunting had been seen in Church Field at 08:00 (for it's third day I think), so I headed there first. There were loads of Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs in the scrub, and the trees were filled with Redwing and Blackbird, with the occasional Brambling with the Greenfinch and Goldfinch flocks. The ringers were busy, particularly with Redwings and Goldcrests...

Goldcrest, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016
 Redwing, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016

The Rustic Bunting didn't show again, but I enjoyed me tine spent watching these migrants going about their feeding, with the Goldcrests giving very close views.

Goldcrest, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016

A female Sparrowhawk tried unsuccessfully to catch a meal around the Heligoland trap and I decided to go birding around the Triangle. The weather was lovely, just as it had been for most of the weekend.

Looking towards the Humber, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016

There was a Yellow-browed Warbler in the Crown and Anchor car park, a Common Redstart on the path and many more Redwing with a few Fieldfare and Brambling along the Canal Zone. I flushed a couple of Roe Deer from the bank and they ran out across the mudflats towards Sammy's Point.

 Roe Deer, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016

The protests against the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust continue - quite rightly in my opinion. I really don't see why the YWT can't repurpose the existing the buildings at the Blue Bell and extend the car park there. I've again lodged my opposition with East Riding Council.

 The site of the old YWT information centre at the Warren

Protests again YWT at the car park by the Blue Bell

I'd been hearing about an Olive-backed Pipit at Easington gas terminal throughout the day, and decided to pop in there before heading for home. I'm very glad I did! What a superb bird - the best I'd ever seen this species (and probably ever will).

 Olive-backed Pipit, Easington, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016

Before starting for home, I took some film of the wind turbines in the late afternoon sun (probably for use in my band's video). I never get tired of this area.

Wind farm, Easington, East Yorkshire - Sunday 9th October 2016

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

White's Thrush, Lindisfarne, Northumberland - Wednesday 5th October 2016

Hot on the heals of the Booted Warbler, another beauty from the East was blown in on the strong easterly winds - a White's Thrush (Zoothera aurea) on Lindisfarne (aka Holy Island) in Northumberland.

White's Thrush, Lindisfarne, Northumberland - Wednesday 5th October 2016

Having missed a couple of these by leaving Shetland a day early in previous years, and armed with the knowledge that mainland White's Thrushes tend to make only brief visits, when the news broke at 09:20 I was eager to get up the coast to see it ASAP.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is reached via a causeway, which is covered by the hide tide twice a day. I needed to get up there, see the bird, and get off before 16:05 when the causeway was due to close, otherwise I'd have an uncomfortable night stuck in the car...

Well, I made it, and was rewarded with fabulous views of this beautiful bird. It was sat low down in some willows beside Straight Lonnen (a north-south path on the island), occasionally dropping out of sight, or making a quick short flight around the tree,

White's Thrush, Lindisfarne, Northumberland - Wednesday 5th October 2016

It was a large, bulky thrush, with a long bill and long tail, giving it an elongated appearance. Most of the bird's plumage were covered in varying degrees with spots and crescents, while the belly, vent, and under tail coverts were a pure white (with some ermine-like flecks under the tail). The eye was large and very dark, contrasting against thick pale eye ring. There was a black spot on the plumage behind the eye.

 White's Thrush notes, Lindisfarne, Northumberland - Wednesday 5th October 2016

In the warm Autumn sun, the bird had a soft golden glow, speckled with blacks, browns and whites, not unlike the massed Golden Plovers in the field on the other side of the track. Here's some video (it wasn't easy to get a good position to film from) that gives an impression of the scene.

A wonderful bird, again in a wonderful location. And (Western Swamphen awaiting acceptance) not a bad bird for my 400th species in Britain ;-)

Friday, 14 October 2016

Booted Warbler, Great Orme, Conwy, Wales - Monday 3rd October 2016

Booted Warbler, Great Orme, Conwy - Monday 3rd October 2016

A really striking bird, in a strikingly beautiful location: right on the top of the Great Orme in Conwy, Wales.

Booted Warbler was a much-wanted bird for me, after dipping one while in Norfolk a few years ago. Well, I did see that one, but the views were too brief for me to think about ticking it. So I took the opportunity to go and see this showy fella as soon as I could.

The Booted Warbler was showing well when I arrived at the site - a solitary clump of gorse atop a mound on the northern end of the headland. The weather was sunny and still, with the setting sun eventually producing a lovely golden glow and great atmosphere (it reminded me a bit of this Cream-coloured Courser twitch).

It was so pale when sat in the gorse, like piece of discarded tissue paper. It seemed to keep returning to a little bare opening in the gorse, allowing for prolonged views lit by the setting sun.

 Booted Warbler, Great Orme, Conwy - Monday 3rd October 2016

The bird appeared Chiffchaff-sized, with grey-brown upperparts and very pale underparts, with a slightly darker greyish tone to the flanks. The wings showed a dark allula and primaries, with pale fringes on the browner tertials. When it flew the it showed clear white edges to the outer tail feathers. The legs were a dull pink, but no darker "boots" were obvious. It occasionally dipped tail as it flitted about on the gorse and grass.

The head appeared peaked, with a sloping forehead. In the field the lores appeared to have a pale patch. There was a pale supercilium, widening behind the eye. The bird had a two-tone bill (dark culmen), but no black tip. The bill looked quite broad-based in my zoomed-in photos.

Booted Warbler, Great Orme, Conwy - Monday 3rd October 2016

I joined in the enjoyable discussion about the the ID features, regarding Booted vs Sykes, with 15 or so assembled birders. We all seemed happy with the bird as a Booted Warbler, despite the lack of "boots" on the bird.

Booted Warbler notes - Monday 3rd October 2016

Birders on the Great Orme, Conwy - Monday 3rd October 2016

Looking southeast towards Conwy - Monday 3rd October 2016

Friday, 30 September 2016

Brünnich's Guillemot, Anstruther, Fife - Monday 26th September 2016

Brünnich's Guillemot, Anstruther, Fife - Monday 26th September 2016

An interesting (if not controversial) bird, originally found on Sunday 25th September. It was still there on Monday morning, and the photos were looking promising to me (after some initial disquiet on Bird Forum and Twitter about some pale feathers on the face), so I took the afternoon off work and headed up.

When I arrived on the quayside I noticed a group of six birders on the end of the pier. I headed towards them, figuring they must be on the bird at close range; but I noticed an auk species down in the water not far from where I was stood. It was the Brünnich's Guillemot, not eight metres away, snoozing while drifting towards the beach. Clearly it had floated away from everyone and they were waiting for it to float back rather than chasing it.

Brünnich's Guillemot, Anstruther, Fife - Monday 26th September 2016

It was nice opportunity to note down some of the bird's features: It was a large, tubby bird, stouter than a Common Guillemot. The uppers were dark, mostly a dark slate-black but with a hint of brown, plus a few feathers with some pale fringes. The bill had an obvious pale tip, and was short, thick and rounded compared with a Common Guillemot's (Brünnich's Guillemots are also called Thick-billed Murres; whereas Common Guillemots are also called Thick-billed, or Common, Murres).

The head shape might not have been strikingly Brünnich's-like, but I understand the peaked forehead tends to be rounder during autumn/winter. Still, it didn't look as sleek as a Common Guillemot. The plumage on the head formed a dark hood over the eyes, with some white-fringed feathers behind the eye (more obvious on the right side). The white feathering on the lower part of the face extended in a thin line over the top of the bill. The bill had a thin white lateral stripe, more noticeable on the left side of the bill.

The underparts were pure white, except for a yellow are on the belly (possibly due to oiling?). The flanks were unstreaked, and when the bird was wing-stretching I could see the white sides extended up and on to the back. It had a mottled dark neck ring, and the white on the breast extended up to the chin in an obvious peak.The underwings looked white, including the axillaries, but it was difficult to be certain because of the heavy moult (the feathers looked quite waterlogged).

Brünnich's Guillemot, Anstruther, Fife - Monday 26th September 2016

I had a chat with others on the end of the pier. They'd all prolonged close views earlier, nearer the harbour mouth and hadn't moved as the bird had, so I wasn't missing something. Later I met Geoff Morgan (@morgithology) and we talked through the ID features of the bird. We both seemed happy enough. We also both noticed a couple of stray feathers came off the bird while it preened in front of us, each picked one out of the water - Geoff is sending these to Martin Collinson in Aberdeen for DNA analysis.

I hung around until it was very nearly dark, with only a couple of other birders hanging around to the last. Unfortunately, the bird was found dead on the morning of Friday 30th September. There were a few clues which suggested it was unwell. It sat ridiculously high in the water at times, looking very bloated. Although it did use it's both its legs, it mostly used the left leg, and it had a list over to the right. The feathers looked in terrible condition - perhaps the bird had been oiled, which may also explain the yellow patch on the belly. Sad to hear of its demise. Martin Collinson now has the whole corpse to analyse...

 Anstruther Harbour, Fife - Monday 26th September 2016

I'd dipped the last twitchable Brünnich's Guillemot, at Portland harbour on New Year's Day 2014 - and that was probably the hardest dip I'd ever had. That bird was found on Boxing Day 2013, and was still present as the sun went down on New Year's Eve, so the odds on it still being present were pretty good...

The early start and long drive on 1st January wasn't pleasant, but it was the coming back empty-handed that was really disheartening. But, simply missing the bird wasn't why it was so hard to take. I'd put off going earlier in the week because we'd had family and friends staying, and New Year's Day was the first day of the holidays it was just me, my wife, and the kids in the house. Instead of spending that precious quality time with them, I'd gone on some fool's errand to not see a bird on the south coast. I had six-hour journey home to beat myself up about it and get some perspective. I still twitch, obviously, but I'm more thoughtful now, and always prioritise time with the kids.