Sunday, 1 August 2021

Flaming Hot Birding - July 2021

A visit to Bempton Cliffs RSPB didn't disappoint. The Black-browed Albatross not present late one morning but nice to bump into Alan Whitehead whom I had met whilst birding Anarita Park, Cyprus several years ago, and who kindly let me know of a Cream-coloured Courser at Mandria later that visit in 2018 (footage just over 7 minutes into the compilation). In the absence of the wanderer from the southern oceans the cliffs were alive with sounds and sights characteristic of a seabird city, not forgetting the distinctive odour. Also, not to forget the healthy population of Tree Sparrows around the visitor centre and a Corn Bunting singing from the fields. A mid day wander to relatively nearby Wykeham Forest where the skies were raptor free until the striking pale male Honey Buzzard circled the forest edge and drifted off at about 2pm. News broke of the Albatross's return an hour or so later and before 5pm nice views of it at Staple Newk cliffs, Bempton. It moved down onto the sea, and over a period of 15 minutes drifted north and then took flight, flying north close to the cliff edge, nice to study its flight.

Another twitch, this time to Cemlyn Bay, Anglesey, North Wales where the Elegant Tern put on a fine show at the lagoon. The shape of the crest varied with posture and a bill that would strike fear into many a fish. In flight the visitor from the Pacific coast of the Americas looked a heavier bird than its Sandwich Terns friends, its call was Sandwich Tern like, perhaps identical, but the cacophony of the Tern colony made it impossible to study further. Arctic Terns rested on the shingle beach and Common Terns were also present. The stillness of the bay was only broken by the whirring flight of a pair of pristine breeding plumage Black Guillemots. A slight detour on the return to have a look at half a dozen Choughs at South Stack RSPB, where a Hooded Crow played hide and seek near the cliffs.

Midweek and a visit to Welbeck Watchpoint, near Worksop, Nottinghamshire gave a lucky sighting of two Honey Buzzards at about 1.30pm over woods to the east, they circled and drifted south east, towards Budby? A chance to drive nearby to Budby Pumping Station, with thanks to the birder on site at Welbeck who showed me the way, the 2 HBs were then over distant woods west of the pond at about 2pm, and you've guessed it, they were drifting back towards Welbeck. On returning they didn't show. Both views were distant, best looks at one of them was of a pale bird with one showing tail feather moult. Also seen, a magnificent overhead Raven and a brief view of an equally impressive Spotted Flycatcher in trees by the Watchpoint. Return via the Pectoral Sandpiper at Adwick Washland my first visit to this relatively new addition to the birding scene in the Dearne Valley, South Yorkshire, looks a site with much potential.

Elsewhere in England the air filled with late evening song, squeaky gates needed oiling, and the horizon broken by the sight of a flame-tinged ghost flying low over the upland. A Tawny Owl hunted from roadside posts, nice to see it in relaxed pose away from the hunched roosting posture typical of this species. Goatsuckers had quietened down, but a Little Owl peered from a stone wall giving its aggrieved stare.

The Pacific Golden Plover at GB's wader headquarters, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire, showed nicely on the grassland and the wader spectacle on the pools enhanced when a Peregrine forced the shorebirds to take flight, though the masses of Spoonbills (26) were not all that impressed.
A moorland edge held the falcons, where a wandering Peregrine drew the ire of a Hobby, namely a brave bash to the head, and then Kestrels escorted it off site. With thanks to Swallows drawing our attention to a male Merlin, with another group alerting of the presence of a Sparrowhawk. Buzzards patrolled the skies, keeping an eye on a wandering Red Kite.

More photos uploaded at 'Latest UK Bird Photos'. Please enjoy.

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Late May Birding 2021 - moulting to summer plumage

Changed from winter to summer plumage in the space of a week in late May, the wax jacket moulted to reveal the Cape May fleece with worn primaries and damage to the carpals. Although, gloves and winter hat remained on standby. The birding was typical of late Spring, summer birds well and truly 'in' and still a chance of seeing a few rarities to these shores. This week didn't disappoint.

It was nice to catch up with birders in the field, some of which I've not seen for many, many months.

Several visits to the South Yorkshire moorlands where an immature Red Kite wandered over to the annoyance of Lapwings and Curlews on a couple of occasions, Merlin chased at breakneck speed on one visit and the swoosh of an adult male Peregrine stooping after a Woodpigeon reverberated across the valley, the action was all of a blur. Ravens thin on the ground the "cronk-cronk" call giving occasional reminders of their presence, the silence replaced by the haunting call of a Golden Plover circling its summer home. On terra firma Ring Ouzels were active, a male in song and Stonechats gave song flights and exaggerated "chacking" from the same valley side. Willow Warbler song dominated a valley beck. Nearby, a flock of 25 Crossbills remained about a tree cloaked reservoir but were not very showy. Across from such a reservoir Snipe drummed in showery weather though were shy when the sun showed itself.

When news broke of a Thrush Nightingale in East Yorkshire at Flamborough Head on Monday 24 May I was off. A Yorkshire tick, having seen two before in GB, one in song at Dungeness, Kent in early June 1994 and the one walking about out in the open at Landguard Point, Suffolk in late August 1995. I remember briefly from the Kent sighting, and more extensively from a visit to Sweden, the beautiful song without the rough notes of Common Nightingale. Arrived at the site and in position at 10:30. Looking up at the Bay Brambles/Willows the bird gave a brief burst of song and then perhaps around 11am it moved into view, and could be seen through the near branches where it sang for a while longer before returning to cover.

Heading back via Wykeham Forest where Common Buzzards were on show and a couple of Ospreys flew at distance down the valley in fairly quick succession before and after 13:30. A couple of Goshawk sightings, always nice to see especially outside of the display season. A lone male Crossbill in song from the viewpoint where a Garden Warbler sang from cover. At the car park a Tree Pipit could be heard.

A distraction on the way back was the Franklin's Gull at Swillington Ings (RSPB) that had been seen again at the Black-headed Gull colony after a couple of days absence. Arrived late afternoon as the thunderstorms abated walking up from the southern end. At the turn off to the reedbeds tripod laden birders marching forcefully into view signalled it had flown towards the reedbeds. Squelching along for several hundred yards to overlook a pool from where it could be seen and heard bellowing to the half or dozen or so Black-headed Gulls present alongside on the muddy edge. It looked very smart in the neutral light even showing a distinct pink flush to the underparts that was not discernible in my photos. A fantastic supporting cast that included Black-necked Grebe and "booming" Bittern. The site looked well different to when looking for the wintering Ferruginous Duck in the Pochard flock in the early 90s.

Two visits to Welbeck Watchpoint to the south of Worksop in Nottinghamshire looking for Honey Buzzards, and they were hard work. On Tuesday 25 May after shivering in a wax jacket most of the morning as the unexpected rain came down, the sun eventually showed well from after 3pm after which time there were four sightings up until just after 17:30. On one occasion two were in the air together. The penultimate sighting was of the pale bird of the two whose grey head glowed in the sun as it circled over the nearby woodland. Despite a sunnier and warmer morning on Thursday a pale male showed only mid afternoon and a darker headed bird, flew close by about one hour later. Both birds shown below and thought to be the same two as seen on Tuesday. Red Kites present throughout along with the obligatory Common Buzzards. A Hobby on the first visit seemed to show an interest in the Swifts present that hunted over the lake.

Spurn hosted an Eastern Subalpine Warbler which I twitched on Friday 28 May, the nearby male Red-backed Shrike surprisingly more elusive. A walk down the Point where from beyond the VTS Tower there three Spotted Flycatchers showed as did a female Whinchat and two Wheatears. The passage Common Rosefinch showed briefly near the Point from where a Cetti's Warbler sang in the most unlikely of places.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

A Glauc-billed Gull, Newlyn, Late May 2021

'Glauc-billed', I put it to you that you are "H", the 4th gull.

"No Comment"

For the sake of the observer (and possibly the wee donkey), are you "H" - American Herring Gull, or "H" - European Herring Gull ?

When did we stop caring about gull identification and scapulars?

Observations - immature gull present on a very hot and sunny day in late May 2021, Newlyn, Cornwall.
  • Immature 'Glauc-like' pink and black-tipped bill, right-hand nostril perhaps showing a bit of damage along its length and above.

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Easter 2021 - Snow Ouzels and a passage Osprey

The crossover of birding seasons evident on the South Yorkshire moorland edge this Easter. Flocks of Fieldfares remained working the hillside fields now showing a bolder plumage as summer creeps forward. As they foraged the first Swallows hawked insects overhead and a passage Sand Martin noted way up a moorland Clough. Nearby, Chiffchaff sang from a valley bottom, a site where Willow Warblers returned as April hit double figures. Listening to the different songs of these Phylloscopus lookalikes during snow showers was a little different to the usual Springtime scene, and nearby returning Ring Ouzels had become less vocal at their summer home as the weather deteriorated. The 'Mountain Blackbird' featured as the period progressed, birds back on territory with singles appearing at staging grounds after the Easter weekend. On one day a group of 3 alighted briefly before flying up into the moors. The increased sightings coincided with a push of Ring Ouzels nationwide.

A large flock of about 200 finches split unevenly between Siskins and Lesser Redpolls dwindled over time. They fed amongst the conifer treetops of a moorland reservoir and were joined by nomadic Crossbills that would show most days in varying numbers as part of the mixed finch flock or on their own. Although at least 75 in the area and possibly more, views were often of a regular dozen or so perched up for a while before flying further into cover or commuting between neighbouring reservoir conifer canopies. One day saw Bramblings on the move, not many but nice to pick out at a handful moving north during a watch. An unusual commuter between such moorland reservoirs was a female Mandarin Duck that 'wheezed' overhead  one morning along the Crossbill flight path. Present at similar sites about 10 mies away maybe their range is expanding along this moorland edge.

Meadow Pipits were 'in' and one day there seemed to be a passage from the East. Many Curlews present 'bubbling away and doing their finest Curlew-raptor impressions over the ridges, a couple of pairs of Oystercatchers were in one area that hosted several displaying Snipe. It's larger relative the Woodcock started their roding at dusk over the conifer canopy with one seen flying from cover in the middle of the day. One pair of Golden Plovers displayed over a moor, their haunting song carrying for miles, and yet only a couple of miles away a flock of a hundred or so remained 'wintering' before presumably heading to higher latitudes in the coming weeks.

Passage cream crown Marsh Harrier was early but nevertheless nice to see, and more expected for early April, a migrating Osprey. I was lucky in being in the right place at the right time as just before midday on 09 April 2021 looking along a moorland edge a large raptor with brown upperwings and a gleaming white "headlight" drifted into the light breeze heading towards me, before crossing the valley and heading north. Wasn't expecting it to pass through so low instead of soaring overhead. A lack of heat presumably a factor for its behaviour as whilst it was sunny it was very cool, verging on cold for the time of year. As they've done so in the past this Osprey didn't hang around.

Away from the uplands caught up with the lingering Iceland Gull in the lowlands at Old Moor RSPB as viewed from Warbler Way from where a Cetti's Warbler could be heard blasting out its song from across the river, on the reserve. Views of a Red Kite, one of two blogging the reserve, was a much welcome 'Wath Area' tick No. 198.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Birding Blast from the Past 10 - North American Warblers in Spring in New Jersey

I've been lucky to travel many times to Cape May, New Jersey, USA, for both Spring and Autumn birding, please click here for a series of trip reports. One of many highlights has been being a team member of Team 1000birds competing in the World Series of Birding, after many attempts the team taking first place in 2018 winning the Urner-Stone Cup. All being well in a post pandemic world I look forward to taking part in future birdraces with my Team 1000birds friends.

Birding New Jersey in early to mid May has given me plenty of opportunity to connect with the many North American Warblers on offer on the Eastern Seaboard. Here's a trip down memory lane of the Warbler species seen to date, and my thoughts on how easy or difficult it is to see the species.

Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapilla
The familiar loud and repetitive "teacher, teacher, teacher" song of the forests, a song clearly identified with Cape May County's Belleplain State Forest. Numerous and can be tricky to see, but with patience one of the many singing birds will walk into view. A night singer as well.

Ovenbird, May 2015

Ovenbird, May 2015

Worm-eating Warbler Helmitheros vermivorum
A "triller" and present in Belleplain State Forest. Elusive but patience usually rewards you with a sighting or two of this thickset Warbler as it moves through the tangled bushes.

Worm-eating Warbler, May 2013

Worm-eating Warbler, May 2013

Northern Waterthrush Parkesia noveboracensis
I found them more difficult to see in Spring than on autumn passage. Several noted over the years in song at Cape May Point and present in Northern New Jersey on World Series day.

Louisiana Waterthrush Parkesia motacilla
Much sought after, another Belleplain State Forest summer speciality whose presence at Sunset Bridge draws in birders every Spring. It's an early returning Summer visitor so at World Series time in early May you need a bit of luck to connect on the day and in the scouting week beforehand. Usually heard in song from deep within the streamside undergrowth, or seen as a quick fly past along the stream after being alerted by its tick type call. Seen and heard during many World Series of Birding runs by Team 1000birds in Northern New Jersey, although in our winning year we got it on the 6th staked out individual, excellent back up scouting.

Louisiana Waterthrush, May 2013

Louisiana Waterthrush, May 2013

Blue-winged Warbler Vermivora cyanoptera
A common but localised summer visitor to tangled field scrub, I've always found them to be elusive, more often heard than seen on the World Series run.

Golden-winged Warbler Vermivora chrysoptera
This stunning species is becoming scarce, difficult to locate in breeding habitat in the north. Seldom connected on World Series, notably a dazzling male in May 2007 with a Blue-winged Warbler song that was seen, others heard on 2 different bird race runs. The one that showed looked fine plumage wise, probably singing "Bee Buzz" missing the last "Buzz" due to being outnumbered in the area by its close Blue-winged relative. In Spring seen a female at Cape May Bird Observatory on the 'fall' morning of 17 May 2018, and one in a Warbler flock during pouring rain at the other end of the state at Garret Mountain before flying back from Newark a couple of days later.

Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia
Fairly easy to see be it running along the branches Nuthatch like or moving between tangled vines, its presence betrayed by a "squeaky wheel" song.

Black-and-white Warbler, May 2013

Black-and-white Warbler, May 2015

Prothonotary Warbler Protonotaria citrea
The gold-headed visitor to wet woodlands found at nest holes in near swamp like conditions where it gives its repeated "sweet, sweet  sweet, sweet" song.

Prothonotary Warbler, May 2017

Swainson's Warbler Limnothlypis swainsonii
A rarity in New Jersey with an overshoot noted for consecutive years in the late 2010s, a singing male that could be very difficult to see. It had a large woodland territory but would have certain song posts to which it could eventually be tracked down to. The Waterthrush-like song became hypnotic and could be heard from outside its woodland home.

Swainson's Warbler, May 2018

Swainson's Warbler, May 2018

Tennessee Warbler Leiothlypis peregrina
I tend to group this one with Nashville Warbler in terms of its behaviour and chances of seeing it. Also, probably because it's a comparison species in terms of the similar warbling song, 3 part for Tennessee and 2 part for Nashville. It may have a Willow Warbler feel to its appearance, but the subtle contrasting plumage tones renders it not dull. Seen and heard on 3 Spring visits.

Tennessee Warbler, May 2014

Nashville Warbler Leiothlypis ruficapilla
Elusive and fast moving describe my experiences of this attractive Warbler. Tricky to connect with and usually encountered when there's an abundance of warbler species on show. 

Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
Numerous in Spring seen in many habitats especially scrubby and reed fringed areas where it delivers the repeated "witchity" song. Can be quite showy at times, very inquisitive on pishing.

Common Yellowthroat, May 2015

Mourning Warbler Geothlypis philadelphia
A late Spring migrant and tricky to see, saw a male for a few seconds in Cape May State Park in May 2010.

Kentucky Warbler Geothlypis formosa
I found this species to be difficult to find and took many years to get it on my life list. The first is the only one I have seen to date, a singing male on territory in Belleplain State Forest. With thanks to Richard Crossley for help in finding this one, I'm sure it's the singing male shown in one of Richard's excellent books, The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds.

Hooded Warbler Setophaga citrina
A beautiful species characterised with bright lemon underparts and a striking hooded appearance, shy for photographs this speciality of Belleplain State Forest sings a cheery "weet, weet weetio" song. Some do give a confusing alternate song. Often seen on passage at Cape May and we usually have this one on the list in Northern New Jersey soon after sunrise on World Series day.

Hooded Warbler, May 2013

Hooded Warbler, May 2013

American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla
If you're struggling to id a Warbler on song it could well be this species. Reasonably easy to see, females and immatures probably dominate and then you glimpse the showstopper, an adult male. Sometimes the air is filled with the song of American Redstart, indicating an overnight 'fall' of this species in the area 

American Redstart, May 2018

Cape May Warbler Setophaga tigrina
Despite the name, a tricky one to encounter at Cape May in Spring when it is scarce, much more regular in autumn especially at the famous Cape May Point "Magic Elm Trees" or by the Cape May Hawkwatch. I've seen less than a handful in Spring. One quiet mid May afternoon at the Point (2011) on a day struggling to find any passage Warblers whatsoever, an adult male appeared from nowhere singing and showing well in a garden by Lily Lake. In May 2017 a male showed at Cape May Point State Park first thing but had quickly moved on by 9am. Nearby the Cape May Hawkwatch cedars held a pair in May 2018.

Cape May Warbler, May 2018

Cape May Warbler, May 2018

Cerulean Warbler Setophaga cerulea
Along with Golden-winged and Blackburnian Warblers arguably one of the most sought after Warblers at Cape May Point. The stunning 'Sheffield Wednesday' Warbler with its magnificent blue and white stripes, one bird outside Cape May Bird Observatory (Northwood) delighted locals and visitors alike one morning in May 2014. At the other end of New Jersey it can be found as a breeder in High Point State Park and nearby. It is usually noted by our team on World Series day typically in song from way up in the canopy.

Cerulean Warbler, May 2014

Cerulean Warbler, May 2014

Northern Parula Setophaga americana
Always nice to see, a rather showy Warbler going about its business allowing close approach as it wanders through the branches. Distinct rising buzzy song.

Northern Parula, May 2013

Northern Parula, May 2014

Magnolia Warbler Setophaga magnolia
A very striking Warbler, fairly easy to connect with but I found tricky to photograph.

Magnolia Warbler, May 2015

Magnolia Warbler, May 2018

Magnolia Warbler, May 2018

Bay-breasted Warbler Setophaga castanea
Stunning, the males look like they've had paint thrown on their face and then left to dry. Scarce, always sought after but should make the Spring trip list.

Bay-breasted Warbler, May 2018

Bay-breasted Warbler, May 2018

Blackburnian Warbler Setophaga fusca
The best? The rapid zipping song with the high-pitched ending can be heard on passage birds in Cape May County and from Hemlock tree canopy on its breeding bounds in Northern New Jersey. Always draws in many onlookers and seems to be a later migrant compared with other Wood Warblers, but perhaps not as late as Blackpoll Warblers.

Blackburnian Warbler, May 2013

Blackburnian Warbler, May 2013

Yellow Warbler Setophaga petechia
Numerous along field edges. Not a monotone species as the name may suggest, the bright red stripes of the males standout and the yellows of the female have a subtle contrast. Usually located by its "sweet, sweet, ever so sweet" song.

Yellow Warbler, May 2013

Yellow Warbler, May 2013

Chestnut-sided Warbler Setophaga pensylvanica
An attractive Warbler in all plumages, fairly easy to see in New Jersey on Spring migration. Gives a 'Rosefinch' like song.

Chestnut-sided Warbler, May 2014

Chestnut-sided Warbler, May 2018

Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata
This large late summer migrant, one of the "zit, zit, zit" singing Warblers. The conifers by the Hawkwatch at Cape May Point State Park a favourite haunt in mid May.

Blackpoll Warbler, May 2015

Blackpoll Warbler, May 2018

Black-throated Blue Warbler Setophaga caerulescens
Regular in Spring and nice to see.

Black-throated Blue Warbler, May 2013

Black-throated Blue Warbler, May 2013

Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum
Unlike Autumn it is scarce to rare in Spring, one in 2013 seen at Cape May Bird Observatory (Northwood), and another I connected with spent several days at the back of Cape May Point State Park in 2014. It was just a bit too far for us to "twitch" on World Series day.

Palm Warbler, May 2013

Palm Warbler, May 2014

Pine Warbler Setophaga pinus
A bird of the Pine forest, an early returning summer migrant. Song, well it's one of the "trillers" alongside Worm-eating Warbler and Chipping Sparrow. It can show well once you've 'got your eye in'. Hotspots include the triangle at Sunset Bridge within Belleplain State Forest and along Jakes Landing Road. Care in identifying on song alone at Belleplain as the other "trillers" are present as well.

Pine Warbler, May 2014

Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
A beautiful Warbler with a chatty, pleasant song. They move around the trees as a clearly defined flock, and over a visit to Cape May in May the numbers will clearly diminish during the stay as they start to move north.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, May 2013

Yellow-rumped Warbler, May 2014

Yellow-rumped Warbler, May 2017

Yellow-throated Warbler Setophaga dominica
Elusive, best picked up by its quiet warbling song, this striking Warbler is usually found alongside Pine Warblers with the hotspots listed for that species good for this striking Warbler as well. The yellow-lored (dominica) subspecies breeds in southern New Jersey and I manage to catch up with the white-lored subspecies (albilora) on one occasion at Cape May Point State Park in May 2014. I believe the latter breeds in NW New Jersey (from Bill Boyle's The Birds of New Jersey).

Yellow-throated Warbler, May 2013

Yellow-throated Warbler, May 2015

Yellow-throated Warbler, May 2018

Prairie Warbler Setophaga discolor
Reasonably abundant along field edges, a well marked Wood Warbler with its Yellowhammer like song.

Prairie Warbler, May 2014

Black-throated Green Warbler Setophaga virens
A very smart summer visitor to be found on passage at Cape May. As with some American Warblers has typical and alternate songs.

Black-throated Green Warbler, May 2013

Canada Warbler Cardellina canadensis
Tricky to see. Possible at High Point State Park, Northern New Jersey on World Series day, a singing male heard deep in cover on at least one occasion. Encountered at the migration hotspot of Garret Mountain. The one shown below was at Cape May Bird Observatory during a cracking fall of migrants one morning in May 2018, a morning where you didn't know where to look next as scarce and rare birds seemed to be everywhere!

Canada Warbler, May 2018

Wilson's Warbler Cardellina pusilla
A dainty Warbler, not common and when seen on passage you know it is or will be a good Warbler day. Always looks very slender.

Wilson's Warbler, May 2018

Yellow-breasted Chat Icteria virens
Is it a Warbler? For the sake of argument taking the historical view of an oversized 'Wood Warbler'. With its boldly marked yellow breast and its croaking song that would make a Great Reed Warbler jealous, this giant is a joy to see. They can be elusive hiding away in hedgerows and then perching out in the open on reaching full song. Also, the will it or won't it be 'in' for World Series day, and will back up sites deliver if it's not back at Higbees?

Yellow-breasted Chat, May 2015

Yellow-breasted Chat, May 2015