Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Last day on Scillys

Although our last pelagic was on Sunday the 21st, our last day on the island was Monday. Our boat was scheduled to leave at 16:30, which gave us a reasonable amount of time to explore the island for a last time. We began at the Garrison where we had good views of the Icterine Warbler before the sun came out.

I then spent a large portion of the day scouring the rest of the Garrison especially the Dead Pines, in hope of a scarce phylosc, but unfortunately nothing but Pied Flycatchers were to be seen. Late news of a Wryneck on the other side of the Island sent me to Pungies Lane for a quick dip before picking our luggage up from the B&B and heading homeward bound on the Scillonian. The Scillonian produced a total of 140 Manx Shearwater, 1 Balearic, 1 Cory's, 2 Sooty and 2 European Storm Petrels. In conclusion, a very enjoyable trip, which I'd highly recommend!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Isles of Scilly Pelagics (18-22/08/16)

On the 17th in the evening Paul and I headed west, to eventually go on 3 Pelagics on the 19th, 20th and 21st of August. It had been more than a year coming since we had booked the tickets, so the trip was much anticipated. We caught the Scillonian III over to St. Marys in the morning of the 18th, were we met up with Rob, who had taken Chris's place, since he was unable to come unfortunately. No time was wasted, and we spent the 3 hour crossing seawatching. The winds were favourable, and instantly after leaving Penzance we observed a constant flow of Manx Shearwaters. Within an hour we had enjoyed good views of Gannet and Fulmar, as well as European Storm Petrel, Common Dolphine and Ocean Sunfish. The highlight came shortly after the hour mark, when Rob picked up a Cory's Shearwater, as it flew east followed by a Herring Gull.

Distant Cory's Shearwater from the Scillonian III

Then as we approached St. Mary's, a large shearwater caught my attention, which I quickly IDed as a Great Shearwater! Other animals of note were European Storm Petrel, Common Dolphin and Ocean Sunfish.

Once we arrived on St. Mary's and had dropped our luggage off at the B&B, Rob and I set off for a short walk towards Higher Moors. At Porth Hellick pines we caught up with 5 Wheatear, our first passerine migrant of the trip and 2 Pied Flycatchers shortly thereafter.


The pines were ladened with phyloscs, but little of interest was to be found. Our next port of call was Porth Hellick pool, here we were lucky enough to get good views of most waders on the pool, which included: 2 Wood Sandpiper, 5 Green Sandpiper, 3 Common Sandpiper, 1 Dunlin and 2 Snipe. Also of note where some common hirundians and acros.

Wood Sandpiper

The 19th began at 6am, a walk around the Garrison produced very little other then some more phyloscs and a Pied Flycatcher. With cloud cover being quite predominant, most birds were still hidden and only came out later in the day.

View from Church Point

Following the success of Porth Hellick pool the day before and the weather conditions, I hoped some more waders had been grounded. Unfortunately, the tally of waders, matched the day before bar a few Greenshanks which had presumably moved on. Walking back to the B&B a Pied Flycatcher and 5 Wheatear were the pick of the bunch. The afternoon came alive as the Icterine Warbler was reported again, and after a brisk walk to the Garrison, we were able to achieve brief views of the bird. That evening we set off on our first pelagic of the weekend, my hopes were high having looked at the weather forecast, gale force winds from the Atlantic had been predicted for both Friday and Saturday.

The Sapphire

We left and headed into the sheltered waters, so as to not feel the full force of the 50mph winds. The weather delivered and shortly after leaving the harbour in Hugh Town, St. Mary's we already had our first Cory's! The numbers built up throughout the trip, along with the wind. Although the swell was higher than the boats at times, we were too overlaidened with Cory's and Great Shearwater to really care. The official numbers showed we managed to get 42 Cory's Shearwater and 5 Great!

Cory's Shearwater

The 20th started very much like the day before, and only really got interesting once we stepped on Sapphire at 11am. The pelagics began much the same with reasonable numbers of Cory's and Great Shearwater. A few miles out, we threw the chum overboard. It wasn't long before we had Stormies surrounding the boat, and not long after the first call of "WILSON'S!" went out.

Cory's Shearwater

Storm Petrel

Repeated views followed, and a grand total of 4 were seen over the whole trip!

Wilson's Storm Petrel

We now come to the 21st. The pelagic began at 8am, and we were out at see and in position shortly after 9. Once again we chucked the chum out, and slowly but surely the Stormy numbers began to rise. Approximately 150 were seen on the trip.

Storm Petrel

We also managed to encounter 3 Sooty Shearwater a Long-tailed Skua another 3 Cory's and 1 Great. Numbers had definitely died down, but there was by no means a lack of entertainment.

 Sooty Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Yellow-legged Gull

Monday, 27 June 2016

End of Exam Celebration

Friday the 24th of June marked the end of my A2 exams, and to celebrate the end of an era I went out on a twitch! Chris was heading to Norfolk and following a quick call, we organized to leave at 3:30am.

My alarm relentlessly rang at 3 in the morning of Saturday and I forced myself out of bed. I gathered all m stuff together and we were on our way by 3:30. We made very good time and arrived at Titchwell just as news broke of the Great Knot at Gore Point, so we jumped back in the car and after 20 minutes drive and a short walk, we were looking at an adult summer Great Knot! What a start to the day, the bird hugged to the back of the group of Red Knot which made it difficult at points to see anything but the back of the head of the Great Knot. However, it's larger stature and speckled looking crown and nape made the bird still possible to pick out. To put the magnitude of this bird into perspective it represents only the fifth record for Britain!

Great Knot, bird furthest to right

When looking at it at such close quarters and in such striking plumage it is unmistakable, it has a larger build, black spots across its breast and orange-brown flecks on its scapulars and mantle.

Try and spot the Great Knot

This opened up the day nicely, since it was only 8 o'clock and we had already had a good amount of time to admire this stunning bird! We headed back to the car and made a quick plan to go to Breydon Water for the Caspian Tern, but stop off at Strumpshaw Fen on the way. It wasn't long before we were at Strumpshaw Fen RSPB and we made a short walk around the reserve in hope of seeing the seasonal highlight, the Swallowtail. We were incredibly lucky and had a view of one Swallowtail, just before it became overcast, fly past occasionally landing on some of the flowers out in the meadow. Unfortunately, it was to distant to grab any photographs, but I was thrilled to eventually catch up with this epic butterfly!

We then pressed on to Breydon Water where it began to rain, but after a short kerfuffle the bird reappeared and we were presented with good scope views of the Caspian Tern. It was barely mid-day and I had already managed 3 life ticks! A pretty successful celebration in my eyes.

Digi-scoped Caspian Tern

On the drive home we stopped off briefly to look for a long-staying Glossy Ibis in Suffolk, and then finally finished on Cavenham Heath. Here, after some effort, we were able to spot some elusive Stone Curlew. This rounded up the day very nicely, and on the way home I couldn't help but rest my eyes a little.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Revision Break

My first proper A2 exam is on the 16th of June, so it's come to the point now, that I am in full revision mode. It's probably not even worth explaining that this obviously takes a toll on ones spirits and so I find it important to go out and relax occasionally. In this case it was another twitch, this time to Vange Marsh, Essex. Luckily for me, there is a station reasonably close to the reserve. So I was on the train from Kings Langley to Euston at 5:45am and after a few changes here and there, I was at Pitsea in Essex by 7:45. Following a short walk, I found myself on the Reserve where I had already been only just over half a year ago to see a Wilson's Phalarope.

My target species for the day were Black-winged Stilt and Red-footed Falcon. My initial efforts were fruitless and neither species were playing ball, which led me to do some general birding. A few warblers and the common water loving birds were to be seen, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then at 8:10am on the west side of the reserve, I noticed an interesting raptor perched up in a hedge in the cow fields adjacent to the reserve.The bird had it's back to me, but I noted a scaled mantle and back and an orange cap. I had already come to a reasonable conclusion of what the bird was, but it was when it dropped from the branch and gave a brief flight view that I clinched the ID, it was my first ever Red-footed Falcon! Little did I know this would be my only view of the bird for the whole day, and know it seems it's not even being reported on RBA or BirdGuides any more! Oh well.

In an attempt to refind the Falcon, I headed around the reserve in hope I would find it perched in the bushes in the cow fields as I had first seen it. On the way around, a wader on the marsh stood out to me and as soon as I raised my bins, I instantly identified it as a Black-winged Stilt, my other target species! The bird gave good views for the next half an hour before I moved on to try and refind the Falcon which was the main attraction of the day.

Black-winged Stilt

I spent the next 4 hours wondering around the fields and the reserve searching for the Falcon, but unfortunately it evaded my radar. Instead, I did see and hear 2 Cuckoos, which was an added bonus. I still headed home with a broad smile as I had seen both target species for the day.

Moth trapping in the garden has been slow recently and I haven't had much time to put out the trap, but last night made up for it, as I caught my first ever Hawkmoth for the garden!!! The Lime Hawkmoth was an obvious highlight, but I also enjoyed the: Scalloped Oak, White Ermine, Brimstone Moth, Pale Tussock, Nut-tree Tussock, Angle Shade and Waved Umber.

Lime Hawkmoth

Monday, 16 May 2016

Great Spotted Cuckoo, Portland

Great Spotted Cuckoo was without a doubt the bird at the top of my want to see list. Luckily, last weekend my dream came true after a Juv. was found on Portland!

Paul, Ian and I, organized the trip the day before hand, as we were all keen to see it. We started the day shortly before 6 o'clock, and arrived on Portland by 9. The Cuckoo was still there and was hidden away in the bushes barely visible. 2 Spotted Flycatchers and a Redstart provided entertainment up until the Cuckoo decided to move and feed just a few metres away where it gave stonking views up until a dog walker flushed it. The bird flew off with the photographers chasing after it and the bird was eventually forced into the school.

Great Spotted Cuckoo

Predicting that any further views would be challenging, we moved swiftly on to the Red-rumped Swallow which had just been found at Lodmoor. After some searching we eventually found it, along with a supporting cast of Bearded Tit, Knot and a mint looking Grey Plover.

Red-rumped Swallow

We then headed back onto to Portland where we spent a few hours just doing some general birding and seawatching, more Spotted Flycatchers and a Short-eared Owl being the pick of the bunch.

On the way home we stopped briefly in the New Forest and were able to locate Tree Pipit, Cuckoo, Wood Warbler, Crossbill and Firecrest. All in all an absolutely tremendous day!