Thursday 25 June 2009


An adult STILT SANDPIPER is present for its second day at The Cull in County Wexford at Blackstone/Seafield. It represents the 371st species recorded in Britain and Ireland this year.

Wednesday 24 June 2009


OTMOOR RSPB (OXFORDSHIRE) (1500-1700 hours)

Phil Barnett 'phoned me last night informing me that he had just discovered a singing MARSH WARBLER at Otmoor RSPB reserve - a mega rare bird in the county and the perhaps the first record in over 20 years. As it was nearing 2100 hours, I decided to wait and visit today. Hearing it was still present late morning, I ventured out from the car park in the searing heat of the afternoon sun. It was a long walk too - taking me about 20 minutes to cover the mile or so walk out to between the first and second screens. Roger Wyatt had been on site since early morning and as I joined him, he explained that the bird had only given brief glimpses throughout all of the intervening period. The bird was commuting between the reedbed just over the raised bank and the dense hedgerow bordering the main footpath about equidistant between the two observation screens. It was singing as soon as I arrived and in fact continued almost non-stop until I departed. Unlike the Hertfordshire bird I had seen and heard this week, this bird had a full repertoire and was mimicking a whole host of species including Sedge Warbler, Goldfinch, Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Wren, Great Tit and Common Blackbird. The song was also typically loud and was delivered from quite high in the hedgerow.

Seeing the bird was a different matter though and for much of the time, it afforded just brief glimpses, mainly in flight. At one stage however it moved to near the top of the hedge and I was able to get full views of it for about a minute. It then flew over our heads and into the reedbed. Little detail was noted however, other than it being a very pale brown in colour on the upperparts and being bright orange-yellow on the lower mandible.

A single 'purring' EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE was present in the hedgerow 300 yards west of the car park, whilst 2-4 HOBBIES were hunting for dragonflies and other insects over the main marsh continuously. At least 15 post-breeding Lapwings overflew the lagoons whilst Sedge Warbler, Western Reed Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Bullfinch and Yellowhammer were all recorded.


Otmoor RSPB is not signposted and is a difficult reserve to find..It is best accessed from the B4027, easily reached from the main A40 roundabout in Headington, at the eastern end of the city. Taking the road towards Horton, turn left (signposted Beckley) on to Woodperry Road after 0.5 miles and continue for 0.7 miles into the village. Turn right on the High Street at the 'Abingdon Arms' public house and then turn left after 100 yards on to Otmoor Lane. The latter road is in a serious state of disrepair and ridged high in the middle and requires extreme attention and care. Continue for 1 mile to where a gate enters the reserve car park proper.

From here, follow the RSPB trail for 1700m. After you pass the first screen, the track bears sharp right. From here, continue for 200 yards from where the bird can be heard.

(Acknowledgements: Brucker, Gosler & Heryet 1992, Birds of Oxfordshire, and Ian Lewington, pers. comm.)

The Marsh Warbler bred in Oxfordshire intermittently until 1960, with William Warde Fowler describing the progress of a small colony of up to four pairs in an Osier bed near his home in Kingham from 1890 until 1904 when the habitat was destroyed. One of the interesting discoveries he made during this period was of a Common Cuckoo's egg in one nest in 1898; the first time the Marsh Warbler had been recorded as a host species in Britain. Breeding was not noted again in the county until 1920, but from then until 1947 single nests were found in 11 summers along the Thames and Kennet river valleys and at Sandford Sewage Farm. There has been only one record of breeding since then, in 1960, when a pair reared a single youngster. A juvenile was also ringed at Sonning Gravel Pits in 1964.

There have been just four records prior to this one since 1965 -:

1) A singing male in South Oxon on 28 May 1973 (P.D.Goriup)

2) A singing male at Radley GP from 6-14 June 1981.

3) A singing male at Somerton on 8 June 1983 (Andy Collins)

4) A singing male at Otmoor NR on 29 June 2000 (Jon Baker)

Tuesday 23 June 2009


This beautiful summer-plumaged SPOTTED SANDPIPER was present at North Cave Wetlands (East Yorkshire) on Saturday 20 June and again early morning only on Sunday. Martin Standley obtained the three images published above. It represents the first Spotted Sandpiper of the year.


Phil Barnett discovered a singing male MARSH WARBLER at Otmoor RSPB reserve (Oxfordshire) this evening, frequenting Hawthorns and reedbed vegetation adjacent to the main track between the first and second screens, whilst only the 7th MARSH WARBLER for Hertfordshire continues for a fourth day just west of the canal at Amwell (see full directions on my Hertfordshire Birding site). A further singing male was in the Bird Observatory Garden on Bardsey Island (Caernarvon), with another trapped and ringed on North Ronaldsay (Orkney).

A singing male WESTERN SUBALPINE WARBLER was present on Ramsey Island (Pembs) today, with a EUROPEAN BEE-EATER briefly with Common Swifts over Easton, Portland (Dorset) mid-morning (presumably the same bird seen later at Durlston CP). Earlier this morning, a BLACK KITE drifted slowly over Crapmoor Fish Farm and neighbouring fields near Romsey (Hants) before disappearing south towards Emer Bog and North Baddesley.

In Somerset, the 'barking' male LITTLE BITTERN remains on territory at Loxton Marsh at Shapwick Heath.

A PECTORAL SANDPIPER was on the tidal pool at Greatham Creek (Cleveland) this evening.

Further north, on Shetland, the drake NORTH AMERICAN WOOD DUCK remains on Spiggie and the drake LESSER SCAUP on Loch of Benston, whilst two QUAIL were showing well on Unst at Ungirsta.

As usual, Common Crossbills are beginning to disperse southwards and a number of failed or non-breeding waders are reappearing at wetland sites, particularly Green Sandpipers.

Three SPOONBILLS remain on Cley Marshes North Scrape (Norfolk), whilst 3 ROSEATE TERNS remain at Minsmere RSPB (Suffolk).


An EASTERN OLIVACEOUS WARBLER was present on Fair Isle (Shetland) on 21 June, with WOODCHAT SHRIKES on Rhossilli Down (at SS 427 894) (The Gower) from 16-21 June and at Orford (Suffolk) on 21 June.

A male RED-NECKED PHALAROPE moved from Titchfield Haven (Hants) on 20 to Upton Warren Flashes (Worcs) on 21, with a male RED-BACKED SHRIKE at Brockholes Quarry (Lancs) on 20 and a summer-plumaged SPOTTED SANDPIPER (the first of the year) at North Cave Wetlands (East Yorks) on 20-21 June. A late male BLUETHROAT was on the Isle of May (Fife) on 22 June.


After much deliberation, the drake HOODED MERGANSER at Radipole Lake (Dorset) has now been formally accepted on to Category D1 of the UK400 Club British & Irish List. Rather than departing this spring, the bird has chosen to stay at the reserve and has now moulted into eclipse plumage. Although the circumstances in which it first appeared in a storm drain near Ferrybridge were quite favourable for natural vagrancy, the fact that it has remained for so long and has chosen to accompany the local Mallard population in search of food perhaps indicate that it was of suspect origin.

The bird therefore becomes UNCOUNTABLE on any UK400 Club day, life, county or year lists

Monday 22 June 2009

Holiday in North Wales pays off for both Essex birder and leading lister Billy Simpson

At around 1430 hours on Saturday afternoon, a visiting Essex birder, on holiday with his family, relocated the ROYAL TERN first discovered by windsurfing RSPB survey worker Dave Lamacraft on Monday 15 June (and previously seen by a handful of observers in County Cork). The bird was flying up and down the sandy beach at Llandudno and afforded excellent views for at least an hour. This information was 'phoned in to BirdGuides and at just after 1540 hours, local birder Alan Davies independently located the bird in the bay and immediately updated LGRE and Rare Bird Alert.

The tide was on the way in and for the next two hours, the bird commuted between the main bay at Llandudno and the sea off of the West Shore, often taking the short route by flying west over the hotels and shops rather than flying around the Great Orme headland. It afforded excellent views, often fishing along the shoreline, allowing photographers like Chris Galvin and Steve Young ample opportunities.

Within minutes of it reappearing, several hundred birders were on their way to Llandudno and those living within a 130-mile radius were able to make it in time before it departed, including Billy Simpson (the highest ranking lister to connect so far), Chris Batty, Stuart Piner, Nick Smith, Steve Nuttall and Phil Jones. In fact by 1800 hours, some 86 birders had successfully made it, much to their relief.

After making a complete sweep of the main bay just after 1800 hours, it suddenly flew off strongly out to sea and disappeared northeastwards out and past the Great Orme at 1609. Several birders including Derbyshire's Neil Bostock and Worcestershire's Steve Whitehouse arrived minutes later but despite frantic searching by upwards of 130 birders between then and when darkness fell at 2200, the bird was not reliably seen again.

Large numbers of birders remained on site overnight and began searching from 0330 hours next morning (at dawn). Their numbers were swollen by further arrivals during the day and over the next high tide, the entire coast west to Foryd Bay was checked without success by up to 300 birders. Apart from a single Roseate Tern and up to 80 Sandwich Terns, the target bird was not relocated and there has been no reliable sightings of the Royal Tern to date.

Just where will this mega-rare make its next appearance.......and when?

Wednesday 17 June 2009

ROYAL TERN in North Wales

Rhys Jones obtained these record shots of Monday's ROYAL TERN as it sat distantly on Abersoch Harbour sands late afternoon.
Andrew Holden and others have now expressed how orange they felt that the bill colour was and a number of exchange emails with Brian Small and Julian Hough have indicated how difficult it is to assign any extralimital record of Royal Tern to subspecies. It seems that the critical detail is in the tail length and that sort of information is simply not available in any of the published images.

TEREK SANDPIPER in Lincolnshire

Hot on the heels of what was presumably an early returning bird from Scandinavia at Saltholme Pools RSPB (Cleveland) yesterday and early this morning, what may have been the same bird appeared at Gibraltar Point NR (Lincolnshire) this afternoon.
Graham Catley was quick on the scene and obtained this superb sequence of images published above, the bird showing well on Tennyson's Sands scrape until dusk.


Karen Darlington captured this day-roosting EUROPEAN NIGHTJAR on film on 4 June, as it favoured a log close to the reserve entrance at The Lodge RSPB, Sandy.

LESSER GREY SHRIKE on Bressay - 368th species of 2009

Well it is almost the Summer Solstice and the 'spring migration' is virtually at a close, a LESSER GREY SHRIKE on Bressay most likely being the last addition to the British and Irish List before the commencing of the second six-month period.Along with Sooty and Great Shearwater records this week, the LSG constitutes the 368th species of the year

Monday 15 June 2009

MEGA: AFRICAN ROYAL TERN relocated in North Wales

The adult AFRICAN ROYAL TERN present recently in County Cork was relocated this afternoon in North Wales, where from 1430-1530 hours it was roosting on the beach a mile west of Abersoch (Gwynedd).

It was then relocated at Abersoch Harbour 5 miles SW of Pwllheli at 1800 hours,roosting on the sandy beach with gulls and showing well. This allowed enough time for six observers to connect before it flew off east after the roosting birds were flushed by a dog.

At 2047 hours, Phil Woollen relocated it at Black Rock Sands, Porthmadog, where it sat for at least an hour (Alan Davies et al).

There are just three previous British records of ROYAL TERN and one from Ireland -:

1) The decomposed body picked up at North Bull Bird Sanctuary (County Dublin) on 24 March 1954 (British Birds 48: 116-117; 61: 559-561; Ibis 1956: 155; Hutchinson 1989).

2) One flew west past St Ives Island (Cornwall) on 2 September 1971 (British Birds 65: 338).

3) An immature, probably first-winter, was seen at Kenfig Pool (Mid Glamorgan) by Steve Moon on 24 November 1979. It was a ringed individual and spent most of the late afternoon resting on a post on the pool. It had been ringed as a nestling in North Carolina, USA (British Birds 75: 510; 76: 335-339; Ibis 133: 222).

4) A first-winter bearing a metal ring on its left leg was seen on The Mumbles, Swansea (West Glamorgan) on 21 December 1987. Two days earlier, what was almost certainly the same bird was seen at Dawlish Warren (South Devon) but not confidently identified (British Birds 85: 530).

There are two additional records accepted as 'Royal Tern' by BBRC

1) One at Shellness Point, Sandwich Bay (Kent) on 28 and 29 July 1965 (British Birds 61: 361, 559-561)

2) An adult first seen at Thorntonloch (Lothian) was later relocated in the evening in Musselburgh Bay on 9 August 1999 (British Birds 93: 538).

I have grave doubts about the identification of the 1965 and 1999 individuals, believing the Kent bird to be most likely a Lesser Crested Tern or hybrid and the 1999 bird to be the Elegant Tern which repeatedly visited Britain over a number of successive years.

GOLDEN ORIOLES fledge young

At Lakenheath Fen RSPB, the pair of GOLDEN ORIOLES are still feeding young at the nest and are coming in about once every ten minutes with food. This is an excellent opportunity in which to see this beautiful species, of which only 3-5 pairs nest in the country now (photographed above by Josh Jenkins Shaw (top) and Richard Bayldon)

From the RSPB information centre, take the inside footpath (not the track that leads alongside the main fen) and continue parallel to the railway for at least 25 minutes (about 1.5 miles walk). Continue past the first two Black Poplar plantations until you come to the third and last one and about 10 trees from the far west end of the plantation, you will see an obvious area of flattened vegetation, from where the hanging nest can be observed (about 15 foot up in the Poplar)

Meanwhile, it has been another good year for returning EUROPEAN HONEY BUZZARDS, with at least 70 pairs back in suitable nesting territory. Birds can be seen displaying at a number of specially arranged Watchpoints, including those at Great Ryburgh and Swanton Novers (North Norfolk), Welbeck Park (Notts) and at Wykeham Forest, north of Scarborough (North Yorks), as well as at several sites in the New Forest (Hants).

Somerset's pristine full-breeding plumaged male LITTLE BITTERN on Loxton Marsh, Walton Heath (Jeff Hazell)
The COMMON QUAIL festival near Baldock (Phil Bishop)
This is the UK400 Club Rare Bird Alert for Monday 15 June 2009, issued at 1000 hours, and published in association with Rare Bird Alert whilst utilising additional information gleaned from the Regional Birdlines, BirdGuides, local websites and email groups and individual observers.

The star of this year's summer continues to be the barking male LITTLE BITTERN at Loxton Marsh, adjacent to Ham Walls RSPB reserve at Shapwick Heath. This is a corking male in full breeding splendour as proven by Jeff Hazell's magnificent photographs above. Like most crepuscular species, this bird is best seen early mornings and late evenings (for example, between 0400 and 0800 hours and after 1800 hours - note that I had to wait 9 hours for it to appear after arriving on site mid morning!). Although it does not tend to be active during the day, it does seem to continually call from the reedbed throughout, uttering a deep, gruff, single 'bark'.

DIRECTIONS: Use OS Landranger 182. From Glastonbury, head NW on the B3151 to Meare village, from where turn left towards Ashcott. There is a large designated car park at Ashcott Corner (at ST 449 397) where you can park. Walk east from here on the old disused railway line towards Ham Walls reserve, crossing the river after 220 yards and then the Ham Walls Viewpoint after a further 150 yards. Continue on for a further 400 yards to where the access to Loxton Marsh begins (there is a sign of the gate stating 'Guide Dogs Only'). This is an excellent vantage point overlooking the reedbeds of Walton Heath and the Little Bittern has its territory in the reedbed directly in front of you. Although there is a footpath around Loxton Marsh that allows you to get very close to the bird, the railway track has the advantage of elevation and is by far the best place from where to see the Little Bittern as it flies frequently in the evening, just above the reedbed height. There is also a pair of EURASIAN BITTERNS feeding young in a nest here, which show frequently, as well as Hobby. A very elusive PURPLE HERON is also present, being best seen by looking north from the Ham Walls watchpoint.


A colony of LARGE BLUE butterflies is present within six miles of the Little Bittern site at Collard Hill, just south of Street. They have recently emerged and this past weekend, over 40 of these rare butterflies were on the wing. Park 200 yards west of the B3151 at ST 482 345 and walk east along the road to the entrance to the reserve at the crossroads. Continue up the slope until you reach the core area for the population after 400 yards at ST 490 340 and explore the slope to the south. This is a very steep slope and is quite difficult to get a footing on.

Also on Monday 15 June, two COMMON CRANES visited Pulborough Brooks (West Sussex) briefly this morning before flying off and a female RED-BACKED SHRIKE is at Holkham Freshmarsh (Norfolk).

It has been a bumper weekend for COMMON QUAIL with very large numbers dispersing northwards from southern Europe, including 23 calling males in one small area in South Yorkshire. The most showy however are the 3 territorial males in Hertfordshire, giving exceptional views as they battle for supremacy on the track between the Barley fields between Baldock and Wallington at cTL 269 342 (accessed just off of the A505 Royston bypass). It is best to walk down just 40 yards along the track, set the 'scopes up and wait.

In Cambridgeshire, the summering SQUACCO HERON continues at Baker's Fen, Wicken, whilst Suffolk's mobile GREAT WHITE EGRET was seen at both Benacre Broad and Minsmere Levels during the afternoon.

In Cornwall, the adult drake NORTH AMERICAN BLACK DUCK remains at Colliford Lake, favouring the Loveney Arm at the north end and viewable from the cattle grid on the road to Dozmary Pool, whilst further west, a Scilly pelagic trip recorded the first SOOTY SHEARWATER of the year. Two WHITE STORKS flew from Bathpool towards Siblyback Reservoir at 1430 hours.

A male RED-FOOTED FALCON is present at Thorne Moors NNR (South Yorks), showing well intermittently from the viewing platform (access from Moorends), with an elusive first-summer PURPLE HERON at Island Mere reedbed, Minsmere RSPB (Suffolk). At the former site, the summer-plumaged RED-NECKED GREBE is still present at the north end at Ten Acres Lake.

On Shetland, the drake AMERICAN WOOD DUCK remains on Loch of Hillwell, with a drake SURF SCOTER in Dales Voe, Lerwick, and a singing male MARSH WARBLER at Hoswick Burn.

In IRELAND, the adult FORSTER'S TERN is still present on the East End Pool at Tacumshin (Co. Wexford), with an immature GLAUCOUS GULL still showing at Nimmo's Pier, Galway Harbour (Co. Galway). The first GREAT SHEARWATER of the year lingered offshore of Carnsore Point (Co. Wexford) Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday 10 June 2009


This AFRICAN ROYAL TERN was present in Inchydoney Bay, County Cork, from 1710 until 1940 hours (Martin Reimann) and was superbly photographed by Michael O'Keefe (see images above). About ten birders connected before it flew off.
Interestingly, the bird is in full breeding plumage and lacking any reddish-orange tones of typical American Royal Tern. The bird also has four retained dark outer primary feathers, rather than 6-7 which is typical of maxima. Furthermore, American Royal has a much deeper bill base in average. Therefore, to be an ART it is anomalous in many respects of its plumage so African Royal Tern (albididorsalis) is the most likely explanation. Elegant Tern and Lesser Crested Tern can easily be ruled out on plumage characteristics.

Much has happened since my last update in May, with a further wave of exceptional vagrants, including the first AFRICAN ROYAL TERN for Ireland. The total of species recorded has now increased to 365.

One species (Stilt Sandpiper, reported at Grove Ferry, Kent, in May) is removed; the bird was a misidentified Curlew Sandpiper.

The new additions are as follows -:

352) BLACK STORK - at least one confirmed brief flyover

353) ORIENTAL PRATINCOLE (after being seen twice at Otmoor, Oxfordshire, it was relocated at the Breach Pool, Pagham Harbour, West Sussex, on 28-29 May and at Dungeness Hookers Pit, Kent, on 3 June)

354) WESTERN SANDPIPER (long-staying non-breeding plumaged bird at Dawlish Warren, South Devon, from 8 April to at least 28 May)

355) BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER (single adults at Hatfield Moors, South Yorkshire, on 23-24 May, Alkborough Flats, North Lincs, on 24 May and at Attenborough NR Tween Pond, Notts, on 4 June)

356) HUDSONIAN WHIMBREL (Uisead Point, Argyll, on 11 May)

357) SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Foula, Shetland, on 6-9 May)

358) TEREK SANDPIPER (Patrington Haven, East Yorks, on 23 May)

359) GULL-BILLED TERN (mobile adult on Exe Estuary, South Devon, on 23 May and from 31 May to 1 June)

360) AFRICAN ROYAL TERN (adult in breeding plumage present for three hours in Inchydoney bay, County Cork, on 7 June)

361) BLACK-EARED WHEATEAR (of form melanoleuca) - first-summer male at Little Porth Askin, St Agnes, Scilly, on 2-3 June - see Robin Mawer's photographs above

362) WHITE'S THRUSH (trapped and ringed on Isle of May, Fife, on 2 June)

363) RIVER WARBLER (Fair Isle on 31 May)

364) RADDYFIELD WARBLER (on Hilbre Island, Cheshire, from 5-9 June)

365) IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF (singing male at South Glendale, South Uist, on 31 May)

Blast from the past - FORSTER'S TERN twitch at Swanpool Beach, Falmouth, in November 1980 - How many birders can you identify?

Neil Alford very kindly emailed me this photograph of birders twitching the very first FORSTER'S TERN in Cornwall in November 1980.

A very baby-faced LGRE is standing to the left of the crowd, the rear-admiral to his right (Arthur Livett). Neil is eight birders right of me, the photograph also featuring Nigel Redman, Chreis Harbard, Pete Findon, Trevor Feltham, Mick Turton, 'Dipper', 'Big Jake', Tim Stowe, Steve Williams, Paul Oldfield and others.


"The adult Oriental Pratincole that appeared at Pagham Harbour in West Sussex on 28th was originally identified as a Collared Pratincole, and remained so for the duration of its two-day stay. Some fine photographs aided the reidentification, where many of the suite of characters needed to separate the two species were shown to perfection (in favour of Oriental of course). ...To add to the tale, the bird was first seen on Otmoor in Oxfordshire the previous week, on 25th: observers there reported the bird as a Collared, but did mention to other local birders that it didn't seem to have any white on the trailing edge of the wing."



I don't have any concerns from the images I've seen that the Sussex and Kent birds are Oriental (the same bird i assume!).

The basic jizz, with the short-back end kind of shouts Oriental and is quite marked from Collared Pratincole. Further clues are the rather subdued upperpart contrast, mid-way between Collared and Black-winged, but closer to the latter, and rather "chunky, thick-necked/bodies look, which give a shape that's rather compact, moreso than typical Collared.

I haven't seen them in a while so i can't comment on features such as thickness of tailbands, but the long-legs projecting past the tail is a pretty good sign to run and call Bird Alert!

The tips to the secondaries has often come up in pratinocle id..but in Collared, the bases to the secondaries are rather dark, especially on the outers, so you get a dark border along the upper edge of the white tips. I'm unsue as to how to age first-summer pratincoles without research but the Pagham birds feathers don't look too worn and appear the same length and I find it more surprising that if the tips to these can wear off, that they would do so with such uniformity along the length of the wing...and, if they were worn feathers, i would expect the exposed tips of all the secondaries to be really knackered and frayed, more so than shown in the images.

Pictures of the Kent bird seem to show quite a bit of red on the mandibles, probably a little more than I've seen on other images of Oriental, but probably well within the range.

I remember seeing pix of bird in Kuwait with some note about nostril shape, but I'm not too sure i'd put much use into that!

I was lucky enough to see the Gimmingham bird the day it was found ( a real mega back then!) and watched it on other occasions performing superbly..pratincoles are one of my favourite families..I wish I had a camera back then!

Julian Hough