Thursday, 22 September 2011

Mid-September already?!?! Update Part 2

The morning broke and looking out of the window at 5.30am (a little fuzzy-eyed) the fog had closed in again..... This didn't bode well for Phil and Mark who were getting the plane across to the Scillies, but hopefully it would burn off in the early part of the morning and not affect them too much. I got my kit together and made a start down Nanquidno Valley to have a quick hour or twos birding before I had to get to Penzance quay to catch the Scillonian III. Unfortunately there was still a stiff breeze and it was pretty cool so there wasn't much movement in the bushes..... a couple of Blackcaps and a few Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff being the best I could pick out

Soon enough it was time to head down to catch my boat and arriving on deck I bumped into Kev Rylands and his wife Debs who I'd seen at Pendeen the other day, so we had a quick catch up about what they'd seen around and what they were hoping to see on the Scillies..... everyone on the boat had a plan..... most were going straight for the Northern Waterthrush, others the Black-and-White Warbler..... I decided that it was going to be the Black-and-White first then see how things transpired after that.

The journey across was pretty quiet, a few European Storm Petrel and Manx Shearwater passing by every once in a while.... but we did manage to get a pretty good view of a Leach's Storm Petrel which was a new one for the year.

Leach's Storm Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa)

The weather still wasn't great half way through the crossing so I thought I'd text the lads to see how they were getting on..... unfortunately the flights were grounded until further notice..... they weren't sure if they'd start running at all so they were sat a little glum in the waiting room. Another hour into the journey and the Scillies were in sight.... the latest news from there was that the Black-and-White Warbler was showing at Lower Moors but elusive.... so was a Red-eyed Vireo up on the Garrison and the juvenile Blue-winged Teal at Newford Duck Pond. The Solitary Sandpiper and Northern Waterthrush however were nowhere to be seen at that point in time, but that was no surprise for the thrush...... their habits are to skulk around in thick undergrowth, usually boggy areas and will often go missing for hours at a time only to be seen for a matter of seconds as they flick through the dense cover.

As we were docking a plane went overhead...... the sun was out over the islands (as it has been every single time I've visited them!), so evidently the weather had cleared enough on the mainland for the flights to have started up again.... Phil and Mark would be on the island in a matter of moments..... it was looking good.

After disembarking it was a quick-paced walk down to Lower Moors to find the Black-and-White Warbler..... after a quick walk up the track there were no birders in sight...... until coming the other way a guy was sprinting towards me..... as he passed he shouted that the Waterthrush had been seen a matter of minutes ago off the track near the Black-and-White.... so it was about face and a sprint. After 200 yards the guy jumped off the track down a small trail that we had missed which led into the sallows..... when we got round the corner the waterthrush had vanished again, but the Black-and-White had been located no more than 30 yards further in, so I went over and tried to get on the bird. This was no easy task as it was dark under the canopy, thick vegetation everywhere.... rounding the corner two intense looking faces appeared before me, Mark and Phil..... they couldn't find it and they'd been there for 10 minutes.... so we all continued to scan through the trees. Over to the left a small group of birdwatchers started getting a bit excited about something so we went over.... they had it, but right at the back through the thick branches..... unfortunately the guys who watching it tended not to realise that "it's there......" and pointing somewhere in the trees isn't exactly the best way of getting people to find the bird..... but then finally in the bins..... there it was! It's black and white humbug stripes aiding it's camouflage as it nipped in and out of the shade, running up and down, round and round branches, hardly ever coming out into full view. I tried getting a few shots, but it was so hard picking it out until it came closer and right above us..... it showed very briefly completely out on a bare branch and I managed to get something, but due to the dark I had to use a really high ISO which has left the image pretty grainy. What a brilliant little bird though.... stunning.
Black-and-White Warbler (Mniotilta varia) typically showing through branches.

Black-and-White Warbler (Mniotilta varia)

After watching the warbler for a little while we went back to where the Waterthrush had last been seen.... a crowd of people were gathered by the side of the small pool. I hung around for an hour, but with no sign and time getting short I decided that it wasn't going to show, and even if it did it would only be a brief glimpse which would probably infuriate me more..... so I packed my stuff and went off towards Newford Duck Pond with Mark and Phil to see if we could get on the Blue-winged Teal and the Solitary Sandpiper, maybe even the Bee-eater again on the way. As we neared the pond, Phil (again with the most incredible hearing), picked out the sound of the Bee-eater... alas we couldn't find it, and rounding the corner we met Andy Vincent who'd been watching it for a few moment as it had passed by.... it had gone over behind us..... typical..... so after a brief chat we went round to the pond. 

The Solitary Sandpiper wasn't there, which left Phil especially a little exasperated as that was the main reason he'd come over.... thankfully I'd had one last year at Black Hole Marsh in Seaton, South Devon.... so the pressure was off for me.... it would be nice to see it though as it was an incredibly showy bird (it seems like most of the yankie birds are this year!). We did however pick up the Blue-winged Teal.... not that it was very hard to find it.... it was feeding within 4 foot from us.... obviously very tired from its transatlantic flight as it had its bill in the water feeding constantly (I saw it take it out once during the quarter of an hour we watched it)..... and only just managing to keep it's eyes open. A good bird all the same, one I'd never seen before, so very pleasing to get a cracking view. 

Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)

After rattling off a few shots we saw Martin Goodey on his trike talking on his phone.... from what we could hear was that the Solitary Sandpiper had been located.... but there was a problem with access to the area it was in..... after he'd put the phone down we had a chat with him and found out that it was on a pool behind the dump clump. There was a hide there, but it was John Higginsons.... we didn't have his number, so we thought we'd try calling a taxi and getting down there in case John was around. Five minutes later the cab pulled up so we got in and set off..... incredibly.... no more than 600m round the corner, there was John clipping the hedges.... we got the taxi to pull up next to him and as he turned around he smiled and said.... "I suppose you'll be looking for permission to use my hide then eh?!"..... Not wrong!!! He gave us the directions and 10 minutes later we were sat watching the bird feeding about 3 metres away. Superb.

Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria)

Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria)
We spent a good half an hour in the small makeshift hide (made out of spare bits from the tip and piles of mud!) until others started to arrive as word had got out. Phil and Mark had big smiles on their faces and I wasn't feeling too bad myself, but we decided to part ways there.... I wanted to go and have a look for the Red-eyed Vireo on the Garrison, the others thought they'd give the Waterthrush another go and watch the Black-and-White Warbler for a second time too. 

On my way up to the Garrison I bumped into Ivan, who also wanted to go for the Vireo, so we set off together. A bit further down the road, Kris Webb (known as Spyder), pulled up..... I'd first met him back home in Shropshire when he was a birder around there and I was about 12, but he moved in the 90's onto Scillies.... I can't say I blame him! He told us to jump in and he gave us a lift up to the Garrison. After a little bit of searching in the elms at Lower Broome platform from the both of us and a few others, the Vireo was found slowly moving in the canopy. We watched it for over half an hour feeding away, preening in the open..... getting fantastic views..... definitely bird of the day for me!
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)

Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)

Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)
Again this bird kept in the shadows for most of the time, so my ISO was pretty high.... thus the grainy images, but I'm pretty pleased with the results.

Unfortunately, my time was up on Scillies, the boat beckoned so it was down to the quayside, thoroughly chuffed with what had been a cracking day.... Again the boat home was pretty uneventful, but nearing Penzance we did run into a pod of 15+ Common Dolphin which delighted passengers with their show-boating!

Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)

The next day I had to travel back home to Somerset for Vicki's birthday so I decided to pop up to Davidstow airfield to try to see a White-rumped Sandpiper that was meant to be present.... there had also been a report of Temminck's Stint which in Cornwall is a massively rare bird... that wasn't the issue.... it was more that Temminck's usually turn up with easterlies..... we'd been having westerlies.... and Least Sandpiper looked more plausible.... so I wanted to check that out too. Arriving there.... it was raining.... not just raining, but tipping it down.... it didn't look good..... Ivan was there and he'd said he'd had it first thing in the morning but it had been flushed and there had been no sign since then. He'd not found the stint either, but there was a Buff-breasted Sandpiper there. I went and had a look at the Buff-breast, which showed much better than the ones at Hayle and Polgigga. After having a look around for the others and having no luck, I left the airfield and headed to Somerset. It made me feel two things.... a sense of excitement about going back home.... and also a sense of foreboding.... the last time I went home I missed a mega.... I just had to hope it didn't happen again!

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Mid-September already?!?! Update Part 1

Amazing.... the time has passed so quickly over the last couple of weeks I've barely had time to blink! I'd better fill you in on what has been happening down here in Cornwall..... it's been raining..... a lot. Fog too, not to mention force 6/7 westerly gales..... it's been brilliant!!!! (I know - birdwatchers are an odd sort!) The reason that this has been so good is because right now we're getting to tail end of the hurricanes and tropical storms hammering across from the Americas..... this in turn means that the Jet Stream is now parked straight over the top of the south-west, picking up migrant American passerines (that's smallish migratory birds like warblers, thrushes etc....) flinging them across the Atlantic and dumping them on our coasts.

Yes indeed it is a little sad that these little guys may never find their way home, but nature isn't as lovely as we all think it is..... for instance.... "aaahhhh, look at that cute baby bird".... Sparrowhawk comes in and nails it....... "oh."...... The real face of nature. It does, however, give us UK birders the chance to see some of their fantastic little birds and this year looks like it's going to be a good one.... I mean a real good one.... the south-west used to get tonnes of American bits and pieces in the 70's and 80's..... in fact 21 years ago today a Yellow-throated Vireo was found in Kenidjack Valley in Cornwall (the only one ever seen in Britain). Lately.... this has been not the case.... it can still turn up the odd bit, but nothing compared to what it used to..... until now.

This year, the list of American waders that have made it across the pond is staggering..... in fact it's been the best year that many can ever remember..... 10 species of them have made it.... Pectoral (the most common of the lot), Baird's, White-rumped, Solitary (mega rare), Spotted, Semipalmated, Least and Buff-breasted Sandpipers as well as Greater (mega mega rare) and Lesser Yellowlegs have all appeared and some in fantastic numbers..... Loop Head in Ireland had a peak of 15 Buff-breasted Sand with many other across the UK/Ireland and there were several Baird's (including the one I saw) and several White-rumped up and down the country. Since seeing the Baird's I've really been hoping to catch up with some of these vagrants as I've never really had the chance and I especially wanted to try and get them 'on film' as they are usually reasonably approachable. The first chance I had was during the fog down here, (which lasted the whole week..... that was fun trying to show people the Land's End wildlife at work.... it would have helped to see the sea!), when a pair of Buff-breasted Sandpipers were found in fields at the seaward end of the Nanjizal Valley where I go ringing by a local birder. A quick drive down after work proved fruitless, very hard locating the birds in the pea soup that was the fog, so I thought I'd try again early morning. Thankfully (after getting some better directions of John Swann....) I found them picking their way through the short grass, so after a bit of crawling and getting sopping wet I managed to get a couple of OK shots even though it was still foggy.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis)
 I had seen these little crackers on the Scillies last year but not as well as this, it was just a pity that the weather wasn't great to get some better light in the pictures. This was really the start of the movement of American bits and I couldn't wait until the next one appeared so when a Semipalmated Sandpiper turned up at Chew Valley Lake in Somerset whilst I was back visiting Vicki, I couldn't resist going for it, after all, it would be a new bird for me too.

On arriving at the hide, the news was typical.... "You should have been here 5 minutes ago... it was right in front of the hide"...... Yeah, thanks for that..... a simple 'it's not showing at the moment' would have sufficed. Thankfully, there was a Pectoral Sandpiper in view along with an eclipse drake Garganey and drake Ferruginous Duck which entertained for a while (an hour in fact) before the sandpiper was relocated from the next hide. A quick shuffle and 10 minute later I was watching it.... a bit distant, but good enough to see the main ID points (apart from the semipalmations - the 'half-webs' in between the birds toes - which is where it gets its name from.) It then had a little fly around and I managed to grab a couple of record shots, it was just a dot though.

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla) on the right with a Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

On the way back home from Chew the pager went and it was news of a Greater Yellowlegs in Wadebridge..... gutted, these don't turn up very often...... that was no more than an hour from where I was staying in Cornwall..... and I wasn't going home for another 4 days...... I had to hope it hung around.

Needless to say, the bird stayed for just a couple of days and disappeared...... a shame, but with the weather set to continue all through September there could always be another one...... please! After spending a bit in Somerset and having a day out at Thorpe Park (and almost losing my stomach going on 'Detonator'), I went back down to Cornwall with the intention of doing a bit of seawatching when I could. The next day I visited Pendeen for a few hours after work and it was cracking..... Fantastic views of 2 Long-tailed Skua (a new bird for me), 3 Sabine's Gull, 15+ Grey Phalarope, and numerous Great and Arctic Skua as well as a Ocean Sunfish.

I was then informed by John Swann that there was a Semipalmated Sandpiper and a Lesser Yellowlegs at Drift Reservoir, so I had my morning before-work plan sorted..... Both birds showed well, but again not close enough to get pics.... I'd have to go back another day..... so I did..... I went again a couple of days ago and the views I got were probably the best I've ever had of anything.

After phoning a mate of mine who's pretty new into photography and asking if he'd like to go down to have a go at getting some photos of the waders, we arranged to meet on the north side of the reservoir where the Semi-p had been hanging out. On arrival the bird was showing brilliantly for a group of 5-6 birders, no more than 20 metres away. I cracked of a few shots, but they weren't anywhere as good as I had got with the Baird's so I thought I'd attempt to get closer by lying on the shoreline a fair distance from the bird, but along it's path, so hopefully it would walk up to me. Most of the time this works pretty well until the bird sees you, about faces and runs away..... this wasn't the case with this little guy..... closer and closer he got, my shutter going nuts, until my lens whirred and I realised it was too close for it to focus. Instead of worrying about it, I watched the bird as it carried on pecking for invertebrates on the tide-line ending up no more than 2-3 foot away from me as it went past..... absolutely incredible. The reason he was so tame was probably because he'd never seen a human before so he had no fear whatsoever, it really has to be one of the most fantastic wildlife experiences I've ever had.

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla)

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla) showing the semipalmations in between the toes.... a much better view!
After that I knew it couldn't get any better, so I started off around the other side with James to have a look for the Lesser Yellowlegs. No sooner had I put one foot forward a couple of familiar faces came round the corner to look for the sandpiper.... Phil Woollen, Mark Payne and Dave Bradnum, all of whom I'd met on the pelagics from the Scillies the month previous. Dave had just come back from the Scillies after nipping across to see a Black and White Warbler and a few other bits on the islands that had turned up...... Phil and Mark had come down to do exactly the same thing the next day..... that got me thinking......... it would be a good bit of craic......

While I mulled it over, the guys had their own photo session with the sandpiper who continued to show well (Phil saying it was the most confiding one he'd ever seen.... and he's seen a few!).... until they were happy they'd seen it enough.... which is always a difficult one to judge..... I think we all feel the same way... you can't see things for long enough, but the sun was dipping and we wanted to go for the yellowlegs. We said goodbye to Dave as he'd seen it earlier and the four of us set off to go and search around the hide. When we got there the bird was showing pretty distantly, but was working it's way along the mud towards us, so again it was a bit of patience and hiding behind rocks until the legs got reasonably close (enough to take photos anyway)....... it was nice seeing it with a Spotted Redshank and a Common Redshank for comparison showing just how thin and elegant it was, it can be difficult to judge these things if you're only seeing the bird on its own.

Juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

Juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

Juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

Juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) with Spotted Redshank for comparison.
After spending a while watching the bird wade around in the thick mud we talked about Scillies.... Phil and Mark were catching the plane first thing, so I decided to go across for a day with them, so it was back to base after some goodbyes, booking tickets (I booked to go by boat.... much cheaper and always the chance of seeing something else on the way).... and then to bed ready for what was going to be a bit of a mental day on the Scillies no doubt.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

August Update - Ringing and migration

Coming towards the end of August, bird-watching starts to get more unpredictable. It's when migration occurs, some of the birds that have bred in our country over the summer head south to spend the colder months in warmer regions. Most of these birds are insectivores, so they need to do this so that there is enough food to sustain the population, Swallows are the most widely known example. It's these journeys that completely fascinate me, how does a bird that may only weigh 15g, or thereabouts, manage to survive a migration of hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles? Crossing seas, battling against strong winds in order to feed up over the winter just to prepare for coming back! It really is astounding.

It's not just that they travel these huge distance either, that's one part of it, but birds such as Pied Flycatchers have been known to have travelled south in their first year after hatching only to be found breeding the next within 300-400m from where it grew up as a chick...... HOW??? It's a mystery I'm sure we'll never solve, but it doesn't go all their way..... sometimes the winds can be too strong or something goes wrong with their navigation, perhaps the stars get covered over by the clouds whilst they are over the sea so they have no means to navigate..... but it means that during migration, birds turn up in the country that shouldn't be here. The Western Bonelli's Warbler and the Alpine Swift that I talked about in my previous post are examples of these migration scarcities reaching our shores.

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
To really keep an eye on what's happening everyday via migration, ringers across the country put up their nets when the weather is good enough, hoping to pick out a rare warbler or such like, we've been hoping for something like that to happen down this way, but it hasn't happened.....yet. I'm sure it will by the end of the autumn, but we'll just have to keep checking. Mostly in the nets are regular passage migrants like Spotted Flycaychers, Tree Pipits, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff with the odd Wheatear and others. We've been having a few different waders coming through too with Greenshank and Little Stint joining the regular Green Sands on the scrape. We managed to capture 2 Greenshank and 1 Little Stint so far, (unfortunately  I didn't get my hands on the stint), but the waders are only just starting to pick up, so I'm sure there'll be more to come.

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) showing the stiff whiskers used to push flies into it's mouth

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) showing pink base to bill. Good I.D point.

Tree Pipit wing showing the length of primaries which distinguishes it from Meadow Pipit

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Me holding a freshly ringed Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)

Elsewhere there's been more luck on the wader front... Hayle Estuary RSPB reserve came up trumps with a juvenile Baird's Sandpiper, a bird from North America that no doubt has been forced across due to the hurricane. With the news breaking whilst I was at work, I had to wait until 5pm before I could make my way over there. Unfortunately by the time I made it into the carwash car park, I found out that the bird had been flushed by some numpty who thought he could walk onto the reserve even though there are signs everywhere, then after being told to get off the land tried to provoke fights with the birders looking for the sandpiper.... it turned out later that he was high as a kite and looking for a bit of a ruccus, thankfully the police had arrived before I had got there and funnily enough he'd legged it.

After a few hours of searching in all the known wader roosts and with the light fading fast I reluctantly gave it up, I did manage to catch up with a couple of juvenile Curlew Sandpipers and a juvenile Little Stint though so there was at least some reward. But I was sure it would turn up again in the morning so I decided to pop back early morning for high tide at 7am to have a quick look before work.

So 7am, I stood on the causeway looking around for any sign of a wader flock. Nothing. We have spring tides down here at the moment, so high water is just that.... very high, and there wasn;t a margin of mud in sight. The only place that wader tend to congregate if this happens is at the back of one of the big pools on the main estuary, Carnsew Basin, where there is a shingle beach that rarely gets completely covered, so I set off to take a look there.

Before arriving at my destination I went past the Tempest warehouse and onto the causeway, rounding a corner just behind the warehouse itself there was a large flock of waders no more than 30 foot away. Quickly scanning through I couldn't see the Baird's, but there was Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper, so I decided to try and sneak up to get some shots. Crawling on my belly, I inched closer, thankfully the tide was at it's peak and not yet receding, so they had nowhere to go, but this didn't matter. They were too busy feeding on all the crustaceans and other bits on the shoreline to pay any attention to some wierdo trying to be stealthily quiet on gravel (and failing miserably!). In the end I sat with the flock no more than a few yards away from me. The closest bird ended up being the Little Stint, merrily pottering around no further than 7-8 feet from me.

Juvenile Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)

Little Stint (Calidris minuta)

Little Stint (Calidris minuta)

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
Leaving them to feeding up in preparation for their long-haul migrations, I wandered further up towards the shingle beach. On arrival there were a few Turnstone kicking about around the rocks and then, there it was, the Baird's. I tried the same approach as the previous flock and crawled on my front towards them. It was the same result.... getting this American wader down to 10 foot. Reeling off hundreds of photos (and ending up with about 10 that I'm happy with) it really gave me the chance to see it's fantastic scalloped plumage on it's back and it's absurdly long primary projection (the distance the wing-tip feathers go past the end of the tail) which is a consistent feature of all transatlantic waders of this genera. It was brilliant seeing it up close and after a while I left it to feed up and went to work. A good start to the day!!

Baird's Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii)

Baird's Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii)

Baird's Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii)

July and August Update - Post 7 - Somerset and the Polgigga Bonelli's

After the fantastic weekend on Scillies it was back to normality, work down at the Lands End RSPB Wildlife Discovery centre has been incredibly busy, with school kids galore running amock during their holidays. Unfortunately there hasn't been that much to show them, although we have had a few Basking Sharks, Common Dolphin and the ever-present Grey Seals (at low tide that is). 

I'd arranged to go back home to Somerset the following weekend giving me the chance to see my girlfriend and have a bit of a walk around with Persie (aka 'howwible'.... Vicki's dog), but after arriving on the friday, I received a text from Kester, my ringing trainer, that there was a Western Bonelli's Warbler just down the lane by the ringing site..... typical! I hoped that it would hang around for when I got back, but these little warblers have a habit of only spending a day or two before moving on (not always as was the case with the Derbyshire bird that stayed throughout the summer holding territory). No sooner had I put that out of my mind, a couple of hours later another text came through, this time from John Hansford, a fellow Somerset birder, letting me know that he'd been watching an Alpine Swift hanging around over Bruton.... no more than 10 minutes away. Unfortunately, the light was fading and I wasn't going to have the chance to get out the next day either as I'd made plans with Vicki, so I thought that I'd miss out on this one too... these are even more notorious for being very quick passage birds, sometimes only spending 10 minutes at a site before heading off. 
Persie showing why he's an idiot. "Where shall I lie down.... I know.... the puddle." Howwible.

I text John to ask him to keep me posted on it's movements and if it was still there in the morning and amazingly enough it was! Having made the decision that if it hung around for another day I'd go, I kept my fingers crossed and got on with the day. The next morning there was no sign early a.m so it wasn't looking good, but I thought I might as well give it a go and on arriving at the dovecote on the outskirts of Bruton, a quick scan, I found the bird zooming through a large flock of hirundines over a farm. It was very distant, so photos weren't possible, but great views all the same. I couldn't believe it was still there for a 3rd day! After watching it for a while it drfted high and out of view, so it was back to base to get packed ready to set off for Cornwall at 3am (I was ringing the next day so I had to be back for 6am!).

The reports on my pager told me that the Bonelli's was still present up until dusk, but there were clear skies forecast overnight so I felt there would be a good chance it would get on it's way south. I hoped otherwise, but I'd just have to wait for the morning and see for myself.

I pulled up at Polgigga at 6am, wandered down the lane and waited under the pines where the bird had been hanging around. Nothing. Not a single bird to be seen, nor any calls emminating from the trees.... it wasn't looking good. I stayed around for 20 minutes before starting to walk off to the ringing site round the corner when I heard a soft 'hu-it'....... it was a warbler and not one I'd heard before..... searching through the thick canopy I picked out a tiny movement near the very top of probably the most heavily foliaged Scots Pine I'd ever seen...... for a frustrating 10 minutes I scoured that patch, seeing glimpses of something moving from branch to branch before finally the bird emerged in clear view. A cracking Western Bonelli's Warbler.... snowy-white underneath, pale grey-green head, neck and back with a faint pale supercillium (eyestripe) and lovely bright yellow-green feather edges to the wing. I managed to get a few shots as it skipped through the branches catching insects, but it was pretty tricky, they spend most of their time high up in and out of view, constantly moving, so quite a challenge but I was pretty happy with the results.

Western Bonelli's Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli)

Western Bonelli's Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli)

Thursday, 1 September 2011

July and August Update - A weekend on the Scillies (Day 4)

Our final day on the Isle of Scilly..... everyone had woken up a little groggy from the cursory celebratory drinks the night before, so, to clear heads and make a good start to the day we decided to go and have a nice and greasy cooked breakfast before heading up to the north of the island to look for the Bee-eater that had been hanging around for the summer. The debate was which cafe to visit.... the one near the bank in 'town' or the one a bit further out in Old Town..... the latter was chosen - unbeknownst to us this was to be a great decision.

After arriving at the cafe and ordering, we went outside and sat at the tables, chatting about the weekend so far. Most people had caught up with a new bird or two, Mat Meehan adding the most to his list, and we talked about what we thought was bird of the weekend.... for a few it was the Wilson's Storm Petrel on the friday night, otherwise it was the Great Shearwater landing on the sea next to the boat (myself included - even though I'd seen a couple before and Wilson's was a lifer).

Our breakfasts arrived and we tucked in, halfway through Phil Woollen (whose ears, I've now decided, have been nicked off a bat and attached to his head as he hears everything!) shouted "BEE-EATER!!".... not a second after he'd said it, sure enough the bird called right overhead so we could all hear it, then drifted over the top of us to a headland a few hundred metres away where it hawked for insects along with some hirundines until it disappeared behind the trees. Brilliant..... target bird in the bag and we hadn't even finished breakfast!

Unfortunately my camera was memory card-less as I was putting photos onto my external hard drive and so didn't manage to get any pics, but Jason Atkinson did... you can see it on his great blog A Tale of 2 Halves.

After finishing the breakfasts (which tasted even better after the Bee-eater....) we set off to where the bird was last seen dipping behind the trees in an attempt to try and relocate it. Unfortunately we tried for several hours to no avail, so it was back into town to grab a quick bite before making our way down to the quayside to catch the Scillonian back to the mainland.

The journey was pretty uneventful, very few seabirds until we got towards land and with Lands End and Porthgwarra coming into view we started to get a good number of Manx Shearwater flying past the boat. In amongst them was the odd Balearic and Sooty Shearwater, but things were about to go a little nuts..... it wasn't birds that were going to steal the show.... both Lewis Thomson and myself saw it first.... a HUGE dorsal fin.... a big black triangle, really narrow and tall....... there was only one thing it could be..... ORCA!!!! They were pretty distant and I can't say we had amazing views, but 5-6 of us managed to get a look at the fin as it went past us nearly 2 miles away from the boat (yes.... even though they were that far away, the fin stuck out like a sore thumb through binoculars.... it is 6 ft high after all!).

Awesome.... a perfect end to a pretty mental and brilliant weekend.... I'm looking forward to next year already!!!