Isabelline ‘in the bag’


Record shot – Isabelline Wheatear, Gun Hill

Having been denied the opportunity, through a conspiracy of commitments, to get up to Yorkshire to see the Siberian Accentor and the ‘supporting cast’ of Isabelline Wheatear, I was delighted this morning to read a pager message announcing the presence of another Isabelline Wheatear, this time on the Norfolk coast! By the time I’d gathered the family together and got down to the start of the Gun Hill track, a couple of hours had elapsed. However, I needn’t have stressed, as the bird was showing well immediately on arrival. There was a regular Wheatear close-by, to emphasise the differences, and a nice Pallas’s Warbler in a nearby bush to provide additional interest. A nice bird, a UK and a Norfolk tick to-boot.

Pallas’s Warbler – providing additional interest


‘regular’ Wheatear, providing a helpful comparison of id features


Another few record shots of the ‘star bird’, showing some of the key identification points: thick black tail band, upright stance, dark lores, plain wing coverts contrasting with black alula and overall greyish buff colouration

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Cornish Cornucopia


Prime target for the trip – Dalmatian Pelican. Distant views on the Taw Estuary, now returned to Cornwall

We’ve just returned from a few days birding with our travelling companions Bob & Sue, in the South West. Following in the long and noble tradition of GPOG, we stayed at the Beachside Holiday Park, Hayle, and toured the various valleys and birding hot-spots of the Land’s End peninsular. The weather was fabulous with blue skies, a gentle breeze and peak temperatures of 18 degrees – perfect conditions to enjoy this lovely corner of the country. We managed to collect a couple of long-staying national rarities during the trip – Dalmatian Pelican on the Taw estuary and Hudsonian Whimbrel in Mounts Bay, together with a good supporting cast including: Baird’s & Pectoral Sandpiper, Richard’s Pipit x2, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler x3, an off-shore Osprey, Hen Harrier, Chough and Cirl Bunting. There were still a few regular migrants around like Swallow, Whinchat, Wheatear and Spotted Flycatcher keeping us entertained whilst searching out the scarcer species. The total trip list was 114 species.

Juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper, Davidstow airfield


Hudsonian Whimbrel, Boat Cove, Mount’s Bay


One of several Yellow-browed Warbler found during our trip


Some of the more regular species which kept us occupied whilst searching for the less common. A nice Raven at Pendeen


and Wheatear


An elusive Red-breasted Flycatcher in Kenidjack


Two Richard’s Pipit at Portgwarra – an adult and 1st winter, I presume


A total surprise – Osprey, seen off-shore at Pendeen


A late juvenile Common Tern at Argal Reservoir was a nice bonus after the Pectoral Sandpiper


A stop-off at the traditional site on the way home, produced several Cirl Bunting


AND year round-up



Glossy Ibis – one of the AND ‘stand-out’ birds of the previous twelve months

For those of you interested in ‘local patch’ birding, I’ve just published a brief round-up of the birds seen during the previous twelve months on my local patch, in North Norfolk – posted on the second anniversary of my Aylmerton Nature Diary blog – just click this link.

Spain 2016 – highlights


White-headed Duck – iconic species of this part of Spain

We’ve just got back from a two week holiday in Spain. The first week we spent with Joe and Gabi, who were over from Chile for a month, touring the delightful hill-top towns of Andalusia – eating, drinking and catching up. The second week we spent birding with Jake, our youngest son and our long-time birding friends, Bob and Sue. As has become our custom over the past few years, we stayed in the old town of Tarifa and amused ourselves visiting the various birding hot-spots of the region. The only draw-back this year was the weather, with strong easterly winds for the first few days and unseasonably hot temperatures – reaching 43 degrees on a couple of days. Nevertheless we still managed to clock-up over 170 species, the highlights of which included White-headed Duck, Red-knobbed Coot, Common (or Garden) Bulbul, Rufous Bushchat, Bald Ibis, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Black-shouldered Kite, Little Swift, Eleanora’s Falcon, Red-necked Nightjar, Black Wheatear and a trio of ‘escapees’, which were all new for our Western Palearctic list  – Monk Parakeet, Yellow-Collared Lovebird and Black-headed Weaver. The raptor passage was the best we’ve ever experienced, with hundreds of birds most days – usually involving Honey Buzzard, Black Kite and Booted Eagle, with notable numbers of Egyptian Vulture and Short-toed Eagle. Passerine migration was also heavy with several ‘falls’ encountered, mostly involving Redstart, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers and Willow Warbler. Prize for the oddest bird however goes to a near-completely albino Bee-Eater, seen briefly with hundreds of regular birds, near Casas de Porro.

Spotless Starling, a common species in southern Spain


Little Swift, much less common – a few pairs breed along the coast between the Coto Donana and Tarifa. We saw an unprecedented flock of eighteen near Chipiona 


But it’s the raptor migration over Tarifa which is the big draw at this time of the year – 2016 was an excellent year. This pale phase Booted Eagle was typical 


This Short-toed Eagle got caught out by the strong winds and was brought down on the cliffs above the Straits of Gibraltar 


There was a good passage of Egyptian Vulture this year – this was a particularly close immature


La Janda ‘produced the goods’ despite the water-levels being high – including a variety of waders, heron sp. and this obliging male Montagu’s Harrier, eating a Crayfish 


This year we decided to go to look for Bald Ibis from the successful release scheme. Here is one of the staff involved in the project, with some nifty head-gear


and here are some of the increasing population, seen near Barbate


It’s not all about rare and scarce birds either – some more common species gave excellent views. This Stonechat for instance 


or this Firecrest


Tawny Pipit appeared more numerous this year. We saw five at Los Lances alone


Black-eared Wheatear are always a ‘crowd-pleaser’


To finish with, a couple of the less easy to catch up with species of the area. Common (or Garden) Bulbul – one of Europe’s rarest breeding species. Seen near the public car-park in Tarifa


Azure-winged Magpie, are very difficult to find in Andalusia – we travelled to Antequera to find this species


Red-necked Nightjar – more common but difficult to find some years. This one was roosting by the side of the track at La Janda


Finally, just a few of the many hundreds of White Stork, forced down by strong winds on La Janda, during their long migration south


Another great ‘do-it-yourself’ trip to this top European birding destination, made all the more easy through John Cantelo’s excellent website and site guide.


Swurple Pomphen


Western Purple Swamphen, Minsmere, Suffolk

Nearly twenty years ago there was a report of a Purple Swamphen – or Gallinule as they used to be called, somewhere on the River Ouse, near Ely. Excitedly, we dashed off after work to twitch it –  after all, even in those days, this was a very scarce bird in southern Europe and an unthinkable addition to the British list. We needn’t have bothered as it turned out to be an escape, of the Asian race I think – still, a nice bird all the same!

It was with some scepticism then that I read the first pager message at the weekend of another Purple Swamphen – this time at Minsmere. However, with a recent bird in Brittany and other sightings in eastern France, momentum for this bird being accepted as a ‘first for Britain’ began to build. Monday we were tied up  at Cley NWT and yesterday morning I was doing some planned conservation work on our local village pond. We set off for Minsmere after lunch, arriving there amidst sunshine and showers. The bird was being reported on a regular basis on RBA and our confidence levels were high. The usual gleeful tales of ‘it’s still there’ and ‘showing well if you hurry’ greeted us along the path to South Hide – from where, incidentally, I saw my first Stilt Sandpiper. We got to the spot and indeed it was still there and showing well! Well briefly in the reeds before going missing for ten minutes at a time, that is, only to reappear further along the reed bed. We watched it in the late afternoon sunshine for a hour or so before heading home and fish’n chips. A very nice bird and, hopefully, a British ‘tick’ in the making.

A few more record shots of this rather smart bird




Post Script

For a slightly better photo of Western Purple Swamphen, go to my blog ‘First foot in the Algarve’ – featuring some of the better birds seen on a recent trip to Portugal.

Caspian Tern – Breydon Water


Caspian Tern, Breydon Water

Having been present for several days already, this morning, I decided to go and have a look for the Caspian Tern, at Breydon Water. As is the norm for this site, the bird was distant on arrival and heat-haze had already begun to effect visibility. I had to walk a considerable way along the north wall before getting acceptable views and a couple of grab shots. It’s been nearly thirty years since I last saw this species in Norfolk.

A couple more shots of this relatively scarce bird in Norfolk



Great Knot undone


Great Knot, adult in summer plumage, Titchwell

Having ignored the news of the Great Knot ‘showing well’ at Titchwell for 24 hours, I finally decided, given that the weather was not conducive to ‘dragon hunting’, to have a go. When I got to Titchwell, there was a dense sea fret hanging over the fresh marsh, the last reported location, making viewing near-impossible. Apparently the bird had just flown off towards the beach anyway! As I was on a tight time-table I decide to try my luck on the shore. Thankfully, the adult, summer plumage, Great Knot was in the flock of several hundred ordinary Knot, roosting on the tide-line. I managed brief and distant glimpses, through dripping optics before, eventually, the flock returned to the fresh marsh and I could watch it, albeit at some distance and still in the mist, from Parrinder hide. Altogether though, much better views than the Breydon bird of a couple of years ago.

A couple more shots of this lovely bird – shame about the weather!