Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The stars align

7 May 2016

Burnham Overy Staithe

Light south easterly winds overnight with rising temperatures. I awoke to a slightly foggy start to the day. I was up shortly after dawn and after a light breakfast and cup of tea I drove straight to Burnham Overy Staithe. I walked out to the dunes. A Bittern was booming from the reedbed, audible even from the road. I checked the various pools, slightly obscured in the mist. A Common Sandpiper was feeding on one, and lots of Lapwing and Redshank were breeding on the marsh. I checked the bushes at the end of the boardwalk, finding just a single Willow Warbler, then walked to the second patch of bushes where I startled a female Ring Ouzel. It flew to the nearby fence posts where I phone scoped some quick images.

Female Ring Ouzel
I turned to the west and walked out to Gun Hill. A couple of Wheatear and 2 Lesser Whitethroat, a flyover Yellow Wagtail, Redpoll and 2 Sand Martin before I reached the main dune. I checked the beach area where the Little Terns were setting up home for the summer, their wonderful chattering calls overhead. A flock of about 25 Sanderling in various stages of moult, 6 Ringed Plover and 5 Dunlin were roosting on a sand bar, and 2 Common Scoter and 2 Guillemot flew E offshore.

Spotted Flycatcher

As I walked around the Hill a Spotted Flycatcher flushed toward the point bushes. As I arrived it was feeding in the isolated Sycamore with a second bird, while 3 Wheatear fed nearby. I walked back along the point seeing a couple of Common Whitethroat  holding territory. Next I walked east through the dunes checking the bushes. A Kestrel overhead, more views of the female Ring Ouzel and several more Wheatear. 

Northern Wheatear

I reached the edge of Holkham Woods where after checking the bushes in the dunes I scanned over the marsh. A Willow Warbler, a Lesser Whitethroat and several territorial Common Whitethroat. The Great White Egret, now in full summer dress, was perched on a Willow, sporting a black bill. Cormorants were nesting in the trees, Little Egrets fed on the marsh and Lapwing and Redshank were numerous. 


After enjoying views of a singing Cuckoo and photographing the Wheatears I walked back towards the sea wall. Reaching the small apple tree I stopped. There was nothing obvious but always optimistic I started to 'pish'. Suddenly three, then four phylloscopus warblers appeared in the bush, followed by a Spotted Flycatcher inquisitive to find the source of the sound. Three Willow Warbler and a rather drab looking Chiffchaff were instantly identified. However a fifth phyllosc flicked into view - it instantly looked odd and interesting. It was bright, very bright, showing a lemon yellow throat and under tail, and a bright white belly. The pattern and colours recalled a Wood Warbler, yet the shape was Chiffchaff. Its legs were a dark red and its feet paler orange. It was noticeably long winged and its head pattern showed a sharp yellow supercilium, and a reduced pale eye ring only really clear below the eye. It occasional dipped its tail, though far less regularly than the other Chiffchaff. I started to think Iberian Chiffchaff, but it wasn't singing. 

I played a recording of Iberian Chiffchaff. I don't often use playback as I've found the results to generally be negative, often causing a bird to disappear. However on this occasion with a non-singing, potentially rare and very cryptic species I thought it was worth a try as it may result in a reaction of some sort, perhaps a clinching call. And with both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler in the same bush there was at least a control element.

The reaction was instant. Initially the recorded song caused some response from all the birds in the bush, but most lost interest almost immediately and dissolved back into the cover to feed or flicked away out of sight. All except one. The presumed Iberian went into almost slow motion. It stopped feeding, and hopped straight towards me into the outermost and very exposed branches. It showed brilliantly as it moved slowly from branch to branch, looking for the source of the song. It remained on view for several minutes, then started to feed again moving gently into the back of the apple tree. I was able to compare it with both Common Chiffchaff, constant tail dipping, much duller olive green back/wings, dull green wash on greyish underside, jet black legs, fainter supercilium, and noticeably shorter winged; and to several Willow Warbler, framed pale centred cheek, pale orangey pink legs, cleaner below with a flush of yellow to the breast, longer primary projection, pale supercilium and no tail dipping.

Frustratingly I had not carried my camera, not wanting to inflame a rather sore shoulder. I did have my iPhone and my scope, which I'd been using during the morning, and given how well it showed it had to be worth a try. With everything setup I played the recording again. Instantly from out of sight the bright green and yellow Iberian-type Chiffchaff appeared and again came to the front of the bush hopping slowly around and giving me a chance of some images. A feeding Chiffchaff completely ignored the song and continued to feed, and no Willow Warbler reacted at all this time. Taking shots of a moving warbler in an apple tree at 5m range with a phone connected to a telescope was never going to be easy but the subject behaved kindly and I managed a few images. It stayed on view for maybe 5 minutes, before moving down into the base of the bush and evaporating into cover. For comparison I played a short snap of Common Chiffchaff song. No reaction at all, it stayed out of view. Another burst of Iberian Chiffchaff and it came back into the tree, though didn't show so well this time, staying more hidden in the middle of the tree. Unfortunately it did not call at all - in fact none of the phylloscs were vocal this morning.

Slightly obscured, but showing just how vivid and colourful the bird was - almost a Chiffchaff in Wood Warbler clothing
Bright yellow throat, yellow supercilious, white belly and reddish feet

Pale lower mandible

Eye ring restricted to below the eye

Not sharp, but shows the lemon throat

Not sharp but the pale lower mandible and sharp supercilium

Dark, not black legs, and paler reddish feet

Long-winged, with hint of a pale panel in the secondaries

Cropped view of the long-wings

Yellowish throat and under tail coverts
For comparison I took some images of the Common Chiffchaff that was feeding in some low weeds beside the Apple tree. It had shown no interest to the other bird or the Iberian Chiffchaff playback, though did react when I played the Chiffchaff song, stopping feeding and getting slightly agitated briefly.

Common Chiffchaff
Common Chiffchaff
Unfortunately the Iberian Chiffchaff was chased from the bush by a Willow Warbler and despite some effort I failed to relocate it. As I searched the Ring Ouzel flew into the bushes having been flushed by another birder. I walked back for another look, but it flew around the corner and was lost to view. I checked the bushes again for the Iberian Chiffchaff, but with no further sign I decided to head home. 

I set out along the sea wall. As I reached the first corner a very white bellied lark ran across the path ahead of me. I reached for my bins and was surprised and delighted to see a superb Short-toed Lark feeding about 25m away. I quickly got the scope on it and grabbed my phone for some record shots. With some images taken I quickly tweeted my find out to the World, but as I did so a dog walker approached and spooked it into the nearby field. I waited a few minutes and it flew back in allowing a slightly closer approach and some more images before another walker scared it off the path. I didn't see where it went, but moved back to the corner which gave views in both directions along the wall. 

The other birder was still stood by the fence in the dunes. I waved to get his attention but he didn't seem to register. I saw him walk into the dunes and stop as if he had seen something. He scoped it for a while then walked back to the fence. I saw him talking in his phone, then he waved at me. As I walked towards him the Lark reappeared on the wall ahead giving more brief views before it flew again. I walked around to the other birder and he said he'd found a Short-toed Lark in the dunes. I told him I'd been watching it on the wall and so we walked back to see if it had returned. With no sign we tried the dunes and soon relocated the Lark. We watched it feeding for some time before it flew over us and out towards the wall.

Short-toed Lark

Cley NWT

Mac fancied a walk so we headed over to Salthouse for lunch at the Dun Cow and a stroll. We started at Cley where the Black-winged Stilt was sleeping. A smart summer-plumaged Knot was feeding outside the hide, a couple of Dunlin and a variety of smart Ruff, including a bold male displaying with three, rather disinterested, Reeves. The Stilt awoke and gave good views. After lunch we walked around Salthouse checking the various floods and scrapes for any migrants. Just a few more Ruff in various colour forms were seen.

Black-winged Stilt - remarkably only the second ever at Cley


Late afternoon I drove to Titchwell and walked out to the Parinder Hide. Two smart Temminck's Stint, an adult Little Stint, 5 Greenshank, 3 Little-ringed Plover and 3 smart Little Terns were seen on the flood.

Temminck's Stint

Temminck's Stint and Little-ringed Plover


I finished a rather exciting day at Choseley Drying Barns where the traditional Dotterel trip was feeding way out in one of the ploughed fields. The views were distant, but always great to see.