Monday, 12 October 2020

Black & White Warbler on Tresco

My week on the Scillies this autumn will be remembered for one bird - but what a bird! The Black & White Warbler on Tresco.

Thursday 8th October and expectations were running high, after several days of strong westerly winds an Atlantic warm front had swept though the south-west overnight, giving hope that an American passerine or two would make landfall. Paul Hawkins and I had done a loop of Peninnis Head and had seen very little other than a smart female Merlin acrobactically pluck a Linnet from a flock feeding in one of the fields. The wind had now subsided and the weather brightened as we slowly made our way to the Garrison and Lower Broome checking every bit of cover along the way, if anywhere on St Mary's was going to produce something special then surely it would be here?

We bumped into Ash Fisher who was also thinking along the same lines, as the three of us searched the canopy and reminisced about previous Scilly discoveries a message came up on the IOS Whatsapp group - Black and White Warbler, Tresco in cover behind the two hides overlooking Great Pool! A crackle of Ash's CB radio and a voice confirmed the sighting and boats were being lined up at 2pm and 2.30pm - Without hesitation we headed quickly towards the quayside, it was just after 1.30pm and Paul & I were in the queue for the 2pm boat within 15 minutes of the news breaking - the boat soon quickly filled up. I'm not sure what the maximum number of people allowed on the boat is, but let's just say it was full! Andy Lawson was at this point in the Longstone Cafe and was playing it cool as he demolished his second cream tea of the week. In the meantime Martin Blow was already on Tresco (dipping another Arctic Warbler) but had already scored the Humbug and was giving us 5 minute updates on the birds whereabouts as we made the twenty minute crossing. We soon landed on Tresco and we were walking (at pace) across the island - I'm not sure how long the walk is (probably a mile or two) but it appeared to go on forever!

As we approached the area behind the hides, we could see Martin gesturing and pointing in the distance, racing up to him the bird was clearly in view but by now the crowd from the boat had swelled and peering into the thick moss covered hedge was becoming difficult as it quickly moved left, then right. I'll have to admit to a moment of panic as I struggled to connect - it's funny how you can't see the wood for the trees at these crucial moments - but then, and after a minute of two I finally connected with that amazing stripey-humbug, a first for me. I was taken back at just how clean and bright the bird was, without a feather out of place it shone bright in the dense cover - At this point I might have punched the air or something similar! 

After several high-fives with Paul and Martin and anybody else nearby, I decided to move away from the crowd (which I might add, were all wearing face coverings) and set myself-up with the camera further along the hedge. I crouched lowdown in an open gap, and sure enough a few minutes later the bird was slowly moving my way as I could hear the directions coming from the crowd. Raising my bins the Black & White Warbler came into full view, before being lost again behind the thicker branches but none the less I'd fired off a dozen or so shots from the camera trying my hardest to manual focus on the bird, checking the back of the camera I flicked through the resulting images and sure enough i'd captured that black and white piece of gold! Simon Nichols was sitting next to me at the time and I showed him the image - we both couldn't quite believe what we'd seen and experienced.

Black & White Warbler may not be rarest of birds with 16 previous UK records (I think) but it's certainly right up there in regards to looks and still carries a special enigma amongst the birding fraternity and has been a dream bird I've always wanted to see in the UK for as long as I can remember.

Tresco, Isles of Scilly
The location, the wait...

Mega, Twitch, Scillies
Male Black & White Warbler - Does it get much better?

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Clancy's Rustic - Moth Gold!

I've finally struck a little bit of moth gold in the form of Clancy's Rustic!

Just to give you a bit of background Clancy's Rustic was first discovered in the UK in 2002 at Dungeness, Kent by Mr Sean Clancy and the vernacular name Clancy's Rustic was thus created. Since then and like a lot of continental moths its range has very slowly started to creep further north and is now annually recorded in small numbers along the south coast and through Kent but records for Essex (VC17/18) have remained very scarce, so much so that there has only a been handful of previous records (13) and these were generally coastal - That was until I discovered this beauty in the moth trap this morning!

A quick email to the Essex moth recorder and bingo my suspicions were confirmed and the 14th record for Essex and the furthest West (inland) were in the bag.

And to add to this little episode...I remember meeting Sean Clancy on a couple of occasions whilst staying at the Ob's at Dungeness as a spotty teenager in the late 1980's and I would stand and wonder (open mouthed at times) as Sean and a small band of Lepidopterist followers would empty the moth trap, quickly identifying an array of largely bland, brown and grey moths - And now, all these years later I'm the one identifying these bland, brown and grey moths and one just happened to be Clancy's Rustic.

Macro Moth, VC18
Clancy's Rustic - Woodford Green 9th September 2020
14th Record for Essex

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Birding In the Shadow of Canary Wharf

I don't say it very often but today was a really good day birding the patch, from the moment I stepped onto the Flats at first light and picked up Common Sandpiper and Kingfisher on Alexandra Lake until I left at midday, Wanstead was alive with passage migrants.

It's always hard to be 100% accurate with numbers as you're often repeatedly seeing the same birds just in slightly different areas but to briefly summarise I would suggest there were 4+ Common Redstart, 5 Northern Wheatear, 4 Whinchat, 2 Spotted Flycatcher, Yellow Wagtail, Blackcap, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat a sprinkling of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff and let's not forget a bonus calling Greenshank - all this just a stones throw away from Canary Wharf!

Not bad for a urban East London patch that does occasionally still surprise me - the only thing missing was that marque sighting which would have been the cherry on today's cake...oh well, there's always tomorrow!

Canary Wharf, London
Common Redstart with Canary Wharf in background
Wanstead, London
Canary Wharf - Same photo just a different focus and subject!

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

88% Self-found Rating

We all know birders like to keep lists, many birders keep lists of list's - I'm not quite that anal but I do keep a few lists including a little unknown list (well, it was unknown) of self-found birds on the patch and this recently hit a new high of 88% with the addition of Nightingale now on that list - does anybody else do this?

The calculation is quite simple really (in Excel) just divide your self-found list by your patch list.

Wanstead list currently stands on 145
Self-found list currently stands on 128

128/145 = 88% (that's rounded down, 88.28% if you really want to be accurate).

For a patch that is heavily covered by numerous people all day, every day (and this appears to be growing year on year) I'd say having a self-found rating of 88% of my total patch list is quite remarkable, but please let me know if I'm blowing my own trumpet here as I have no idea how this compares to any other birders and their patches.

Here's the list of 17 birds I've not self-found and apart from Rustic BuntingOrtolan Bunting and Slavonian Grebe all the others, although scarce on the patch are potentially gettable and would help to improve my percentage rating and could even nudge this into the 90% region!

Red-Crested Pochard
Black Redstart
Lapland Bunting
Slavonian Grebe
Red-legged Partridge
Cetti's Warbler
Ortolan Bunting
Great White Egret
Black-tailed Godwit
Red-backed Shrike
Rustic Bunting

Male, Spring, London
If I could find an Autumn Garganey on the patch this would certainly help increase my % rating.
This male (not found by me) spent the morning on Jubilee pond back in March 2019.

There is one problem (although it's a very nice problem) If I add a patch tick to the list and I'm not the finder my percentage rating drops, as I say it's not a big problem as everyone loves to add a new bird to their patch list regardless of who found it. I also find that keeping a self-found list does keep me interested and fully motivated when I'm out on the patch, I suppose we all have different motivations and goals when out birding and my little unknown list certainly adds a little dimension and keeps me entertained.