5 Dec 2020

22 Nov 20 - This Autumn Keeps On Giving

I had been out at the St Aldhelms patch on the previous day and had ended up taking the scope & trying a seawatch. This was particularly difficult as it was gusting to F5 to F6 South West at the head. A bit over an hour of seawatching was all I could face & I wasn't able to find much more than two Kittiwakes heading West, about twenty five Gannets moving East & West and low number of Auks: some of which were possible to identify as Razorbills or Guillemets, with the rest being too far out to identify.

Sunday 22 Nov was a great contrast, with mild, still, overcast conditions. I took the telescope with me for another seawatch: this time from my normal viewpoint overlooking Billy Winspit's Garden. Billy Winspit was the owner of the cottage in Winspit closest to the sea until his death in 1966. Apparently, he also cleared the ledge below my seawatching position as a garden. It has long since become overgrown.
The Garden: The Garden is the closest ledge of vegetation, before the cliff drops down to the bushy bolder field at the base of the Head (6 Nov 20)
With the still conditions, the seawatching was considerably more pleasant. The highlights were a couple of Great Northern Divers East and a flock of sixteen Common Scoters West. There were less Gannets, but better numbers of Auks seen: with most about a mile out. Not a great return for over an hour of seawatching, but having been unable to visit in the Spring due to the lockdown, the GNDs and Common Scoter were patch year ticks. Eventually, I decided I had had enough and it was time to head home. I had a quick look in the nearby fields behind returning to the coastal footpath, immediately East of Quarry Ledge.
Quarry Ledge: one of my favourite parts of the St Aldhelms patch. It always looks like it should have something good & has yet to produce my first star species (1 Jul 14)
As I got back to the coastal footpath, I saw a small pale brown & white Passerine, about 25 metres away. With the naked eye, I assumed was going to be a Chiffchaff or Siberian Chiffchaff (although I hadn't seen any Chiffchaffs during the previous fortnight at St Aldhelms). Raising the bins, it was immediately clear it wasn't a Warbler & an RBF was the first thought. Before I had had chance to check the head on features that I could see, it flicked up a metre or two, before landing in the same bush. The white in the tail in flight was obvious and the identification was settled down to RBF (Red-breasted Flycatcher) or Taiga Flycatcher: wow.

It stayed in the same patch of bushes close to the footpath for the next 20 minutes or so, only moving away from the footpath when a couple of groups of walkers passed by. It was generally perched, but with occasional flycatching sorties. When still it was noted to pump its tail on occasions.
Red-breasted Flycatcher: The original cropped photo was very misty, but my mate Steve Morrison has managed to clean up the image, albeit it is still a horrible photo & the processing has resulted in a much more vivid colouration than it really was
Towards the end of the 20 minutes, it moved about 15 metres away from the footpath & inland. Soon after that I lost sight of it: I initially thought it had dropped to the far side of the bushes & out of my view. After about a half hour of waiting with no further sightings, I was fairly confident it hadn't moved inland, but it had left my immediate area. There is a line of bushes along field edges where Birds bush hop off the Head towards the main track & Trev Haysom's quarry. As I couldn't see it there, the most likely option was it had gone down into overgrown upper undercliff of the Garden. I walked back to my seawatching viewpoint overlooking the Garden & quickly picked it up flycatching from the back of the lone Sycamore on the ledge below me. I saw it fly catch several times, but it always landed out of view. After about five minutes, it disappeared & I suspect it dropped down into the bottom of the undercliff. Despite searching by Peter Moore, Phil Saunders (both of who arrived after it disappeared) & myself, we couldn't relocate it. We gave up about 15:15. I had rung a few local Birders who watch the site & Poole locals, but didn't spread the news too far initially given the combination of the current lockdown restrictions and my initial expectation that it was going to move through within a few minutes, as migrants don’t stop in this area. Perhaps the combination of a short light shower, kept it in the area for a bit longer than I expected.

While it was still showing close to where I had found it, I decided to try getting a photo with the IPhone & Leica 25-50 x 82 scope. Whilst being a cracking scope, it has always failed miserably at phone scoping, even when I used an adaptor with my old IPhone. So I'm amazed I managed to get anything at all with it. The colour balance is poor, but it does confirm that the upper tail coverts are slightly paler than the tail & the pale edging of the largest tertial. Both features which also rule out it being a Taiga Flycatcher, along with the milkier warm brown colouration of the upperparts, the pale buffy upper breast band & sides to the breast and the paler base to the dark tipped bill.

I believe this is only the second record for St Aldhelms, although there are seven records for Winspit/Worth Matravers. All previous records are detailed by Steve Morrison's All Time St. Aldhelms Head List on Bubo: which includes Winspit, but excludes Chapmans Pool.