Saturday 15 October 2016

Trans Siberian Avian Express

The easterly wind has continued blowing and things have gotten a little bonkers on the East Coast! Following my message last Sunday about Britain's first Siberian Accentor on Shetland, all hell broke loose in Yorkshire, when Britain's second SibAcc was discovered quietly poking about in Easington, East Yorkshire! Friends and colleagues nearby were soon ringing to tell me what a cracking little bird it was that they were watching and that I should go...if only! Sadly, I was at work and also was due in the pub for welcome drinks with a new colleague.

At 01.45 the following morning, I woke up and a mixture of slight hangover and excitement for the day ahead prevented any further sleep. I got up at 5.15 and got my gear together before heading into York to pick up Chris Gomersal. Sadly for Chris, he had had an even worse night, having dipped the SibAcc by thirty seconds the previous day! Well, we headed east, both incredibly anxious about whether the little Siberian waif would still be there when dawn broke, but also excited about the possibility of seeing this cosmic bird.

Just over an hour later and massive mutual relief as news came through that the bird was still present. We turned up having been assisted by volunteers from the Spurn Bird Obs, and following a walk and a queue were soon watching the Siberian Accentor feeding unconcerned on an area of mossy gravel, right out in the open, oblivious to the 500 birders all frantically trying to see it. A combo of shaking hands (big adrenaline rush seeing this bird) and the twilight of the early morning meant my photo attempts were hopeless, but you can just about make out what a stunning little bird it was.

The SibAcc queue. Probably about 200 birders at this point c8am.
Surprisingly quite a bit smaller and noticeably paler than the nearby Dunnock, with a striking dark head set off with a grey stripe and two startlingly creamy yellow supercilia. A very handsome bird. We quickly moved on to let others in for a peek.

I suspect nobody has got a worse photo than this of the Easington SibAcc!

The day felt rare. I guess it helps to have seen a second for Britain - a near mythical Sibe - before 8am to make you feel that, but the strong easterly wind, spots of rain in the air and the large numbers of thrushes etc around added to the anticipation.

We headed north to the Great White Cape, partly to escape the hordes of twitchers that would be descending on Spurn and partly to have a look for the Paddyfield Warbler on the Outer Head, which would be a Yorkshire tick for me.

A frustrating hour later, we arrived at the lighthouse. Remarkably, nobody was down the motorway hedge looking for the Paddyfield, but we soon realised why, when scanning the big field to the south of the Gorse Field (which is south of the lighthouse) revealed it to be heaving with birds.There had been three Shore Larks here yesterday. Shortly, Chris picked up five Shore Larks feeding among the remnants of the set-aside that had been recently sprayed off by the farmer. Smart, greyish larks with lemon faces and neat black bandit masks. We got some other birders on to them who seemed to be struggling to find them. Flocks of Linnets, Skylarks and Mippits swirled about. A Richard's Pipit got up out of the stubble higher up the slope, 'Chreeped' several times then dropped in and vanished. Cool! A little later a very well-marked pipit, with a buff breast and finely-streaked white belly had us worried briefly, until it turned, showing a streaked back and not a particularly striking face pattern - a Tree Pipit! Nice, but not the hoped-for OBP.

We couldn't pull out anything better, though a single Northern Wheatear was nice. The field felt like it had more to give, but we decided we really should be looking for the Paddyfield, so we switched out attention to the Motorway Hedge.... 

Northern Wheatear.

After 20 minutes or so, we felt we were wasting our time and so decided to head round to Old Fall. Just then, my phone rang. Rich Baines. Rich asked if I was at Castlemere. I said no, but at that point I did not know that the big stubble field was called that. Rich explained that that was where we were and why it said on the Whatsapp group 'Richards Pipit, Cattlemere, Jono Leadley'! Rich then hurriedly told me that a chap called Dave Pearce had seen a wheatear in the stubble field with dark on the throat and that was possibly a Black-eared or Pied Wheatear. Yikes! Rich instructed me to go and find it. We turned back and hurried back to Cattlemere. A group of birders were standing at the bottom of Motorway where it dog-legs. They all seemed to be scoping the field - they must be watching the bird- fantastic!

We hurried over and I asked the first of the guys if they had the wheatear. To my surprise, one replied that no, they were looking for Shore Larks. I moved on to the rest of the gang and they concurred with the first. Doh! I explained there was an interesting Wheatear around. They said they had seen a Northern. So had we!

We started to scan frantically and within a few seconds, Chris said "Jono, there's a Wheatear on the clifftop". I scanned across to where he was looking with my scope just in time to see a small Wheatear with jet black underwing coverts, a pale belly and a big white tail zip off across the grass. I shouted that we had got the bird and it landed after a few metres on the top of a weed. I could see pale edges to the mantle feathers, a mottled dark throat and a big white tail with a narrow black tip - a first-winter male Pied Wheatear!!! BOOM! Chris and myself got everybody on to the active little bird, which seemed to be moving across the field towards us. I got on the phone to Rich to let him know and then Craig Thomas.

For the second time today, the combination of shaking hands and poor light meant my photos were lousy! Chris managed better:

Craig arrived at a gallop. The bird was feeding frantically and moving east across the field all the time. It hopped over the fence at the bottom of the Motorway and on to the grasslands. It started moving down the path through the middle of the field and gave great views. Chris got another photo:

Tony Dixon got some amazing photos as the bird hopped along the path towards him - see here.

Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the bird flew, briefly landed on a bramble, which would have made a brilliant photo as it had the North Sea in the background, then headed off west behind the lighthouse and away. I rang Rich to let him know - sadly, they hadn't quite made it over from Old Fall. The bird showed for c20 minutes and was then gone, leaving us all exhilarated if not a little bewildered.This bird must have just come in and had now vanished as quickly as it had appeared. A magical moment.

After a brief detour to South Dykes where I realised the message about the Red-flanked Bluetail being present was an old message from yesterday - doh! We returned and Craig dropped us a the Old Fall steps and we walked the plantation. It felt like new birds were coming in. There was a steady passage of Goldcrests coming north up the hedge and small gangs of Redwings and Song Thrushes were moving inland all the time. Sadly, we didn't manage to maintain the calibre, although a Firecrest was lovely as always in Old Fall Plantation, plus a Woodcock, Blackcap and several Chiffs. Goldcrests were everywhere and some were even in the winter wheat!

We were running out of time as being Birding Dad, I had to be back in Bish to pick Sol up from school. We had a quick walk of Welkie Wynds, adding a smart Redstart, another Woodcock and a grumpy Ring Ouzel to the day list. The day still felt like it had more to offer, but sadly not to us, though the combo of a second for Britain, our involvement in confirming the Flamborough's first Pied Wheatear since 1988, and the sheer spectacle of east coast birding at its best will live long in the memory.


The easterly winds have created a Trans Siberian Avian Express and Europe has recorded an incredible 36+ Siberian Accentors within the last fortnight. Today, as I write, a third SibAcc has been discovered, this time in Cleveland. Unbelievable scenes! Old Fall has two Radde's Warblers and nearby a Dusky Warbler - all fresh in birds carried over from Asia. Best autumn on the east coast ever? Quite possibly!!

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