Saturday 4 November 2023

Flashback #8; October 2022

Still trying to complete my exercise in futility…..

Saturday 1st October; A Little Bit of Kentish-ness in Somerset

Our second attempt in a week to see a Kentish Plover ended in success after the failure of the week before. Huge thanks to our friends, Kev & Kyle, who had also travelled down to Burnham-on-sea to see the bird. They had already found the Plover on the windswept and rain sodden muddy beach so all we had to do was find the two big burly blokes instead of a tiny little wading bird. They were huddled up by the sea wall and the Kentish Plover was on the beach maybe thirty metres out. It wears ankle jewellery, put there by a German ringer, and that bling helps to pick the bird out when amongst the flock of Ringed Plovers (ironically unringed birds) especially when flying.

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) & Ringed Plovers (Charadrius hiaticula)

After quickly securing the year tick, and incidentally only the third Kentish Plover of my life, and hotfooting it off the seawall and back to the car while getting drenched by a nasty squall that carried needle-sharp rain and then hail upon it, we headed inland to Wiltshire and to the fabulous little nature reserve at Langford Lakes near Salisbury. A Pectoral Sandpiper had been showing extremely well on a small island in front of one the hides for almost a week. Although we'd seen a Pec Sand already in 2022, I wanted to get some nice photos of one. Unfortunately the bird must have heard that we were on our way because it decided to move to the far bank of its pool and hide amongst leafy vegetation. So I was left with decent views but with no improvement on my meagre portfolio.

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)

Year List addition;

282) Kentish Plover

Friday 7th October; An elusive American in Cambridgeshire

An American Wigeon had been found at Grafham Water. The reservoir had entered birding folklore back in August when Britain's first ever Cape Gull had been found there which we were lucky enough to see (read here). The duck could supposedly been seen either directly from the southern carpark of from the hide at Dudney Creek. The major problem though was that because of the very hot summer weather, water levels were low and all bird were hundreds of metres away from the viewing points.

There were lots of birds to see and I found another Pectoral Sandpiper and also saw Curlew Sandpiper, Grey Plovers, Little Stints and more amongst the thousands of birds. I couldn't however, find the American Wigeon despite searching for two hours.

So concerning our target bird we were left empty-handed but when we were just a few miles away after leaving the site, Mrs Caley noticed that the American Wigeon had been reported again. We hot-tailed it back to the carpark and to the hide and at the second attempt found the duck in Dudney Creek. I just about managed to gain some record shots.

American Wigeon (Anas americana)

Year List addition;

283) American Wigeon

Saturday 8th October; An Awkward Gull 

Caspian Gulls are difficult for the uninitiated birder, all Gulls are really. Although they have certain characteristics that help define them from other large Gulls, the nuances are often subtle and can be difficult to discern. I'm still very much still learning when it comes to certain Gulls and always value the insights of more learned birders when viewing them. So I am truly grateful to the finder of the Caspian Gull that we watched at Daventry Reservoir. Apparently it was a second winter. I really should get my act together concerning the large Gulls.

Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)

Year List addition;

284) Caspian Gull

Sunday 9th October; You're Barred!

Barred Warblers can be tricky birds to see. Despite the largest warbler that we can expect to see in this country, they are a skulking species and generally stick to dense cover and undergrowth. I've only ever seen a handful, most notably an adult that wintered at Titchfield Haven in 2017/18 (see here). Otherwise all of the Barred Warblers that I've seen have been hard-to-see juvenile birds of which getting any photos of had been difficult. So the one we watched at length in a short section of hedgerow at Climping on the south coast was a rare treat since at times it almost showed right out in the open. Almost.

Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria)

Year List addition;

285) Barred Warbler

Friday 14th October; Once Bittern, Twice Shortie!

We fancied some fresh air so went for a walk on Otmoor. We didn't intend going far and in the event didn't have to because all the action occurred along the bridleway anyway. The fun started almost immediately once we'd reached the "Bittern Bench" when a real Bittern suddenly flew up from the smallest and closest stand of reeds on Greenaways and sailed past not much more than thirty arms length away.

Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)

The Bittern then changed its mind about where it was headed, about turned, and treated us to a reversed flypast before landing back where it had started from. It always feels good to have seen a Bittern. Maybe it had been checking us out? Who knows!

We relaxed in the warm sunshine and chatted to a couple of friends when unexpectedly a Short-eared Owl was spotted flying across the same field. It was joined a few minutes later by another! A Bittern and two Shorties. Life is good sometimes.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

Sunday 16th October; For One Day Only, Green Is the Colour.

We were chasing a Water Pipit that had been seen at the London Wetlands Centre. The bird had been spotted from the Tower Hide but a couple of hours effort brought no reward, except that we did pin down an elusive Dartford Warbler for a couple of microseconds.

It was green coloured birds that provided most of the entertainment with a confiding Green Woodpecker that upstaged a skulking Bittern that, unlike on our walk on Otmoor a couple of days before, remained ninety-five percent hidden and never showed its head. 

Green Woodpecker (Pica viridis)

The numerous and raucous Ring-necked Parakeets posed beautifully for my camera and got "The Girl from the Wadi Hammamat" by The Pogues rattling in my head again. Oh, there it goes again, 'like a green parakeet'. Check it out.

Ring-necked Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)

And everybody knows that in reality, BLUE IS THE COLOUR!

Friday 21st October; Collared!

Just as we felt that our year list was floundering along came a goodie to set us off once more. A Collared Pratincole had been discovered at Slimbridge and after being confirmed as still being present on the Friday morning we hit our second Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in less than a week. The bird was supposedly showing well on the South Lake so we headed straight to the Discovery Hide. True enough the bird was there although was initially difficult to see against strong sunlight on one of the vegetated islands.

Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola)

This was just our second Collared Pratincole and came just over a couple of years after our first, also in Gloucestershire at Pilning Wetlands in May 2020 (read here). This second example of what is a peculiar species, a bird that is supposedly a Wader but is more akin in feeding habits and looks to a large Swallow or a Bee-eater, was showing much more closely though, and once it got airborne chasing wasps and bees gave a spectacular show even if the poor design of the hide made tracking such a fast moving object more than a bit tricky.

The dreary drizzle filled air didn't help a lot either, and the resident Crows were less pleased to see the unusual visitor and harried it continually, but it was good to add some recognisable shots, if not of a very high standard, to my photo collection. Now I need one of the rarer Pratincole species to come my way.

Year List addition;

286) Collared Pratincole

Saturday 22nd October; Dusky in the Light!

Dusky Warbler's have long been a favourite of mine. The first two that I saw, both in Suffolk in the last century, showed really well and views were superb. Ever since then, and particularly since I owned a camera, the half dozen or so I've seen have all been really elusive and difficult to observe. So the chance to see another that was supposedly showing reasonably well in Southwold, Suffolk, couldn't be passed up.

But, of course, Dusky Warbler's never give themselves up that easily and for quite a while we could hear the bird moving around a small sallow in a reedbed but couldn't see it at all. Eventually though the Dusky did emerge into the light and into the section of the bush that we could see into. I didn't get the best of shots but they are easily the best photos of the species that I've managed so far.

Dusky Warbler (Phylloscopus fuscatus)

We made our way up to Cley Marshes for the afternoon where a Long-billed Dowitcher had been found. We failed to find it and I was suffering from a bit of man-flu so called the day in early. It hurt my head to unenthusiastically look up at flyover Peregrine and Pink-footed Geese.

Peregrine (Falco peregrinus)

Year List addition;

287) Dusky Warbler

Sunday 23rd October; That's Not a Radde's!

Inspired by our successful twitch of the Dusky Warbler, we went for a quick double the following day by trying for its close cousin, a Radde's Warbler at Beachy Head in Sussex. The weather was atrocious as we drove towards the south coast and remained so with driving rain and strong winds almost all of the way there. By some minor miracle at Beachy Head itself it was fine and sunny for the two hours that we peered into a small scrubby patch set high up on the cliffs. For the previous week the Radde's Warbler had given itself up to all comers. We had to make do with a two second of its rear underparts but at least the peach coloured vent was diagnostic and conclusive for us to claim it. Another bird which showed superbly well a few minutes later, and was widely claimed by some other birders as the target bird, but which had black legs and no peach coloured vent so was clearly one of the many Chiffchaffs in the area. I wonder now just how many of the reports of the rarer warbler were accurate. I did see some nice photos of the Radde's so it definitely did show well at times. Just not for me. I still have zero photos of my own of the species and I've seen four now!

Year List addition;

288) Radde's Warbler

Wednesday 26th October; A County Tick But Only Just!

In a similar vein to the Radde's Warbler we tracked down a Dartford Warbler at one of our local reserves, Balscote Quarry near Banbury. Again our views were limited to just a few seconds but were conclusive enough. The juvenile Dartford Warbler became our 240th bird seen in Oxfordshire.

Friday 28th October; A Foreign Accentor!

Birds were coming thick and fast now and I was spending far too much time driving and not enough time at work. But when news of an Alpine Accentor in Suffolk was received on Thursday, I hastily arranged a day off for the next day. This was a "proper" and popular twitch for a pretty rare bird and one that I'd never had a sniff of before.

We joined the hundred or so other twitchers by the Marconi Tower at Slaughden mid-morning when there'd been no sign of the bird for a half hour or so. The birders were lined up four or five deep behind a gate that guarded a private road that led out to Orford Ness, a military controlled area but not entirely off limits judging by the dog-walkers who were heading along the beach in that direction. It didn't take too long before birders started following the dog-walkers along the path. We waited by the gate and it was clear that the vanguard had refound the bird although we couldn't see it from our standpoint. I didn't want to miss out so grabbing Mrs Caley and ignoring the signs warning of unexploded ordinance joined the twitchers who had relocated the bird. And there was our latest life tick (number 402), the beautiful Alpine Accentor, a bird that normally prefers high mountain ranges in Europe.

Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris)

Like our own native Accentor, the humble Dunnock, the Alpine version was happiest creeping around surreptitiously in grassy clumps and weeds. It is far more colourful though than our garden bird with red-brown body streaking, a yellow based bill and a string of white, pearl-like spots on the wings. As the bird crept away from us the crowd all in turn followed it slowly, holding position at a respectful distance whenever the bird settled.

As more and more birders joined the throng however, the excitement intensified as those at the back couldn't get a good view and the previously exemplary behaviour was abandoned somewhat. Eventually that caused the bird to flush and fly further along the beach wall which created quite a bit of disdain and a little bit of anger amongst some of the assembled. 

I for one didn't want to be involved in any shenanigans that would further upset the bird or other birders so Mrs Caley and I remained in our place and chatted to a couple of people that we'd met on twitches before. That proved to be a masterstroke when a few minutes later the Accentor flew back and landed on the pebbly beach no more than ten metres away. We were now in pole position to get some really good views and photos.

Having had our fill of the Accentor and not enjoying the bun-fight of arriving birders jostling with those already there to get a look at it, we left for the car. We had already spotted a Purple Sandpiper stood on a groyne while we watched the rarer bird and as we neared our car we spotted it (or another) right next to the gravelled track. Everybody loves Purple Sandpipers, they are scarce enough to always warrant a second and prolonged look and they are also a beautiful bird to see anyway, and very photogenic too. We spent an enjoyable five minutes or so watching the Sandpiper seek out food from the nooks and crannies of a wooden jetty and I gained some nice flight shots to boot.

Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima)

It had been a perfect half day at the seaside, and the next different bird species that I see would designate a new best tally for a calendar year!

Year List addition;

289) Alpine Accentor

Monday 31st October; High, White and Handsome!

The new benchmark for my own personal year list total came just a few days later after work and heavy rain had washed out the weekend. I had to run an errand to Norfolk and by some measure of luck not usually afforded to me I chanced upon a flyover White Stork while driving home. It would probably be wearing some ankle iron but for the purposes of my own list it would "do for me".

Year List addition;

290) White Stork

November & December of 2022 were all blogged up at the time, scan back through previous posts to read up on rare Wheatears, the Olive-backed Pipit that brought up the magic 300 and Yellow-browed Warblers that heralded the end of the year. 

Thanks for reading and looking at these belated blogs. Now I have to catch up on the early part of 2023!

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