Friday, August 26, 2011

It had already been a decent day, with two Icterine Warblers and a supporting cast of 120 Willow Warblers and a Pied Flycatcher, when news came over the radio that another Hippolais warbler had been found, and it looked small. We quickly arrived at Plas Withy but had to wait about an hour until the bird finally showed well enough to allow confirmation that it was indeed the second Melodious Warbler of the autumn.

Having such good photos has allowed us to confirm our suspicions that this is indeed a different bird to that found at Nant a few days ago. On these views identification is straight forward with the long primary projection being roughly equal in length to the tertials. The silvery fringes to the secondaries form a distinctive panel but it should be noted that this is a first-year bird and a worn adult would have this panel much reduced. This bird frequently sat out in the open before dropping into the surrounding vegetation to grab an unsuspecting fly. The Icterine Warbler in Cristin Withy was retrapped and found to have put on four grams. (c) Richard Brown

The Melodious Warbler was also busy feeding, here taking an earwig. The Melodious basically replaces the Icterine as the yellowish breeding Hippolais in SW Europe. But identification on brief views can be tricky with the smaller size not always easy to judge (the wings of Icterines normally come in at between 73 and 82mm, those of Melodious between 62 and 71mm). Here the shorter primary projection is an obvious clue. Having both species on the island together has allowed us to get our eye in for leg colour and it has to be said there is very little difference between the two! (c) Richard Brown

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's been a bit longer than usual since our last post as we were far too busy each night of the Birdfair drinking and watching over 400 Common Pipistrelle bats flying around the beer garden. We returned to Bardsey two days ago to news that not one, but two Icterine Warblers were on the island, one of which had already been trapped and ringed in Cristin Withy. We set out on yesterday's census hoping to bump into at least one of these cracking Hippo's, and we did, only it wasn't one of the two already described as it lacked a ring and the amount of yellow on the underparts was clearly different to a bird seen two days previous at Nant! We then saw the ringed bird in Cristin Withy following a sighting of two probable Ickies in this one stand of Willows. So the actual number of Icterine Warblers currently on Bardsey is far from clear, on the 23rd it was definitely three, but over the last three days it is possible that FOUR birds have been sighted! Elsewhere the number of migrants has been poor, although the blustery wind and occasional torrential rain which has hampered the Icky survey is not helping the search. Indeed the bad weather overnight led to the demise of a Knot which struck the lighthouse in heavy rain. The fact that the only other attracted birds were two fledgling Manx Shearwaters suggests how few birds are currently moving.

Five Sanderling joined 43 Turnstone, five Dunlin, 12 Redshank, a Common Sandpiper, six Whimbrel and a Knot on Solfach today. This photo provides a good comparison of the different plumages to be expected at this time of year. The central bird, a juvenile, is nice and fresh with black feather centers and white fringes giving a neatly spangled look to the upperparts. The remaining three birds, all adults, currently retain a lot of this summer's breeding finery although now in a very worn state. A few very fresh pale grey feathers are a sign that the moult into winter plumage has commenced. (c) Richard Brown

With the Sanderling proving so approachable it seemed that we may be able to gently walk the flock along the tideline and into a spring-trap or two. This worked almost immediately and we trapped this smart juvenile. (c) Richard Brown and Giselle Eagle

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

We had a fantastic day yesterday relaxing on the Northumberland coast before staying with friends in Washington. If we'd stayed close to Rich's folks it may well have been Nosterfield that we chose for some local birding. Which is where the belting adult White-winged Tern chose to rock up in our absence. Luckily it's lingered so we could call in on our way home. We were treated to a fantastic show as it fed around Lingham Lake before dropping in to rest on its favoured raft. The Crane was still there and a few waders included Ruff, Common Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover.

The moulting adult White-winged Tern. On the deck the crown is already too white for Black Tern and the longer red legs and dark secondaries were distinctive. In flight there were still obvious black underwing coverts and a white rump remaining, although the white forewing has attained a more wintery appearance. (c) Richard Brown

Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's not long until the Birdfair now, so we decided to pick up a few essentials in town. It was a successful mission, but we were distracted by the news that the Wilson's Phalarope was still showing, a mere 15 minutes from where we were. We made a well deserved excursion to Greenabella Marsh. Whilst the bird was still distant, it was in a much better position and the sun was still fairly high in the sky. We spent the best part of an hour watching this magnificent wader feeding along the edge of the marsh.

This awesome winter-plumaged adult was still distant, but its features were fantastically defined in the afternoon sun. (c) Richard Brown

Watching the Wilson's Phalarope feed was text book! It walked around the grassy edges snapping at insects with a classic pivoted body before returning to the marsh where it stealthily swam low in the water, stalking its prey to within milimeters before a quick dart forward with its long, elegant bill. It appeared that there was plenty food in the marsh for it this afternoon, so it may well stick around a few days longer. (c) Richard Brown

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Bonaparte's Gull in and around Seaburn has been present since the 5th. Although very mobile, there are only two dates up until today when it hasn't been recorded, namely the 9th and the 12th, or in other words the two days we went to try to see the moulting adult but failed. Furthermore we left Chris's house on Hartlepool Headland the day before he trapped an Icterine Warbler and a rather skulking Melodious Warbler showed briefly back on Bardsey. It's fair to say our birding has hit a rough patch and when, ten minutes after hearing about the Wilson's Phalarope at Greatham Creek and setting off north, further news broke that it had flown east and out of view, we were beginning to suspect we had somehow upset the birding Gods. Rich was considering turning back but we ploughed on. Upon arriving at Greatham Creek there were a few birders on the bridge, but we'd heard rumours that it had been viewed from a hide down the road. A quick phone call to Toby, the Phalarope's discoverer, revealed it had probably been found again. We pegged it down the track at the same time that the Phalarope, which had been sat on the shingle, decided to fly towards where we'd just set off from. Luckily, it followed a Redshank back to the shingle and we got distant but good views of it feeding and preening. We watched this stunning wader until the local constabulary moved us on because we had inadvertently threatened national security by walking with 'pipes' out towards the industry. Two coppers did use our scope to add Wilson's to their lifelists before sending us on our way though.

Distant views of the adult Wilson's Phalarope. Alexander Wilson was born in Scotland, the son of an illiterate distiller, but moved to America to find employment as a schoolteacher. He developed an interest in ornithology and decided to publish a book illustrating the birds of North America. From 1808 until 1814 he published the nine-volume 'American Ornithology' which depicted 268 species of birds, 26 of which were new to science. Wilson's Storm-petrel, Wilson's Plover and Wilson's Warbler all commemorate his name. (c) Richard Brown

Thursday, August 11, 2011

We've spent the last few nights with the Tees Ringing Group using single-panel nets at Seal Sands. Nine Dunlin were trapped but we were concentrating on tape-luring Terns and we did this well with 24 Common Terns (including six already with rings), two Arctic Terns and six Sandwich Terns (one already with ring). Only a couple of sheltered nets could be opened during the day but we did manage to trap a few Reed Warblers, Whitethroats and a Sedge Warbler. Oh, and a species we've never trapped before!

Neither of us had ever handled Sandwich Terns before so this was a real pleasure, especially as we trapped both adult and juvenile birds. Sandwich Terns were first described in 1787 by John Latham when he gave them the name Sterna sandvicensis, the species name referring to Sandwich in Kent where the type specimen came from. The same species name is shared by several other birds including the Nene Goose. But these were not described from specimens taken in Kent but rather the Sandwich Islands (more commonly known as Hawaii!). (c) Richard Brown

Common Terns were the commoner of the Terns we trapped. They were described less than 30 years before the Sandwich Tern by Linnaeus in 1758 for his catchy entitled 'Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis' or 'System of nature through the three kingdoms of nature, according to classes, orders, genera and species, with characters, differences, synonyms, places'. He picked the species name S. hirundo in reference to the Swallow-like nature of this species. (c) Richard Brown

These two juvenile Arctic Terns illustrate well how variable first-years of this species can look. The upper bird is probably a bit younger as it still has a pale base to the bill, something which soon darkens as can be seen below. The coverts and scapulars of the lower bird did not look worn but clearly the well scalloped appearance had faded, or perhaps the lower bird had never been as well marked. (c) Richard Brown

Looking out over Seal Sands towards the heavy industry. It was fantastic wading out waist deep in the mouth of the Tees to extract the Terns from the mist nets. We didn't see Peg Powler once, the legendary hag with green skin, long hair and sharp teeth who is said to inhabit the Tees. She apparently grabs people's ankles and takes them to a watery grave! (c) Richard Brown

A massive surprise at Hargreaves Quarry was this Budgerigar in the top shelf of one of the nets. Apparently budgery is Australian slang for 'good'. He is a he based on the colour of the cere which would be brown in a female. (c) Richard Brown

Monday, August 8, 2011

It was inevitable that an August holiday would lead to us missing a few birds on Bardsey, and we have, with a fall of roughly 1000 Willow Warblers and a scattering of common migrants keeping the remaining staff busy. No doubt the first rare of the autumn is just around the corner. So to console ourselves we decided to try and see some decent birds this holiday, preferably things we haven't seen much (or anything of) in four years on Bardsey. A normal season on Bardsey sees about 21 species of wader recorded, including wintery species such as Woodcock and Jack Snipe. We've seen 31 species in the last two weeks.

Despite the fact that Pectoral Sandpipers are our commonest visitor from America, there have only been four records on Bardsey with two on the 15th September 1960, one on the 11th September 1975, one on the 2nd October 1982 and one on the 22nd September 1987. There have been about seven confirmed British sightings this August including this bird at Cley. (c) Richard Brown

We've seen some pretty scarce and stunning waders, but our favourites were a species which breeds in the UK. They look superficially like mini bustards which led to them being classified as such, but we now know them to be waders which have evolved to fill a similar ecological niche as bustards, specialising in arid habitats. Our Stone-curlew is therefore slightly unusual as far as thick-knees go in that the arid place they've selected in Suffolk is far from dry in the winter. The way they've evolved to cope with this is to migrate to other arid regions further south for our winter. This is unusual in other members of this family which are generally sedentary. We saw 23 at Weeting Heath but they were generally quite subdued, as might be expected from a species which is mainly nocturnal.  (c) Richard Brown

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Corncrake singing below the Obs has now stopped. But the amazing sounds are still fresh in our memories and still they sound very different to the singing Corncrakes we are used to. Steve Westerberg and Tina Wiffen also heard the bird and were puzzled by the sounds. Below is a recording of the song made by Tina.

So why does this bird sound so unlike a singing male? Well it seems that it's because it's a female! See for three recordings of singing females! Apparently Corncrake females will sing to advertise for a male if they have not paired. Recordings of female song are quite rare. (c) Tina Wiffen

Our summer wader-fest holiday continued just down the road at Nosterfield LNR with cracking views of this juvenile Wood Sandpiper. At one point it was in the same scope view as a Green Sandpiper, a Common Sandpiper and a Greenshank. Elsewhere Little Ringed Plovers and a Common Crane were additions to our year list (they don't turn up on Bardsey too often). Wood Sands breed way up north in boggy taiga, usually on the ground but sometimes up in trees (a habit more typical of Green Sandpipers which use old thrush nests in trees!). (c) Richard Brown  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

We've had a busy couple of days with family and friends but still had time to make a 7am visit to Saltholme to get a better look at the Semipalmated Sandpiper and Temminck's Stint in better light and with the 60x eyepiece on the scope. It was Sod's law that the birds flew to the far bank just after our arrival so the extra magnification just gave similar views as yesterday.

Distant views of the adult Semipalmated Sandpiper. (c) Richard Brown