Tag Archives: Siberian Chiffchaff

Late Oct 2019 – Scilly Season

Not a tour, but a family holiday – and Scilly is conveniently a great place for birding in October! The Isles of Scilly are perhaps best know in birding terms for the number of American landbirds they have historically attracted in Autumn. We stayed on the island of Tresco, but we made several trips over to St Mary’s too.

Late October is not the best time, and sure enough all the ‘Yanks’ which had previously appeared cleared out a few days before we arrived. Still, there were more good birds to find, and one rarity at least had the decency to linger long enough for us to catch up with it.

The day we arrived, our first stop was to see the Blue Rock Thrush which had been hanging out on the rocks around the Garrison and Peninnis on St Mary’s. It was very mobile and could disappear for long periods but conveniently, it was located just before our plane took off and we were able to catch up with it after only an hour or so of casing up and down the clifftop path (it had taken others several days to see it!).

Blue Rock Thrush

Blue Rock Thrush – not especially blue, but on a rock!

The Blue Rock Thrush was not especially blue – it was a young bird, a 1st winter. But it was flying around and feeding on the rocks, which is what a proper wild Blue Rock Thrush should be doing.

After that, we still had a bit of time before our boat over to Tresco, so we walked down to Lower Moors. The Spotted Crake helpfully appeared just as we arrived, in the ditch beside the path. This bird had been very obliging on previous days and it didn’t disappoint today. We watched it down to just a couple of feet, and at one point it passed right beneath the wooden footbridge on which we were standing. Amazing views of what can be a very secretive species, possibly my best ever.

Spotted Crake

Spotted Crake – absurdly close views at Lower Moors

The following day we found ourselves heading back to St Mary’s, when a report emerged of a Chestnut-eared Bunting on Peninnis first thing in the morning. It had flown off but we went over anyway just in case it was refound – it wasn’t! We did find a rare bunting ourselves, also on Peninnis, but unfortunately it was just a Yellowhammer. Rare on the Isles of Scilly perhaps, but not quite so unusual back in Norfolk!

Monday was spent on Tresco. A Citrine Wagtail appeared on St Mary’s and a few bits and pieces on St Agnes, but we didn’t manage to find anything unusual. The Red-breasted Flycatcher which had been at Borough Farm for a week or more was still present, and it was good to catch up with that. It could be surprisingly elusive, but it remained in the same group of trees for much of our stay.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Red-breasted Flycatcher – was present on Tresco for most of our stay

There are almost always good numbers of Yellow-browed Warblers at this time of year, and a quiet day on Tresco gave us the chance to catch up with a few of those too.

Yellow-browed Warbler 1

Yellow-browed Warbler – there are generally a few on Tresco at this time of year

Things hotted up on Tresco on Tuesday. After a quiet start to the morning, one of the few other hardy Tresco regulars, Steve Broyd, called to say he had found an Isabelline Wheatear up on Castle Down. We raced up to help him pin it down, as it was very mobile initially but eventually settled down around a favoured area of rocks. It would remain here for several days and we got fantastic views of it over subsequent days. It has been a good autumn for this very rare south-eastern European species this year.

Isabelline Wheatear

Isabelline Wheatear – it has been a good year for this species in UK

Birders from St Mary’s coming back from seeing the Isabelline Wheatear later that day found a Waxwing on the wires at New Grimsby. It was a lovely sunny day and it was flycatching from the telephone wires. When it flew off, it couldn’t be refound until it was found feeding in an apple tree in one of the nearby gardens the following day.

Waxwing

Waxwing – flycatching from the wires behind the quay in New Grimsby

It was back to St Mary’s the next day. The Citrine Wagtail seen a couple of days previously had settled down at Salakee Farm and had been showing down to a few metres yesterday. When we arrived in the morning, it was a bit more distant and and we were looking into the light. After spending some time exploring St Mary’s, which also gave us the chance to catch up with the Dartford Warbler on Peninnis (a ‘Scilly tick’ for us), we returned in the afternoon and were treated to views of the Citrine Wagtail down to a few metres as it fed in the long grass in the corner of the field.

Citrine Wagtail

Citrine Wagtail – showing down to a few metres as it fed in the long grass

The following day, it was back to scouring Tresco for something new. Those efforts were rewarding with the finding of a 1st winter drake Ring-necked Duck on Abbey Pool. It was present all day, although it spent some time tucked in the edge of the vegetation asleep, but could not be found subsequently, although the weather was not particularly conducive to finding it again!

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck – this 1st winter drake spent the day on Abbey Pool

It was a lovely sunny day and the Yellow-browed Warblers were particularly active and vocal. There were three regularly around the Rowesfield area and it was interesting to watch one today behaving very territorially, chasing the others off from its favoured sallows.

Yellow-browed Warbler 2

Yellow-browed Warbler – this one was chasing the others from its favoured sallows

The next two days were very windy and wet at times, so if there were any new arrivals they would be very hard to locate. Things improved dramatically on 27th, which was largely clear and sunny at times, with much lighter winds. Starting off on the regular circuit of the island, the first thing that became apparent was that there had been a big arrival of Siberian Chiffchaffs. After one up at Borough Farm, there were three together in the sallows at Rowesfield crossroads. There were plenty of Common Chiffchaffs in too, great to compare them side by side.

Siberian Chiffchaff

Siberian Chiffchaff – one of three at Rowesfield crossroads

At least one of the Siberian Chiffchaffs at Rowesfield crossroads was rather vocal, its call a rather plaintive ‘iihp’. It was even singing on and off in the sunshine – not something you hear in the UK very often. Fantastic!

Any other day, that would have been the highlight of the morning but today there was more to come. Walking along the edge of the old heliport, a bunting flew up from the long grass beyond the fence and started to call – a distinctive ‘ticking’. Thankfully, it circled round and dropped down into the top of the brambles behind me. A Rustic Bunting!

Rustic Bunting

Rustic Bunting – a nice find on the edge of the old Heliport

Unfortunately the Rustic Bunting flew over into the sallows on the edge of Abbey Pool with a Reed Bunting and didn’t show itself for the birders who were just arriving from the boat over from St Mary’s. It was seen again, back in the original spot, together now with three Reed Buntings in the early afternoon and we found it there again at dusk.

Rustic Bunting 2

Rustic Bunting – still present the following morning

The Rustic Bunting was still present the following morning, with the Reed Buntings in the same place on the edge of the Heliport, but unfortunately it was now time for us to leave. We caught the boat back over to St Mary’s that afternoon and bid our farewells to the Isles of Scilly.

There was a sad side to what was a wonderful week. I have been visiting Tresco regularly for 24 years now and over that time I have seen some great birds up at Borough Farm. The farm had been leased out and worked traditionally for bulbs, flowers and vegetables, but a couple of years ago the Tresco Estate took it back under its own management. The estate has long eschewed traditional mixed farming in favour of focusing on intensive beef cattle, meaning the other fields around the island have already been turned over to improved grassland.

It was sad to see this year that Borough Farm seems to be heading the same way – the once weedy fields are now mostly covered with grass, the hedges have been cut right back and then browsed heavily by cattle. Apart from the one corner where the Red-breasted Flycatcher was, which still has some taller sycamores, there were very few birds there this year. It seems surprising to see ongoing ‘dewilding’, intensification of loss-making modern agricultural practices, particularly in this part of the world, at a time when many other estates are looking to ‘rewilding’ as a better way forward.

Borough Farm

Borough Farm – sad to see it in the process of being ‘dewilded’

I am not sure how any more years I will continue to go back to Tresco. It is still a beautiful island, but not as beautiful for wildlife as it used to be. The only good news is that there are plenty of other islands in the Scillies to explore which have not been so extensively ‘tidied up’, where there are still weedy fields and overgrown hedges. Is it time to join the growing exodus of birders who have moved on from Tresco to explore other islands?

Sunset

Tresco – sunset, looking over the channel towards Bryher

 

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27-30th May 2014 – Norfolk at its best (& worst!)

The weather chart had been looking good for this week. Well, good for birds if not good for the actual weather. There had to be something unusual out there waiting to be found.

Tuesday looked the most promising day to start, with the combination of NE winds coming off the continent, together with rain. However, it turned out to be a damp squib, in more ways than one! I tried various sites in the morning, with no sign of any migrants. Still convinced there had to be something good out there, I headed for Blakeney Point. The rain had grown increasingly persistent but seemed to subside for a while, so I set off. I should perhaps have been put off by the people returning bedraggled, having seen nothing, but I pushed on to beyond Halfway House before the rain came back with a vengeance. Very unusual for it to be as bad as this, finally I gave in and trudged back, defeated and disappointed.

Wednesday started overcast and cool, but at least it wasn’t raining. Not to be put off by the day before, I headed straight for Blakeney Point again and set off back over the shingle. I was a short distance before halfway and hadn’t seen anything when I received a phone call to say that no migrants of any note had been seen at the end of the Point so far that morning. Needless to say, that caused my enthusiasm to wane a little. However, I pressed on anyway and just a couple of minutes later I was glad that I did! A small bird flew up from the edge of the saltmarsh which immediately caught my attention. I saw it in flight twice more and I had an idea what it was – it was clearly a small Sylvia warbler and most likely a Subalpine Warbler. However, it disappeared into cover and I couldn’t find it again on my own. Thankfully, several others were also heading out onto the Point and pretty soon I had managed to gather a small group. Together, we scoured the area and eventually relocated the bird. It took us some time to see it properly and finally we were able to confirm that not only was it indeed a Subalpine Warbler, but also that it showed the characters associated with the Eastern form, a very good find indeed.

The rest of the day saw a steady stream of migrants finally reveal themselves. The other highlight was a cracking lemon-yellow Icterine Warbler which suddenly appeared from nowhere in the Plantation. Not one, but two stunning male Black Redstarts feeding together around the buildings were arguably the smartest birds of the day. We also saw Redstart, several Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchat and a good selection of other warblers. All-in-all, a great day on the Point.

On Thursday, I had business to attend to or I would have returned to Blakeney Point. Instead, I had to content myself with going to see the female Black-headed Bunting which had been found the evening before at West Runton. A great rarity in this part of the world.

The weather looked less favourable on Friday. While the wind direction looked good overnight, it was gradually moving round, and the clear and sunny conditions suggested birds might move on. Undaunted, I set off along Blakeney Point once again. The walk out revealed rather little – many birds had indeed departed and just a few commoner migrants remained. Still, it is always a beautiful place to walk in the sunshine, and I also finally caught up with the stunning male Snow Bunting which had been lingering on the shingle ridge. The Black Redstarts were still present and the only other bird of interest was a Spotted Flycatcher.

I was tempted to leave, but bumped into some friends sat in the sunshine by the Plantation so decided to join them for lunch. While we were talking, I heard a bird call in the distance which I thought I recognised. It came a bit closer and I suddenly clicked that it was a Bee-eater! I leapt up shouting and a quick scan of the sky revealed two Bee-eaters coming low over the dunes. They passed right over our heads, then headed on west over the old Lifeboat House and away. They have always been one of my favourite birds, ever since I used to thumb through old field guides as a boy, and such a great joy to see them in the skies of Norfolk. The long walk back was broken with a stop for a Siberian Chiffchaff which had been located in the bushes on the edge of the beach – while we were there, it broke into song, a rare sound indeed here and very different from the common Chiffchaffs we had been listening to earlier in the Plantation. A very different day to Wednesday, but once again what a day!

It all goes to show just how exciting birding in Norfolk can be when the conditions are right.Image

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