Wed 8th September 2010

birds : So we have the annual annoyance of things starting to hot up as September gets underway, just as I return to work. And this September so far has been pretty good, with an easterly airflow over northern and central Europe, there has been stacks of drift migrants in the UK and there has been plenty here too. Although I am just managing to get brief snatches of birding done, it is great to see migrants passing through the island. And it is especially interesting to see how the species change day to day - on Monday there was only Willow Warblers obvious, then yesterday there seemed to be Whinchats everywhere, then today there was suddenly piles of White Wagtails on the beach at Fort le Crocq.

In amongst these migrants there has been a few decent quality birds turn up - most of which I haven't seen - but there has been two highlights for me. First, on Sunday I was in the car with Pete and Phil on our way moth-hunting, when I picked a raptor up over L'Eree Bay. Stopping the car, we watched an Osprey flapping above the sea, reasonably high up, clearly struggling to make southerly progress against the stiff breeze. My third Guernsey record and a nice surprise when not actually birding.

Then yesterday, I had a quick run round Lihou Headland during my lunch hour and came across a superb Wryneck in a weedy area above the beach. One of my favourite birds, I managed to get within 5 yards of it as it skulked beneath the undergrowth. It was probably the one Mark G had seen a few days previously.

Wryneck sketch

Wryneck sketch

moths : I spent a good part of the weekend studying moth specimens and looking for larvae with Peter and Phil, as we have a few interesting irons in the fire. A few moths of interest in the trap.

Nephopterix angustella - there were multiple records of this species on Guernsey between 2003 and 2006 but strangely none since then - until now. Some species just come and go.

Nephopterix angustella - there were multiple records of this species on Guernsey between 2003 and 2006 but strangely none since then - until now. Some species just come and go.

Canary-shouldered Thorn - garden, 3 Sep 10

Canary-shouldered Thorn - garden, 3 Sep 10

Oak Nycteoline - garden, 3 Sep 10

Oak Nycteoline - garden, 3 Sep 10

Sun 12th September 2010

birds : A superb bit of September wonderfulness today. A beautiful sunny day, and I was "working hard" doing the gardening whilst the family were out. It was late on in the afternoon and I received a call via the local grapevine. Fifteen minutes later, I was standing on the edge of fairway 5 with a super little Buff-breasted Sandpiper trotting around the turf in front of me.

This was not my first Guernsey Buff-breast, but I would always go and see these birds if possible - full of character and generally pretty tame, they generally give ace views (although, why are they more wary of the cryptically-dressed birders hiding behind the gorse bushes, than the plaid-trousered, fluorescent-sweatered, club-wielding golfers that seem to walk right up to them?). Photography was quite difficult as it was constantly on the move and it was just too sunny. As usual, a massive twitch of 4 birders shared the bird with me, and I was home in time for a lovely roast dinner. Bliss.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper - L'Ancresse, 12 sep 10

Buff-breasted Sandpiper - L'Ancresse, 12 sep 10

The latter half of last week was quieter migrant-wise with most birds seemingly moved on. On Thursday lunchtime I did my usual circuit of Lihou Headland and saw the Wryneck again in the same area. But this time I also flushed two other birds, one which was no doubt a Song Thrush, but the other appeared pretty wrynecky to me as it disappeared. So Friday lunch I went straight to the spot and, approaching more carefully I discovered that there was indeed 2 Wrynecks in that area. A very poor photo follows . . .

Wryneck - Lihou Headland,

Wryneck - Lihou Headland,

moths : Trapped both nights but apart from 2 Pearly Underwings, it was pretty ordinary.

Mon 13th September 2010

birds : With a sighting of a Lapland Bunting at Portinfer yesterday, I considered whether to pop in there on the way to work to have a brief look for it. But I thought I'd check the nearby Pulias Headland instead since I have found Lap Bunt there three times already and it seems to be a favoured site. No sooner had I left the car park when I noticed a few pipits get up (which were recent arrivals as no pipits were around last week) and I heard a distinctive "pr-pr-prt-t" call from amongst them, clearly a Lap Bunt. So I returned with my camera, took some distant record shots of this one bird, before some silly mare with two dogs walked right in front of me, flushing everything in sight and the bird disappeared. I had a quick scout round to refind it - flushing a Tree Pipit whilst doing so, which I have managed to miss all year up to now - but it seemed to have vanished. Then suddenly three birds flew in from the east and all three were Lap Bunts! And incredibly, they landed in the grass right in front of me. Frantically I tried to get my digiscope set up and onto them, but they were too close and I had to step backwards quite a bit just to get them in the frame. They were hard to get as they were right in the grass but then one just sat on a rock and allowed some amazing photos for just 30 seconds. Luckily my battery ran out otherwise I would have certainly been late for work.

Lapland Bunting - Pulias, 13 Sep 10

Lapland Bunting - Pulias, 13 Sep 10

The bird above that I photographed seems to be a first-winter bird since there are fine flank streaks and the tail feathers are very pointed, whilst the initial bird seems like an adult due to its blackish-blotchy breast pattern (see below). I am not convinced that the flock of three actually included this bird but who knows?

Mon 20th September 2010

birds : Just starting the late September migrant-lull. The bulk of the summer-breeding british birds have passed through, and there will be a few weeks before the "winter" migrants arrive. Of course, there is just as much chance of finding something really good so its important to keep on plugging away. My most pleasing sighting was of a Barn Owl flying around the Vale Pond area at dusk on Friday night. Despite the species being quite widespread here, I just never see them - this was only my second this year. I think it is because I am rarely at the right places at the right time of day. The other good bird was a Curlew Sandpiper at Pulias this afternoon - a new one for the year. This bird has been around for a couple of weeks on and off.

Curlew Sandpiper - Pulias

Curlew Sandpiper - Pulias

This bird makes 158 for the year list. If I cannot get another 5 species by the end of the year to beat my best total then I deserve to be stripped of my Leicas.

moths : Trapped once and it was most underwhelming - well a Sombre Brocade was in there, but we're getting rather blase about those now!

Sombre Brocade - garden, 18 Sep 10

Sombre Brocade - garden, 18 Sep 10

Tue 28th September 2010

birds : The news is that there's no news on the bird front. I have been catching up with work and so I have had very little time to be out and about, but there does not seem to have been anything interesting seen this week anyway by anyone else - still in the late September lull. I have had a couple of sightings but was unable to pin then down. A possible Rosy Starling that flew over Portinfer and a possible Ortolan flushed from the grass as Fort Hommet. I did have a second juvenile Curlew Sandpiper on Vazon beach which was nice.

Sun 3rd October 2010

birds : It has been an abysmal week weather-wise, with driving rain and wind - "fit for neither man nor beast" as mum would say. The main bird news of interest was a Common Sandpiper photo that Chris B sent into Birdguides and the website changed its label to Spotted Sandpiper. This was quite a shock to everyone here, but they did this apparently because it had plain tertials and a short primary projection, according to the notes added to the photo. Looking back at Chris's other photos, this bird had been present a few weeks and no-one had noticed anything different and I wasn't convinced from the photos - it just didn't feel like a Spot Sand.

Anyway, after lots of internet searches, I clearly had to look at the bird and eventually saw it this afternoon after four attempts. It was on the beach by Pulias with 3 Common Sandpipers.

Spommon Sandpiper- Pulias

Spommon Sandpiper- Pulias

In the end, after seeing the bird in the field and studying photos, I believe it is a Common Sandpiper. Compared to the 3 definite Common Sandpipers it was with this afternoon, fair enough the legs were a touch yellower and the back a touch greyer but this was not obvious - it just did not stand out as very different from the others. I was watching it with Jean and we kept struggling to see which bird it was as they moved quickly about. It was also a struggleto get good photos as it was so fast.

Above is a photo of the bird (left) with a Common Sandpiper (right). Upperpart tone and leg colour show little difference.

Above is a photo of the bird (left) with a Common Sandpiper (right). Upperpart tone and leg colour show little difference.

The bill looked pretty OK for Spot Sand - slightly downcurved, dark tip

The bill looked pretty OK for Spot Sand - slightly downcurved, dark tip

This photo shows the narrow streaks on the breast which should not be shown by Spotted Sand. 

This photo shows the narrow streaks on the breast which should not be shown by Spotted Sand. 

A bit more detailon the rear end.

A - There are some missing tertial feathers on both wings - only one is visible above. Although this feather is indeed quite plain, it is not totally plain. There is a thin whitish fringe most of the way round the feather, and there appears to be a few dark marks along the lower edge.

B - The upper greater and median coverts seem to have dark bars on the edge.

C - The primary projection is artificially long because of the missing tertials.

D - The tail projection beyond the wings is quite short which is good for Spotted, but a close look reveals that the two (usually) longest central tail feathers are still growing (arrowed). when these are fully grown, then the tail may be longer.

The other key feature is the wing bar but I couldn't get a photo of that. We watched the group of sandpipers fly about on a number of occasions, and although its difficult to see with the birds constantly flicking their wings, we failed to see any difference between this bird and the others.

So a Common Sandpiper for me I believe, but I am happy to hear any opposing arguments.

And this was easily not the best looking bird on the beach. If you saw the bird below stick its head over the rocks like so, then you'd wonder what the hell you had. It looks totally rare!

leucistic Wheatear - Pulias

leucistic Wheatear - Pulias

Luckily I saw it when I flushed it and it was thus clearly a leucistic Wheatear, with most of the plumage a stunning orange with white wings and tail, it was very nice indeed.

Wed 6th October 2010

birds : A spot of weirdness today - but excellent weirdness. In the Spring I was a little bit moany about the grapevine breaking down which meant I didn't see a one -day Short-toed Lark at Fort Hommet (see here). Then this morning, I did one of my regular pre-work quicky circuits of Fort Hommet, and as I climbed the hill up to the "Hommet Plateau", I saw a pale-breasted bird up there which I presumed was a Wheatear. Upon lifting my bins, I saw however that it was a corking Short-toed Lark - a matter of yards from where the other bird had spent that Spring evening.

I'd like to think that the birding gods were rewarding me with giving it some pretty good welly during this year, and decided that it wasn't actually fair that I missed the Spring bird, especially now as Fort Hommet is effectively my 'local patch'. Or perhaps I had wandered into some magical wormhole and due to the alignment of the stars and planets, I was actually looking back in time to April. As soon as I fetched my camera it flew and I had to get to work, but I did return at lunchtime and managed some snaps (although the sun and movement of the bird made it hard).

Short-toed Lark - Fort Hommet

Short-toed Lark - Fort Hommet

Luckily the species is easy to identify once you realise it is a lark with the plain underparts. It was quite flighty and when disturbed flew off strongly towards the grassy areas by the lower car park or below the Fort itself. But it kept coming back tothe same spot.

I also saw a good bird yesterday when I popped off after school to twitch a Grey Phalarope on the Old Aerodrome. Didn't have long and it was rather distant but you get the idea. 160 for the year!

Grey Phalarope - Old Aerodrome

Grey Phalarope - Old Aerodrome

Sun 10th October 2010

birds : A weekend of very little activity for me due to sickness - struggling with a heavy cold. So it was even more frustrating to watch Birdguides constantly updating with rarity upon rarity arriving in the UK - it must have been one of the best weekends ever for rarity arrivals. Nothing here though reported, quite surprisingly. The only thing of interest for me was a bunting-like bird which flew over the garden, which called and I didn't recognise at all - maybe that was the boy sneaking through!

moths : I did manage to scramble outside to check the moth trap on Saturday morning and I had 33 species which is pretty good for so late a date. No migrants at all though which was very surprising with the previous southerly winds.

Feathered brindle - Garden - 8 Oct 10

Feathered brindle - Garden - 8 Oct 10

Mon 18th October 2010

birds : A disappointing week last week. The expectation of mid-October is for rarities galore but there's not even been one Yellow-browed here so far. I have not been at full-throttle myself at all as my cough and cold has been lingering for over a week now, and I seem to have lots of work to do at the moment, but I was half-expecting a nice twitch.

The winter migrants have been arriving with my first Redwings over the house on Thursday and Goldcrests appearing around the same time. The Chiffchaffs are slowly building up again with paler birds arriving with different accents. I had an exceedingly pale bird at Lihou Headland last week which stood a chance for tristis except it was bright sunlight and the tones were difficult to see and of course it didn't call. I finally saw my first Firecrest of the autumn today. Other than that, my Short-toed Lark has been a long-stayer and I have seen it a couple more times.

Sat 23rd October 2010

Scilly 2010 - day one

My previous birding trip to Scilly was in 2007 and I thought it was about time I went for another visit - so during the year I have been organising the week ahead. One of the factors that puts me - and clearly others - off making the trip every year is the cost involved. The accommodation is reasonable, but the travel is expensive. There is the flight to Exeter and the flight to Scilly to consider, and the only satisfactory way of getting from Exeter to Penzance is by hire car. I have tried it by train but this really constrains you, since part of the Scilly experience is calling in to see birds in Devon and Cornwall en route. So it all adds up to quite a few hundred quid, but a couple of years of lunch duties at work have paid for it.

So early afternoon today I waved the family off at the departure gate, and fair play to Flybe, I was actually on the road outside Exeter Airport within an hour of my scheduled departure time. This meant that there was about two to three hours of daylight to squeeze in a bit of birding and I set off to Exminster Marshes, the closest site to the city of Exeter, where a couple of rare birds had been recorded recently.

Exminster Marshes

Exminster Marshes

One of the most obvious differences when you go birding in the UK from Guernsey is the large number of waterbirds at such sites. On the photo above you can just see the duck flock dotted around on the water. I was looking for a Glossy Ibis that had been regular here recently but it was not about.

This bird seemed pretty wild, with no signs of an escaped origin, so I added it to my British year list - I am of course talking about the Canada Goose on the right rather than the plastic jobby on the left!

This bird seemed pretty wild, with no signs of an escaped origin, so I added it to my British year list - I am of course talking about the Canada Goose on the right rather than the plastic jobby on the left!

It was starting to rain, but I walked South along the canal anyhow to the Turf Hotel, where you can stand right on the edge ofthe estuary and look out. The light conditions were not good but watching the waders feeding and flying around was spectacular. The two most common species were Black-tailed Godwit and Avocet.

Black-tailed Godwit - Exe estuary

Black-tailed Godwit - Exe estuary

Avocets - Exe Estuary

Avocets - Exe Estuary

There were only a handful of Pluvialis plovers on the mudflats and so I suspected that I would be disappointed looking for the American Golden Plover that had been seen here in recent days. However, one bird that was feeding by a Grey Plover appeared to be small with a bright clear supercilium, but it was rather distant and I was finding it difficult to say that it was 100% the bird in question. Luckily though, I was scoping it as it took flight, and it very clearly had dark underwings - a lot darker than I expected actually - and so confirming it as an American Goldie, which is only my second ever sighting of the species.

American Golden Plover - Exe Estuary

American Golden Plover - Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary

It was now dusk so I headed on back to the car, just as it started to tip it down, and a Cetti's Warbler sang from a nearby ditch and Water Rails were squealing. A most satisfying couple of hours in the field and a good start to the trip.

I was very pleased that I had managed to find online a place to stay near Exeter for just £20, so I now had to try and find it in the dark. It was in a small village in the northern foothills of Dartmoor and I did have problems locating it, but I eventually droveinto the pub car park of the Drewe Arms. The lady behind the bar confirmed that I had indeed booked a "bunk" which concerned me a bit as I thought I had booked a room. I was even more concerned when she led me out to what appeared to be an outhouse/pig sty behind the pub. It was actually a converted stables and was a small room with a bed in it, a mirror, and a table with a kettle on it. Ideal for the tired birder.

Sun 24th October 2010

Scilly2010 - day two

After a restful night in the stable, it was disappointing to wake up really early, well before first light. I was hoping for something of a sleep in as I was not in a rush today. So I hung around listening to my iPod for a while drinking tea until it got light.

I set off SW towards Cornwall but there was still no need to speed as my first port of call did not open 'til 10 am. So as I passed through St. Austell I decided to take some breakfast. One of the best things about any birding trip is the regular cafe stops.

So at 10 o'clock I was waiting outside the gates of The Lost Gardens of Heligan near St. Austell. I had come here to see an American Green Heron that had been present for about three weeks, and I knew that it was still present yesterday so I was expecting a relatively easy tick. However, as I paid my tenner at the kiosk, the lady says "you do know it's not been seen today, and no-one saw it yesterday afternoon either?". My jaw dropped and I told her I'd go look for it anyway - perhaps no birders had been there in that time. . . . .

. . . . . two hours later and no sign of the bloney thing, I was not best pleased. It had been there all those weeks and it decides to bugger off the day before I get there. I couldn't believe it. There are about 6 or 7 little ponds that it could have been on and I spent my time constantly racing round and round them, getting hotter and hotter in the sunny weather, getting that dipping feeling.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan were quite spectacular, especially the jungle section where the heron was hanging out - although I was not appreciating it at the time

The Lost Gardens of Heligan were quite spectacular, especially the jungle section where the heron was hanging out - although I was not appreciating it at the time

At least whilst I walked, there was a few other birds to look at, including my first Nuthatch for ages and ages. There were also Jays and Coal Tits, two other species I don't get to see at home.

One of the favoured ponds of the Green Heron

One of the favoured ponds of the Green Heron

I felt it was very unfair of the bird to disappear and I was not in a good mood as I left the site just after midday. This was supposed to be my guarantee of a British tick on the trip, as there were no others waiting for me further West. But I soon got over it - if its gone, then its gone - forever onward!

I headed straight for the valleys of west Cornwall, or Penwith, to try and find some migrants sheltering from the blustery winds. I first visited this area in September 1991 with the BUBO lads and it felt that I had wandered into some subtropical wonderland, after I had grown up birding in the cold North. Of course, now that I am in even warmer Guernsey I am used to such habitats but those valleys are still some of my favourite birding areas. I headed straight for Porthgwarra and had a pleasant couple of hours scouring the valley there.

porthgwarra

porthgwarra

It was bright sunshine, as it had been all day, and most of the activity was going straight overhead quite high - plenty of Chaffinches and Redwings and other such birds. There seemed to be very little in the bushes, just the odd Blackcap, Goldcrest or Chiffchaff. Eventually, right down in the bottom of the valley by the car park I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from inside the bushes. It refused to come out however and I never got to see the bird, but I did manage to record the call on the Remembird.

The characteristic 'V' shaped pattern to a Yellow-browed Warbler call

The characteristic 'V' shaped pattern to a Yellow-browed Warbler call

After Porthgwarra, I tried Nanquidno but it was a similar situation there, so I headed back to my booked B&B in Penzance. I have stayed at the Whiteways B&B three times now - very handy and cheap as chips!

Walking into the town centre, I tried to find someone's Wi-fi that I could 'borrow' on my phone - which seems to be a lot harder to do than in Guernsey. When I eventually did, I checked the Birdguides website and was devastated to read that the Green Heron was "still at the gardens this afternoon"! Whaaaat!! So I bought a Pot Noodle and various chocolate items from the Spar, and slumped in front of the TV in my room, hoping that this bloody heron would stick it out for another five days and that tomorrow would bring much better luck.

Mon 25th October 2010

Scilly 2010 - day three

Quite disappointingly, I had to miss my cooked breakfast as I had to get checked in for the chopper at half seven. The lady at the B&B kindly left out some milk and cereal for me to scoff before I dashed out the door. I forced everything into the one bag for check in - no hand luggage on the helicopter - although I refused to let my scope go in the hold! The price of the helicopter is daftly expensive for such a short flight, but I reluctantly decided to pay for this luxury in the end - the boat is half the price, but the times were inconvenient and cancellations/vomiting due to the weather are always possible on the Scillonian. At least the chopper flies all the time and is a corking way to fly!

Twenty minutes after take-off I was on St. Mary's. The Scilly Isles are just a small version of Guernsey. Both places have a very similar look about them, especially on the larger island of St. Mary's. Although, even though it is much smaller, there does seem to be more countryside on St. Mary;s compared to the over-populated Guernsey.

Hugh Town

Hugh Town

My Guest House was The Lyonnesse which I heartily recommend. It was great staying there and I will look to do so again. It is birder-friendly, with lots of pictures of rare birds on the walls. The only negative aspect of my stay there was having to share the breakfast room with two couples every morning - one Aussie and one Brummie - both of which were quite dim and also rather racist!

Guest house

Guest house

So dropping off my bag at the hotel, I quickly sorted out my kit and started birding. I decided not to get any proper breakfast as I would grab something at the next cafe I passed. Usually when I arrive on Scilly, there is something already there, to go for straight away and I'd head there at speed. Last time it was Blyth's Pipit, the time before that Sora, but this year zilch. So I could be a bit more casual and I headed straight for Lower Moors which is probably in my top three favourite birding sites in the UK - no exaggeration.

lower moors

lower moors

The first bird I saw was a very brown and whitish Chiffchaff that I presumed was the Siberian Chiffchaff that had been present at this reserve for a few days. It gave no calls but a brief snatch of song that was a bit odd. There were other Chiffchaffs in the bushes and a Yellow-browed Warbler was calling from deep within, but not showing. Further down the track, I had a second Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the trees just above my head. I don't know how I missed it as it was so very loud and close, but it seemed to creep away without showing at all. Walking through Old Town, it was devastating to find that the Tolman Cafe was closed for the season which I was relying on for much-needed food. By now, it was beginning to become clear that there were very few birders knocking around - less than I'd ever seen beforeon previous trips. Scilly is not in vogue at the moment, with Shetland becoming the place to be. Of course from Guernsey, Spain is closer than Shetland, and especially this late in the season, it is not something I'll be doing for a while. So I continued round to the Airport which only had 5 Skylark and a Wheatear on it.

So continuing round to Porthellick, my stomach rumbles were putting me off and I was keen to find a cafe that was open. I had a possible Water Pipit in the bay, but there was nothing on the pool, although I did hear a brief Yellow-browed Warbler distantly on the Loop Trail. Pushing on, there were a few birders at the Pumping Station bushes at Higher Moors, where a Yellow-browed Warbler called loudly in the roadside sallows. Frustratingly, again this bird was not showing at all. This was five YBWs in a row now and none of them seen! I decided to not be a wimp about my hunger and pushed on to the western edge of St. Mary's where a few birds of interest had been seen in the Mount Todden to Pelistry area. Again, the lack of birders meant it was difficult to locate the semi-rarities that were here. If there are lots of birders on the island, you come across little groups of people looking at things and you wander over to see what they are watching and you see more of what's around. There was apparently Little and Lap Bunt, Serin and Subalp in this area but whereabouts exactly, no idea. So I eventually slogged it down to Longstones Cafe which I knew was open and had my first food in 7 long hours.

Longstones Cafe is a perfect birders cafe. An up to date sightings board, the internet constantly on Birdguides/RBA, free wifi, knowledgable staff, good views and fabulous views. A must visit every day. However, I was not going to lounge around and I headed back down to Lower Moors. This time I finally did get my good views of Yellow-browed Warbler and the bird was also very vocal again.

Yellow-browed Warbler - The spectrogram shows similar V shapes as the Porthgwarra bird but there is some variation (e.g. at 7 seconds there is apair of falling notes rather than down-up).

Yellow-browed Warbler - The spectrogram shows similar V shapes as the Porthgwarra bird but there is some variation (e.g. at 7 seconds there is apair of falling notes rather than down-up).

Pleased with finally getting a YBW in the bins, I went into the hides. It was getting to evening by now and the light was getting difficult.

Grey Heron - Lower Moors

Grey Heron - Lower Moors

From the second hide, two snipe were feeding on the mud opposite - one Common Snipe and one Jack Snipe. If you want good views of Jack Snipe, the hides on Scilly are amazing - there always seems to be one parading round in the open at one of them.

Jack Snipe - Lower Moors

Jack Snipe - Lower Moors

Always a beautiful bird and a great end to the day. There had not been a lot to see during the day, but it was encouraging to see lots of Chaffinch and Redwing going over and perhaps something would land overnight.

I found the day exceptionally knackering. I had not had a full day in the field since the bird race, and here I had carried all my kit with me. I flounced out on the bed before heading to the famous birders pub, the Atlantic Hotel for some grub. Bad choice - they didn't have my first 2 choices and had to eat a crappy Pasta/Brie/Broccolli concoction which was not good, and the smell from the toilet kept drifting to me. I then went on to the Scillonian Club where the nightly Bird Log happens. If you haven't seen this before, all the birders crowd in and the local recorders go through the regular bird list, and people call out how many they have seen of each species and where. I can never bring myself to shout out my sightings across the crowded club, but I like to go and listen what's been seen. And today - pretty much nowt!

Tue 26th October 2010

Scilly 2010 - day four

I awoke with lots of enthusiasm as the bright and sunny weather of the last three days had given way to some soggy weather. A front had arrived during the night which can often bring any migrants to ground and so I was confident something good would turn up. Ideally I would have waited until the drizzle had started to stop so the recently arrived birds would be out feeding, but as I was short on time, I set off anyway. I started on Penninis and there were a few birds around there, mainly Redwings and the odd Fieldfare, plus a couple of Skylark and a Snipe.

St. Agnes & Gugh from Penninis

St. Agnes & Gugh from Penninis

Old Town from Penninis

Old Town from Penninis

Dropping down into Old Town Churchyard, I soon realised that there had not been an obvious arrival since there were no more birds around than I saw when I popped in yesterday. But I paid my respects to the most famous resident of the churchyard.

It was still drizzling and, after checking with some birders that nothing else had turned up already, I set off across the island. I did Old Town, Salakee, Porthellick and Higher Moors and there was just common migrants to be found, apart from a Yellow-browed Warbler calling at Porthellick. Weirdly, I had not seen a birder for over 2 hours. This was quite unusual on Scilly and so I suddenly got all twitchy and worried that everyone was watching a mega somewhere. So I pelted on up to Longstones Cafe to find out. But I wasn't missing out, which was good, but not good really as nothing new had been seen. So I went up to Mount Todden where a Subalpine Warbler had been for a while. However, it was apparently very elusive and indeed it eluded me during my half-hour look, though a Reed Bunting fed in a nearby field.

So I carried on down the lane to the coast and went down into Pelistry Bay. Here, in a small group of sallows overhanging the beach, there were two Chiffchaffs. One of them was the image of a Siberian Chiffchaff - brown and white with a broad creamy super - but it didn't call unfortunately.

Cormorant - Pelistry

Cormorant - Pelistry

Watermill

Watermill

I headed inland when I reached Watermill and at Newford Duck Pond I came across a small group of birders waiting by a field. Yes! I thought, something's turned up - but alas no. What they were waiting for was a possible Sharp-shinned Hawk that someone had just seen briefly. This bird had been on the island a few weeks and was apparently a very very small Sparrowhawk, as small as a male Merlin. This tiny size implies that it could be a Sharp-shinned Hawk from America, which would be a first for Europe. I thought that I would have just as much of a chance of seeing it as I wandered around than just waiting there, so I didn't stay too long, and it didn't sound like anyone had made progress with the ID yet.

Newford

Newford

The afternoon was now half-gone and I strolled down to Porthloe beach, and I was going to check Lower Moors but dark clouds were gathering to the West. So instead, I slunk back to my room for 40 winks. I was now actually getting quite despondent. More or less half my trip had gone and I had seen a distant AGP and a few Yellow-broweds - not quite what I was hoping for. The evening meal was more successful tonight with a decent veggieburger at another famous birders pub - the Bishop and Wolf. A bit of hope from the Bird Log was that a Red-breasted Flycatcher had appeared just before dusk on the Garrison. But overall I was feeling quite glum, so I had a couple more beers than usual and slept very soundly.

Wed 27th October 2010

Scilly 2010 - day five

I started the day pretty positive. Fair enough there wasn't a lot to be seen, but I decided I would catch the boat to St. Agnes to look for some of my own birds and get a change in scenery. After breakfast I had half-an-hour spare before the boat left so I hiked up to the Garrison to look for the RBFly that was seen last evening. It wasn't showing, although it was apparently still present, so I planned to go for it after I came back. Flying around the brambles and bracken in amongst the pines were a few micro moths. I don't know what they are yet - I shall have to investigate.

So I bought my ticket from the booth and settled onto "The Seahorse" for the short trip to St. Agnes. I noticed that more and more birders were getting on, and it eventually seemed that every birder on Mary's was making the same trip! It soon became clear that it was because, this morning, a Spotted Sandpiper had been seen on Aggie. Fair enough it is hardly a mega but with the slim-pickings this week, I think everyone just wanted to see something rare. We had hardly left the harbour when news reached me that there was a Dusky Warbler just found at Holy Vale back on Marys. Good job I didn't need it or I may not have got off the boat.

St. Agnes and Gugh - the most South-westerly part of the UK

St. Agnes and Gugh - the most South-westerly part of the UK

So when the boat docked at the quay, the first call was to see the Spot Sand in case it disappeared. Since I had no idea where it was, I followed the line of birders who were walking around the North edge of the island until they reached the beach by the camp site at Troy Town - probably the English beach closest to America. The Spotted Sandpiper was feeding on the pebbled area and showed well although I couldn't get close enough for quality photos. After the problem sandpiper we had in Guernsey earlier in the month, this bird was quite topical and useful.

Spotted Sandpiper, St. Agnes - this photo shows that this bird was quite pale above, with the breast sides very pale and diffuse, with nothing in the middle of the breast. The only barring on the upperparts was on the wing coverts, everything else appearing very plain.

Spotted Sandpiper, St. Agnes - this photo shows that this bird was quite pale above, with the breast sides very pale and diffuse, with nothing in the middle of the breast. The only barring on the upperparts was on the wing coverts, everything else appearing very plain.

The tail was very short, and mostly you couldn't notice it beyond the wings. Also note the give away spots already showing on the very rear flanks.

The tail was very short, and mostly you couldn't notice it beyond the wings. Also note the give away spots already showing on the very rear flanks.

A very open face with the eye-ring standing out a lot. Although the bill was quite long for the species, as can be seen here, there was an obvious down-turn to it.

A very open face with the eye-ring standing out a lot. Although the bill was quite long for the species, as can be seen here, there was an obvious down-turn to it.

a small twitch for the spot sand

a small twitch for the spot sand

I spent the rest of the morning wandering around the island - plenty of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests to see but very few other migrants of note. A Peregrine shot over Barnaby Lane and, as it looked pretty small, I wondered if it was the Tundra Peregrine that had been identified here recently.

The Parsonage

The Parsonage

Peacock - st. agnes

Peacock - st. agnes

The oddest sighting was made in the main village, when I spotted something walking down a farm track, and realised it was a migrant Water Rail. It was very close so I was just setting up my camera for some fab shots, when a cat pounced on it! I was just about to jump the gate and rescue it, when it ran off at speed and flew into a nearby field to recover. It seemed OK, but looked pretty tired.

Water Rail - St. Agnes

Water Rail - St. Agnes

The weather was very bright and sunny by now and the island looked gorgeous, but I decided to take the lunchtime boat back to Mary's to try and see the Dusky Warbler.

The Quay - St. Agnes

The Quay - St. Agnes

Arriving back in Hugh Town, some birders were organising a taxi to take them to see the Dusky Warbler. I thought that was rather a girly thing to do, so I dropped my scope and bag off at the guest house and yomped the mile and a half across the island to Holy Vale. When I got to Higher Moors, there was a group of birders watching the bushes by the Pumping Station - the warbler had clearly moved slightly down the valley.

Looking for the Dusky Warbler

Looking for the Dusky Warbler

The Dusky Warbler was feeding in the tops of the sallows by the roadside - generally you expect these birds to be feeding low down in thick vegetation, but I suppose the insects were active up in the sun at the tops of the trees. It did show well every now and again and I was very satisfied with my views. It was difficult to pick out the plumage features as the bright sun was bleaching out the upperpart colours and head pattern, but the very pale legs and orangey vent were more obvious. Only when it briefly came into the shade, could you see the darker brown upperpart tone. Structurally, it was similar to Chiffchaff but a touch larger and longer, with a noticeably long, pointy bill. So, a great sighting - I really love my warblers - although it was clearly the wrong species - my totals are now: Dusky 4, Radde's 0. There was also a Lesser Whitethroat feeding in the same clump of trees.

It wasn't calling very often but did sometimes. I did manage to catch one of these 'chacks' on the sound recorder (it appears at 7 seconds on the recording below).

Very pleased with two good birds today - a massive improvement - I rewarded myself with a fine cake at Longstones Cafe.

Longstone cafe

Longstone cafe

With just a couple of hours of daylight left, I thought I'd just be able to get back to the Garrison and try and look for the Red-breasted Flycatcher again. After a rather tiring walk to get there, I was pleased that the bird was still present and pretty soon it showed amazingly well, flycatching from the pines in front of everyone. I cursed that I hadn't stopped and collected my scope - I would have been able to take some good pictures of this bird.

So, a much better day, with some rare birds seen. I had a nice pizza for tea at "The Deli", which was a very pleasant eatery next door to the Bishop & Wolf. At the Bird Log, the talk was mainly about this possible Sharp-shinned Hawk. Apparently, someone had taken photos and the bird looked "very good" - although we couldn't see these photos as they had been sent to an "expert" for verification. I hadn't definitely seen this bird yet, so really, I had to try and see it tomorrow, just in case.

Thu 28th October 2010

Scilly 2010 - day six

My last day on Scilly was slightly later starting as I had to pay for the guest house and check out. My flight back was not until late afternoon so I had a good six hours birding available. On the cashpoint machine in Hugh Town was a Feathered Ranunculus. The ones here on Scilly are a different subspecies 'scillonea', which are apparently darker, but don't look too different to the Guernsey ones.

Feathered Ranunculus - Hugh Town

Feathered Ranunculus - Hugh Town

With all the positive talk about this tiny accipiter - (which I'm sure must be pronounced 'ackipiter', rather than what most people seem to say 'axsipiter') - last night at the bird log, I suddenly thought that if it does turn out to be Sharp-shinned and I didn't tick it off whilst I was here then it would really be a 'D'oh', kick-myself situation. So with just today left, and nothing new to go see, I decided that if I tramped round the North end of Marys, which is the area it has been seen recently, then I might bump into it. Walking past Porthloe, there were three Pale-bellied Brent Geese feeding in the choppy bay - a Scilly tick.

Pale-bellied Brent Goose - Porthloe

Pale-bellied Brent Goose - Porthloe

So until early-afternoon I gave it some welly up North - Golf Course, to Telegraph, to Newford, to Maypole to Pelistry, back to Maypole, back to Telegraph, back to Newford, etc. A Raven over Pelistry was new for the trip, and the obligatory Yellow-browed Warbler called by Newford Duck Pond. At the latter site there was a temporary gathering when a brief sighting was claimed, but I gave it half-an-hour and nothing. So I was happy that I'd put in the effort, but with no success I returned to Longstones Cafe for the last time.

I had two more hours before the bus pick-up, so I thought i'd give Lower Moors a final try. Since I had been walking all morning, I thought a bit of wait-and-see birding was in order, so I stayed in amongst the trees for over an hour enjoying the feeding warblers and crests. A Yellow-browed Warbler showed very well right above my head, easily the best of the trip, and a very small hawk zipped through the trees which stood a chance of being the mystery bird, but no chance of being at all sure. I caught sight of a pale Chiffchaff briefly and it soon began to sing oddly, and so I assumed this was the reappearance of the Siberian Chiffchaff. I whipped out the Remembird and managed to get a decent recording despite the now blustery wind whistling past the microphone.

song of siberian chiffchaff

song of siberian chiffchaff

That this was a Siberian Chiffchaff's song was a bit of a presumption as I really couldn't remember what they were supposed to sing like, but when I returned to Guernsey and compared with recordings, it seemed a pretty good match. The song is much less regular than a typical Chiffchaff, up and down, with many warbling phrases. I did also catch a couple of calls from this bird which also suggest Siberian Chiffchaff.

siberian chiffchaff call

siberian chiffchaff call

The calls are quite faint but can be heard at 1 and 2 seconds in. As can also be seen on the spectogram, these calls do not clearly rise like the typical 'hueet' Chiffchaff call, and at about 4.5 kHz are too high pitched. Common Chiffchaffs do give other calls sometimes, but these are usually slightly falling in pitch. I think with the 'sound approach' evidence above, I am happy to call the bird a 'tristis' Chiffchaff. So this is really a subspecies tick for me in Britain. I have seen a couple before almost certain, but I have rarely heard any calls never mind a singer. So at 5 o'clock I was sat in the Scilly Airport terminal ready to depart the islands.

Arriving back at Penzance I was hoping for maybe a short while birding at Marazion, but the weather was too dark and dismal. So I drove up to St. Just where I had a room booked for the night, as I planned to give the Cornish valleys a bash in the morning. I was in the Wellington Hotel, an old inn on the town square and as the woman led me through the back door into the yard I thought 'oh no, not another pig sty!'. Well it was a similar situation - perhaps the stables - but much, much better, en suite and a massive bed. I ate a V-burger in the pub and failed to find any wifi in the town. So, I didn't know any info, but I hoped that something had turned up for tomorrow,and more especially that the elusive Green Heron was still about!

(post-script : the small accipiter was eventually trapped on Scilly, and was found to be an exceptionally small young male Sparrowhawk - phew!)

Fri 29th October 2010

Scilly 2010 - day seven

And so I packed my case in the room, ready to head across to the pub for breakfast. It was a pig awful day and so it was still dark out, so there was no rush. I hadn't heard news of the Green Heron yesterday and I still could get no internet access on my phone, so I gave Birdline SW a quick ring to see if it was still there.

And "Blimey O'Reilly!" - the first message was of an American Bittern, barely 8 miles away from where I was standing!! The last twitchable American Bittern in Britain was in 1991, twenty winters ago. I remembered this well because I saw it! I was still at University and was offered a lift up to Blackpool with one of the local Bristol birders mid-week, which meant skiving off lectures for the day. It was freezing cold but we saw it well in the reeds.

So, very exciting indeed, I wolfed down my breakfast and headed off North - quite relaxed though, as unlike most of the other twitchers making their way there, it was already on my list. Parking in the village of Zennor, following the instructions on the message, I set off up the hill towards the higher tops of Trewey Common. The wind was right in my face, and there was wetness in it, making the walk up the slope very difficult - especially for the couple of old geezers I overtook on the way. And very annoyingly, I could see ahead that other twitchers had just parked on the roadside, avoiding the walk.

I carried on struggling up the hill and when I got to the top I could just make out a line of birders further along the road. I was just making my way towards them when a large flappy bird caught my eye to my right. I looked through the bins and watched the American Bittern fly past me. I watched it for a good ten seconds or so until it dropped behind an escarpment. A few minutes later and I would have missed it - it was apparently flushed by an over-zealous twitcher but I dunno about that. The old guys I overtook missed it. Not the greatest of views but I was pleased I saw it quite well in flight, albeit against the sky. It appeared more heron-like than a Common Bittern in structure. I decided that staying for another view seemed futile and so I went back to the car, which turned out to be a good choice as it was only seen twice again briefly in flight all day.

There was no chance of photos, but with the modern technology of Google Streetview and a bit of Photoshop, I constructed a reconstruction of what I saw (well maybe it wasn't that close!)

There was no chance of photos, but with the modern technology of Google Streetview and a bit of Photoshop, I constructed a reconstruction of what I saw (well maybe it wasn't that close!)

The weather was still poor and I had driven away from most of the cornish valleys, so I thought I'd make my way up to the Lost Gardens again (it was seen yesterday). On the way I passed the Hayle Estuary, so I gave it twenty minutes or so there, but there was nothing too exciting to report. A Ruff, a Med Gull, and lots of Wigeon and gulls.

Hayle estuary

Hayle estuary

Med Gull - Hayle Estuary

Med Gull - Hayle Estuary

So next I made my way back to St. Austell and back to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I had no news from this morning, but I was pretty confident that it would still be there - but would I be able to find it? The lady at the paying kiosk told me that it had just been seen by one of the staff members at the top Jungle Pond, and so I sauntered down the hill to get a nice easy tick.

......or so I thought. Straight to the Top Jungle Pond - no sign. Gave it a wee while in case it was just hidden, but no. Tried the other 4 jungle ponds - no. Went down into the Lost Valley and checked those ponds - no. Back up to Jungle Ponds - NO! I was getting major deja-vu - it couldn't happen again could it? I sat on a bench for a rest - I thought "I don't care if they shut at 5 - I am not moving 'til I see it!" - yes, I was getting a bit stressy. There were other birders arriving regularly - presumably on the way to or back from the Bittern - so at least this time there were more eyes.

Calming down, I wandered back towards the Jungle and on the boardwalk by the second pond, there was a gathering of birders, I rushed over and looked ahead and . . . . .

Green Heron - Lost Gardens of Heligan

Green Heron - Lost Gardens of Heligan

So my tick for the trip - it only took me about 5 hours of searching and £20 of entry fees. If you include Guernsey, this is bird number 385 for Britain (374 without Channel Islands sightings). It is also number 526 for the Western Pal. And it was really a nice bird, but very slow moving and it easily disappeared from view.

So with the heavy weight lifted from my shoulders, I sped back towards Exeter where I had a room booked at the Holiday Inn. As I approached the city, I realised that there was probably a good hour of light left, so I detoured towards Exminster Marshes. I soon found out that my road atlas was poor and the signage useless and got lost down the Devon lanes, and eventually got to the marshes as it was starting to get dusky. I parked up and checked a few ditches and pools and quickly found that the Glossy Ibis was, rather conveniently, feeding away on the closest pool to the car park. I am surprised I managed any shots in the gloom but here they are.

Glossy Ibis - Exminster Marshes

Glossy Ibis - Exminster Marshes

So, a superb end to the day. Only my second sighting of Glossy Ibis in Britain - the last was way, way back in May 1989 at Fairburn Ings. The hotel room was luxurious compared to the others and they give you two choices of pillows, soft or firm. I went to see another film, but this time at the multiplex type place - it was "RED" which was very enjoyable indeed, although I don't think any Oscars are in the offing. I hadn't eaten any tea at all, so I bought some snacks, which I am loathe to do at these places as they totally fleece you. So I ordered a medium coke and popcorn,and the guy says I could "Go Large!"  for an extra 30p - so why not. And he hands me a cup of coke which must have been about a litre, and a tub of popcorn I could've sailed to sea in! I couldn't even physically hold them whilst I got my ticket from my pocket. No wonder there is an obesity problem when just 30p can turn you from a normal hungry person into some disgusting, gluttonous pig!

Sat 30th October 2010

Scilly 2010 - day eight

I had to be at the airport around lunchtime, so I had a few hours to kill, so I thought I would visit the RSPB Reserve at Aylesbeare Common, not least because there had been a Great Grey Shrike there recently. It was quite a large area to cover however and I couldn't find the shrike. But it was pleasant enough with plenty of woodland andheathland birds around - quite a few Dartford Warblers, multiple Jays and Coal Tits, plus a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Aylesbeare common

Aylesbeare common

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler

I had a breakfast/lunch in a tea shop in Topsham - a very pleasant village - and flew back to Guernsey early afternoon. In the end I had a pleasing trip - one new bird, and I'd say 5 other proper rarities. And the bonus was that there was nothing rare in Guernsey whilst I was away. So the only thing I missed was Rosie and the children!