Lesser Florican - August 2023

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Thursday 29 December 2022

Waxwings in Northumberland - 29 December 2022

It's been a shade under five years since I saw my last Waxwing in the UK (the flock of 33 at East Grinstead), so there was little hesitation in twitching the three birds currently munching on apples in Brunswick, Northumberland. As I'm currently staying in Bishop Middleham (Co. Durham), this thankfully kept the journey time to a mere 45-minutes.

The trio performed like all Waxwings perform, and were enjoyed for a period of time before having to start work. Such awesome birds and it was great to be in such close company with them once again. 

Waxwings at Brunswick

Sunday 11 December 2022


With yesterday's news of a Walrus in Pagham Harbour, I this morning decided to position myself within twitching distance of Pagham just in case there was a repeat performance. It was then sod's law, that, whilst at a birdless Iping Common, news came through that Thor the Walrus was hauled out at Calshot Castle. 

I left immediately and made a swift journey down (passing the bush where I saw the Spanish Sparrow at Calshot back in 2012) and was soon watching the enormous brute as it lay content on the shingle in the light rain. 

Such a moment, especially after not bothering with the Tenby individual last year! 

Walrus at Calshot

Sunday 27 November 2022

Penduline Tits at West Rise Marsh: 27th November 2022

After a busy weekend last week and with no sightings in the interim, I was surprised to wake-up on Saturday morning to a load of messages stating the Penduline Tits had been sighted at West Rise again. Actually, not entirely surprising giving their nature and I was relieved to be able to twitch these birds on the Sunday.

A horrific weather forecast didn't dissuade me, and I arrived at first light having driven down from Alton, and Ian also joined me in my quest. From the pagoda, I soon became fidgety and walked the edge of the reeds towards the main lake and played the call. Two birds instantly replied but I only got a brief flight view of one. Therefore, we went back to the pagoda and waited. 

Soon enough, an incoming individual was heard and appeared at some height before descending into the reeds. A short while later, two birds arrived and showed well through the scope as they hung on the phragmites. Absolute result and such a relief. 

In Sussex terms, these are the first twitchable Penduline Tits. The last record which didn't involve the bird(s) being trapped and ringed were three birds at Coombe Haven in 2004 which were only seen by a few and only remained for an afternoon. 

Afterwards, an enjoyable time at Splash Point was had watching a few Little Gulls

Friday 28 October 2022

Alpine Accentor in Suffolk - 28 October 2022

Arrived at first light this morning at the decent-looking Martello Tower at Slaughden, along the Suffolk coastline. I'm sure the usual temperatures in past years at this site in late October would have made it a very uncomfortable setting, however, it was mild today and made for a pleasant wait as we watched the sunrise.

Steve Wilson kindly drove me and we joined a few others at the tower in the darkness. Those few others were donned with thermal cameras, and much to our relief, a white blob on top of a drain meant the bird had stayed the night. It was then a case of waiting until it got partially light to discern the various features. 

Throughout the morning, the Alpine Accentor showed very well, either feeding amongst the vegetated shingle, or, posing nicely on the rocks below. A very nice morning out!

Alpine Accentor

Martello Tower

Sunday 23 October 2022

A Weekend of Radde's

A weekend down in Sussex was highlighted by the two Radde's Warblers at Beachy Head. Such lovely warblers and a real treat to observe, but both strikingly different in habit with the Shooters Bottom bird being far more Radde's-like, being elusive and mobile. It was great to bump into many familiar faces too, especially Roger & Liz Charlwood who are always a joy to talk with. 

Also on Saturday, I stomped down to Cow Gap with only a Firecrest and a Black Redstart being seen, and whilst watching the Radde's at Shooters, a Short-eared Owl appeared from the east and flew over to Long Down. There were still a few Swallows knocking about, but overhead migration was otherwise limited to the usual finches.

Today, despite promising overnight conditions, the entire area was fairly dead, with only a Merlin at Seaford Head, three Caspian Gulls and two Yellow-legged Gulls at Lower Cuckmere and a Firecrest at Crowlink of note. Best of all was a seemingly fresh Long-tailed Blue at Horseshoe Plantation, found by Laurance whilst I was grabbing my vegan pasty at Birling!

Radde's Warbler above Whitbread Hollow

Radde's Warbler at Chat Vale

Long-tailed Blue 

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Isles of Scilly - 17th October 2022

Well, what an epic day on Scilly that was...!

Last Thursday, one of my most wanted species of bird to see in the UK arrived on Bryher (Scilly), this being the stunning Blackburnian Warbler. Easily one of my favourite American wood-warblers... even in their first-winter plumage they look stunning. 

I was occupied all weekend much to my frustration, therefore, it was a tense weekend not knowing whether the bird would linger or not, but thankfully, Sunday morning saw the bird still present, so it was all systems go for a day twitch to Scilly on Monday. I left Hampshire at midnight, picked Laurance up at Cadnam, and arrived at Penzance in the early hours. 

The Scillonian crossing was far from comfortable; tiredness and a 10ft swell not helping matters, but we arrived at Hugh Town at midday. The only sighting of note from the ferry was a Grey Phalarope that flew past us just off the airfield. It was a quick change of boats and a mere twenty minutes later we (along with 50 others) arrived onto Bryher, where a brisk 10-minute walk had us arriving at Popplestone Fields. 

Thankfully, the Blackburnian Warbler was on view straight away, albeit obscured, but a massive relief, nonetheless. Over the next 90-minutes the views remained brief and stressful, but after much patience, I finally got the views I wanted... such a brilliant bird. 

Blackburnian Warbler

All too soon it was time for the return ferry back to the Scillonian and onwards to Penzance. However, the next three hours certainly took a turn for the unexpected! 

I couldn't quite believe, afterwards, just how amazing the crossing was. It all started just off the eastern isles where a fellow birder called me over to identify an object in the water whilst he photographed the said object. It turned out to be a blooming Leatherback Turtle, and a giant one at that. Then, as we reached about halfway, a huge whale blow was spotted not too far from the vessel – I suspected a Fin Whale, but no one saw the actual animal. At this time, we were treated to an amazing show by several Great Shearwaters cruising alongside us, as also did a few Sooty Shearwaters. Chaos continued as yet another huge whale blow was spotted, and again, despite not seeing the animal, images revealed it to be a Fin Whale. The whale blew several times as it was presumably surface feeding.

Then, just as things started to settle down, with only the odd passing Great Shearwater to entertain us, I looked around to see another birder focus with intent on an incoming subject. I had no idea what it was going to be, until he exclaimed "PTERODROMA"! Chaos resumed, but thankfully I got straight onto the bird, which must have been at about 80m distance and heading into the glare. I only saw it on maybe three or four occasions, but two of which showed the obvious Pterodroma profile which is unmistakable, and once when it arched up above the horizon line. Only a handful of people saw it and somehow Lee Gregory got a photo of it (see below). The bird was either a Fea's or Desertas Petrel, and even in the brief showings I got of the bird, it never felt like being a Zino's. 

So, that was that, and the drive home, thanks to Laurance's company, went much quicker than it usually does, and I arrived home exactly 24-hours later.

Fea's or Desertas Petrel from the Scillonian - 
back of camera shot of Lee Gregory's photo

Great Shearwater

Fin Whale blow... compare size with Gannet

Monday 26 September 2022

Common Nighthawk!!!

There are few advantages with my current address in north Hampshire, however, when a Common Nighthawk gets found only a 75-minute drive away, it can have its ups. This bonkers record, which rallies the Sussex Northern Mockingbird in terms of lucky finding, was most unexpected and a welcome UK tick after the Sussex howler a few years ago.

Common Nighthawk

Sunday 11 September 2022

Beachy Head & Tide Mills - 11 September 2022

A long trek down to Birling Gap this morning in the hope of finding that mid-September scarcity unfortunately drew a blank. However, I met up with Simon, Laurence and Josh and together we enjoyed a decent raptor watch, with four Honey-buzzards seen (two adults and two juveniles), two Marsh Harriers, a Hobby and plenty of commoner birds-of-prey. The HBs were top class and worth the effort entirely, with brilliant views of a juvenile and a striking adult male, whilst another two remained rather distant. 

After visiting Dad, I thought I'd give Tide Mills a quick look as Josh had found a Wryneck there this morning, and being relatively past their 'best' time of year, it was worth a try in case no others get found next weekend. Despite low expectations, I succeeded, and the bird was particularly showy, yet, preferred to stay at a distance. 

juvenile Honey-buzzard

Wryneck at Tide Mills

Sunday 28 August 2022

Thorney Island – 27 August 2022

Yesterday, I spent seven hours walking the Thorney Island circuit, keen to find something semi-decent as I know very few people actively go birding here. 

As always, this wasn't to be but I came off with a good haul of nice birds and feeling confident I had given it my all. Walking to the western seawall near the caravan site, there was plenty of warbler activity, with mainly Willow Warblers moving positively inland. The harbour had at least six Greenshanks present and a Redstart and a mixed warbler flock was next to the security gate. The first of ten Cattle Egrets was spotted amongst the cattle and at a distance, over the water, an Osprey was circling before landing on a post just over in Hampshire. A Barn Owl also gave an excellent fly-past and later on, another Osprey was over Great Deep where a flock of 7 Whinchats were also present, with another seen at Marker Point. Other then this, it was a case of the usual suspects and migrants, but a nice walk none the less.

Cattle Egret

Wednesday 17 August 2022

Scilly Pelagics, Isles of Scilly – July/August 2022

In the early hours of 31st July, I started the long drive down to Penzance, arriving at Drift Reservoir at around 7am. The main target here was the Least Sandpiper which had been around for a few days previous; the bird showed relatively well but always at some distance, but enough to discern all classic features of this American wader. A juvenile Garganey and several Green Sandpipers were also present.

I left here, met Ian and Jake briefly, before continuing onto Pendeen to do a short 2-hour seawatch before having to leave for the Scillonian. It wasn't too bad, with a few Balearic and Sooty Shearwaters, European Storm Petrels and of course heaps of Manx Shearwaters piling past.

It was then time for the Scillonian crossing to St Mary's. I met Ian and Jake at the quay and during the crossing we recorded the following:

Ocean Sunfish - 1
Risso's Dolphin - 6
Common Dolphin - 1
Cory's Shearwater - 3
Great Shearwater - 1
European Storm Petrel - 1

On Scilly, we stayed at the Rocky Hill Chalets, roughly a 20-minute walk from Hugh Town. During the course of the seven days I was on the islands, I did four pelagics, had a full day on Tresco and St Martin's and generally just chilled out, swam in the sea and eat as much as I could. Land birding was fairly poor expectedly for the time of year, with just a handful of common early autumn migrants and the Lesser Yellowlegs on Tresco.

The pelagics, organised as ever by Scilly Pelagics, were excellent and on each outing we encountered a number of large shearwaters, a few Wilson's Storm Petrels, but maybe best of all, were the Porbeagle Sharks rising to the service to check us out. We even caught a couple of 200lb+ sharks which were tagged and released, add to this the Blue Sharks too and a couple of Bluefin Tuna! One evening in particular stood out... after observing and catching many Porbeagle Sharks, our journey back in saw hundreds of European Storm Petrels in the slick with a decent sunset in the background. 

Pelagic Highlights

Wilson's Storm Petrel - 8
Great Shearwater - 25
Cory's Shearwater - 25
Sooty Shearwater - 10
Long-tailed Skua - 1
Blue Shark - 5
Porbeagle Shark - 10
Yellow-legged Gull - 5 juvs

Wilson's Storm Petrel

Porbeagle Sharks

Great Shearwater

Cory's Shearwater

Long-tailed Skua

Manx Shearwater

Yellow-legged Gull

Lesser Yellowlegs on Tresco