Monday, 14 November 2016

Brown Shrike - Spurn Point 31st October

I went to Skinningrove for the Eastern Black Redstart but with the possibility of a nearby Pied Wheatear at Redcar and a Daurian Shrike at South Shields. By 10:00 it was looking like neither of the two supporting birds had been seen when news came through of a Brown Shrike at Spurn. It was a lovely sunny morning and I decided to drive down the coast to Spurn. Arguably it was loosely on the way home to Derbyshire!
I arrived about 13:30 when there were perhaps 30 people watching it at the southern edge of the canal zone. It remained distant, never closer than 100m, but gave decent telescope views and was very actively chasing insects. I took some photos for the record. It was a first for Spurn, second for Yorkshire and about 20th for Britain. It was my second having seen one on the western edge of its wintering range in Pakistan in the late 1970's so it was nice to refresh a somewhat distant memory! 

Brown Shrike - first winter
Birders watching the Brown Shrike late afternoon
Even with poor photos it's surprising how much information can be available which would be difficult to convey with just written notes.
In the photo above the short primary projection beyond the tertials is very apparent, looking closely at the photo you can just make out 5 primary tips. In Red-backed you would see 6 or 7 primary tips  as per the photo of Red-backed taken below on Rhodes at the end of October.
Red-backed Shrike - 1st winter
The short, pointed, outer-tail feather is also visible on the same photograph which is another strong indicator of Brown. The absence of a rufous tail and dark centred tertials are perhaps the best separation from Daurian (L isabellinus isabellinus) and Turkestan (L isabellinus phoenicuroides) Shrikes which are treated as separate species in some taxonomies.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Eastern Black Redstart at Skinningrove 31st October

Shortly after the Easington bird an Eastern Black Redstart was found at Skinningrove in Cleveland and I decided to take a look as it was showing well. They are superb looking birds and I wasn't disappointed.

Eastern Black Redstart
Similar birds were also found at Donna Nook, Lincs and Hartlepool Headland, Cleveland and Cayton Bay, N Yorks

Spurn 25th & 26th October - Red-flanked Bluetail and Eastern Black Redstart

I returned to Spurn on the 26th October, initial searches at Sammy's Point produced a few Goldcrest and single Chiffchaff but by mid-day there seemed to be a few more Goldcrest appearing. Then came news of a Red-flanked Bluetail at Kilnsea Wetlands. I was at Kew so it was only a short drive but I had visions of watching it across the pools. I was very pleased therefore to arrive and find it perched on the fence right by the hide where it sallied for insects for about 15 minutes before disappearing in front of the hide.

Red-flanked Bluetail - first winter female

Whilst there I heard news of a second bird, a male still in breeding plumage at the Point and an Eastern Black Redstart at Easington Cemetery found by Mick Cunningham.
The redstart was distant along the edge of a ploughed field and looking directly towards the sun but after about 45 minutes it came on to a nearby muck heap where Mick had originally found it and gave good views in still rather difficult light. It appears to be of the central asian subspecies phoenicuroides, and only the 7th record for Britain.

Eastern Black Redstart

Siberian Accentor - Easington 16th October

I heard the news of Britain's first Siberian Accentor on Shetland on 9th October whilst I was in France. News that a second bird had been found by Lance Degnan at Easington on 13th October greeted me on my return home. 
I didn't fancy the crowds that would be present immediately following its discovery but was quite keen to see the bird so went over on the afternoon of the 16th.
The bird was still present where it had been originally found on Vicar's Lane and showed on and off until dusk, sometimes approaching to within a few feet.
A fantastic bird and well worth the effort of going to see it.
These records were part of a widespread arrival of more than 200 in northern Europe and which included a further 11 records in Britain!

Siberian Accentor

Gruissan & Carcassonne 3rd - 12th October

Pam and I took up Ryanair's offer of cheap flights to Carcassonne in southern France in early October, it was about £8 outbound and £25 for the return, plus baggage etc. so a very good offer.
We stayed at the Hotel Port Beach in Gruissan for four nights then 5 nights at the Residence Adonis La Barbacane in Carcassonne. Neither were particularly cheap but provided decent accommodation in good locations.
The pools and salt pans in the immediate area around Gruissan had plenty of common birds with large groups of Greater Flamingo and the usual Srardinian Warblers and Crested Larks. The area of Etang de Ayro Ue a couple of kilometres SW of the town had Woodlark and Firecrest and plenty of Chiffchaff and Blackcaps.
Just inland from Gruissan there is a wooded area with deep valleys known as La Clape this area is home to Eagle Owl and possibly Bonelli's Eagle but I didn't see much here but didn't spend a lot of time looking but came across a Preying Mantis.
La Clape

Preying Mantis
The area that impressed me most was the Lac de Pissevache on the coast just north of St Pierre la Mer. This is an area of coastal pools and salt marsh. Although it appears to be a bird reserve there are shooting butts around the perimeter so some hunting must be permitted.
Lac de Pissevache
There were a couple of Black-necked and single Great Crested Grebes on the pool by the campsite and about half a dozen Kentish Plover with Ringed Plover and Dunlin but the site has produced many rarer waders.
Black-necked Grebe
About 100 Yellow-legged Gulls roosted on the pools.  The salt marsh had a decent population of Dartford Warblers. One morning we had three Common Crane circle the pools before continuing south to Spain.
Common Cranes
Just inland there is an interesting deep pool called the Gouffre de L'Oeil Doux which had Blue Rock Thrush and Cirl Bunting.
Gouffre de L'Oeil Doux with Pissevache in background

We made several stops at the migration watch point at the Roc de Conhilac and picked up small numbers of Booted Eagle, Honey Buzzards and what could have been resident Marsh Harriers. On a good day with the right winds several hundred raptors may pass over the rock.

Booted Eagle

We encountered several more Booted Eagles as we drove around with up to 6 in a day.
This late in the year butterflies were not seen in large numbers but most coastal places we stopped had Long-tailed Blue and we saw about half a dozen Two-tailed Pasha including inland around Carcassonne.
Two-tailed Pasha

The birding around Carcassonne was quieter with Black Redstarts and Jackdaws around the old town but we made the two hour drive up to the Pyrenean migration watch point at Eyne.
Black Redstart - male
This is a wide valley at around 1700m which is manned almost continuously through the autumn with sightings posted on the LPO Aude web site

Watch Point at Eyne
The numbers of birds passing here is impressive, whilst we were there flocks of Chaffinches, Siskin, Goldfinch, Meadow Pipit and White Wagtails were moving in the hundreds with several Serin and Citril Finch. Raptors were visible in small groups most of the time but many were distant and a telescope is needed to put a name to the majority although some must fly directly over the watch point. We had 37 Griffon Vulture and Booted and Short-toed Eagles. The wooded areas bordering the valley had good numbers of Firecrest and Crested Tit.
Crested Tit

The area is well worth a visit particularly when there are cheap flights on offer but the migration of birds of prey doesn't compare with Tarifa either for numbers, variety or views.