Jellied harriers

It was hot enough to keep Southern Hawkers and Common Darters on the wing while the sun was shining this afternoon, so I popped down to Marshside to take in this autumn’s harrier show.
3-4 young Marsh Harriers were patrolling and flushing everything from Pinkies to Greenshank on the outer marsh, while the superfine male Hen Harrier and a Merlin took care of keeping Skylark stress levels nice and high as they hunted north of the Sandplant from 1-2pm, before moving off south.

Wonderful to watch ’em through the ‘scope, but way too much of a wibbly wobbly jelly heat haze (at the business end of October no less!) to take anything other than wibbly wobbly blurry photographs.
Peregrine out on the sands of the estuary too.


Marshside Ping Ping

Wimped out like a Wet Nelly yesterday as Storm Callum continued to mess me about, and batter and drench everywhere it could, but with conditions so much more calmer today, it was time to visit the Bearded Tits/Reedlings/Parrotbills at Marshside.
The two Beardies are hanging around in the reedbed out past the old Sandplant, and commute into sedges nearer the road to feed invisible.
The female started calling in the reeds shortly after I arrived at 1pm-ish, and edged out into the open before whirring off into the sedges.

I had to wait longer for the striking male to fly in though, but he did, before putting on a show for the crowd…

Ping ping ping.
The only previous record of ’em at Marshside is a single bird way back on December 18th, 1977.
Marsh Harriers and Raven about too, plus plenty of Skylarks and Mipits on the move once the sun pushed through too.

Carry on Callum.

It was all going so well – bright sunny mornings and south easterlies, with Black Redstarts, Yellow Browed Warblers etc popping up here and there and the feeling that any minute a biggy was going to materialise out of the next Pittosporum.
A daily “Good Morning” to the long staying and ridiculously tame Bar Tailed Godwit on Porthcressa beach, before walking up onto Peninnis Head, where Skylarks, titmice and pipits teased.

Blackcaps and Chiffies called from the bramble-coated drystone landscape and Wheatears and Stonechats perched up in the rocks.
All very Scilly.
Then the radios started crackling on Wednesday morning warning of boat cancellations and imminent Callum-related chaos.
This was frustrating especially as the place was looking so fine…

But when Cap’n Birdseye says the boat won’t sail on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and possibly Monday, because it may get a tad windy-pops, it was time to alter plans.
So like some pasty fuelled re-enactment of the Fall of Saigon, those of us that have to be in work again next week rushed to book seats on the Scillonian III for a hastily scheduled “get outta Dodge” boat on Thursday afternoon.
With the Scilly trip curtailed by three days (and the lost day on Saturday last week – this never used to happen in the old days did it?) it was hard to keep motivated – especially as the very storm that was turfing us off the islands early was more than likely to dump a whole ‘scopeful of rarities on the fortunate isles once the wind subsides.

Greenshanks, Yellow and Grey Wags were dropping in as we all kept walking and checking, with Richard’s Pipit up on the headland and a Bluethroat bouncing about St Agnes yesterday morning, but before you could say “all hands to the Kavorna Cafe” it was time to say our goodbyes and take the melancholic walk down to the harbour.
Can’t win ’em all…

Three Turks and a Wingletang.

Visits to St Agnes are always a privilege – the place is usually drenched in sun, and this most “Fraggle Rock” of all the Isles of Scilly seems to be most people’s favourite.
It always has birds too, and after a fun early a.m. boat ride through a crisp swell, we were watching a hyperactive Greenish Warbler quicker than you could say “Troytown Farm ice creams all round”.
The thing rarely sat still, especially when it started getting ChiffChaff hassle.

Redstarts in pittosporum cloaked bulb fields that for some reason always remind me of empty churches, ‘crests calling from the cover, and small groups of pipits going through.
A young Red Backed Shrike was almost as approachable as the warbler and I got great views of the endemic Scilly form of Specked Wood butterfly, which is a bit darker than the bugs back home apparently.

From there we hot-footed it round to the Parsonage, where a superb Convolvulus Hawkmoth was dozing…. look at the size of that moth missus!!!!!

After that we spent a sun-drenched afternoon commuting between the Turk’s Head pub, where we enjoyed one of the best beer garden views on the planet while we waved goodbye to boats ploughing back to St Mary’s, and the odd bit of birding…

Black Redstart following birders down off Wingletang was distant, before we crash landed back on St Mary’s and fell into the Mermaid.
Just another golden day on the fortunate isles……

Back where I belong…

So far so good back on Scilly – plenty of birds about, but the long hikes seem to be getting harder.
Yesterday we were saying howdy to a Tawny Pipit that stuck out like a sore thumb on Bryher, stark and pale against the slopes of maritime heath on Shipman’s Head Down, via Clouded Yellows, Spoonbill and very splendid G&Ts.

Out early this morning, we walked forever on St Mary’s, which let’s face it is always a pleasure, even if the birds were hard to come by, before some serious medication in the Scillonian Club.
Yellow Browed Warbler in the Dump Clump, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, with Scilly resident Song Thrushes on Penninis Head, before dropping down to Old Town Churchyard – morning Harold, and morning to a Spotted Fly and a fine Hummingbird Hawkmoth.

I managed glimpses of Chiffchaffs, bumblebees and a local moggy in the bracken by Porth Mellon beach, where there should have been a reported Aquatic Warbler, but with legs aching, Porth Hellick had a classic bobbity bob bobbing Jack Snipe, Greenshanks and a few Whinchats.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings – off island to Aggy and south easterlies should get the eyes straining and the legs aching again…

Killing time

With the Scillonian sailing cancelled due to a bit of a breeze today, we were all at a loose end.
Even we couldn’t go to the Legless Arms at 9am…..although……
Heavy rain saw us mooching around Penzance for the morning, but it faded and we checked St Leven, Porthgwarra and Cot Valley.
Always a tremendous sense of anticipation in these places, but the most we could rustle up were Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests, Blackcap and a bit of Mipit passage.
Three Choughs over Cot and hirundines hawking around the cliffs kept us going…..just.
Tomorrow is another day, when hopefully Neill, Trops, Tony, Jason, Sid and I can get onto Scilly…. assuming it’s not too breezy for the bloomin’ boat.
Weigh anchor, birding ahoy etc…..


The local Common Buzzards were very vocal as I checked Haskayne Cutting late this afternoon, but the persistent westerly breeze made it tough working through the bushes.
A feeding flock of 11 Long Tailed Tits dragged Blue and Great Tits, 2 Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest with them as they zipped through the hawthorn, birch and willows and autumnal Jays flopped about.
Thin seasonal fare.
Plex was busy with agricultural activity, while several groups of up to 20 Skylarks were moving through, and 100-150 Starlings probed the stubble, but I only saw eight Corn Buntings and two Yellowhammers.
Plenty of Stock Doves and Common Gulls with the Woodpigeons and BHGs.
It still felt like a busy afternoon, especially as the sky was littered with Pink Feet, with skein and after skein rising and falling over the mosses before the evening commute.

AGP: Still around, still distant.

Checked Crossens Outer and Inner early afternoon today – the former was quiet, but the latter had good numbers of Golden Plover, including one of the American Golden Plovers from last week.
Hard to pin it down at first as it was up and down out of a drain and I was looking into the light, but when cloud went across the sun I was able to get better views – and even see the grey axilliaries when it flapped its wings.
Smaller than the rest of the Goldies and more active, with a lightning strike super as bright as a Lapwing’s white eyebrow.
It looked to me like the more well-marked bird of the two that Stuart Darbyshire found last week.
Watched the AGP from 1220 to about 1315, when a Peregrine (with a touch of Lanner) swept through and scattered the flock.

No bins necessary.

‘Cos they’re a high arctic bird, and first winters have rarely clapped eyes on human beans, Grey Phalaropes can often be ridiculously confiding.
Especially when they turn up at the small boating lake at Crosby Coastal Park – they like noodling round the edges there, where their view and awareness of their surroundings is probably restricted to little above the foot high sheer walls of the pool.

Combine these factors and you have the opportunity for a remarkable close encounter with a very special bird, as long as you keep low, still and quiet.
Just pick a spot on the bank and wait for the bird to come to you…

Sometimes today’s bird came so close you could touch it, but if I remember my I-Spy rules of bird-spotting correctly, poking a phalarope is a very bad thing…
I was surprised Steve Young resisted temptation though, as it came even closer to him than me.
You could even see the lobes on its freaky feet (the phalarope that is, not Steve – he kept his shoes and socks on).
The critter was completely oblivious to the crowd drawn to the pool.

A marvellous bird – the universe radiated out across the ripples on the water created by the arctic waif like light bouncing off Saturn’s rings, then spun back to spark smiles all round.

Blowing away the cobwebs

The fury of Storm Bronagh turned Liverpool Bay into a boiling cauldron this morning – in many ways the startling seascape was the real draw today, as birds moving offshore were few and far between.
Looking north west across the Ribble towards Blackpool, the inshore waters were fierce.
I still gave it three and a half hours at Ainsdale from 0830 to noon though.
Stuart Darbyshire had got down there half an hour or so before me and scored a juv Sab’s Gull – the early bird catches the worm.
The wind was a touch too south west and the tide a bit low for Ainsdale, but you can’t say no to a force 7 on the doorstep.
Just before 9am I picked up a Leach’s Petrel moving south through the surf, those sharp black wings standing out against the raging swell – more may come through this afternoon if the wind swings into the north west as forecast.

Ainsdale, 21.9.18, 0830-1200,
SWly gusting f6-7, squalls:

Leach’s Petrel 1
Manx Shearwater 3
Gannet 1
Med Gull 1
Kittiwake 1
Guillemot 2
Sandwich Tern 57
Common Scoter 50-100 (many more hidden by the swell)
Pintail 7

Roosting gulls held a Med and one or two unsavoury looking Herring Gull x LBB hybrids, while plenty of waders were hunkering down trying to keep out of the wind and racing sands.
A beached Common Scoter was given a right battering by GBBs – nature red in tooth and claw.
There’ll be a lot of exhausted and tired birds on the coast in the next few days – please give them a wide berth and don’t walk through roosts.