Lesser Florican - August 2023

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Sunday 31 December 2023

Olive-backed Pipit on Shetland - 2nd October 2023

During our break on Shetland back in early October, the dream was to always find something good, whether that be an absolute mega, or, a species rarely encountered in southern England. For this year on Shetland, it turned out to be the latter, but just so happened to be one of my favourite eastern vagrants.

It was a very windy day (no surprises), so Emily and I set about trying to locate an Otter. I thought Toft would be a good bet and after some searching, we located one swimming out along the distant shoreline. With this success, we then wanted to head to Esha Ness on the west coast, so diverting through central Mainland seemed the most sensible route. A quick look at one excellent garden near Sullom Voe found a young male Crossbill; thinking Crossbill could be a theme, a large conifer plantation at Voxter was too tempting not to stop at. No Crossbills (or anything for that matter) were found, so instead we diverted our attention to a small, walled garden, packed with Sycamores. 

We cautiously entered the garden, with me going through every likely mega that could be here and set about scanning the appealing understorey, only for Emily to casually say a pipit flew up from the ground in the centre of the garden. I had my suspicions on the most likely pipit it could have been, and despite being perched mid-canopy, I failed to find it initially. Ems stated it was most likely a Meadow Pipit, but when I eventually locked onto it, it was clearly a Tree/Olive-backed Pipit. The pumping tail was a good sign, as was the obvious and short white supercilium, but due to the angle, I couldn't make out any dark lateral crown sides. The ear spot, although present, wasn't conspicuous, so it was a relief the pipit flew back down to the ground and started rummaging amongst the leaf-litter... at this point, there was little doubt, as now the dark lateral crown sides, the black-white ear spot and lack of streaking on the mantle meant this could only be an Olive-backed Pipit. I fired off many photos and then enjoyed watching its elusive nature. The pipit then flew off around the garden, calling as it went, only to return soon after.

I found some signal and sent some pics off to Dave to make sure I wasn't losing the plot, and with thumbs up, the news went straight out. It was at this time we left the site and continued on our merry way to the west coast. 

Massive kudos to Emily for picking the bird up in the first place, something she does every time with me!

Olive-backed Pipit at Voxter

The walled garden at Voxter

Tuesday 26 December 2023

Christmas in Sussex

On Christmas Eve, I drove down to Dad's and stopped off at Rackham Woods, walked the lower track and scanned the brooks where seven adult Bewick's Swans were roosting and a White-tailed Eagle also flew over.

On Christmas Day, a short dog walk on Seaford Head and the Cuckmere produced a sublime first-winter Caspian Gull in the small gull flock, but the weather was fairly dreadful so I didn't look too hard for anything else. 

On Boxing Day, the same route, now armed with a telescope, produced the Long-tailed Duck on the scrape and a Green Sandpiper, two Avocets and a Spotted Redshank were on the west side. Afterwards, I went and saw the obliging Waxwings at Hailsham and on my way back to Alton I stopped off in Crawley and saw the 20 Waxwings there too, where it was also good to see Paul Marten.

Waxwings at Hailsham

Sunday 26 November 2023

Isles of Scilly - 22nd November 2023

Thinking the autumn was over, a Cape May Warbler surfacing during the off season on Scilly meant a slightly logistical twitch could be on the cards. The bird seemed settled on Bryher, so Jake, Ian and I arranged flights five days in advance and headed down on Wednesdsay morning to Lands End airport. 

A Black Redstart was a good start to the day and while waiting in the departure lounge, news filtered through that the warbler was still present... game on! The flight was on time and we landed a mere twenty minutes later on St Marys. Rob Lambert kindly drove us down to the quay and we were soon on our way to Bryher with a few others. 

Docking on Bryher, a few minute's walk up the beach to view a pittosporum, the Cape May Warbler gave itself up. Although it was always elusive here, when the bird flew down the beach and fed in the tamarisks, it showed incredibly and we enjoyed the warbler for a couple of hours.

A short walk around the island failed to find little else, but worse news of all was a tweet stating that flights from Lands End were currently on hold due to low cloud! We departed Bryher after more Cape May views (a Willow Warbler was also close by) and made our way up to the airport. It soon transpired that our flight had been cancelled and we would have to stay the night on Marys... the airport did a sterling job of finding us a self-catering apartment in Hugh Town. Thankfully, by the morning, despite the strong wind, flights were on time and it was a relief to depart Marys, where we then had to drive five hours back home. 

After the booby dip back in August, it was good to be back on winning form on twitching Scilly.

Cape May Warbler on Bryher

Sunday 19 November 2023

Veery, Orca & a Deaths Head Hawk Moth - Shetland 30 September 2023

Since my first visit to Shetland in 2012, I have desperately been trying to intercept a pod of Orca from the various headlands around the archipelago. I've had numerous near-misses and it felt as if my dream of encountering my first Orca (of any 'type') on Shetland wasn't going to come. 

This year, Emily and I spent 8 days here from 30 September, grabbing the train from Farnham and arriving into Aberdeen a mere nine-hours later, via Kings Cross. The journey was smooth, stress-free and importantly, on time. During our train journey, a Veery had been found on mainland Shetland and a pod of Orca had also passed the same site whilst the rare thrush was being watched... what a duo and perfect timing for our arrival the following day.

Anyway, after a sleepless overnight ferry journey (even with a cabin) we arrived, collected our vehicle and drove straight to the Veery, which showed straight away, but in damp conditions so any photos were poor. Situated along the Lunna peninsular and after securing some lovely views of the trans-Atlantic vagrant, we set out to check the various bays heading back south towards Lerwick. Whilst at South Nesting Bay, I was searching for White-billed Divers when quite astonishingly, a pod of Orca had been sighted off Ocraquoy, just to the south of Lerwick. With seatbelts securely fastened, I went into full rally mode and sped towards south Mainland. Being a Saturday, observers were out in force and updates were coming through on regular occasions.

Drifting around a corner, Em spilt coffee over her lap which added to the chaos, before we arrived at a decent viewpoint to the south of Cunningsburgh, making record time it seemed. Several others had arrived and rather nonchalantly, they explained the Orca were on view... WHAT!! Several panicked scans failed to find anything, until we realised we were looking too far out... they were in the bay below us!

Fairly soon, a huge sigh of relief marked the sighting of my (and our) first Orca and over the next 30-minutes, we were treated to an incredible and unforgettable performance. I knew bull Orca were big, but the size of the dorsal fin of each bull was crazy and beyond all expectations! There were eight individuals involved (the 27s pod) and they casually moved south until out of sight. After a quick celebration, we drove down to Leebittern and waited for the pod to come through. 

Well, they came through perilously close to shore, apparently grabbing a seal in the process, before continuing on their way towards Mousa Sound where despite running after them, slowly disappeared, but what a start to our time on Shetland!

Afterwards, and for a calm down, we went to Hoswick to secure a Yellow-browed Warbler for the trip list; twitched the Citrine Wagtail and Bluethroat in Lerwick, and whilst shopping for the week in Tescos, got news of a Deaths Head Hawk Moth just around the corner. I was desperate to ditch the shopping, but that was refused, so it was a tense wait to see this huge moth. 

We then drove to Walls and found our accommodation, a discrete cottage with sheep and chickens as neighbours and a friendly Hedgehog. It had probably been my best six hour period on Shetland!!



Citrine Wagtail

Deaths Head Hawk Moth

our cottage


Tuesday 14 November 2023

Recent Bits

On Saturday 11th, I drove back down to Sussex, intending to have most of the weekend on the coast, but news of a Canvasback in Essex put pay to that. However, the little time I did have in county was spent at Coldwaltham Brooks where there was no sight nor sound of the possible Hume's Warbler. Therefore, it was down to the Cuckmere where from Harry's Bush, I could scope the Long-billed Dowitcher and the Spotted Redshank. I managed to get fairly close to the former, whilst stumbling across a few Scandinavian Rock Pipits.

It was then an early start at Abberton Reservoir, arriving at first light and avoiding the Dartford toll in the process! Jake and Ian soon arrived too and we played it lazy, until the Canvasback was located a mere 10-minute's walk from us. We soon got onto it and enjoyed respectable views of this mega bird. Also, I saw 35 Goldeneye, two Goosander and three Cattle Egrets!

It was most appreciated that a mega was only two hours from home for a change!

Canvasback at Abberton Res. -
look a little to the left of the Tufted Duck near centre

Saturday 21 October 2023

Cuckmere Haven: 20th October 2023

After dipping in torrential rain on Wednesday, it was back to Sussex on Friday where thankfully the Long-billed Dowitcher was found from first light and performed wonderfully for the time I was watching it. This being a very long overdue species onto my county list, now standing at 330.

It wasn't just the dowitcher though, as a Hawfinch and three Corn Buntings flew over, an Osprey was fishing at the scrape and a superb Ring Ouzel was located preening atop a sycamore at Foxhole Farm. I wish I had more time as the morning was full of promise, but alas I had to head back to work.

Long-billed Dowitcher

Thursday 28 September 2023

St. Govan's Head... Part 2 Saturday 23rd September

On Saturday morning, I had just completed Alice Holt Park Run. Having got back to my car and looking at my phone, I couldn't believe that I had to drive back to the same location as a few days previous. This time for an even more spectacular American wood-warbler... a Canada Warbler! I soon left and arrived in the mid-afternoon to a huge crowd of twitchers, gusty winds and not much hope of a sighting. 

After an hour, I still hadn't seen the bird, so I stuck to one spot, halfway up a tree, which allowed me to view slightly deeper into the vegetation. This worked a treat and I soon had some brief views of the uniform slaty-grey upperparts and bright yellow underparts of the Canada Warbler. I had a further two views which was shamefully good enough for me as I had to drive back as I had a half marathon the next morning. Still, a mega exciting twitch/bird and hopefully I don't have to return to SW Wales anytime soon. 

Most of this week, I've been back down in Sussex but I've not seen a great deal. Two Ospreys at Arlington and the four Cattle Egrets in the Cuckmere on Tuesday, plus heaps of common migrants at Seaford Head on Wednesday. Off to Shetland Friday for some hopeful yank action, but we'll see. 

For those interested:

Alice Holt Park Run 5K: 17mins 57secs 1st place
Barns Green Half Marathon: 1hr 19mins 27secs 7th Place

Osprey at Arlington

Thursday 21 September 2023

St. Govan's Head, Pembrokeshire - Magnolia Warbler

There is something about American wood-warblers...! Wednesday evening's news of a Magnolia Warbler on mainland UK and less than four hours from my house was wholly unexpected. With limited annual leave, I couldn't waste a day if I was to dip, so I waited on news, which came before it got light it seems, and off I went to SW Wales. 

The journey was fine, other than the fact the mega alert was going off every five minutes, with all the megas being in the direction I was heading, albeit on outer islands which were sadly inaccessible today (and tomorrow). Therefore, it was straight to the Magnolia and soon after arriving I laid eyes on this transatlantic beauty. The local Choughs were also good value, especially when I was sat on the cliff edge having lunch and they flocked past me very close on several occasions. A nice day out on the Pembrokeshire coastline.

Magnolia Warbler


Saturday 26 August 2023

Post-Monsoon Birding in Rajasthan, India: 9th - 15th August 2023

It was some time ago that Ashley Howe invited me along on a whistle-stop tour of Rajasthan during the post-monsoon season to seek some critically-endangered species. We used Asian Adventures who once again did a sterling job. Our main quarry was the superlative Lesser Florican, a species that will soon (in relative terms) be on the extinction list, and to see this very rare bird, one has to visit in late July or early August to correspond with its display. Another hoped for species was the Bristled Grassbird... seemingly another doomed species. 

Our 7-day trip, of which only five were spent in India, was most successful, and as we had both visited this region previously, there were very few species to actually target, with myself not even hitting the double-figure mark for lifers. 

9th August 2023

We departed Heathrow in the evening on a direct Virgin Atlantic service to Delhi. 

10th August 2023

We arrived on time and swiftly got through immigration and found our guide and driver, Deepak and Pawan. It was a short drive to the hotel where we got dropped off, much to our dislike as we were desperate to see some birds, but just had to make do with the local Black Kites. 

In the afternoon, we left and headed for Surajpur Sanctuary on the outskirts of Delhi. It was a nice surprise to see new and improved infrastructure in the road network and my grim memories of my past visit were soon dashed, all for the positive. I was actually impressed with India this time around, with less chaos for starters. Anyway, the afternoon journey was highlighted by a Shikra, White-throated Kingfisher and some Asian Green Bee-eaters. 

We finally arrived at an open section of the Surajpur Sanctuary and instantly found some nice birds and the joys of foreign birding commenced. Straight away we encountered Cinnamon Bitterns, Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Great Coucals, Black Francolins, Pied Bushchats, Red Avadavats and three species of weaver (Black-breasted, Baya and Streaked). We soon heard our main target, this being a Bristled Grassbird and soon we clapped eyes on this critically-endangered bird. After a short walk which produced some excellent dragonflies and butterflies, plus some more birds including Tricoloured Munia, a Blyth's Reed Warbler, Jacobin Cuckoo and Bengal Bush Lark, Ash and I crept up to a safe distance and admired the grassbird for 45-minutes. 

All too soon our time was up and we departed the site during the midst of a minor deluge, but what a successful start to our short Indian adventure. What was even better was the food in the evening, the first of many fine curries!

Plain Tiger - needless to say the only 'tiger' was saw

Ashy Prinia

Wire-tailed Swallow

Red Avadavat

Black-breasted Weaver

Bristled Grassbird

11th August 2023

After breakfast, light soon emerged and we drove roughly an hour to Sultanpur Reserve, a site we had visited during our last visit and where we had seen Sind Sparrow and Brooke's Leaf Warbler. As the reserve was closed, we concentrated our efforts along the storm drain which gives way to some excellent marshland. It was again brilliant with an excellent variety of birds, with Black Bittern, Cinnamons and many Little Bitterns flying around; a few Yellow-breasted Prinias were in the reeds and there were lots of Wood Sandpipers about too. Besides the commoner species like Indian Golden Orioles, Indian Robins and Silverbills, there were no new birds here so we left and started the long journey to Jaipur. 

A roadside breakfast stop was most welcome especially as a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater went over. 

We eventually arrived in Jaipur and rested up in our fancy hotel, before being picked up again and drove a short distance to a Leopard reserve on the city's outskirts. Despite the park's size, there are thought to be 30 completely wild Leopards here, which apparently mostly hunt on the local dog population! A 'safari-style' drive in the park wasn't a crazy affair like other Indian reserves, but we couldn't find a Leopard, though did find the following birds: Bay-backed Shrike, Common Woodshrike, Black-winged Kite, Hoopoe, Jungle Nightjar, Spotted Owlet, Yellow-throated Sparrow and lots of babblers comprising three species.

With a curfew in the park, we had to leave and therefore went back to hotel. During the drive, we had expressed our concerns as to why we were faffing about with non-Lesser Florican activities, so Deepak quickly changed the plans for tomorrow which meant we were florican bound for tomorrow!

Little Bittern

Striated Babbler

Indian Silverbill



Black-winged Kite

Jungle Nightjar

12th August 2023

As we weren't due to leave the hotel until 8am, I woke up early and went for a run, which was brilliant! I only did 5km, but did see my only Indian Grey Hornbill of the trip!

After an excellent breakfast, we left and were heading directly for a Lesser Florican location. Deepak was extremely relaxed, and with good reason, as a mere four hours later, we parked up and joined some Indian photographers, where just beyond, up bounced a splendid Lesser Florican! I had first become aware of this species from a tv program when I was a kid... like most things back then, I never thought I would see it, but here I was now watching one of the world's rarest birds performing its ludicrous display. We watched it for over an hour during which it barely stopped jumping, much to our delight. A dream come true!! 

Unfortunately, there are only two states where you can see the florican, with Gujarat being out of bounds in the post-monsoon season, therefore, this tiny pocket in Rajasthan is the only site where one can see it, thought his year, only five or six displaying males have 'returned'... drastic times indeed! 

We continued birding nearby and found roosting sites for Indian Nightjar, Savanna Nightjar and Indian Eagle Owl, before retreating to our very nice hotel, maybe 20km south of Ajmer.

In the late afternoon, we were off out again and went in search of Jungle Bush Quail and Painted Spurfowl. No joy with the former (although several Rock Bush Quail were found) and after hearing a spurfowl, we soon located it. A few Barred Buttonquail were also located and a Southern Grey Shrike also showed nicely. 

It had been a top day and we retreated to the hotel, meeting a Dutch birder at check-in, who was to join us (in separate vehicles) tomorrow.

Lesser Florican

Ashy-crowned Sparrowlark

Indian Eagle Owl

Indian Nightjar

Savanna Nightjar

Rock Bush Quail - class birds!

13th August 2023

The first surprise of the day was in the hotel reception pre-dawn, where our leader from a few years back was standing - Dalveer, such an awesome person and always happy. Anyway, off we went to a different florican location, but also an exceptional Rain Quail site. I had actually seen Rain Quail in Thailand, but one can never tire of such a lovely bird. They were incredibly easy to find and by the end of this session, we had maybe seen 10 birds. A Lesser Florican was also jumping around, but more mobile and difficult to track in the longer grass, so it didn't have our full attention. What was most impressive was having a pair of quail on the deck as they crept past at moderate distance. A flock of 19 Garganey also went over. 

The rest of the morning was spent walking a more savannah-like habitat, with scattered acacias and very short grass. Here, we came across yet more Rain Quail that were proving difficult to locate on the deck and there were lots of Rufous-fronted Prinias singing. A Painted Spurfowl was also located, this time calling from a tree branch and we admired this pretty bird for a short time. A few Yellow-wattled Lapwings and a stunning Bay-backed Shrike were found too. The morning had flown by, and after a prolonged rest at the hotel, off out we went again for some decent birding. Before we did leave, Ash spotted maybe the find of the trip, as a man with six toes emerged from the hotel. I had to grab my bins to confirm... I'd never heard of this before, but a great sighting, despite staring at an Indian foot!

Out again and at the same Indian Nightjar site as yesterday, Ash and I went off in hot pursuit of a grounded individual, but they mostly outdone us. However, I caught a glimpse of a 'leaf warbler' which appeared to have a solid crown stripe. Quickly alerting Ash, we both watched the mostly obscured bird and both quickly came to the conclusion that is must be a Western Crowned Warbler. Firing off photos confirmed our suspicions, although it was rather humerous/annoying that Deepak didn't believe us one bit, this despite him glancing at our photos! Soon after a Booted Warbler was found by Ash. 

On the return to the same florican as this morning, a nice adult Rose-coloured Starling was seen and the jumping florican would be the last time we would see the species this trip, and probably, forever... good luck to them! 

Eastern Cattle Egret

Rufous-fronted Prinia

Rock Bush Quail - a split-second too late

Yellow-wattled Lapwing

Western Crowned Warbler

Booted Warbler

14th August 2023

Our final day of birding had us departing the hotel pre-dawn and venturing north and then north-east to an area of dense scrub/low-level forest for yet another great birding session. We only had a few hours, but in this time found a good variety, with the following highlights: White-naped Tit, Plum-headed Parakeet, Western Crowned Warbler, Tytler's Leaf Warbler, Greenish Warbler, three Bonelli's Eagles and a White-eyed Buzzard.

It was then a very long slog back to Delhi, but quieter roads due to the following day being Indian Independence Day, so no large lorries could enter the city... excellent! We arrived at Delhi airport in good time for our flight down to Mumbai, where we were to kip on the airport floor, ready for our Virgin flight the next day, where we arrived at Heathrow in the mid-afternoon.

A great few days in India and many thanks to Ash for sorting and to Asian Adventures for their efforts.

Purple Sunbird

White-naped Tit

juv. Bonelli's Eagle

Indian Roller