Tag Archives: Olive-backed Pipit

26th Sept-4th Oct 2019 – Shetland

Not a tour, but I spent a few days up on Shetland enjoying the delights of Autumn migration there. Here are a few highlights:

Isabelline Shrike

Isabelline Shrike – found at Levenwick on 28th Sept

An Isabelline Shrike was found at Levenwick on 28th September. An interesting bird, it was identified initially as probably a Turkestan Shrike, but lacked the strongly defined pale supercilium of that (sub)species. However, it was not a particularly good fit for Daurian Shrike either, being rather too pale below and especially on the throat, with too much contrast between the upperparts and underparts.

A pellet was collected, which hopefully will yield some DNA and might shed some light on this bird’s identity, but even the genetics of this complex group is not simple. Both Turkestan and Daurian Shrike are thought to interbreed with Red-backed Shrike, and possibly with each other, which further complicates the situation.

Eastern Stonechat

Eastern Stonechat – probably a Siberian Stonechat, maurus

An Eastern Stonechat was found the same day at Brake. The Stonechats are similarly complex, now most frequently treated as two species – Siberian and Stejneger’s Stonechats. This one looked a good fit for Siberian Stonechat, but again DNA may be required to confirm its identity (apparently someone did manage to acquire a sample).

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper – on the beach at Grutness

It was a busy day on 28th, with a Semipalmated Sandpiper found on the beach at Grutness. Coming from the opposite direction to the shrike and stonechat, it had perhaps come over from North America previously and just relocated to the beach. It remained for several days, commuting between Grutness and Pool of Virkie.

Little Bunting

Little Bunting – Sumburgh Head, also on 28th

There were several Little Buntings around throughout my visit, and I managed to catch up with a couple of them. One around the lighthouse buildings at Sumburgh Head also on 28th was very confiding.

Olive-backed Pipit

Olive-backed Pipit – found at Cunningsburgh later on 28th

Likewise, there were several Olive-backed Pipits found during my stay on the islands, but the only one I managed to catch up with rounded off my day on 28th, when we watched it creeping through the grass between the irises at Cunningsburgh.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Red-breasted Flycatcher – this one at Quendale on 27th

Similarly, there were several Red-breasted Flycatchers found throughout my stay and I managed to run into several of them.

 

Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike – a juvenile on 2nd Oct

A juvenile Red-backed Shrike on 2nd October was a lot less controversial than the Isabelline Shrike. One of two which turned up later on in the week, this one near Gott.

Barred Warbler

Barred Warbler – in the middle of Lerwick

Several Barred Warblers turned up later in the week too. I stopped off to see one in the middle of Lerwick on a shopping trip on the afternoon of 3rd, where it was gleaning insects from the tops of some sycamores around the bowling green / tennis courts.

Greenish Warbler

Greenish Warbler – minus its tail

A Greenish Warbler at Levenwick on 27th was one of two during the week, a distinctive bird lacking a tail.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler – everywhere at the start of the week

There were Yellow-browed Warblers everywhere at the start of the week – on 27th there seemed to be at least one in just about every bush. However, after a clear night, numbers thinned out considerably after 28th, but they were still seen almost daily. The commonest warbler.

Eastern Lesser Whitethroat

Eastern Lesser Whitethroat – presumably of the race blythi

Several Lesser Whitethroats seen all appeared to be birds of one of the eastern races, most likely blythi. It was a nice opportunity to get a better look at several of these interesting birds.

Bee-eater

Bee-eater – a long way north

 

A Bee-eater at Ollaberry was a nice distraction late on 29th.

Orcas

Orcas – a pod of Killer Whales in Clift Sound off Wester Quarff

But the highlight of my trip was not a bird. A pod of Orcas (Killer Whales) was sighted off St Ninian’s Isle and then Maywick heading north on the morning of 2nd. There was nowhere to look for them until Wester Quarff, much further north, so I positioned myself there, not knowing if they would come all the way up Clift Sound. It was a long wait, but eventually they appeared in the distance.

This was the so-called 027 pod of Orcas, eight in total. They took their time to get to us – by now, quite a crowd had gathered – seemingly stopping having made a kill successfully a number of times. Eventually they passed only 150-200m offshore. Amazing!

 

20th-28th Oct 2016 – Tresco Revisited

The Isles of Scilly are a great place to go birding, particularly in October. While not as good as they used to be, possibly due to a changing climate and a now more northerly atlantic storm track taking more transatlantic vagrants further north, exciting birds do still turn up. St Mary’s is the main island, where most birders have historically stayed, but I have been visiting Tresco for almost twenty years now. This October half term was no exception and once again we spent a week on the island.

6o0a5350Little Bunting – the first bird at Borough Farm, Tresco

The tone was set on the first full morning, on 21st October. Walking round the fields at Borough Farm, a small bird flew up from a weedy strip and landed in the hedge the other side. It was perched face on, but the fine black streaks on the breast and chestnut cheeks confirmed it was a Little Bunting. It has been a good year for this species in the UK, a scarce visitor from the north-eastern European taiga on its way to its wintering grounds in India and SE Asia. It is always a nice bird to find.

The Little Bunting hung around in the same field for several days. We had to wait until 24th October for our next good find. Walking around the fields at Borough Farm with fellow Tresco regular Steve Broyd, my son Luke and another of the visiting birders, we happened to be discussing how it is a good many years since there had been an Olive-backed Pipit on Tresco. They seem to still be regular on the other islands, but for some reason they don’t seem to turn up here (perhaps it is the lack of habitat, more on which later…). A couple of minutes later and a pipit flew up ahead of us from some weeds and dropped straight back down out of view. There had been a Tree Pipit here a couple of days previously so we had to check it out properly – as it crept into view, we could see it was indeed an Olive-backed Pipit, with a bold pale supercilium and pale spot on the rear of the ear coverts.

6o0a5949Olive-backed Pipit – the first we had seen on Tresco for many years

6o0a5410Tree Pipit – had been around Borough Farm a couple of days earlier

The Olive-backed Pipit flew up into the hedge and perched in the branches preening, where we could get a good look at it. Then it dropped back down into the field further along. When we had first seen it, we had noticed a second bird in the same field. As we walked a little further up the track, a Little Bunting flew out and landed in the hedge behind us.

6o0a5739Little Bunting – a second bird at Borough Farm

We had just seen the first Little Bunting fly back to its favoured field – could this be a second bird? I saw this bird again in the same place in better light early the next day and it looked much duller than the first Little Bunting. However, it was not until late that afternoon that our suspicions appeared to be confirmed and we found two Little Buntings feeding together.

6o0a6045Little Bunting – two birds together at Borough Farm on 25th

That may not be the end of the story. Looking closely at the photos, it appears that neither of the two Little Buntings on 25th October was the bird which we had first seen earlier in the week – it seems that there may have been three Little Buntings in total at Borough Farm that week!

The other highlight of the week on Tresco also appeared on 25th. There had been a Pallid Swift seen on St Mary’s the previous afternoon, but there was no sign of it there that morning. It had been mostly bright and sunny but early in the afternoon, a bit of cloud descended. I happened to bump into Steve Broyd along Pool Road and, as we stopped for a chat, Steve announced that he could see a Swift heading our way. Sure enough, it was a Pallid Swift, possibly the St Mary’s bird relocating but perhaps not impossible that it was a different one.

6o0a5885Pallid Swift – spent the afternoon of 25th October over Tresco

The Pallid Swift spent a several minutes hawking over the fields along Pool Road. As it banked and turned, it caught the light and we could see its overall brown plumage tone, the prominent white throat patch and pale face highlighting the dark ‘alien’ eye. Reeling off a few photos, I managed to capture the spread tail, with the outer tail feather (t5) short, not noticeably longer than the next one (t4). All good features of Pallid Swift.

It drifted off higher as the cloud blew through and spent an hour or so flying up and down over the trees on Middle Down. Then later in the afternoon, we found the Pallid Swift again over the other side of the island, over Old Grimsby.

One of the drawbacks of staying on Tresco is that it is not so easy to get to one of the other islands if something good turns up. There were lots of quality birds on St Mary’s and St Agnes, but unfortunately none lingered long enough for us to get over to see them this year – or even survived long enough. A Pale-legged or Sakhalin Leaf Warbler might have been the bird of the trip if we had seen it but was sadly found freshly dead on St Agnes on 21st, apparently having flown into a greenhouse window.

Two Red-flanked Bluetails were on the islands also on 21st, one on St Mary’s and one on St Agnes, but neither was present the following day. A reported Siberian Stonechat on St Mary’s the following day was misidentified and it was only later that evening, after it had departed, that it was correctly identified as a Caspian Stonechat from photos. A Rustic Bunting was also only seen very briefly on St Mary’s that same day.

A report of a probably Dusky Thrush on St Mary’s on 26th at least came out early enough for us to catch the boat over. Unfortunately it was only seen by one observer and promptly disappeared before we – or anyone else from St Mary’s – could get there. We did have a very pleasant day on St Mary’s, the highlight of which was seeing two more Olive-backed Pipits in fields at Old Town.

img_7974Olive-backed Pipit – two were on St Mary’s on 26th but there had been three on 25th

A possible Asian House Martin reported on St Mary’s late on 27th was relocated at Innisidgen on the morning of 28th. We were due to leave later that day anyway, so had to make a quick decision and managed to get an earlier boat over to St Mary’s. Unfortunately, by the time we got there it had been identified as just a regular House Martin – we did see a little group of four House Martins along with about half a dozen Swallows.

A possible Eastern Yellow Wagtail was reported at the riding school that morning, which was just a short walk away, so we went to have a look for that. It was showing very well, but unfortunately was just a Yellow Wagtail – it called like one of the western races while we were there and had a dull yellow wash under the tail and a bright yellow patch on its breast. However, otherwise being rather grey, it could perhaps have been a Grey-headed Wagtail instead, the Scandinavian race of Yellow Wagtail. There had been an Eastern Yellow Wagtail on St Mary’s several days before we arrived, but that had obviously departed.

6o0a6343Yellow Wagtail – one of the western races, possible Grey-headed?

Although we didn’t find any other rarities during the week, there were plenty of other birds to look at while we searched the island. A selection of photos of some of the other highlights are included below.

6o0a5654Short-eared Owl – two showed very well, flushed from a roost at the woodpile on 24th

6o0a5227Black Redstart – one or two most days, but with larger numbers on 24th & 28th

6o0a5303Common Redstart – this 1w male spent most of the week at Borough Farm

6o0a5462Redwing – good numbers of thrushes passed through earlier in the week

6o0a5313Ring Ouzel – two came in with the other thrushes on 21st

6o0a6126Yellow-browed Warbler – seen daily, present in very good numbers this year

6o0a5319Goldcrest – as usual, there were plenty around the island

6o0a5781Firecrest – 1 or 2 were seen on several days

6o0a5334Pied Flycatcher – a late bird, lingering in Abbey Wood for several days

6o0a5613Curlew Sandpiper – on Abbey Pool all week, sometimes with two Dunlin

6o0a6286Jack Snipe – one or two were on Abbey Pool

6o0a6243Greenshank – 22+ on Tresco, but this one confiding bird was on St Mary’s at Lower Moors

Borough Farm has been one of the best places for birding on Tresco for the last few years, and this was the case again this year, hosting the 2-3 Little Buntings and Olive-backed Pipit while we were there, as well as many commoner birds. Most of the rest of the estate has been vigorously tidied up – now looking as smart as a home counties golf course! Gone are the weedy bulb fields along Pool Road, for example, replaced by improved grassland for cattle grazing which is regularly mown or replanted. Several of the hedges were removed to make larger fields and the remaining ones are regularly flailed to a nice smart square shape. Unfortunately, all of this renders this area all but useless for birds. Other parts of the island have been similarly tidied up. Tresco used to be one of the best islands for rarities, but now struggles in comparison with St Agnes or St Mary’s. Lack of habitat is probably one of the main reasons.

tresco-2016_9Tresco – the fields along Pool Road, now improved grass and tidy hedges

tresco-2016_11Flailing the hedges – one of the regular activities designed to keep the estate ‘tidy’

Borough Farm is the only remaining place on Tresco where there are still traditional bulb fields and the combination of weeds and overgrown hedges, including some large sycamore hedges, act as a magnet for any birds visiting the island. Unfortunately Tresco Estate has decided to take back the farm later this year. At this stage, we do not know what the estate plans to do with the land but given that they gave up growing bulbs many years ago it seems unlikely it will be kept in its current state. Probably it will be tidied up and put down to grass, in line with the rest of the estate.

It was therefore very sad walking round Borough Farm for the last time this year, looking at the fields and reminiscing about all the great birds I have seen here over the last twenty years, not knowing what it will be like in the future. Perhaps it is finally time to call it a day on my visits to Tresco?

p1330769Borough Farm – the contrast is clear, weedy fields and overgrown hedges

p1330780Borough Farm – the Olive-backed Pipit and one of the Little Buntings were in here

p1330770Borough Farm – the Olive-backed Pipit also spent some time in this field

14th Oct 2016 -Eastern Promise, Day 1

Day 1 of a 3-day long weekend of Autumn Migration tours today. The easterly winds we have been enjoying for the last couple of weeks are continuing, though only for a day or so more. That means there are still some great rarities from Siberia to catch up with – it was going to be a busy day! Our first destination was Wells Woods. There has been at least one Olive-backed Pipit here for the last few days, although it has been very flighty and elusive at times. Still, we thought we would give it a go and try to see it.

As we walked in from the car park, we could hear Bramblings calling and a couple of small groups flew back over our heads. Then a bigger flock of finches came out of the birches, about 40-50 strong. From their calls, they seemed to be mostly Redpolls – there have been a growing number in the trees here in recent days and there were lots more arriving yesterday, mostly Mealy Redpolls. Unfortunately, these didn’t stop and we watched them fly away to the east, over the car park.

A flock of Siskin were more amenable – we could see them landing in the bushes and several then dropped down to the puddles on the path ahead of us to drink.

6o0a4030Siskin – coming down to drink on the path this morning

We cut in through the trees, around the area where the Olive-backed Pipit had been originally, but it seems to have been disturbed from here now by the crowds. There were fewer thrushes than recent days, but still plenty of Goldcrests in the birches and loads of Robins everywhere we looked – the vast majority are migrants escaping from northern Europe for the winter and stopping here to feed on their way south.

6o0a4036Robin – some of the northern migrants are very tame!

News came through that the Olive-backed Pipit was in the north side of the pines, where it had been at times yesterday, so we made our way quickly over there. When we arrived, there were lots of people milling around but no one seemed to know where it was. We walked quietly through the trees, checking out the old dune hollows where there is grass and small trees, and it didn’t take us long to find it. The Olive-backed Pipit was down on the ground under a young holm oak, but it was hard to see and it crept up the bank and out of view behind the foliage.

Unfortunately, our attentions drew the crowds over and we lost the Olive-backed Pipit. As we tried to follow it, with various people encroaching from different directions, it kept flushing. We could see it fly and hear it call, but then it vanished altogether. We decided to leave it in peace and try again later, once the crowds had dispersed.

While we were looking for the pipit, a Pallas’s Warbler had been reported over by the drinking pool, so we made our way over that way. When we got there, there was no sign of it but we did manage to ascertain that it was with a flock of Long-tailed Tits – so the challenge was to find the tits!

We continued on west, but the deciduous trees beside the path seemed rather quiet, despite the fact that the wind was lighter today. We did see a variety of raptors – a Common Buzzard flew low out of the trees, a Marsh Harrier quartered the fields to the south, a Sparrowhawk came over the tops of the pines and we were alerted to a Peregrine way overhead by its loud calls. There were lots of Jays too, carrying acorns off to bury them somewhere eminently forgettable!

A loud ‘tsooeet’ from an oak tree right next to us alerted us to a Yellow-browed Warbler. We could see it flicking around in the top, above our heads, but we got better views when it dropped down into a small birch tree. We could see its pale supercilium and double wing bar.

6o0a4040Yellow-browed Warbler – calling by the path

Walking on a little further, we finally heard Long-tailed Tits calling and cut into the trees to try to see them. But they disappeared into some pines and our attempts to catch them coming out the other side proved mostly fruitless. While we waited for them, we did see a Treecreeper climbing up a young oak, and watched a Great Spotted Woodpecker excavating a hole in a dead birch stump, pulling out beak-fulls of woodchips and scattering them below.

6o0a4059Great Spotted Woodpecker – excavating in a birch stump

It seemed possible that the tit flock had made its way past us back towards the drinking pool, so we returned to the main path and started making our way back. Almost back there, we heard Long-tailed Tits again and made our way back into the trees. Almost immediately, we spotted a Firecrest flitting around in a small briar just in front of us, before it flew back up into the pines.

The tits seemed to be dropping out of the pines, and several came down into the small deciduous trees and undergrowth in front of us. After watching them for a minute or so, we had a tantalising glimpse of a warbler, but it disappeared before we could see it properly. Frustrating, but it felt like we might have the right flock this time. As the Long-tailed Tits started to make their way towards the path, we cut through and positioned ourselves in their path, in an open area with some lovely small deciduous trees in front of us.

The positioning worked perfectly! Just as we had hoped, the Pallas’s Warbler appeared in one of the oaks and we were treated to great views of it as it fluttered between the branches. We could see its yellow supercilium, brighter yellow at the front than the comparatively inappropriately named Yellow-browed Warbler we had seen earlier. The Pallas’s Warbler also had an extra stripe, a yellow central crown stripe, and when it hovered to pick insects off the leaves we could see it lemon yellow rump patch.

6o0a4067Pallas’s Warbler – our favourite warbler!

Pallas’s Warbler is an annual visitor here, blown off course on its was south, typically just in small numbers at this time of year. They breed in southern Siberia and winter in China and SE Asia, so this one was a long way from home. With all the stripes and the lemon yellow rump, they are always a great favourite. A fantastic bird to see! As the tit flock continued on east, the Pallas’s Warbler flew off with them. We followed the flock to the drinking pool, but it didn’t stop. We did get great views of several Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff coming down to bathe.

We had bumped into some other birders before we found the tits who told us that they had just flushed an Olive-backed Pipit from south of the main path (in an area near where one had been reported yesterday). The one we had seen earlier had still not been relocated, and it was not far away as the Olive-backed Pipit flies, but it would have to be mobile to be the same one. We had a look where they had seen it but there was no sign and we were told it may have flown back north. We went back to where we had seen the Olive-backed Pipit earlier, but there was no sign of it there either.

Having had a quick look around the Dell, we decided to check out the path beside the caravan park. However, we had not got very far when another birder emerged from the trees talking on his mobile and told us his mate was watching the Olive-backed Pipit back behind the drinking pool. We hot-footed it round there only to find his mate had walked off and the pipit had flown up into the trees and been lost again. There were a few people still milling round but looking lost again. Frustrating.

The area looked promising – open mature pines, long grass below, and some scattered younger trees, meaning plenty of cover – perfect for an Olive-backed Pipit. So we circled round to the back of the grass and started walking very quietly along the furthest edge. Some movement in the grass caught our attention and there were not one, but two Olive-backed Pipits together!

Thankfully one of the Olive-backed Pipits stopped in the grass and turned to look at us, so we could get everyone onto it. The birds then made their way a bit further back, out of view, but circling round again the other side and we watched one flit up onto a dead branch lying underneath a young holm oak. This time we all got a great view of it as it perched there, pumping its tail up and down.

6o0a3942Olive-backed Pipit – a photo from yesterday (when it was quieter)

Olive-backed Pipits can be very secretive and skulking so it was great to finally see one so well. This is another mostly Siberian species, although its breeding range spreads just into NE European Russia, and it normally winters in S Asia. After that, we made our way back to the car for a very well-earned lunch. It had certainly been a productive morning in the Woods.

After lunch, we climbed up over the seawall and made our way down to the lifeboat station to scan the harbour. There were several Brent Geese down in the harbour channel and a nice selection of waders out on the mud – lots of Oystercatchers, a single Black-tailed Godwit in with a group of Bar-tailed Godwits and Redshank, several Curlew, a couple of small flocks of Knot and, further over, a scattering of Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and a Turnstone.

The highlight here was the aerial battle between a juvenile Peregrine and a Ringed Plover. We first spotted them out over the mudflats across the other side of the harbour channel. The Peregrine was in quick pursuit, but every time it got close, the Ringed Plover turned sharply, much tighter than the Peregrine could turn, and opened up the gap again. Several times the Ringed Plover tried to escape by gaining height, but the Peregrine powered up higher. They were very evenly matched – it was just a question of which one would tire first.

The chase went on for ages – an adult would probably have given up much earlier, but this young Peregrine was either inexperienced or just very hungry. We lost sight of them round behind the lifeboat station but the next thing we knew they appeared again flying fast and low over the water just below us, flushing all the geese and roosting waders. When they disappeared from view again, the Peregrine must have finally given up because the next thing it appeared from round the lifeboat station only a few metres away from us!

6o0a4084Peregrine – exhausted after chasing after a Ringed Plover, unsuccessfully

The Peregrine tried to land on one of the groyne posts not far from us, but thought better of it, so flew a short distance across the harbour channel and landed on a mudbank just the other side. We had a great view of it through the scope.

img_7580Peregrine – taking a breather after the fruitless chase

Our final destination for the day was Warham Greens. As we made our way down along the middle track, a small flock of Golden Plover flew over calling. A Blackcap flew across the track and we could hear Goldcrests in the hedge. There were still a few Blackbirds and thrushes in the bushes and, as we got down towards the end of the track, we heard a Ring Ouzel chacking from deep inside, although we couldn’t see it.

From out on the coastal path, we could see several flocks of Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh. Several bright white Little Egrets stood out against the dark vegetation. A couple of Marsh Harriers quartered the marshes in the distance. We made our way west to the pit where we could hear a Brambling, but couldn’t see it in the bushes.

There had been a Radde’s Warbler on Garden Drove earlier in the morning, but when we arrived there had been no sign of it for several hours. We had a quick look in the copse at the end, which was a bit exposed to the wind. There seemed to be more birds in the hedges along the track, and we quickly found the Yellow-browed Warbler, which flew across out of the taller trees and landed in a low hawthorn briefly.

We walked slowly up the track to the concrete pad and back down again. We did see a few Chiffchaffs and several Robins. And plenty of Goldcrests in the trees – amazing to think that these tiny birds, weighing less than a 20p piece, have made it all the way across the North Sea.

6o0a4097Goldcrest – there are still lots in the trees along the coast

With no sign of anything more exciting on Garden Drove, we decided to check out the hedgeline to the west, towards Wells. As we walked along the coastal path, flocks of finches got up from the edge of the field and flew up into the hedge. There were loads and loads of Bramblings, at least 100, probably a lot more, as well as Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, a few Linnets and a single Reed Bunting.

6o0a4116Brambling – there were loads in the fields this afternoon

We stopped by one field which was planted with a seed mix and 20-30 Bramblings flew up into the hedge beside us, calling away. They have all arrived from Scandinavia in the last few days and have stopped to feed in the fields here. As we were admiring them, a small falcon flew fast towards us along the top of the hedge, scattering all the birds. It was a Merlin – it saw us at the last minute and turned away, flying off across the field the other side of the hedge towards the saltmarsh.

Then it was time to start making our way back. We scanned the saltmarsh on the way, seeing three Marsh Harriers now quartering in the distance. As we walked back along the middle track almost back to the car, a Merlin flew high east ahead of us – possibly a different bird returning to roost. It had been a tiring day, but a great one with some great birds.

16th October 2015 – More from the East

Day 1 of a long weekend of tours today. Norfolk has been enjoying a real purple patch in the last week, with a succession of rare vagrants from the east turning up in the county, brought to us on an ongoing easterly airflow originating from far across onto the continent. We set out to try to catch up with a few of those today.

Our first stop saw us drive east along the coast to Beeston Common, just beyond Sheringham. It was overcast and blustery when we arrived, but that doesn’t seem to put off our first target. As soon as we got out onto the Common we could see the Isabelline Shrike perched atop a hawthorn bush, looking all around. We got it in the scope and watched it catch a wasp and eat it.

IMG_2003Isabelline Shrike – still present on Beeston Common today & showing well

Suddenly it flew towards us, and landed in another bush much closer by. It was obviously actively looking for food, as it flew again to another perch. It dropped sharply down to the ground, but disappeared deep into a holly when it flew back out so we couldn’t see what it had caught this time. We waited a few minutes and it reappeared on our side of the holly, before flying across back to the hawthorn it had just come from.

From there, it dropped down into the grass again and this time flew up with a small frog. It took it into the hawthorn and we could just see it through the scope, impaling the frog on a thorn. Shrikes are also traditionally known as ‘butcher birds’, as they will store excess food in a ‘larder’ by impaling them on a thorny bush or even barbed wire for later consumption. The Isabelline Shrike seemed unsure whether to eat its frog now or leave it for later. It appeared to eat a little, then moved back to the outside of the bush to resume hunting, before changing its mind and dropping back in to eat some more. Fascinating to watch.

There have been thrushes arriving in numbers for days now, and out on the common we saw a Blackbird or two drop into the bushes and a large flock of Redwing flew over our heads calling. A Sparrowhawk flew over as well – there is a real bounty for predators at the moment, with many small birds arriving here exhausted from the continent.

Having enjoyed such great views of the Isabelline Shrike, we decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere. Heading back west along the coast, we stopped at Muckleburgh Hill next. An Olive-backed Pipit had been found here yesterday, but it had been very elusive. They have a habit of creeping surreptitiously through the grass unseen, so it seemed like it might be difficult for us to see this one. A text message also confirmed that it had been elusive so far this morning. We thought we might as well have a go.

When we finally found the assembled crowd, the Olive-backed Pipit was on show, but getting everyone onto it was easier said than done at first. It was creeping around on an area of cut bracken, amongst the dead stalks and short regrowth, so had lots of places to hide. We kept getting glimpses of it. Frustrating. Finally it crept over to a more obvious place under a large rowan tree and proceeded to work its way round the edge of the taller bracken at its base. Now everyone got onto it, we managed to get it in the scopes and get some cracking views.

IMG_2040Olive-backed Pipit – eventually showed very well at Muckleburgh Hill

Olive-backed Pipits breed in Siberia and just into European Russia, migrating down to India and south Asia for the winter. They are a rare visitor to our shores, though they turn up more often these days than they used to. They are still a great bird to see and full of character, as they creep around pumping their tails slowly up and down.

We left the crowd to it, and continued our way back west, stopping off next at Stiffkey Greenway. A Great Grey Shrike had been seen earlier in the morning, but had disappeared off to the west along the coastal path. There were lots of people here, birdwatchers as well as dog walkers and joggers, so we didn’t fancy our chances of seeing it. This is a good site to look for other recent arrivals in the coastal bushes, so we decided to go for a walk anyway.

Scanning the saltmarsh, we could see lots of Brent Geese out amongst the vegetation. A Greenshank dropped in on the path out across the marshes and started to feed around the small pools. A Grey Plover was on the path further out and there were lots of Curlew and Redshank. Several of the scattered pools also held a Little Egret.

P1110756Brent Geese – feeding out on the saltmarsh

There were not so many birds in the hawthorns and brambles as there have been in the last couple of days. Perhaps fewer new birds had arrived overnight, or possibly they had already moved off inland, disturbed by all the activity up and down the path. We did see plenty of Goldcrests in the bushes, and flushed a steady stream of Redwings, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds. There were several finches – Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, though they were keeping down in the bushes out of the wind. We caught up with a tit flock – Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits – working their way through the gorse around the whirligig. In amongst them we found a couple of Chiffchaff.

We only went as far as the eastern track at Warham Greens. As we walked out at the whirligig, a small falcon swept up along the edge of the saltmarsh and powered away behind us, a Merlin. We scanned the marshes out towards East Hills and initially picked up nothing more than a couple of distant Marsh Harriers. Then a smaller, sleeker, slimmer-winged harrier swept up above the horizon briefly before dropping back down and resuming quartering low over the vegetation. Through the scopes we could see the paler underparts and square white patch at the base of the tail – its was a young ringtail Hen Harrier.

With no sign of the shrike and time getting on towards lunch, we decided to walk back. On the way, we stopped briefly to admire a bush cricket which walked out onto the muddy path – a Short-winged Conehead.

P1110778Short-winged Conehead – a type of bush cricket, on the coastal path

We ate lunch at Lady Anne’s Drive and afterwards walked west along the path on the inner edge of the pines. It was fairly quiet at first, apart from the ubiquitous Goldcrests and the regular Little Grebes on the pool at Salts Hole. Just beyond there, we could see some other birders on the top of a low bank, scanning the bushes in the reeds by the path. There has been another Isabelline Shrike here at Holkham in the last few days (there have been an unprecedented three in Norfolk!), but apparently we had just missed it. It had dropped down from one of the bushes and disappeared. We decided to walk a little further along to the gate, from where we could scan the grazing marshes.

There was no sign of the shrike from further along either, but we did see a rather late Common Whitethroat in a low rose bush by the gate. There are lots here in the summer, but this one should probably be well on its way towards Africa by now. Out on the grazing marshes, we could see a few Pink-footed Geese together with the Greylags. It was while we were scanning the marshes, that someone coming along the path broke the news to us that the shrike had reappeared further back along the path.

We walked back quickly and there it was – perched up in a wild rose bush amongst the reeds, our second Isabelline Shrike of the day. How greedy! It was rather similar to the one that we had seen at Beeston Common in the morning, but noticeably more extensively marked with dark chevrons on its pale underparts. There is typically some variation between individuals.

IMG_2046Isabelline Shrike – our second of the day, at Holkham

When it flew down again, we continued on our way west along the path. We stopped periodically to scan through the Goldcrests, in case there might be something more interesting in amongst them. It has been amazing just how many there were here in recent days – it would be fascinating to know how many have come in from the continent and moved on inland this week.

Just past the crosstracks, we came to the clump of sallows which the Red-flanked Bluetail has been frequenting, since Monday at least. There is always something of a dilemma – whether to try to see it flicking around quietly in the sallows, or whether to wait our by the brambles where it likes to come to feed on blackberries occasionally. We decided on the latter.

We didn’t have to wait too long until the Red-flanked Bluetail put in a typically brief appearance on the brambles. It perched for a few seconds feeding on the blackberries, but it was mostly hidden within the foliage. Then it flew across the front. Most of the group got a glimpse – a flash of the blue tail as it went. We waited again and then got a repeat performance – the Bluetail fed on a blackberry from within the brambles and then flashed off. It was clearly nervous – the local Robins have been giving it a hard time, chasing it away.

IMG_2062Red-flanked Bluetail – showing off its orange flank patches

Finally, on its third visit of our vigil, the Red-flanked Bluetail came out onto the brambles in full view. We could see its rather Robin-like appearance front on, but lacking the red (orange!) breast and instead sporting two orange flank patches and a triangular white throat patch. We were missing its best feature from this angle, but it even did the decent thing and turned round, flashing its bright blue tail at us. What a cracker! Than it darted off back into the sallows.

IMG_2076Red-flanked Bluetail – helpfully turned around to show off its bright blue tail

Red-flanked Bluetails breed in the Siberian taiga and migrate down to spend the winter in SE Asia. They were almost a mythical rarity in the UK in years gone by but only in the last 10-15 years have they become annual visitors and are now almost an expected find after a period of east winds at this time of year. This is probably because they have been expanding their breeding range steadily westwards and now breed in eastern Finland. Still, that does not detract at all from the delight at seeing one – electric blue tail, and all.

After great views such as those, we set off back suitably elated. Once again, we paused regularly to check through the flocks of Goldcrests and tits on the way back. Two Swallows hawking for insects low over the pines around Washington Hide were another unseasonal surprise, with most of their brethren well on their way to Africa by now.

There had been a Pallas’s Warbler in the trees further along from Lady Anne’s Drive towards Wells during the day, so we thought we might walk that way and try to see it. Unfortunately, the weather started to close in a little on our way back and the light levels dropped early. The trees where the Pallas’s Warbler had been were quiet. It had been a tiring day in the field and energy levels were waning by this stage, so we decided to make our way slowly back. But what a day it had been – 2 Isabelline Shrikes, Olive-backed Pipit and Red-flanked Bluetail amongst others. We needed to leave something for tomorrow!