Excuse the massive (and inaccurate) pun for the title but all will be revealed later in this blog and you may want to make a cup of tea or better still grab a snifter because this will be a long one!
The Saturday before had been spent watching a contentious Wheatear on the Fylde coast near Fleetwood. At the time the identity of the Wheatear was undetermined but since then folk with much better powers of deduction and far more knowledge than me have decided that it is in fact an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear rather than a Pied Wheatear which is cool since the former is much rarer in this country than the latter. You can read my account of that trip here Wheatear. On our way home from seeing the Wheatear we stopped for a coffee on the motorway and discovered that a couple of Lapland Buntings had been found on the North Wales coast at Llandudno but we were already near Stafford so it would have been too much effort to go back northwards. I was slightly annoyed that I hadn't known about the Lapland Buntings earlier since that species is required for the Old Caley year list. I've also only seen a few Lap Bunts before and my views, while good, had never been close and those birds in Wales, going by the photos of them, were showing extremely well. Then on Wednesday as we were twitching a very hard to see Bluethroat near Southampton, written up here Bluethroat, another very confiding Lapland Bunting had been found at Portland Bill. It was too far to go that day but I'd watched the bird news services avidly for the rest of the week in the hope that it was settled and would remain. And so on Saturday, since the bird was still present on Friday evening, we took the decision to drive the 145 miles to Portland to year tick it. Even if the Bunting had departed on the clear and full moonlit Friday night, there is always lots of other good birds to see on the "Isle" of Portland. Jutting out into the English Channel as it does Portland, particularly the area at the Southernmost point, the Bill, attracts both incoming migrant birds as well as being the last port of call for outgoing birds too.
Halfway on our journey the Lapland Bunting was reported as being still present. It was frequenting a part of the cliff path adjacent to a cafe near to the Portland Bill lighthouse and conveniently there is a large car park at the Bill that would be close to the bird. As we drove in along the approach road we could see a small gaggle of birdwatchers all looking at the same spot and presumably the Lapland Bunting about 50 metres from the cafe. It was just a short walk from the car park and sure enough and requiring no effort whatsoever to find, the Lapland Bunting was feeding on the short grassy edge to the coast path.
|Lapland Bunting, Portland Bill, 14/09/2019|
Lapland Buntings are one of those "little brown jobs" but that description that doesn't really lend them anywhere near enough distinction or credit. They are similar to Reed Buntings but have a reddish-brown panel on the wings that are bordered by two white wing bars. They have a reddish-brown face that is enclosed by a black inverted comma shaped line that runs from the eye down the cheek and back to the base of the bill. This bird was a male, probably a first winter, so was sporting a speckled black georgette that enclosed a pale throat. The short stubby bill was a pale pink colour and legs were black. The feet of Lapland Buntings have an elongated hind toe which lends itself to the birds alternative name of Lapland Longspur.
A quite distinctive feature and seen when the Bunting was facing head on to us were the pair of rather fetching eyebrows!
The Bunting continued to feed and was only bothered when a couple of young Carrion Crows landed nearby. When one of the Crows approached too closely the Lapland Bunting flew off a short way along the path but soon settled down again.
|juvenile Carrion Crow|
As we sat on the bench dividing our time between watching the Lapland Bunting and looking out to sea, hoping in vain for a Shearwater, the Bunting actually began working its way towards us. We were just about the only birders still interested in the bird, most had departed for the cafe or elsewhere, so pretty much had it to ourselves apart from the odd, and inquisitive, passer by. The Lapland Bunting was now pecking away on the sparse and bare, to my eyes anyway, coast path itself but still seemed to be eating readily. We had been watching it for 45 minutes and it had only stopped eating once when it flew away from the Crows! If it keeps that up it'll be too fat to fly!
Some variety to the morning was added when a Northern Wheatear dropped in and perched on a clump of what looked like dandelions (probably not and something else entirely different but Botany is a non-starter in my head) and then a small flock of Starlings which also showed interest in the drying grasses. The Bunting was not at all bothered by any of these imposters unlike when the two Carrion Crows came close earlier.
Eventually the Lapland Bunting had got so close to us that I couldn't focus the 400mm lens on it at all. So I resorted to taking a video of the bird on my phone. It was a short video because after only 10 seconds the Bunting suddenly took to flight and flew right past my nose, trilling as it went, and headed southwards back towards the cafe. Overhead the cause of the birds consternation turned out to be a prowling Kestrel.
They needn't have worried though since the Wryneck then flew on to a grassy covered rock and commenced feeding right in the open. Now the strange looking member of the Woodpecker family was easy to see and everybody present was delighted. Of course we had seen one at just a few metres away in Wales and this one was about 20 metres away so I didn't bother taking too many photos but instead enjoyed just watching it. It was also good to share my scope views with other curious folk, some of whom had never seen a Wryneck before.
The Wryneck disappeared when a Kestrel boldly flew right into the grass just a few metres away from the birders and snatched a vole. The attack was too quick and it was too close for me to get the camera on it but I did manage to grab a few frames of the falcon carrying the prey away and also when it landed, on the exact same rock that the Wryneck had been on a few moments earlier, to devour its meal.
|"Greenland" Northern Wheatear|
The Little Owl was unmoved by a pale Common Buzzard soaring overhead. I'd been regularly scanning the skies in the hope of spotting a Honey Buzzard flying out to sea but not unexpectedly that aspiration was forlorn.
Wheatears still abounded as we walked back towards the cafe where we hoped to take in a nice coffee and cake before heading off to Lodmoor at nearby Weymouth to look for a Long-billed Dowitcher, wouldn't be a year tick since we'd seen the Frampton Marsh bird twice already but it was showing extremely well so would offer good photographic opportunities. The cafe was packed to the rafters though so we didn't bother stopping except for Mrs Caley to have a quick look through the "rock" (stony type) shop for some samples to take home to our daughter. While she was shopping a message hit my phone of a mega rare bird, an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (EOW from now on), that I'd never seen before. Excitingly it was at Farlington Marshes not far from Portsmouth and only a short detour off our route home. Five minutes later, SatNav primed we were on our way!
The 85 mile journey took us around two hours including a coffee stop (how cool was that!) and we trundled into the Hampshire Wildlife Trusts carpark shortly after half past three. The car parks were almost full but I managed to find a space when someone drove out. The marshes are a popular spot not just with birders but with local non-birding folk too. The bird was supposedly in an isolated clump of Blackthorn in an area known, quite suitably, as The Bushes. We could see the assembled twitchers as we walked down the lane towards the reserve. Reassuringly the EOW had been called as still being present several times as we'd been travelling so we were confident of a successful outcome. When we arrived at the designated spot both of us were more than a little bit dismayed when we saw several, actually some 20-30, birders and photographers stood right next to the Blackthorns and even moving branches to get in them. Why so close?, was our shared question. Surely the bird would be rattled by such behaviour? And yet it had been showing frequently and openly so it couldn't be. We stood further back and watched for any sign of the EOW moving and listened for the "tacking" call that the EOW would make but also looked for any excitement among the twitchers which would indicate that the bird was showing.
It didn't take long before those assembled closest to the bush started the animated "there it is" and "just under that bramble twig" followed by the inevitable "where?" and "I can't see it!". Cameras whirred into action so the EOW must be visible somewhere but I couldn't place it. I edged around slightly to my right tugging Mrs Caley along with me and there it was, #265 for the year and another life tick! The Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was preening in a small sunlit spot amongst the brambles and I rapidly fired off some shots, which incidentally proved to be some of my best efforts over the next hour or so.
|Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Farlington Marshes, 14/09/2019|
The EOW reappeared again at the top of the bushes but this time was too quick for me to grab any shots. Even though the bird showed frequently it was very active now and flitted quickly in and out of the tangle of branches and leaves. Then it appeared perched on a thick bramble twig moving only slowly along it. Thankfully Mrs Caley was on it this time so I now had carte blanche to take as many photos as I could!
The problem was that the EOW despite showing regularly spent much of the time tantalisingly partially hidden in the foliage making getting decent shots tricky indeed. On the few occasions that it perched openly on an exposed branch such poses were temporary and I was never fast enough to capture the moment. I took a bit of time to actually try and follow the bird and take in some of the ID pointers. One of the EOW's habit is to consistently "dip" its tail which this bird dutifully did often. Olivaceous translates as "of a dusky yellowish green colour" or simply as "olive green" but in the strong afternoon sunlight I gained the notion of a grey-brown coloured bird, not as rufous or as beige as similar looking Reed Warblers but, to my eyes at least, not really "olivaceous" either! Other distinctions could be seen, like the short pale supercilium in front of the eye and the very long bill. Whoever picked this bird out as EOW has considerably more skill at identifying birds than I'll ever have!
But I was happy to see it and count it as my latest lifer, my third in just 11 days! Another Oxon birder Ton was also there but surprisingly I didn't see any of my other fellow county birders. Maybe they've already seen one before. With the antics of the twitchers degenerating further as more and more arrived we called it a day and left for home. The Latin name for Eastern Olivaceous Warbler is "Iduna pallida" but it's generally classed as a member of the Hippolais family of Warblers which include the bright yellow-green Melodious and Icterine Warblers (both of which are on the Old Caley life list). Hip Hip Olais! I'll get my coat.....