Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Two birds in the hand then one in the bush

Last weekend was the first really big weekend of the autumn migration, with the east coast especially being red hot with migrants. I, however, was not able to get out!! So, with an opportunity today to get away I looked for what might be worth going for. There was really no decision to be made. An arctic warbler had popped up at Landguard in Suffolk, not only showing well but caught (twice) in the nets. This was a big target and a lifer for me, so early doors start again to head to the port of Felixstowe.
I got there just before 7 and just after a massive rain storm had passed through.
Landguard is one of the main bird observatories in the UK and is situated right next to the port. It is on the site of an old fort, and is a compound (for members only) with lots of scrub inside and a large number of mist nets permanently in place. You can walk round the outside peering in though.
Birdguides gave it as showing well the previous evening near the rear gate, so I headed that way.
The bushes were alive with warblers, mainly chiffchaffs and blackcaps but also good numbers of lesser whitethroats.

Rather more surprisingly bearing in mind how rare arctic warblers are, there was only one other birder on site. For about an hour we staked out the birds favoured patch of brambles but no sign of it. The warden came back past us and commented on how the night had been quite clear and it could well have departed! Cheers for that. 
My erstwhile fellow birder was getting a bit twitchy as he had to leave by 9ish and it was not 8.45 and still no show. Then a voice from inside the compound  called out "we've trapped it again" and we saw one of the ringers carrying off two bags with birds in them. Can you tick it if you know it's in the bag but don't see it??? Probably not if you don't even know which bag!
Fortunately another one of the ringers came past and pointed us to an area of the fence where the bird was going to be released. We gathered up two other birders who were now on site and waited patiently.
The warden eventually came down and in his hand was a very smart arctic warbler.

They are part of the same family as chiffchaffs and willow warblers but look quite different.
Size-wise they are slightly larger, but without comparisons that is hard to tell. That eye-stripe is a killer though and showed really well. They are quite light coloured underneath as well, and quite long primary feathers. Their bill is also quite a bit thicker and less pointy. We all admired it for a couple of minutes as the warden showed it off. Apparently it had put on half a gram overnight since it was caught the day before, now coming in at a hefty 8 grams, so really tiny!!!
Eventually it was released and it flew off to go and feed happily in the near by brambles (and was still there 6 hours later after left). I even did a very British show of celebration with a firm handshake with my birding friend who was equally pleased, albeit now very late for work!!!.

Interestingly, the bird in the other bag the ringer had was a kingfisher. This was a very unusual bird for a coastal site to ring, and the ringers were quite excited. They thought it was a juvenile male.

The only other bird of note I saw was a fleeting glimpse of a pied flycatcher.
After that I moved about 30 miles down the coast to Hythe. This is basically on the edge of Colchester and right next door to my old university of Essex. I pretty much went past it, with the tower blocks still standing proudly over the campus.
My target was a lesser yellowlegs, a wader normally found in the USA. They are not common by any means over her, but you get a few every year. Quite often they do hang around though, and this one had already been there for 4 days.
The reserve was a relatively new one, with one large scrape/ pool. A few snipe and black-tailed godwits initially attracted the attention of about 6 of us who all arrived at about the same time. Quickly though I got onto a very smart long-legged wader at the back of the pool.

Slowly it came a bit closer but not that close and the light was awful.

I did work out though that by walking along the side of the pool, and keeping below a bank I could get a lot closer to it. That enabled me to see all the main id's needed.
Firstly, its got yellow legs! The bill is only medium sized, and very straight. The back is nicely mottled with a speckled throat and very white underneath.

If you discount its much rarer cousin the greater yellowlegs then one confusion species is the greenshank, but as you can see from these flight shots they are not too hard to tell apart.

So, a pretty good day all round. One more lifer, taking me to 347 and closer to my target of 350 by the end of the year. October is still to come, so I'm pretty hopeful!!!!