Sunday 31 October 2021

"Jono! Get on this diver!"


Monday afternoon, I found myself staring into the Willows by the golf course at Flamborough Head. A couple of Blackbirds skulked low down, including a dark-billed first-winter male. These birds had just arrived over the sea. And then the calm was shattered by an ear-splitting shout from Dunc...

Joined by my old mate Dunc Poyser, we had spent a fantastic five or so hours seawatching that morning, combining a great movement of ducks including 45 Pintails, Red-breasted Merganser and Goosanders, with a steady arrival of passerines over the sea. Birds coming 'in off' included a Woodcock, lots of Starlings, Redwings, Blackbirds, Skylarks and Siskins, with smaller numbers of Song Thrushes, Chaffinches and Lapwings. This was migration at its best and incredibly exciting. One poor male Blackbird drew the attention of one of the local immature Peregrines, which flew out to 'greet' it. A truly terrifying Yorkshire welcome. After several stoops, the Blacky ran out of energy, and the Peregrine deftly plucked the bird out of the air, reached down to kill it with its beak and then flew back inland to enjoy its breakfast in peace. 

Occasional small groups of Little Gulls moved north, some spanking adults flashing dusky underwings as they went. Red-throated Divers were accumulating to fish along the Flamborough Front, where the currents mix, providing an upwelling of nutrients, attracting fish. Their occasional wails and chuckles could be heard in the calm morning air. Two powerful Great Northern Divers were seen, one heading north, the other south; heavy pied divers with gleaming silver bills, looking pale in the strong sunlight. One landed among the Red-throats, dwarfing its cousins. Reports of White-billed Divers further north got us speculating about a sighting of one of these even more majestic beasts...

By early afternoon things had quietened down and after five hours I was keen to go and have a look at the bushes. There was clearly a lot of stuff arriving and it was worth a look. We didn't get far. 

Rock Pipit

At the Golf Course Willows, we split up. Dunc stayed on the GC side; I wandered up the path. Suddenly a deafening shout of "Jono! Get on this diver!"  smashed me in the face - I just ran, straight down the path. Dunc was looking in his scope. "White-billed Diver - heading towards the fog station" What the ...? 

I put my bins up and sure enough, the lumbering shape of a large diver was flapping towards the fog station. I made out brown upperparts merging into white underparts, totally unlike the clear-cut pied Great Northerns we'd seen earlier. As I focussed, the white edifice of the fog station hoved into view and blocked out the diver, as it headed south behind the building. No way! 

Dunc was in a state of shock. I confirmed I had got on the bird and agreed it looked great for White-billed, though I couldn't really add much to a description. I quizzed Dunc and what he'd seen. He had picked it up through the bins and got straight on it with his scope, which is when he'd screamed like a banshee. He had seen the full features, bill and everything and had completely nailed it. Absolutely brilliant! I felt stoked for Dunc, but a bit disappointed that I'd walked away at that particular moment. Well, that's birding. After sending out a quick Whatsapp message to the local birders, we shot back up the steps and Dad-jogged down to the fog station just to check if the birder we'd seen up there earlier had seen it (he hadn't) and to check the sea to see if the diver had landed (it hadn't). After 30 minutes it was clear the bird wasn't coming back, so we decided to continue our walk round Old Fall, beaming like mad men. 

Old Fall was relatively quiet, but there were about 30 Blackbirds in the hedge and plantation, plus a handful of Goldcrests, Redwings and Song Thrushes. Nothing more interesting materialised, so as teatime was approaching, we decided to head home for a celebratory pint.

Sunday 24th October

With a strong southerly wind, I wasn't convinced seawatching would be any good at Flamborough Head. I settled in the hide and one of the first birds I saw was a smart first-winter Caspian Gull. I quickly phonescoped it before it drifted past the head and out of sight. A little later, a black and white bullet shot north, a Little Auk, no doubt the remnant of yesterday's impressive passage. It hurtled north and away. Plenty of Teal and Wigeon were heading south, along with a dapper Goldeneye, a handful of Tufted Ducks and best of all, two female Scaup, complete white white face-blazes. A few small flocks of Starlings were arriving 'in off' and shortly I picked up a small dark wader, coming in quite high. Zooming off I was surprised to see a Jack Snipe! I managed to grab a few seconds of phonescoped video. Things quietened down, so I walked the Old Fall loop, which yielded little, besides three Goldcrests and three Blackbirds. 

Sunday 17 October 2021

Taiga, Taiga, burning bright...

Up early, I caught a train over to Scarborough to help out with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust AGM. During the day, I met a lot of lovely members and did a guided walk along the seafront south of the Spa, which was very enjoyable. After my walk, I checked my phone and was stunned to see that the Red-breasted Flycatcher that had been reported from Flamborough earlier on, had been reidentified as a Taiga Flycatcher! Yikes! Colleague and top Yorkshire lister, Andy Gibson was also working, so I quickly showed him the message. Fortunately, Andy had a car and was shortly heading back to Hull, so a little detour to Flamborough seemed apt. We piled in and headed south. 

The bird was showing on arrival just down from the seawatching spot below the fog station. About thirty birders were precariously balanced on the clifftop with some further down. It flicked around the chalky clifftop, occasionally dropping on to the grass. Facing away, the deepest jet-black uppertail coverts overlay the dull black tail feathers, a diagnostic feature. It also had an all black bill and no hint of buff in the tertial edges and greater covert bar.  

I had seen my first Taiga Flycatcher at Trow Quarry this time last year - see here -and this bird looked identical. In the dull light, it did look decidedly greyish and drab compared with the Red-breasted Fly I saw a week or so ago. Nevertheless, a charming little dude, restless and diving around the cliffs, constantly alert for a passing insect. 

My good fortune continued, as I bumped into York birder, Paz, and he agreed to give me a lift back to the railway station so I could cycle home. We did the Old Fall loop back to his car, which was deathly quiet. And then the news of the Spurn Two-barred Warbler came through....eek!

Long-toed Stint: Another Yorkshire Mega!


Yorkshire is having some year, so when news that a Temmick's Stint at St Aidan's had been reidentified firstly as a Least Sandpiper (very rare) and then again as a Long-toed Stint (uber rare) I was in somewhat of a panic, given I was in Norfolk! Fortunately, this tiny wanderer stayed around for eight days, allowing many birders to see this fantastic Asian wader. A really interesting bird, with a unique jizz, perhaps a little like a diminutive Pectoral Sandpiper.


The bird's long, dull-yellow legs and crazy long toes set it apart from other peeps. As it fed, it leant forward, probing the mud just in front of its longest (middle) toe, which was quite interesting, and there was quite a bit of leg visible above the knee (well, the ankle really), before the belly. The upperparts seemed to have neat dark centres to the scapulars and coverts, with a hint of pale tramlines on the mantle, and yet the tertials and primaries seems dull brown and quite worn. The head pattern was distinctive, with the dark crown reaching the bill, split on either side with a white stripe, before a broad white superciium with a dark upper border, and a fine dark loral stripe extending beyond the eye on to the ear covers. The bird's bill was short and dainty, with a fine tip. Strangely, the bird would occasionally tuck up one leg and hop about whilst feeding (see videos) and at other times, would walk about normally. 


The bird really didn't look like a Temmick's Stint, but this was such a huge call, being the first in Britain since 1982 (ignoring the bird in Ireland in the 90s), that I am not surprised the observers erred on the side of the more likely species. An absolutely amazing find and something I never expected to see in Britain, let alone Yorkshire!


Team Birdo Norfolk Weekender 2021

The legendary (not really) Team Birdo weekender was held in North Norfolk last weekend. Sadly, the team had dwindled to Dunc and myself, as Ben was in Scotland, Mark was sadly ill and Simon was knee-deep in nappies. The weather had a slight easterly feel in the wind, though we were perhaps clutching at straws a little. Well, a lot, as it turned out. After two cracking days at Flamborough, I headed south on Friday, my first destination the sprawl of gorgeous dunes at Holme. I used to work here from time to time, back in my Norfolk Wildlife Trust days, so I was intrigued to see how it had developed. 

I took a walk from the pines all the way back towards the entrance through the dunes. It is a beautiful place, with stunning areas of lichen-clad dune slacks, large banks of Sea Buckthorn and Elder tangles. I passed the bushes where I had lucked out with a Red-flanked Bluetail about ten years ago - see here - they still looked good! Today, however, it was super quiet. I pished a couple of Blackcaps out of the bushes and had a Brambling fly over, but that was about it. The path was strewn with basking Common Darters and a few Painted Ladies bounded past, but otherwise, it was quiet. 

On to Titchwell, I spent a relaxing few hours grilling a close Golden Plover flock looking for a Dotterel or rarer Goldie, but sadly there wasn't anything of interest. A fine first-winter Mediterranean Gull was loafing with the Black-headed flock and a Little Stint added a bit of wader interest. A Black-necked Grebe on the sea was a pleasant surprise but best of all were the Bearded Tits in the reedbed close to the path. It was a very calm afternoon, and the pinging of a multitude of Beardies could be heard. One male showed beautifully feeding in the tops of the reeds giving me the chance to really soak up his hirsute handsomeness in the scope.

Quite a few washed-out, faded looking Golden Plovers, like this one in the bottom pic. One or two birds only had traces of their black belly feathers, remnants of their breeding plumage.

I just love first winter Med Gulls. They have a certain charisma that just kicks ass.

Male Bearded Tit/Reedling/Parrotbill/whatever.

Met up with Dunc then headed for some pints of Ghost Ship and birding tales at the Golden Fleece in Wells. A good start to the weekend. 


We headed out early to Cley beach car park, in order to walk to Blakeney Point, ignoring the tantalising news of Britain's third Long-toed Stint which had been identified in West Yorkshire, as best we could.

It was a gorgeous, if gruelling, walk along the shingle. Several Red-throated Divers were fishing close in on the sea, but there was little in the way of migrants, except a handful of Song Thrushes and a Wheatear. We trudged on to the end dreaming of Sykes' Warblers and Alder Flycatchers, and were pleased to find a few migrants in the plantation, though nothing quite so rare: two Bramblings, two Chaffinches, two Blackbirds and a handful of Redwings. It was a long walk back, with little to show for our efforts, but it had been great fun nevertheless. 

Dunc at the infamous Halfway House

Tired Brambling, 'fresh-in' Song Thrush and Red-throated Diver.


Up early again, Dunc picked up two adult Med Gulls in the field across from our cottage in Wells through the steamy kitchen window whilst we were sorting breakfast. Nice work.Today we walked from Lady Anne's Drive, Holkham, along the line of pines and through Burnham Overy Dunes to Gun Hill. Another site with an impressive record for rare birds, but not today. Again, very quiet, with three flyover Lapland Buntings the pick of a tiny bunch, that included two Blackcaps, two Chiffchaffs and three Redwings. It is hard to believe walking through this area in early October, without a single call from a Yellow-browed Warbler. Strange times!

After our long walk, we headed to Titchwell, which yielded much the same as Friday. Additional birds included a Cattle Egret loafing with the gulls and a distant Arctic Skua chasing a Common Gull out over the sea. Dunc, who was made of tougher stuff than me decided to continue birding for the last couple of hours; I decided to call it a day and head back north. So long Norfolk, til next time!

Thursday 7 October 2021

Yellow-browed at last!

Headed back to the Cape again today. The wind had swung back to southwest and with clearing skies, it was unlikely that there would be a repeat of yesterday's sublime scenes.

I headed round the Old Fall loop. Two Jays bounded along the hedge and away, followed by two Chiffchaffs and to my delight, a Yellow-browed Warbler! It flicked up into the top of the hedge then flew straight towards me and into the Hawthorns next to the car. It is always a good day if you see a Yellow-brow, so this was a good start. Down at the plantation, there were more Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap, followed by a Spotted Flycatcher, possibly Johnny's bird from yesterday (pic below). Another Yellow-browed Warbler was calling stridently from the lofty green heights of the Sycamore canopy, giving only tantalising glimpses. A few Goldcrests moved through too.

There was no sign of the Little Bunting at the Motorway, in fact, there was no sign of much at all. A couple of Song Thrushes burst out of the hedge and plenty of Skylarks were blogging around Cattlemere, but it felt quiet.

I didn't have as much time left, so after completing the loop, I nipped over to Bempton to see the Barred Warbler. After a few minutes of enjoying a dapper Lesser Whitethroat, the East European hulk jumped up into a willow, dwarfing its cousin. As Barred Warblers tend to do, it dropped back down into cover and vanished. Nearby, my third Yellow-brow of the day was flicking around in the tops of the Willows near the Visitor Centre. Another good day, but with a different feel and a different cast to yesterday. Now to Norfolk...

Some days are better than others

Green Warbler, Pectoral Sandpiper and Minke Whales aside, it has been a pretty quiet autumn round here. There has been far fewer birds around than normal, with even common migrants being scarce, which all seems quite sinister. The continual westerly wind probably hasn't helped.

The forecast looked promising mid-week, so after a pretty stressful few weeks at work, I decided to make my long weekend even longer, by taking Wednesday and Thursday off too. Hopefully, a change from the normal wind direction combined with some rain, might just drop a few migrants along the coast.

I was planning to start by seawatching but it looked like the visibility was rubbish, so opted for the bushes. Arriving at the top of Old Fall Hedge, Flamborough, the conditions were grim and I could hear the fog horn; very strong northwesterly winds, low cloud and heavy drizzle blowing horizontally. Wet legs were assured! This wasn't a good time to discover the zip on my coat had broken...

As soon as I set foot out of the car, a Redwing dropped out of the sky and landed on the hedge: my first of the autumn and a great start! I headed down the hedge, with flurries of Redwings blowing over and others erupting out of the hedge in front of me. As I arrived at the plantation, groups of Bramblings wheezed overhead in the murk and a Great Spotted Woodpecker bounded in, seemingly straight off Bridlington Bay. The wind made the plantation very difficult to watch, though I could hear thrushes and Bramblings up in the canopy. I continued the loop. Two Ring Ouzels and a Fieldfare were in the hedge south of the plantation and a tired, wet Wheatear hid behind a thistle clump in the sheep field.

By now, my trousers were pretty wet but the quality of the birding meant I barely noticed. The visibility picked up as the rain eased, and as I arrived at the lighthouse, news came through of a Great Shearwater past the seawatching hide. Time to get my scope and a bit later, I arrived at the busy hide. The sea was impressive, with huge foam-topped waves piling south as the strong wind continued unabated. Good numbers of ducks were passing, although I was really getting the tail-end of things having missed the early morning hiatus. Nevertheless, Wigeon, Shoveler, Common Scoter and a Red-breasted Merganser were all seen. Sooty Shearwaters powered effortlessly north into the wind as if it was a gentle breeze, whilst Bonxies cruised past in the other direction. A shout went up from Brett Richards and I got on a stunning Great Shearwater, gliding past at close range. Strangely, like the first one, this bird was also heading south, so perhaps the same individual that had gone south earlier, which could have gone back north undetected. Either way, always fantastic to see this king of shearwaters off the cape.

By early afternoon, things had died down, so it was time to grab food and head to the northside. Holmes Gut was quiet, with just a few Redwings and a Bullfinch. I walked round the clifftop and down towards the camp. On to the mound and a few Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler seemed to be feeding in the shelter of some Holm Oaks and Willows. Shortly, a dry trill announced the arrival of a Red-breasted Flycatcher that zipped past in front of me flashing its white tail sides. 

It landed out of sight, but I could still hear it calling, so I rang Andy Malley and Phil Cunningham who I knew to be nearby. They arrived just as the Flycatcher reappeared - good timing! It fed along the bottom of the hedge, before flicking into the garden and out of view. Corking!


This gave my flagging energy levels a big boost, so I decided to head back to the southside and do the Old Fall loop again. It was quieter now, the thrushes and finches having mostly headed off inland. A Yellow-browed Warbler had been reported in Old Fall, so I hung out with Johnny Mac for a bit, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and listening for the little Phyllosc. Johnny had seen a Spotted Flycatcher round by the Gorse Field, so after a bit, I decided I would head round. 


Sure enough, the pale shape of the SpotFly could be seen sitting in the sunshine on the southside of the hedge, occasionally dashing out to catch a fly. I always like the long grass of the lighthouse field, so I headed into it, parallel to the Motorway Hedge. Within a few metres, a small bunting flew out and landed inside the nearest bush. Before I raised my bins, I just knew this was going to be a Little Bunting, as it just had that 'feel'. Through bins, a beady eye peeped out of a neat white eye-ring amid fiery red cheeks, watching me suspiciously. An absolutely belting Little Bunting - get in! I quickly fired off a few shots with the camera, though I was looking into the sun, so I knew it might be fruitless. After drinking it in for a minute, I rang Johnny and then put the news out on the WhatsApp group. I carefully walked round to the otherside of the hedge to get better light, but in doing so lost the bird - doh! I checked my camera and was relieved that you could identify the bird from the image- see below.

I had to go as I had promised to be back for tea, so after twenty minutes and no further sign, I traipsed off through the grass. I flushed a Common Snipe, which should have been a Jack or a Great, but sadly was neither and another 20 Redwings from the hedge. Nice. I arrived back at the car, weary but happy.  Some days are better than others, and this was one of the best. 

A little later Johnny sent me some fantastic pics of the little stunner, which he has kindly let me post here:

Little Bunting pics by John McLoughlin

Saturday 2 October 2021


Fantastic views of a Red Squirrel gathering Hazel nuts around the Wild Ingleborough office at Selside in Ribblesdale on Wednesday. This is frontier country for squirrels, with Reds clinging on against the march of the Greys just to the south. The Reds are holed-up in the large spruce plantations in the area and occasionally venture along stone walls into the tiny fragments of native woodland on the slopes of Ingleborough. 

One of the ambitions of the Wild Ingleborough project that I am working on, is to join up these fragments to enable the Reds to move around more easily and flourish in the area. We just need to be vigilant for Greys moving in.