Friday, 24 October 2014

Hermit thrush, North Uist

Just back from a rushed, ferry schedule limited twitch for the Balranald Hermit thrush. I travelled over via the Isle of Skye and ferry from Uig yesterday- saw the bird for 30 minutes or so in the company of Al Mcnee and Bob Mcmillan, then dashed down the road to get a bed in the Howmor hostel. This wee thrush was a delightful bird and my second 'Catharus' of the autumn! With the 'mega alert' going off for tran-satlantic birds from Barra to Orkney it has been a manic 36 hours but in the end it was obvious that I could only twitch one of them being on a limited budget and with limited time.  An hour of birding this morning turned up grey plovers at Kyles Paible and storm petrels in the Minch which rounded the trip of nicely. I just tuned out the alerts concerning the chimney swift and grey-cheeked thrush at the extremities of the Hebridean archipelago and just had a word with myself about being satisfied with one really good bird! 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Torness Booted warbler- fieldcraft lessons for 'twitchy twitchers'

A few days ago I twitched the Booted warbler and Siberian stonechat at Torness point power station. Having picked up Bob Swann in Dingwall we drove down the A9 to Aviemore, where we swapped cars allowing Peter Stronach to drive the rest of the journey. We arrived about 08:50- birds were moving, the light was ok and as we drove down the approach road to the visitor centre a number of birders could be seen wandering about- not good as no one appeared to be actually on either bird. However, having parked up and exited the car, a quick sweep of the nearest sycamore revealed a few birds flitting about- a robin, a dunnock and the Bootted warbler! Although views were brief and against the light they could be classed as 'tickable' if things did not improve. Slight removal of 'twitch pressure'! After an hour of searching for it again without success, we moved off to get crippling views of the Siberian stonechat. The wee bird was incredibly tame and often approached us as if it thought we were a herd of animals flushing up insects. We returned for excellent, albeit brief views of the Booted warbler. The bird was incredibly cryptic and slow- moving amongst sycamore leaves and often proved to be very elusive- but all that was needed to get on the bird were half decent fieldcraft skills- i.e. get the sun at your back, work the habitat slowly and methodically and check everything that moves whilst keeping the noise down and not getting too close to the favoured habitat - it's not rocket science!! Anyway, as obvious as good fieldcraft skills are, they were  proving increasingly difficult for a growing number of frantic birders who started to try and chase the bird down- not a good plan as it only made the bird more difficult to pin down in an orderly and 'bird friendly' way. It also flushed every other bird on site so then all the sycamores had to be checked through again to rule out the agitated robins, dunnocks, gold crests, brambling etc. If it wasn't so irritating for the rest of the 'informed' birders on site it would be laughable! As if to prove a point Bob, Peter and I relocated the bird several times by using said fieldcraft skills, whilst the 'adrenalised twitchers' failed miserably. We did of course put them onto the bird on each occasion. It was also pertinent to note that some very well respected 'known' birders, all drifted away when the nonsense began- they all recognised that the bird was in danger of being flushed off and that 'good views' would not be attained again.  Enough said. Record shots duly taken and happy faces all round! 

Booted warbler

Siberian stonechat

Friday, 17 October 2014

Highland selfie!

With Highland being one of the largest recording areas in Britain and arguably containing the lowest density of active field birders, the chances of getting self-found birds should, in theory at least, be fairly high. Unfortunately there is often just too much habitat to cover effectively and this must allow many 'good birds' to go largely undetected. With countless days and 1000's of hours in the field my self-found list is woefully poor- my only good finds since moving to the Highland region in 1997 being grey phalarope, great grey shrike and great white egret. It was therefore with great delight that I found a hoopoe at Alturlie point last week- not a great rarity by any means but extremely satisfying within the context of the highland birding scene! Hopefully more 'good' finds will be forthcoming before too long!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Shetland Nature- triple mega birding!

I have been fortunate to visit Shetland on a number of occasions although always in a work related roll and always with little or no birding time. Finally, I managed a weeks' dedicated autumn birding with 'Shetland nature'. Shetland is far bigger than many birders realise and can often be a daunting place in terms of transport, accommodation, remote habitat and extreme weather. To optimise my birding experience I decided to have a stress-free birding break with Brydon Thomason's 'Shetland nature' and very capable guide Chris Rodger. All my transportation and accommodation was taken care of, Chris had intimate local knowledge of when and where to find the best birds, so I could just get on and enjoy the birding with no worries! Although preceded by two weeks of easterlies the wind had veered to gale force plus from the SW the day before my arrival. Despite the initial challenging conditions I was able to connect with 3 megas! First up was the splendid Swainson's thrush at Norwick, followed a couple of days later by the double delights of White's thrush and yellow-rumped warbler!! 

A supporting cast of rare and scarce birds including Rustic bunting, eastern subalpine warbler, wryneck, barred warblers, yellow-browed warblers, bluethroat, Arctic redpoll, red-breasted flycatcher, common rosefinch and Temminck's stint made the week one to remember for a very long time. Although not the scarcest bird by any means, it was fantastic to finally see a wryneck in Britain- my previous 12 dips over the last two decades have finally seen off my bogey bird! Happy days indeed and I can't wait to get back to these wonderful islands. 

Swainson's thrush
White's thrush
yellow-rumped warbler
barred warbler
wryneck- at last!!
Arctic redpoll