About Two Owls

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Normandie Visual Migration - 'VisMig'

After our visit to the East Riding of Yorkshire Jackie and I had some business across the channel and planned a couple of days birding.  So we had a day at home before jumping on the ferry at Poole  to Cherbourg. An hour and a half later we arrived at our B&B chosen as it was just 25 minutes from the coast and from one of Normandie's best vismig watch points, though you will not see this advertised anywhere.  We found out by accident on visiting the little nature reserve some years ago and was told by a local that the two kilometre's of coastline was a good place to see many birds from l'Angleterre passing over.  It took us a few visits before we hit a good passage and boy was it good, so we have visited on and off since.  As the autumn migration had started in the Yorkshire with the thrush movements a week before we thought it was a good time to visit the site again.

Day 1
We breakfasted early enough we thought to get to our watch point in time for dawn but we arrived a little late.  As we were just getting our gear together in the car park I noticed a scattered flock of birds flying towards us, bins up and I could see and hear they were Chaffinch. So we hurried to get to our preposed watchpoint and started counting.  There was a light mist and the birds would come into view about 500m away as they moved towards us.  Chaffinch were the main migrant and they were passing on a narrow front and as the mist started to clear the front broadened and the birds came past higher up.
Chaffinch passing landward 
Chaffinch moving over the sea
To start with the chaffinch were streaming through then as time moved on they came in waves, but when you are in the position with this many birds of one species moving the main thing to do is look and listen for different sounds and block out the Chaffinch.  It didn't take us long before we heard our first Brambling, Greenfinch, the odd Redwing and Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and 'Alba' Wagtail.  Small flocks of Starling also Woodpigeon the latter was something new for us this side of the channel. Then Skylark started to move through mainly in one's and two's but a few small groups were seen later. It was not long after we recorded our first Wood Lark one at a time, we would hear them call and then we would look for them and most were following the line of the cliff south towards Brittany.
Woodlark disappearing towards Brittany
Small flocks of Starling were also moving, also Jackdaw, lesser numbers of Goldfinch, Stock Dove, Blackbird, Linnet were recorded. Two species I never quite get used to seeing is Great and Blue Tit but we had several little groups some passing by others dropping like stones out of the sky and pitching in to the cliff top bushes before moving on again a while later.
Blue Tit passing by our watch point
It always nice when you are vismiging and you here 'tzick' of Hawfinch and we recorded them on seven occasion during the morning the largest group was ten birds but I'm sure we missed seeing some.
Hawfinch migrating
We did have a few raptors, not all migrants, with a pair of Peregrine, two Kestrels and singles of Merlin and Sparrowhawk.  Our watch lasted till 12:30hrs three hours, this was when everything slowed and came to a more or less a stop and all the bushes and trees in the woodland suddenly went quiet.

We went for lunch then sat on a bench on a nearby beach and had a total count of the mornings birds we recorded 3,828 birds of 29 species we considered migrants, plus a few local species such as Cirl Bunting, Peregrine, and Black Woodpecker the latter gave us a nice call and fly around the tree tops before ducking into the trees again which brought the total number of species to 41 for the morning.  

It was whilst doing our count up that Jackie and I became aware of a background sound, in fact I remembered hearing it all morning and we realised it was coming from out to sea.  Then it fell into place it was an enormous number of Common Scoter, we estimated somewhere between 2000+ birds.  They were around a half a mile out and scattered all across the bay. It appeared they were mostly black drakes but I did find a number of females immature types. I took a little recording on my iphone but it was to faint to reproduce here, so I've taken the recording and mixed it with other recordings to produce a sound similar to what we were hearing.  Apologies to the purists amongst you but I wanted to give you a real feel of the sound we were hearing and you could hear it from anywhere along the coastal path for around around 4km at least.

Day 2
After the previous mornings experience we decided to do it all over again, but it was wet and overcast when we left our B&B.  As we drew nearer to the coast it brightened up a tad and we became more hopeful.  This morning we were at least a half hour earlier and the wood and bushes only had the few resident birds present.  We had a short conversation with a local birder who gave us a little heads up of where to stand to vismig that morning with the overnight change in wind direction .  So taking his advice we started out in the field north of the car park.  As we were walking to our proposed spot a couple of Swallow flew over to get us started and then as with our first day the Chaffinch started streaming through and then Starlings started in small flocks then came several large flocks one after the other, higher than the Chaffinch.

Starling migrating
As the morning progressed we realised like the previous day as it became brighter and the birds could then see the Brittany coast the birds started to move direction more over the sea.  So Jackie and I returned to the previous watch point on the coastal path but not before we had added Grey Heron, Great White Egret, Serin, Ring Ouzel, Siskin and Redpoll to the morning list.

After our move It was then we found we had been missing a few species which we had recorded the day before, Blue and Great Tit and Goldcrests also Alba Wagtail, as they were moving along the clifftop out of sight of us on the field by the car park. By lunch time we had doubled our previous days count and recorded 8065 birds of 35 migrant species six more than the previous day and two extra species considered local Buzzard and Cetti's Warbler.

Those species considered to be migrants over both days:-
Species highlighted were seen on second day not on day one.

Dark-bellied Brent Goose (39 - 18) flying past out to sea.
Common Scoter (2000+ - 3000+) not in counted in final numbers as not migrating through.
Grey Heron (0 - 2)
Great White Egret (0 - 2)
Sparrowhawk (3)
Lapwing (3 - 5)
Stock Dove (6 - 5)
Woodpigeon (327 - 262)
Merlin (1 - 0)
Jackdaw (96 - 45)
Goldcrest (4+ - 5+)
Blue Tit (34 - 7+)
Great Tit (82 - 10+)
Woodlark (11 - 5+)
Skylark (42 - 132)
Swallow (0 - 2)
Chiffchaff (2 - 3)
Starling (1159 - 3187)
Ring Ouzel (0 - 2)
Blackbird (7 - 9)
Song Thrush (9 - 19)
Redwing (31 - 127)
Mistle Thrush (6 - 16)
Pied/White (alba Wagtail) (21 - 1+)
Meadow Pipit (3 - 6)
Brambling (10 - 62)
Chaffinch (1440 - 3935)
Hawfinch (23 - 4)
Bullfinch (5 - 21)
Greenfinch (49 - 4)
Linnet (30 - 0)
Lesser/Common Redpoll (0 - 6)
Goldfinch (5 - 4+)
Serin (0 - 1)
Siskin (38 - 137+)

Species Considered most likely local residents:-
Cormorant (1 - 3)
Little Egret (1 - 1)
Great Crested Grebe (1 - 2) on sea
Sparrowhawk (2 - 2)
Buzzard (0 - 1)
Black-headed Gull present
Common Gull present
Herring Gull present
Great Black-backed Gull present
Woodpigeon present
Black Woodpecker (1 - 0)*
Green Woodpecker (1+ - 0)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (2)
Kestrel (2+)
Peregrine (2 - 0)
Jay (2 - 2)
Jackdaw present
Cetti's Warbler (0 - 2)
Wren present
Blackbird present
Song Thrush present
Robin present
Stonechat (2 - 0)
Dunnock present
Chaffinch present
Cirl Bunting (2 - 3 heard singing)

Monday 28 October 2019

East Riding of Yorkshire Part 2

We started both days at Flamborough's South Landing watching the ringing event and then moved on to Bempton Cliff RSPB reserve where we saw a number of birds species in the hand that you don't often get so close views of normally. 

This was part of the Filey & Flamborough Ringing & Migration Week (aka Migweek). To read more about the birding week and highlights of Migweek go to Mark James Pearson's Blog.

While I remember, Jackie and I would like to thank Mark and his team and all involved with the event for making us so welcome and organising a brilliant event, 'We'll be back'. 

Now back to the birds, both mornings were not in best weather conditions but none-the-less a trickle of birds were brought in from the nets and we had informitive descriptions of the age of the individual bird and sexing if it was possible to do so etc, from the ringers who were representing the BTO.

Day 3 Started at the Flamborough Observatory at South Landing where we saw a few birds in the hand before the rain stopped play .  At which point Jackie and I headed to the Fog Station as there had been a Short-eared Owl reported there. We pulled up in the car park with the rain lashing down. Jackie found the owl hunkered down under a large tussock of grass out to our right. From here we headed to Bempton as we were to meet Derek and Kay for lunch.  By the time we arrived the rain had more or less passed, but was soon to start again. Derek and Kay arrived and we headed off to Bridlington for lunch at Rag's restaurant at the old harbour masters building and a very nice lunch it was to.

After lunch the rain eased and the sun came out more or less as we exited the restaurant and Derek said "often there is Purple Sandpipers on the rocks just over the sea wall", so we took a look and there they were along with a few Turnstone and Oystercatcher plus a single Knot.

As we arriving back at Bempton to pick up our car the info services pinged out that the Red-flanked Bluetail that had been caught in the nets at Filey the day before had been found in the Arndale.  Well we couldn't refuse the chance so off we went, we purchased a 2 hour parking ticket and headed down into the Arndale, a tree lined path leading down to the sea.  We met with four local birders and they kindly pointed the bird out high in the canopy. See Marks Blog for photo of the bird.  making a successful end to the day. 

Day 4 Was a successful morning though slow to start we had several birds brought in to the ringing station. 

Feisty Blue Tit - Flamborough Obs © Jackie Hull
As you can see Blue Tit can be pretty feisty compared to one of the other residents the Tree Sparrow which was caught a little later whose threat display constituted just raising it's wings. 
Local Tree Sparrow giving its best threat display © Nick Hull
Our first migrant was this Redwing which had probably came across the North Sea that morning and came down to have a feed on the Hawthorn berries when it went into the nets.

Redwing - Flamborough © Nick Hull
It was particularly nice to see a female Bullfinch in the hand. We were shown a detail on one of the feathers which I have to admit not having seen before in the field.  The strange thing is no one has figured out what it's there for.  Its a small triangular rufous feather at the inner edge of the greater coverts.
Female - Bullfinch © Nick Hull
Below is the small rufous feather being pointed out, it may maybe that it gives the impression of a face from the rear to help fool predators, but who knows?

The rufous triangular feather being pointed out © Nick Hull
This juvenile Lesser Redpoll was a delight to see up close and without its red poll which hadn't developed yet.
Lesser Redpoll - Flamborough Obs © Nick Hull
This male Blackcap was suspected as being a migrant as many of this species will come to Britain to winter from central Europe.
male Blackcap - Flamborough Obs - © Jackie Hull
This Goldcrest was certainly the smallest and lightest of the species caught at around 6 grams means they are around the weight of a 10 pence coin which is 6.5g which is amazing when you think they migrate over the North Sea.
Male Goldcrest - Flamborough Obs, © Jackie Hull
Once the the ringing slowed and more people were arriving Jackie and I decided to move to Bempton RSPB to see if they were catching any different species there. We jammed in on the catching of a juvenile female Stonechat which we watched being trapped in a spring net which sits on the top of a post and when the bird lands on the post the net springs around it.  Apparently this method is extremely successful for catching Stonechat, Whinchat and Wheatear and other species which like perching on posts I suppose.

Juvenile female - Stonechat © Nick Hull
The cliffs at Bempton still had a few late breeding birds with juvenile Gannet on the nest which hadn't fledged.  Though most of the young birds had gone though there were many adults and a handful of intermediate aged bird cruising along the cliffs and out to sea.
Adults and Juvenile Gannet - Bempton Cliffs RSPB © Nick Hull
Back at the 'Dale' we had a few Brambling and we watched to see a Ring Ouzel which had disappeared into an elder bush.  Whilst we waited for it to show we had a skein of forty Pink-footed Geese heading over south.

Skein of Pink-footed Geese - over Bempton Cliffs RSPB Reserve © Nick Hull
We also had several flocks of Redwing flighting in for a quick top-up on berries then heading off again south.

Flight of migrant Redwing (Vis Mig) © Nick Hull
Then all of a sudden Jackie calls Ring Ouzel, well it came towards us then flew around in a large loop and landed in the scrubby field behind the Dale out of sight again. I took a shot of it as it was was in its turn but it was so far away you can only just see it's a thrush let alone a Ring Ouzel. Looking closely you can just make out the pale neck collar on this very cropped shot.

Memory shot of a Ring Ouzel - Bempton © Nick Hull
The next day we travelled home only for a day, before heading to Normandy for a few more days of vismiging. Which is coming next.

Saturday 26 October 2019

East Riding of Yorkshire Part 1

Day 1-2
Jackie and I, usually have over the last twelve years or so, have led groups in East Yorkshire but this year we decided to spend a week birding the area on our own, and catching up with friends.  So on the 14th October we set off from Dorset to Flamborough where we had rented a house for the week.  Well the weather was pretty foul when we left and en-route we travelled through various strengths of rain storm.  A couple of days before we left a Red-eyed Vireo, an American warbler, had been found at Easington and we were keeping an eye on the news and updates.  We were travelling along the M62 in sunlight and Easington wasn't far away and we could be there in less than an hour so instead of taking the junction to take to our holiday home we headed for Hull.  As we were entering the outskirts of the city the weather deteriorated and the forcast said it was in for the evening and wouldn't clear until early morning.  So we decide to head for Flamborough and chance that the bird wouldn't move on once the weather broke.  

Next morning though it was very wet the rain had broken and the forcast was good until the late afternoon.  So we headed for Easington about an hour away and duly arrived  and I dropped Jackie off near the site and parked the car.  By the time I had walked back and joined Jackie, who had already seen the bird, were waiting for the vireo to reappear.  Some fifteen minutes or so passed before it reappeared and I managed to get a good view, a British tick for Jackie and myself.  We watched it feeding and moving around the trees for sometime.  Jackie then asked what now and at that moment a Arctic Warbler had been found at the Crown & Anchor car park at Kilnsea, which seemed the obvious next location.
Red-eyed Vireo - Easington © Nick Hull
As we approached the The Crown & Anchor there must have been close to a hundred birders all over the road pouring into the car park.  We made the quick decision to go to the Canel Scrape hide first then have lunch and then return.  At the Canel Scrape hide we did quite well with a Jack Snipe, two or three Redstart, lots of Redwing, Blackbirds with lesser numbers of Song Thrush and Fieldfare flying in off the North Sea in continuous flocks of varying sizes. The highlight was two Ring Ouzel which came in with one of the flocks and fed for a short time on hawthorn berries before moving on again.

We had lunch then headed back to the Crown & Anchor and lo and behold only about a dozen birders.  So we joined them and started to scan the trees in hope of movement.  That movement soon happened and the Arctic Warbler appeared and over the next twenty minutes we had some good views.
Arctic Warbler - Crown & Anchor, Kilnsea © Nick Hull
On our return to Flamborough we stopped off at Hornsea Mere and here we added a female Smew. The Mere is well known for attracting good numbers of Little Gull and we have seen big numbers here in the past but there was only three feeding up and down the Mere but none-the-less very nice to see.
Little Gull - Hornsea Mere © Nick Hull

Friday 18 October 2019

Scarce and Rare Birding in Dorset

On Sunday 6th October Jackie and I had the afternoon free, so where to go? It appeared we had a choice it seemed go for the Black Tern, Scaup and Garganey at Longham Lakes or for the Grey Phalarope and Little Gull at Lodmoor.  We decided on Lodmoor so as soon as we finished lunch we headed off and on arriving we decided to use the car park to save Jackie too much travelling if it should rain.

As we walked around on to the path the first species we saw was a Great White Egret one of four seen that afternoon
Great White Egret - Lodmoor ©Nick Hull
 Though Great White's are very much more commonly seen in recent years they are still very nice to see.   I think they will be breeding in Dorset very soon (my prediction for the week).  There was the usual Mallard and Coot and checking the water other than Black-headed Gulls then scanning the edge of the waterline I noticed the Grey Phalarope walking about in the glasswort.

Distant Grey Phalarope- Lodmoor © Nick Hull
We walked on up the path to the wet scrape hoping for the 1cy Little Gull here, we met a few of the Weymouth birders and was told it was over the back of the reserve.  Checking the area out through bins you could pick it out flying backwards and forwards along stretch of water along the back of the reserve. We waited patiently watching and waiting for it to return to the scrape during which Jackie getting a little bored said she was going to have another look at the phalarope and trundled off down the path.  More or less as she left the Little Gull flew in I had a quick look and called Jackie on the mobile she said I've the Ruff here and its fairly close so after a handful of shots of the Little Gull went to where Jackie was watching the Ruff so both birds we had come to see were seen all within a couple of hours and managed to catch up with a few birding acquaintances. 
1CY Little Gull - Lodmoor RSPB © Nick Hull
Ruff - Lodmoor © Nick Hull
As we arrived home and thinking about what we were going to have for dinner I checked my mobile and found that the Black Tern that had been at Longham had been re-identified as a American Black Tern so we decided to take a chance and go the next morning.

So Monday morning found us at Longham Lakes and it didn't take long to find the tern but it did take a little longer to get any half decent shots of it in the dull overcast weather.
American Black Tern Chlidonias niger surinamensis
We also had the added bonus of seeing the Garganey on the Scarlet Darter pond at the southend.
Garganey - Longham Lakes ©Nick Hull
Overall I think its not been a bad four hours birding though over an afternoon and a morning, what else will the autumn bring.