Wise Birding Holidays

Thursday, 20 October 2016


Today I did my usual circuit for this time of year and headed up to the top fields to the east of the Otter Estuary. It was a lovely sunny and very calm morning and there were definitely more Meadow Pipits around than usual. As I reached the cliff top footpath at around 09.30hrs one of the local residents stopped to chat to me. After about five minutes of chatting, I was keen to get away and continue birding when all of a sudden I heard the distinctive call of a Serin coming from the south of me out to sea. I quickly had to explain to the woman that I needed to try and find this bird! I soon picked it up with a small group of Meadow Pipits as it continued calling, but the light was pretty awful. However, I could clearly see a small finch with bouncing flight (smaller than the adjacent Meadow Pipits) with an obvious cleft in the tail. Frustratingly, it continued heading away from me in the sky and then seemed to turn inland towards the weedy fields and as it turned I could just make out some yellow/green colouration on the underparts of the bird before it turned again and headed back out to sea. It headed straight towards the sun and seemed to be turning inland again, but I lost it in the sun! 

A very pleasing patch tick and such a distinctive call to me from numerous overseas trips, but slightly frustrating that I never managed to see it on the deck or photograph it. I found it strange it chose not to join the Linnet flock and the ideal weedy fields, but I spent a good 90 minutes checking with no luck. A few Reed Bunting and a Brambling were new birds in later in the morning.

A second look in the afternoon resulted in no further sign of the Serin, but an immature male Merlin was a bonus. All in all, a pretty good day on the patch!

Brambling and two Reed Buntings were new in on the cliff top fields

Immature male Merlin hunting the top fields this afternoon

Sunday, 16 October 2016

New YBW on Patch

Yesterday, after the excitement of Spurn and more importantly overnight heavy rain and I was keen to get back out on the patch! Highlights were 2 Firecrest on the West Cliffs footpath and best of all a new Yellow-browed Warbler on the east side of the Otter. It seemed like it was fresh in zooming around and staying at the very tops of the mature Sycamores looking around before disappearing.
An afternoon look at the Otter produced a colour-ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull from the Channel Islands. During the evening, the top fields produced 2 Wheatears, 70+ each of Linnet and Skylark.

Yellow-browed Warbler on the Otter Estuary, 15th October

Yellow-browed Warbler on the Otter Estuary, 15th October

Lesser Black-backed Gull - ringed in the Channel Islands. A number of birds have been recorded on the Otter in recent years

The Mrs on the patch

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Siberian Spurn!

Siberian Accentor is a species which breeds in the boreal and subarctic zone of extreme NE Europe and West Siberia and the entire population winters in C & E China and Korea. 
Amazingly, last Sunday the 9th October, a bird was found in a small quarry on Shetland and represented the first record for Britain. It stayed just 2 days leaving many envious birders across the UK. 

Fast forward just 4 days later to Thursday 13th October and Britain's 2nd bird was found in the village of Easington, near Spurn Bird Observatory, East Yorkshire. This was just too much temptation for what is generally considered to be a tricky bird to see anywhere in the world. Therefore, during the early hours of Friday 14th October I picked up Kev Rylands in Exeter and we drove north in the hope of seeing this mega!

The photos below should give you a feel for the day. It was simply a brilliant and memorable day for birds. The Siberian Accentor aside, the migration spectacle in this part of the east coast was so exciting. Thrushes, Robins and Goldcrests were literally everywhere and seemingly falling out of the sky and there was a continual feeling of birds moving both by sight and sound. Brambling, Siskin, Redpolls heading over calling and lots of scarce and rare birds too. We spent the day birding the area and came frustratingly close to finding some new birds whilst in Easington. Kev had brief views of a "ticking" bunting and we both heard what I was pretty sure was a Dusky Warbler. It called on 2-3 separate occasions but never showed itself and unfortunately, it was coming from a private garden that we just could not access! Today, there were 7 Dusky Warblers recorded at Spurn and amazingly, Britain's 3rd Siberian Accentor was found in Cleveland.

Finally, it was worth highlighting the excellent Spurn Bird Observatory website. A huge thanks to the team of volunteers who arranged site access to the area the Accentor was feeding and their hard work in managing the crowd and parking throughout the day.

Siberian Accentor, Easington, East Yorkshire

Siberian Accentor, Easington, East Yorkshire

Siberian Accentor, Easington, East Yorkshire

Siberian Accentor, Easington, East Yorkshire

Part of the appreciative crowd!

Ring Ouzel over Easington

Ring Ouzel, Easington

Ring Ouzel, Easington

Song Thrush - The place was full of thrushes including these very grey looking Song Thrushes

Redwing - Many feeding groups were seen

Goldcrest - these were literally everywhere feeding at your feet!

Shore Lark, near the Blue Bell Cafe

Tundra Bean Geese - part of a group of 9 birds

"Tundra" Bean Geese - the bird with a more orange bill was being reported as possible "Taiga" Bean Goose but
the structure would seem similar to the "Tundras" and bill presumably within possible variation of Tundra

Pallas's Warbler - This bird was in the Crown and Anchor car park and the last bird of the day seen at 6pm

Spurn Lighthouse

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

More of the same

Nothing new today in terms of migrants other than 2 Wheatears on the top fields, but I am lucky to have some great coastline on my doorstep.....

The view from west cliffs looking towards the mouth of the Otter estuary, Otterton Ledge and the "top fields"

I am seeing Peregrines most days. This bird seems to show some orange staining from the Otter Sandstone cliffs

Yellow-browed Warbler - last seen yesterday with Firecrest

Painted Lady

Monday, 10 October 2016

Tawny Pipit and YBW

This morning I walked the west cliffs again, nothing new but there seemed to more Chiffchaffs around and nice to see the Yellow-browed Warbler was still present (now its 4th day). 

This afternoon, I had a call from Matt to say he had just found a Tawny Pipit off Gore Lane, Exmouth so I headed over and the bird was on show immediately. A Devon tick for me - Good to see Matt, Brian, Terry and Spencer. A nice relaxed twitch!

Total respect to Matt, he always pulls it out of the bag and certainly inspires me to keep going! After seeing the bird, I felt I had to give a quick check of the Top Fields my end. Nothing new, but lots of Meadow Pipits, Skylarks building in number, Linnet and a single Wheatear. Top work Matt and thanks! You can read his account of finding the bird HERE

Tawny Pipit, Gore Lane Exmouth 10th October

Meadow Pipit, Top Cliffs, Budleigh Salterton

Saturday, 8 October 2016

YBW and Ring Ouzel

A good day on the patch today with lots of variety. Finally a calm day and it felt rare too!

The Yellow-browed Warbler was still present this evening, but pretty elusive and not very vocal, similar to when I found it yesterday. It seems to favour the hawthorns and sycamores and is in pretty much the exact same spot as the one I found in 2014.
Best bird of the day was a Ring Ouzel just below West Down Beacon and surprisingly, the first I have seen on the patch. 
Other birds included Firecrest, 1 Wheatear, 1 Whinchat, Crossbill and Siskin over, House Martin, Swallow and good numbers of Song Thrush.

Also yesterday, I had an unseasonal count of 12 Sandwich Tern off the west cliffs. I was first alerted to them as they were calling a lot and then as I moved up the coast path they vanished!
Yellow-browed Warbler - 2nd found and 3rd seen on patch

Yellow-browed Warbler

Ring Ouzel - a 1st on patch "just"

Ring Ouzel



Common Chiffchaff

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Blyth's Reed Warbler - Berry Head

Today I decided to visit Berry Head where a Blyth's Reed Warbler has been frequenting the quarry since Mike Langman first found the bird on the 4th October. It was surprisingly sheltered in the quarry and the bird was regularly on view, giving its presence away by its regular "tek" call. The bird varied in appearance vastly dependent on lighting conditions. Below are some photos and notes that hopefully help with the id process on what is always a tricky bird to identify in the field. Thanks Mike for a superb Devon find!

Useful references: 
Blyth's Reed Warbler: Problems & Pitfalls
Blyth's Reed Warbler Nanzial - 1st for Cornwall Sep 2015
Blyth's Reed Warbler records at Portland Bird Observatory

Amazing how different the colouration of the bird looks in different light - Here in darker light and below....

 More in the open and in brighter light. The bird seemed to show a grey shawl around the neck at times. Also uniform coloured tertials.
Reed and Marsh should be far more contrasting.

Showing a slight "banana posture" and the bronze wing panel

Pale legged and pale throated from certain angles and an all yellow lower mandible lacking any dark tip that BRW is often meant to show

Skulking! The supercilium appeared deceptively striking behind the eye at times

Again in the open briefly!

This photo shows the emargination on the 3rd and 4th primary feathers, P3 and P4. Emargination is the narrowing of the 
outer web of the feather towards the tip of the wing. On Eurasian Reed & Marsh Warblers this emargination should normally only be 
present on P3. The photo also shows P2 as being distinctly shorter than P3 whereas on Eurasian Reed and Marsh Warblers 
these should be almost the same length. 
NOTE: P1 is greatly reduced or vestigial in most passerines, so the primary count begins at P2 on this photo.

Berry Head looking towards the quarry

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Easterlies continue

Another visit to the patch in difficult conditions as the buffeting easterlies continue! Highlight today were three separate firecrests and some impressive lights shows over the sea.....

Impressive light over the sea today

Firecrest near home today - 1 of 3 birds today

Firecrest reacting to second bird

Red Admiral

Monday, 3 October 2016

A break from Groundhog day!

The local patch has been hard work of late with not a great deal to show for one's efforts! However, it is still early days and I am sure it is just a matter of time before all those gems from Shetland just filter down to us in the South West - Positive Mental Attitude!

Anyway, sometimes it is good to have a change of scene, so I headed down to Cornwall and popped in to Davidstow Airfield. I love Davidstow, as it was the place I saw my very first Buff-breasted Sandpipers in September 1992 - I even hitched there from Plymouth! A few weeks later I returned in October of the same year to see a Black-winged Pratincole!

The reason for today's visit was a fine juvenile Baird's Sandpiper. A bird I first remember from my youth when reading Richard Millington's Twitcher's Diary with the memorable and still apt description of "a weetabix on legs!"

Hope you enjoy....

This photo shows the pale loral spot, clear breast band marking and long primary projection 

Scaly appearance of a juvenile and again the pale loral spot quite conspicuous

This photo gives a good feel for the structure and plumage in comparison to the Dunlin which it was associating