Saturday 18 February 2012


On the way home from work last Thursday night I sensed a disturbance in the force and reached for my trusty pager. Upon visualising the incredible news of a COMMON YELLOWTHROAT in Wales, I almost veered off the road and into the embankment of the M42 north.  I steadied my nerves and eventually made it home in one piece yet frustratingly there were still no details regarding the bird's exact whereabouts or indeed if access would definitely be arranged.  Finally full details emerged, the bird had been located a few days previously in the village of Rhiwderyn just west of Newport.  The only problem was, due to work commitments I would need to wait until Saturday before travelling.

After being well and truly gripped off by some of our birding associates on Friday we had no problem gathering together an enthusiastic crew for Saturday.  The only worry was the weather was not looking too great. The forecast was heavy rain during the morning with a chance of it clearing by mid-afternoon. Should we wait until Sunday perhaps? No way, in this game you need to move as promptly as possible, no matter how soaked you are likely to get.

And so Saturday morning finally arrived. I was picked up from Seckington just before 6.00am and by 8.30am we were on site entering a series of damp fields with a number of thick hedgerows dividing them.  Somewhere amongst them lurked a rare transatlantic vagrant but where was it?  By this time the previous day all of those lucky 'early birders' had connected with it. Maybe it had been a mistake thinking that a small insectivore would be willing to show itself to the masses whilst rain poured down and the chilly wind breezed through the open landscape.

The Field of Damp Hope!
Despite the lack of rarity our spirits remained pretty high as we searched every bit of suitable cover the area had to offer.  Our moods were also lifted by bumping into a few regulars from the Black Lark Around Night Club, an exclusive cyberspace establishment where some of us more 'alternative' birders like to spend time during the evening.  It is pretty much like Birdf*rum but without the incessant ramblings of ornithological retards and the pop-ups trying to sell you over-priced bird food. Many of the members remained defiant and stalwart under the circumstances. There was no chance whatsoever that this bird had departed overnight, it was just NOT possible...... or was it?

With the rain getting heavier we finally threw in the damp towel and headed back to the car until the conditions improved.  Already some folks had headed home or had relocated to Cardiff for a glimpse of a BONAPARTE'S GULL or a LESSER SCAUP, two American species that were not at all concerned with the adverse weather conditions.  We were made of tougher stuff though and we passed the time packed into the car scoffing Cadbury's Chocolate Fingers whilst playing Top Trumps!  Yes things were that bad.  With an urge to clog his already congested northern arteries with saturated fat it was Steve Dunn's bright idea to head back into Newport and track down a McDonalds.

As we approached the golden arches, I happened to look down at my phone to check the time. It was a little past 1.00pm and I had received a number of texts and a missed call from fellow Warwickshire birder Mike 'Dog' Doughty. I then glanced down at the pager and the message we had all longed for popped up as if by magic. The first winter male COMMON YELLOWTHROAT was back. I called Dog immediately and it transpired that he had found the rarity after hearing a Blackcap type call emanating from a tangle of brambles. The bird then popped up briefly before diving back into cover. What a hero!

Needless to say we rushed back to Rhiwderyn as fast as we could. Upon arrival it was like a completely different place. The rain storm had passed through and in it's place we found bright sunshine and a mild breeze.  After an agonising wait of around fifteen minutes and a few brief flight views the bird suddenly appeared feeding amongst the dead grass stems. It glowed golden like a concentrated ray of sunshine amongst it's dingy surroundings before turning it's olive back on us and disappearing once more. It was enough to bring even a broad smile to the usually sour-faced birders from Stoke who I was standing with at the time.

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (first winter male)
Photo by Dave Hutton
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (first winter male)
Photo by Dave Hutton
Soon afterwards the bird was attracted to the base of a small ditch where it continued to feed on emerging insects coaxed out by the sudden change in temperature. It then showed well down to just a few yards causing much excitement amongst it's admirers. I made sure I savoured every single time the bird hopped into view on the mud or made an air raid sally to feed for the next forty minutes or so. It then became agitated and started to call before it took flight and headed off to an alternative feeding area.  We eventually relocated it some distance away but views were always very brief as it became more and more flighty. A truly incredible result bearing in mind how the day began.  

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (first winter male)
Photo by Craig Shaw
The Field of Dreams!


This is only the tenth record of this species for the British Isles.  It is a widespread breeding bird across North America from south-east Alaska east over to Newfoundland and south to central California and southern Texas and also to Oaxaca and Vera Cruz in Mexico.  The species usually spends winter in the southern most States of North America and through much of Mexico down to Panama. It is also a common winter visitor to Bermuda, the Bahamas, Greater Antilles and the Cayman Islands.

1954 - Devon - 1st winter male trapped on Lundy - 4th November
1984 - Shetland - male on Fetlar - 7th to 11th June
1984 - Isles of Scilly - 1st winter male on Bryher - 2nd to 17th October
1989 - Kent - 1st winter male near Sittingbourne - 6th January to 23rd April
1996 - Caernarfonshire - female on Bardsey - 27th September
1997 - Shetland - 1st summer female on Unst - 16th to 23rd May (trapped on 17th)
1997 - Isles of Scilly - 1st winter male on St Mary's - 9th October to 2nd November
2004 - Shetland - 1st winter male on Foula - 9th to 10th October
2006 - Cornwall - 1st winter male found dead at Penryn - 23rd October
2012 - Gwent - 1st winter male at Rhiwderyn - 16th February to still present

Common Yellowthroat - Film Footage

LESSER SCAUP in Glamorgan

After failing not-so-miserably with the alleged BONAPARTE'S GULLS in Cardiff it was time to head elsewhere. The trip to the sewage works was not a wasted one however as we were all entertained by a birder 'sitting on the fence'..... quite literally. The daft bugger had decided to scale the steel defences of the water treatment plant in order to gain access to the sea wall.  The trouble was the daft bleeder could not summon up the energy to lift himself back over. It was reminiscent of watching an helpless, arthritic toad trying to climb out of a Vaseline lined glass tank. Eventually though, a rescue team was assembled and a few minutes later he was lifted back over suffering no more than a grazed scrotum and a bruised ego.

We then headed the short distance west to Lower Penarth and more specifically to Cosmeston Lakes Country Park.  After a quick check of the pager for directions, we made our way down the boardwalk where we stumbled across a feisty Whooper Swan competing with the more submissive Mute Swans for scraps of bread.  Surely it must be an escapee or an individual that was once taken into care at some point and released at the park?

Whooper Swan - Cosmeston Lakes
Photo by Adam Archer
We then made our way around the perimeter of the Eastern Lake where we soon located our second American vagrant of the day, a fine adult male LESSER SCAUP bobbing around with a few Tufted Duck.  The bird showed extremely well at times often swimming quite close to the shoreline.  After seeing the female LESSER SCAUP at Slimbridge WWT last month this species was not even a year tick for me but it was for the rest of the lads.  On our way back to the car I noticed that the Whooper Swan was stood out of the water.  Upon closer inspection I could see that it had a orange darvic ring on it's left leg with the code 'Y59' inscribed in black lettering on it. On the right leg it appeared to carry a metal BTO  ring.

LESSER SCAUP (adult male) - Cosmeston Lakes
Photo by Dave Barnes

LESSER SCAUP (adult male) - Cosmeston Lakes
Photo by Dave Barnes
After a bit of research it appears that the Whooper Swan was trapped and ringed during January 2011 in Worcestershire. When the bird was processed it appeared that the bird's head was stained orange, a sign that in may have originated from the iron rich lakes in Iceland. It was initially found at Cosmeston Lakes on the 27 December 2011 and has remained there ever since.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Winter Finally Hits the West Midlands

With the recent drop in temperatures it was nice to enjoy the comings and goings around The Cottage. Visitors to the feeders have been pretty sparse during the relatively mild winter so I was more than happy with today's sightings.  The first visitors to scavenge a few scraps this morning were some of our resident Jackdaws with around a dozen birds present at any one time. More unusual species included a Wren and up to 4 Blackbird among the usual Robin (2), Great Tit (2), Blue Tit (2), Dunnock (2), House Sparrows (14), Starlings (20), Goldfinch (10), Greenfinch (8) and Chaffinch (20).

After wrapping up warm, I then decided to brave the bitter cold and made a trip down to Alvecote Pools.  With around 85% of the lakes frozen solid the majority of the wildfowl were concentrated around a small area of Mill Pool.  Highlights included an impressive 26 Shelduck along with 40 Eurasian Wigeon and 15 Goosander.  It was also quite noteworthy that good numbers of Fieldfare were on the move, a sure sign that the feeding conditions for them were about about to get worse.  

After a quick call to Steve Richards, we decided to meet up to check out the Laridae at the premier gull watching spot in the Midlands. Upon arrival a fine near-adult Iceland Gull could be found loafing around on the ice, attempting to keep its distance from the rest of the larger gulls that were present.  Unfortunately there was no sign of any Caspian Gulls amongst the few Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  As the temperature dropped even more and a snow shower closed in on us it was time to head back home.

Iceland Gull (near adult) - Stubber's Green, West Midlands
Photo by Adam Archer
Upon arrival back home the garden was packed full of birds. Throughout the afternoon both male and female Great Spotted Woodpeckers made an appearance and a lone Mistle Thrush guarded a supply of rotten apples that I had thrown out.  Another unusual sighting was a pair of Pied Wagtails, the female of which defended the prime spot underneath the old Christmas tree that I had recently equipped with feeders.

Throughout the afternoon and evening the snow continued to fall. I could imagine seeing nothing other than 'garden birds' tomorrow!

Recycled Christmas tree complete with bird feeders