Tag Archives: Dusky Warbler

Scillies – October 2020

With tours on hold again due to the latest UK Covid lockdown (we hope to restart again as soon as lockdown ends), I thought I would write a blog post about my recent trip to the Isles of Scilly – something to read as the winter nights draw in! This was the 25th year I have stayed on Tresco, with only one or two missed years, and we spent 12 days on the island(s) this year after a couple of unplanned extensions, from 17th-29th October.

This year’s trip started badly. With lots of talk ahead of time about the possibility of a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown over half term, we brought forward our departure by two days. So we drove down on Friday night and were just having coffee early on Saturday morning, before the heliport opened, when news came through that a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (aka Rufous Bush Chat) had just been found back in Norfolk. Even worse, it was at Stiffkey, about 15 minutes from home and a site I visit regularly, including on Friday morning!

Things didn’t get any better as we checked in for our 8.30am helicopter flight to St Mary’s. This is the first year of the new helicopter service and we thought we would try it out. As we sat in the lounge, the helicopter was towed out onto the landing pad, started up and promptly shut down again. After the engineers had stared under the bonnet for a bit, it was towed back into the hangar. We were then informed that there was a technical fault with the helicopter – although we weren’t told that it had already been out of action for most of the previous two days! With only one helicopter leased to run the service, there is no alternative when it goes wrong – a bit of a disadvantage compared to some of the other travel options available like Skybus.

With it being a Saturday, if we didn’t travel today we wouldn’t get over until Monday, losing two days of our trip. We were offered no other option but to travel on the MV Scillonian (rather than putting us on a Skybus flight instead), which would still lose us the best part of a day. Despite the boat being much cheaper than the helicopter tickets, we were refused a refund of the difference and were told we couldn’t book ourselves on the boat and take a refund on the cancelled flight. Not great customer service and not a good first impression for the new helicopter service – an experience we would certainly bear in mind before booking on it again.

When we got down to the Scillonian, we had to wait on the quay because we didn’t have any tickets. When we finally got on board, we took our seats up on deck as it started to drizzle! Thankfully things improved from there, as the skies cleared from the west as we steamed out of the harbour at 10.25. The crossing was unusually calm – good for those with sensitive stomachs, but it did mean there were not so many birds today, aside from the regular Gannets, Kittiwakes and little flocks of auks, and two Arctic Skuas as we neared the islands.

It was mid afternoon before we finally got over to Tresco and were transferred to the cottage where we were staying. After a very late lunch, there was just time for a quick walk round the island. The first impression was rather quiet bird-wise. There had been a good arrival of American birds the week before, but they had gradually dwindled, moved on in the clear weather. With a run of easterlies since, most of the best birds arriving had been on the other side of the country. Still, there were a couple of lingering rarities remaining on St Agnes, so I resolved to head over there tomorrow.

After a quick walk round early morning, which yielded a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers and a small flock of six Common Crossbills flying over as the highlights, I met fellow Tresco regular Steve Broyd on the quay at New Grimsby for the 10.15 boat to St Agnes, and we were joined by John who was staying in the New Inn.

There was no news of either of our targets by the time we arrived on St Agnes and we made our way down to Horse Point fearing the worst. Thankfully just as we were scouring the area looking for the American Buff-bellied Pipit someone called us over to say they had just refound it. We watched it for some time, feeding on the short grass between the rocks and low stunted clumps of bracken and brambles. The bird was mostly on its own but sometimes loosely associating with Meadow Pipits.

American Buff-bellied Pipit – feeding on the short grass at Horse Point

There have been 48 previous records of American Buff-bellied Pipit in Britain up to the end of 2019, so they are fairly regular here these days. This was the third I have seen on the Isles of Scilly, but the first since 2012, so always good to have a refresher, particularly as they can turn up anywhere, not just in the SW.

While we were watching the Buff-bellied Pipit, news came through that the ‘Eastern Stonechat‘ had been refound on Gugh, the neighbouring island attached to St Agnes by a bar. Thankfully the tide was low, allowing us to cross, so we made our way over there next. There were only a couple of other photographers present and the bird was now showing really well in the tall bracken, flicking round catching insects.

Eastern Stonechat‘ is the current term used for two aggregated species – Siberian Stonechat (Saxicola maurus) and Stejneger’s Stonechat (S. stejnegeri). Only recently treated as separate species, the authorities currently require a DNA test to determine which is which (and we had neglected to bring a DNA testing lab with us!). But it may transpire that they are fairly easily separable in the field, and some individuals certainly appear to be distinctive enough. This one looked like a slam dunk Siberian Stonechat (maurus) to my eyes, pale and frosty, with a pale peachy-coloured rump.

Siberian Stonechat – a lovely pale frosty individual
Siberian Stonechat – with a pale peachy-coloured rump

It was a lovely sunny day now and there seemed to be birds on the move. There were several Chiffchaffs flycatching in the nearby pittosporum and others appeared to be making their way through the bracken and brambles. There had been a report of a Red-breasted Flycatcher on Gugh earlier, so we decided to explore. We didn’t find the flycatcher – it turned out the directions given were not especially accurate and we had looked in the wrong place – but we spent an enjoyable couple of hours wandering round Gugh.

We still had over an hour before our boat back was supposed to leave, so we decided to cross back to St Agnes and circle round via The Parsonage. As we walked along the road towards the front wall, we could hear a distinctive call, a repeated ‘tsk, tsk’ rather like someone tutting, coming from the front garden. It was a Dusky Warbler! It had gone quiet when we got to the wall and looked over, and someone walked round the house and went in through the front door.

We stopped to scan the garden – a Pied Flycatcher and a Spotted Flycatcher were flitting around in the trees above. Further along, from the top of the driveway, there were several thrushes under the apple trees and one or Blackcaps. As I was looking through them, something small shot across through the foreground of my bins. Steve saw where it landed, in the far corner of the garden, and announced it was a Pallas’s Warbler! As I got onto it, I noticed some movement in the pittosporum just behind and the Dusky Warbler popped out briefly.

We watched the Pallas’s Warbler as it fed in the ivy in the sunshine, hovering and flashing its lemon-yellow rump, before it disappeared up into the trees behind the annexe. There was a Yellow-browed Warbler in there too. Then the Dusky Warbler started calling again, from the hedge behind the apple trees and we had fleeting views as it flicked in and out several times, before making its way round behind the house.

Several people had gathered here now, and the Dusky Warbler had disappeared back into the tangles in the front garden, where we could still hear it calling on and off. It was time for us to make our way back to the quay to catch our boat back to Tresco. What an amazingly productive hour it had been at The Parsonage!

There had been several Little Buntings on Tresco over the last week, and one was refound while we were on St Agnes, behind New Grimsby along the track up to Castle Down. By the time we got back, it had disappeared – there were lots of people out walking, up and down the track. But the following morning I found it again, before it got too busy. It was initially in the gardens in front of the Coastguards Cottages, but eventually moved back to the track where it proved to be very obliging.

Little Bunting – this very obliging bird was lingered behind New Grimsby

Things then settled down over the next few days and there seemed to be little in the way of new arrivals. The excitement of yesterday’s Dusky and Pallas’s Warblers did not continue. With a strong southerly airflow from the Mediterranean building, I had high hopes for some overshoots but a lone Glossy Ibis on 21st was the only notable new bird. After touring St Agnes, Gugh and St Mary’s it made the briefest of visits to Tresco mid afternoon. Thankfully it flew in past me and landed on the grassy heliport, just in time for Steve to see it as he waited for his flight off. It only stayed three minutes before flying off towards Carn Near, and was back on St Mary’s soon after.

Glossy Ibis – flew in and landed on Tresco heliport for just three minutes!

The southerly airflow also brought with it a small arrival of Black Redstarts. I usually see them here at this time of year, in variable numbers depending on the prevailing weather conditions. Most of them are grey female/first winters, but a smart male Black Redstart took up residence in the churchyard at Old Grimsby for a couple of days.

Black Redstart – this smart male spent a couple of days in the churchyard

I had taken with me a small portable Skinner 20W actinic moth trap but the southerly airflow failed to produce much in the way of migrant moths on Tresco, despite high hopes. Two Palpita vitrealis (Olive-tree Pearl) were all I had to show for my efforts, despite there being a couple of Crimson Speckled on other islands. This year proved to be rather quiet for moths.

Palpita vitrealis – the only migrant moths I managed to find on Tresco

The next couple of days felt a little like Groundhog Day. There were 5 or 6 lingering Yellow-browed Warblers on Tresco and the variety was provided by which I could find where on different days. A couple of Ring Ouzels were in the fields between New and Old Grimsby at the start of our stay but seemed to move on after a few days in the calm, clear weather.

Ring Ouzel – there were a couple on the island at the start of our stay

There were small numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings on the island throughout and the lull in new arrivals did at least give me a chance to spend some time studying some of the Redwings more closely. Many of them were noticeably darker than the Scandinavian birds we typically get back in Norfolk, more heavily streaked and blotched below and with more noticeable dark markings in the undertail coverts. They looked like Icelandic Redwings, of the race coburni, though there was clearly a lot of variation which only added to the interest.

Presumed Icelandic Redwing – of the race coburni

I have blogged before about the changes I have seen on Tresco over the years. This year, my wanderings around the island were continually disturbed by the grinding noise of the tractor flailing the pittosporum hedges. In places they are now getting very thin, as the flailing goes ever deeper each year (it must be no fun for the tractor driver just to trim one year’s growth – it makes a much better noise if you can really dig it in to the thicker branches!) and the cattle are pushing through and making big gaps. Perhaps this is deliberate – I am sure if the hedges were to die then the larger fields would make it easier for managing the cattle.

Flailing – the hedges on Tresco were taking a bashing again

I remembered fondly my first visit to Tresco back in the 1980s. The fields along Pool Road were still used for growing bulbs and vegetables back then and by October were full of weeds. The fields were smaller and the hedges overgrown, full of brambles. There were lots of birds. Now, with a combination of improved grass and overcut hedges, they are much less attractive to wildlife.

For many years, the fields at Borough Farm were still managed the old way, but since they have been taken back under the control of the Tresco Estate for the last couple of years they are now grassed over and the hedges have been cut back here too. I have fond memories of all the birds I have seen here over the years as well but they are sadly increasingly a shadow of their former selves too. Shame. It really brought it home spending time on St Agnes this year, which is still more like the Scilly Isles of old (as are most of the other islands), with weedy fields and overgrown hedges, full of birds.

There are still some good, birdy places on Tresco though. The areas around the Great Pool and Abbey Pool are some of the most promising still, but despite my best efforts, I hadn’t yet managed to find anything unusual here this year. A Firecrest and a late Reed Warbler in the sallows, along with 2-3 of the Yellow-browed Warblers. Shelduck, Shoveler, Pintail and Tufted Duck put in appearances. The three Black Swans which have taken up residence here this year provided a welcome distraction.

Black Swan – one of three which have taken up residence this year

The wind swung round to the west on 23rd and the weather became more unsettled. It was wet and windy on 24th with the arrival of a weather system straight across the Atlantic bringing a passing weather front. Late in the day a Rose-breasted Grosbeak was found on Gugh. The change in the weather had done the trick and brought with it some new birds from North America!

There was no way to get to Gugh that day, but I resolved to head over to St Agnes on the scheduled boat tomorrow morning. Louis Cross, another Tresco regular and friend of mine, had recently arrived and I told him of my plans that evening. We bumped into each other first thing the following morning and spent an hour or so birding around the Great Pool. An early boat had gone across from St Mary’s to St Agnes and now negative news came back – there was no sign of the Grosbeak. I changed my mind – I figured there would be lots of birders on St Agnes and I had a better chance of finding something good on Tresco, brought in on the same weather system. Louis had arranged to go to St Agnes with his family, so decided he would go anyway.

Needless to day, I failed to find anything on Tresco that morning – a Reed Bunting by Abbey Pool was the only new bird. I was already kicking myself for not going to St Agnes when news came through mid morning of a Red-eyed Vireo there. Then, after heading back to the cottage for lunch, I had a call from Louis on St Agnes. Words to the effect of ‘I’m looking at a bird and I’m not sure what it is’ but with a bit more ‘colour’, I immediately knew it had to be something good!

Louis sent me a photo, taken with his phone off the back of his camera, but it came through upside down and there was a reflection across the screen so it was hard to make out. He had already mentioned the possibility of it being a North American bunting – and when he sent me another, better photo it looked good for Indigo Bunting. I quickly downloaded a photo of the Ramsey Island bird from 1996 and sent it to him, while reassuring him that a 1st winter female Indigo needn’t have any blue in the tail, which seemed to be his main reservation. Then someone he had called over to the see the bird posted a photo on the Scilly WhatsApp group and the news went out.

Cue scramble to get to St Agnes! I could see people over on the quay at New Grimsby waiting for one of the St Mary’s boats, so while I cycled over to see if I could get over via St Mary’s, my wife tried to contact Tresco Boat Services. Despite it being a Sunday, she got through and managed to arrange a jet boat special to St Agnes. The game was on! On my way back to the quay, I scooped up a fellow Norfolk birder who was over on Tresco from St Mary’s and we had a nervous wait as the jet boat failed to appear. ‘Straight away’, turned into ‘3pm’ and eventually at 3.15pm finally the boat appeared.

We were whisked across to St Agnes (despite a big swell once we got out of the lee of Samson) and Louis met us on the quay to lead us to the bird. Several birders over from St Mary’s were leaving but there was still a small group watching the Indigo Bunting which was feeding on the path by the old bonfire with a couple of Chaffinches.

Indigo Bunting – feeding with a Chaffinch

Indigo Buntings breed in eastern North America and winter from southern Florida down to northern South America. They are extremely rare visitors here with only two previously accepted records – apart from the 1996 Ramsey Island bird, one was photographed on a bird table on Anglesey in May 2013 but only identified retrospectively. The adult males are bright indigo blue in summer, but first winters, particularly young females, can lack any blue at all.

Indigo Bunting – only the third record for Britain

A fantastic find by Louis – many congratulations to him – and it was nice to be able to share the moment with him, watching it together. We even had time to nip round and see the Red-eyed Vireo nearby, another vagrant from North America, before our jet boat returned to take us back to Tresco. Not surprisingly, we had a couple of celebratory pints in the New Inn afterwards (before we both had to go back to family duties)!

We were supposed to be leaving the next day, but it felt like there had to be more to find on the islands. With all the excitement on the Scillies, my elder son, Luke, announced that he was coming down from Spurn for a few days with a couple of his friends, Jacob & Bethan. We decided to stay on too, although it required some hasty rearrangement of travel plans and we would have to move cottage in the morning.

I got up early to pack up, and figured I had enough time for a quick couple of hours birding before we had to move cottage at 9.30am. I thought the pools offered the best chance to find something in the time available, so rather than setting off on foot I cycled down to Swarovski Hide. There was no sign of anything on the Great Pool and the bushes along Pool Road were pretty quiet as I cycled down to the far end. I left the bike propped up against the bushes and had a walk round the bushes.

As I started to walk over towards Abbey Pool, I noticed I had a message from Dick Filby on St Mary’s. He had photographed a rainbow which appeared to end on the south end of Tresco and had joked ‘And today’s #ScillyBirds rarity is awarded to….Abbey Pool, Tresco!’. Little did he know how right he was! I had a quick look over the bracken on the east side of Abbey Pool, but couldn’t see anything of note, so cut across round the woodpile and out to Pentle Beach.

When I got back to the SE corner of Abbey Pool, I walked through the bracken to check along the near edge of the water. I could see a wader on the shore now, right up in the NE corner. It seemed to have yellow legs, but I just had my bins and camera with me and it was too far to be sure. I had a pretty good idea what it was, but I spent the next 10 minutes or so working my way carefully up along the shore, using the vegetation as cover so as not to disturb it. I needn’t have worried. As I got up towards it, the juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs turned and walked back along the shore towards me, before walking past about three feet from me! It was too close to focus on!

Lesser Yellowlegs – this juvenile was a nice find on Abbey Pool

So the rainbow and Dick were both right – the Scilly rarity of the day was indeed on Abbey Pool! I messaged him back with a photo. Louis came over to see it and then I headed back rather later than planned. Lesser Yellowlegs is another visitor from North America, not as rare as the others but a nice find nonetheless.

It really felt like there should be more North American vagrants to find on the Scillies, given the birds which had appeared over the last couple of days, but we couldn’t find anything else on Tresco that day and the other islands came up blank too. The Indigo Bunting had flown off before Luke and friends arrived that day, so we went back to St Agnes the following day in the hope it might reappear. It didn’t, but we did finally manage some great views of the Red-eyed Vireo just before we had to leave.

Red-eyed Vireo – finally showed well just as we were about to leave

The sun had come out by the time we got back to Tresco and we figured the light would be great at Abbey Pool. With the last of the birders over from St Mary’s departing as we arrived, we had the Lesser Yellowlegs to ourselves now. The gusty wind had whipped up foam which had piled up along the shore, and it was great to watch the Yellowlegs feeding, picking at the foam, as it made its way up and down the edge of the water, at times just a couple of metres away from us.

Lesser Yellowlegs – feeding in the foam whipped up along the shore

It was very windy the next day, as ex-hurricane Epsilon came in across the Atlantic, bringing with it some huge swells. The combination of the wind and swell produced some impressive waves which were amazing to watch from the top of Castle Down as they battered the north end of Tresco, Bryher and crashed over the lighthouse on the top of Round Island.

Waves – striking the north end of Tresco
Waves – crashing up and over Round Island!

On my way back from watching the waves in the morning, I called in at Gimble Porth to catch up with the bunting double – a Lapland Bunting and another Little Bunting were both feeding with the finches in the fields there and eventually showed very well. With no inter-island boats due to the weather, we had them to ourselves today.

Little Bunting – showed well with the finches at Gimble Porth
Lapland Bunting – also with the finches at Gimble Porth

Epsilon did bring with it some more North American vagrants across the Atlantic, but unfortunately not to the Isles of Scilly. We were almost out of time again anyway and had to content ourselves with a couple of late additions to the Scillies 2020 list – a smart male Golden Pheasant along Abbey Drive last thing that afternoon and the Hooded Crow which had been around all week but finally put in an appearance as we were getting ready to leave the following morning.

Golden Pheasant – feeding by Abbey Drive at dusk

Unfortunately our departure from Tresco was to be no less eventful than our arrival! Not the fault of the helicopter service this time, but Tresco Estate. We had waved Luke, Jacob & Bethan off on the Firethorn in the morning, as they were flying from St Mary’s, and after lunch in the New Inn we walked over to the heliport. We had left our luggage outside the cottage for delivery to the heliport, but when we arrived there was no sign of it. We were repeatedly assured it was on its way, but the longer we waited the more worried we became. Eventually just two of the six bags there should have been arrived!

We were spun a right old web of stories and excuses before eventually it all unravelled. The Estate office had clearly made a mistake and somehow thought all our luggage was Luke and his friends’ (despite them having taken their own bags), so unbeknownst to any of us they had put our bags on Firethorn and we had unknowingly waved them off with Luke earlier! Despite there being no one on St Mary’s to claim them, they had just left all our bags there on the quay. Once they realised the mistake, presumably when we arrived at the heliport, rather than confess and ask us how many bags there were, they had tried to cover it up while they sent a jet boat over to St Mary’s to try to find them. The person sent over had found two bags and assumed – wrongly – that was all of them.

Our helicopter was now due to depart, so I had to send the rest of the family on ahead while I tried to track down the rest of our bags. Another jet boat was dispatched and the rest of lost baggage was eventually found and returned. Luke had run over to the quay on St Mary’s and was able to confirm the correct bags were on their way. I would like to say that the Estate Office staff apologised for all the upset and delay it caused us but instead they pointed out how much it had inconvenienced them having to send two jet boats to collect the luggage they had lost! The best I can say is that in 25 years of staying on Tresco, this is the first time we have had problems like this, so hopefully it was a one-off and will never happen again. And I eventually managed to catch the next helicopter across to Penzance, together with the four bags, and we were only an hour late setting off on the long drive back to Norfolk.

So leaving aside the unusually chaotic travel experience this year, looking back on the trip now and scanning through the great list of birds seen it was well worth the effort again! Perhaps one to think about as a possibility for a future tour, once Covid is behind us?

17th Oct 2016 – Away Day to Spurn

Not a tour today, but a day off and a very rare day trip out of Norfolk to Spurn in East Yorkshire for a spot of birding.

Siberian Accentors breed in Siberia, from the just west of the Urals east to the far NE, and migrate down to Korea and eastern China for the winter. Before this year, there had never been one seen in the UK before. There were 32 records in Europe up to 2015, of which over half had been in Finland and Sweden (though none in those countries for the last 12 & 16 years respectively). Here in the UK, it had got to the point where we thought there might be a barrier in the form of the North Sea – perhaps these accentors did not like sea crossings?

That all changed on 9th October when a Siberian Accentor was found on mainland Shetland. It was a great record, but too far away for many mainland birders and it departed quickly, after its second day. At that stage, the Shetland bird was the fourth in western Europe this year. Since then, things have really gone mad, probably reflecting a very large high pressure system over northern Europe which persisted for an unusually long time in the first half of October, bringing winds from way off to the east during the period in which they were migrating. More and more have been seen, and there have now been five different Siberian Accentors in the UK. At the time of writing, 80 have been seen in western Europe in the last two weeks and the total is increasing daily. Amazing!

One of the UK’s Siberian Accentors was found at Easington, on the Spurn peninsula in East Yorkshire late on Thursday 13th. Like the Shetland bird, it could easily have moved on quickly, particularly with bright and clear conditions overnight on Saturday and Sunday. However, it was still present on Sunday night…

We set off early in the morning on Monday, trying to avoid some of the worst of the traffic. At around 7.20am, we got the news we were hoping for – the Spurn Siberian Accentor was still present, the quest was on. After negotiating the late rush hour traffic around Hull, we got to Easington at 10am and walked the short distance to where the bird has been feeding. A small number of birders were gathered and within seconds we were watching a Siberian Accentor – a bird none of us had seen anywhere in the world and a near mythical species for me when I was growing up. Amazing!

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6o0a4727Siberian Accentor – the second ever to be recorded in UK

After we had had our first session watching the Siberian Accentor, news came through that an Isabelline Wheatear had been found in a field just a short walk away. Breeding from southern Russia across to Mongolia, down to Turkey in the south west, and wintering in Africa and across to NW India, they are rare visitors here. Though with 34 records in UK up to the end of 2015, they are not as rare as the accentor. Still it would be a great bird to see.

We walked over to where the Isabelline Wheatear had been and a small crowd was already gathered. The bird was there, feeding out in a cultivated field, with a regular (Northern) Wheatear nearby for comparison. Isabelline Wheatear can be a tricky bird to identify, with some pale Northern Wheatears looking confusingly similar at first glance. This bird was not the brightest Isabelline Wheatear we have seen, which made it all the more interesting to see. There are some key identification criteria for this species, including the much wider black terminal band on the spread tail, the colour and pattern of the wing coverts and the spacing of the primary tips and all fitted Isabelline Wheatear. A real bonus bird for our visit here.

6o0a4623Isabelline Wheatear – a large, pale wheatear

6o0a4581Isabelline Wheatear – note the very broad black terminal band on the tail

We had just enjoyed a very good weekend in Norfolk, with lots of Siberian waifs and strays being blown in on the easterly winds along with large numbers of commoner migrants, but by all accounts Spurn had also enjoyed a huge fall of birds. After two clear nights, a lot of those had moved on but there were still plenty of other birds for us to see. After a second session back watching the Siberian Accentor it was nice to have an opportunity to explore the rest of the Spurn area for the remainder of the day.

There has been a large arrival of Tundra Bean Geese in recent days and on our way between the Siberian Accentor and the Isabelline Wheatear we had noticed a flock of around 10 in a stubble field beside the road. On our way back, we stopped for a proper look. They had obviously been feeding in the wet field, as their bills were caked in mud, mostly obscuring the distinctive orange bill band. However, the structure of the bill on a Tundra Bean Geese is distinctive, very different from the bill of a Pink-footed Goose. Through the scope we could just about make out a little orange on the bills of a couple of them.

img_7873Tundra Bean Goose – 1 of around 10 in a stubble field near Easington

A brief stop at Kilnsea failed to locate the Pallas’s Warbler in the bushes in the car park of the Crown & Anchor, but it was rather windy while we were there. A Glossy Ibis had dropped in to Kilnsea Wetlands earlier but there was no sign of it as we passed. However, when we parked up at Canal Bank, we were told it was now out on the saltmarsh on the edge of the Humber Estuary but out of view. Shortly after we got out of the car, it flew up and circled round, its glossy wings shining green in the sunshine, before dropping down again. We were fortunate to catch it, as a few minutes later, the Glossy Ibis flew off again and continued on its way south, crossing the Humber from Spurn Point to Lincolnshire.

There was no sign of any Jack Snipe from the hide at Canal Scrape, although a Water Rail stopped to have a bathe on the edge of the reeds. We didn’t stop long here though, as time was pressing and we wanted to walk out all the way to Spurn Point, three miles away. Ideally we would have had more time to explore the area, but it was already early afternoon and we were told we should be back at the Warren by around 5pm to avoid being stranded, as the high tide later today could cover the breach in the peninsula.

There were lots of areas of scrub which were crying out to be explored as we walked down towards the Point, but we had to avoid the temptation and crack on to the end. Even just along the ‘road’, there were still good numbers of Robins and thrushes, especially Redwing, and a few Goldcrests. Some of the Robins were particularly tame!

robinRobin – a very tame one (photo credit Luke Nash)

By the time we got to the Point, we knew we didn’t have much time. On the walk down, we were told that there were still a couple of Dusky Warblers in the bushes and helpfully a couple of locals pointed us in the right direction. They can be particularly skulking, but with the wind having dropped, one of the Dusky Warblers decided to perform amazingly for us in the afternoon sunshine. Although it did go missing at times, we watched it flycatching in the bushes and hopping around on the grass! Interestingly, it was not the best marked Dusky Warbler, with a rather subdued pale supercilium. However, it called fairly regularly which helped us to locate it.

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6o0a5188Dusky Warbler – a very showy bird at Spurn Point

In order to get back over the breach in the time we were told, it was going to be a brisk walk back. We had a quick look on the way for the Olive-backed Pipit which had been on the Point earlier, but there was no immediate sign so we didn’t linger. A brief and light squally shower blew through as we strode over the narrows, though thankfully the wind was now at our backs. It did also create the most stunning double rainbow, the inner one with amazingly saturated colours, which hung just a short distance ahead of us on our way.

There was still just enough time to stop at Kilnsea in the last of the afternoon light before we had to head for home. We found a few people in the churchyard looking for the Pallas’s Warbler, but we were told it hadn’t been seen for over an hour. The wind had dropped a little and there was now some late sun on the trees, after the rain had passed through, but it was still a bit cool. A Chiffchaff promised something more exciting until it came out from the leaves to where we could see it.

There appeared to be something else in the back of the trees, so we walked around to the gate the other side, where it was more sheltered from the wind even if in the shade. Scanning the trees this side, we found another Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests in the sycamores before we got a glimpse of the Pallas’s Warbler among the thicker, greener leaves of an ash tree right above us. We called the others over and had lovely views of it just above our heads – our favourite ‘seven-striped sprite’. It was a great way to end our brief visit to Spurn, watching the Pallas’s Warbler flitting around in the tree.

Then with the light starting to fade, it was back in the car for the long journey home. What an amazing day!

15th Oct 2016 – Eastern Promise, Day 2

Day 2 of a 3-day long weekend of Autumn Migration tours today. The easterly winds of the last couple of weeks finally swung round to the south overnight, but there were some new birds arriving overnight and some others still to catch up with. The change in the wind direction meant it was a bit drier, after the morning mist cleared, and brighter and warmer in the afternoon.

It was a bit misty and cool as we arrived at Holkham. We could hear Pink-footed Geese calling watched as a flock disappeared off inland from the grazing marshes, heading off to feed on the fields. In the holm oaks right on Lady Anne’s Drive, we came across a small tit flock, the usual Long-tailed Tits, other tits and Goldcrests, but we couldn’t find anything else with them.

As we walked west on the south side of the pines, a variety of thrushes flew out of the trees – Song Thrushes, Redwings and Blackbirds. There were finches on the move again today – with Bramblings, Siskins and Redpolls all flying over calling. However, they were eclipsed in number by the Starlings today, with a steady stream of flocks flying west right through the morning, some numbering several hundred birds.

We stopped at the gate before Washington Hide to have a scan of the grazing marshes and watch all the activity. We were just turning to leave when one of the group spotted a Great White Egret approaching. It circled over the fields in front of us a couple of times before disappearing back towards the trees.

6o0a4149Great White Egret – circled over the grazing marshes

The sycamores by Washington Hide were rustling in the breeze and still cool in the morning mist. There was no sign of any tit flock here and we couldn’t find any warblers either, just a couple of Goldcrests hiding in among the leaves. However, as we walked up a Redstart started calling and showed very well, flying backwards and forwards between the trees, perching on the lower branches.

6o0a4162Redstart – showed very well by Washington Hide

While we were watching the Redstart, we heard Bearded Tits calling on and off. Then we just caught sight of a flock as it dropped out of the sky and down into the reeds. We couldn’t see them from the boardwalk by the hide, but as we got back down onto the main path we heard them again and looked up to see six Bearded Tits flying round in circles high over the reeds. Even though they look like quite weak fliers, they can disperse over considerable distances, particularly at this time of year. As we stood watching them, a flock of 80 Redwings flew out of the trees and off south across the marshes. Lots of birds on the move today!

At this point, we heard news that a Dusky Warbler had been found out in Burnham Overy Dunes. This would be a great bird to see, so we set off to walk over that way. We assumed that we could have a better look for warblers in the trees on the way back, once it had brightened up a little. We did hear a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers on the way through the trees, and got a brief look at one when it came to the edge of the sallows in which it was hiding.

Coming out into the dunes, we didn’t stop to search the bushes, but pressed on west. Someone was walking through the top of the dunes and as he went was  flushing lots of thrushes, which flew across in front of us to the bushes beyond the fence. Several Redwings landed in a bush in front of us. We noticed a blackbird with silvery wings heading towards us and when it turned we could just make out a paler off-white gorget – it was a Ring Ouzel. It saw us standing there and circled round, before dropping down again in the dunes further over. A couple of Stonechats perched up in the bushes by the fence.

We made our way quickly over to where the Dusky Warbler had first been found, but there was no sign of it. It had apparently been moving west, so we decided to check out all the bushes out towards Gun Hill. There was no sign of it out there, but we did see another Redstart.

After having a good look round, we happened to notice another birder only 200m or so back east in the dunes from us who suddenly started to hurry back towards the boardwalk. There were still quite a few other people looking for the Dusky Warbler out further west of us too, towards Gun Hill, but there was no shout in our direction. As he passed three more birders who had just been sitting down, they got up and followed him, so we suspected something might have been found. However, checking the news services there was nothing to indicate what it might be. On a hunch, we set off in the direction he had gone, but when we got back towards the boardwalk there was no sign of anyone there. Perhaps he was just in a hurry to get back?

We started to check the bushes this way again, while another birder passed us by and walked back over the boardwalk into the dunes. After a few seconds, he very kindly ran back up to the top of the dunes and shouted over – a small crowd had been sitting in the dunes watching the Dusky Warbler the other side, without telling anyone. Not especially helpful!

We hurried over there, but by the time we arrived, the Dusky Warbler was on the move again. We could hear it calling but it flicked out the back of the bushes where it had been performing for the crowd and flew over the fence beyond. We could just see it flitting around in some vegetation the other side, before it flew further back and then flew off east behind the dunes. Most of the group managed to get a look at it, but it would have been much better for all if the news of its relocation had been put out in a more timely fashion. A nice bird to see, but all a little frustrating!

6o0a4165Common Darter – perched on one of the group’s hats

It had brightened up by the time we got back to the pines and there were lots of insects flying around the trees on the sunny side. When we stopped, we were suddenly surrounded by several Common Darters, several of which decided to perch on people’s faces, arms and hats!

Almost at the far west end of the pines, we heard another Yellow-browed Warbler calling, but it was quite a way from the path.Walking slowly back east, we met someone who had just seen a Radde’s Warbler, but the vegetation here is very dense and after a quick look, it became clear we could struggle to relocate it. We did find yet another Yellow-browed Warbler nearby and this one showed well in an oak tree.

6o0a4170Yellow-browed Warbler – one of at least 6 we saw or heard today

It was to be the story of much of the walk back – the warmer and brighter weather had brought them all out from hiding. We heard or saw at least five Yellow-browed Warblers before we got to the crosstracks. Otherwise, there were a few Chiffchaffs now enjoying all the insects, as well as lots of Goldcrests. We did find a tit flock as we approached the crosstracks, but all we could find with it was one of the Yellow-browed Warblers.

The other side of Meals House, we found another tit flock. There had been a Pallas’s Warbler with these birds the day before yesterday, but it had not been reported since. Despite that, we thought it was most likely still with them, so we stopped to check them out. There was no sign of the Pallas’s at first, but we did find yet another Yellow-browed Warbler. Then the Long-tailed Tits set off east through the trees, with the rest of the flock following in their wake.

We set off in pursuit of the tit flock, and tried to get ahead of them on the boardwalk by Washington Hide. We succeeded but, rather than stopping in the sycamores, the whole flock flew high over the gap and disappeared into the pines the other side. We had a tantalising glimpse of a warbler as they did so. We set off after them again and they made their way very quickly east through the middle of the pines. We could hear the Long-tailed Tits calling from deep in the trees as they made their way as far as Salts Hole and then they went quiet and seemed to disappear.

While most of the group stayed on the path, a couple of us set off into the trees to see if we could find which direction they had gone. Deep into cover, we found The Long-tailed Tits were still there, but they had started feeding lower down in the evergreen holm oaks and were now just calling quietly to each other. We were standing in a small sunny clearing, but the birds were all but impossible to see in the dense foliage. Then the Pallas’s Warbler suddenly appeared right in front of us in the sunshine on the outside of the closest tree. Despite whistling, the rest of the group did not realise and by the time we ran down to tell them the Pallas’s Warbler had disappeared into the trees again.

With all the chasing after tit flocks, it was now getting on, so we made our way back to the car for a rather late lunch. Given the sunny weather, we sat outside on the picnic tables on Lady Anne’s Drive – it could almost have been summer! While we were eating, a Red Kite circled over the grazing marshes beyond. A Jackdaw perched on the post next to us and eyed our food hungrily.

6o0a4181Jackdaw – hanging round the picnic tables at lunchtime

After lunch, we drove round to Burnham Overy Staithe. A Barred Warbler had been in the bushes just the other side of the seawall from the car park for a couple of days. They can be inveterate skulkers sometimes, but this one was much more amenable. As soon as we got up onto the seawall, we could see it lumbering around in the brambles just below us. It flew up into the hedge a little further over but kept returning down to the same bushes. We spent some time enjoying watching it.

6o0a4234Barred Warbler – showed well in the bushes at Burnham Overy Staithe

Barred Warblers breed from central and eastern Europe across into Asia and winter in eastern Africa. They are annual visitors here in small numbers, usually blown off course on easterly winds. Most of the Barred Warblers which occur here are 1st winter birds, as was this one – with just faint barring on the flanks.

While we were enjoying the Barred Warbler, we could see a selection of other birds from our vantage point on the seawall. Six Swallows flew in and started hawking for insects just along from us. Out in the harbour we could see flocks of Brent Geese and lots of Little Egrets and Curlews out on the saltmarsh. A Great Black-backed Gull down in the harbour channel was wrestling with a large flatfish, trying to work out how it might be able to eat it.

We had tried for the Radde’s Warbler at Warham Greens yesterday, but it had proven impossible to see in the cool and windy conditions. With the better weather, it had seemingly been showing much better today, so we headed over there again to try our luck a second time. This time it was in – a small crowd was watching the bird as we walked up. It was hard to see , skulking in the thickets of nettles or the ivy-covered tree trunks, but with a bit of patience and perseverance, we were all able to get good views of it. It was very close, but at one point we had it only a metre or so away from us, down on the ground in the nettles. Great stuff!

6o0a4276Radde’s Warbler – skulking in the nettles

It was a great way to end the day, so we eventually had to tear ourselves away and head back to the car. As we did so, a small party of four Grey Herons flew overhead, making their way west over the track. A reminder that it is migration season and lots of birds are still on the move.