Sunday, October 23, 2016

Issy Wheatear and more

Yesterday was my birthday but I couldn't go birding. So today I cashed in on my birthday credit,  and went out with James (AKA The Driver), Dave, Phil and Will to Burnham Overy Dunes. Weather was looking good and we hoped to find Norfolk's first Sibe Accentor. But when we got there we started complaining how few birds there actually are. We had some crests in the Suedea, Robins, thrushes but really rather slow. We walked west towards Gun Hill, hoping to find yesterday's Pallas's Warbler, spread out and covered as much ground as possible. And of course as me and James walked across the crest of the dune, Dave calls, and quite nonchalantly tells us 'I have just found an Issy Wheatear'. This guy is amazing, quite a rarity magnet. We caught up with Dave and the bird very quickly, but it was really unsettled and didn't stop moving for the first half an hour or so - it must have just flown in. We got some good initial views that confirmed Dave's ID, but photography was difficult. I was really lucky to get these flight shots from a huge distance - surprising my old camera focused on the bird:

Isabelline Wheatear 

This is the original:

But as the first birders arrived, the bird settled down more or less, associating with two Northern Wheatears and performed rather well. We were gentle with it, hence the poor record shots. I think later on some photographers managed to get closer to it.

White underwing coverts, for what it's worth

This is Dave the finder - well done Dave! He asked to remain in the shadows

First birders on site

Not for the first time in the UK, I was in the scene of a big UK rarity that is a common bird in Israel. It is the first twitchable for Norfolk, so I really 'got in' and shared the excitement:

Me and The Driver

There was also a Pallas's Warbler and a Barred Warbler in the same are, but it was getting busy and we wanted to leave so didn't see them. We knew that with the growing crowd at the wheatear site, we will have all the other North Norfolk sites to ourselves. So we headed east towards Holkham Pines through the dunes, but first an obligatory visit to the rotting 12 m Fin Whale that had washed up on the beach a couple of days ago - we smelled it from a mile away. What a fascinating beast though! So sad to see it dead and dissected.

The eastern side of BO dunes was actually pretty good. More thrushes, an obliging male Mealy Redpoll, three Waxwings that flew over calling, a beautiful Shore Lark that refused to play ball, Jack Snipe and The Driver's bird of the day - GREAT WHITE EGRET ;-)
In the pines not much, heard a Yellow-browed Warbler.

 Mealy Redpoll

 Shore Lark

Great day to be out!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sibe Accentor

Like half of the UK, I left home early with my Norwich mates Dave, Phil and Mikee and headed towards Spurn. Thanks to road closures on the A16 we got there about an hour after dawn. During the first hour when we were still on the road there was positive news of the bird but negative news about the scene - the words 'henious' and 'carnage' were used by some people on site broadcasting back to us. But when we got there we found the scene exceptionally well run by Spurn Bird Observatory staff and volunteers. We got on the bird quickly and it showed so well, as mega rarities always should. What a stunning little bird.

It was in fact a lifer for me - I guess for many others too.  At first the light was poor, so after we had our first satisfying views we decided to do some birding and return later if the light improves. Birding at Spurn was not easy today. An estimated 1400 birders dispersed into the limited birding sites of the peninsula. I felt rather claustrophobic with all the birders around. But it was fabulous nonetheless. The were tons of birds about - constant movement of birds in the air and on the ground. Mainly thrushes - literally thousands of Redwing (including Icelandics) and Song Thrushes, smaller numbers of Fieldfare and few Ring Ouzels. Some fields were just carpeted with thrushes. Many hundreds of Goldcrests and Robins in the bushes too.
 I love Fieldfares

There was a good choice of other juicy rarities about - Several Dusky Warblers, Pallas's Warbler, Olive-backed Pipit, a few Little Buntings. But I tried to stay away from the CROWDS and avoided seeing those rarities. I didn't see much myself but enjoyed birding very much. We did have what might have been a new Little Bunting, and heard one Yellow-browed Warbler, added Sibe Chiffchaff, Firecrest and Shore Lark, not bad.
Before heading back home rather early we went for seconds of the accentor - much fewer people and I could invest just a little more in photography. Light was still shit and the bird wasn't really posing. It showed down to 5 m but was constantly feeding on the ground and never posed nicely like the Shetland bird. But I really can't complain. A great bird, and this October is a special month to be remembered.
Good to meet lots of friends on site - in fact the entire Birdfair was there. And I wanted to thank again the stellar team of Spurn Bird Observatory for their excellent job making sure that the bird is not disturbed (it didn't bother about humans at all) and that all visitors left satisfied.

The queue

The bird was in this garden in the back

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Grey Seals

A quick post with some images of Grey Seals from Horsey I took on Sunday. Nice stroll with the family. Stunning rainbow. Few birds, 1 Yellow-browed Warbler and a Tree Pipit.

Crooked panorama

Great Black-backed Gull pride

Thursday, October 6, 2016

5 bars! Eastern Crowned Warbler!

Phew, what a day that was. Yesterday evening the news of an Eastern Crowned Warbler at Bempton Cliffs broke. I had planned a morning's birding with Terry a long time ago, which I didn't want to give up, plus I had stuff to do in the afternoon, so I peacefully (or not?) accepted that I am not going to see this mega bird. So as planned, Nick and I left Norwich early and met up with Terry and Marie at Warham Greens. We walked from Stiffkey almost to Wells. It was, well, alright. There were some thrushes about - mainly song and fewer Redwing, but one brief Ring Ouzel upgraded the thrush quality. Apart for that two Merlins, Peregrine, a large flock of 300 Goldies with no yank. During the morning I got a lift offer to see the warbler, but it was just too complicated for me to go. But then the news of a Black-browed Albatross from Bempton killed me and I had to go. That's it. I cancelled afternoon's plans and met up with Rob. The highlight of the morning, however, waited for us on the track driving out of Warham Greens - this surprising and very tame Snow Bunting:

The 4 hour drive up to Bempton was alright, with news of the warbler still showing pumping us with Adrenalin. We got to the site, greeted some friends there, and waited for the bird to show. It had been absent for some time, and we spent another half an hour or so searching for it. And then it showed - what a magical bird. Phew. Wow. Boom! Besides being a monster WP mega, it is a sweet phylloscopus, very bright and patterned. Clean white below, bold and angular supercilium that reaches back almost all the way to the nape, bright green secondaries and rump, pale legs, that massive, pale-based bill, pale legs... And, oh, that crown stripe. Doesn't it sound like I am in love with this bird? Well yes I am. 

Eastern Crowned Warbler (Phylloscopus coronatus)

Sadly I am not in love with myself as a photographer today. The bird performed as it was expected to - it showed well, on and off, for the next hour or so, feeding actively in good light conditions, low down in the sycamores. But the combination of slow camera and slow photographer resulted in too many blurred, out of focus, badly exposed or simply empty images. I did not 'nail' it as I should have. But c'est la vie. I managed these half-decent shots, that together give a good impression of the bird.

We did not see an albatross today, but there were lots of other birds about. Nearby there was a Greenish Warbler, but we didn't have time to go for it. A few Yellow-browed Warbler and many Chiffchaffs shared the same grove by the carpark. There were Redwing and Brambling flying around. Great stuff.

Hats off to David Aitken, RSPB Bempton Cliffs reserve manager. He found the bird, and his welcoming and friendly attitude made everyone's experience brilliant. Thanks David! And many thanks to Rob for the lift and driving.