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Saturday, 30 May 2009

STILT SANDPIPER drops in briefly

This is the UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert for Saturday 30 May 2009, issued at 2000 hours and published in association with Rare Bird Alert Pagers whilst utilising additional information gleaned from the Regional Birdlines, BirdGuides, local email groups and individual observers.

Bird of the day was a STILT SANDPIPER which visited the main pool overviewed by the ramp at Grove Ferry (East Kent) early morning but sadly this bird flew SE with 9 Ringed Plovers at 0828 hours and was not seen again. Meanwhile the pratincole gracing the Breaches Pool at Pagham Harbour North Wall (West Sussex) on 28-29 May was reidentified as an ORIENTAL PRATINCOLE, only the sixth record for Britain.

The first-summer SQUACCO HERON remains on Baker's Fen at Wicken Fen NT (Cambs), best viewed from the tarmac track that runs alongside the west side of the fen (permits £5.50 per day), whilst in North Norfolk, a GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK remained for a second day at The Marrams on Blakeney Point, 600 yards west of Coastguards car park. A typically elusive singing male COMMON ROSEFINCH was in the North Bushes at Minsmere RSPB Reserve (Suffolk) this morning

An ALPINE SWIFT was at the south end of Loch Barvas and over the Primary School on Lewis (Outer Hebrides) early morning (Martin Scott) whilst on Shetland, the drake NORTH AMERICAN WOOD DUCK remains on Spiggie, the LESSER SCAUP at Loch of Houlland, GREAT REED WARBLER on Out Skerries, ICTERINE WARBLER at Quendale and a GOLDEN ORIOLE is at Halligarth Plantation, Unst.

A first-summer PURPLE HERON flew into Haverton Reedbed, Saltholme (Cleveland) at 2030 yesterday evening and was seen again briefly today, whilst another landed in the reedbed near White Slea Lodge, Hickling Broad (Norfolk) late morning.

The long-staying reeling male SAVI'S WARBLER was still present today at 70 Acres Lake, Lee Valley Park (Herts/Essex) whilst EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS today included one at Troy Town, St Agnes (Scilly) and another for its third day on the Land's End peninsula. A very elusive singing male MELODIOUS WARBLER was in bushes south of Land's End car park (Cornwall) early morning, with a GOLDEN ORIOLE in flight over Trinity Cottages (following one at Cot Valley yesterday).

A good scattering of RED-NECKED PHALAROPES this week (including two at Belvide Reservoir, Staffs, and a female at Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincs) was followed today by a female on Eyebrook Reservoir (Leics), favouring the north end.

A return to easterlies and high temperatures saw a scattering of Black Terns in SE England, several incoming EUROPEAN HONEY BUZZARDS, a new 'wave' of Garganey, a male MONTAGU'S HARRIER over Flamborough Head (East Yorks) and an adult female RED-FOOTED FALCON west over Gosforth Tennis Club (Northumberland). A male GREY-HEADED WAGTAIL was unusual inland at Queen Mother Reservoir (Berkshire).

Calling COMMON QUAIL include 3 at Aberlady Bay (Lothian), 1 at Longniddry (Lothian), 1 at Auchie Glen (Dumfries & Galloway), 2 on Bardsey Island (Gwynedd) and 1 at Kilton Thorpe (Cleveland).

A late drake AMERICAN WIGEON is at Martin Mere WWT (Lancs).

A crop of WOODCHAT SHRIKES present during the week, including singles at Brandon Marsh NR (Warks) on 29th and at Trough of Bowland (Lancs), failed to show up today. In Staffordshire, the singing male COMMON NIGHTINGALE continues along the Trent and Mersey Canal in Branston Water Park, just north of Tatenhill Loch (at SK 212 205)

With the neap tides failing, there was no sign of the first-summer or adult winter male WESTERN SANDPIPER that had shown seven days on the trot at Dawlish Warren NNR (South Devon)

In IRELAND, an adult FORSTER'S TERN continues to show well on the East End Pool at Tacumshin (County Wexford), with two COMMON QUAIL on Great Saltee (Wexford) and a HOBBY south over Five Mile Point (Wicklow).

Valuable Pratincole comment from finder of first Sussex Oriental

Hello

I see on your blog you are asking for views on the Pagham bird

I don't normally wade in on identification issues where I have not seen the bird in question and also have no particular expertise but as I found the Oriental at Pevensey Levels, East Sussex in 1993 I became particularly interested in this difficult pair and the follow up literature.

In all the discussions on Surfbirds/Birdforum/your blog I have been surprised that no one has mentioned the very comprehensive paper by Driessens and Svensson in Dutch Birding vol 27 (pp 1-35) where they discuss the difficulties at length and examine new characters. In the following paper Driessen also looks at the Afrotropical Collared Pratincole which apparently is more like Oriental and could occur here (?).

When I found the Pevensey bird the most useful feature I noticed, although I did not realise its value at the time, was the extent (or lack of ) red on the underside of the bill when the bird looked upwards. I would expect those who know how to enlarge some of the excellent photos taken should be able to check features such as this.

Hope this is of some use

Robert Edgar

ORIENTAL PRATINCOLE in WEST SUSSEX - an appraisal

I believe Chris Batty has been spot-on with his appraisal of how we have looked into this occurrence. We have got so embroiled and concentrated on one feature (white trailing edge) that it has blinded us all from the obvious. When I first stated to Christian Melgar, Ian Barnard, Jacob and others on site on Thursday evening that the bird was most likely an Oriental (based on its short tail and lack of trailing edge), I immediately talked myself and others out of it when Jacob's images appeared to show a white trailing edge and the bird was in such heavy wear on the upperwings (particularly the secondaries). Once home, my and others views were further entrenched by further images showing this feature, and later Richard's excellent shots.

But yes, all the while we were totally ignoring the facts that all other features (the short tail, tail feather colour and unusual wear) indicated typical Oriental Pratincole. Richard has now shown with his sequence of internet images that this bird clearly fits in with the somewhat typical appearance of many Oriental Pratincoles and that they do vary markedly in the amount of dark saturation on the underparts and there is often extensive contrast between the white lower body and the deeper buff of the breast.

In this instance, I believe we worked far too hard to disprove what should have been a fairly straightforward identification but hey, who would have believed that three species of pratincole would grace Britain with their presence in just one week.

This episode just makes it clear that it is incredibly important to get good images of birds, so that they can be studied in the fullness of time. Richard's contribution to this has been first-rate, and Jacob's, and I commend them for it. It also brings home the fact that you should always travel and see such birds, even if an identification has already been mooted. After both Ian and Owen had phoned the pagers with confirmation of its identity as Collared on Thursday, I phoned Stuart to contradict it and asked him to put 'pratincole species'. We eventually agreed just to revert back to 'probable Collared'. I easily talked myself out of the identification and accepted the argument that the state of wear (arguably totally wrong for any Collared) was accounting for its 'anomalous' features.

I fully apologise for being so reticent in claiming this bird as 'Oriental' despite the fact that I was being inundated with calls suggesting that surely the bird had to be one. It is only now, with Far East input and Richard's images to enjoy and study, that more has become apparent. Will we ever learn - I fully doubt it!

Tantalising Pratincole shots taken by Richard Ford











Oriental or Collared Pratincole - showing well at Pagham North Wall Breach Pool on Thursday and Friday
This bird could be a first-summer Oriental Pratincole.
Please email me if you can add to this difficult identification problem.

ORIENTAL PRATINCOLE !!

Well, the plot is thickening. It has now become clear that first-summer ORIENTAL PRATINCOLE can possess a peripheral whitish trailing edge as shown clearly by the recent Pagham bird - a fact I have always been unsure of. Couple this with the state of the plumage (excessively worn) and the ludicrously short tail, then Oriental is certainly the favoured option. However, all of the adult Oriental Pratincoles I studied in Southern China on migration last April, conformed with the usual assumption that there is little contrast between the underparts; they are very sullied and quite dark in appearance. Does this mean that first-summer Orientals are quite contrasting?

Fabulous flight shots of the Pagham 'Pratincole'

See http://www.digitalwildlife.co.uk/birds/CollPrat.htm for a superb set of images taken today of the Pagham Harbour 'pratincole'

The 'Great and the Good' continue to call for this bird to be reidentified as an Oriental Pratincole on Birdforum apparently (in an identification thread in an RBA section). I can understand why as all of the features they are arguing for, seem very apparent in the field (I too was certainly taken in by its appearance and alerted RBA, Ian Barnard and others to this possibility).

However, Richard Ford has further proven, in his last image on the page, that the bird does in fact have a white trailing edge, albeit marginal, and this feature rules out Oriental Pratincole as far as I know.

The heavily abraded and worn state of the plumage is unusual for Collared Pratincole at this time of year but my guess is is that it is a first-summer bird. The tail is unusually short (Lee G R Evans)

Friday, 29 May 2009

WESTERN SANDPIPER in SOUTH DEVON




Nonbreeding plumaged perhaps first-summer Western Sandpiper, Dawlish Warren NNR, South Devon, 28 May 2009 (James Packer)
Following up my earlier correspondence relating to the 'peep' currently 'summering' at Dawlish Warren NNR in South Devon. At my second attempt yesterday, I finally managed to see the bird for myself and was able to enjoy sensational close views for over an hour at high tide (down to about five feet). I was joined by Somerset birder James Packer and he was able to get some outstanding 'new' images, which I link to below. Also Dawlish regular John Fortey obtained a sequence of video, and photographed the feet (also linked) -:

http://www.somersetbirder.co.uk/may09.htm
http://www.dawlishwarren.co.uk/birdlatest.html

The bird in my opinion is a nonbreeding-plumaged male (most likely first-summer) WESTERN SANDPIPER, based mainly on the structure of the bird, and supporting characters of plumage state and wear and the bill length.

''DETAILED DESCRIPTION (obtained when the bird was roosting with 22 summer-plumaged Dunlin at 5-10 feet range just above the high water mark)

The bird is part of a 64-strong flock of waders currently residing on Dawlish Warren beach, including 21 Sanderling, 5 Ringed Plovers, 5 Grey/Black-bellied Plovers, 32 Dunlin and a single Little Stint. It is markedly smaller than Dunlin but slightly larger than Little Stint and easily picked out from the Dunlin (with which it feeds and roosts) by its drab, predominantly grey 'winter-type' plumage.

The structure of the bird is characteristic, with an overweighted, chest-heavy body structure and a noticeably thick neck. It has a distinctive white supercilium, petering out just behind the eye, and overall, grey (greyish-brown at very close quarters) upperparts. The lower underparts are completely gleaming white, with an obvious 'bracelet' of small streaks forming a broken 'breast-band'. A very few very light streaks extend on to the fore-flanks on both sides.

The mantle and upperwing coverts are uniformly marked grey, with each feather having a dark shaft-streak and pointed towards the tip. There is no hint of any warmth (rufous/chestnut) in any of the feathers. The crown is a shade darker than the rest of the upperparts, furrowed with darker pigmented and slightly blacker feathers. The ear-covert patch is distinctly darker in shade.

The primaries extend to just beyond the tail tip, whilst the secondaries are very frayed and worn

The all-black bill has a moderately thick base and fine tapered tip and lacks the distinctive 'blob-ended' tip that many Semipalmated Sandpipers appear to show. The legs are dark but slimmer than Dunlins and a tad paler, with partial webbing between the toes (confirmed by John Fortey's images and video).

In flight, a white wing-bar was apparent. Unfortunately, no flight calls were heard''

I received some excellent feedback on the identification of this bird from North America and I would very much like to thank Kevin Karlson, Julian Hough, Erik Johnson amongst others for taking the time to contribute to this very intriguing identification puzzle. I would also like to thank Killian Mullarney for his input, as well as Mashuq Ahmad, Mark Bailey, Dave Stone, Kevin Rylands, John Fortey and Ivan Lakin. I have added Kevin Karlson's comments on my Rare Bird Alert blog.

Once again, thanks to all of you that took the time to get involved - it is very much appreciated - and if you have further comments to make, I am more than happy to hear them.
Kevin Karlson of New Jersey commented (see below). Kevin is an expert author and writer of many papers on North American waders and knows both Semipalmated and Western Sandpiper very well, seeing many large flocks of both species every year.
''Lee, initially, after studying Ivan's images which were difficult to analyze, I put forth an opinion of the bird for a long-billed Semipalmated Sandpiper, whose Eastern Canadian breeding females actually overlap with Western Sandpiper in bill length and shape. Some East Canadian Semiplalmated Sandpipers have finer-tipped bills that droop at the tip more noticeably than small billed male Westerns.
However, the new photos definitely show an undeniable WESTERN SANDPIPER.While plumage is really not definitive between these two nonbreeding species, Western tends to show a cooler gray upperpart shading, like your bird, and a lack of contrast for the crown and nape, which many Semis show. A larger amount of white feathering on the forecrown and lower cheek is also better for nonbreeding Western, with Semi showing less white in both areas, and a typically darker cheek as well. However, the structure of this bird is distinctive for Western , with its overweighted, chest-heavy body structure; thick-necked appearance; and blocky versus small, rounded head shape on Semipalmated. The bill shape is perfect for male Western as well, with a moderately thick base and fine tapered tip, although a bill like this is not out of the question for Semipalmated. The last photo of the bird walking right shows a perfect representation of Western body shape, with overweighted chest, shoulders and neck, unlike the very uniform, balanced body proportions of Semipalmated. These structural differences work throughout the year, and are better field characters to base an ID on nonbreeding birds. I see tens of thousands of Westerns in Texas every spring, and work really hard to find a Semipalmated in April, and then return to NJ and see tens of thousands of Semipalmateds, with Westerns much more difficult to find in spring. However, in August, I might see 500 Westerns at an Atlantic beach near my house, and only find a handful of Semis on this particular migratory beachfront, so I enjoy working with these two species. I rarely see a Western or Semipalmated in real life that I cannot identify by shape and structure. Photos, however, can be misleading, so I am sorry for my previous e-mail supporting Semipalmated. Take my name off that supporting list. This bird is a Western without question''

COLLARED PRATINCOLE in West Sussex
















Response to Ian Barnard
As you know, I enjoyed excellent views of this bird last night, as it was flying back and forth in excellent light at between 50 and 150 yards distance over the Breach Pool at the North Wall, Pagham Harbour. It is a typical example of a 'worn' pratincole that we seem to get in Britain every now and again in the summer months.
The bird was present from mid evening until dusk and again early this morning before flying off high west (Owen Mitchell et al).

It is clearly NOT the Collared Pratincole that graced Cley NWT Reserve (Norfolk) and then Swillington Ings (West Yorks) after its departure, as that bird had an obvious white trailing edge to the secondaries.

As this Sussex bird afforded excellent study opportunities, it was clear that it was in moult, with two of its outer primary feathers quite abraded. Perhaps as a result of this wear, there was no evidence of a trailing edge on either wing, and the tail feathers were particularly short. However, the bill base colour and extent, and the underpart pattern (marked contrast between buff and white) were typical of Collared Pratincole.

The fact that it had virtually no white visible led observers to naturally consider the possibility of Oriental Pratincole, a species so similar that it is easily overlooked. Fortunately, Jacob Everitt (amongst others) managed to take a large selection of photographs as it flew overhead and closeby and he very kindly emailed me a collection to study (see five of these published above). The state of the plumage is confirmed in Jacob's images, and in the odd image, you can just about see the odd whitish feather in the secondary line. It can therefore be assumed that the bird is a moulting COLLARED PRATINCOLE rather than an Oriental Pratincole.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

PAINTED LADY IRRUPTION



Painted Lady (Mike Duffy)

Two weeks ago, Robert Fuge, Joan Thompson, Sue Bryan, Paul Jeffery and I recorded 'unbelievable' numbers of PAINTED LADY butterflies migrating north across the Atlas Mountain region in Northern Morocco (North Africa). The migrating insects spanned at least 100 kilometres of road and involved many 'millions' of insects (thousands were getting run over by vehicles).

This past weekend saw many of these same insects arriving in the UK and the Butterfly Conservation Website is inviting all of you to take part in a nationwide survey this coming weekend (see note below) (Lee Evans)

*Butterfly Conservation’s UK-wide count of Painted Lady’s - 30th May 2009 *I

n the UK millions of Painted Lady butterflies have arrived in recent daysand more are likely to arrive with sunny weather and favourable windsforecast over the coming weekend.

There is a unique opportunity to get better information on the nature andscale of this spectacular and unprecedented migration by taking part in aUK-wide count.

Butterfly Conservation are inviting interested recorders tocarry out a two hour sample count from 11:00 -13:00 (UK time) on Saturday30th May. This will enable objective comparison with all other sitesrecorded in the same way.The data can be entered online at Butterfly Conservation’s website.http://www.butterfly-conservation.org/sightings/1097/painted_lady_butterfly.html

Simply record the total number that you see flying through your set searcharea over the full two hours of observation (including the 10% or more thatare likely to stop briefly to feed before carrying on migrating). Yoursearch area will either be your garden or over a 20 wide strip ofcountryside (10m either side of where you stand stationary for the twohours). Pick somewhere with a good view and do not record beyond 20m.If you do not see any add a zero count - negative records are equallyimportant.In the notes box of the sightings form – add in this information, with a newline for each (1) confirm that you carried out a full sample count by addingin the time “11:00-13:00”. (2) add ‘OK’ to confirm that the weather wassuitable for butterfly flight (3) add your count area – either as ‘Mygarden” or “20m wide strip” for all other counts in suitable open terrainand (4) add the direction of migration eg “NW” for flying north-west.


Please continue to enter all other counts separately on the same website,including any counts made from 11:00-13:00 if the weather was not suitablefor butterfly migration (cold, very windy) and counts made over differenttime periods and recording bands.A small number of sites are needed for more intensive recording. If you areinterested in taking part over a longer time period (6 hours or more) pleaseemail info@butterfly-conservation.org with the subject header Painted LadyCount.


Good luck and fingers crossed that the weather is suitable for what shouldbe a fascinating day!Tom BreretonRichard FoxButterfly Conservation

Twitchable EUROPEAN POLECATS in South Buckinghamshire




If anyone is interested, five 'baby' EUROPEAN POLECATS survived from a den this spring and four of those (one sadly died) have been showing incredibly well in front of one of the small hides at College Lake BBOWT Reserve near Tring. This is a rare opportunity indeed to study this primarily nocturnal animal at close range (see the awesome photographs on my Tring website - http://birdingtringreservoirs.blogspot.com/

College Lake is open from 0900 to 1700 hours except for Mondays when it is closed all day. Day Permits may be purchased from the Information Centre, from where full directions will be given to the viewing hide (capable of holding no more than four observers at any given time).

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

SQUACCO gets top billing



Felixstowe's first-summer SQUACCO HERON relocated to Baker's Fen, Wicken (Cambs) on Sunday and was still showing intermittently today, feeding voraciously on small fish on the main flood (easily viewable from the tarmac track that runs along the western side of the fen, a 20-minute walk from the reserve car park). (see Matthew Dean's superb photograph above)

An adult summer LAUGHING GULL was discovered at Marton Mere LNR, Blackpool (Lancs) mid-morning and performed for a constant stream of admirers until 1800 hours when it flew off west, whilst an adult summer FRANKLIN'S GULL was on the beach at Westing and on the Loch of Snarravoe Unst (Shetland). A further adult LAUGHING GULL visited the island near Meadow Lake Hide at Testwood Lakes HWT, Southampton (Hants), from 1300-1325 hours before flying off south.

The Grove Ferry BLACK-WINGED PRATINCOLE was still present early morning before relocating a few hours later at Elmley Marshes RSPB (Kent), where it favoured the flood visible from Southfleet Hide for some time. Meanwhile, the Swillington Ings COLLARED PRATINCOLE was hawking for insects over St Aidan's Flash western reedbed early morning, with one of yesterday's 3 WHISKERED TERNS still performing over Astley Lake. One of these visited Fairburn Ings RSPB (West Yorks) during the day, with two for much of the day over the Dearne Valley, Wombwell Ings RSPB (South Yorks).

At high tide, the winter-plumaged 'peep' most likely a WESTERN SANDPIPER was with Sanderling and Dunlin on the eastern beach at Dawlish Warren NNR (South Devon) - this bird being first seen on 8 April.

The three wide-ranging EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS that moved between Dorset and Kent yesterday were on wires at the west end of Rye Harbour Long Pits (East Sussex) early morning before flying off strongly east, whilst a COMMON ROSEFINCH was seen briefly at Gun Hill, Burnham Overy Dunes (Norfolk). A HOOPOE was seen briefly at Elmley Marshes RSPB (Kent).

A first-summer male RED-FOOTED FALCON remained overnight at Hatfield Moors (South Yorks), showing well at Kilham West at the east end of Ten Acre Lake until mid-morning.

The first MARSH WARBLERS are starting to turn up, with singing males at Kilnsea (in Beacon Lane) (East Yorks) and another at Hatch Pond LNR, Poole (Dorset), whilst the long-staying SAVI'S WARBLER is still reeling from the reedbed on the west side of 70 Acres Lake (Herts/Essex).

It has been an exceptional spring for EURASIAN SPOONBILLS with good numbers scattered around the country. Today, two were at Druridge Pools (Northumberland), 5 at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB (Cheshire), 4 at Elmley Marshes RSPB (North Kent), 3 on the North Marsh at North Warren RSPB, Aldeburgh (Suffolk), 2 on Parkgate Marsh (Cheshire), 2 at Llanelli WWT (Carmarthenshire), 1 at Slimbridge WWT (Gloucs), 1 at Goldcliff Lagoons (Gwent) and an adult at Kinneil Lagoon, Grangemouth (Forth). The GREAT WHITE EGRET continues at Saltholme Pools RSPB (Cleveland) whilst a late CATTLE EGRET was on the Pevensey Levels (East Sussex) for a second day.

A first-summer drake AMERICAN WIGEON remains present for a second day on the pools by the Tay Reedbeds just west of Port Allen (Perthshire), with the adult drake SURF SCOTER still off Blackdog (Aberdeenshire) and a drake RING-NECKED DUCK at North Locheynort, South Uist (Outer Hebrides), whilst a fine RED-NECKED PHALAROPE graced Tarland Waste Water Treatment Pool, Aberdeen, from mid-afternoon until dusk.

A trip of 3 DOTTEREL was in fields south of Donna Nook coastguards (North Lincs) briefly, whilst calling SPOTTED CRAKES included singles at Loch of Kinnordy RSPB (Tayside) and on Brownsea Island NT, Poole Harbour (Dorset).

Saturday, 23 May 2009

YORKSHIRE hits the big time

What is presumably Norfolk's COLLARED PRATINCOLE relocating was present at New Swillington Ings' Astley Lake from 1917 hours this evening, best accessed from Fleet Lane in Oulton. Meanwhile, a singing male MELODIOUS WARBLER has spent the day singing from bushes at the Canal Scrape Zone at Spurn Point and a TEREK SANDPIPER spent an hour or more at Patrington Haven (from where it flew off east at 1835). Earlier, a BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER was found on Hatfield Moors, about a mile north of Boston Park car park (accessed along the nature trail 500 yards beyond the Memorial and present on the new scrapes behind the Prison Lakes). Just north of Yorkshire, the GREAT WHITE EGRET remains at Back Saltholme Pool (Cleveland).

Elsewhere, Dorset boasts two different WOODCHAT SHRIKES - a male for its second day in the Top Field paddocks at Portland Bill and another SW of Swanage at Dancing Ledge on the east side by the first gate, whilst an adult GULL-BILLED TERN flew downriver from Topsham (South Devon) at 1755. The long-staying BLACK-WINGED PRATINCOLE remains at Grove Ferry NNR (Kent) visible from the viewing mound.

A female RED-BACKED SHRIKE was along Warren Lane at Hopton-on-Sea (Norfolk) this afternoon, whilst 3 EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS flew west over Cley NWT visitor centre at 1400. A male RED-BACKED SHRIKE was on Dartmoor (South Devon) at the regular haunt near Warren House Inn in scrub by the track to Soussons Plantation, with another in Fife at Tentsmuir Point NR.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Pratincoles rule ok !!













































































RECENT IMAGES
1) COLLARED PRATINCOLE, Cley NWT, Norfolk, May 2009 (Mike Lawrence)
2-3) BLACK-WINGED PRATINCOLE, Stodmarsh NNR, Kent, May 2009 (Marc Heath)
4) PALLID SWIFT, Seaforth NR/Crosby Marine Lake, Lancashire, May 2009 (Steve Seal)
5-7) PALLID SWIFT, St Mary's, Scilly, May 2009 (Robin Mawer)
8) LITTLE BITTERN, female, Porthellick Pool, St Mary's, Scilly, May 2009 (Mark Prestwood)
9-10) MELODIOUS WARBLER, Great Orme, Clwyd, May 2009 (Marc Hughes)
11-12) EURASIAN SPOONBILL, Alvecote Pools, Warks, May 2009 (Mark Priest)

This is the UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert for Thursday 21 May, issued at midnight.

Two rare pratincoles continue to be the main attractions, both present on the East Coast.

The BLACK-WINGED PRATINCOLE remains in East Kent - commuting between Grove Ferry (where it can be best observed from the observation ramp) and the Marsh Hide at Stodmarsh NNR.

DIRECTIONS

The Black-winged Pratincole is spending the majority of its time roosting on the slightly raised muddy bund about 85 yards in front of the Marsh Hide at Stodmarsh NNR.

From Canterbury town centre, take the A257 east towards Sandwich and after just over a mile out of town, turn left on to Stodmarsh Road (at TR 173 579). Follow this minor and often winding road for just under four miles into Stodmarsh village and at the Red Lion public house, turn left on to the access track to the reserve car park (situated after 250 yards at TR 216 610).

From the car park, take the boardwalk into the wooded area and after 200 yards turn right at the junction and veer immediately left to take the muddy path with the obvious ditch on the right. Continue along this track for 750 yards and where it meets the cattle field, turn immediately left along another obvious footpath. After a further 600 yards you will come out at the Marsh Hide, from where the BWP spends most of its day roosting. It occasionally takes feeding foray flights eastwards towards Grove Ferry reserve and when first in the vicinity, often visited Collards Lake to the west

Meanwhile, in North Norfolk, an adult COLLARED PRATINCOLE continues to grace Cley NWT Reserve, where today it moved between the North Scrape, the Eye Field and the main scrapes visble from Daukes and Teal Hides. The reserve also harbours 2 EURASIAN SPOONBILLS on Billy's Wash, Little Stint and a Wood Sandpiper. Earlier in the week, the pratincole spent most of its daylight hours frequenting the cattle grazing fields on Blakeney Freshmarsh, where it could be viewed distantly from Friary Hills.

It has been an exceptional spring for RED-RUMPED SWALLOW occurrences, with another this morning flying south past the Seawatching Hide at Spurn Point (East Yorks), whilst one of the longest-ever staying PALLID SWIFTS of all time continues to zoom back and forth over Crosby Marine Park and Seaforth NR (Lancs) for its third week.

An adult summer LAUGHING GULL flew north over Skomer Island (Pembs) early evening, with a 2nd-summer still present at Boddam (Shetland)

The reeling male SAVI'S WARBLER remains in the main reedbed at 70 Acres Lake, Lee Valley CP (Herts/Essex), showing occasionally (park at Fisher's Green car park), with a passage ICTERINE WARBLER at Easington Green Lane (East Yorks) this afternoon.

SPOONBILLS have appeared in earnest in recent days with one still at Leighton Moss RSPB (Lancs), a first-summer and two adults north over the John Weston Reserve, Naze (Essex), at 1014, an adult on saltmarsh on the Inland Sea (Anglesey), one at the Ouse Washes RSPB (Cambs) (in front of Stockdales Hide), 4 at Holland Haven (Essex) and 3 adults at Elmley RSPB (Kent), whilst GREAT WHITE EGRETS include singles at Saltholme Pools RSPB (Cleveland) and at the lower lakes, Shear Water (Wilts). A COMMON CRANE was between Grimston and Garton (East Yorks) briefly before flying south

A BLACK KITE flew west over Rendlesham Forest (Suffolk) at 1320 hours, with two EUROPEAN HONEY BUZZARDS north over the A47 near Great Yarmouth (Norfolk)

A pair of ROSEATE TERNS was at Titchfield Haven NNR (Hants) today, with a TEMMINCK'S STINT on Ferry Lagoon, Fen Drayton GP (Cambs)

The long-staying drake NORTH AMERICAN WOOD DUCK remains on Loch Spiggie (Shetland) whilst on the same archipelago a late BOHEMIAN WAXWING was at Esha Ness, a BLUETHROAT at Virkie Willows and an ICTERINE WARBLER at Wester Quarff.

In the Outer Hebrides, skua passage has resumed with a switch to SW winds, with 19 LONG-TAILED and 31 POMARINE north past Aird an Runair, North Uist, today, whilst an adult male SNOWY OWL was again at Hirta, St Kilda.

Sadly, there was no sign today of yesterday's cracking male ORTOLAN BUNTING that spent the afternoon at Bradshaw Lane Head Feeding Station at Pilling Moss (Lancashire). There was also no sign today of the SQUACCO HERON in the King's Fleet, Felixstowe (Suffolk).

In IRELAND, a first-summer BALEARIC WOODCHAT SHRIKE remains at Rathangan, Duncormick (County Wexford), in the field behind the house, with a first-year SNOWY OWL showing well on Inishkea North Island (County Mayo).

Thursday, 21 May 2009

BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD ON FAIR ISLE











The second BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD for Britain arrived on Fair Isle (Shetland) during a dramatic fall of other Nearctic vagrants (including a SOLITARY SANDPIPER, 2 LAUGHING GULLS and a FRANKLIN'S GULL on Shetland) from 6-8 May 2009. Although the best part of £600 had to be spent in order to connect with this bird, the following 'chequebook birders' secured it on their British Life Lists - Brett Richards (who obtained the four images published above), John Hewitt, Kevin Denny, Malcolm Roxby, John Regan, Steve Gantlett, Neil Alford, Mel Billington, the Invisible Man, Chris Batty, Andrew Holden, Vicky Turner, Malcolm Goodman, Matt Mulvey, Alan Clewes, Paul Chapman, Stuart Piner, Simon King and Dougie Barr. One group of Shetlanders also connected (including Dennis Coutts, Steve Minton and Jason Atkinson), with a total of just 41 observers in total.

The only previous British record was of a first-summer male which associated very closely with cattle at Ardnave Point, Islay (Argyll) from mid afternoon until at least 1815 hours on 24 April 1988. It was feeding on barley/oat seeds and insects, pocking at this food source after a short flight or run, and could be watched dehusking the seeds by rotating them in its bill like a Greenfinch. This unique occurrence was witnessed by just one fortunate observer (Clive McKay) and was fully documented by him in British Birds 87: 284-288.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

NEW LEADER AT THE TOP

With 6 new birds up for grabs in the first 20 days of May 2009 (Pallid Swift, Eastern Bonelli's Warbler, Crested Lark, White-collared Flycatcher, Black-winged Pratincole and Brown-headed Cowbird), I have been busy today fully updating all of the Life List submissions. Some individuals with life lists exceeding 450 species scored an incredible 5 new birds !

We have a surprising new leader at the top of the pile and it is not Ron Johns or the Invisible Man - both have fallen and Chris Heard is now forced into 5th place - see the UK400 Club website (www.uk400clubonline.co.uk) later for full updates

Best wishes

Lee Evans

Total of species has now risen to 350 species

May 2009 has proved exciting and challenging as some ace quality vagrants have turned up. Since my last update, a further 33 species have occurred in Britain and Ireland, bringing the total to a formidable 350 species. One record (Semipalmated Sandpiper or Western Sandpiper in South Devon) is still under review.

The additions are thus -:

1) Cory's Shearwater
2) European Storm Petrel (first returning migrants)
3) Leach's Petrel (10 off Aird an Runair, North Uist)
4) LITTLE BITTERN (female on Scilly)
5) SQUACCO HERON (elusive first-summer in Suffolk)
6) PALLID HARRIER (juvenile photographed in East Norfolk)
7) Common Quail (the odd early migrant)
8) Spotted Crake (a few calling males on breedng territory)
9) COLLARED PRATINCOLE (well-twitched bird in North Norfolk)
10) BLACK-WINGED PRATINCOLE (well-twitched bird at Stodmarsh NNR, Kent)
11) Red-necked Phalarope (early migrant on Tiree)
12) Long-tailed Skua (typical numbers on the West Coast)
13) LAUGHING GULL (1-2 adults on Shetland)
14) Roseate Tern (several)
15) WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERN (6+ vagrants)
16) PALLED SWIFT (an unusually long-stayer at Seaforth/Crosby and a further vagrant on Scilly)
17) EUROPEAN BEE-EATER (several vagrant groups seen briefly)
18) CRESTED LARK (well-received vagrant at Dungeness, Kent)
19) TAWNY PIPIT (photographed bird in Suffolk)
20) CITRINE WAGTAIL (first-summer female at Cley NWT, Norfolk)
21) THRUSH NIGHTINGALE (6+ vagrant males)
22) BLYTH'S REED WARBLER (brief bird in North Norfolk)
23) Marsh Warbler (one very early migrant)
24) GREAT REED WARBLER (vagrant on Scilly)
25) Icterine Warbler (good spate of passage migrants)
26) Melodious Warbler (unusual number of spring vagrants)
27) GREENISH WARBLER (2+ singing males)
28) HUME'S LEAF WARBLER (spring bird at Kilnsea)
29) EASTERN BONELLI'S WARBLER (vagrant on Portland, Dorset)
30) Red-backed Shrike (several migrant males)
31) ORTOLAN BUNTING (male at Flamborough Head)
32) RUSTIC BUNTING (vagrant male on Shetland)
33) BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (vagrant on Fair Isle for three days - seen by just 41 observers)

Monday, 4 May 2009

UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert for Monday 4 May

This is the UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert for Monday 4 May 2009, issued at 2300 hours and published in association with Rare Bird Alert Pagers whilst utilising additional information gleaned from the Regional Birdlines, BirdGuides, local email groups and websites and individual observers.

The Dungeness CRESTED LARK was still present very early morning, ranging widely across the 'Desert' and seen again first thing fairly close to 'Sleepers Cottage'. However, despite further extensive searching, it was not seen again after 0630 hours. The Southwell COLLARED FLYCATCHER was last seen on Saturday (3 May). An EASTERN BONELLI'S WARBLER was at Avalanche Road Hump, Southwell (Portland, Dorset), on Friday 2 May, affording good views for 275 observers during the afternoon.

In cloudy and often wet conditions today, the PALLID SWIFT first seen last Wednesday continued to perform very well throughout, commuting between the Seaforth Nature Reserve (permit access only) and Crosby Marine Lake adjacent. It is consorting with just a small group of Common Swifts and can be easily picked out by its much paler (brown) plumage, translucent secondaries, two-tone upper wing pattern, more rounded silhouette and slower more labouring flight. Steve Seal amongst others has obtained some excellent portraits of the bird. Pallid Swifts are often at their palest in spring and this individual is a typical example. When over the Marine Lake and car park, the bird affords superb views. Use the northernmost car park off of Cambridge Road and A565 Crosby Road South at SJ 317 976. Seaforth NR and its freshwater pool may be viewed through the steel fence.

A small 'peep' in full winter/first-summer-type plumage, initially seen on 8 April, visited Bowling Green Marsh RSPB, Topsham (South Devon) at high tide mid-afternoon and was later relocated on the River Exe upstream of the Turf Hotel at Exminster. It is possibly a WESTERN SANDPIPER.

At Lakenheath Fen RSPB Reserve (Suffolk), two calling male GOLDEN ORIOLES have returned to the Black Poplar Plantations, whilst closeby, a first-summer PURPLE HERON spent the day in a ditch just north of the Little Ouse River at Hockwold Fen. An adult of the latter was reported briefly from Fen Drayton Elney Lake (Cambs).

The male SAVI'S WARBLER remains for its 5th day at 70 Acres Lake, Cheshunt GP (Herts/Essex border), reeling intermittently from 0400-1800 hours in the main reedbed overlooked by Post 24 and the canal towpath on the west side of the pit. The gates to the car parks are locked at 1930 hours prompt and open at 0915.

On the Isles of Scilly, a LITTLE BUNTING was present in fields along Pool Road close to Rowesfield Crossroads

A female KENTISH PLOVER was a good find at Black Point, Hayling Island (Hants), whilst in Norfolk, 2 DOTTEREL were present in a peafield near Waxham Pipe Dump until mid-morning (a female was also still present at The Range, South Uist). Two CURLEW SANDPIPERS at Rutland Water this afternoon were early.

A CATTLE EGRET arrived at Rutland Water's Egleton Reserve (Leics) this morning, showing near the church until late morning, whilst the two EURASIAN SPOONBILLS that were previously on the Isle of Wight at Newtown NNR visited Titchfield Haven NNR (Hants) early morning. The long-staying GREAT WHITE EGRET was still present at Dolydd Hafren MWT Reserve (Powys).

A drake North American Green-winged Teal was present on the second lagoon west of Shapwick Heath NNR car park (Somerset) with another still present at Loch of Strathbeg RSPB (Aberdeenshire) and a new arrival at Marloes Mere (Pembs)

It was a good day for passage WOOD SANDPIPERS inland, with a few Whimbrels, whilst fresh SW winds saw impressive numbers of POMARINE SKUAS migrating up the West Coast with 22 past Bowness-on-Solway viaduct (Cumbria) and an impressive 228 north past Aird an Runair on North Uist (Outer Hebrides).

A female MONTAGU'S HARRIER is present for a second day at Woodbury Common (South Devon), viewable from just south of the Warren car park, whilst a first-summer male RED-FOOTED FALCON flew SW over Holkham Pines (Norfolk).

It has been an excellent spring for RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS with another this morning at Dawlish Warren NNR (South Devon), this location also attracting the first 2 adult ROSEATE TERNS of the year. In North Devon, a WRYNECK was on Lundy Island.

In Northern Scotland, a superb summer-plumaged adult WHITE-BILLED DIVER remains offshore of the Burghead Maltings building (Moray & Nairn), presumably the bird present last spring (and incidentally rejected by BBRC!) and a first-year drake KING EIDER was offshore at the northern end of Strathbeg RSPB (Aberdeenshire) early afternoon.

There are reports of up to 2 BLACK KITES in Essex in recent days, with both over Braxted Park at 1800 hours on 4th and 1 north over Weald Bridge this morning.

A very confiding TAWNY PIPIT (the first of 2009) was excellently photographed in short grass at Sutton Heath Sewage Works (Suffolk) yesterday evening, where a suppressed BLACK-WINGED STILT graced the Walberswick Bailey Bridge Pools recently for four days.

Still relatively quiet in IRELAND with a drake AMERICAN WIGEON on the Whitehead side of the bridge at Ballycarry Creek, Larne Lough (Co. Antrim) and the party of 8 CATTLE EGRETS on the Tourig Estuary (Co. Waterford). The adult FORSTER'S TERN is still at Tacumshin's East End Pool (Co. Wexford), with a PECTORAL SANDPIPER and 4 GARGANEY nearby in the main channel, and an early first-summer CURLEW SANDPIPER. A male SNOW BUNTING was in Glasagh Bay (Co. Donegal).

LEE VALLEY PARK SAVI'S WARBLER

Ian Kendall discovered a reeling male SAVI'S WARBLER in the Lee Valley Park (Hertfordshire/Essex border) late evening on Thursday 30 April. It was reeling from the extensive reedbed on 70 Acres Lake at TQ 367 031 and sang constantly from 1900-2100 hours. Although all of 70 Acres Lake is currently claimed by Essex County Council, with the new border now following the canal, for a very long period prior to this political change the border followed the River Lee, almost a mile to the east - so in essence, this bird is politically Essex at this time but may revert back to Hertfordshire later in the future (I tend to agree with Graham White and Adam Wilson and others that for constant recording of birds in this area, we stick with previous arrangements, particularly when one considers the many years of data collated from Cheshunt GP in the Hertfordshire Bird Reports).

The bird was seen well by Mike Ilett and Phil Ball early the next morning and reeled almost continuously from 0400 to 0900 hours, becoming more and more intermittent to late morning. It became quite for most of the day but then started up again in the evening, and reeled fairly constantly from 1800 to 2100 hours. It was seen briefly on a number of occasions (LGRE et al).

This same pattern of events has continued on subsequent days with the bird still present on Sunday evening (3 May).

DIRECTIONS: Although 70 Acres Lake is served by two public car parks - at Fishers Green at TQ 378 032 and at Hooks Marsh at TQ 376 026 - please note that these car park gates are locked at 1930 hours promptly each evening and do not open until 0915 in the morning. Obviously with the Savi's Warbler being mainly crepuscular in its activities, it is best to park just outside the gates. More convenient is Cadmore Lane, beyond the railway (accessed from the A10 and Cheshunt High Street).

For Fisher's Green car park, leave the M25 at Junction 25 and continue north on the A10 to the first Waltham Cross roundabout. Turn right here on Winston Churchill Way to the next roundabout and traffic lights. Continue right at the roundabout on to Monarch's Way and at the next roundabout continue east on the A121 Eleanor Cross Road towards Waltham Abbey. After several sets of traffic lights and a McDonalds restaurant on your right, you will come to the Abbeyview roundabout and bypass. Continue round this until you reach the B194 in Waltham Abbey where you head north towards Holyfield. After 1.4 miles, turn left on the sharp bend towards Hayes Hill Farm and Lee Valley Park car park.

Once at the Bittern Watchpoint Hide (just across the bridge from the car park), follow the towpath west for 400 yards and then skirt left down the line of Poplars with 70 Acres Pit on your left and the canal/river on your right. After a further 250 yards you will eventually pass the lock and reach Post 24 and from gaps in the hedge 85 yards further south, the area of reeds and Willows from which the Savi's is reeling from can be overlooked. The bird is some 70-90 yards out in the reedbed and very difficult to locate. If it is calm weather, it may climb to just below the tops of the reedbed and be 'scopable. A 'scope is essential for viewing.

Previous Hertfordshire Records of Savi's Warbler

1) A male was reeling at Stanstead Abbots GP from 22nd-27th April 1979 (Howard Medhurst et al) (Birds in Hertfordshire 1979: 18)..

2) A male was reeling from a small island in 70 Acres Pit on 20-21 May 1981 (D.N.Clayden, John Fitzpatrick, M.J.Oakland et al) (Birds in Hertfordshire 1981: 49).

3) A reeling male at Rye Meads Sewage Farm from 2-5 May 1989 was trapped and ringed on 3rd (C. Cottrell) (Hertfordshire Bird Report 1989: 447)..

4) An adult male was trapped and ringed at the constant effort site at Wilstone Reservoir, Tring, on 14 July 1989 and found to be wearing a BTO ring (number E707693). Most remarkably it had been ringed just two months earlier (on 9 May 1989) at Brandon Marshes in Warwickshire (81 kms to the NW) and constituted the first ever control of Savi's Warbler in Britain (J.K.Baker, W.J.Peach & G.M.Tucker) (Hertfordshire Bird Report 1989: 447).

The Lack of respect in British Birding

Following up on Derek's earlier email about behaviour at twitches and a few consequent responses, I must say that British birding for me seemed to die in or around 1999. Despite that year being an exceptional and most incredible autumn on Scilly, the following year saw a heavy slump in visitor numbers. Sadly, it has never recovered.......and perhaps never will.

Now I know that the main reason that many birders no longer travel to Scilly is because of the ridiculous costs now incurred (very little change out of £1,000 for a 10-day visit), but the demise of Scilly really has gone a long way to decimating British twitching as we once knew it.

For over 35 years, Scilly was the highlight of my life and I would look forward all year to my 4-week stay. To be a good all-round birder, one really has to serve a long apprenticeship and after spending say 8-12 years learning all of the field characters and vocalisations of the 259 most common and easily seen of British birds off by heart, the Scilly years would put you in very good stead in terms of the rarer scarce migrants and blinding vagrants to be seen. Scilly was THE place to get experience in the most difficult of plumages with these rarer species and THE best place to get experience and learn from others. It was also THE place to form brilliant birding relationships with other like-minded individuals (many to last a lifetime) and to spawn and plan mind-blowing international trips. It was second-to-none as a birding meeting place and as a birding destination in terms of variety.

It was Brian Mellow that first introduced me to Scilly in 1974 and I instantly fell in love with the place. At that time, Brian and Pete Maker were obsessive Cornish rarity-hunters and their enthusiasm soon rubbed off on me. The feeling when we all saw a Cetti's Warbler at Skewjack Pools was ecstatic, and after they took me to St Ives Island in Cornwall, I became hooked on seawatching.

In those (relatively) early days of Scilly, I soon met my birding heroes - Dave Holman, Steve Broide, Paul Dukes, Keith Vinicombe, Baz Harding, the late Rupert Hastings, the late Peter Grant, Ray Turley, Tim Inskipp, Richard Grimmett, Dick Filby, Andrew Moon and Mick Turton amongst others. All were excellent field observers, very meticulous, highly observant and always willing to offer a young boy like me help and guidance. I was overwhelmed by their knowledge and badgered them relentlessly for more information.

Later I was to meet Chris Heard and Grahame Walbridge - very slightly older than me - but boy absolutely red-hot and a mine of information. Chris Heard was to grow into an exceptional birding being in every way and it was he that spurred me on to get better and strive for that extra mile, even to today. And then there was Craig Robson and John Eames......and then Richard Millington and Steve Gantlett. These guys were my heritage and I will be forever indebted to them. In the early to mid 1980's, many more stood in their shoes, and we had Paul Holt, Julian Hough, Mark Golley, Mushaq Ahmad, Richard Crossley, the late Tim Andrews and Tim Lawrence, Barry Reed, Kevin Shepherd, Ian Lewington, John Hewitt, Kevin Wilson, Graham Speight, Bob Hibbert, Tony Prater, John Marchant and countless others serving their respective apprenticeships on the archipelago, as well as all the Scilly-faithfuls such as Tony Smith, Lester Mulford, Bryan Bland, Pete Milford, Martin Coath, Ted Griffiths, Vic Tucker, Viv Stratton, Harry Robinson, Rod Hirst, Ken Shaw, Doug Page, Brian Short, James Wolstencroft, John Cooper, Richard Fairbank, Richard Drew and Ray O'Reilly all learning their trade and sharpening their identification skills.

The 1980's also saw the establishment of international ties with powerful birding minds with the Eilat phenomena and birding migration spectacle being the playground and meeting place for many years. Birding skills were honed further here and identification abilities nurtured. It was here that I made many friends, including Per Alstrom, Dick Forsman, Annika Forsten, Killian Mullarney, Mika Ohtonen, Renee Lafontaine, Klaus Malling-Olsen, Hadoram Shirihai, Antero Topp amongst others. Again, invaluable knowledge was gleaned from sharing field observations on North Beach and in the Moon Valley Mountains and in intense identification struggles and discussions. Killian and Dick were particularly good 'teachers' and during that early period, Lars Svensson was particularly instructive, after years and years of handling birds of all species and studying museum specimens.

What all of these guys had was a genuine passion and enthusiasm for birding and a real love for the hobby. They wanted to help others and bent over backwards to do just that. All were extremely keen to learn and exploit advances in knowledge, and all served a very long apprenticeship in order to grasp the knowledge that was to put them in such good stead today.

I see very little sign of this comradery today. I see fewer and fewer notebooks but more and more pagers and technology. Rarely do I get questions from youngsters (Josh Jones, Will Bowell, James Lidster, Chris Batty, Stuart Piner, Paul French and Andy Holden perhaps being few exceptions) and ideas of a birding apprenticeship seem sheer folly. Fieldcraft has gone by the by and good manners out the window. Respect for elders has been diminished and sites such as Birdforum just crass over golden days of birding and prized reputations, Everyone and everything is up for grabs and discussion.

Such desecration is not restricted to birding though with many hobbies and interests suffering in the modern era. Somehow we need to restore order and try and get birding respectful again. I will try and play my part but don't expect miracles to happen.

Lee G R Evans