The wintering Siberian Lesser Whitethroat in London

Readers of this blog will know that on Sunday Jus and I managed to see the wintering Lesser Whitethroat in Richmond, West London. The bird has been present in back gardens of Selwyn Avenue for a few weeks now. For those who may be interested in going, the alleyway round the back of the houses is beside no.90 Selwyn Gardens with the bird frequenting the 2nd garden on the right side of the alley just beyond the obvious bend. That garden has feeders and it was on the ground at the base of these feeders that we saw it best. It has also been seen in the small blossoming tree in the garden almost opposite that on the other side of the alley but in reality probably does a circuit of nearby gardens so could appear in any of the shrubs and small trees. It took us a good hour and a half before it popped into view so some patience may be needed.

I was unable to get any photographs of the bird but Barry Wright from Kent had visited the day before and has kindly allowed me to use his photos to illustrate this blog post.

Any wintering Lesser Whitethroat in the UK is very likely to be of eastern origin but we went with an open mind to just report things as we saw them. The bird is quite noticably pale with a pale brown mantle and lower nape. Structurely it was similar to 'curruca', not looking small and 'Desert Warbler-like' that the race 'halimodendri' does. It also appeared quite long-tailed/shortish winged (primary projection no more that 50% which can just be seen in the pictures below) and the bill was also relatively strong and long. Although we didn't see the pattern of the outermost tail feathers we were lucky enough to hear it call a couple of times - a clear 'tack' which again does not match 'halimodendri'. The overall paleness, pale brown mantle tones, structure, primary projection, bill and call all point towards it being a 'blythi', known as Siberian Lesser Whitethroat.

Stop press - @13/04/18, dna analysis has confirmed this bird as 'blythi', as per Martin Collinson 

   presumed Siberian Lesser Whitethroat, Sylvia (curruca) blythi, pics courtesy of Barry Wright


American Horned Lark and other West London bits, 28 January 2018

After our seriously bad dip at the end of November we really didn't think we'd get another crack at this bird. But after nearly a 2 month absence it suddenly reappeared and it was 'game on'!

Jus and I left in good time and in stark contrast to our other visit the American Horned Lark (nominate form alpestris/hoyti/praticola) was showing well on arrival right beside the Staines Reservoir causeway! It went on to behave superbly for us in between short flights between both sides of the causeway. A very distinctive bird and also very educational (and of course a potential armchair tick of the future). The main differences between this race and the Shorelarks we're used to seeing are:
  • Sharp contrast between white supercilia and yellow throat
  • Much more extensive dark streaking below wider black breast band
  • More rufous on breast sides and flanks
  • The call also seemed higher and not very lark-like 
Also from the causeway we had the Black-necked Grebe again, this time  very distantly on the south basin, c20 Goldeneye, c30 Pochard, loads of Wigeon and a piebald Carrion Crow. As we were leaving a Peregrine hawked over just as one had done back in November.

 American Horned Lark

After an abortive pop in to Bedfont Lakes where the drake Smew was absent we headed further into the London traffic to Richmond. Finding the alleyway behind the houses in Selwyn Avenue we began a wait of an hour and a half trying not to be seen by all the residents having their Sunday lunches! 2 Redwings popped in briefly, then 2 Ring-necked Parakeets did the same and just as they appeared so did the wintering 'Eastern' Lesser Whitethroat. It called a couple of times and then showed well but briefly under a feeder before disappearing again. Quite a pale brown backed individual, most likely a 'blythi' . We also had both Red Admiral and Peacock around the gardens proving just how mild it was!

We then returned to Bedfont where we still drew a blank, as we did at a Mandarin site we'd been given near Staines. There were 3 Egyptian Geese there plus 15+ Ring-necked Parakeets. A couple of Red Kites from the M25 on the way home rounded things off.

Yearlist = 124

 Ring-necked Parakeets


Westleton, Dunwich & Eastbridge, 26 January 2018

A glorious sunny day out on the Suffolk coast to connect with a few lingering goodies that happened to be yearticks too!

I began on Westleton Heath where both 2 Woodlarks and c8 Dartford Warblers were both in the bag within minutes. The Dartfords seemed to be singing everywhere. A pair of Stonechats were also kicking about.

Dartford Warbler

I ventured into Dunwich next where walk though Greyfriars Wood gave me a lovely Firecrest plus a couple of Goldcrests before I moved on to the beach carpark. Here I walked up the beach south but with no luck turned to walk back only for the Glaucous Gull to fly past me then inti the sun as it headed south. 

Without further ado I then hot-footed it to Eastbridge where the Glossy Ibis was showing nicely albeit a bit distantly looking west from the bridge north of the Eels Foot. A Cetti's Warbler was singing there plus a distant drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Glossy Ibis

I then opted to spend the rest of the day on the long hike north from Dunwich beach carpark. Offshore I soon found the single Long-tailed Duck with c20 Common Scoter, c30 Red-throated Divers and c6 Great Crested Grebes. The Glaucous Gull was now on the beach several hundred yards to the north but when I walked that way it had vanished! On the walk north 9 Snow Buntings were along the single ridge (I stopped to photograph them on the way back) then c20 Twite with c30 Linnets by the beach pools. A Marsh Harrier, a Rock Pipit and 2 Reed Buntings followed then eventually I found a Great White Egret in the reeds opposite Sandymount Covert in the same spot it was back in December! Later on the walk back a 2 Great White Egrets got up while I was looking back and a Stonechat was on the ridge. 

Yearlist = 119

Great White Egret

 Snow Buntings

Bury St Edmunds, 25 January 2018

Walking into Bury town through the Abbey Gardens I was nearing the town end when a Red Kite and 2 Common Buzzards were seen circling. A hark back to medieval times when kites used to scavenge in city streets! In Guildhall Street as I was wandering a very early Peacock butterfly was flying about then a walk out of the south side of town through an area of marshy meadows and trees revealed a few Redwings a Goldcrest then a big female Sparrowhawk chasing a Blackbird. It returned without the Blackbird a couple of minutes later!

On the way home I called in to Micklemere which was quiet. Talking to a couple of guys in the hide they told me they thought the Brent Goose that had been there was now at Barton Mere but they didn't know where that was. I soon found it on the map and 10 minutes later was watching the rather out of place Brent Goose plus (desperately!) Canada Goose for my yearlist plus Green Woodpecker.

 Barton Mere - a new site for me

Vietnam in January 2019 - get in!

I've just managed to secure myself a place on a non-business birding tour of south and central Vietnam in January 2019. Run on a non-profit basis by Boletas Birdwatching Centre for existing customers it will be an ideal opportunity to enjoy a cut price tour of this mega destination full of indo-chinese goodies and endemics!
Just a quick look at all the possible Laughingthrushes has got me drooling!
The tour visits Cat Tien NP, Deo Suoi Lanh Pass, Di Linh, Dalat, Yok Don NP, Mang Den, Dak To and Bach Ma before returning to Ho Chi Minh City. I'm considering my own little extension for some wader action at Tan Thanh on the Mekong Delta before I fly home.

Local Hawfinches, 19 January 2018

As I had a bit of time to spare this afternoon and the location conveniently tied in with my other activities today I popped along to a local churchyard to look for some Hawfinches that have been seen there recently. Unfortunately it has been asked that the location be kept undisclosed and I have to accept the finders wishes.

Upon arrival there was no sign but after about 10 minutes a single bird flew in and lingered for a couple of minutes. That was it for a whole hour when I finally got onto 3 more, then 4, then 6. They never entered the actual churchyard, always keeping their distance, often in treetops.

The hours they were absent wasn't wasted though - a Red Kite flew over, 2 Grey Wagtails flew low over the church roof, there was plenty of Nuthatch activity plus Goldcrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker, a couple of Song Thrushes and a handful of Redwings. Snowdrops were out too.



North Norfolk mop up, 14 January 2018

A day out with Jus to try and get a few of the long-staying winter goodies in North Norfolk. We didn't want it to be an all-out dash around so played it cool at a fairly leisurely pace.

We decided to start at Holkham which would give us the option of going either east or west from there. On the way we had 2 Red Kites and 1 Common Buzzard south of Holkham. Unlike last weekend the 9 Shorelarks were really easy on the saltings east of the bay in their usual spot. On the walk back along Lady Anne's Drive a flock of c200 Brent Geese held a nice Black Brant plus a hybrid. The same meadow also held a few Fieldfares


Black Brant

We headed east next - to Sheringham where a splendid male Black Redstart performed beautifully near the lifeboat station at the west end of the promenade. A female Stonechat was also there and 8 Ringed Plover were on the beach.

Black Redstart

Cromer golf course was next were we found the juvenile Iceland Gull on one of the fairways looking from the cliff top path. Attempts to get closer were thwarted when it was flushed by golfers just before we got to it!

To extend the day as long as we could we finished proceedings at Warham for the roost. Here we were entertained by 3 Hen Harriers (including a superb male), a Merlin hunting Meadow Pipits out on the saltings plus 2 Common Buzzards, 3 Marsh Harriers, plenty of Little Egrets, Curlews and a mixed flock of Lapwing and Golden Plovers.

Yearlist = 108

Hume's Leaf Warbler, Waxham, 11 January 2018

Despite the very dingy, misty conditions I had a day off today so made my way up to Waxham for a certain warbler species I hadn't seen for a number of years.

A Barn Owl near Horsey corner was the first notable bird of the day. Arriving at Waxham at 09.30 I spent a rather fruitless few hours hearing it call just once north of Shangri-la and clocking a wintering Chiffchaff as my 100th bird of the year along with a couple of Song Thrushes and Goldcrests. I walked south of Shangri-la for the 3rd time and Dave Holman waved at me to indicate he'd got it. Within a minute or two I was enjoying some great views of the Hume's Leaf Warbler, indeed it went on to show more or less continuously for about 40 minutes until I left to grab some lunch in my van. With the light and visibility still very poor I decided to grab my camera and go back to try my luck. Again it showed nicely although photographing it was really difficult. I did manage a couple of passable shots in the end after much trying! A single Fieldfare flew south and along the Horsey straight on the way back I counted 220 Mute Swans which unfortunately didn't contain any wild swans.

Still, 2 phylloscs on a January day isn't something I've done before I think. It was also nice to meet and have a chat with Marcus Nash and Carl Buttle. 

Hume's Leaf Warbler


A Patch Tick, Weybread GPs, 10 January 2018

A lunchtime stroll along the fisherman's path on the north side of Ocean Pit at Weybread resulted in a very satisfying patch tick today.
Initially a Kingfisher was along the edge of the pit followed by Song Thrush, Little Grebe and good numbers of Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants then a group of swans flew in and circled the pit. Fully expecting them to be Mutes I raised my bins to discover 7 Bewick's Swans, a really good patch bird for south Norfolk! They circled over my head but flew east and didn't ever land. Despite looking I was unable to add anything else to my yearlist although 122 Tufted Duck was my highest site count and a single drake Wigeon was also locally noteworthy. Both Green Woodpecker and Great Spotted Woodpecker were also seen but the place was curiously devoid of geese.  

Wells, Holkham & Thornham, 6 & 7 January 2018

We had a budget weekend on the North Norfolk coast staying just one night at Wells Youth Hostel with a night out on the town there on Saturday night.
Birdwise I pretty much dipped everything I wanted to see (Shorelarks, Cattle Egrets and Twite) and the birding was generally pretty dull. But as Belinda kept reminding me it wasn't a birding weekend!
Nevertheless I added a few yearticks on a circular walk taking in Wells and Holkham but nothing more exciting than a couple of Grey Partridges and a Sanderling! In Holkham Park we got some great views of loads of Fallow Deer and c10 Red Deer including some seriously impressive bucks with full antlers. The next day we went back with my camera but only saw the Fallows. A Tawny Owl calling in Wells that night was a welcome yeartick.

On the Sunday we had a Nuthatch, Green Woodpecker, 2 Mistle Thrushes and several Redwing in Holkham Park and very little at Thornham apart from a close Black-tailed Godwit and c3 'Scandinavian' Rock Pipits. A wander along the track at Titchwell was blustery and freezing but I did add Brambling, Spotted Redshank and a nice close Pale-bellied Brent Goose.

A week into the new year and my yearlist stands at 96

Fallow Deer

Black-tailed Godwit

'Scandinavian' Rock Pipit

          Pale-bellied Brent Goose

Thorpe Marshes and Barnham Broom, 4 January 2018

With the forecast for the morning rain clearing by lunchtime I headed to Norwich for my second visit to Thorpe Marshes this week. This time I remembered my wellies and it was a good job I did - the northern path parallel to the railway line was under water and deep enough to come within an inch of the top of my wellies! It was well worth the effort though because the wintering male Bearded Tit showed very nicely on the near edge of the block of reeds. A wander/splosh around the reserve revealed c35 Pochard, the female Ferruginous Duck x Pochard hybrid, c40 Gadwall, plus Shovelers, Great Crested Grebe and 4 Coot. Away from the main body of water 3 Cetti's Warblers, Reed Bunting, Water Rail (heard only), 2 Jays, Siskins (in alders by the railway line), Great Spotted Woodpecker, female Sparrowhawk and a fly-through Marsh Harrier.

Bearded Tit

Marsh Harrier

Ferruginous Duck x Pochard hybrid

I left the site at about 13.30 and headed along the southern bypass to Barnham Broom where c12 Red Kites came in to roost, c200 Fieldfares were under the poplars and 3 Mistle Thrushes, 2 Song Thrushes and a handful of Redwings made it a bit of a thrush-fest.

  Red Kites