Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Valentino - The Med Gull

It was great to catch up with this old east London favourite at the weekend - Valentino. I believe it is now the 15th winter that Valentino has returned to this neck of the woods, historically always seen in and around Valentines Park in Ilford he has now become an annual visitor to Wanstead Flats as well, and can often be found roosting on the the football pitches or just loafing around Alexandra Lake.

Gulls in general are long-lived birds and it wouldn't be unusual for a Mediterranean Gull to live for 20+ years but with Valentino's healthy Mediterranean life style and diet he could be around for another 10 years yet!

Adult Winter, Valentino


Adult Winter, Valentino

Adult Winter, Valentino

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Shetland - the supporting cast and numbers

Our motley east London crew consisting of team members Paul Hawkins, Martin Blow, Nick Croft & of course moi, amassed a very reasonable 134 species in our week on Shetland, of which I added five new birds - Siberian Rubythroat, Lanceolated Warbler, Pallid Harrier, Hornemanns Arctic Redpoll and with the good wishes of the BBRC Eastern Bonelli's Warbler. We also managed to find our own Blue Tit and Great Tit - which is not to be sniffed at, as both of these birds are scarce visitors to the isles. We also had enormous fun one afternoon chasing first an Acro which turned out to be a Reed Warbler and then a Locustella which turned out to be a Grasshopper Warbler both along the burn at Channelwick and surely that's what makes Shetland so special - every bird is worth checking and then double checking as you never know what's lurking in those nettles. And then there was that wet Bunting around the Sumburgh Lighthouse garden which we all got over excited about, fuelled by alcohol we all made assumptions which were later downgraded!

Shetland
This beauty was sheltering in the Virkie Willows and was one of two Long-eared Owls we saw that week.
Flock, Shetland
Brambling were numerous in number with flocks of over a hundred seen around the crop fields at the Sumburgh Hotel and Wester Quarff.
Shetland
Just the one Great Grey Shrike, this very mobile bird was seen along the East shore of the Virkie Pools.
Shetland
This Little Bunting at Boddam gives us the run around - which was typical of this species throughout the week!
Shetland
My first ever 'Northern' Bullfinch in the crop field at Geosetter.
Shetland
Three Olive-backed Pipits, this was one of two birds at Lower Voe, with another seen at Wester Quarff being a nice rewarding team find.
Other birds of note but weren't featured in the last few Shetland blogposts was a Red-breasted Flycatcher at the back of the kids playground at Toab, where we also saw another Blue Tit and of course the Lanceolated Warbler at Quendale, I did manage one photo but due to the fading light and distance when I took the photo it wasn't worth posting - even after heavy cropping! So here's a link to the finders Chris Griffin's blog with excellent photographs of a great bird.

Along with the great birds and company, I also managed to lose and then thankfully retrieve 1 rucksack with camera, passport, flight tickets still inside, 1 iPhone, 1 Walkie Talkie and 1 Canon Extender - thanks to Jim Nicolson for returning that expensive piece of hardware. On top of that I gave Didier Drogba a run for his money by face-planting head first into the long grass whilst looking for a Bluethroat much to the amusement of Mr Hawkins & Mr Blow who literally pissed themselves with laughter - Shetland 2014 was memorable for many reasons!


Sunday, 19 October 2014

More Shetland, Pallid Harrier

Undoubtedly the highlight from the week on Shetland had to be the Rubythroat but witnessing a stunning juvenile Pallid Harrier hunt over the open grassland and moors surrounding the airfield at Tingwall came a close second.

After seeing the Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll at Veensgarth, and although nice this was, it was a little under whelming as the bird wasn't quite the big snowball I had hoped for but a rather plainer looking 1st-winter female, the team decided to head the short distance to Tingwall in hope of catching up with the juvenile Pallid Harrier which had been reported in the area for the last few days and whilst we still had some light left in the day - but in all honesty I didn't think we had much chance of seeing it giving size of the area and the large range the bird could cover.

But within minutes of arriving as we stood watching from our vantage point on slightly higher ground above the airfield and sheltered from the elements by a farm building, luck would have it the bird came into view and I was able to enjoy excellent scope views down to less than 30 metres as the bird circled the airfield. At one stage as it passed relatively close by I was so engrossed with watching it hunt, mesmerised by the birds head pattern and soaking up the moment through the scope, I had to be reminded I was carrying a camera, to the point I almost missed the opportunity in getting the photographs below.

Juvenile, Shetland

Juvenile, Shetland



Thursday, 16 October 2014

Bonelli's Warbler of an Eastern persuasion

It took two trips to Scalloway to nail this rather special little Phyllo. The first attempt was a little half-hearted as the our crew had all seen Western Bonelli's Warbler before. After a couple hours searching the mature Sycamores and gardens we did finally manage the briefest of flight views, content this was another bird added to the growing trip list we moved on, but things changed once news broke that the bird had been heard calling confirming this an Eastern Bonelli's Warbler! The flight views were not going to be good enough and we were back on site the following morning for another attempt.

Stopping on route at Wester Quarrf to search for yet another Little Bunting (one of many we dipped, strung, and eventually saw that week) we stumbled across an Olive-backed Pipit in the same crop field, a great find for our four man crew and thoroughly deserved after all the miles, slog and hours we'd been putting in.

Back at Scalloway our initial search drew a blank but as more and more birders arrived on site, eventually the bird was located and prolonged and good views were had by all, although during this time the bird didn't call for us. I'm happy to pencil this one in as a tick and await confirmation in the coming months from the BBRC - but all the signs are looking good that this is going to be Britain's 7th record.

Shetland, Scaloway

Shetland, Scaloway

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Magical Yellow-browed Warblers on Shetland

The beauty of birding on Shetland is even when things are quiet, you can always guarantee seeing or hearing a Yellow-browed Warbler. I managed to catch up with over twenty-five birds at various locations in the week I was there. The photos below are of one particular showy bird at Geosetter which was fly catching along the burn, and at times would happily land just a few feet from the end of the lens!

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Shetland

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A private audience with a Siberian Rubythroat

With news of the adult male Siberian Rubythroat at Levenwick still showing as we arrived on Shetland for the week, it was a case of picking up the hire care from the airport, dumping our luggage at the accommodation and driving straight to the location. Already swelled with birders views were always going to be difficult but after a couple of hours frustration circling the garden we gave up the ghost and headed back to Sumburgh with thoughts of returning the following day for another crack.

We had received no early morning news on the bird and thoughts were turning into what might have been! Birding the the quarries and fields around Sumburgh farm news soon reached us that the bird was still at Levenwick and had relocated to another garden just down the road. We were there within twenty minutes but so were the 50+ other birders and again the bird was giving us all the run around with just fleeting glimpse's between hedges, that was until I managed to get a great face on view of the bird briefly below a Sycamore tree high on the home owners drive way - that ruby coloured throat shining brightly in the evening light.

The following couple of days the weather had turned for the worse with 60mph gusts and heavy rain to contend with, we did our best to bird some of the sheltered spots in and around the south of the Island. Driving past Levenwick we decided to stop by to see if anyone was still looking for the bird and to our amazement there wasn't another birder on site, deciding to pull the car up along side the driveway we sat in the car sheltering from the weather and then BOOM within a few minutes the Siberian Rubythroat popped out of the hedge and started to hop along the driveway towards us!

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levenwick

Adult, male, Shetland, Levinwick

Holding our breath...Myself, Paul Hawkins, Martin Blow & Nick Croft couldn't believe our luck as we enjoyed crippling views and a private audience with this holy grail of birds for most British birders. As soon as it disappeared into the hedge we were all high-fiving and punching the air with delight, pinching ourselves at experiencing such an amazing bird, and just the four of us as well.