Sunday, 21 September 2014

Fea-tastic return!

So the eternal optimism was partially rewarded when we returned to the Farnes yesterday. There was a big clear out overnight, but still lingering were some nice migrants including a long-overdue addition to my life list; Red-breasted Flycatcher. It was supported by a single Yellow-browed Warbler, numerous Goldcrests, and 2 Lesser and Common Whitethroat. Not quite the mega haul present on the islands the day before, but a lovely selection of birds none-the-less.

Red-Breasted Flycatcher from the living room window!

Yellow-browed Warbler showing well

And again showing faint crown stripe

Pair of Goldcrest trapped and ringed in the afternoon

This morning it was even quieter, but there was much excitement when news broke of a Fea's Type Petrel heading north from Flamborough at 8.25. We knew it would be a while before it hit the Farnes, but we kept an eye all day and saw 33 Manx Shearwater,  49 Sooty Shearwater and 9 Arctic Skua. As news broke of the Fea's passing Newbiggin we all took our seats and waited. And boy was it worth it!!
Almost exactly two hours later, it was picked up going through Staple Sound, and we were able to watch it for a good minute as it passed, banking heavily and showing its dark underwing contrasting with light belly in near perfect light. What a bird, and what a view! Needless to say we were very very happy afterwards. That was the bird that we really wanted!  

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Troubles of Being a Birder

When I find myself cursing about being on the Farnes (a very very rare occasion), it quickly turns into a sense of being totally unreasonable and I tell myself that I should be ashamed for it is the highest privilege to work and live in such an incredible place. However, on this occasion I found it somewhat more justifiable. The story begins with a broken zodiac engine, happening at a risky time of year. It rendered us boatless for a few days, and clearly the "weather gods" got wind of this (no pun intended) and the winds promptly swung easterly. With no rain, it means that the Outer group is perfectly placed to attract rares, and the Inner group perfectly placed to allow jealous observation. And this is what happened, and within a two day period on Brownsman the team had been joined by two Red Breasted Flys, a Red Backed Shrike, Little and Rustic Bunting and a host of other lovely migrants, while we were blessed with some Scandinavian Robins.... A Corncrake on the West Wides offered some light relief, but it was with some anxiety that we waited for a visitor boat to get out and catch a glimpse of what was a lovely Rustic Bunting on Tuesday. These lovely buntings breed in Northern Europe and Asia and winter down in South East Asia, and this represents the second Farnes record in two years.

Rustic Bunting (Thanks to David Kinchen-Smith for the photo)

I should also mention that on Inner Farne we did have some nice highlights, including a Pied Flycatcher that needed some hair-dryer treatment and a young Redstart trapped and ringed during the day. 

Soggy Pied Fly. Really perked up after a warming blow dry

Look at that tail!! Juvenile Redstart

So feeling very satisfied Lana and I headed for the West coast of Scotland for some lovely family time. Knowing that easterlies were still a-blowing but with things looking like they would be calming down, we thought the risk was minimal... We were wrong. News broke this afternoon of two new arrivals, one a Common Rosefinch, but the other... a Golden Oriole. Now I have seen a few in the UK but to see one on the Farnes would be an amazing experience. And to share a tiny island with a RB Shrike, Little Bunting, Rustic Bunting, Common Rosefinch and Golden Oriole... Need I say more. 

However, this is the way of birding, and something that we all need to learn to deal with at some point. So as I sit here having soaked up some lovely Scottish Sun. with my newly acquired Yellow Fever vaccination certificate for Argentina sitting next to me, looking forward to two more days of luxury running water, I feel very happy, for myself and also for the team enjoying some wonderful birds. I must also add that my eternal optimism (be it good or bad) allows me to believe that when we return on Saturday, all those lovely birds will be there waiting with open arms (or wings)!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

A Barred Surprise!

After rain overnight on Friday, there was an air of expectation yesterday morning that something tasty might have arrived. It didn't take much to find it either, as Lana and I walked up the boardwalk there it was, sat in the sticks in full view, a BARRED WARBLER! It didn't stay there for long unfortunately and went crashing off into the dock where it spent most of the day, occasionally visiting the Elders in the veg patch where I managed to grab a distant picture! These large Sylvia warblers breed right across Central Europe and Central Asia and turn up in fairly good numbers in the East Coast around this time of year. Records are almost always first winter birds migrating south to Eastern Africa for the winter; spring records and adults are extremely rare. The bird gets its name from the heavy barring that adult males have across the breast, somewhat similar to a Sparrowhawk or Peregrine. There was some very faint barring visible on this bird (perhaps not in this poor photo though).

Skulking, always skulking! Typical Barred Warbler behaviour

Later that evening there was some sad news, a Barred Warbler had been found dead by the sticks where we had first seen our bird this morning. However, 30 minutes later another one was found, alive and well. It seems then that two came in overnight and unfortunately, one didn't make it.

Also around was this lovely Whinchat, although it was the only one remaining. The Pied Flycatcher was still around, as were the other common migrants.

Gorgeous bird! Whinchat.

On the Farnes our information centre is somewhat akin to a giant insect trap, and this handy extra feature means that other species are enticed in as well, and this morning I was kept company by this little chap as he flicked around gorging himself on flies.

Sharing my workplace with a Goldcrest.... Could be worse?

Friday, 5 September 2014

Lightly does it easterlies

It felt like summer had returned for a few days this week. We had a lovely few days on the Farnes, but looking outside now at rain and fog it feels like a long time ago. However, the islands have some nice birds at the moment, and this rain brings with it some hope of a few more treats dropping in overnight.
On our day off this week Lana and I had a whistle-stop tour down our local section of Northumberland coast. Firstly Holy Island causeway, where 5 Greenshank, a Bar-wit and many Curlew and Redshanks were on show.

Greenshank showing wonderfully from the car!


Redshank in lovely light

Then it was onto Budle Bay where a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper showed nicely, and onto Low-Newton scrape which was heaving with birds, in particular a lovely Little Stint. We then decided to try for the long-staying Caspian Gull in Amble, which unfortunately wasn't there. However there was a showy Mediterranean Gull with a ring on (possibly a breeder from Coquet).

Med or Caspian? What's the difference eh?

Back on the islands, and as mentioned some nice migrants grace us with their presence at the moment. Between the islands we have 8 Whinchat, 5 Pied Flycatcher, 1 Spotted Flycatcher, a Little Stint and a sprinkling of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and a Whitethroat.

Pied Flycatcher, clearly been messing around in the Dock.

Willow Warbler in the sun

Who is watching who here?

We have also seen the first Song Thrush of the autumn. It won't be long now before thrushes are heading our way in big numbers. This bird, like all the Song Thrushes I have encountered on the islands was very flighty and tricky to photograph. I just managed this shot looking straight into the sun as it paused for a second on a fence.

Flighty Song Thrush

As for our breeding birds, it isn't quite over yet. Possibly the last brood of the year belongs to the Swallows in the chapel on Inner Farne. This is the second brood for these parents, and it won't be long at all before they are flying and winging their way to Africa for the winter!

Begging away.