Saturday 28 September 2013


Thanks to Jules Allen, Bob Duckhouse and Dave Hutton taking pity on me and agreeing to put me up for a week, I suddenly found myself on an impromptu trip to the Northern Isles of Shetland. Annual autumn trips to this part of the world are the easiest way of adding those pesky specialities like LANCEOLATED WARBLER and PALLAS'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLER to my British List. Following a short flight from Birmingham to Aberdeen and a further quick sonic blast north from Aberdeen to Sumburgh, we eventually touched down on the Shetland Isles. By 11.00am we had picked up the hire car and we were on our way to the digs at Gord near Cunnisburgh.

BROWN SHRIKE (first winter) - Wester Quarff, Mainland Shetland
Photo by Roger Riddington

After slinging the bags in through the back door of our bungalow it was immediately onwards to Wester Quarff where we had an appointment with our first eastern vagrant of the trip, a first winter BROWN SHRIKE, a bird that Dan Pointon had located the day previously. Within a few minutes of lifting our binoculars we were watching the former MEGA rarity feeding along a fence line at the bottom of the valley. Whilst the shrike flitted around searching for tasty morsels I heard a sharp 'tick tick tick' call emanating from the overgrown garden of the nearby cottage. We all looked up to find a smart LITTLE BUNTING perched up in the hedgerow.

LITTLE BUNTING (first winter)
Photo by Dave Hutton
LITTLE BUNTING (first winter)
Wester Quarff, Mainland Shetland
Photo byDave Hutton

After a brief survey of the area the bird then flew a short distance into another garden further down the lane where it continued to show very well indeed. In this very same garden there not one but two Yellow-browed Warblers zipping around the stunted sycamores. Whilst watching these birds yet another Yellow-browed Warbler was heard calling from the garden opposite followed by another and another. There were at least five birds in the same tiny area. Other birds in the area included a small group of Rock Dove, several Raven, a Chiffchaff and a flighty Common Redpoll

Longwell, Mainland Shetland
Photo by Adam Archer

After all the excitement we then made our way back to our accommodation for a brew followed by a thorough search on foot around Gord and Longwell. Unfortunately we failed to find any of those skulking dream Locustella warblers along the ditches or amongst the iris beds. The only species of note was a flock of 4 Northern Lapwing, 120 European Golden Plover, a single Common Redshank and 5 Common Snipe opposite our digs and a trio of Bar-tailed Godwit and 13 Turnstone at Longwell inlet. It was time to head back home, dry off and put the kettle on once again. 

Then whilst we were settling down pondering where we should eat that evening I received a call from Ashley Howe. He calmly announced that they had just stumbled upon a PECHORA PIPIT at Levenwick whilst Dan Pointon was trying to pin down a potential THRUSH NIGHTINGALE he had just glimpsed. We quickly gathered our kit, pulled back on our muddy boots left the digs and after a short car ride down south we were on site.

Initially there was no sign of either bird in the small garden but then out of nowhere a silent, short-tailed pipit species appeared in flight over our heads. The bird then continued a short distance down the lane and landed on the road itself. Even through the bins you could make out the gleaming, double white stripes running down its back. A further view through the scope confirmed it without a doubt, it was a stunning PECHORA PIPIT, only my second ever sighting of this species in Britain. There was no sign of the probable THRUSH NIGHTINGALE within the dense vegetation of the garden but even still it was a pretty impressive start to our trip.

Sunday 15 September 2013

MEGA ALERT: The GREAT SNIPE in East Yorkshire

GREAT SNIPE (juvenile) - Kilnsea, East Yorkshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

Last Monday afternoon I was lying splayed out in an operating theatre having my troublesome hernia sorted. I had therefore spent the past week tucked up in bed, writhing around with severe abdominal pain and bedecked in an uncomfortable pair of sexy support stockings. A birder confined to bed is like the proverbial bear with a sore head at the best of times but with the crucial autumn season simmering away it was not the ideal time to undergo surgery.

With plenty of time on my hands though I had at least managed to catch up with some ornithological and entomological based reading in order to keep my mind active whilst my pathetic, bloated body slowly recovered. Luckily the pager had remained pretty quiet with just a local Common Crane and an alleged Irish ELEGANT TERN to get the drug influenced pulse racing slightly. Then the inevitable happened. Late on Saturday afternoon news came through of a GREAT SNIPE in East Yorkshire. Remarkably it had showed well for over a hour as it fed along a ditch in Kilnsea before flying off and landing out of sight in a nearby field.

To be honest I was not too concerned. Due to the pain factor, I had already reluctantly cancelled a trip to Wembley to see an epic performance of The Wall by Pink Floyd legend Roger Waters. A pesky rare bird was the very least of my worries. I went to bed that night in a fairly relaxed state of mind..... but then again I had knocked back a double dose of Co-dydramol.

Then on Sunday morning I awoke with a start at 7.00am. It was the best night of sleep since the operation and at long last I felt some kind of improvement. I then sleepily lunged at the phone to check my Twitter account. Initially I did not know whether I was dreaming or whether I was hallucinating. The medication I was taking was not that powerful surely? I read one particular post again and then a third time just to make sure.... Premiership listing loon and YouTube crooner, Garry Bagnell had tweeted to say the GREAT SNIPE was showing well. The gutsy insaniac had driven up from Sussex overnight on the slim chance that it would still be present and relocated. Sometimes you have to give credit where it is due.

I texted Dave Hutton to let him know the bird was still there and within seconds he had called me back. Dave can be very pushy at times and he refused to take no for an answer. He said he would drive over to mine, throw me in the back of his car and take me up to Yorkshire to see the bird and return home as quickly as possible. It was far from ideal but it then again it could have been a lot worse. The journey up to Kilnsea was perfectly straight forward and there would be an absolute minimum amount of walking involved once we arrived. As the bird was showing so well I would not even need to lug around my heavy telescope and tripod. On paper it was a relatively comfortable twitch for a wimpy, temporary invalid like me.

On the way north I relaxed in luxury whilst reclined in the heated leather seats of Dave's high specification motor. All the while though folks were texting me to say that the bird was showing down to a few feet. I prayed to the birding Gods for it to remain on site for just a while longer.... and for all my stitches to remain intact.

'Spurn snipers'
There was no way I could get in such a position to see under the gate!
Photo by Adam Archer

Finally, at about 10.45am we arrived on site. After a steady, careful shuffle down Beacon Lane I was in position. John Hague gesticulated wildly towards a closed gate. Following a cheeky peek over a garden wall I nearly passed out in shock, the bird was probing along the edge of a someone's driveway just a few feet away. I could hardly believe my eyes. This is a species that is usually spotted as it rises up in flight following an organised flush or during a flukey exploratory search of the east coast of Britain during Autumn. The average GREAT SNIPE never shows this well on it's breeding grounds in Poland never mind around the perimeter of a holiday park in Yorkshire.  In order to obtain unrestricted and more comfortable views I then laboriously made my way around to view the bird from the driveway itself and I was glad I did.   

Can you 'spot the Great Snipe'?
Photo by Adam Archer

The GREAT SNIPE continued to show off like a star along the driveway. It would just snaffle around in the wet grass for a while, pull out a tasty earthworm or two and then have a quick nap before following the same routine again. At one stage the bird even ran towards us as if attempting a daring escape between our legs. It was all quite incredible. Eventually though the bird became tired of all the attention, ran into cover and promptly disappeared. Whilst chatting away to John Hague the bird then flew low behind us only to land a short distance away and into a small grassy field. Once again it showed superbly as it ran up and down a garden fence attempting to squeeze itself through the gaps. Without being too unkind though it had obviously stuffed itself with too many juicy worms and struggled to slip through. It was reminiscent of a full-bladdered Bill Oddie attempting to enter a Portaloo at Birdfair after too many pints of Osprey Ale.

GREAT SNIPE (juvenile) - Kilnsea, East Yorkshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

GREAT SNIPE (juvenile) - Kilnsea, East Yorkshire
Check out those 'Great' features folks!
Photo by Dave Hutton

After a short while of clowning around the rarity again flew a short distance only to plonk itself down in the very same ditch that it was originally found in. Once more it continued to amaze everyone as it fed well totally unconcerned just a few feet away. In all we spent a good couple hours making the most of this experience of a lifetime with such an amazing bird. As the bird rested and the weather began to deteriorate I headed back to the car, popped a few more pills and reclined the seat. It was time to get back home, pull up my anti-DVT stockings and slip back into bed. All the excitement had worn me out.

STOP PRESS:  Unfortunately this trusting individual was found dead on the morning of the 17th September. It had allegedly been mauled to death by one of the local felines. RIP and thanks for the memories brave Gallinago!

GREAT SNIPE by Archie Archer

Just a snippet of some dodgy footage obtained on my iPhone without a zoom facility, just to prove how close and confiding this amazing bird was!

GREAT SNIPE by Steve Evans

Some excellent footage by Steve Evans here. Please visit and check out his range of British rarity DVDs. They are just the tonic you need to get through those long, dark winter evenings. 

Sunday 8 September 2013

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Alvecote Pools

An early morning visit produced just a single, highly mobile Black-tailed Godwit around Mill Pool today. The couple of Dunlin from yesterday were still present though as were a pair of Little Egret. Wildfowl numbers continue to increase with a huge influx of Mallard today with Teal, Gadwall and Wigeon numbers all up slightly from yesterday.

Dunlin (juvenile) - Alvecote Pools, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

The Willow Clump off Laundry Lane produced a Garden Warbler and few Common Whitethroat as well as a single Northern Wheatear in the sheep fields. As the sun started to burn off the early morning nip in the air a Spotted Flycatcher also emerged to feed. Lightening then struck twice when I heard the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling from Shuttington Bridge. After a bit of patience I eventually caught up with the bird feeding in the roadside hawthorns before it flew up Main Road towards Gilman's Pool.

Dunlin (juvenile) - Alvecote Pools, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

With a few nice birds around the pools recently it often results in a few more birders visiting. This then leads to a few additional birds being found by non-regulars. By dusk, Tom Perrins had found 2 Garganey, Dave Hutton had 7 Black-tailed Godwits drop in and there were additional reports of Common Redstart and Northern Wheatear.

Saturday 7 September 2013

Black-tailed Godwits at Alvecote Pools

Mill Pool, Alvecote Pools, Warwickshire.
Photo by Adam Archer

Every now and then you rekindle the love for your local patch and today was one of those occasions. Initially it was pretty slow around Mill Pool with just a single Common Snipe and a couple of Little Egret. Unfortunately there was no sign of yesterday's Garganey but 35 Shoveler and 5 Wigeon were good to see. With a herd of frisky bovines guarding the route to Teal Pool I decided to mooch around elsewhere until they had grazed their way into the distance. 

Within a few minutes of reaching Laundry Lane I heard the distinctive high-pitched rattle of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling up ahead. This used to be a fairly regular sound around the patch but in line with a huge decline around the rest of the Country this is now a very rare treat indeed. After a few nervy minutes I at last managed to catch a glimpse of an immature male bird as it fed in the canopy of a young oak tree. Luckily it then flew over towards a line of willows where it performed exceptionally well for nearly thirty minutes. This was my first sight and sound of this species at Alvecote in over five years

Other birds in this area included a bundle of common warblers including Blackcaps, Common Whitethroats and a single Lesser Whitethroat. The best of all however were 2 Spotted Flycatchers and an elusive Common Redstart, a couple of autumn migrant species which always brighten up your day.

With the cows now out of the way I carefully made my way around to Teal Pool where I found a group of 11 Black-tailed Godwits probing around unconcerned just a few yards away. Typically, I had left my camera at home but with some pretty good photographic opportunities available I gave Dave Hutton a call to see if he would be interested. Below are series of 'record shots' taken by Dave who is possibly the greatest perfectionist in the whole of British bird photography. Believe it or not he was not that happy with these and thought he could have done better!

Black-tailed Godwit
Photo by Dave Hutton
Black-tailed Godwit - Alvecote Pools, Warwickshire
Photo by Dave Hutton
Black-tailed Godwit - Alvecote Pools, Warwickshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

Other sightings of interest included masses over Swallows and House Martins migrating through south early on, a pair of juvenile Dunlin on Mill Pool and a trio of noisy Hobby around the Mill Pool and Gilman's Pool area.