Tuesday, 30 October 2012


I am just putting together my 2013 Trips Itinerary. I have places available on many at the moment. First off, there are a few places on my very popular ROUND BRITAIN tours - 19-27 January 2013 and 16-25 May 2013. These are exhaustive trips taking in Scotland, Wales, East Anglia and the South Coast, this year's trips respectively recording 192 and 189 species respectively, including ALL of the UK's wintering and breeding specialities bar Lady Amherst's Pheasant and Quail. For more details and to make a reservation, simply email Lee Evans at LGREUK400@aol.com

Also planned for 2013 are trips to Thailand (January), Spain (February, for Spanish Lynx, Bustards & Imperial Eagles), Egypt (March), Israel (March), Cape Verde Islands (April), Georgia/Turkey (April), Spain (May), Morocco & Western Sahara (May), Finland/Sweden/Norway (late May/June for Owls, Great Snipes, Steller's Eiders, etc), and Sicily (June), with more trips to be announced later. Please email me if you fancy joining me on any of the above.

But please remember, these are hard-core birding trips, birding from dawn until dusk and concentrating on seeing ALL of the specialities possible in the shortest time

Monday, 29 October 2012

Surprise meal for a BARRED OWL

BARRED OWL captures pet cat



HORNEMANN'S ARCTIC REDPOLL in North Norfolk - and I missed it

On Friday (26 October), Josh McCallum-Stewart located a large fluffy redpoll feeding alone in the dunes at Holkham Beach, some 800 yards west of the Gap. The fact that it had a striking, clear white rump immediately led Josh to realise he had an Arctic Redpoll - but which one? An hour later, local birders Si Dennis and Steve Hack independently stumbled across it and phoned it in to the Information Services. As soon as the pager reported a redpoll feeding in the dunes, I was concerned - and telephoned Neil Alford, Mark Golley and a number of other North Norfolk birders - in the hope that it would quickly get checked out. With very strong northerly winds bathing Norfolk in recent days and with an unusual number of Hornemanni about the Northern Isles, I was really worried about this bird. In fact, Steve and Simon even reported it as a Hornemanni but it seems this message was ignored - just Arctic Redpoll being relayed.

What made matters worse was the bird's insistence to remain elusive and although a lot of people searched for it later, only Peter Glute connected briefly at 1700 hours. Nobody was any wiser.

Anyway, Saturday dawned and a few diehard observers ventured out into the dunes and eventually located it. A considered Redpoll expert was amongst those looking at it and frustratingly his choice of id was exilipes (aka as Coues' or Scandinavian Arctic Redpoll). Seeing this come up on the pager, I contacted Mark Golley and after listening to the description of the bird MAG had been given by observers, I decided it was not worth persuing and drove off in the direction of Somerset for a showy Hoopoe - what a disastrous and catastrophic decision that turned out to be.

At around 1500 hours, RBA took some worrying phone calls relating to the appearance (and tameness) of the Holkham Redpoll - and getting hold of Neil and Mark it was clear that a major cock-up had been made. This was no ordinary Arctic Redpoll but a HORNEMANN'S ARCTIC REDPOLL - the rarest of them all and a real Shetland speciality - and the first-ever UK Mainland individual. I was mortified - suicidal - absolutely numb - 290 miles away at Weston-Super-Mare !

Incredibly, even after RBA had highlighted its presence as a true snowball, interest was slight - just 35 observers joining Richard Millington, SJMG, Jim Lawrence, Mark and Neil during the late afternoon. Incredible.

I drove home deeply depressed, knowing full well the enormity of my mistake and mis-judgement - after all, hornemanni is a £300 plus bird to get. It has been a real bogey bird of mine for years and at last I had the opportunity to grip back a bird. Fat chance of that I thought. The weather forecast depressed me even further - the strong Northerly winds were to drop overnight and veer WSW.

Anyhow, Allan Stewart and I arranged to meet at 0500 hours and arrived at Lady Anne's Drive at 0715 hours. It was bleak and from the word go, I admitted defeat - Starlings were pouring west at a rate of over 1,000 an hour - it was clear migration was in full swing. I joined James McCallum, Andy Bloomfield, Neil Bostock, Alan Lewis and Graham Ekins in the dunes and walked aimlessly for miles and miles of dune-slack. After three circuits, I was tired - and despite back-up in the form of Chris Batty, Andy Clifton, Malcolm Goodman, Phil Rhodes and others later, the Arctic wanderer was nowhere to be found - we had all mostrously dipped !

And the beast itself - just look at Jim Lawrence's mouthwatering shots above. Showing down to just a few feet, this was a Hornemanni from the start. Just look at the bulk of the bird and its heavily feathered thighs and deep-based bill. Although not as white as many, this first-winter showed all of the traits associated with this mega-rare - large size, large head and steep forehead, long tail, long primary projection. honey-buff face and frontage extending onto the upper breast, broad-fringed tertials, obvious tramlines, indistinct narrow streaking on the flanks, restricted crimson forecrown, massive bulging unstreaked white rump and spartan undertail-covert streaking.

Unsurprisingly, this represents the first record for Norfolk, although there is a video of a late September 'Arctic Redpoll' seen by Dick Bagnall-Oakley in Wells in 1966 (from 28 September to 10 October) which may have related to this species.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

SCILLIES - October 2012 - A photographic review from leading photographer GARY THOBURN

This juvenile AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER commuted between the Airfield on St Mary's and Porthellick Beach, after being initially located on St Agnes. This species is annual on Scilly in September and October and are always a beautiful bird to see.

This gorgeous juvenile DOTTEREL moved over from West Cornwall (Polgigga) and made friends with a vagrant Buff-breasted Sandpiper. The two birds stayed together at the end of Peninnis Head on St Mary's for nearly a week and afforded incredibly close views.

Following a deep Atlantic depression, these three birds appeared on Porthellick Pool, St Mary's - a drake and two females (all juveniles) (the drake is the darker headed bird with the golden-yellow eye).

The jewel in the crown this October was this very confiding juvenile SOLITARY SANDPIPER that spent three days feeding on a manure spoil heap close to Hell Bay on Bryher. Again, stunningly confiding and a real photographer's dream. It then relocated to St Mary's. where Geoff Goater and Dave Johnson relocated it on a tiny puddle opposite the Pottery

No Scilly October is complete without its juvenile ROSE-COLOURED STARLING and this year was no different - this particular individual favouring the bracken and Blackberry scrub on the Loop Trail at Porthellick for several days before moving to St Agnes Coastguard Cottages

Gary did well photographing this GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK at Carn Friars - it only showed briefly on two separate days

HOODED CROW on Bryher - a real one for a change. The last 10 years has seen the presence of hybrids but this new arrival was the real deal. One also reached West Cornwall at Sennen.

Another big talking point was the arrival of COAL TITS to the islands - up to 10 in number. This was one of 3 birds on Bryher that even I twitched, these being of the green-backed and yellow-cheeked IRISH variety - the first of this form to be fully documented on the islands. This autumn has seen a huge irruption of COAL TITS, particularly in Ireland, but a large proportion of deep blue-backed Continental birds are also involved in the movement.

Although West Cornwall saw an influx of over 50 of these sprites, Scilly only attracted one or two FIRECRESTS this October

This HUME'S LEAF WARBLER spent three days in the Dump Clump but was generally elusive

This cracking male RING OUZEL was a great attraction as this species always is with birders

Tame Greenland LAPLAND BUNTINGS are another of Scilly's specialities and this juvenile showed well for several days on Peninnis

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

As predicted - monster rare makes landfall in UK


This Monday past (22 October), Pete & Debbie Saunders noticed an odd Phylloscopus warbler inhabiting shrubs in their back garden at Southwell on Portland (Dorset) late morning. Confused by its appearance, they quickly engaged in conversation with other Portland birders and invited several round to have a look at it. The bird showed reasonably well and was photographed and concensus on site was that it was an EASTERN CROWNED WARBLER - the first record for Dorset and only the third occurrence for the UK. Sadly, due to the nature of the site and the actions of the bird and the fact that the garden was private and parking was likely to pose a problem if the bird's presence was released nationally, it was decided to withhold news and invite just locally-based observers (and locally meaning only those residing on Portland). By about 1500 hours, everyone had departed, although one Weymouth birder happened upon the information by sheer fluke and managed to get in and see and photograph the bird. He was less inclined to believe it was an Eastern Crowned and felt it more likely to be an Arctic Warbler. Darkness then befell the garden, at which time it was estimated that as many as 27 people had seen the bird.

Martin Cade amongst others had obtained pretty decent photographs of the bird and it soon became clear that this was no Eastern Crowned or Arctic Warbler - it was in fact a PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER - the first record for the Western Palearctic ! Martin spent virtually the entire day on Tuesday in the garden with a full suite of mistnets but it had departed.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler has a fairly similar distribution as Chestnut-eared Bunting, a first-winter of which is still present today (2nd day) at the south end of Shetland Mainland just north of the Pool of Virkie at Eastshore midway between the A970 and the Ness Boating Club in long grass by the road between the lilac house and the garden with the abandoned bus.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Autumn hitting new highs

The foggy and drizzly conditions being currently experienced along much of the East Coast south of Spurn Point is currently grounding many thousands of migrants, particularly Ring Ouzels, Fieldfares, Redwings, Common Blackbirds, Continental Song Thrushes, Robins, Chaffinches, Bramblings and Common Starlings, as well as numerous Long & Short-eared Owls, Coal, Blue & Great Tits and other day-flying migrants. The first wave of Waxwings are also arriving, as well as a few Pallas's Leaf Warblers, many Yellow-browed Warblers and the odd PENDULINE TIT....

However, amongst all of this action, area host of rarities headlining on Shetland where today a CHESTNUT-EARED BUNTING appeared at Virkie Willows and a SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT on Fair Isle - these two new additions furthering the list to 439. A LANCEOLATED WARBLER regrowing a lost tail also remains on Fair Isle (at Field) whilst at least 3 of the 5 recent OLIVE-BACKED PIPITS remain. A first-winter male PIED WHEATEAR was also newly found at Quendale

Further south, the EASTERN OLIVACEOUS WARBLER remains for a sixth day at Fife Ness (Fife) with a number of DUSKY WARBLERS and LITTLE BUNTINGS appearing at coastal sites, a RUSTIC BUNTING at Marsden Quarry, a BLUETHROAT at Easington Lagoons (East Yorks) and a number of RICHARD'S PIPITS.

OLIVE-BACKED PIPITS are occurring in ever-increasing numbers (following the influx in the Northern Isles last week) with 'new' birds at Holme Firs and Holkham Pines (North Norfolk), Corton Church (Suffolk) and in Gunners Park, Shoeburyness (Essex), with a confiding RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL in Stiffkey Meals (Norfolk) and the SIBERIAN STONECHAT still at Birling Gap, Beachy Head (East Sussex).

Along the South Coast, a dapper adult male ISABELLINE SHRIKE is in Portland Top Fields (Dorset), whilst on the Isles of Scilly, the AMERICAN BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT remains with LITTLE BUNTING and OBP on Bryher, a RADDE'S WARBLER is on St Agnes, PENDULINE TIT still on Tresco Great Pool and the 3 first-year RING-NECKED DUCKS on St Mary's at Porthellick.

An adult BONAPARTE'S GULL on Dawlish warren Beach (South Devon) is an excellent local record, with LESSER YELLOWLEGS' in South Devon and Lancashire and LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS on North Uist and still at Slimbridge WWT (Gloucs)

The efforts of Hugh Delaney continue to impress on Inishmore Island (County Galway), his recent haul of finds including an OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT and DUSKY WARBLER there. A truly emerald isle.

Monday, 22 October 2012

HAMPSHIRE birder ARTHUR BETTS bales out after 91 years of service

Arthur (left) with partner-in-crime and long-time best birding-pal Chris Holt and Brian Fletcher

It is with very great sadness and many fond memories to learn of the passing away of ARTHUR BETTS, an unassuming but outstanding birder of his generation. He died peacefully in hospital; on 11 October at the grand old age of 91 years - a fantastic innings.

Arthur was a real gentlemen and one of life's great treasures. He was one of those born of the Golden Days of Scilly and served many an October on that outstanding archipelago. He was a life-long friend of mine, after I was first introduced to him whilst birding at Portland Bill in 1975. Portland was, in fact, one of his favourite birding sites in the UK and I was to spend many hours passing the time of day away with him there in my many visits on weekends throughout the early 1980's. He was an incredibly keen UK and WP lister and visited the majority of countries within the region and made it into the Top 100 of my lists as way back as 1985. Latterly, as mobility became an issue, he became keener on butterflies and orchids but maintained his passionate clinch on his local patch - Tweseldown near Church Crookham - near where of course that most famous of rares Dark-eyed Junco lingered for some considerable length of time.

Arthur was a wise mentor, a great friend, a true inspiration and a wonderful companion and I expect many of you will cherish the fond memories you had of him. Goodbye Arthur

Lee Evans

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Coalition, just leave those BADGERS alone.....

The epidimology of Bovine Tb and its vectors are complex and mired with political and emotional input and I certainly do not want to bring those factors into this group but I would make the following points:

1) Bovine TB has natural reservoirs in some parts of the country and they are not exclusively in badgers. It is a disease that can affect and be carried by all mammals including us. Culling a single species seems strange when it is well known that deer, foxes, hares, domestic cats and dogs etc etc also carry BTb.

2) Following restocking post F&M BTb made a huge stride north. This may have been as a result of a unrecognised movement of wildlife carrying the disease but is more likely to have been a result of farmers restocking with infected animals from the south west.

3) The constant shuttling of animals around the country does not help, but farmers love their marts (see the current "The mart's the heart" campaign being run by Farmer's Weekly).

4) None of the research that has been done on culling has ever involved free shooting which is what is now being proposed. It is very likely the the perturbation effect noted in the RBCT will be even worse with this method. In the RBCT it was found that the slight reductions in BTb in the cull area were substantially outweighed by increases in neighbouring zones appaently caused by dispersing animals.

5) The cost of the cull is increasing day on day and will mostly be born by the taxpayers.

6) Finally, Scotland which is officially BTb free has achieved that status by enhanced levels of testing, biosecurity and movement controls. Not a single badger or any other wild mammal was killed to achieve this.

I am afraid that the proposed cull will be a waste of time, money and wildlife brought to us by the department that was wanting to experiment with buzzard control a few weeks ago.

Andy Riches
Scottish Badgers Advisory Group

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Panic ensues along North Norfolk coast as immature EGYPTIAN VULTURE flys in off the sea at Cley

A third-year Egyptian Vulture that escaped from a private raptor breeding centre in Wales on 25 September created pandemonium yesterday after it was watched flying in off the sea at Cley NWT (North Norfolk). The bird followed the coastline along and was quickly intercepted over Blakeney, Stiffkey, Holkham Park and Burnham Norton before it eventually made landfall in a field near Burnham Thorpe. Sharp-eyed observers Richard Millington and Mark Golley almost immediately realised all was not right with the ''under-carriage'' as it soared around with 2 Marsh Harriers and it soon became apparent that it was bearing a bell and metal rings.

It then transpired that the same bird had been present on The Lizard at St Keverne (Cornwall) for at least two days and had presumably got caught up in the deep Atlantic depression that tracked eastwards across the country and had somehow been swept with the tightening isobars to Norfolk.

The bird's owners are keen to recapture it so any updates on its location will be welcomed

Monday, 8 October 2012


Ralph Hobbs has very kindly provided me a link to Trevor Hardaker's account of the finding of the first-ever BLACK SKIMMER in South Africa -


It is perhaps very likely that this record relates to a BLACK SKIMMER seen flying south past Annagh Head on the Mullet Peninsular (County Mayo, Ireland) on 10 August

Friday, 5 October 2012


A North American EASTERN KINGBIRD was found and identified by Hugh Delaney this lunchtime as it was flycatching from a stone wall on Inishmore Island (County Galway). It was very close to Kilmurvey Wood and showed well until early evening. It is the first record for Britain and Ireland.

On the Isles of Scilly late this afternoon, a SYKES'S BOOTED WARBLER was identified on Tresco, in vegetation and bushes by the workers' chalets at the far end of Back Lane in Old Grimsby, whilst in west Cornwall, no less than 7 RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS were together feeding over Marazion Marsh

Thursday, 4 October 2012

PALLID HARRIER in South Yorkshire

Last night, Joan, Anna and I travelled north to FIRSBY RESERVOIR, just NNE of Ravenfield (South Yorkshire), to see a ringtail harrier that had been roosting each evening in setaside adjacent to the reservoir for three weeks. We joined about 35 predominantly Yorkshire birders and at 1740 hours, we enjoyed excellent views of the bird as it flew in to roost. It paraded in front of us for about five minutes before dropping out of sight onto the ground. Doncaster birder JUSTIN CARR, who was standing beside me, obtained this excellent series of flight shots as it wheeled round, enabling a detailed examination of the bird.

In terms of jizz and structure, the bird fitted PALLID HARRIER to a T and from the plainness of the general plumage, it had to be a female of at least three years old. At the time, I was concerned about the underwing pattern (seemed rather Hen Harrier-like), but Dick Forsman put my mind at rest later after I sent him the images.

Although we can never be sure that this female has not got some second or third generation Hen Harrier genes, the fact that it has just FOUR fingered primaries and a wing point formed bu just three primaries immediately suggest PALLID HARRIER. It has a neat, thin, pale collar extending from the nape to the throat, fine streaking on the breast-sides, saturated streaking on the upper breast and streaking on a white base.

It has strongly marked secondaries with no prominent dark trailing edge, some clear 'boomerang' like pale areas at the primary bases and primary barring concentrated along the middle section of the feather tract. the dark tips to the primaries are also much reduced.

A great local find and a great bird, departing the roost-site at 0720 hours this morning (but not returning this evening)

I would like to thank Dick Forsman, Chris Heard, Andrew Holden, John Hewitt, Dave Hirsthouse, Andrew Stoddart, Mark Golley and Dani Velascuo for invaluable help in assessing the plumage and identification.

DIRECTIONS: In Ravenfield village,walk east along Garden Lane for 600 yards to the sharp corner before heading north along Arbour Lane for about three quarters of a mile to the end. Skirt the south side of the reservoir to watch from the gate on the east side.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Another fast-tracking depression and another mega

Following yet another fast-tracking depression across the Atlantic, a MYRTLE WARBLER has made landfall in IRELAND at Dursey Island in County Cork - the 420th species to be recorded in Britain and Ireland this year - just 2 below par of last year's record-breaking total

More to follow I'm sure

Monday, 1 October 2012

''The Badger Cull'' from a respected farmer's point of view

Badger cull: not in this farmer's name

I farm in the cull area, and I know that killing badgers will not stop bovine TB -- the answer lies in better farming practices

Steve Jones


Friday 28 September 2012

The government justifies a badger cull by claiming it's to help farmers.

I have 35 years' livestock management experience, and I live in the heart of the Forest of Dean -- the cull area -- and I disagree. Killing badgers isn't the long-term or sustainable solution to bovine TB control that farmers so desperately need. Shooting badgers is politically motivated, not scientifically driven, and farmers need to realise they're being sold a lame duck.

Over the years, I have managed some of the highest-yielding dairy herds in the world with consistently high levels of hygiene and disease resistance. Meticulous biosecurity and sympathetic animal husbandry are the key to stamping out TB in cattle, not shooting British wildlife.

Farmers vilify badgers but TB is mainly transmitted cow to cow. So the solution to eradicating TB lies with farmers themselves who must accept responsibility for a disease that is all too easily spread back and forth within and between herds due to poor management, lax biosecurity and substandard animal care. A slow response in tackling the disease compounds the problem, which can therefore soon reach epidemic proportions. I have seen it many times with mad cow disease, foot and mouth and now bovine TB. Alas, the farming industry prefers to scapegoat badgers rather than tackling these fundamental problems.

Water troughs are a reservoir for TB because they are rarely cleaned out. It's not uncommon for trough water to be left stagnating through the winter, collecting dead birds, rodents and various bacteria, only to be drunk by cattle in the spring. Badgers also use these troughs but it's unfair to isolate badgers when the culprit is the bacteria soup itself. Making troughs badger-proof is not rocket science, but more fundamental is the adoption of better hygiene standards by the agricultural industry.

Lax biosecurity on farms is also a major factor. Cows infected with TB should be quarantined immediately, but they rarely are. Every farm should have isolation areas to separate these animals and prevent cross-infection, but they rarely do. Biosecurity is often ignored by farmers and poorly enforced by Defra. Infected cows can be left unquarantined on farms for weeks. Before a single badger is shot, the farming industry should get its house in order.

We also need to improve cattle welfare. Farm animal stress caused by pain and suffering can reduce an animal's immunity and make it more susceptible to diseases like bovine TB. On too many farms, there are high levels of lameness, mastitis and rough animal handling. The average incidence of lameness in our national herd is a shameful 22%.

This is lazy husbandry. We have a wealth of veterinary knowledge to eradicate disease, and in countries with more advanced control measures there are very low incidences of bovine TB.

So as Defra ministers sign the death sentence for thousands of England's badgers, my message to them is this. Not in my name. Not in my name should you hoodwink the public into thinking that killing badgers will help struggling farmers, because you are betraying farmers with this unscientific policy. If you really wanted to help farming, you would help it reform and modernise, you'd actively support rather than hinder badger vaccination, you'd take the fight to Europe to green-light cattle vaccination. But instead, it's far cheaper and easier to just let farmers kill badgers.

More than 120,000 people so far have signed an e-petition calling for the government to kill the cull. For the sake of democracy, science, animal welfare, conservation and farming, I hope they listen.

E-petition at: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/38257

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