A North American Common Nighthawk was discovered by local anglers hunting along the River Maine at Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, in late September, rumour has it.
It didn’t take long before birders had been to check it out and sure enough, it was a superb adult male Common Nighthawk. It was then discovered roosting on a log of a fallen tree in a nearby horse field, giving amazing views of a very difficult bird to view in the British Isles.
As the bird was remaining very site faithfull and obviously settled, I made the journey across to Northern Ireland, my very first visit, on Sunday (13th October) on the early morning Stena Line Ferry from Cairnryan, Stranraer. It is only a two hour crossing and a half hour drive to the site from Belfast harbour. So by 9;15 am we were watching this amazing bird, giving crippling views as it roosted on its favoured log.
The only issue we had was from the small group of over friendly horses that kept coming up to us and almost demanding attention. They would then make their way over to the fallen tree, eventually flushing off the Nighthawk that would then make a stunning fly pass, before entering another favoured roosting spot in a nearby tree. It would then spend the rest of the day in the tree until dark, before putting on its aerial display along the river.
A superb twitch, organised by Rob and accompanied by Mike & Chris. A great but tiring day out, well worth the effort.
During the 21st – 28th September 2019 I made my annual birding trip north to the Shetland Isles, staying on the remote island of Unst. Our party of three had a reasonable week searching for migrants and hoping for the odd rarity to turn up.
We managed to see a total of 86 species on Unst which included highlights of 13 Barnacle Geese; 6 Whooper Swan; 1 Grey Plover; 1 American GoldenPlover; 1 2ndw Iceland Gull; 1 Short-toed Lark; 9 Yellow-browed Warbler; 1 Blyth’s Reed Warbler; 6 Siberian Lesser Whitethroat; 2 Red-breasted Flycatcher; 7 Lapland Bunting; 2 Snow Bunting; 1 Little Bunting.
We found a Rush Veneer (a migrant moth from southern Europe) at Skaw and had several Red Admiral butterflies were on the wing.
On our way back to the ferry terminal at Lerwick on 28th September, we stopped off at Levenwick on mainland to see an Isabelline Shrike which looked good for the sub-species Turkestan Shrike, showing all the features that are described in numerous publications, including Birding Frontiers – Challenge Series – Autumn and The Helm Guide to Bird Identification.
Currently this bird has been muted to be a Daurian Shrike based on a few features shown in photographs. The two species can be notoriously difficult to identify as there seems to be lots of overlaps in their identification features. If I had to stick my neck out, I would go for Turkestan Shrike as it shows far more features than Daurian, according to what I have read so far.
It will be interesting to see what happens with this bird when submitted to the British Birds Rarities Committee.
As I left Lerwick on the ferry in the early evening of 28th I managed to see a small pod of 4 Orca, my first British Orca and a most fitting and exciting way to end the trip.
Eastern Black-eared and Pied Wheatear identification is notoriously difficult, even more so when a female type arrives in early September. About the right time for Black-eared Wheatear but a little out of season for Pied. The majority of Pied Wheatears seem to be found in late autumn (Oct-Nov).
A female, reported as an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, was discovered at Fluke Hall, near Pilling in Lancashire on 1st September. It was favouring the sea defence boulders along side a public footpath and showing well.
As there have been fewer records accepted of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, this female bird was rather special and would undoubtedly attract a lot of attention and an ID challenge.
It didn’t take long before the rumours of it being a Pied Wheatear crept out onto the networks and grapevines. The bird showed grey plumage tones and pale fringes to the mantle feathers, features supposedly unique to Pied Wheatear. However it did show a solid black loral line from the eye to the bill and also a slight hint of dark ear coverts, both features of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear.
I went to see the wheatear on the 8th September and managed to take some decent images of the bird. By this time the bird was continually being reported on networks and social media as a female Eastern Black-eared or Pied Wheatear. There was a great deal of doubt and even some of the birds poo had been collected and sent away for DNA analysisI showed my images to several experienced European birders who commented on the fact that the plumage colour and the obvious pale fringes on the mantle were all good features of Pied Wheatear, however the length of the primaries appeared short and they should be longer in Pied.
The bird also shows an obvious pale throat, plain grey nape and very buff/orange colouration to the underparts, especially the breast. Along with darker brownish/orange at the edges near the wings. All these features are typical of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear and either very rare or even stated as “never” for Pied.
Then on the 11th September, some photos were posted onto the various social medias and birding networks and a sharp eyed individual noticed one or two of the mantle feathers showed white spotting and feather shaft streaking as the bird was preening. Not noticeable in the field. This is apparently a conclusive ID feature of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear.
So there it is, an amazing ID process and a thorough learning curve. It does make me wonder though how on earth this bird would have been identified without modern day DSLR cameras and other high-tech imaging equipment. The modern day bird identification processes have certainly moved on. The following are a selection of images I took of this delightful bird.
An unprecedented event took place in Cornwall during the past week. A Brown Booby was discovered, a new bird to Britain, and spent several days in the Carbis Bay, St.Ives area. It proved elusive and was difficult to connect with. It wasn’t seen on Friday 30th August and so was presumed to have gone by the majority of the birding fraternity.
That all changed on Saturday 31st August, when it was relocated in the picturesque St.Ives Harbour area and to a select few, it pitched up on rocks in full view, allowing for some stunning photographs to be taken.
I decided I would go on Sunday 1st September and was fortunate enough to be offered a lift. We arrived at Gwithian Towans near the Hayle, which is opposite St.Ives and offers wide ranging views of the huge bay, in the early hours of Sunday morning and by dawn, along with 250 other birders, we spent the morning searching the bay for the bird with no luck. It had been seen the previous afternoon, flying past Pendeen Watch, and so was presumed to have departed. I arrived back home on Sunday late afternoon some what disappointed.
Then Monday 2nd September a different bird was discovered in Kynance Cove on the Lizard, Cornwall. In the first instance it was presumed to be the St.Ives bird but photographs proved otherwise. This bird was a first summer and in wing moult. The bird roosted and so gave an opportunity for another twitch and we departed 10pm on Monday evening arriving at Kynance at 0400hrs Tuesday morning. After a few hours wait, the Brown Booby appeared and began flying around the bay and settling on one of the huge rocks offshore, much to the delight of the assembled 300 or so birders. Phew, what a relief and a stressful few days, travelling some 1300 miles in total. Well worth it though.
The following images are not the best and not what I was hoping for, but are a memory of a fantastic bird to see in Britain.
The little pyramidal rock on the extreme left side was the Brown Booby’s favourite roosting cliff.
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