Saturday 31 October 2020

More of the same

An enjoyable couple of hours yesterday morning at Wheldrake Ings, revealed similar birds to the other day, although the Great Egret was elsewhere. Two Cetti's Warblers were present in the reedbed, one of which was singing frequently and showed well in at tree next to Swantail Hide. A Crossbill flew over, as did 30 Golden Plovers. Several Stonechats were still around; it is good to see this species bouncing back after the weather-related population crash a few years back. A bit of flooding on Bank Island has attracted some ducks, with several Pintails and Shovelers the pick.


Sunday 25 October 2020

Big white birds with yellow beaks

A Great Egret was showing well this morning at Wheldrake Ings. It appeared out of the reedbed at Swantail Lagoon, preened for a bit, then flapped over to the pool. Also present, Little Egret, a singing Cetti's Warbler, five Stonechats, Marsh Harrier, two Pintails, 50 Teal and 20 Fieldfares.

On to North Duffield Carrs where it was great to see some Whooper Swans, fresh in from Iceland. They were engaging in a 'balance on one foot' competition, which was fun to watch. Also, one Ruff, Peregrine and c200 Fieldfares.

Monday 19 October 2020

Johnny Brown's Shrike

Quick pre-work twitch to Johnny Brown's Common, South Kirkby in West Yorkshire to see a shrike that had been discovered yesterday. This was the same place I had seen an Iberian Chiffchaff last year! Identified as a Brown Shrike, some birders began to question this, thinking it could be one of the 'Isabelline' Shrike species. The bird showed well feeding from umbellifers along a ditch, catching wasps. The chosen spot was along a massive open field, so the 40 or so birders could easily space out and keep their social distance! 

A very smart bird, seemingly big headed and big billed, with a pot-belly and long narrow tail. The right hand side of the tail at least seemed to show a shorter outer tail feather (T6), which favours Brown Shrike, but I could not see the other side. From my video later it seemed it was missing a couple of outer feathers on the left hand side. The shrike appeared quite short-winged, with only five or six primary tips visible beyond the tertials, though this wasn't easy as the bird constantly drooped it's wings ('Isabelline' types should have six or seven visible tips).

Note the short T6. This is on the RHS of the bird as this view is of the underside of the tail as the bird twists away in flight.

 Primary projection compared to length of tertials.

Red lines showing primary tips. Green line showing length of T6 (visible) against tail tip.

There was no white patch at the base of the primaries, but faint pale tips to the primary coverts. The rump was orange, contrasting with a dull brown tail. The mask was black, with a light grey upper border, meeting over the bill. The large beak was pale horn/grey with a dark grey upperside and distal 20%. The culmen appeared quite curved. Underparts were off white with buff at the breast sides. 

The bird's generally bulky, big-headed nature, with short wings and a short T6 felt more like a Brown Shrike to me, but I will be interested to see what other birders with more experience think.


Here is a male 'Isabelline' Shrike from Shetland last September. The identification went back and forth on this bird (within the Isabelline complex), but it seems even DNA analysis could not confirm which species! Nevertheless, a gorgeous bird. Note the small black bill, white primary patch etc.

Sunday 18 October 2020

Whitley Bay Bluetail

It's always a good day when you see a Red-flanked Bluetail. This bird was just across the Tyne from Trow, but was a bit of a drive round. The first Bluetail I saw, back in 1995 was in Great Yarmouth Cemetery and the Whitley Bay bird had found the local cemetery to its liking too. I watched the bird flicking around the Sycamores lining the paths between the gravestones. Gorgeous as ever, sometimes sitting still high in the canopy for minutes on end before dashing around the branches after flies, like a Redstart or flycatcher. Perhaps a first winter female, its blue tail was rather dull but super-cute as always.

I have been determined to find my own Yorkshire Bluetail and this autumn would be a good bet, though with the wind going back westerly tonight, the door may be closing on another season...

Eye of the Taiga

The Taiga Flycatcher was showing brilliantly on arrival at Trow Quarry, South Shields at lunchtime. It was confiding, and occasionally heard to utter its dry rattling trill. Behaviour much as Red-breasted Flycatcher, but a much greyer, duller bird. The bill was jet black and the uppertail coverts jet black as expected. Also noted, two Stonechats and two Dunnocks.

Here is a pic of a Red-breasted Flycatcher from Bempton a couple of years ago for comparison:

Just round the corner, a hyperactive Pallas's Warbler fizzed about non-stop in a small bunch of Sycamores, Ash and Hawthorn. A real stripy sprite, Firecrest-green above, festooned with lemon yellow stripes and a pale yellow rump. Silky white underneath. Calling every now and again which helped locate it. Absolutely impossible to phonescope!


Skeins of Pink-footed Geese have passed over our house in the past 24 hours. Two large 'Vs' went east late afternoon yesterday and then about 150 went north-northwest over at 9am this morning. I rang my Dad and he picked them up going over Woodthorpe a few minutes later. A joyous sound!

Friday 16 October 2020

Welcome to the Pterodrome!: Madeira Trip Report September-October 2020 - Part Three - Mammals

Madeira is a great place for marine mammals. Whales and dolphins can be seen from the shore throughout the year and there is a thriving whale-watching industry. Deep water close to shore means there are regular sightings of some of the deep-divers, such as beaked whales and Sperm Whales. Several species are present year-round with others more seasonal, or passing by. We did pretty well although only had time for one actual whale-watching trip. During the week we recorded five species:

Bryde's Whale, Balaenoptera brydei

A mother and a calf swam east along the south shore past our balcony on 27th September whilst waiting for our Covid test results to come through!

Sperm Whale, Physeter macrocephalus

The distinctive bushy blow of this species was seen distantly from Port Moniz, to the east of Mole Island on 28th September. We were scanning over the top of the Cachalot restaurant at the time!

Short-finned Pilot Whale, Globicephala macrorhynchus

Several fantastic individuals were seen very close to the RIB off Funchal on 29th September including a couple of calves and a small pod were seen from the boat on the return journey from the Desertas on the 30th.

Short-finned Pilot Whales. The name refers to the pectoral fins which are shorter than their longer-finned cousins which live in more temperate waters. In a normal surface view they are identical. In the video below you can make this out on the mother.

Bottlenose Dolphin, Tursiops truncatus

A pod accompanied the Pilot Whales from the RIB on the 29th September.


Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Stenella frontalis

A large pod of c50 were seen to the south of Canicho on 27th September, many of which were very acrobatic. A pod approached the boat as we returned from the Desertas on the 30th and a couple of them rode the bough for a while.



Mediterranean Monk Seal, Monachus monachus

Madeira is also one of the few haunts of the rarest pinniped in the world, the Mediterranean Monk Seal. This large seal is thought to number only 700 individuals with a loss of habitat and direct persecution being largely to blame. The seals breed in small sea caves along rocky coasts these days and disturbance from tourism and development has resulted in the loss of many suitable sites. Persecution from fishermen has been a big problem over the years too. The remaining population is limited to about four locations, which is pretty tragic considering the original range. As Madeira is one of the main areas we asked people wherever we went if there were any recent sightings. Many locals had seen them, but stressed they were very rare and hadn't seen any recently. Our best chance seemed to be a trip to the Desertas Islands where they are known to breed. Conservation efforts on the islands have really helped the population start to recover but we really didn't expect to see one. 

At anchor close to Deserta Grande, one of the crew suddenly exclaimed that there was a Monk Seal on the surface off the stern. Try as we might - and Philip has incredibly good eyesight, we could not see it. After a while, we decided he must have been mistaken, but he was adamant...later on, the same guy said he could see it again and once another member of the group said they could see it, we got really excited. After a few tense minutes, there it was, lying low on the surface about 20m away. Incredible! In reality it just looked like a distant seal, but it is a colossal rarity so very exciting nevertheless. 

The seal then dived and seemingly disappeared. Wow! We had seen a Mediterranean Monk Seal! To our amazement, it surfaced much closer - no way! This time you could actually see the length of her (a female we think) and features of her head.

But she wasn't done there. She proceeded to swim straight towards us and down the side of the boat. Absolute scenes!

Thursday 15 October 2020

Back to the head


A day off work and a few hours at Flamborough Head before coming back for the school run. I parked at the Old Fall steps and walked towards the lighthouse. Incessant alarm calls from Goldcrests and Wrens alerted me to the presence of a predator in the front gardens of the lighthouse cottages; I carefully poked my head round a bush to come face to face with the angry amber eyes of a Long-eared Owl a few metres away! It turned - I got a dodgy photo - and it was off, flying over the houses and away south, chased by a local Carrion Crow. A great start. 

Long-eared Owl in the act of taking flight.

I spent a couple of hours looking round the lighthouse grassland in the hope of stumbling across yesterday's Olive-backed Pipit. Sadly, I didn't manage this, but did stumble across a lovely Little Bunting which flew up ticking into the brambles by the hedge. It seems to be the bird found by top bloke and artist Jonathan Pomroy yesterday. I got a quick bit of phonescoped video before it dropped back into the grass. A few minutes later it flew up to the top of the hedge.


Little Bunting. Always a delight!

A Lapland Bunting flew out to sea from Cattlemere calling, seemingly heading for Spurn in the distance. Redwings and a few Song Thrushes were dropping in and hiding in the hedges; some sought food in the ploughed field. 


Redwing and Song Thrush. Trans-North Sea migrants - scenes!

A Sparrowhawk nailed a tired female Blackcap so easily, it was pathetic. I was pleased the Sparrowhawk got a meal at least. A Woodcock flushed from near the sheep field and a Snipe came 'in off'. Old Fall was dripping with Goldcrests, hovering among the dying Sycamore leaves. An elusive Chiffchaff and a canopy feeding Robin increased my pulse rate briefly, before a message that the OBP had been seen saw me heading back round to the lighthouse area. The pipit had gone to ground again and we couldn't relocate. 

A little later, I met up with Rich Baines to kick around a quiet South Landing and then Old Fall again, but like the Little Bunting, the time was ticking away rapidly before I was due home to pick Sol up from school. A pipit appeared, providing a nice finale when it landed close by revealing itself as a Tree Pipit, not the hoped-for Olive-backed, but cracking nevertheless. It was rather confiding, edging furtively in the grass at the foot of the hedge (see pic at the top of this post) before skipping up onto a bough to pose for pics. Back west in time to pick up the Boy Leadley. Happy days!

Tree Pipit, Old Fall Hedge, looking furtive and rare.

Monday 12 October 2020

Team Birdo Annual Weekender: Flamborough 2020

Team Birdo, well, five birding mates (in pic below, left to right, Simon Patient, Mark Hawkes, Duncan Poyser, Ben Green), met up this weekend for our annual birding beano, general hedge watching, beer and high jinx. It was the start of Mini Migweek at Filey - Flamborough, so a fitting time to be on the coast.

Team Birdo. Not as young as we once were, but just as daft.

As usual, the weather wasn't especially promising, with northwesterly winds, but we enjoy a challenge, so put in dawn 'til dusk stints on the Great White Cape of Flamborough Head each day. Lots of staring into bushes, scanning stubble fields, walking the hedgerows and staring up into the mesmerising foliage of Sycamores was in order! Along with a bit of seawatching of course!

If you stare long enough....

Friday night, Mark and Simon arrived in effervescent mood, having tracked the Bearded Vulture for 12 hours until it crossed the border and made it on to Mark's impressive Cambridgeshire list. That was a great start to their weekend! 

Saturday, W - NW wind, sunny spells.

Having consumed a little too much beer and having enjoyed a little too less sleep, we started proceedings off with a seawatch standing in front of the seawatching hide. Team Birdo wouldn't seek the comfort of being inside the hide, oh no! (only joking - covid restrictions meant there was no room).

A couple of hours revealed a smart first calendar-year Yellow-legged Gull, adult Mediterranean Gull, several Sooty and Manx Shearwaters, Great and Pomarine Skuas, but best of all, a Merlin that came 'in off'. After food, we headed round a quiet Old Fall loop (highlight a smart first calendar year Caspian Gull -see below), before heading over to Bempton. 

First calendar-year Caspian Gull. Gorgeous! 

I haven't seen many early October Caspian Gulls, so good to see this bird moulting into first-winter plumage, with still lots of retained juvenile feathers and quite a lot of streaking on the crown. The bird did some nice stretches showing off Persil white axillaries, a good indicator of a pure Casp.

We spent the afternoon at South Landing, where at least three Yellow-browed Warblers zipped around among their drabber Chiffchaff cousins amid frenetic Long-tailed Tits. Late on, Ben picked up a skein of geese coming in from the southeast over the sea. Orange bills and feet suggested Greylags at first but as they closed in, it became apparent that they were Bean Geese! 19 of the beauties! They went overhead, uttering an occasional low honk. We were pretty sure they were Tundra Beans, but waited until later to check the photos to be sure. The geese looked like they were looking to land somewhere, but a check of all likely spots revealed little. Fresh in from Denmark probably, absolute class. We ended the day as we started, with an enjoyable hour's seawatch, followed by a superb home-cooked curry - nice one Ben! An artist in the kitchen as well as with a paint brush!

Sunday - strong NW wind, heavy showers

With a fresher wind and heavy squalls tumbling like airborne glaciers down the North Sea, we again started with a seawatch, although small flocks of Redwings and Blackbirds were arriving from the sea. Only Mark was sharp enough to pick up the two Grey Phalaropes which were called by the birders in the hide behind us, but we did get lots of Sooties and Manxies, a distant Pomarine Skua, a couple of Bonxies, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser etc. It looked good for a Leach's Petrel, but if we couldn't pick up a phalarope, we had no chance really! Some showy Harbour Porpoises and some porpoising Grey Seals were smart. 

Sooty. Class carving from this South Atlantic beauty.


We decided we should check out Old Fall again. A Short-eared Owl flew over as we walked past the golf course - high up in the blue sky, a fresh arrival we suspected.

Highflying Shorty

Old Fall hedge was alive with birds - lots of small flocks of Redwings erupted from the depths as we walked down to the plantation; Blackbirds streamed down the hedge and headed off across the fields, where yesterday there had been none. Brilliant stuff - migration in action! A tired Brambling reluctantly flew up into the hedge from the grass. Siskins and Lesser Redpolls called overhead. Down at the plantation, Redwings and Blackbirds flew in every direction. I waited by the bridge as the lads carefully walked up the north side of the wood - 52 Blackbirds and over 30 Redwings flew out of the bushes and into the hedge - amazing! Nothing rarer was among them, but this was a thrilling spectacle.

After a quick stop for lunch and packing our bags, we did South Landing again, which revealed several (continental?) Coal Tits, a smart Ring Ouzel, a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers and lots more thrushes. We walked the loop round Whelkie Wynds, a wood just east of Flamborough village, but it was relatively quiet, with three Bramblings the only birds of note. 

Redwing, caught by ringers near South Landing. What a stunning bird!

We ended the day with what else, but another seawatch. It was quiet, but a relaxing way to end a fab weekend on the headland. We didn't find 'the big one' but enjoyed a wide range of fab migrants, from seabirds to geese, thrushes to tiny Siberian sprites. Class!


Tuesday 6 October 2020

Welcome to the Pterodrome!: Madeira Trip Report September-October 2020 - Part Two - The Birds

The following is a brief report on our sightings of birds during our five and a bit days on Madeira last week. For some notes on our itinerary, check out the first post by scrolling down. I will follow this blog up with some of the more notable wildlife sightings...


Teal, Anas crecca

A female (or Green-winged Teal, A. carolinensis, seen at Machico)

Red-legged Partridge, Alectoris rufa

A couple of coveys seen on the approach to Pico Do Arieiro and also heard calling at Caso Do Sardinhia.

Trocaz Pigeon, Columba trocaz

Several seen in the Palheiro Gardens, Funchal, with a few seen in the mountains in various places, often sitting on telephone cables. More unusually, one was just above the coast at Canico.


Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto

A few seen around villages. 

Plain Swift, Apus unicolor

Very common everywhere. A regular 'screaming party' of about 16 seen most evenings by the coast at Canico.

Pallid Swift, Apus pallidus

A small group seen and a few individuals at Caso Do Sardinhia.

Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus

A few seen by the rivers and in the small wetland at Ribera Brava.

Common Coot, Fulica atra

A pair on the wetland at Ribera Brava.

[Zino’s Petrel, Pterodroma madeira]

After seen many Desertas Petrels over the previous week, a Pterodroma seen from Porto Moniz seemed lighter in flight, more bouyant and with more frequent flapping - it could have been this species. Hard to put our fingers on why it felt different, a bit like the difference between Arctic and Common Tern at a distance. However, without closer views we couldn't rule out Desertas Petrel so it goes down as a possible.

Desertas Petrel, Pterodroma feae/deserta

Four seen from our balcony at Canico was brilliant, followed by up to 30 individuals seen on the Desertas Trip. Stunning birds, with a distinctive arcing flight, never seen to flap once! When feeding doing tight figure of eight turns. The chunky bill confirming this species was noticeable on closer birds, while the amount of white on the underwing never approached that supposedly shown by Zino's. There is some dispute as to whether the birds breeding on the Bugio in the Desertas are a separate species from Fea's Petrels breeding on the Canaries. I will leave that to the taxonomists, but either way, an absolutely spectacular taxon!

Great Shearwater, Ardenna gravis

One seen with five Desertas Petrels moving ahead of a squall on the way back to Funchal from the Desertas. 

Cory’s Shearwater, Calonectris borealis

Abundant. Large numbers (several hundred) seen off Porto Moniz and along the south coast, indeed whenever we looked at the sea. Some spectacular feeding flocks, diving in from a height in the style of Gannets off Porto Moniz. Class birds. 

Manx Shearwater, Puffinus puffinus

c50 seen off Porto Moniz on Tuesday, with c30 seen on Thursday. Some of the more distant birds may have been the following species...

Little/Barolo/Boyd's/Audobon’s Shearwater, Puffinus iherminieri?

At least ten seen from Porto Moniz on Tuesday and a couple seen on Thursday. Undoubtedly distant individuals slipped through without a confident identification. 

Bulwer’s Petrel, Bulweria bulwerii

Our first record was of a dead individual by the shops at Porto Cruz :-( Two superb birds flew past the boat on the way out to the Desertas, followed by a fully feathered chick in a nest hole on Deserta Grande. Another single seen from Porto Moniz on Thursday.  

Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea

One at the river mouth at Manico.

Little Egret, Egretta garzetta

One in the Palhiero Gardens and three on the beaches at Caso Do Sardinhia.

Whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus

One at Caso Do Sardinhia.

Turnstone, Arenaria interpres

Several seen at the rivers at Ribera Brava and Manicho.

Arctic Skua, Stercorarius parasiticus

Three flew west past Porto Moniz on Tuesday, with one east there on Thursday. 

Black-headed Gull, Chroicocephalus ridibundus

One west at Porto Moniz on Tuesday.

Lesser Black-backed Gull, Larus fuscus

Small numbers seen loafing about in Funchal Harbour.

Atlantic Yellow-legged Gull, Larus michahellis atlantis

Common around the coast, with c200 loafing on the jetties in Funchal Harbour. All presumably Atlantis

Roseate Tern, Sterna dougallii

Two very white small terns that flew past Canico on Friday evening were thought to be this species.

Common Tern, Sterna hirundo

Several seen at Porto Moniz and one on the Desertas trip.

Common Buzzard, Buteo buteo

Fairly common around the island.

Common Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus

Very common throughout the island.

Rock Sparrow, Petronia petronia

Three seen at Caso Do Sardinhia.

Berthelot’s Pipit, Anthus berthelotii

Common and confiding in open habitats, eg at Pont Do Parho, Pico Do Arieiro, Caso Do Sardinhia.

Grey Wagtail, Motacilla cinerea

Common around the coast and along the rivers.

Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs

The very distinctive form maderensis was common in woodland areas and in the parks. 

Greenfinch, Chloris chloris

A flock of 15 seen at Pont Do Pargo.

Atlantic Canary, Serinus canaria

Common throughout the island.

Blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla

Common throughout the island in suitable habitat.

Spectacled Warbler, Sylvia conspicillata

Two or three showed well in scrub near the car park at Pico Do Arieiro. These pics are of a couple of juveniles that were very inquisitive. Note the small stature compared to Whitethroat, very short primary projection and huge rufous wing panel.

Madeiran Firecrest, Regulus madeiriensis

Probably the most abundant bird in the forest, often very confiding. 

Robin, Erithacus rubecula

Fairly common in wooded areas.

Northern Wheatear, Oenanthe oenanthe

One on the approach to Pico Do Arieiro and two seen at Caso Do Sardinhia.

Blackbird, Turdus merula

Small numbers around Canico and in wooded/garden areas throughout the island.