Monday, 9 October 2017

Portland - 7th October

I spent the day at Portland in a strong west wind with frequent blustery showers and thick overcast. I didn't expect to see much but I had the day 'scheduled' and so wanted to continue with my plans. I parked in the main carpark and wandered northwards through the Chalet Fields, along the East Cliff, up to Culverwell, over the Top Fields and down the West Cliffs to the observatory. It was pretty tough going and I saw few birds. The only bird of any note was a Hawfinch which flew overhead in the Top Fields and landed in a Sycamore before flying high towards Culverwell.

I then headed to the Church Opi car park and wandered through the Sycamores at Pennsylvania Castle and although sheltered here there was little to be seen. So I decided to retreat, I stopped at Ferrybridge for an hour or so where there were 780 Dark-bellied Brent and a single Pale-bellied Brent plus 75 Ringed Plover, four Mediterranean Gull and two Bar-tailed Godwit. As I wandered back to the car with Dave Foot a fantastic adult pale phase Arctic Skua flew west through the harbour and over the Chesil Bank.

Arctic Skua - Ferrybridge

Part of the flock of 780 Dark-bellied Brent Goose - Ferrybridge

Days Totals for Portland Bill Area
Swallow - 22 west
Goldcrest - 4 (plus 5 Pennsylvania)
Chiffchaff - 3(plus 2 Pennsylvania)
Blackcap - 6
Stonechat - 2
Wheatear - 3
Hawfinch - 1

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Pennington Marsh - 5th October

It was a beautiful October day and after dropping Tobias at school I was going to spent the day at Pennington Marsh until it was time to pick him up at 15:30. After a coffee at the corner of Lower Pennington Lane I walked along the fun length of the Ancient Highway. It took me almost two hours to walk the 500m or so! I was absorbed in the bushed trying to find a decent bird but in a north-westerly I was not too hopeful. Other than fair numbers of Chiffchaff and Goldcrest there was little to be found. The highlight was an obliging Lesser Whitethroat which despite my best efforts I couldn't turn into one of the eastern races. Three Bearded Reedling passed high overhead to the east, I guess these were local birds simply moving around the site. There was some visible migration evident and I recorded a total of 26 Swallow, 11 House Martin, six Siskin, eight Redpoll and 24 Sky Lark moving west. I spent a fair bit of time around the plantation at the west end of the Ancient Highway but there was little to be seen.

Lesser Whitethroat - Ancient Highway, Pennington Marsh

Lesser Whitethroat - Ancient Highway, Pennington Marsh

Lesser Whitethroat - Ancient Highway, Pennington Marsh

Lesser Whitethroat - Ancient Highway, Pennington Marsh

As I wandered around the seawall it was evident that the tide was very high and the waders on the salt marsh were tiptoeing in knee-deeps water when normally they would be high and dry. Scanning through their ranks there were many Dunlin and Grey Plover and I counted a total of 185 Curlew. Scanning over the scrub looking for the Wryneck that has been present recently I picked up an immature Sparrowhawk that was harassing the pipits, a Marsh Harrier and a Red Kite flew north over. Red Kite is still a scarce bird here.

Sparrowhawk - Iley Point, Pennington Marsh

Walking around the seawall an obliging Wheatear was on the track while at Fishtail there were good numbers of wader with 180 Black-tailed Godwit, six Snipe and 90 Lapwing along with small numbers of Redshank and Dunlin. I watched a pair of Mallard foraging in the shallows accompanied by three Little Grebe, the Little Grebe were diving in the 'slip stream' of the Mallard and were clearly foraging for prey items (small invertebrates) disturbed by the Mallard - I do not recall seeing this feeding association before. Scanning over the saltmarsh I picked up an immature female Merlin chasing a Meadow Pipit which it eventually downed over the scrub at Iley Point.

Wheatear - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Wheatear - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Foraging Mallard accompanied by Little Grebe - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

At the Jetty there were around 30 Turnstone and 15 Dunlin feeding on the seaweed that has accumulated on the beach - quite unusual that the beach is not disturbed by dogs so I spent a little time he photographing them. I then headed along the seawall past Pennington Lagoon before cutting inland and back to the car.

Dunlin - Jetty Beach, Pennington Marsh

Dunlin - Jetty Beach, Pennington Marsh

Turnstone - Jetty Beach, Pennington Marsh

Dunlin - Jetty Beach, Pennington Marsh

Dunlin - Jetty Beach, Pennington Marsh

Dunlin - Jetty Beach, Pennington Marsh

Chiffchaff - Pennington Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Day Totals
Wigeon - 147
Teal - 295
Pintail - 10
Shoveler - 46
Red-breasted Merganser - 1
Marsh Harrier - 1
Red Kite - 1
Water Rail - 4
Lapwing - 125
Curlew - 215
Black-tailed Godwit - 207
Bar-tailed Godwit - 3
Greenshank - 5
Spotted Redshank - 4
Snipe - 8
Peregrine - 1
Merlin - 1 immature female
Goldcrest - 9
Bearded Reedling - 3
Sky Lark - 24 west
Swallow - 26 west
House Martin - 11
Chiffchaff - 9
Blackcap - 3
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Stonechat - 11
Wheatear - 5
Siskin - 6 west
Redpoll - 8 west

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Pennington Marsh - 29th October

I had a few hours to spare after dropping Tobias at school and so had a quick wander around the marshes. Wandering along the Ancient Highway past Efford Lagoon there were now 42 Tufted Duck, my highest count yet, while 25 Swallow and three Sand Martin foraged overhead. I spent some time grilling a Common Sandpiper to check it was not a Spotted but try as I might I couldn't string this one. Walking out past the flooded grassland at the back of Fishtail Lagoon a Tree Pipit called overhead as it flew south and three Yellow Wagtail headed east. The water levels at Fishtail Lagoon are high after the heavy rains of late and there were very few waders present just four Snipe, two Spotted Redshank and 22 Lapwing. A juvenile Little Stint on the island in Fishtail Lagoon was my first at the site this autumn. While small numbers of Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit and a single Wheatear fed in the grassland. Wandering out to Keyhaven Lagoon a female Marsh Harrier quartered the marsh. I was hoping for larger numbers of wader on Keyhaven Lagoon but the high water levels meant that all that was present were two Black-tailed Godwit and two Spotted Redshank. However, duck numbers have climbed steeply since my last visit on 17th September and I counted 125 Teal, 225 Wigeon and 32 Pintail - all in eclipse plumage. I then wandered out past Butts Lagoon where there were six Mediterranean Gull on the mud off the point while on Jetty Lagoon there were a further 85 Teal and single Spotted Redshank and Greenshank.

Little Stint - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Wigeon - Fishtail Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Little Egret - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Wigeon - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Wigeon - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Wigeon - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Pintail - Keyhaven Lagoon, Pennington Marsh

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Rarities in September 2017

This is my summary of records of rare birds from the UK in September 2017, this is not aimed at being a comprehensive account of all the rare's in the UK in this month, for such accounts see the Birdguides review of the week or the Rare Bird Alert weekly round-up. I am largely writing this as a personal record of rarity records to aid my knowledge and feed my interest in UK birds. The dates provided under each species are only the date of the finding of that bird, 'megas' are shown in red and a full date range for these species is shown. I have only included confirmed records and not included possibles or probables. The photographs that I used have been gleaned from the internet, I aim to provide the photographer with full credit and a link to their website or blog, if you see that one of yours has been used and you object to this then please email me and I will remove it immediately, alternatively if you would like to supply a better image or additional information or links then I will add. Contact me at

There was a remarkable arrival of American waders in the first two weeks of September, most noticably a good run of Semipalmated Sandpiper from 3rd September with at least four being found in Ireland on that day. This arrival was associated with a complex weather system with a stream of westerlies extending across the Atlantic. As this weather system wriggled its way westwards it produced a stunning American Redstart on Barra which continued to perform in the churchyard until 17th September.

Synoptic chart from 00:00 3rd September 2017

A further low pressure system sweeping across the UK over the 10th and 11th produced a further arrival of rare waders  and the remarkable double arrival of a Least Sandpiper (9th) and Stilt Sandpiper (11th) at Lodmoor, Dorset.

Synoptic chart from 00:00 11th September 2017

Much of the month was dominated by arrivals of low pressure systems from the Atlantic although the Azores high stabilised the weather for a period later in the month but with a return to low pressure systems at the end of the month. Accordingly, American species were often the headline makers in September.

Semipalmated Plover
Keel, Achill Island, County Mayo - 13th-29th September

There are four accepted records of Semipalmated Plover in Great Britain and two from Ireland. Records are from March and April and September and October and are widely spread with birds recorded on the Isles of Scilly, Devon, Chichester and Hampshire (the same bird) and South Uist. Irish records are from County's Donegal and Kerry. Undoubtedly this species occurs more frequently than is know due to its similarity to Common Ringed Plover.

Upland Sandpiper
Fetlar, Shetland - 30th September when it showed well but there was no sign of the bird on 1st October.

There are 45 accepted records of Upland Sandpiper in Great Britain and 12 from Ireland. Records are from April, May, July, September, October, November and December with the peak month being October with 30 records. The species has occurred widely in the UK with six records from Shetland and 15 from the Isles of Scilly being the best locations. The highest total for a mainland county is of nine records from Cornwall. The last 'twitchable' records are from 2011 where a bird spent 16 days at Termoncarragh, Mullet Peninsula, County Mayo from 12th to 27th October and on the Isles of Scilly a bird was at Maypole, St. Mary's from 8th to 27th October, a stay of 20 days.

Hudsonian Whimbrel
Easkey, County Sligo - 4th September and into October. Read the finders account on Birdguides here.

Stilt Sandpiper
Lodmoor - 11th to 15th September then the same at;
Lytchett Bay, Dorset - 21st September and then Middlebere, Poole Harbour until the months end.

Baird's Sandpiper
Aughris Head, County Sligo - 1st September
Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry - 1st September
Brownsea, Dorset - 1st September
Tacumshin, County Wexford - 2nd September
Marazion, Cornwall - 3rd September
Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex - 3rd September
Dinham Flats, Cornwall - 9th September
Clonakilty, Cork - 10th September
Spey Bay, Moray & Nairn - 13th September
White Holme Reservoir, West Yorkshire - 13th September
Wyke Regis, Dorset - 17th September
The Cull, County Wexford - 24th September

Least Sandpiper
Axe Estuary, Devon - 7th September (account here)
Lodmoor, Dorset - 9th September
Seaton Marshes, Devon - 12th September

Least Sandpiper - Lodmoor, Dorset by Peter Moore. Peters blog can be viewed here

Semipalmated Sandpiper
Carrahane Strand, Kerry - 3rd September
The Gearagh, County Cork - 3th September
Ring, County Cork - 3rd September
Tacumshin, County Wexford (2) - 3rd September
Derrymore, County Kerry - 6th September
Smerwick Harbour, County Kerry - 6th September
Blennerville, Kerry - 7th September
St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly - 7th September
Balgarva, South Uist - 11th September
Clogheen Marsh, County Cork - 27th September

Wilson's Phalarope
Alston Reservoirs, Lancashire - 9th September

Wilson's Phalarope by Paul Ellis.
Paul's excellent Flickr site can be viewed here

Lesser Yellowlegs
Lissagriffin, Co. Cork - 1st September
Kenfig NNR, Glamorgan - 3rd September
Montrose Basin, Angus & Dundee - 9th September
Cloghane, County Kerry - 9th September
Devoran, Cornwall - 12th September
Cross Lough, Mullet - 20th September
National Wetlands Centre WWT, Carmarthen - 20th September
Stanpit Marsh, Dorset -22nd September
Termoncarragh Lough, County Mayo - 26th September

Long-billed Dowitcher
Bannow Bay, County Wexford - 1st September
Oare Marshes, Kent - 2nd September
North Ronaldsay - 6th September
Kilnsea, Yorkshire - 9th September
Saltfleet, Lincolnshire - 17th September
Termoncarragh Lough, County Mayo - 27th September

Bonaparte's Gull
Oare Marshes, Kent -1st September
Dawlish Warren, Devon - 8th September
Timoleague, County Cork - 12th September
Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - 13th September
Tolsta Head, Lewis - 21st September

Black-billed Cuckoo
Dale of Walls, Mainland, Shetland - 18th September. Read the finders account on Birdguides here.

There are 14 British Records and 1 Irish record of this species with most birds being Autumn records extending from 23rd September to 8th November so this is a comparitively early bird. Most birds are one or two day stayers and are moribund or found dead. The one exception to this, which has not yet been accepted, was a bird from 22nd May to 1st June at Bayhead, North Uist. The Dale of Walls birds on 18th September proved to be a typical record and could not be located the following day.

Fantastic shot of the Black-billed Cuckoo by G W Petrie. Interesting to see this bird in Japanese Knotweed!

Red-eyed Vireo
Porthgwarra, Cornwall - 24th September
St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly - 24th September

This is the westerly airflow and associated low pressure system located over the west of the British Isles that resulted in this double arrival of Red-eyed Vireo on 24th September (image from

Buff-bellied Pipit
Tawin, Galway - 12th September

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly - 29th September and into October. Read the finders account on Birdguides here.

There are 26 accepted records of the species in Great Britain and eight from Ireland. Records are from May, September, October, November and December with the peak month being October with 29 records. The prime location for Rose-breasted Grosbeak is the Isles of Scilly with 13 records from the Islands. The last switchable bird was a first-winter male that came to feeders in Hugh Town, Isles of Scilly from 18th-29th December 2012.

This deep low pressure appears to have resulted in the arrival of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. From this position the low tracked northwards along the west coast of the British Isles.

American Redstart
Barra, Outer Hebrides - 1st winter female 7th -17th September.

There are a total of seven British records of American Redstart with the last being in 1985. British records are as follows:
  • Galley Head, County Cork - 13th-15th October 1985
  • Winchester College Water Meadows, Hampshire - first-winter male, 4th - 6th October 1985
  • St. Just, Cornwall, first-winter male, 13th - 24th October 1983
  • Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire, first-winter, probably male, 7th November to 5th December 1982
  • Portnahaven, Islay, female or immature, 1st November 1982
  • Cape Clear Island, County Cork, male, 13th - 14th October 1968
  • Porthgwarra, Cornwall, first-winter male, 21st October 1967

American Redstart - Barra, Outer Hebrides
See Hebridean Imaging website here

With the seemingly constant flow of low pressure systems arriving from the Atlantic and with pretty much consistent westerly winds it was difficult to see how any eastern species might have arrived.  Yet, as a low pressure passed through the UK over the 8th and 9th the top edge produced an easterly airflow from deep into Scandinavia and back to the northern islands sufficient to provide an arrival of at least five Arctic Warbler, a Great Snipe and a Lanceolated Warbler, mainly from Shetland but Sandwich Bay in Kent scored with a Arctic Warbler trapped and ringed at Sandwich Bay on 10th September.

On 16th September low pressure systems were blocked from reaching our shores by the Azores high which extended north at least as far as Iceland. Low pressure systems were squeezed north meaning a temporary end to the arrival of American birds. At the same time a high pressure system was established over the Caspian and western Russia resulting in easterly winds reaching our shores. This resulted in a small arrival of eastern species such as Barred Warbler, Red-throated Pipit, Yellow-browed Warbler, Greenish Warbler and three Arctic Warbler, Western Bonelli's Warbler and a Rustic Bunting. The star bird on the 17th was a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler that showed well at Burnham Overy Dunes on 17th.

On the 19th a low pressure system, that had passed through the UK, briefly settled to the east of the Baltic, this sent easterly winds off its northern edge resulting in the arrival of two megas, a female Siberian Thrush on Unst and a juvenile Yellow-breasted Bunting on Out Skerries. These eastern megas just two days after a Black-billed Cuckoo on Mainland Shetland.

Great Snipe
Fair Isle, Shetland - 11th September

Eurasian Scops Owl
Ryhope, Durham - 27th September and into October. Read the finders account on Birdguides here.

There are 84 accepted records of Eurasian Scops Owl in Great Britain and 14 from Ireland. Records extend across all months with the exception of February and December with the peak months being April, May and June. The prime location for the species is Orkney with 14 records, this is perhaps somewhat surprising given the southern origin of the species, perhaps, it is simply easier to find a small owl on Orkney where there are few trees, or perhaps this indicates that the individuals occurring here are from the eastern parts of the range but why have there been no records from Shetland?

Eurasian Scops Owl, Ryhope, Durham by Dave Hunton

While researching this Eurasian Scops Owl record I came across Stewart Sexton's blog, Stewchat, he has some fantastic photographs, field sketch's and watercolours of his birding and wildlife experiences. His notes and illustrations of the Scops Owl are exceptional.  Have a look at Stewart's blog here: This is his Scops Owl, I am very envious of his talent:

Arctic Warbler
Unst, Shetland - 8th September
North Ronaldsay - 8th September
Mainland, Shetland - 9th September
Sandwich Bay, Kent - 10th September
Mainland, Shetland - 12th September
Mainland, Shetland - 16th September
Easington, Yorkshire - 17th September
Wells Woods, Norfolk - 17th September
Whitburn Coastal Park, Durham - 26th September

Arctic Warbler - Exnaboe, Mainland, Shetland 12th September. A fantastic 
image by Rob Fray of Nature Shetland

Western Bonelli's Warbler
Fair Isle, Shetland - 17th September
Mire Loch, Borders - 19th September
Skokholm, Pembrokeshire - 24th September, trapped and ringed.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler
Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk - 17th -24th September. This bird showed late on the 17th and then on and off, mainly off and mainly flushed, for the rest of its stay.
Fair Isle, Shetland - 22nd September

Of the 54 accepted British records there are only 11 records from the mainland and a total of 41 records from Shetland. this remains a very rare bird on the mainland.

Lanceolated Warbler
Mainland, Shetland - 11th September

Booted Warbler
Foula, Shetland - 27th September
Rhossili Bay, Gower - 29th September

Paddyfield Warbler
St. Abbs Head NNR, Borders - 28th September

Siberian Thrush
Balta Sound, Unst - 20th September. Read the finders account on Birdguides here.

Female Siberian Thrush Balta Sound, Unst by Brydon Thomason of Shetland Nature 

There are 10 British and two Irish records of this stunning species. Records extend from 25th September through to 25th December with the majority of records during the last week in September and first couple of weeks of October. Shetland is the top location for the species with four records followed by Orkney and Norfolk each with two records.

Siberian Stonechat
North Ronaldsay, Orkney - 26th September
Nanjizal Valley, Cornwall - 28th September

Isabelline Wheatear
St. Mary's, Isle of Scilly - 28th September and into October.

Red-throated Pipit
Tory Island, County Donegal - 17th September
Fair Isle, Shetland - 27th September
Languard, Suffolk - 27th September
Unst, Shetland - 30th September

Pechora Pipit
Foula, Shetland -27th September

Yellow-breasted Bunting
House, Out Skerries - 20th - 22nd September. Read the finders account on Birdguides here.

There are some 237 British records of Yellow-breasted Bunting, however, since the early 2000's this species has undergone a rapid decline in the UK. This is linked to a decline of 90% and a retraction of its range by 5000 km since 1980 mainly due to an unsustainable trade in the species for as a prized cage bird, see article here.

Rustic Bunting
Fair Isle, Shetland - 17th September
North Ronaldsay, Orkney - 29th September
Foula, Shetland - 29th September
Melby, Mainland, Shetland -30th September
Dale of Walls, Mainland, Shetland - 30th September

Isabelline Shrike
Foula, Shetland - 29th September with two on 30th and three on 1st October!

European Roller
Balnakeil, Highland - 29th-30th September

Pallid Harrier
Burton Marsh, Cheshire - 30th September

With an almost constant flow of low pressure systems it was unsurpring that seawatching produced some exitement with the now annual records of Fea's Petrel but also a run of Barolo Shearwater from Cornwall on 4th and 5th.

Fea's Petrel
North Ronaldsey, Orkney - 2nd September
Lizard and then Porthgwarra - 2nd September
Carnsore Point, County Wexford - 10th September
Toe Head, County Cork - 23rd September

Barolo Shearwater
Moushole, Cornwall - 3rd September
Pentire Point then Newquay, Cornwall - 5th September

Leach's Petrel
Strong winds overnight on 10th September produced a strong passage of Leach's Petrel on the 11th mainly in the west with 60 past Hoylake, Cheshire. Relocating birds were recorded widely on 12th with birds being seen as far up the the River Severn as Fretherne. Storm Aileen produced another flush of records on 12th. While on 13th 51 flew past Hoylake and 60+ past New Brighton both in Cheshire and on 14th a further 70 flew past Hilbre Island, Chesire. During this period there were numerous birds scattered around the country but it was the Wirral that held the lions share - a classic site for the species in certain weather conditions, mainly fast moving Atlantic depressions and stron NW winds.

One of the most amazing images of Leach's Petrel I have seen - ever! By Richard Steel, more of his fantastic images can be seen on his blog here:
New Brighton, September 11th

Synoptic chart from 18:00 11th September 2017 from magicseaweed showing the first major storm of the Autumn, Storm Aileen producing gusts of up to 75mph - the storm stirred up the alreay large numbers of Leach'e Petrel along the east coast and produced a scatter of Sabine's Gull and Grey Phalarope but there were no major American rarieties associated with the storm

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Spotted Crake, Hornchurch CP and Red-necked Grebe, Roding Valley Meadows - 28th September

I had a bit of an epic survey day today, leaving home at 05:00 I was at Dagenham Docks (even less glamorous than it sounds) by 07:15. After this survey I had to cross Greater London in a north-west direction to St Albans. So having started so early I had a little time to play with and a couple of birds en-route.

First-up I visited Hornchurch Country Park in the Ingrebourne Valley where a Spotted Crake has been present since 16th September. The bird showed well soon after I arrived and I enjoyed excellent views for the time I was there. Also here were Water Rail (two), Cetti's Warbler (six) and a handful of Teal, Gadwall and Snipe. I have seen around seven Spotted Crake in the UK but not for many years and I have never photographed the species. It was a cracking little bird showing fairly well in an area of cattle grazed flooded swamp.

Spotted Crake (juvenile) - Hornchurch Country Park

Spotted Crake (juvenile) - Hornchurch Country Park

Spotted Crake (juvenile) - Hornchurch Country Park

Spotted Crake (juvenile) - Hornchurch Country Park

Spotted Crake (juvenile) - Hornchurch Country Park

Spotted Crake (juvenile) - Hornchurch Country Park

Next I visited Roding Valley Meadows near to Chigwell where a juvenile Red-necked Grebe has been present since 22nd September. While I have seen many Red-necked Grebe I have not seen the species in juvenile plumage so was keen to see this bird as I was pretty much passing by on route to St Albans. The bird was fairly mobile and often distant on the lake but eventually showed well in a secluded corner in the north-west of the lake. 

Long-tailed Tit - Roding Valley Meadows, Chigwell

Red-necked Grebe (juvenile) - Roding Valley Meadows, Chigwell

Red-necked Grebe (juvenile) - Roding Valley Meadows, Chigwell

Red-necked Grebe (juvenile) - Roding Valley Meadows, Chigwell

Red-necked Grebe (juvenile) - Roding Valley Meadows, Chigwell