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6 Dec 2016

Dusky Thrush.

Oh my. Oh me. What a Christmas cracker. When a photo emerged Sunday night of a Dusky Thrush at a private site in Derbyshire my pulse quickened ever so slightly. Steve and I had been discussing the possibility of a wintering bird being discovered sometime with so many records in the last few years. All have been one day birds though - including the bird in Margate that Jason & I dipped as he was laying our new kitchen floor and I didn't want to leave him whilst I waltzed off to Kent knowing he also needed the bird. Consequently we travelled down the next day and the bird was gone. See here. Nearly all the recent records have been one day or even one hour sightings apart from a Devon bird which was present for a week but the news wasn't released until after the event. My hopes weren't high that it would still be around Monday and events were conspiring against me even if it was. Jan had my car as hers had developed a fault and been back at the dealers for a week. They were expecting it to be available on Monday but couldn't promise a time. I had to go and pick her up and take her to collect her car so wouldn't get away until Tuesday at the earliest.

As it happened the bird was still there Monday morning and the dealer phoned to say the car was available from midday and the builders we were expecting at the house at 4pm phoned to say they couldn't make it until the Tuesday. Could I possibly make it?

With binoculars permanently in the car but no camera or scope I did a quick search on google maps. One hour, forty minutes fro mChester to Beeley in Derbyshire. I'd be there with a couple of hours before dark.... With regular updates I went for it! I hit the first snag just outside Macclesfield where an inconsiderate tractor driver loaded with straw bales kept a queue of traffic stretching a mile long behind him for over 10 miles! Cursing all things agricultural I could do nothing but grit my teeth and wait until he decided he'd had enough fun and pulled off. The next more serious hold up was crossing the snake pass where a major incident had just taken place with a lorry turing over. Two helicopters and numerous emergency vehicles were present but luckily we were diverted down a single track road where cars being diverted in the opposite direction caused passing chaos.

The sat nave was now showing 2.5 hours!!! Eventually I arrived at the designated spot, parked up and within 5 minutes I was watching my first ever Dusky Thrush. A bird on my most wanted list.


Photo's courtesy of Alan Hitchmough

It was feeding in an old orchard and was coming down to feed on windfall apples. The local Blackbird took exception by its presence and chased it off whereby it would land in one of the fruit trees and wait until the coast was clear again. Fantastic views and a generally well behaved crowd. What always gets me at these events though is the constant loud voices. I think people have forgotten how to whisper.

A great local(ish) twitch  and with news coming put later that it had possibly been present for at least 10 days hopefully it'll over winter and allow others to catch up with this beautiful Siberian vagrant. What a fabulous early Christmas present.




28 Nov 2016

Bitterly cold in N Wales.

 I was out canon netting with SCAN Saturday on the coldest morning of the year so far. -3C the thermometer in the car read when  I left home and it didn't rise much higher all day!

With an early tide it was an early catch and I was packed up and home just after 1 pm. We caught just after dawn and once the birds had all been safely extracted and placed in holding cages we packed up the gear as the sun was rising.


It was a good mixed catch of Redshank, Oystercatchers, Dunlin and Turnstone with some good re-trap data being obtained.

 Beautiful adult Redshank
 Euring 3 (born this year) Redshank with pale spots on edges of tertials almost worn off


Above: Otstercatcher Euring age 8 (meaning it was hatched at least three years ago with deep red iris.

A great mornings work but after only 3 hours sleep the previous night I was glad to get back, grab a shower and get some hot food.

17 Nov 2016

Pinkfeet

It seems our new house (which we've yet to move in to as we are still carrying out renovations and decorating) is on the flight path for skeins of Pinkfeet travelling backwards and forwards to the Dee estuary. Every morning we get them flighting over at first light and in the evenings they fly back in the dark.

Its a fabulous sight and sound to hear.
We've also had several large skeins of Greylags and the ubiquitous Canada Geese fly over.
Although we haven't moved in and I haven't spent much time birding in the area we've still amassed a garden list of 59 species in since September. Now I've put up some bird feeders we are getting good numbers of Chaffinches and Goldfinches along with a solitary Brambling that showed up a week or so ago but hasn't been seen since. The Little Owl is still regularly heard if not seen and we've also heard Tawny Owl from the garden.

Although I've not seen Fieldfares or Redwings on the fallen apples they've been in the trees at the back of the garden so I'll keep hoping. A Blackbird roost is developing in the front garden Rhododendrons so I'm hopeful that, when I get time off from decorating, the garden will prove to be a productive ringing site.

14 Nov 2016

November gem

John & me we ringing at Barry's place on the Wirral recently. There were good numbers of birds - especially goldfinches and we had a good couple of hours before rain stopped play! Barry had never see na Firecrest in his garden despite a very extensive garden list so imagine my surprise when one popped out of a bush in front of me and got caught in the mist net as  I was extracting another bird. John was kind enough to let me ring it!




They're always a treat to see in the hand!
Other species caught included good numbers of goldfinches, chaffinch, coal tit, goldcrest, blue tit , great tit, nuthatch, robin, dunnock and blackbird.

7 Nov 2016

Fair Isle. Part 5. Rare Wheatears.

Our last morning on Fair Isle was spent recovering from a late night session in the bar the previous night. In the case of Mark he didn't even venture outside. Fred, Chris & I were made of sterner stuff though and set off with our packed lunches in beautiful sunshine. Nothing much was found and there had bee na bit of a clear out of birds. We were nearby when Lee caught a Waxwing in the plantation trap though.

Mark and Chris were departing that evening on the overnight ferry to Aberdeen whereas Fred and I were spending a night with Becca & Phil in Lerwick and flying back the next day to Manchester. After a short flight to Tingwall we left the other two and drove south to try and catch up with the Pied Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear and Desert Wheatear that had been found within close proximity of each other the previous day. Time was tight but we managed to see all three and a Northern Wheatear before the light failed.
The Isabelline Wheatear (above) was always distant and although the Pied showed reasonably well. Unfortunately the light was to poor for photography at the Desert site but that showed the best of the lot and was incredibly confiding.
The following Day Fred & me headed to Bressay for a mooch round before heading back to Sumburgh and our flights home. A great trip and we've already booked for next year1

3 Nov 2016

Fair Isle. Part 4. Stejnegers Stonechat?

Yomping an average 15-20 km each day in full waterproofs, carrying a rucksack with food and drink and binoculars and camera makes you hungry. Lucky the food at the Obs is good and simple. A full cooked breakfast with porridge, toast and marmite set us up for the day. Packed lunches included a cold drink, fruit, chocolate bars and sandwiches whilst the shop provides supplementary rations and they've placed a kettle and tea / coffee making facilities in their garage for birders to use for a small charity donation - a fantastic base to dry out and rest for awhile of the weathers bad!

We got into a routine of breakfasting then heading out for the day whilst others returned to the Obs for lunch. Anyone who sees the rarities reports coming out of Fair Isle or Shetland who thinks its easy birding is very misguided. Its very hard work - easy enough if you stick to the roads but going through mires, ditches and across moors is where you'll find the majority of the birds. The assistant wardens put the hard miles in on a daily basis during their extended stay.

Anyway, back to the birds. We'd been watching an Olive-backed Pipit and a couple of Little Buntings in Shirva thistles when Chris spotted a chat heading up the fence line. He followed it and found it to be a Whinchat but in doing so found a Siberian Stonechat. It gave people the runaround for awhile before settling into a routine - he'd got a nice shot of the white rump and Nigel Jones (BBRC member) got a nice shot showing the black auxillaries. So, hopefully, this'll get through and be our 3rd consecutive year where we've found a BBRC rarity.

With multiple Pine Buntings, several Olive-backed Pipits, a possible Siberian Thrush (seen by Gary and Clive in flight and never seen again!), Dusky Warbler, Pechora Pipit and a host of scarcities, hopes were high that the week would bring a 'mega' rarity.

Sure enough we got a message from Kieran to say he'd found a Siberian Stonechat, possibly a Stejnegers, at South Landing. With this form being a potential future split we were keen to see it and spent many hours over a couple of days photographing it and watching whilst it evaded capture (it was eventually caught and ringed just after we left and a feather sent away for DNA analysis).

One of the features of this form is the ginger rump which I managed to capture in flight as the photo's below show.






It stayed faithful to the beach where it was obviously finding plenty to eat along with good numbers of Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Rock Pipits. What was totally unexpected though was a Fair Isle 'mega'  - a Blue Tit!!! Chris was 'pishing' the Stonechat and a Blue Tit popped up.


Logan had found one a few days earlier in one of the geos so it was probably the same bird. Living on Unst Blue Tit was a lifer for him!

Thousands of thrushes arrived during our week along with more Woodcocks than I've ever seen. Each day we'd flush 10-20 along ditches, beside dry stone walls and even on top of the cliffs. I've never seen so many Song Thrushes in one place either and amongst the commoner thrushes we found a couple of Ring Ouzels. Goldcrest, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs made up the bulk of the warblers seen as we'd missed the peak movement of Yellow-browed Warblers. However a couple still lingered and gave good views as they flitted along the stone walls.

 Male Blackcap flopping amongst the roadside vegetation - Blackcaps look floppy and you think theres something wrong with them buts thats just how they are.
 Male Siskin feeding on dandelion seed head.


Yellow-browed Warbler!

31 Oct 2016

Fair Isle 2016. Part 3.

One of the features of Fair Isle is how remarkably tame some of the migrant birds are - most of them will probably never have seen humans before. We were lucky that our trip coincided with the arrival of good numbers of geese and at one stage we were able to compare Pinkfeet, Tundra bean and Eurasian Whitefronts in the same field from less than 100 m away.

 Tundra Bean Goose.
 Tundra Beans with Pinkfeet.
Eurasian Whitefronted Goose.

Another feature is the number of Starlings and House Sparrows still present on the island. The resident Starlings are a distinct race (zetlandicus) but numbers are boosted by continental migrants in the winter. House Sparrows are really common - unlike near where we live. The crofting agricultural techniques and grazing land suit there requirements.





The scenery is fabulous and on a sunny day there is probably no more beautiful place in the British Isles. Towering cliffs and geos, moorland, pasture land and small crofts......












As well as rare birds it was nice to catch up with a few scarcer birds we don't often see in Cheshire. Whilst we were on Fair Isle at least one and possibly two Great-grey Shrikes were present with one being ringed whilst we were there and a second one the day after we left.

During our stay there was also a small influx of Shorelarks - a scarce bird on Fair Isle but even scarcer on Fair Isle as AW, Lee Gregory, needed it for his Fair Isle list!