Monday, 22 October 2012


Black gold. Again! This time rolled into one bird... a drake Common Scoter (163)!!! I'm never normally one for multiple explanation marks but if you've ever birded the Nunnery Lakes, you'll appreciate that it is no Grafham Water: a true seaduck here is mega! As my typically bad luck would have it, I was 10 minutes into a lunch-break-ruining meeting with several 'externals' when the text came through from Neil Calbrade. A whole four nerve-wracking hours later (no thanks to the "It's looking flighty" text from another Lakes listing colleague!), and as the gloom rapidly descended, I hurtled down to the lakes, where the boy was still in residence. Wot a burd!

Patch magic
(still present 24 October, still gloomy)

(still present 25 October, less gloomy...)

Percentage of target to date - 105%
Distance cycled - 576.5mls / 927.8km
Latest addition -  Common Scoter (163) 22 October

Friday, 19 October 2012

Black Gold

September may be a great time to be birding on the coast but it's a different story inland, particularly in 'passage wader habitat impoverished' areas like the Brecks  as you can see from the flat-lining species accumulation that both TEAL Cup teams experienced last September. October, on the other hand, seems to bring interest even 45 miles from the nearest coastal migration hotspot...

First up, news on the local forum of a returning shoo-in on the recently sown arable of West Suffolk. A carbon reccy on a wet Tuesday morning, and a Thursday afternoon off later, and Golden Plover (161) was belatedly on the bike list.

Better still, and with a bit more help from my friends, a typically animated Black Redstart (162), in classic Black Redstart habitat. BTO Nunnery Lakes warden Chris Gregory found it — an unappealing 24 mile round trip away  on Sunday, and I dirty-carbon-twitched (and phonescoped) it a few hours later. 33 miles in the saddle on Thursday, however, saw it safely on the only list that really counts!
More phonescoping magic

Other rewards for my efforts included my latest-ever Stone-curlew (4), an I-can't-see-you-so-you-can't-see-me Little Owl, and the first Fieldfare of the autumn.

Percentage of target to date - 105%
Distance cycled - 575.5mls / 926.2km
Latest addition -  Black Redstart (162) 18 October

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Suspect device

I get really fed up with Acrocephali. It’s not that they scare me (the effect they have on most sensible and well-balanced people); I actually quite like pitting my wits against them and have hit the net a couple of times during my time in the Middle East. However, they are an unremitting, inevitable and literal pain in the neck here on Abu Dhabi island. With practically no ground cover of any quality whatsoever, any self-respecting (or hungry) warbler is shurely to be found 20 feet up in the Ghaf trees and that means you are always going to struggle; finding one does little more than give you a sinking pit in your stomach. And this was the case with my only small Acro so far this autumn; picked up yesterday, it had me straining and cursing as I tried and failed to piece together views beyond a seemingly longish thin bill running off the end of a decent (for an Acro) supercilium, unsettlingly colourless underparts and a wispy, flattened general shape. Not a hope of primary projection, remex edges, tertials or emarginations on this one and so predictably all I had to show was severe warbler neck and a stubbed toe on a thorn, to remind me that I still had feet (not having seen them for 30 minutes). Menetries’s, Olly and Chiffy all materialised and gave killer views in that same tree, but not a bit of what I was really after.

Equally boring and featureless, yet much, much easier, we have also had a decent, early arrival of Plain Leaf-Warblers. I am now on six for AD this October; we always get a few autumn birds that cross the Gulf and hit the coast instead of the mountains directly but this year they have been especially obliging. In contrast, wheatears and shrikes have been at a low ebb locally and so I am still waiting for my first isabellinus. However, perfectly timed with previous years, Nightjars came through in a strong wave last weekend, with scores of seven on Friday and four or five more next day. One of the latter was the most perfectly posed I have seen for many years; it is easy to be blasé about kicking these hauntingly evocative birds out of dusty scrub here in the UAE, so one like this at 10 feet every so often is a necessary re-calibrator.

Other good birds have included the first Pin-tailed Snipe just back in, returning Heuglin’s Gulls and White Wagtails (found five Masked not far off island last week but none so far where it counts), my second Rosefinch of the autumn, up to two Wrynecks in a day (it’s been my best year ever for these) and the marvellous spectacle of eight Black-crowned Night-Herons circling at dawn; I have only seen one other suspected migrant here in six years. Less rare but more welcome was a Northern Pintail; Shoveler next?

Total so far - 188 (104%)
Last additions – Plain Leaf-Warbler (5th October)

Beauty and the beast to finish with...