Sunday, 13 November 2011

Happy Days!

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Sunday 6th of November
I was one of about 10 British birders who still needed Steppe Grey Shrike in the UK so myself, Tom, and Kieran headed on down to Shropshire to Wall Farm NR to see this stunning bird. A particularly interesting bird and I hadn’t expected it to be so different from a Great Grey, nice pale bill and small dumpy posture. It almost looked like a fat ball of feathers when it was sitting still. It was feeding fairly regularly when we were there but would also sit for prolonged periods allowing us for good views of this little beauty. Satisfied after good views we set off to look for a local Squacco Heron, however plans were soon squandered by the appearance of a Penduline Tit in West Yorkshire so we went for that. We ofcourse dipped but I wasn’t to upset, after all I only went for Steppe Grey, anything else would have been a bonus.

(Steppe Grey Shrike - © Andrew Kinghorn)

Wednesday 9th of November
Tuesday saw the occurrence of a Desert Wheatear, but it wasn’t some drab looking female bird it was a stunning 1st winter male. I had a feeling one was going to turn up on the east cost so imagine my delight when it was in North Yorkshire (Cleveland). Had amazing views of this bird aswell, really well marked bird and I would argue one of the most stunning Wheatear species on the British list. After here we decided to go to South Gare, on our way I picked up a male Hen Harrier! We were able to pull over and thankfully the other lads managed to get onto it, not often we see a male Hen Harrier in the North of England. We eventually got to South Gare where I saw at least 1 Black Redstart, these are the first ones I have seen this year as they have been really rare in Durham this year with only a handful of records and only 1 on the coast.

(Desert Wheatear -  © Andrew Kinghorn)

(Hen Harrier - © Adam Williams)

Saturday 12th of November
The day started off again at South Gare as a Hume’s Warbler had been found there, I missed the previous bird in Durham as I could not drive and at the time was never really into twitching or travelling long distances to see 1 bird. When I arrived I was informed it was showing on and off, however I hadn’t interpreted that as being on, off, on, off etc. It was on view nearly the whole time and calling. Very noticeable was the lack of a median covert wing bar and the very faint greater covert wingbar, it wasn’t a feature that struck me as being particularly obvious in the field. The call was pretty distinctive and not like that of Yellow-browed Warbler, it was calling that much that it was easy to compare the different (from memory) with Yellow-browed Warbler. All together the Collins bird guide really sums up this bird; looking at a Yellow-browed Warbler though misty lenses. The day was going so well….until a Greater Yellowlegs turned up and we went up to try and see it and dipped badly!

 (Hume's Warbler -  © Adam Williams)

(Hume's Warbler - © Adam Williams)

Sunday 13th of November
I have had some pretty memorable days birding in my short space of birding in the UK, however today has to come out on top as one of the best days I have ever had. The day started at dawn at Low Hauxley in Northumberland, I knew exactly which hide the Greater Yellowlegs was seen from before it went to roost so I headed for this hide. Some scanning in very poor light conditions produced very little just some local Redshank then my companion asked “Is this just a Redshank?”…I raised the bins “That’s it!”, there about 10 yards from the hide walking on the grass was the Greater Yellowlegs. What a well marked and stunning bird, a species I didn’t think I was going to see in Britain for a long time yet. A short while passed and the Greater Yellowlegs flew to the other side of the pond allowing for views of that tail showing the lack of a white cigar up the back and the white rump. Not long after this the Grey Phalarope flew in and the Greater Yellowlegs was showing from the other hide, I headed around to the hide and got on the Grey Phalarope pretty quickly. Very embarrassingly for me it was a lifer, a bird I never even came close to seeing in the past. I enjoyed brilliant views but the best was yet to come as I had the Greater Yellowlegs and Grey Phalarope in the same scope view about 10 yards away from me in good light. Absolutely brilliant! A moment that will no doubt be one of the highlights of my British twitching for years to come.

(Greater Yellowlegs - © Andrew Kinghorn)

(Greater Yellowlegs & Grey Phalarope - © Andrew Kinghorn)

My companion had not seen Lesser Scaup before and it was en-route to where we were going next so we called in at Marden Quarry to see it. I had far better views than I did last time I saw it as it spent most of its time asleep when I saw it the first time. From here we headed to Boldon Flatts in Durham, was good to be back on home soil, the Tundra Bean Geese and Bewick’s Swans had departed but we were treat to some excellent views of White-fronted Geese. Definitely the best views I have had of the species in the UK.

(Lesser Scaup - © Andrew Kinghorn)

(White-fronted Geese - © Andrew Kinghorn)

After the geese I headed down to West Pastures area where after about an hours wait I was treated to only my second ever Durham Hen Harrier, as usual the bird appeared out of nowhere and quartered some rough grassland before being lost to view and I didn’t pick it back up. Just as it was going out of view I got a call from a mate to say some Bean Geese had been found at Hurworth Burn Reservoir, I needed Bean Goose for my count life list after having missed the Whitburn birds as I wasn’t able to get there. However thankfully this time I was on site within 30 mins and Chris had done the hard work for me and located the bird. We watched them for a while and it was the first time I was really able to study Tundra Bean Geese in detail, as we were watching it my companion spotted some more geese flying in and Chris soon ID’d them as more Bean Geese. As they got closer we had brilliant views of the birds as they came in to land with the other Bean Geese, the final count came to 13 Bean Geese, brilliant! My companion had never seen a Semipalmated Sandpiper in the UK and I had never seen a juvenile, so our final stop of the day was Greatham Creek where we enjoyed brilliant views of the Semipalmated Sandpiper. What a day! Absolutely brilliant.

(Tundra Bean Geese - © Andrew Kinghorn)

Until next time, Foghorn out!


  1. Andrew, you are seeing some scene of good birds this autumn! That Isabelline Wheatear looks nice, I could do with it about a hundred miles closer though. I've seen them in good numbers on breeding grounds in Turkey. Very distinctive birds...

  2. How lucky are you getting the Yellowlegs and phalarope together...........very lucky! nice one, see you next time we bump into each other.