Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Playing it cool

This is the year which keeps on giving as far as birds are concerned. Numerically there have been 454 birds seen in the UK so far this year, which puts it 4th in the all time list of highest totals and we're are only half way through October.
Last week we had another 1st for the UK - the 5th of the year. This was a Siberian accentor, a bird touted as being a possible in the past, and a probable this year with a dozen or so in the near continent brought in with the persistent easterlies. It is a relative of our dunnock, sparrow-sized but with clearer facial markings.
This first bird was in Shetland, found in a quarry. It produced a major twitch for Shetland, with BA making a fortune taking people to Aberdeen then onto the island, but the distance meant only 300 or so connected before in did an overnight flit!
Last Thursday another bird turned up, this time in Easington which is near Hull. This produced a massive twitch though, with around 3,000 birders connecting over the weekend, when another 2 birds also appeared further up the coast to dilute the crowds.
I couldn't get away though due to various reasons including a very long lunch on Friday! The bird seemed to be sticking though, so with it still being reported on Monday I made the decision to go for it.
This meant a very early start as it was a drive of over 200 miles. The weather was bad overnight though, so I was hopeful it would be still be there. Traffic through Hull was slow so around 7.45 the phone went with the first alert of the day - still showing - taking the pressure off.
I got to the village at about 8.20, parked up and headed off down Vicars Lane to a patch of waste ground which used to be a carpark for the school where the bird had been showing well.
I lucked out on two fronts - first when I got there it was showing very well and secondly there was only about 12 other birders there. On Saturday and Sunday birders were escorted to the spot in groups of about 20, given 5 minutes viewing time and then moved on for the next group!! We had as much time as wanted.

The bird was feeding happily on the ground with a group of dunnocks and robins. It seemed totally impervious to people and came to around 5 or 6 feet from us at times. Its natural habitat is in Siberia so it is not entirely inconceivable that we were the first people it had seen!!
It is a very smart bird, sparrow like in shape with a plain brown back like a dunnock. The head though has those bold stripes in yellow and black giving it an almost piratical look.

Apparently, on talking to one of the locals, people weren't putting down food for it, there was enough around to keep it there feeding away. Certainly there were plenty of ground-feeders around and the trees were almost dripping with goldcrests and phyllosc. warblers like this chiffchaff, which even came down to the ground, which is quite unusual.

It did disappear for a few minutes causing some concern for a couple of new arrivals, but then I spotted it sitting up in the top of a tree opposite, even looking like it was singing!!!

and i even managed to miss another flight shot!!!

I watched it for I suppose 45 minutes and there was never more than 15 people there, so much better than Saturday.

Wow, what a bird. It's not the normal procedure to play it that cool and leave it 4 days before going to get it, a strategy doomed to disappointment but not in this case. As I left phone went with another accentor in the UK on Holy Island. Five for the UK, 77 for Europe, mainly Norway and Sweden, but this is unprecedented numbers of them and shows how weather can affect things.

To make it better there was a second lifer there as well. About a mile away was an Isabelline wheatear. Closely related to our species, it is leggier with a much more defined black-band to the tail. It is another majorly rare bird in the UK and would have got a crowd on its own, but here was the second course after everyone got the accentor!
It was also in the middle of a large field with about 5 normal wheatears which gave the crowd above an interesting 30 minutes as we scrutinised each bird before settling on the one we were happy with!!
The day finished on a bit of a low after that as I spent 2 hours not seeing the Western swamphen (aka purple gallinule) but that only put a slight dampener on proceedings.
2 lifers in one day, both rare birds, one a first for the UK and my life list in now up to 350 (or 359 if you use Lee's more generous 400 club list). I'll have to reset my ambition for the year end.