1st December 2016 Desert Wheatear

I returned to Norman’s Bay this morning in the hope of getting another look at the exquisite Desert Wheatear that’s chosen to call the beach home for the last few days. It didn’t disappoint. Unlike the camera welding camouflage clad crowd, I got the best shots by patiently waiting for the bird to approach. Which it did on an number of occasions.

What a fantastic little bird!

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Desert Wheatear at Cooden Beach.

Upon the third time of trying, I finally caught up with this smart 1st winter male Desert Wheatear, found by Chris Ball yesterday evening. Having missed it by 30 seconds yesterday and spent 2 hours searching this morning, it wasn’t until the dying embers of the day that I finally caught up with it. In fact the sun had disappeared behind Beachy Head by the time I clapped eyes on it. Although the bird was fairly close the light was crap and the images below were the best I could manage.

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Desert Wheatear, not in a desert.

I’ve not seen one in the UK since I saw the spring bird at Barn Elms reservoir in Hammersmith (later to become the London Wetland Centre) in 1989. Quite a remarkable record. I remember friends and I driving there after school! Jeeze… time flies. I was a kid lister.

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He’s a mobile wee chappy and has been seen along a kilometre or so stretch of beach between the level crossing at Cooden Beach and the Martello tower and Norman’s Bay.

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5th November 2016 Short eared Owl

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Short-eared Owl.

Bob tipped me off about this roosting Short-eared Owl this morning. Always great to see these birds close up on the deck. An eagle eyed find too! It’s astonishing how confident some birds are in their belief they are not visible. I probably could have gotten closer but left it well alone. A Dartford Warbler was also frequenting the same spot. A single Chiffchaff and Firecrest in the wood along with a small band of Goldcrest and Tits.

Of note there was a brief Great grey Shrike and Woodlark at Hodcombe during the week, seen by RC.

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1st November 2016

A virtually still slight misty morning with hazy sunshine.

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Return of the Dartford Warblers.

Things are really winding down bird wise, the bushes and belle tout wood are virtually birdless. There seems to be a small passage of Robin and Dunnock going on. Overhead c20 Redpoll went west along with a single Linnet, 2 Reed Bunting and a Siskin. Woodpigeon’s are on the move with 500+ moving east (an odd direction this time of year and wonder if these were birds were emerging from roost sites).

One feature of this time of year is the appearance of Dartford Warblers with at least 2 males present which can frequently be heard singing. There maybe somewhere in the region of 3/4 individuals in total. They usually linger into the new year.

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Discovering the apparent Pale-legged leaf Warbler.

If you put any serious amount of time into looking for scarce or rare birds you, like me, probably daydream about the circumstances that may surround encountering one. Will it be half way down a windswept cliff on Fair Isle, flit across in front of you whilst walking a quiet lane on Scillies, or perhaps a just reward on your local patch. I often muse upon all the above scenarios but what happened on the 21st October 2016 has never been one of them. That is being handed a dead Pale-legged or Sakhalin Leaf Warbler whilst holding a cornish pasty in the other. Either way, DNA testing will make it the first proven record for not only the UK but the entire Western Palearctic region.

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Pale-legged or Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.

 Around midday I was scoffing a pasty outside the St Agnes lighthouse, with house mate Jamie Partridge when owner Fran Hicks came over for a chat. We all bemoaned the poor bird situation on the island. In parting he commented that one of the Yellow-browed Warblers, which had been frequenting the garden, had sadly struck his conservatory window and died earlier that morning. As he turned away I hesitated in asking to see it but managed to blurt out the request before he disappeared back into the garden. He quickly reappeared with the Warbler, holding it by the leg and placed it into the palm of my left hand. Immediately I realised the bird was not a Yellow browed and my thoughts turned to Greenish/Arctic Warbler. I quickly dismissed Greenish and thoughts turned to Arctic Warbler but something wasn’t right. I couldn’t reconcile the primary projection and the bill seemed odd but admittedly I was over looking some obvious plumage features. I was concerned that birds (especially smaller ones) can look very different in the hand than in the field. Something was limiting my thought process and at this point Pale-legged & Sakhalin Leaf Warbler were not names I was thinking of. I decided to circulate images hastily tweeting the photo’s with “Arctic Warbler?” as a marker in the sand. Almost immediate several people responded (notably James Gilroy, Chris Batty, Andrew Holden and many others) with very different suggestions! Andrew was both on site and clued up enough to check wing formula and go through some other features to confirm Pale legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler.  DNA testing will make the  final call between between the two.
This clearly isn’t a conventional “bird find” more so a cooperative effort by the wider birding community and I thank those involved. All the same, it was a unique event to be involved in and I wonder how close the bird went to going unnoticed.
The breeding range of both candidates are between 7500km – 9000km from Scilly.
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Showing the length of the first primary feather.
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A tame Bluethroat on Fair Isle.

A few shots of a ridiculously tame Bluethroat at Shirva.

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Fair Isle 2016. A big day out.

A very successful 10 days on Fair Isle this year with a truly unforgettable day on the 2nd October where there seemed to be a new bird turning up every 30 minutes. A relentless SW wind had given way to relatively settled conditions allowing for, what some Fair Isle stalwarts claimed, the most amazing days birding they’d had on the island.

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A shy skulking Lanceolated Warbler at Midway. This shot taken as the bird momentarily sat on a windowsill.

The fall of birds on 2nd October included my 2nd Lanceolated Warbler of the trip, Pechora Pipit, Red-flanked Bluetail, Radde’s Warbler, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Red breasted Flycatcher, 1/2 Barred Warbler, Bluethroat and a supporting cast of some 72 Yellow browed Warblers.

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A Yellow-browed in classic Fair Isle cover!

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Red breasted Flycatcher at Stackoull.

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Typically lazy looking Barred Warbler at Burkle.

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A Red flanked Bluetail dwarfed in the huge black canyon of Dog Geo. Fred Fearn and I had this bird to ourselves, laying face down, watching it flick about in the geo below. At 6pm I thought this was a perfect end to an unreal day, not realising we’d be watching a newly discovered Lanceolated Warbler as the sun went down 30 minutes later.

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Another completely out of habitat bird. Pechora Pipit trading the damp Russian tundra for the outcrops of Kroga Geo on Fair Isle. This shot taken on the 5th after the bird had settled.

Other Standout birds of the trip included Great Snipe and a Paddyfield Warbler found by Paul Cook and I on the 28th September.

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A couple of poor shots of the Paddyfield Warbler.

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