Monday, 9 January 2017

The first passerine falls of the autumn (11th-20th August 2016)

More waders have arrived, the stunning adults returning from their breeding grounds in the Arctic look amazing and were joined by juvenile birds.  Golden Plovers topped four figures by the middle of the month.  Turnstones were on the up as are Dunlin and Knot.  Smaller numbers of Purple Sandpiper, Ruff, Snipe, Sanderling, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit and Black-tailed Godwit were also present.  Other notable waders included Common Sandpiper and 2 Curlew Sandpiper were also logged.  A family of Redpolls were also found on the island.  There was a small arrival of ducks, Teal coming foremost, followed by lesser numbers of Wigeon.  Seawatching produced a few Manx Shearwaters and the occasional Sooty Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Puffins as well as over 2000 Fulmars in a single session.

The 17th was dedicated to ringing Fulmar chicks, en route we bumped into a Merlin and a Lesser Whitethroat.  A Pied Flycatcher and a showy Wryneck rounded mid-August off nicely.  However, the 20th offered the greatest rewards with 5 Little Stints arriving, 27 Pied Flycatchers dotted around almost every croft and a nice Icterine Warbler.  These were eclipsed by the small fall of Willow Warblers68 Wheatear, a clear increase of birds involving migrants, 5 Whinchat, 2 Lesser Whitethroat, 7 Garden Warblers, Tree Pipit and 2 Spotted Flycatchers.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Returning waders (1st-10th August 2016)

The first ten days of August went by as normal with returning summer plumaged waders stealing the show.  Numerous juvenile Ruff, Greenshank, Whimbrel, a mixture of adult and juvenile Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits as well as a Curlew Sandpiper and some stunning Knot proved to the best.  Other noteworthy species throughout the period included Sandwich Tern, a trickle of Sand Martins,  and the first Red-breasted Merganser of the autumn off the Links.  The 7th involved a decent seawatch with 12 Sooty Shearwaters, 43 Manx Shearwaters, 28 Storm Petrels and a Harbour Porpoise.

Back to North Ron! (27-31st July 2016)

Back to North Ronaldsay!  After completing the spring season on Skokholm, a brief trip to Germany and my home in Herts I was soon back on the road to NRBO.  It was another incredible season spent with an amazing obs team.  Together we saw and found some brilliant birds and other wildlife which we shared with some great guests.

On my way up north I stopped off briefly at Murcar on the 26th July to look for the long-staying White-winged Scoter but dipped.  Consolation came in the form of a drake Surf Scoter and 50+ Velvet Scoter.

I arrived on North Ron in the midst of the sheep festival, an event run by Kevin and Alison for the first time.  It was rather hectic but great to see so much activity and work getting done.  Census for me began straight away and on my first full day on the island (28th July) I was fortunate enough to encounter a stunning adult Roseate Tern in amongst the post-breeding flocks of Arctic Terns lingering in Nouster Bay.  Other notable species for the later part of the month included just under 1000 Golden Plover, high numbers of Turnstone, Sanderling and Redshank returning from their breeding grounds in fine summer plumage.  Highlights amongst them included a Little Stint on Gretchen and a Wood Sandpiper.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany (17th-23rd July 2016)

Back to Germany again with my sister, brother and mother to visit our relatives.  We spent an enjoyable few days together, swimming in the local crater lakes, gardening and going for walks etc.  I managed to fit in a decent amount of birding too but I'm taking it easy in preparation for a full autumn season back on North Ron.

17th July:

The channel crossing is often one of my very favourite experiences when going to Germany although this trip only produced 2 Harbour Porpoise a trickle of Kittiwakes, Common Terns, Mediterranean GullsGannets and a Common Sandpiper between Dover and Dunkirk.

18th July:

Walked to Die Altenberghütte, a local watchpoint that overlooks a large wooded valley stretching N/S.  2-3 Honey Buzzards were circling and performing well.  One even performed the spectacular wing-clapping display!  Other highlights included Sparrowhawk, Buzzards, Red Kites, Hawfinch, a flypast Turtle Dove and a Fox.  I also had a massive shock when a large Grass Snake rose up out of the short grass inches from my feet, hissing before slithering quickly away.  Emperor Dragonfly was also on the wing as were numerous Purple Hairstreaks.

19th July:

A visit to Sangweiher, the local wetland is always high on the agenda.  This time it hosted 2 Black Storks feeding amongst the overgrown margins to the main pond before taking flight, circling and moving westwards.  A Great White Egret, Green Sandpiper and a Common Sandpiper were also present.

20th July:

Stayed local for the morning so went to enjoy three families of Red-backed Shrike just down the road which included 3 males, 2 females and 5 juveniles.  A Map Butterfly, Hobby and a purring Turtle Dove were also of note.  In the afternoon, Ephraim and I visited the vineyards bordering Die Mosel for our third attempt at finding the small and localised population of Rock Buntings.  At long last, we finally connected with 2 Rock Buntings on the sunny slopes of Kobern-Gondorf, a juvenile and a stunning adult calling away atop a bush.  We also heard several others on the steeper sections but these did not show.  Equally surprising was a stunning Apollo (a very scarce localised butterfly for these parts found only in the very area we happened to visit)!  2 Scarce Swallowtails were an additional bonus!

Rock Bunting in flight, just a blur but YES!!!


Scarce Swallowtail

21st July:

A whooping 16 Turtle Doves near Die Altenberghütte were today's highlight (including a group of 15 along a single row of electricity lines!  A Continental Swallowtail was a very enjoyable sighting as was watching the usual Purple Hairstreaks performing nicely atop the Oaks.

22nd July:

Our final full day in Germany.  Once again I visited Die Altenberghütte where I yet again enjoyed 2 Honey Buzzards circling and calling above me.  c16 Turtle Doves, Map Butterfly, 2 Queen of Spain Fritillaries, Hawfinches, 1 Fieldfare and a large Slow Worm were also present.

23rd July:

On our return, we crossed the channel from Calais to Dover.  The majority of our time was spent deeply shrouded in thick fog but we still managed to see c24 Common Scoter, a few Mediterranean Gulls and 2 Compass Jellyfish.

Mediterranean Gull

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Skokholm! (4th April-11th July)

Skokholm was brilliant!  For the last three months I was once again on a volunteer placement assisting the Bird Observatory on Skokholm, working in the midst of a large seabird colony and gaining many valuable experiences.  April began with two solid weeks of work party, involving myself with a mass of manual labour jobs.  The birding scene was very new to me but I familiarised myself with the breeding birds by taking on a daily census of the eastern end of the island encompassing The Neck.  Here, I was treated to thousands of Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills.


Puffin (a "silver-back" perhaps indicative of an old bird)

Wheatear passage was evident throughout the island (which also led on to a productive breeding season) whilst the last of the winter visitors including Hen Harrier, Sparrowhawk and Merlin made a final few appearances.  Wader passage also revealed good numbers of Whimbrel, a few Curlew, Turnstone, Snipe, Dunlin, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Ringed Plover.  The only resident wader, Oystercatcher also became increasingly aggressive as their breeding season began and two pairs each of Raven and Chough nesting on the island provided some drama.



Passerine passage included a modest number of Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps, Sedge Warblers, lesser numbers of Goldfinch, Linnet and Lesser Redpoll whilst residents such as Reed Bunting, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit and Wren became ever more vocal and apparent.  Highlights for the first month included migrant Black Redstarts, Redstart, Stonechat, Water Rail, Marsh Harrier and the first White Wagtails of the year.  Seawatching produced a few Common Dolphins and Harbour Porpoise as well as occasional Red-throated Divers, Great Northern Divers, Bonxies, Common Scoter, Sandwich Terns, Arctic Terns and a few "commic" terns.  Hirundine passage was also evident with large numbers of Swallows interspersed with a few House Martins and Sand Martins for much of the spring.

By late April the first of the Lesser Whitethroats, Grasshopper Warblers and Whitethroats appeared along with a few Ring Ouzels a few Rooks (a rare island bird) and a trickle of Swifts.  Unfortunately, I missed the Hoopoe which made a brief appearance at the lighthouse.  Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit and Golden Plover also stopped off in and around North Pond.  The Shoveler, Mallard and Shelduck pairs all attempted to raise a brood of ducklings but failed due to the gulls.

Much time was also spent constructing numerous Strom Petrel nest boxes, consuming a lot of hours and involved an equal amount of hard labour but proved exceedingly rewarding.  An evening visit to the quarry produced dozens/hundreds of Storm Petrels and even a Short-eared Owl hunting them.

Nicci, a fellow spring long-term volunteer found the first rarity highlight of the year, a stunning male EASTERN SUBALPINE WARBLER.  It was trapped shortly after being found and proved an extremely educational bird.  Before the month was even up, a surprise Brent Goose flew past me along the south coast.  Fortunately it came to land in a Lesser Black-backed Gull colony on the other end of the island and despite other birders obtaining decent views of it, racing it proved considerably more difficult (see pic on the Skokholm Blog 26/03/16).  A Dark-bellied Brent Goose also appeared on the island at the end of the month.  Hearing Whimbrel singing was another valuable experience as was picking out the Greenland Wheatears from the nominate individuals.

May provided many enjoyable birding experiences too with regular appearances of Short-eared Owls (crossing Broad Sound from Skomer to hunt the island Storm Petrels at night).  Three Turtle Doves also appeared during the month as did a few Whinchats, Firecrest, a Little Egret, occasional wandering Kestrels, and a modest spring passage of Spotted Flycatchers.  Pied Flycatcher also occurred.  Seabird work soon took the forefront as we began our Manx Shearwater study plot counts and nest recording Great Black-backed Gulls.  Further spring migrants gradually appeared including Garden Warblers, Cuckoo and 2 Arctic Skuas.  The 11th May conjured up two surprises, first up a drake Pochard in Crab Bay (an island rarity), shortly followed by a stunning Golden Oriole which burst from the Well before flying east across The Neck.  A second Subalpine Warbler appeared on the 13th May (this time a female Western/Moltoni's still to be DNA confirmed).  The following day produced yet another male Eastern Subalpine Warbler and an overdue Tree Pipit!  A Red-veined Darter on the 15th May was the only ordonata I saw whilst on the island but at least it was a lifer!

Red-veined Darter

By mid-May the seabird work was well underway with much attention diverted to the Lesser Black-backed Gull colonies, counting incubating Herring Gulls around The Neck and ringing Great Black-backed Gulls.  Fulmar study plots were visited daily and the reading of Puffin colour rings in Crab Bay also kept us all entertained for many hours.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

One of my personal highlights was finding a female Red-backed Shrike in the Well heligoland trap and a flyover Osprey the following day.  The rest of May offered the occasional stunning summer plumage Golden Plover, Ruff, Redshank, two nesting pairs of Peregrine, nesting Buzzard, 2 sub-adult Pomarine Skuas on seawatch and a brilliant opportunity to observe the island nesting seabirds from the sea as we conducted our full island auk count from a RIB.  The first record of nesting Reed Warblers for the island was an exciting discovery in the small reedbed at the Well.  I was also given the opportunity to visit Grassholm, which hosts an impressive colony of c36,000 pairs Gannets, an awesome spectacle!


Grey Seal


From mid-June onwards the staff and myself embarked on a full island Storm Petrel census.  This involved playing a recording into every single suitable crevice across the island to elicit the number of responses gained across the entire 1 square km area of the island, including every stone wall, every accessible geo, cave and bolder slope.  This proved a large task but fortunately the vast majority was achieved before I left the island on the 11th July.

By late June-July flocks of Kittiwakes and Gannets could be seen regularly passing the island.  An adult Gannet on the rocky bolder beach at the bottom of Peter's Bay was also a surprise encounter.  The first Pufflings also appeared (often in the mouths of Great Black-backed Gulls) and two visits to The Neck were made to count the number of juvenile Herring Gulls raised during the season.

During my stay I also had the opportunity to ring Manx Shearwaters along the study transect and birds from study burrows above Crab Bay and around the lighthouse, ring a few Razorbill chicks around The Bluffs bolder fields, colour ring Puffins in Crab Bay and help with the ringing activities around the obs.  I also caught up with the rare form of Scarlet Pimpernelle (the Blue Pimpernelle), Three-lobed Crowfoot (another rarity) and two spikes of Southern Marsh Orchid at the bottom of Well Stream.  A few butterflies were also on the wing including a Painted Lady, Common Blue, Green-veined White, Large White, Small Copper, Red Admiral, Peacock and Meadow Brown.

Blue Pimpernelle

Finally, a big thanks must go to the wardens Richard and Giselle and the volunteers, Nicci, Vicky, Phil and Olivia for the great company and an amazing experiences we shared together!


Herts, Cornwall and France (23rd February-27th March)

Another few months have past since my last blog post.  A lot has happened since I got back from Germany and I don't remember many of the details so this post is condensed down considerably.  A short stay at home gave me some recuperation time with patch birding producing sizable flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing numbering into the hundreds on occasion.  Birds of prey included decent numbers of Red Kite, Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk whilst remaining winter migrants and short-distance wanderers included Goldcrests, Robins and several flyover Siskins.

On the 29th Feb I left Herts for Cornwall to help out Dan on his small holding and fit in the occasional birding break.  A few visits to the old patch produced Peregrine, Black Redstarts, Stonechats, Bullfinches, Great Northern Divers and a distant indication of seabird passage with Kittiwakes, auks and Fulmars.  A brief excursion to Boat Cove for the Hudsonian Whimbrel resulted in a dip.  As it happens, its long stay in the cove ended the morning we went to visit, dammit!  2 Whimbrel and a Red-throated Diver were the only consolation.  The regular wintering Slavonian Grebe was back at Stithians Res and it was nice to see the feeders at the southern cutoff hosting Reed Buntings alongside the commoner garden birds as well as the showy Water Rail and a very tame Muscovy Duck.  Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell were also on the wing on nearby farmland.

Dan and I then headed down to Vianne in the south of France 16th-27th March to help out his parents with gardening.  Much of our time was spent working in the back garden but we kept a regular eye on the sky.  Raptor passage was impressive with hundreds of Black Kites moving north, regular Buzzards and Red Kites as well as Marsh Harriers, several Osprey, Goshawk and even a Short-toed Eagle.  A few excursions across the local farmland produced Water Pipit, Green Sandpiper, Snipe, White Wagtails, Grey Wagtail, Stonechat, Black Redstarts and a male White-spotted Bluethroat all feeding together around a small muddy puddle.  We also inadvertently flushed a Stone-curlew from the ploughed fields on our first day.  Common local residents included Cirl Buntings, Black Redstarts, HawfinchesSerin singing from many gardens and a walk to the local town for a food shop led to the surprise find of a male Wallcreeper scaling the gatehouse of Vianne!

male Wallcreeper

Black Woodpecker and several Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers were also encountered in the nearby woodland.  Other highlights included regular sightings of Short-toed Treecreepers, Bramblings2 White Storks a trickle of Black Storks, Crested Tits, flyover Woodlark, a calling Scops Owl, the first of the returning Hoopoes, passage Cormorants and an impressive movement of 1000's Chaffinches, Woodpigeons and a few Stock Doves.  Butterfly highlights included a Large Tortoiseshell and a Speckled Wood (ssp. aegeria).

Speckled Wood (ssp. aegeria)

Friday, 26 February 2016

Berlin (31th January-22st February)

For most of February I found myself back in Berlin where I had started my trip to Germany back in mid-December.  This time I was back to help my sister renovate her new flat.  Despite being only a few U-bahn stops away from the city centre the flat balcony overlooks a row of small backgardens with the occasional pine tree and shrubbery.  These alone were enough to host regular yet small parties of Hawfinches which would periodically perch at the top of the bare trees alongside Siskins and Greenfinches.  Numerous Great Spotted Woodpeckers, inner city Tree Sparrows and daily Red Squirrels were a delight.

Continental Great Spotted Woodpecker

Intermediate Long-tailed Tit

Hawfinch with Greenfinch


On the 2rd Feb I visited the Grosser Wannsee on the outskirts of SW Berlin.  15+ Goosander and small flocks of Goldeneye represented the wildfowl highlights.  However, there were also 3 Great White Egrets, regular flyover Siskins, Crested Tits, Short-toed Treecreepers, Hawfinches, calling Black Woodpecker and numerous Northern Long-tailed Tits working their way through the surrounding woodland.

A brief visit to a graveyard with my aunt and sister in central Berlin where I came face to face with an adult Goshawk perched in a tree calling was a stunning experience.  I had a similar experience on the 9th Feb when I saw 2 Goshawks at dusk whilst walk through the Tiergarten in central Berlin.

A surprisingly productive day out on the 10th Feb was spent taking a rest as it was becoming rather claustrophobic working and living continuously inside the flat.  The day started at Rathaus Spandau in the NW outskirts with a Short-toed Treecreepers singing from a few brave trees stranded in the middle of a concrete desert.  Nearby, a small reserve (Tiefwerder Wiesen) produced 3 Great White Egrets, a showy Black Woodpecker and thanks to 11 Grey Herons all with their eyes to the skies in fear, directed me to an adult White-tailed Eagle soaring over the reserve!  I then spent a good part of the day walking across town getting lost on several occasions making my way to Alt Tegel and Tegeler See for the gull roost.  In a five minute period walking across town I encountered 3 Goshawks and a flock of 27 Cranes.  On approaching Tegeler See through the woodland I stumbled across a Wild Boar sow and 4 piglets and the gull roost hosted 20+ Caspian Gulls.

The return journey by car produced a few Cranes seen from back window and the occasional Great White Egret stalking prey in ponds near the roadside.  My parents and I stopped at my aunt's for a day and spent an hour walking around The Rieselfelder where we encountered 2 White Storks.

White Stork