A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

MEGA!! Dusky Thrush at Beeley, Derbyshire!

“It ain’t over until the fat lady sings” – an extremely fitting phrase as the autumn that just keeps on giving conjured up yet another outstanding bird to finish 2016 off nicely, this time in the form of a fine first winter male Dusky Thrush frequenting the gardens and orchards in the rural village of Beeley in Derbyshire. 
Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire
With news breaking late on the Sunday evening, but with the exact location remaining mysteriously cryptic, it was all systems go come Monday morning as news filtered through that the mega thrush was still present and precise site details were revealed to those eager to make the visit in to Derbyshire. Thankfully being able to take the rest of the day off work (I didn’t fancy an agonising week ahead being bombarded with envy-inducing photos over social media) we were soon well on our way through the Peak District, navigating the winding roads and patches of ice to reach our destination just before lunchtime, when we promptly met a large crowd of birders blocking the road and eagerly looking around the gardens. 

With the Dusky Thrush mostly favouring the playground and orchard of Dukes Barn Outdoor Activity Centre, it soon transpired that this was one extremely mobile thrush, commuting between several sites in the area and having also taken a liking to a stand of Hawthorn bushes directly behind the village playing field. Having disappeared from view 10 minutes before arriving, the chase was now on!
Beeley, Derbyshire
The stand of Hawthorns by the playing field the Dusky Thrush took a liking to
Thankfully, we didn’t have long to wait, as a cry from a little further down the road that the Dusky Thrush was in view saw the whole crowd stampede to the right, clamouring for viewing space on the narrow lanes while tripods, hats and bodies obscured the view for those unlucky enough to find themselves at the back of the pack.

Sure enough, there was indeed a bird perched high up in one of the Hawthorns, but the none-abating mist and poor, dull light rendered it just a dark shape nestled amongst the twigs – indistinguishable as the target bird and frustratingly flitting down on to the ground and out of sight. A tantalising glimpse but most definitely not good enough when a 13th for Britain lifer of a mega thrush is on the line! 

Thankfully, around 10 minutes later and to the relief of those around, I managed to re-find our quarry, once again perched in the same Hawthorn tree and this time easily distinguishable from the associating Redwings by the rounded black spots on the breast and flanks, prominent white throat patch, bold supercilium and lack of rusty red on the flanks that the Redwings are famous for. 
Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire
The Dusky Thrush remained frustratingly distant for most of the day!
Flying a tad closer before once again disappearing off over the rooftops, our views were yet again limited to a minute at most, and with no further sign or reappearance for the next hour and a half, we were in for a long, cold wait in an attempt to get better views of what, in good light, is a truly stunning bird.

Eventually, the wish of the swelling crowd was granted as the Dusky Thrush finally gave itself up in the grounds of Dukes Barn late in the afternoon, perching in the small orchard trees and feeding on apples for a prolonged period - allowing all those present to get a good look at this eastern mega. 
Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire
Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire
After a while the Dusky Thrush once more displayed its flighty nature, disappearing off through the trees and out of sight. I was pretty certain as to where it was heading, and sure enough, as just 3 of us climbed the small hill of the playing field to take a look at the row of Hawthorns everyone had been staring at an hour earlier, we were met with the first winter male hopping around on the grass in front of us, parading around proudly and displaying the fine speckled black breast band and dusky tones. These were the views I’d been after! 
Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire
With the crowds cottoning on and with more and more people arriving, the Dusky Thrush soon flew in to the adjacent trees, once again offering a great comparison with the Redwings and Song Thrushes despite the now extremely poor and rapidly fading light.

The Derbyshire Dusky Thrush represents just the 13th record for Britain, hot on the heels of a male photographed on St Marys, Scilly, back in October and just 3 years after the well-twitched (if not somewhat dubious in purity!) Margate bird of May 2013, before which there had been a lengthy gap of 23 years between records! With Margate being too far to twitch at the time and thinking it may have been a regrettable blocker for some time yet, I was especially glad that another bite at the Dusky Thrush cherry had come around so soon, an additional bonus at being just over an hour away from home!

Despite the originally poor views and freezing conditions, the last views of the Dusky Thrush on the grass in front of the wall saved the twitch, and having gripped back this mega thrush we headed home happy! Whether this is the "fat lady’s last song" so to speak remains to be seen however, and judging by how the year has gone so far, there may well be one last throw of the dice in the birding world during the closing weeks of 2016 yet. Here’s hoping! 

Directions:
Dusky Thrush Map
Dusky Thrush Map!
For those wanting to visit, parking is at Dukes Barn off School Lane (DE4 2NU) for a small donation fee of £3. The Dusky Thrush is extremely mobile and the several spots it seems to favour are highlighted in purple on the map. The best locations to try and spot it are the row of Hawthorn trees as viewed from the small playing field off Chapel Hill, and the apple trees in the orchard as viewed from the Dukes Barn car park.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Cliff Swallow - Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk - MEGA!

Remember remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and…. Cliff Swallows? Not the traditional Bonfire Night rhyme but one highly fitting to this year’s date as late on Friday afternoon the mega alert buzzed once again with news of a possible Cliff Swallow seen flying around the Visitor Centre at Minsmere RSPB in Suffolk. The ID was confirmed by the time I’d walked home from work, and with the Cliff Swallow apparently going to roost on the reserve at just after 4pm, this would be our best opportunity to date to catch up with this mega American hirundine.
Cliff Swallow - Minsmere, Suffolk
Having not gone for the Scilly bird at the start of the autumn and with records of Cliff Swallows few and far between in Britain, I certainly wasn’t expecting another twitchable bird this soon, and we had everything crossed that it would stick around in to the weekend so we could connect.

News surfacing that evening of a stonking male Eyebrowed Thrush photographed earlier that day at a country park in Northumberland somewhat complicated matters however, and we soon had a tough choice on our hands as to which bird to go for. Luckily we made the right decision waiting for news the next morning, and with nothing further on the Eyebrowed Thrush and with reports filtering through that the Cliff Swallow had indeed left its roost to the delight of all those that had made the journey over for first light, it was all systems go for the 4 ½ hour trip down to Minsmere.

Arriving just after lunch with reports that miraculously the Cliff Swallow was still on site, having been delighting the crowds with aerial flybys and acrobatics overhead all morning, we rushed over the fence and up the hill of the Stone Curlew field to join the crowd of assembled birders, apprehensively eyeing the oncoming black rainclouds billowing ominously over the horizon.
Cliff Swallow Twitch - Minsmere, Suffolk
The assembled crowd...
Talking to those with scopes already set up we were met with the news that every twitcher dreads, we’d missed it by 10 minutes and the bird had disappeared off over the heath – nightmare! With the first few spots of rain hitting our cheeks, we could only hope that the heavens wouldn’t open and that the Cliff and accompanying Barn Swallows wouldn’t consequently disappear off under cover.

Thankfully though, after around 20 minutes of desperately scanning the treeline, the cry went up that we’d all been waiting for “Cliff Swallow – its back! Heading straight for us!” Searching desperately in the direction people were pointing in and frantically moving from swallow to swallow, a snatch of a pale rump cutting through the air and I had it, hurtling towards us at speed and banking over the fields just over the tips of the blades of grass. Success and relief! Incredibly, the swallow continued on its trajectory, ignoring the line of 50 or so birders in its path and swooping right in front of us at eye level, giving absolutely incredible views and proudly displaying its dark cherry red throat, pale rump and yellow-cream collar that distinguished it from the more familiar Barns.
Cliff Swallow - Minsmere, Suffolk
Minsmere, Suffolk
The line of trees at the end of the Stone Curlew field the Cliff Swallow had been favouring
Seconds later it had gone, zipping over the trees and away over the heath. Fantastic, and a great bird to grip back after September's Scilly bird was just a touch too far to travel.

Aged as a first winter, it’s highly possible that the Cliff Swallow had come in with the strong westerlies earlier in the season, perhaps on the west coast of Scotland before tracking down south and reaching the east coast, associating with the Barn Swallows and joining them on their migration southwards.

Sticking around in the hope the Cliff Swallow would return for some photos, our wishes were granted as it continued to perform right through the afternoon, never coming too low down like the earlier flyby but showing considerably well enough for some record shots as it banked overhead. Continually associating with the 8 Barn Swallows that were also present on the reserve, after getting our eye in we were soon easily able to pick it out from its counterparts, looking slightly bulkier than the Barn Swallows with shorter wings and the diagnostic square ended tail.
Cliff Swallow - Minsmere, Suffolk
With the cold getting the better of us and the light fading, we retreated to the café for a much needed bite to eat before our long journey home, getting one last look at our American vagrant as it darted around the car park as we were leaving.
Minsmere, Suffolk
Cliff Swallow - the gold at the end of the Minsmere rainbow
Sadly for those that couldn’t make it on the Saturday or put all their eggs in the no-show Eyebrowed Thrush basket, after leaving the roost very early on the Sunday morning the whole flock of hirundines were flushed by a Sparrowhawk, and despite the reappearance of the Barn Swallows later in the day, the Cliff was not amongst them and didn’t return.

With the Minsmere bird representing just the 11th record for Britain and with a distinctly Scilly based bias in terms of location (5 birds in total) this was a great bird to get back so quickly and one I definitely wasn’t expecting any time soon!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Isabelline Wheatear - Easington, Yorkshire!

With a prolonged spate of easterly winds over the past few weeks, it was only a matter of time before the eastern hotspot of Britain that is Spurn delivered once again, and true to form a fine Isabelline Wheatear was found at Easington on the 17th of the last month, hot on the heels of the first mainland British record of Siberian Accentor just a few days earlier.
Isabelline Wheatear - Easington, Yorkshire
With 36 past records of Isabelline Wheatear in Britain, despite becoming almost annual in recent years, they are still extremely rare birds, and having missed the Seaton Snook bird in Cleveland back in 2014, this was the first opportunity to catch up with one since on British soil. Luckily, the Easington bird stuck until the weekend (it was first found on a Monday – typical) and come a cold and blustery Saturday morning we were braving the biting nip of an easterly wind as we trudged along the field edge to catch up with our target bird. Thankfully, we didn’t have long to wait, as upon arrival the Wheatear was crouching in the grass relatively near to the fence line, offering great views through the scope before hopping up and heading further out in to the field. 
Isabelline Wheatear - Easington, Yorkshire
Isabelline Wheatear - Easington, Yorkshire
Isabelline Wheatear - Easington, Yorkshire
Watching as it flitted and scurried over the bare soil of the adjacent ploughed field, we could take in all the features that distinguish Isabelline Wheatears from the similar Northern Wheatears we’re more accustomed to seeing in Britain – the white fore eyebrow as opposed to the buff colouration seen on Northern Wheatears, along with the black alula of the Isabelline that contrasts with the pale wing. The thick black band on the end of the tail was also apparent on the occasional instances when the bird flew, as were the paler upper wings (Isabelline actually means a pale creamy-brown fawn colour – which the Wheatear definitely was!).
Isabelline Wheatear - Easington, Yorkshire
The black alula contrasting with the pale wing...
Isabelline Wheatear - Easington, Yorkshire
...and the thick black band on the end of the tail
Normally occurring in the Middle-East, Russia and Northern Africa, with the prolonged easterlies, presumably originating from the depths of these areas and capturing birds on migration, there has since been a slight invasion of Isabelline Wheatears, with a whopping further 6 birds found over the course of a couple of weeks. 
Easington, Yorkshire
The field the Isabelline Wheatear was favouring
Whilst not the brightest of species, or indeed, individual, never the less this was a much welcome bird and a great autumnal Wheatear to catch up with. 
Isabelline Wheatear - Easington, Yorkshire

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Birding Gold – Siberian Accentor at Easington, Yorkshire – MEGA!!

Siberian Accentor in Britain – the stuff birding dreams are made of.

There are some birds that instantly send your mind in to absolute chaos and panic when flashing up as an alert – Black-billed Cuckoo was one, Short-toed Eagle another (Wallcreeper I imagine will be another should one ever alight on a south coast cliff). And so it was the case at 3pm on Thursday afternoon when “Siberian Accentor – Easington, Yorkshire. One by the school.” popped up on my phone on the back of a mega alert. 
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Hot on the heels of the first for Britain found on Shetland just 4 days earlier (which sent the entire birding community in to a spin at the time), miraculously, lightning had struck twice and a small piece of Russian gold had now made landfall on mainland Britain, making itself available for the masses to twitch and a relief for those who just don’t have the time or funding to nip off to Shetland for a day every time a good bird breaks. 

Headless chicken mode soon ensued, along with the agonising realisation that with dusk now at around 6pm, a plane at the very least would be required to make the 3+ hour journey to get us there before dark after work. With the bird showing well down to a matter of feet for the rest of the day, all we could do was sit and watch as the tear-inducing close up photos flooded social media that evening (this bird must surely now win the award for most photographed Siberian Accentor of all time!)

Sleepless nights followed (including bizarre panic induced dreams consisting of Siberian Accentors being sliced up, roasted and served on a plate?!) – and with no records of Siberian Accentor in Britain before last week and very few in Western Europe before this autumn, the chances of any more occurring after this year’s remarkable invasion were very very remote indeed….
Easington, Yorkshire
The famous skip the Easington Siberian Accentor liked to hang out next to!
As expected, the crowds on Friday and Saturday morning were huge (it was almost a first for Britain after all), with birders photographed queuing up around Easington gas terminal in their hundreds way before even the twinkling of first light approached. Not quite as certain however, but hoped for by thousands, was that the Siberian Accentor was miraculously still present each day – it was - game on!

Luckily the bird turning up on a Thursday meant the agony of work was limited to just Friday, and we were soon well on our way to Easington, news that it was still there making it a much more relaxed affair than usual – with Siberian Accentors being night-time migrants and the bird being completely settled feeding on the same drive, the likelihood of it doing a bunk was slim.

With the dawn masses having already been and gone, we arrived on site to just a small handful of birders (less than 100 lined up along the fence) and we were soon gazing at this part of British birding history – one Siberian Accentor happily feeding amongst the gravel and leaves on someone’s drive right in front of us.

Surreal.
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
With the stress of seeing the bird now lifted, we could truly enjoy this Siberian wonder, and we watched on for around 45 minutes as it bumbled around in front of us, often coming to within 3 metres and providing out of this world views of what can be a difficult species to see anywhere in the world (never mind Britain!), completely oblivious to the absolute fuss and excitement its arrival had caused on the British birding scene.
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Occasionally associating with one of the many Dunnocks also feeding on the drive, the difference between the two species was clear, the Siberian Accentor having its face dusted with gold and looking particularly smart wearing its tiny black and gold mask. An exceptionally classy looking bird and a very special visitor indeed.
Siberian Accentor and Dunnock - Easington, Yorkshire
The Siberian Accentor and Dunnock together
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
The gorgeous head stripe patterns!
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Of course, Siberian Accentor as an addition to the British list was one of the most widely predicted and anticipated firsts for Britain of all time. An absolutely unprecedented influx of birds making landfall across Western Europe (Sweden holding 16 alone) and with individuals located in Latvia, Germany, Finland, Lithuania, Denmark and Poland, it was only a matter of time before these Russian strays found themselves on British soil. Indeed, in an incredible sequence of events, a further 4 individuals (possibly 6) have been found in the UK since (one in Cleveland, one in Durham, one on Lindisfarne, one on Fair Isle and two possibles in Northumberland and Lothian) bringing the total of European birds now up to over a staggering 100 individuals and counting.
Birdguides Report - Siberian Accentor
Monday's Birdguides reports - I didn't think we'd ever see the day that three separate British Siberian Accentors were all reported within minutes of each other!!
With the continuous easterly winds, this number is surely only set to grow, and it is now really a question of when and where, not if, the next British record of the autumn will occur.
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Peekaboo - Siberian Accentor trying to hide...
With Siberian Accentors breeding in Northern Siberia on either side of the Ural mountains, and normally migrating south east to Asia for the winter, the past number of records in Europe before this autumn were very few and far between, the majority being in Sweden. The reason for this mass influx to Western Europe is unclear – although the most likely explanation is possibly a case of a successful breeding season in Russia combined with unrelenting easterly winds originating from Siberia for such a prolonged period of time, coinciding with their migration movements. A system of high pressure over Scandinavia will also have blocked the usual westerly Atlantic weather fronts that normally pose a barrier to travellers from the east. 
Windytv
The high pressure system over Scandinavia and easterly winds from Russia that are likely to have brought the Siberian Accentor influx to Britain
It is also possible that something else may be at play to cause such a mass influx of what was, until this October, an extremely infrequent visitor to Western Europe - perhaps an ecological event taking place in the Siberian Accentor's home range or a freak weather system displacing individuals en-masse. 
Alex's great little video of the Accentor happily feeding away

With no telling as to whether an influx of Siberian Accentors on this scale will ever happen again, it may well be the case that certainly in my life time at least, these golden Dunnocks may not grace British shores again. A truly special bird (and possibly one of the most awe-inducing I’ve seen in Britain) I for one am exceptionally glad that we, along with thousands of other birders, got to witness this little piece of golden birding history. Siberian magic indeed. 
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Best of Autumn Birding at Spurn - Rustic Bunting, Dusky Warbler, Shore Lark and more!

With easterly winds dominating the weather over the past couple of weeks, we couldn't not enjoy two weekends on the bounce at one of the premier birding locations mainland Britain has to offer - Spurn in East Yorkshire. Scouring the bushes, hedgerows and trees on the hunt for Siberian Rubythroats, White's Thrushes or *insert desired mega here*, whilst we didn't strike it lucky on that front, we nevertheless had an enjoyable few days lapping up the huge number of eastern waifs that had arrived on our shores.
Dusky Warbler - Spurn, Yorkshire
Dusky Warbler
Rustic Bunting - Spurn, Yorkshire
Rustic Bunting
Without doubt, the highlight of the first weekend was most definitely a fine Rustic Bunting, originally trapped and ringed at Kew Villa on the Thursday and being seen intermittently in Church Field the following days. A relatively rare visitor, and with there not having been a twitchable one for a good number of years, it was great to jam in on this eastern bunting.
Rustic Bunting - Spurn, Yorkshire
Rustic Bunting - Spurn, Yorkshire
Perching up on several trees scattered around the field through the course of around 45 minutes, we were able to get great views as it showed off to the crowds!
Rustic Bunting - Spurn, Yorkshire
Rustic Bunting - Spurn, Yorkshire
Church Field - Spurn
Birders on the hunt for the Rustic Bunting in Church Field
Very similar to a Reed Bunting in winter plumage, the rusty red-brown flanks, neck and rump of the Rustic were obvious, even in flight, while the white facial spot and white wing bars (yellow-brown in Reed Buntings) also offered a handy way of separation.
Rustic Bunting - Spurn, Yorkshire
The diagnostic white facial spot
Church Field Heligoland trap - Spurn
The Heligoland trap in Church Field the Rustic Bunting was first trapped in
Spurn always seems to deliver, and along with the Rustic Bunting, we had a handful of Yellow-browed Warblers, several Redstarts, two Red-breasted Flycatchers, a nice Ring Ouzel, an Olive-backed Pipit, masses of Redwings and Goldcrests, a particularly showy Woodcock on the beach and a gorgeous Firecrest flitting through the hedges. 
Woodcock - Spurn, Yorkshire
Firecrest - Spurn, Yorkshire
Poor record shot of the Firecrest!
Olive-backed Pipit - Easington, Yorkshire
Olive-backed Pipit
Having had our fill of the gorgeous little Siberian Accentor at Easington the following weekend on our second visit to East Yorkshire (that little gem gets a whole blog post to itself), we headed over to finish the day at Spurn once again, a confiding Dusky Warbler on canal bank my second lifer of the trip. 
Dusky Warbler - Spurn, Yorkshire
Dusky Warbler - Spurn, Yorkshire
With Dusky Warbler a predominately east coast bird, this had been on my radar for a good while, and it was great to finally catch up with one after relatively few records in previous years.
Dusky Warbler - Spurn, Yorkshire
Dusky Warbler - Spurn, Yorkshire
A supporting cast of Pallas’s and Yellow-browed Warblers, Firecrests, Bramblings, a Woodcock and a Black Redstart were certainly not to be sniffed at, while an extremely confiding Shore Lark was also most definitely another highlight of the weekend, these Bumblebee pattered larks a firm favourite of mine. 
Shore Lark - Spurn, Yorkshire
Shore Lark - Spurn, Yorkshire
The sheer spectacle of ongoing migration at Spurn was also a display in itself, the bushes dripping with Goldcrests while every hedgerow, field and patch of grass held masses of Robins and thrushes fresh in off the sea.
Firecrest - Spurn, Yorkshire
Firecrest - Spurn, Yorkshire
I can never get a decent photo of a Firecrest!!
A great couple of weekends at what is truly one of the best migration hotspots in Britain, and it was fantastic to see the spectacle of autumn migration on the east coast in action. 
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