Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Abbergloom Reservoir - 21st November 2017

I persuaded myself that going to work on every single day that I have off is probably slightly unhealthy so I somehow managed to drive back past the reserve just after seven this morning and head on out into the grey Essex countryside. The weather forecast had suggested a still day with ridiculously mild temperatures approaching 15c.
So, being a Muppet (possibly in the order of either Beaker or the Swedish Chef) I chose Abberton Reservoir as my spot for a couple of hours birding. It has always generated its own weather and today was no exception with a blustery wind giving those teen temps a good thrashing and making it feel numbingly cold.

I persevered between the two causeways and Wigborough Bay and actually saw quite a lot but it was so grey and cold that it all felt very frustrating. The Bay held a good flock of waders with 71 Dunlin, three grey Little Stints, 32 Black-tailed Godwit, 11 Curlew, a Ruff, 300 Lapwing and 110 Golden Plover while 53 Pied Wagtails scurried on clockwork legs across the dried mud. Linnets and a couple of Skylarks and Yellowhammers were seed harvesting in the same area.

Black-tailed Godwits

Dunlin & two of the Little Stints

A huge flock of over 300 Shoveler dabbled in the shallows with many Teal and dapper Pintail amongst them and both male and female Marsh Harriers and a male Sparrowhawk frequently put everything to flight.

Essence of Duck

Skeins of Cormorants returned from the estuary and a black field became a swirling mass of Starlings and Rooks.
Down on the Layer de la Haye causeway there were 22 Goosander fishing around the outfall with a number of Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants but most moved away as I approached and only returned as I ambled off to get closer to the red eyed Slavonian Grebe that was fishing a little further up the road.

male Goosander

female Goosander

These two crackers by John Pringle

Slavonian Grebe

John's Slavonian Grebe today was slightly better than mine...

I checked the rafts of largely male Pochard behind me but could not find the drake Ring-necked Duck and had a similar lack of luck when down at the Layer Breton either. Goldeneye were numerous and I counted 47 and another 250 Shoveler was on the west end.



I found two Great White Egrets – one on the south side feeding along the reed edge while the second was tucked in amongst the willow trunks up near the road and occasionally popped out to show itself and even got photo-bombed by a Kingfisher!

Quality photo-bombing

With my stamina waning and the light actually getting worse, I decided that further investigations of the Essex coastline could wait for a better day so I turned tail and headed for home... oh... hang on a minutes... headed for work where I managed some lunch and a fine view out over the slowly flooding marsh before it really was time to tackle the Bridge...

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Shetland 26th September - 8th October 2017: Day 12 & 13

7th & 8th October 2017: Day 12 & 13: 

Saturday was our final full day but the morning dawned with driving rain once again and even our intrepid crew decided that a relaxing start and house tidy was in order. We eventually headed out in light rain but under grey skies and a dropping wind. Time to dig out some birds...
The suburbs of Lerwick were our first stop but the pavement feeding Parrot Crossbills were not present so we tried the wooded gardens of Helendale. There is some amazing cover up here and it was duly logged for future visits. Three Swallows hawked energetically around the houses and we could hear a single Yellow-browed Warbler, ticking Robins and Goldcrests but no ‘jooping’. Suddenly I heard one quietly calling just behind me and it popped out of the pine I was next too and bounced off. It was a patchy red one so an immature male. The roads do not link up so we drove in the direction it went as we had seen a fruiting spruce there but as we pulled up and killed the engine the only sound was off a Hawfinch loudly ticking away. In a mirror of the Crossbill it flew before I could find it and went back the other way...

A non existent Dusky Warbler at Gulberwick was next although we did see the fetching pink wheelbarrow before nipping over to Geosetter and Maywick on the west coast in improving weather. Chaffinches were in evidence with about 40 seen along with a stubble field full of shimmering grey and white Rock Doves, Ravens, Hoodies, two Rooks, Greylags, Starlings and Skylarks but in general it felt like there has been a clear out of the generally good spread of commoner migrants after days of persistent westerlies. Fulmars circled the cliffs and a Red-throated Diver was offshore. 

St Ninians from Maywick


Maywick - never been all the way down the end before

Sandwick was quiet once again but an immature Shag on the jetty was obliging along with a showy Rock Pipit and inquisitive Harbour Seals.  


Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit

Harbour Seal

Harbour Seal

House Sparrow

A final blast around Sumburgh was actually quite pleasant and the sun was even trying to come out. David and Peter headed up to the head while Bob and I did the quarries and Grutness with a dinky brown Lesser Whitethroat, two female Brambling, Spot Fly, three Goldcrest and Grey Wagtail for our small bird troubles along with many Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Twite and a buoyant flock of Kittiwakes and a yet another Red-throated Diver in the bay.

The gable as you head up beyond Grutness with Noss through the window...



Coming in to land at Sumburgh

Brambling - Bob Vaughan


Back to Hoswick for a final patch bash which added nothing extra but the Whinchat was still around and Blackcap, Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler could now be seen effortlessly in the completely still trees of the Orca. 

See you Hoswick...

Blackcap - imm male with plum cap

We finished our packing and headed north but still found time for another failed attempt at the Cunning Bunting and a pleasant last look at Wester Quarff where a Redstart and a few Chiffies were noted.
It was time to get out of wellies for the last time and wend our way to Lerwick and our waiting Hrossey to head for Aberdeen but not before a quick revisit to Helendale where we soon picked up an adult pair of Parrots in the same small pine as earlier and watched them at close range in the fading light as they dextrously removed and decimated the small unripe cones. It was so calm that you could hear them unobtrusively snipping and chewing their way through the cones and they were completely unperturbed by our proximity. 

The Parrot Tree - but let's not talk about yet another front garden with Pampas Grass in it...

Chunky boy...

and this one from Bob Vaughan
The male even dropped a half chewed cone as a keepsake for me.


And with that we called an end to another Shetland adventure. The weather may have been somewhat troublesome and birding difficult but every visit is different and although the big one eluded us, we had a wealth of species, any one of which would headline a good southern day out.

The return ferry crossing was so smooth that I barely noticed it passing and by seven the next morning we were on the road towards home with a quiet east coast speeding our descent southwards. Pink-feet were liberally sprinkled across fields and clear blue skies in Perthshire and the Lakes and scavenging Red Kites dotted the main arterials while a male Goshawk flew across the road at the very same point as a female last year...

Braco Moor - no Black Grouse but stunning views

Comparing Shetland to Scilly is never fair and I am pleased to see that they have had a great start to the season... they are very different in many ways but both also reward those prepared to put in the leg work. We yomped upwards of ten miles a day in our search for waifs as we undoubtedly did on Scilly in the autumn visits of years gone past. 

News on the way home of a White Crowned Sparrow on the inaccessible lump that is Foula and the discovery of a stunning male Siberian Blue Robin of the equally out of the way North Ronaldsay only fueled our desire to return to these Northern Isles to partake in the hunt once again...

                                                                         The End

Friday, 17 November 2017

Shetland 26th September - 8th October 2017: Day 11

6th October 2017: Day 11:

It was, after some early rain, the calmest day of the week although we rarely saw the sunshine. An early boot about Hoswick for the Booted Warbler reported the evening before did not produce the goods so we headed north as planned to Isbister where a Red-flanked Bluetail had been lurking. We were first there and it took some searching but I was delighted when the obscured wing of a bird under bush became a flashing blue tail as it darted past me. Our crew had the bird to ourselves for quite some time and it was very obliging when it to wanted too. Refinding this one brought back memories of the one that I found at Berry Head in Devon in 2005... Can it really be that long ago?

Red-flanked Bluetail

Come on!  Look at me!
Rock Doves posed for us too and many Snipe erupted from the irises without us even going near them!

Rock Doves

Rock Doves

From here we checked out various gardens in Collafirth, Ollabury, Orbister and Ronas Voe but it was generally quiet with a few Blackcaps, Phylloscs, Mealy Redpolls, two late Spot Flys, a Reed Warbler and the odd Redstart, Siskin, Chaffinch and Brambling.

The Starling Blinged Sheep of Orbister
The seductive sheep of Voe
Eshaness was as stunning as ever with panoramic vistas across land and sea with the majesty of Foula looming up on the horizon. The Golden Plover flock as usual, did not contain the AmGoPlo but there were five Ruff with them and a nice young male Goldeneye and four Tufted Ducks on the Loch. 


  News of an Arctic Redpoll back at Ollabury had Bob reconsidering an odd bird that he saw with sparrows there earlier. He only saw it briefly but it felt too big for a small finch. Ten minutes later we were back by the old church but it took over half an hour in failing light for a giant snowball of a Redpoll to appear. The white rump glowed and extended up into the mantle and it had wonderfully warm buff cheeks. It was very quickly apparent that we were looking at a Hornemann's Arctic. It was pretty confiding and shuffled around in the grassy fence edges occasionally showing off those amazing shaggy white trousers and flashing the white rump through long crossed wings. 

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll

The light was so low and the ISO so high that this one truly is 'Essence of Redpoll in flight'

These last two crackers by Bob Vaughan
  With the light fading we left it to continue feeding and made our way back south to the Brae chippy once again...