The unsound approach

30th November

Hardley Flood (RDM)

Scaup

28th November

Wroxham Broad (JG)

Shag

27th November

Cotham, Notts (ALe)

Popped over to the tip near my parent's way on the back from Norfark to er, er, throw some old socks out and er, get stock images for a forthcoming PB feature.... In doing so I had a little look, and found an ultra-distant coffee Glauc. There were 12,000 other gulls so.... I quit whilst I was ahead. 

Larid pipedream (AL)

20th November

Isle of Grain (rMa)

Much excitement at Grain today, actually had to count some birds. 95 Dark and 2 Pale Brents appeared as the tide began to return, and a whopping 8 Blackwit could only be described as 'feeding'. Late news: last time I was at Grain I found a Yellow-brow and Ring Ouzel, but it was the 6th Nov and I couldn't cope with having not found anything with 'blue' in the name...

16th November

Marston STW, Lincs (AL)

Ahhh winter, you get to go outside and at the end of the day after seeing nothing you don't come home and feel the need to do some self-harming. As it happens an extremely rare visit to my ex-patch was rather good. A thorough root round produced the first Cetti's for the Grantham area and a Little Egret (4th site record), also the bread & butter Green Sandpiper, Stonechat etc...

11th November

Whitlingham Lane (JG)

Ahhh, the local patch. All hail the local patch watcher! You just can't beat the joy and satisfaction of persistent local patching. Working it day after day, getting into a solid routine, counting every bird and re-counting it again ten minutes later, putting the hours in, year after year, always in the knowledge that eventually, one fine day, it's all going to pay off. 

Alternatively, you can sack it off for practically the whole year (think my last visit was in Dec 2007!) and then swan in there once in a blue moon for a half-arsed scan. Today was that blue moon. Powerpoint was making my head hurt, so late afternoon I decided to pop out some pre-dusk fresh air.  Mid-way through my half-arsed scan I came across this:


Stone the crows! Maybe it'll be worth watching the Lane a bit more frequently over the winter?

This is the first record of a N. Am. diving duck for the site (i think?), and long overdue given the abundance and turnover of Aythya there during the winter. Wonder if it's one of the birds we saw on Inishmore back in October? Most of them seem to have made it to Chew, at least... Then again, maybe there's just loads about this year...?

Replication - it seems to be a habit I can't shake off. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for every find, but they always seem to be the same bloody species! Really need to work on getting some new search images...     

8th November

Blakeney Point (JG)

Stuck for ideas, I decided to have another bash at finding desert specials in the Blakeney littoral zone. No luck at all this time - nothing better than a single Chiffchaff and a Black Redstart in the dunes. But I did remember about this bit of minor interest from last week. It's not there any more. 

Gibraltar Point (AL)

Late Friday afternoon I’m driving back from Norwich, planning the ultimate assault on the Lincs coast, an epic Saltfleetby to North Cotes walk to nail Radde’s, Pied Wheatear and Ashy Minivet. Then the news, Saxo Shrike at Grainthorpe. What would have been a large stretch of ideal coast left just to myself was inevitably going to be a scrum by morning. I’m no fly half so this called for a backup strategy – Howden’s Pullover and points south? Anderby area again? Then I remembered Gib, and dropped a text to Kev Wilson, it sounded wide open. Brilliant.

The alarm went off at 5.45, a lie-in after recent days surveys. Pulling in to the carpark an hour of so later Garry Barlow crooned “This could be the greatest day of our lives”. I agreed with him but terminated Radio 1. Out of the car, 8 Waxwings went over, followed by some Siskins and a couple of Stonechats adorned the Wash Viewpoint. Syke’s Farm held loads of Goldcrests, a couple of Woodcock and a Chiff. A red male Crossbill chipped over and landed by the north car park. No sprites but things felt good. Gib used to scare the shit out of me, it still does. So much cover, but then its right at the corner, the last stop, or the first. And its had more yank warblers than any other east coast site. I only manage about one day a year here, about the last time I went I found a male Red-backed Shrike, but its easy to get disillusioned here. You have to stay focussed. The wind was gusty, looking in the trees was hard, a nagging voice in my head told me to quit and do the outer banks. I agreed. The outer ridges of Gib and Croft are rarely-covered, if at all, they are prime material for the would-be rarity finder. The tip held no Desert Warbler, Wheatear or White-winged Lark, nor any birds for that matter. But it felt rare, I could practically see James stomping around on Blakeney from there. Then bang, I booted two birds, one was a female Stonechat, the other a long-tailed, short-winged warbler that flew weakly 20 metres to land at the base of an elder. LOCUSTELLA! Shit! Mentally I was already writing the finder’s account for some outrageous eastern mega. Dropped the scope, took out the SLR, the dial read 36 photos, the same number it has read all autumn. I approached the bush cautiously but then it booted again, flew limply like a prinia towards the impenetrable wall of sea buckthorn, noooooo, but then it turned and pitched into the marram. I had it, so long as I could get it back away from the scrub. Then the decision, phone for help and wait or keep it moving and risk a flight shot? In the brief view it was big, no Lancey, maybe just an exceptionally late Gropper, but the thought of something outrageous was causing my heart to race, could I save the autumn? I decided to wait, phoned Kev and kept vigil. He was there in 10 minutes, we went in, and... nothing. We paced up and down, ten minutes, half and hour, two hours, nothing. Nothing. Any minute it would pop up, North Ron had taught me that Locusts can hide between a single blade of grass for hours, they can wriggle through the mesh of mistnets, they can live in your pants for weeks without you noticing. You will typically get to flush them twice, two strikes and you’re out. Kev had to go, Kirsty Lees and George Gregory showed up, we made an aborted attempt to drag-net the patch, nothing. It had somehow got out, or been trodden on, or more likely was still in there sitting tight. Little bastard, it was wrecking my already wrecked autumn, it was wrecking my whole life. 3 Hours, it got dark, it never came out. I walked back to the car, switched on the radio: I hate this part, followed by Day N Night. Depression-mungus.Things got worse, I got the Saltfleetby news. Then I remembered the mantra.

of no interest (AL)

6th November

Blakeney Point (JG)

I really should have been working today. Really. But the weather charts wouldn't leave me alone, so I decided to try some last chance saloon birding on the point. To make it worthwhile I got up early and arrived at the beach carpark at 06.45. Too keen - it was pitch dark. In fact, by the time I got to Halfway House an hour later it was still pitch dark... Eventually the gloom lifted, and as expected it was all going off. Thrushes were everywhere – Blackbirds and Redwings dropping in from every angle. Quite a bit of action in the sueda as well – plenty of Robins and an obvious arrival of Reed Bunting, though far fewer Goldcrests than of late. By lunchtime I’d reached the tearoom lupins and was pretty disappointed to have managed only a single flyover Lap Bunt for my troubles. The plantation was irritatingly devoid of Hume’s and Dusky, or anything for that matter, and the volleys of thrushes had dried up to a trickle. I hatched a plan to head out to Far Point and look for desert specialists. Shortly before Near Point, trudging through some ankle-high sueda, I flicked up a tired Goldcrest with the end of my boot. It flew about a yard before crash-landing in the sand, and then... Directly behind it, in amongst a patch of sea lavender, was a stripey little face...

You just can’t beat Pallas’s Warblers. Depression sufferers should get them on prescription from the NHS. If everyone carried one of these beauties around with them, there would be no more suicide. Just take one look at all those stripes and you can't help feeling great.

And so, feeling great, I headed on out to Far Point expecting to get my nana on at any moment. Sadly the good feeling didn’t last. There was nothing doing in the dunes until I got to the very end, where I immediately flushed a flock of 7 or 8 Redpolls. On rising, they all looked like Commons. But as I lifted my bins, I found myself looking at an enormous great big white fluffy one in the middle of them. I was already scrambling for the camera as they buzzed around my head, but tragically the bastards didn’t settle – they just kept gaining height and eventually heading off over the harbour towards Stiffkey. Bollocks. Best forget all about that one.

The rest of the dunes failed to produce any Desert Wheatears, and I started the trudge back down the point feeling pretty distraught. Fortunately, when I got to the Hood at least half of my brain was still concentrating. As I passed through the sueda, a Robin started ticking ahead to my left. I kept walking, and as expected the 'Robin' flicked up and over the back of the sueda. I walked on, but after a few steps a nagging voice appeared in the back of my head. Important lesson here – always always always listen to nagging voices that appear in the back of your head. They are usually right. (Unless they tell you to shoot people or whatever – don’t do it kids). On a quiet day, I might well have ignored that voice and just walked on, but fortunately today I turned round and had a second look. As soon as I got through the sueda I kicked up a glorious streak of blue, orange and silver. It flipped across the shingle and dropped out of view, but a few seconds later it was back up and perching on the docks.

What a beauty. Ok, so they’re common as muck these days (I’ve now found two in 13 months!), but you can’t beat that first moment when it flies up and everything goes blue. Great birds. After two hours a massive crowd (six) had assembled to enjoy this stunning first for Blakeney. Unfortunately it had gone a bit shy by that time and was sticking to the denser sueda. It looks to me like the orange flanks are brighter and more extensive than the Muckleburgh bird, so I'm sure it's a new individual. It was also behaving like a bird that had just crossed the North Sea - it didn't seem to know quite what it should be doing, never settling and continually bombing between the sueda, the marsh and the shingle.

On the way home I tried to thoroughly work the habo’, but my concentration had gone by that time, so I couldn’t add anything to the haul. Nevertheless, it was very satisfying. In the words of the great Ice Cube:-

“Today I didn’t even have to use my AK –

I've gotta say it was a good day”

 

5th November

Theddlethorpe, Anderby Creek (AL)

Lincolnshire; its huge and brilliant. On an average day on the coast, in classic fall conditions, you can go all day without seeing anyone, small wonder that one ex BBRC member boasts one of the highest SF lists in the country: the county is ideally placed to get vagrants and you have next-to-no competition. I had left on Sunday (below) with a massive pain in my heart, romantic walks are not condusive to finding Plain Leaf Warbler, plans were however (secretly) made to return asap. By extricating myself from bed way pre-dawn, I made Theddlethorpe by first light, driving down the approach road thrushes scattered in all directions. Theddlethorpe, I had reasoned the previous evening, should be monster on account of its geographic position on the NE coast, it is presumably quite underwatched (search birdguides), already has a good pedigree, and most importantly has a huge gas terminal right alongside it that must act as a mega-lighthouse. However, after two hours there I was panicking and ready to leave. Too many birds and too much cover, way too much, its like Gib, only with no concentration effect or obvious foci. Thrushes were tumbling out of the sky, finches buzzing over (including several 'blings), crests filled the dunes, a Hen Harrier flushed Woodcock and spooked Water Rails....... but I had to get out of there and into somewhere that was more like Shetland (ie less cover). Heading quickly south, I called in at Hutoft (1 Blackcap) and then parked up at 'Old Faithful' Anderby Creek (not that I have ever done better than YBW here). Walking through the trees I flushed 6 Woodcock (another out in the dunes) but there seemed to be way fewer birds than at Theddlethorpe. Inexorably at first, the opportunity costs of another day in the field were beginning to bite, but I kept on all the way back to Hutoft for no reward. The wind had strengthened and the drizzle intensified, it wasn't pleasant and I wasn't seeing anything. Tw@tknacker. Backtracking, a Meally Redpoll booted from the bank and headed off north and a pair of Stonechat appeared but things were getting desperate. Back into the trees at Anderby. More crests had apparently filtered in off the dunes and after 20 minutes an inornatus appeared and then vanished, a second of excitement followed by the disappointment that it wasn't humei. Still Yellow-brow is better than being in a car accident so I kept going. Last resort was 'The Dell' a pseudo-close populated by locals of varying degree of tolerance, and boasting a house called East Hills, it had to be good. Two minutes later I found the Pallas's Warbler I was waiting for, a dull one, but 'lemon-rumped' none-the-less and it even called for good measure. Same day occurrence of Yellow-browed and Pallas's at an accessible site in Norfolk can result in civilian casualties, here in Lincs Peter Beasley wandered over and had a look and that was that. Pleased I didn't go to Donna Nook - same-day site of the Pallas's 3-some, couldn't cope with the crowd of four. Is this the end?  

 2nd November

Donna Nook, Anderby Creek, Lincs (AL, IS)

Shit, just when I was about to retire for the winter it all goes chart-tastic. Faced with entertaining the lady for the forseeable future (I can't see beyond 3 days), a trip to see the seals was mooted. Seals are always a winner. Especially when at Donna Nook in a fall. We made it there just after 1st light (11.45) and stayed for 2 hours. The 1st pups were born on the 28th and there were already 24 within five days. Even the children (not mine) couldn't help but notice the Goldcrests hopping at their feet and being squashed by the phocids. Two hours duding produced Ring Ouzel, Blackcap and 5 Woodcock, (plus enough crest and thrush action to keep interest, but evidently less than Norfolk. A quick whip round the trees at Anderby  (10 mins), before boredom (not mine) spelled an exit produced a concillatory Firecrest. I've got that rare accentor feeling.

Wells Woods (JG, JB)

Crazy in the Dell - billions of Blackbird and bazillions of Goldcrest heaving through the trees early am. Eventually we managed to sift a stripy one out of the constant stream of of green blobs in the canopy. A bog standard Reed Warbler was extremely disappointing, as was the fact that it got dark at 3pm. Great birding, but a little disappointing that no-one found the biggy.

        

East Hills (RMa)

Pre-dawn channel hopping into a fizzing mess of 'crests, Blackbird and Robin. Early score with a Great Grey Shrike, present at least since yesterday, on one of the first brambles on the main dune arc, hiding in the middle of the bush until a male Hen Harrier caused it to get excited. Woodcocks booted every few minutes, somewhere around 15 on the island. Several crossbill over, some Snow Bunting groups over (largest of 14) and a regular drip of Brambling through. One or possibly two Firecrest were in amongst the masses, but the phylloscs were limited to 6 or so Chiffchaff. notably including a group of around 15 Long-tailed Tit and at least one Coal Tit. Also 4 Blackcap, many Redwing, Song Thrush and Fieldfare. Numbers of Blackbirds were quite staggering, hundreds piling out of the leaf litter.  

NE Norfolk (RDM)

First stop Trimingham where a Crossbill flew over upon exiting the car. Huge amounts of crest and thrush with highlights being single Waxwing south, 3 Firecrests, 4 Chiffchaffs, 5 Woodcocks (including three on the cliff-top edge), 5 Siskins and 15 Snow Buntings. A brief look at Happisburgh produced a further Waxwing and Woodcock.

1st November

Blakeney Point (JG, JB, BL)

Big - big numbers, big wind, big efforts. Uber-exciting birding - constant feeling that the next bird flushed would be amazing. Goldcrests everywhere - dozens of them in every patch of cover, even in the outermost marrams. No rarity in the end, but highlights were a couple of LEO, three SEO, a dozen Woodcock, two Common Redpoll, Bramblings, single Black Redstart and Chiffchaff. The walk back into a blasting headwind was particularly memorable.

Leo seriously unimpressed with Ben's choice of hat (JG)

This one was very streaky/beaky and therefore looked slightly rostrata-ish. However, its mate was much paler and more normal looking, and both were of similar size and neither sounded particularly special, so probably both just flammea (JG). 

24-26 October

Kerry (RDM, Martyn Owen)

Needless to say, we didn't find an American passerine. We left our hearts and souls in the bushes at Dunquin and Coumeenoule but could muster little more than Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and Coal Tits. A late Garganey at Smerwick could have been better, whilst a storm-driven Grey Phal feeding on the road at Feohanagh wasn't what we had in mind. 110mph winds and driving rain for half the trip didn't help us out much and neither did the fallout, either from the storm, or from a night in Dingle. This is the end (my only friend, the end).

Road Phal - Feohanagh (RDM)                                                                          Garganey, Smerwick (RDM)

24th October

Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires (JB)

What a difference five weeks makes. In contrast to the first overwhelming week in South America where anything not stationary for 10 seconds in full view was written off I took it back to the streets today, where it all began. This time sans field guide I enjoyed a pleasant morning's birding, ID'd everything incl flyovers and had no ticks; a bit like wandering round St James's park and feeding the ducks really for niceness factor - it's definitely almost time to leave. One big bash tomorrow and then hasta luego. Crippling and relaxed views of Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant still beat Tits though.

21st-22nd October

Cornwall (AL, JG)

In a continued, desperate bid to find a yank passerine, a minimal team was dispatched to Cornwall on the afternoon of the 20th (arriving at Porthgwarra to a YBW reception just before dusk). Day 1 was spent touring the valleys - Cot was followed by Kenidjack, Nanquidno, Porthcurno, Porthgwarra, Treen and then Nanjizal. Most surprising was the presence of birders - lots of them. We thought Cornwall was underwatched, but after meeting 7 different birders at Kenidjack we had to rethink a few things. Still, there was not that much to look at, just Firecrests, YBWs and Black Redstarts. Hoping to find somewhere not covered in birders, we tried the Lizard the next day. A circular walk around the end produced 1 YBW, Firecrest and Black Redstart, for a change. Running out of ideas we tried the Predannack area - the Gew Graze looked suitably monster - a huge geo that must have held upteen Oporoinis warblers in its time. We espied a movement in the bottom, a tired migrant shuffled under a rock. Pulses quickened, and then a Robin emerged. Fate can be cruel. At times like this twitching seems a tempting prospect. With an hour of daylight left to save the autumn, we tried Mullion Cove. Mullion Cove? It looked good, Chiffchaffs were everywhere, indeed they had been everywhere all day, 12 flitted around one willow, including three grey and white abietinis types. AL gave it some hero stance and managed to remain engaged enough to hear an RBF rattle. Two semi-anxious seconds later it popped up, a fine adult male. It showed a Willow Warbler who's boss (suggesting its been around a while) and posed for the cameras. However, it wasn't a Sertophaga redstart. The team's dream isn't dead yet, but it's in the emergency room. 

adult male Red-breasted Flycatcher Mullion Cove (AL)

         

new Lizard: left Gew Graze, right Mullion Cove (AL)

18-19th October

Punta Rasa, Argentina (JB)

Initial error of losing my gen (and work notebook) in the airport was made up for by maximum effort thereafter. Drove South of Buenos Aires on 350+ spp for the trip to push through my British Lowlist for the 400 mark. After making it half way I slept in the hire car overnight at the entrace to 'El Gaucharia' whatever that was. One awkward exchange in pseudo-Spanish later I hit the road in the morning for the final miles. Main problem, without gen and no canastereo for playback I dipped Hudson (an endemic Canastero, like the rest - brown and this time streaky - think Fernbird from NZ, marshbirds from Asia, birds are like faces - there are only so many 'types'). Spending the whole afternoon cutting myself up in pampas grass couldn't make amends.

So, the score: Driven safely, car slept in twice. 1 Giant Petrel spp flyby off-shore. Olrog's Gull X 5. Buff-breasts - four briefly in high tide roost down the beach to the south from the main point amongst white-rumps, Hudsonian Godwits etc. White-throated Hummer. 1 Elegant-type tern. So as soon as I saw an orange-billed tern standing out from all the Cayenne I got a bit carried away by recent reports of Elegants, the first for the South American Atlantic seaboard, and forgot about Royal. Then realised there were about 13 of them, thought sweet and went to get my camera for some diggie scoping. By my return most had been flushed by a small horde of kite surfers, and only 4 or 5 Royal (the penny had now dropped) remained. However, 1st inspection showed a classic Elegant - finer, drooping bicoloured bill. Smaller than the Royals - confidence limits 90% +/- competence. 2nd downside of no gen, I couldn't find a hot tip road to drive to look for waders. Tidied up on some fowl late on with Rosy-bills, BNSWAN, White-tufted Grebe etc.

All in all, a happy outcome.

 

Inishmore omission (AL)

Reminded by the report of Darner on Scillies, I had forgotten to mention in the report the big dragon on the day of the ducks. I was cycling up the hill near Kilmurvy when I noticed an Anax sp. heading down the wrong side of the road, straight for me, I swerved to avoid it but basically had a two second head-on view. Description: huge, green. That was really all I got, so no ruling out out a vagrant southern Anax - Emperor, Vagrant, Lesser etc. Shame.   

Scroll down for Baird's fest.

9th October

Inishmore, Galway (RMa, RDM, MB, JG, AL)

Is really wet. Probably really mega. But really wet. More on this epic adventure and flocks of Nearctic waterfowl when we get back, hopefully with something to write home about. In the meantime everyone with the ability to get to a western headland should do so. The lows continue to come, what's that coming over the hill? Full report here.

3rd October

Derrymore Strand (JG per AL)

James battles against the elements to find another Baird's Sandpiper - this apparently the only wader at the site. He also probably had a second bird at Ventry the day before as the Burnham bird was still present. That's at least 4 sf Irish Baird's for J-roy, whose expletive-riddled text suggested he would rather have found something else different. Also big respect to the crew on Ron for finding the 4th Ron 1st in 2 weeks.

Above, the Derrymore Baird's. Tricky picking this one out from the hordes... (JG)

And the Ventry Baird's...(JG) Potentially the same bird that was at Burnham, although that bird was still present on the lagoon about 1.5hrs after I left this one, so who knows.

1st October

Burnham Lagoon, Kerry (JG)

According to James he is the only birder out in the field in Kerry, shouldn't come as a surprise that he found the Baird's Sand there then.

Ths one was a bit distant... (JG)

23rd September - 1st October

North Ronaldsay (AL)

Currently sitting in a bar with wireless internet and a bottle of Skull Splitter, the perfect antidote to drinking till 5am last night, Sibes raining down on Fair Isle again today, probably also on Ron but everyone (ie the other two birders) is too hungover to go outside (yet). The last month has been both monster and monster frustrating, 3 BBRCs discovered whilst I was on the isle and none by me, not for want of 12 hour days in the field though, hoping that this bad run is leading up to something big (and not big disappointment). Ultimate pain was watching a potential mega (if a little mega-shit) slip through my clutches. Paul and I were running nets up at Holland House on the 24th, I had just finished processing the 1st Yellow-brow of the autumn (image below) when I noticed a distant ringtail, we had had a 1st winter fem Hen a couple of days previously but I scoped it up just in case. I was immediately struck by the resemblance between this bird and Terry's Chocolate Orange, I jokingly turned to Paul and said I had a Marsh Hawk. The bird dipped behind Gravity and out of sight. One minute later it reappeared and headed straight for us, things were suddenly going very Frontiers and I grabbed the camera and videoed the one pass it made before carrying on off south and out of sight. One of the moments where you either a) observe the bird in life or b) get evidence, neither of which will be good enough. Shit. Between the first and second view Paul had said that they often had orangey harriers, but this thing was a class apart, seemingly the full monty with 5 barred primaries, pale secondary tips and narrow middle secondary bar, pallid-ish face with small white eye spot, seemingly sharply demarcated black head and neck. Above all it was really black on top with orangey patches around the carpal and truly orange and apparently unstreaked below. After looking at every available reference and photo and corresponding with John Martin, Martin Garner and the Birding World crew, the consensus seems to be 'nice but no cigar' at least not without a sharper shot of the head. Bugger.

Marsh-ish Hawk (ACL) video, compare this, this and this

Being able to see Fair Isle and to be in constant contact with people telling us what they were getting was a little soul destroying but at least Rael came through with a conciliatory 1st for Orkney Bluetail. For two days YBWs were mental, they outnumbered all other warblers put together. Migration magic. North Ron is monster, it is massively underwatched, especially the day after ManU games, you should all go there next autumn.      

InornatebutstillnicetolookatalthoughcommonWarbler (ACL)

Spottie (ACL)