Sunday, 5 November 2017

Hawfinches irrupt into the UK!

Hawfinch on Yew tree, illustration
A natural event is currently taking place across Britain that is genuinely exceptional, and rather exciting for anyone with an interest in birds. Every birder, me included, is well aware of the difficulty of finding and seeing a Hawfinch. One of the scarcest of British breeding birds, a fleeting glimpse of one of these big beaked, shy and beautifully plumaged finches is normally all we birders can expect, but over the past few weeks many 1000s have been spotted ..its a proper 'irruption'! 

Hawfinch sightings across the UK, 25/10/17
Hawfinches are birds of tall tree-tops or root clusters where windfall fruit seeds gather.

Those hefty beaks powered by strong jaw muscles can exert pressures that make cracking cherry pips and even olive stones a cinch. Mass movements of this kind or 'irruptions' are usually associated with dwindling food sources in a bird's native land as per Waxwings (been a few of those about too) and this may well be the case here but another theory has been gaining credence for this unexpected influx - remember that storm Ophelia? Paul Stancliffe at the British Trust for Ornithology, explained how, in many years living on the Isles of Scilly, he could count on one hand the hawfinches he saw. Last weekend there were 70. “Birdwatchers in southern Britain have enjoyed an influx of this large finch, almost certainly courtesy of ex-hurricane Ophelia. “While this huge storm was spinning anti-clockwise off the west coast of Europe, it was sucking a stream of warm air northwards towards Britain, and presumably, hawfinches, too. “The hawfinches are likely to be birds heading from breeding woodlands in Central Europe to the Mediterranean, but were then pushed towards our shores.” (Paul Stancliffe talking to the Daily Express, 22/10/17)

Hawfinch, East Lancashire, 27/10/17 (pic c/o Jen Coates)
Hawfinch, Poole, 01/11/17 (pic c/o Brian Whally)
They've now spread right across the country with scores of new daily records. Fantastic but I still haven't seen one! Hope to remedy that tomorrow with a trip to the arboretum at Castle Howard where there are a reported 50 or so. I 'll post pics if I get anything decent but as well as the one above here's a few more of these big billed and elusive finches that have been seen up and down the country.

Hawfinch, Sandy, Beds, 31/10/17 (pic c/o rspb images)

Hawfinch, Cotswolds, 03/11/17 (pic c/o Richard Tyler)
I'll get my lens on one soon!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Migrants arrive in numbers on the east coast

Them migrants are back! .. not Syrians, Ethiopians or Poles and not looking for work in the vegetable fields, just birds migrating from north to south at this time of the year and using the UK as a handy stop off point on the journey down. The map on the right shows the main migration routes for Eurasian birds that choose to head south for the winter and although it excludes Greenland & Iceland (where many of our wildfowl & pipits head in from) it's clear that the UK is handily placed to experience this annual event.

At this time of year and when the winds are anywhere from the east (NE, SE or just east) anywhere along our eastern seaboard can be a potentially good spot to see migrant birds that have been blown a bit off course.

'Viz mig' at Spurn, 20/09/17

By all accounts, this year when compared to last, has been a bit underwhelming in terms of 'star' rarities but there have been a few, most of which I've dipped out on😒 but no matter, I've seen plenty of commoner birds migrating on my 4 or 5 trips out to the Yorkshire coast this autumn. 'Viz Mig'  (visible migration) is a term birders use for observing / recording overflying birds that are heading south in the autumn and whilst most common or garden birders can do a bit of this with familiar birds like Swallows, Swifts, Meadow Pipits & various Thrushes and Finches, on the coast its much more obvious. The 'Viz Miggers' at Spurn point bird observatory do a splendid job of this all the year round and posted left shows a typical example of what they get up to all day long .. its a life and they get it!

Red Breasted Flycatcher, Spurn, 27/09/17 (pic c.o. Johnny Holliday)
Been a few of these beauties up and down the east coast so far this year including this eye catching one at Spurn, its a splendid male Red Breasted Flycatcher and how I managed to miss out on this bird when I was there and the bird was showing well is a story I can only admit to my mates.... hey ho there you go, that's what happens when you decide to walk the point to the end and back (7 bloody miles in total from my wellies too!)

Anyway, feast your eyes on this gorgeous looking thing - in the hand and awaiting to be ringed. They breed in across central Asia/ eastern Europe and small numbers regularly land on our shores every autumn. I've seen half a dozen or so but never one as dazzling as this individual.

Yellow Browed Warbler, China
Yellow Browed Warbler, Spurn, 19/09/17 (pic c.o Ian B)
Now here's a bird that hails from even further away than the above and yet we get more and more of them in the UK every year, the iconic Yellow Browed Warbler. A common breeding bird in the Urals, Siberia and China, they traditionally winter in southeast Asia but over the past few decades increasing numbers of these tiny birds seem to have found alternative wintering grounds in western Europe and northern Africa. When you look at the distances involved, plus the not insignificant hurdle of the Himalayas, this all makes sense for some of these birds, but compared to the hundreds, if not thousands, of autumn records across northern Europe, there are only a handful of winter records from the Iberian peninsular and northern Africa. So where do they all end up? Its the kind of mystery all birders love and if you're interested here's one of several decent articles on this 'migration bird swerve' move! Siberian Vagrants - yellow browed warbler

Got my first Yellow Browed at Flamborough last week, sadly no pic but got a great eyeful through the bins .. they're quick moving, not much bigger than a Goldcrest, and shyer so I'll not whack myself too much for never having got a decent pic ... it's all in the challenge!

Back at Spurn and my trek down to the point and back I saw plenty of the common migrants on show ...Whinchats, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Robins and several Redstarts including this confiding individual that had maybe just made landfall and was tired.
Male Redstart, Spurn Point, 27/09/17

Male Redstart, Spurn Point, 27/09/17
 Right down at the end of the point there's an RNLI station and associated accommodation (now disused) and here I saw another couple of Redstarts including one on an old bird table .. only at Spurn!

It seemed to be a day for getting pics of migrant birds in unusual places or perched on various man made artifacts .. I do like a slightly unusual bird pic! Here's a few more plus a few of the 'usual'

Whinchat, Spurn Point, 27/09/17

Spotted Flycatcher, Peter Lane, Spurn, 27/09/17

RNLI houses, Spurn Point

Spurn Point from the air (Alamy images)

European Robin, Spurn point, 27/09/17

Northern Wheatear, Spurn Point, 27/09/17
Northern Wheatear, Spurn Point, 27/09/17
I missed this one but its still there as I speak, so that's today the 10th Oct.
Rose Coloured Starling (juv), Easington, 29/09/17 (pic c.o. magnus anderson)
 .. and this one, long gone now!
Marsh Warbler, Spurn, 24/09/17 (pic c.o. steve valentine)

Spotted Flycatcher with dragonfly, Spurn, 27/09/17
..and a few others but I'm not that bothered, 'twitching' still doesn't come naturally to me! I saw a Spotted Flycatcher catch and eat a dragonfly, a Merlin hunting on the beach and Med Gulls in the mist at Spurn. Seen 100s of Pink Footed Geese fly in from the north and land right in front of me on Hatfield Moor, and then heard a Willow Warbler singing briefly in the car park at the same place. I've watched Redwings and Blackbirds fly in off the sea at Flamborough, got a great eyeful of a Yellow Browed Warbler and then more of the same just the other day on a birding trip out with one of my daughters, Sophie ..that was a real treat and we got some good birds including Fieldfare, Ruff, Brambling, Yellow Browed Warbler, Blackcap and more passage Redwings & Blackbirds. Today (Oct 10th) I've had more passage over Fangfoss - Pink Footed Geese, Redwings, Song Thrush, Skylarks and a female Blackcap. No 'twitching' required to make me happy, though like I said a decent YB Warbler pic would be the icing on my autumn birding!

Here's them geese on Hatfield and a few more pics from my recent trips out.

Pink Footed Geese over Hatfield Moors, 06/10/2017

Pink Footed Geese over Hatfield Moors, 06/10/2017

Pink Footed Geese on Hatfield Moors, 06/10/2017

Blackcap, Buckton, 09/10/20127

Brambling, foghorn station, Flamborough, 09/10/2017

Brambling, foghorn station, Flamborough, 09/10/2017

Ruff, Buckton pond, 09/10/2017
Whinchat, Flamborough headland, 29/09/17
Stonechat, Flamborough headland, 29/09/17

Knots landing, Spurn, 27/09/2017