Desert Wheatear, Salthouse, 29 October 2016

While Belinda was in the opticians this morning I was at a loose end. Instead of sitting around drinking coffee I ventured out to Thorpe Green to pay my respects to the long-staying and long-wandering Pintail x Mallard hybrid known affectionately as 'Pintard'. After that we headed out to the coast to Salthouse to see the male Desert Wheatear of the last few days. After a trudge along the shingle it proved most co-operative without ever coming mega close for photographs. What a stunner though, probably the nicest male I've seen in the UK and not far off full summer plumage. A flock of c45 Goldfinches joined the fun briefly as did a Reed Bunting. On the walk back a nice Water Pipit was on a pool between the Iron Road and the Little Eye.
Later at Salthouse we visited our coffee man on the beach road (highly recommended and only £2.75 for a cappucino and an americano!) and sat to enjoy our coffee on the beach where 8 Common Scoter flew west close in.

Desert Wheatear, Salthouse

'Pintard', Thorpe Green  

Wigeon, Salthouse (male almost out of eclipse - a late developer!)        

Gipping Valley, Suffolk, 23 October 2016

An afternoon poodle out to the River Gipping near Needham Market today to see the Black-bellied Dipper of the previous couple of days. After phaffing about for a bit due to some misleading directions I eventually got to the right spot just downstream of Hawkes Mill and enjoyed some truly amazing views. The bird fed actively on sticklebacks on the near bank completely oblivious to its admirers clicking away. Also along the river upstream of the mill were Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Next I decided to check the area around Pipp's Ford a little south along the same valley. A newish scrape here held 2 Green Sandpipers, 2 Little Grebes, c30 Linnets and another fly-past Grey Wagtail before I walked south along the river bank. After a couple of Common Buzzards, Bullfinch, Redwings, Song Thrushes and Mistle Thrush I turned round to walk back and the reported Great White Egret flew over the river in front of me and was lost to view behind a big willow.

On the drive home c200 Golden Plovers flew east over the A140 at Tivetshall.


Isabelline Wheatear in Norfolk - finally! Burnham Overy Dunes, 22 October 2016

We've been waiting for a Norfolk Isabelline Wheatear for a long long time but they all come in the end! After 4 in Suffolk and an old spring record which many regard as dodgy it was about time.

A text from Justin while I was still in bed this morning was followed by a dash up to the coast in my van and a sweaty anxious walk out to the dunes near Gun Hill. Amazingly the crowd were looking at a Pallas's Warbler when I got there so I had to re-find the Isabelline Wheatear myself. Luckily it wasn't too hard and I was treated to some great views on the top of the dunes with the bird having a Northern Wheatear for company.

After a good look and a chat I ventured into the dunes on the west side of Gun Hill but could only find a Chiffchaff and a few Redwings but just as I was walking away 2 Waxwings flew over calling and headed inland.

On the more leisurely walk back I scanned a flock of Brent Geese and picked up a Black Brant hybrid plus 5 Fieldfares an amazing total of 19 Grey Partridges. Other than that there were a few Pink-footed Geese and a single Little Egret.

Isabelline Wheatear

Black Brant hybrid

 Grey Partridge    

Siberian Accentor and loads more! Spurn, 14 October 2016

Yesterday has to go down as one of the best days birding I've had for years in the UK!

After a rather anti-social starting time of 02.00 we were at Easington just after dawn. Parking in a designated area at the old bus station in the village we wlked down Vicar's Lane and joined the massive queue of c1000 birders. Thanks to sterling work by the organisers the queue moved really smoothly and within 15 minutes we were feasting our eyes on the Siberian Accentor, what a cracker! The 2nd record for the UK after the first on Shetland only 5 days before. We joined the back of the queue twice more for more views as the bird fed on mossy tarmac completely oblivious to the masses of admirers.

When we'd had our fill we wandered back to the car stopping in Vicar's Lane on the way back for a nice male Common Redstart plus Bramblings and Tree Sparrows and an argument with a couple of bellend locals (one of which blamed us for her kid falling off his scooter!). Down at Kilnsea beach carpark we enjoyed some nice close views of a Shorelark and a fly-over Grey Wagtail while the hedges and fields were chock full of Redwings, Fieldfares, Song Thrushes, Robins, Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs. The Goldcrests showing their continental/eastern origins with prominent grey shawls (see photo below). The ponds by the road here also gave us 5 nice Mealy Redpolls feeding in Rosebay Willowherb.

Back along the road we were checking Kilnsea churchyard when a pager message announced the release of a Dusky Warbler in Church Fields in 10 minutes time so it would have been rude not to have a look! A bonus Yellow-browed Warbler also in the hand and plenty of Siskins were passing through and a Woodcock flew over.

Back near Kilnsea beach carpark we then jammed in on a flighty and elusive Olive-backed Pipit and 8 White-fronted Geese moving north before retiring to the cafe for sustanance. A walk along the lane to Canal Scrape a little later and we soon bagged 2 Jack Snipe plus Little Grebe.

Back at Kilnsea around the Crown and Anchor carpark we got some brief and ropey views of a Pallas's Warbler and much better ones of a Firecrest before we got lured away to Sammy's Point. The Little bunting we'd hoped for had vanished but we did manage 3 Ring Ouzels, a Common Redstart, Northern Wheatear and 3 Reed Buntings.

To finish the day we popped back to have another gawp at the Siberian Accentor which this time showed down to c12 feet when my camera battery had died! Then back at the Crown and Anchor carpark we finally nailed the Pallas's Warbler down to some wonderful views.

Justin and I even made the national press - the Telegraph and the Daily Mirror click here and look at the 3rd picture of the big crowd!

What an amazing day!       

Siberian Accentor

Dusky Warbler


Jack Snipe

Common Redstart

Goldcrest on the lawn!

Robins everywhere!

Mealy Redpolls - can you see them?


Some musings on the Stonechat complex

Following the views I had of the presumed Stejgener's Stonechat at Landguard on Friday I've been doing some reading and reviewing of old photographs I've taken down the years.

Firstly, on the subject of the Landguard 'Stejgener's' - it was more or less what I expected to see. Amost like a halfway house between a classic maura Siberian and a Common Stonechat. It had a reasonably distinct supercilium, a marked white throat and upperparts that lacked the 'frosty' look of an autumn maura and looked darker and much more hibernans/rubicola-like. The rump was a warm rusty orange with some central feathers whitish giving quite a pale-rumped look in flight. In the hand pictures clearly show a broad-based bill which is another pro-Stejgener's feauture. Behavoir-wise it was very strange for a stonechat being shy, wary, very flighty and wide-ranging and never perching on the top of the bushes, always preferring to keep low down at the bases of bushes or utilising low weeds on the beach. DNA samples were taken so we shouldn't have to wait too long to know!

There is an excellent and thought-provoking chapter in the Birding Frontier Challenge Series autumn volume on the whole stonechat complex which I'd urge anyone interested to read. This prompted me to review a series of photographs I've taken in the past in spring in Kuwait and a few of these are shown below. Kuwait is ideally positioned to attract maura birds from the east, rubicola birds from the west and also variegatus birds from the Caspian Sea area.          

A classic spring male maura Siberian Stonechat, Kuwait, April. Note the pale peachy, almost white rump and the broad collar.

Another spring male maura, Kuwait, April

This is an interesting bird which I'd originally labelled as maura but the dark plainness of the head means this is probably a female rubicola (aka Continental Stonechat). Kuwait, April 

Male maura or possibly rubicola, Kuwait, April

Male rubicola, note the dark mantle and extensive orange underparts. Kuwait, April

Female maura, an especially pale individual. Kuwait, April

Male maura, Kuwait, April

Spring male variegatus (aka Caspian Stonechat), note the extensive white in the tail base. Even noticable on the closed tail.  

Female maura, note the very pale rump. Kuwait, April

Classic 'peachy' 1w male maura, autumn. Norfolk, October

 Same bird as above - note the pale streaked mantle

Stejneger's Stonechat - presumably! Landguard, Suffolk, 7 October 2016

With a Friday off and potentially Britain's 2nd ever Stejneger's Stonechat at Landguard it would have been rude not to!
I went expecting a typical posing stonechat but the reality couldn't have been more different. It was extremely elusive and mobile. On arrival at 11.15 it had been on show but then went missing for 3 hours!
In the meantime I had a wander north along the common and was lucky to find a lovely showy Yellow-browed Warbler in brambles along the north section of 'Icky Ridge'. A Common Stonechat caused some very brief excitement but a fly-over and down Jack Snipe was very nice indeed. A 1w male Ring Ouzel followed and after a coffee at the cafe we ventured back onto the common. The stonechat had showed again along the south (fenced) part of Icky Ridge and within a few minutes we'd had a view at last. In the next hour it continued to show briefly several times on the ridge and nearby brambles and then on the weeds on the edge of the beach. During proceedings Nigel Odin walked up to the crowd and produced a ringed female Hawfinch for us all to have a gawp at which was very nice indeed!
Around the common we had several Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, loads of Goldcrests and Robins plus a single Fieldfare south and a few Song Thrushes and Redwings, a total of 4 Swallows south plus a couple of adult Mediterranean Gulls.    

Hummingbird Hawkmoth and other local bits

I added Hummingbird Hawkmoth to the garden list last year and this year one has appeared again. It showed for a while on 2 occasions by the patio on Saturday 1 October. Other recent bits include Painted Lady in the garden (still present on 5 October), Small Copper added to the garden list on 5 October when I bizarrely had a singing Blackcap too! Other butterflies still about include Small White, Large White and Red Admiral plus Migrant Hawker. A few House Martins were moving through locally on 1 October. 
My first Redwings of the autumn were around Wortham Common on Sunday 2 October where I also had Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Green Woodpecker and a small movement of Meadow Pipits.