Monday, 25 September 2017

Unst 2017: Days 0-2

It can't quite believe its a year since I was last on Unst... time does indeed fly. However, I'm not complaining, as it's great to be back up here again, thrashing up burns and through iris beds. This year there are just the two of us, me and Paul Eele, staying in a cosy little two bedroom cottage in Baliasta, called Scraefield.

We left Newark promptly at 7am on Saturday morning, Paul having come across from Norfolk the previous evening. After an uneventful drive up, we arrived in Aberdeen in plenty of time for the ferry. For the first hour or so out of port we did some seawatching from deck, with 4 Arctic Skuas being the highlight, along with a couple of Harbour Porpoises. Retiring inside, we settled down in the bar, noting that there seemed to be only a handful of other birders on the boat, which was a bit surprising. We flaked out about 9.30 for a slightly unsettled sleep in the sleeping pods, not helped by some quite lumpy seas between Orkney and Shetland!

Leaving Aberdeen

Having arrived and picked up some bits in the Lerwick Tesco we headed north up Mainland, stopping for a couple of hours at Sandgarth, in Voe. This is a cracking looking site, although possibly with too much cover... We bagged our first Yellow-brows of the trip here, with three in evidence. A party of Redpolls gave us the runaround but eventually showed well enough to see they included at least two Mealies. 1 or 2 Goldcrests were the only other migrants here.


Paul bagging a YBW

Two ferries later, we arrived on Unst, and were out in the field by 2.30. Around our cottage in Baliasta we had a nice male Brambling, and single Garden Warbler and Blackcap. We failed to see anything at all at Houlland, in increasingly blowy conditions, so went round to Skaw, which was a bit more sheltered and where another Garden Warbler was accompanied by two Blackcaps. We rounded things off with our fourth YBW of the day in the burn at Burrafirth.

Scraefield. Bijou.

Today, we were up and out in reasonable time, and straight to Houlland, where there some birds unlike yesterday - one apiece of Reed Warbler, YBW, Chiff and Song Thrush. Back to Scraefield, and a Blackcap was knocking around but not much else. Next stop was Baltasound, where there were 2 YBW, 2 Blackcaps and a Chiff in the area around the post office. On to Halligarth, and after a chat with Brydon T we worked the site. Best here was a Common Rosefinch which popped out in front of me and sat up in a small sycamore for a couple of moments before vanishing - perhaps the bird seen in Baltasound most recently as Thursday? Single YBW, 2 Chiffs and 2 Blackcaps completed proceedings here.


A wander at Norwick was pretty quite, with single YBW and Song Thrush at Valyie, a flight-only Lesser Whitethroat and 8 Swallows south. There were a few waders on the beach, with around 20 Turnstone, a Sanderling, a few Ringos, and a Little Stint that dropped in for a moment before haring off south, calling. The small clump of trees in the valley at Northdale held a Barred Warbler, present for several days now, and another very skulking and flighty Lesser Whitethroat, with a Chiff and a YBW in the Rosa by the cottages. At Burrafirth, the YBW was still in the burn, and we kicked up a Jack Snipe. By now the weather was pretty grim, so we decided to have one last stop before calling it a day - Setters Hill Estate. This produced our eighth YBW of the day, along with 2 Chiffs and our first Robin.

YBW in typical habitat, on an Armco barrier.

With winds still set firm from the south-east, its all to play for over the next couple of days!

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Hard work in Lincs

The 16th was a productive day on the patch, with first two Ravens circling over the south, and then a young Red-crested Pochard on Ferry Lane Lake- bit new for the year. Other things included 3 Curlew, 6 Dunlin, 1 Oystercatcher, 14 Pochard, 40 Wigeon, 32 Teal, 9 Shoveler and 2 Pintail. A few days later, the number of Pintail has increased to three, whilst the only waders were two each of Dunlin, Green Sand and Snipe. 

In between, I had a visit to the Lincs coast with a few other guys. We began at Gibraltar Point, which was slow. We failed to find any Yellow-brows (although two were seen at Aylmer Avenue), and had to make do with a handful of 'common' migrants. Best perhaps were 2 Spoonbills which flew inland, and a couple of Arctic Skuas offshore, plus my first Pinks of the autumn. Similarly, a walk at Chapel Six Marshes and then along Wolla Bank to Anderby Creek again failed to produce much, but it was good to reccy another bit of the Lincs coast that I've not birded before. 

Thursday, 14 September 2017

No waders, and no seabirds

Over the last week or so I've been checking Mons Pool in the hope of a decent wader - a Pec would've been nice! Or even a just a Ruff... However, Hagg Lane Flash has evidently been intercepting all of them, and I had to make do with up to 2 juv islandica Black-wits, and up to 4 Dunlin... and that's been about it. Aside from waders, a juv or female Garganey was on Wharf Pit on the 10th with the Teal, and there has been a distinctly autumnal feel, with the first Meadow Pipits of the season, a small arrival of Wigeon (ok, just 6, but its a start), some big groups of House Martins - and still the odd Swift

Yesterday I checked Kilvington Lakes on the way home from work, in the vain hope of a windblown seabird. The best I could managed, however, were 6 Ringed Plover, 2 Greenshank, 2 Swifts and at least 3 YLGs. There was also what looked like an adult Caspian Gull amongst the LBBGs, but it was on the far side of the lake and into the sun. 

Monday, 4 September 2017

Catching up

Spotted Flycatcher is not a guaranteed species each year on the patch, although thus far during the PWC era I have managed to see one (or sometimes more) annually. I was beginning to worry this year, and to look enviously at nearby patches in Lincs which have recorded them recently. 

I'd been checking the usual spots at Collingham, especially the big ashes along Northcroft Lane, without luck. However, on Sunday I met John Ellis at the new hide on the north side of Mons Pool, and having had a good chat, was just about to leave when I noted something flick up onto the fence by the hide on the opposite side of the reserve - bingo, a Spotted Fly. I wandered round to get a photo just in time, as two horse riders came past, the bird flew, and I couldn't relocate it.

Spotted Flycatcher

One day I'll upgrade to a patch Pied Fly. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Back to reality

After 2 and a half weeks in South Africa (of which more to follow...), it has been back to reality, birding the patch. Mark Dawson found a Wood Sand on my first day back (Friday), on the partially dewatered Wharf Pit, which remained until Sunday at least. This pit looks great, although water levels have been creeping back up, and has also held a Black-wit, up to 3 Greenshank (new for PWC 2017), up to 9 Green Sands, 2 Common Sands, single juv Ringed Plover and LRP, up to 7 Snipe, and up to 20 Little Egrets. We'll see what the coming days and weeks bring - a Pec Sand would be nice. 

Wood Sand with a Greenshank
Wharf Pit

Mons Pool, by contrast, has been disappointing, as all the water that has come out of Wharf Pit has gone there. The Garganey lingers, although it has always been hiding when I've looked for it. And that's about it, apart from 3 Curlew, contributing to patch wader diversity. 

I also had a look at Cotham Landfill on Friday, and realised I'd forgotten what I was doing with gulls. As well as quite a few ringed LBBGs (which I'm in the process of tracking the origins of), there was were looked like a juvenile Caspian, and an adult (or near adult), although both potentially had issues which I need to look into more closely when I have time. Pics below. 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

More Yellow-legs

On Tuesday night I called into Kilvington Lakes on the way home. There were a small number of large gulls present, mainly LBBGs but also 3 adult or near adult Yellow-legs, and at least 2 juvs, including the one photo'd below with a juv LBBG

Monday, 31 July 2017

Juvenile YLG

After an uneventful patch visit on Sunday (the drake Scaup was still on Ferry Lane Lake, but there was little else of note), I headed back for another session at Cotham Landfill. There were fewer gulls present than the day before, and rather than trying to count Yellow-legs, I spent some time actually looking at them properly. 

Best was a nice, and reasonably close, juvenile Yellow-leg. Everything appeared to be there, the icing on the cake being several replaced scapulars with dark anchor-shaped markings - this early in the year a very pro-juv YLG feature! Other features included dark tertials with neat, narrow fringes (only extending halfway along the feather edge); white rump and tail with a neat black terminal band; near-absent pale window on the inner primaries; long-winged appearance; and a dusky mask around the eye on a pale(ish) head. The bill could perhaps have been heavier though. It was also quite large and aggressive...

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Red and Yellow

Back to last week, and the Garganey at Mons Pool lingered until Sunday 23rd, when volunteering at East Leake allowed views of three of the Bee-eaters without having to leave the carpark, and my WeBS count at Girton yielded a Redstart - very nice, although it would have been better at Collingham!

Juv Redstart

This week, and the highlight until today had been a party of 11 Black-wits on the 26th (with 19 the day before, according to the Notts Birders sighting page), along with a drake Scaup on Ferry Lane Lake which John Ellis had found at the weekend. 

Drake Scaup

However, today produced my second Redstart in as many weeks, this time obligingly on patch, in the hedgerow along the western footpath at Mons Pool. Not a guaranteed species annually on the patch by any means. 

Female Redstart

I then decided to have a look at Cotham Landfill, which I'd been meaning to do since I cycled past a couple of weeks ago, spurred on by a monster count of 37+ Yellow-legged Gulls just to the south at Kilvington Lakes yesterday (along with 4 Casps). Several hundred Lesser Black-backs were present (, along with at least 25 Yellow-legs - nearly all adults or near-adults, plus a second summer and a juvenile, as well as a couple of Herring Gulls (including 2 juvs) and one GBBG

An adult YLG
Another adult YLG
Check out the bill - a brute!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Mid Summer birding

The best things about mid Summer birding is the big screaming flocks of Swifts over Newark. They're always difficult to count, but the biggest count visible from my garden has been 55, in two groups. Love 'em!

Aside from another stint on car park duty at the Bee-eaters, my only other birding has been a few patch visits. There have been a few waders, most notably 5 Black-wits on 15th (with singles on 9th and another tonight), the first few Common Sands (2 on 14th and 2 tonight), several Green Sands, a high count of c.10 Oystercatchers (on 14th), and a juv LRP (not bred here). At least 220 Coot were across Ferry Lane Lake and Mons Pool on 14th.

On the breeding bird front, one of the two pairs of Great Crested Grebes on Mons Pool has managed to hatch a chick on the third time of trying (having been flooded out twice), whilst the second pair abandoned there nest for some reason (they were on their second try). The three remaining Kestrel chicks have fledged, and there are two Tufted Duck families around too (with a total of 10 ducklings). 

Wildfowl have also provided a little interest of late, with an eclipse drake Pintail last night bettered by a Garganey tonight, which appeared to be a juvenile rather than a female. Also present tonight was a brief juvenile Yellow-legged Gull which flew off shortly after I scanned onto it (amongst a group of LBBGs and BHGs, plus a single Common Gull). 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Bee-catchers and butterflies

It's always interesting when non-birding friends and colleagues ask me about a particular bird - "do you know about the Bee-eaters at East Leake?" (or Bee-catchers in one case!). Well yes, yes I do - I didn't act fast enough on the Sunday night (unlike some), but was down there first thing on Monday morning, eventually enjoying somewhat distant views at about 6.30am. Today was my first crack at seeing them again. First of all though, I had a four hour shift (6-10am) in the carpark, but this was rewarded with a fly-over by four of the Bee-eaters heading south, and then two returning north a bit later. Amazing really, to be stood in a field in south Notts and for that to be happening. I then wandered down to the viewing point and had very satisfactory views of two, then four birds perched up and hawking for insects (not that you'd think so from my pics). 


Back home, and whilst attacking some unruly shrubs in the garden, I became aware of a familiar call, but one I couldn't instantly place. A chunky passerine then appeared overhead, flashing large white wing patches, and the penny dropped - a Hawfinch! Quite what this was doing flying west over Newark in mid July, or where it had come from, I have no idea. 

Yesterday, and I had an enjoyable afternoon on the patch. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but the Lapwing bonanza at Mons Pool continues, with at least 12 young birds in 7 broods on Mons itself, or in the fallow fields to the west and north, ranging from a couple of days old to fully grown. Here too there were three cygnets with an adult Mute Swan (good as I though the nest had failed), a female Gadwall with 6 duckings (with another with 5 ducklings elsewhere). There were also signs that for some birds, summer was over, with 6 Green Sands and 9 Teal present.

The non-avian highlight of the week was a Purple Emperor in Cotgrave Forest. The origins of this species here are undoubtedly questionable, which slightly takes the shine off them for me, but still great little creatures to see, along with a bonus Silver-washed Fritillary and two Purple Hairstreaks. I also had a work visit to Freckland Wood near Newstead, which spports another species of dubious origin - Marbled Whites, at least 25, plus 100s (maybe 1000??) Ringlets - there was literally one every metre. 

Purple Emperor
Silver-washed Fritillary

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Settling in for the summer

It's fair to say that things have been a bit slow going on the patch over the last couple of weeks, with everything settled in for the breeding season. One species that isn't breeding is Turtle Dove; it's now the longest day, and I still haven't heard one, so I think it's safe to say that they're lost from the site, which is a real tragedy especially as there were three purring as recently as two summers ago. 

On a more positive note, Lapwings are having a good year, with three broods out and about (totalling 8 young), and at least a further three adults on nests; the fallow field north of Mons Pool has produced all of these. The first young Little Egret has also appeared. However, last year's success for Coots and Great Crested Grebes on Ferry Lane Lake hasn't been repeated, with just one young grebe visible tonight. A single Mute Swan cygnet is also present. Finally, there is a brood of 4 young Kestrels in a nestbox, and a Barn Owl is busy ferrying voles in the direction of Langford Lowfields. 

And I almost forgot the non-breeding highlight of tonight's patch visit - two 2cy Spoonbills! These flew south along the western side of Ferry Lane Lake just before 8, and are a nice addition to my patch list. These are undoubtedly the two that flew north over Langford on Monday; perhaps they've been on Mons Pool?

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Lizard

Our week in Cornwall at the end of May/start of June seems like a long time ago already. The Lizard is one of those places that every naturalist should visit, and I wasn’t disappointed. There is some fantastic heathland and maritime grassland habitat, and even as a non-botanist I spent some time searching out and identifying some of the peninsular's special plants (including several which occur no-where else in Britain). A few pics of these below.

Coastal grassland
Broomrape sp.
Upright Clover
The Lizard Point
Goonhilly Downs
Wild Chives
Early Marsh Orchid (incarnata)
Trackway near Goonhilly Downs
A  nice little damp patch
Windmill Hill Farm
Marsh Fritillary habitat at Windmill Hill Farm
Windmill Hill Farm
Thyme Broomrape at Kynance
Prostrate Broom
Flowery turf at Kynance
Gone over Spring Squill
Spring Sandwort
Hairy Greenweed
Kynance Cove
Spotted Cat's-ear
Early Purple Orchid
Fringed Rupturewort
Western Clover
Long-headed Clover
Rough Clover
Caerthillian Cove
Hairy Bird's-foot Trefoil
Grassland at Caerthillian Cove - clover central
A pool near Goonhilly Downs
Lizard Downs
Church Cove
Ivy (?) Broomrape
Wild Clary

The birding was generally sedate, although the fact that we found ourselves in the most southerly part of mainland Britain at the end of spring wasn’t a co-incidence. I spent the week with my ears pricked for the sound of a Bee-eater or Serin overhead, but had to make do with a self-found Red-footed Falcon - and a dodgy kite. The only other birds of note were 2 Chough (in flight at Lizard Point) and three Red Kites, plus several Cuckoos.

The only picture I could get of a Chough

Other wildlife included a couple of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries on the coast between Kynance and Caerthillian, and a Slow-worm at Windmill Hill Farm; the latter site also supports a Marsh Fritillary colony, but I couldn’t find any (not helped by sub-optimal weather).

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

The Lizard is one of only two places in the UK where the rock serpentine occurs (part of the reasons the area is so botanically-rich). The other place is Unst, where I’ll be in just over three months time! But before that, our next trip is to South Africa, which will be a bit different from Cornwall I’m sure...