A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Birding Gold – Siberian Accentor at Easington, Yorkshire – MEGA!!

Siberian Accentor in Britain – the stuff birding dreams are made of.

There are some birds that instantly send your mind in to absolute chaos and panic when flashing up as an alert – Black-billed Cuckoo was one, Short-toed Eagle another (Wallcreeper I imagine will be another should one ever alight on a south coast cliff). And so it was the case at 3pm on Thursday afternoon when “Siberian Accentor – Easington, Yorkshire. One by the school.” popped up on my phone on the back of a mega alert. 
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Hot on the heels of the first for Britain found on Shetland just 4 days earlier (which sent the entire birding community in to a spin at the time), miraculously, lightning had struck twice and a small piece of Russian gold had now made landfall on mainland Britain, making itself available for the masses to twitch and a relief for those who just don’t have the time or funding to nip off to Shetland for a day every time a good bird breaks. 

Headless chicken mode soon ensued, along with the agonising realisation that with dusk now at around 6pm, a plane at the very least would be required to make the 3+ hour journey to get us there before dark after work. With the bird showing well down to a matter of feet for the rest of the day, all we could do was sit and watch as the tear-inducing close up photos flooded social media that evening (this bird must surely now win the award for most photographed Siberian Accentor of all time!)

Sleepless nights followed (including bizarre panic induced dreams consisting of Siberian Accentors being sliced up, roasted and served on a plate?!) – and with no records of Siberian Accentor in Britain before last week and very few in Western Europe before this autumn, the chances of any more occurring after this year’s remarkable invasion were very very remote indeed….
Easington, Yorkshire
The famous skip the Easington Siberian Accentor liked to hang out next to!
As expected, the crowds on Friday and Saturday morning were huge (it was almost a first for Britain after all), with birders photographed queuing up around Easington gas terminal in their hundreds way before even the twinkling of first light approached. Not quite as certain however, but hoped for by thousands, was that the Siberian Accentor was miraculously still present each day – it was - game on!

Luckily the bird turning up on a Thursday meant the agony of work was limited to just Friday, and we were soon well on our way to Easington, news that it was still there making it a much more relaxed affair than usual – with Siberian Accentors being night-time migrants and the bird being completely settled feeding on the same drive, the likelihood of it doing a bunk was slim.

With the dawn masses having already been and gone, we arrived on site to just a small handful of birders (less than 100 lined up along the fence) and we were soon gazing at this part of British birding history – one Siberian Accentor happily feeding amongst the gravel and leaves on someone’s drive right in front of us.

Surreal.
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
With the stress of seeing the bird now lifted, we could truly enjoy this Siberian wonder, and we watched on for around 45 minutes as it bumbled around in front of us, often coming to within 3 metres and providing out of this world views of what can be a difficult species to see anywhere in the world (never mind Britain!), completely oblivious to the absolute fuss and excitement its arrival had caused on the British birding scene.
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Occasionally associating with one of the many Dunnocks also feeding on the drive, the difference between the two species was clear, the Siberian Accentor having its face dusted with gold and looking particularly smart wearing its tiny black and gold mask. An exceptionally classy looking bird and a very special visitor indeed.
Siberian Accentor and Dunnock - Easington, Yorkshire
The Siberian Accentor and Dunnock together
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
The gorgeous head stripe patterns!
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Of course, Siberian Accentor as an addition to the British list was one of the most widely predicted and anticipated firsts for Britain of all time. An absolutely unprecedented influx of birds making landfall across Western Europe (Sweden holding 16 alone) and with individuals located in Latvia, Germany, Finland, Lithuania, Denmark and Poland, it was only a matter of time before these Russian strays found themselves on British soil. Indeed, in an incredible sequence of events, a further 4 individuals (possibly 6) have been found in the UK since (one in Cleveland, one in Durham, one on Lindisfarne, one on Fair Isle and two possibles in Northumberland and Lothian) bringing the total of European birds now up to over a staggering 100 individuals and counting.
Birdguides Report - Siberian Accentor
Monday's Birdguides reports - I didn't think we'd ever see the day that three separate British Siberian Accentors were all reported within minutes of each other!!
With the continuous easterly winds, this number is surely only set to grow, and it is now really a question of when and where, not if, the next British record of the autumn will occur.
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire
Peekaboo - Siberian Accentor trying to hide...
With Siberian Accentors breeding in Northern Siberia on either side of the Ural mountains, and normally migrating south east to Asia for the winter, the past number of records in Europe before this autumn were very few and far between, the majority being in Sweden. The reason for this mass influx to Western Europe is unclear – although the most likely explanation is possibly a case of a successful breeding season in Russia combined with unrelenting easterly winds originating from Siberia for such a prolonged period of time, coinciding with their migration movements. A system of high pressure over Scandinavia will also have blocked the usual westerly Atlantic weather fronts that normally pose a barrier to travellers from the east. 
Windytv
The high pressure system over Scandinavia and easterly winds from Russia that are likely to have brought the Siberian Accentor influx to Britain
It is also possible that something else may be at play to cause such a mass influx of what was, until this October, an extremely infrequent visitor to Western Europe - perhaps an ecological event taking place in the Siberian Accentor's home range or a freak weather system displacing individuals en-masse. 
Alex's great little video of the Accentor happily feeding away

With no telling as to whether an influx of Siberian Accentors on this scale will ever happen again, it may well be the case that certainly in my life time at least, these golden Dunnocks may not grace British shores again. A truly special bird (and possibly one of the most awe-inducing I’ve seen in Britain) I for one am exceptionally glad that we, along with thousands of other birders, got to witness this little piece of golden birding history. Siberian magic indeed. 
Siberian Accentor - Easington, Yorkshire

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Best of Autumn Birding at Spurn - Rustic Bunting, Dusky Warbler, Shore Lark and more!

With easterly winds dominating the weather over the past couple of weeks, we couldn't not enjoy two weekends on the bounce at one of the premier birding locations mainland Britain has to offer - Spurn in East Yorkshire. Scouring the bushes, hedgerows and trees on the hunt for Siberian Rubythroats, White's Thrushes or *insert desired mega here*, whilst we didn't strike it lucky on that front, we nevertheless had an enjoyable few days lapping up the huge number of eastern waifs that had arrived on our shores.
Dusky Warbler - Spurn, Yorkshire
Dusky Warbler
Rustic Bunting - Spurn, Yorkshire
Rustic Bunting
Without doubt, the highlight of the first weekend was most definitely a fine Rustic Bunting, originally trapped and ringed at Kew Villa on the Thursday and being seen intermittently in Church Field the following days. A relatively rare visitor, and with there not having been a twitchable one for a good number of years, it was great to jam in on this eastern bunting.
Rustic Bunting - Spurn, Yorkshire
Rustic Bunting - Spurn, Yorkshire
Perching up on several trees scattered around the field through the course of around 45 minutes, we were able to get great views as it showed off to the crowds!
Rustic Bunting - Spurn, Yorkshire
Rustic Bunting - Spurn, Yorkshire
Church Field - Spurn
Birders on the hunt for the Rustic Bunting in Church Field
Very similar to a Reed Bunting in winter plumage, the rusty red-brown flanks, neck and rump of the Rustic were obvious, even in flight, while the white facial spot and white wing bars (yellow-brown in Reed Buntings) also offered a handy way of separation.
Rustic Bunting - Spurn, Yorkshire
The diagnostic white facial spot
Church Field Heligoland trap - Spurn
The Heligoland trap in Church Field the Rustic Bunting was first trapped in
Spurn always seems to deliver, and along with the Rustic Bunting, we had a handful of Yellow-browed Warblers, several Redstarts, two Red-breasted Flycatchers, a nice Ring Ouzel, an Olive-backed Pipit, masses of Redwings and Goldcrests, a particularly showy Woodcock on the beach and a gorgeous Firecrest flitting through the hedges. 
Woodcock - Spurn, Yorkshire
Firecrest - Spurn, Yorkshire
Poor record shot of the Firecrest!
Olive-backed Pipit - Easington, Yorkshire
Olive-backed Pipit
Having had our fill of the gorgeous little Siberian Accentor at Easington the following weekend on our second visit to East Yorkshire (that little gem gets a whole blog post to itself), we headed over to finish the day at Spurn once again, a confiding Dusky Warbler on canal bank my second lifer of the trip. 
Dusky Warbler - Spurn, Yorkshire
Dusky Warbler - Spurn, Yorkshire
With Dusky Warbler a predominately east coast bird, this had been on my radar for a good while, and it was great to finally catch up with one after relatively few records in previous years.
Dusky Warbler - Spurn, Yorkshire
Dusky Warbler - Spurn, Yorkshire
A supporting cast of Pallas’s and Yellow-browed Warblers, Firecrests, Bramblings, a Woodcock and a Black Redstart were certainly not to be sniffed at, while an extremely confiding Shore Lark was also most definitely another highlight of the weekend, these Bumblebee pattered larks a firm favourite of mine. 
Shore Lark - Spurn, Yorkshire
Shore Lark - Spurn, Yorkshire
The sheer spectacle of ongoing migration at Spurn was also a display in itself, the bushes dripping with Goldcrests while every hedgerow, field and patch of grass held masses of Robins and thrushes fresh in off the sea.
Firecrest - Spurn, Yorkshire
Firecrest - Spurn, Yorkshire
I can never get a decent photo of a Firecrest!!
A great couple of weekends at what is truly one of the best migration hotspots in Britain, and it was fantastic to see the spectacle of autumn migration on the east coast in action. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

MEGA!! Brünnich's Guillemot at Anstruther Harbour, Fife!

Brünnich's Guillemot: probably the one bird above all others that I regret not going to see. Having no car and not knowing any other birders at the time who could provide a lift, I had no other option but to sit and watch as the images came flooding in of the 2013 Portland bird, the first twitchable individual of its kind and more than likely seen by thousands of birders. Fast forward nearly 3 years, and it was therefore a huge surprise on late Sunday afternoon to see the report flash up on my phone – Brünnich's Guillemot: Anstruther, Fife – One showing well in the harbour.
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Safe in the knowledge that the Portland Brünnich's (which also hung around in a harbour) stuck around for the last 6 days of December, I was relatively hopeful that the Fife bird would follow suit, doing the decent thing and making itself accessible for anyone that wanted to visit.

Still being present in the harbour the next day, it soon became apparent that this particular bird wouldn’t be going anywhere far, looking to be in full moult and having significant feather damage, possibly caused by oiling. Indeed, the photos showed a particularly raggedy individual, often pictured with its eyes half closed and looking in an extremely sorry state. Instead of hoping it wouldn’t swim off and leave the harbour, it now seemed more of a question of whether it would last the night!

With the bird’s longevity now in jeopardy, I decided to book a day off work, me and my Dad heading up to Cumbernauld on Tuesday night and making our way to Anstruther the following morning. Arriving at the harbour in good time and having already received the news that the Brünnich's was still there, before we had even got out of the car we could see a small black and white shape floating in the water amongst the boats – Brünnich's in the bag!
Brunnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Spot the Brünnich's! The favoured spot between the boats
Heading over to the opposite wall and setting up the scope, we were treated to excellent views of this arctic alcid, bobbing quietly in front of the moored boats and most definitely looking a bit on the peaky side. Staying this way for the first half an hour, it was therefore a surprise to see it come alive in the afternoon, scooting over to the jetty surrounding the harbour and constantly diving down in the hunt for fish and other crustaceans.

Showing no fear as is the case with many other high arctic species, the Brünnich's often came to within 6 feet, drifting over towards the assembled birders and seemingly oblivious to the small crowd it had attracted.
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Looking closer at the photos and with the bird being at such close range, the poor condition of the feathers was obvious, the wings reduced to small matted stubs and showing patches of raw pink skin on the edges. The feathers also appeared to be coated in an oily substance, and the normally white belly was stained a slight browny-yellow.
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
The dreadful condition of the wings was obvious whenever the Brünnich's flapped or preened
Despite its shortcomings in the looks department, it was still fantastic to see the bird so close up – always my favourite way to see a new bird and something we’ll remember for a good while yet!
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Sadly however, come Friday morning, news filtered through that the Brünnich's had unfortunately not survived its visit to the Scottish coastline, being found dead first thing in the morning washed up on the beach by the harbour. This fate, judging by the bird’s poor condition, seemed inevitable, and its behaviour, demeanour and all-round peaky look was reminiscent of the storm-wrecked inland Red-throated Diver on Fairhaven Lake a few years ago which too met a tragic end. A sad end to a super bird – RIP Brunny!
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
The Brünnich's looked quite peaky when floating on the water
While the ID of this particular bird was in doubt by some birders, mainly due to the extensive white above the bill, a number of other features all pointed firmly to Brünnich's; the thick short bill complete with white gape line – a diagnostic feature of Brünnich's, the dark pattern on the head extending past the eye and the general body shape and structure. Several experts in the arctic more familiar with Brünnich's, particularly during plumages unfamiliar to us such as in moult, were also happy with the ID, but now the body has been recovered testing can be undertaken to rule out the (relatively slim) chance of hybridisation and eliminate any doubts.
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
Brünnich's Guillemot - Anstruther, Fife
The white gape line on the bill was obvious, as was the lack of flank streaking, the pronounced gonydeal angle and the white coming to a sharp point on the foreneck. The pale tip to the bill is also a pro Brünnich's feature.
With Brünnich's usually occurring up in the high arctic seas of Canada, Greenland and Iceland, there have been 44 past records of these arctic alcids in Britain. Despite this high number of occurrences, the Anstruther bird was only the second truly twitchable record, with the majority of others being either one day birds, being found washed up dead on the shore, or occurring off Fair Isle, Shetland and Orkney.
Anstruther Harbour, Fife
Anstruther Harbour - complete with Brünnich's
A fantastic bird to finally grip back after the Dorset individual, and a bird I’m extremely glad I took the day off to go and see! 
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