26 Dec 2015

26 Dec 15 - Stuffed From Christmas

The view from the rockery just above my big pond today.
Common Frog: He or she is still looking fat

24 Dec 2015

24 Dec 15 - One Of Santa's Little Helpers

I popped down to Middle Beach, Studland late this afternoon to have a quick look around in case there had been any changes to the local Wintering Divers, Grebes & Seaducks in Studland Bay. A couple of scans didn't reveal anything unusual further out. Then I started scanning the closer areas of sea & immediately picked up a larger shape moving in the water. A double-take was needed. Yes it really was a Sika Deer that was swimming North parallel to the shore & about 30 metres off the beach. Sika Deers are proficient swimmers & have no problems swimming out to Brownsea Island within Poole Harbour. But it is the first time, I've seen one swimming in the open sea.
Sika Deer: Swimming this afternoon off Middle Beach. I saw it swim about a 1/4 mile from from Middle Beach to where it it finally came out of the sea. The chances are that it was chased into the sea at South Beach: a 1/2 mile swim
While I can't be certain, my money is on it was chased by a dog & the only way to escape was to head out into the sea. The beach was heaving with people & unleashed dogs. Sadly the reality is that many of these dogs are untrained by their irresponsible owners. There are some clearly sensible & caring dog owners who will put their dogs on a lead as they get closer to flocks of Brent Geese or Waders, but for every considerate dog owner at Studland, I see several who don't seem to care about the wildlife as long as their precious pooch gets to run around chasing everything. Sadly, I am yet to see the NT wardens on their beach asking people to control their dogs.

As I watched the Sika Deer it was swimming strongly along the shoreline, but seemed to be looking for somewhere to come out. But it wasn't helped by people who were walking up to the water's edge & follow it along the shore so they could get photos on their mobiles, including two women who should have known better & also should have backed off & leased their dogs. I quickly gave up on my scanning & drove down to the Knoll Beach car park, reaching it, just as the Sika Deer passed the NT cafe (all shut up for Christmas). Fortunately, as I got onto the beach there was one crowd of on-lookers & then a reasonable gap to the next group. More importantly there were no dogs running loose here. The Sika Deer seemed to be wanting to come ashore, so I asked the one guy trying to get closer to return to the back of the beach with his friends, who took his (for once) well controlled Labrador with him. Both came back & that helped create a bigger gap for the Sika Deer to come ashore. Once ashore it belted for the dunes & the woods around Littlesea. It looked OK as it came ashore, but I guess it was feeling very stressed about its swim.

So one of Santa's Little Helpers got safely ashore. Perhaps now Santa will answer my requests for my Christmas present. Ideally, I would ask for more consideration for the wildlife around Studland, but I know that isn't realistic. So my other Christmas present would be an American Wigeon in Brands Bay before the end of the year. With only one Poole Harbour record: a First Winter male on 4 & 5 May 1987, then this is a species that we are long overdue in seeing the second record. I just hope if Santa does response, it doesn't get mis-delivered to another part of Poole Harbour.
Another of Santa's Little Helpers in less stressful times: Middlebere (25 May 14)

Finally, thanks for following the Blog over the last year & I would like to wish you:
A Happy Christmas & Great New Year

8 Dec 2015

8 Dec 15 - Clearly Not Bedtime Yet

Normally by early December, I would expect that the local Common Frogs were all hibernating & only occasionally appearing during a short mild snap. Apart from a few days in late Nov, when there was a cold snap, it has been a mild Autumn. As a result, I've see a Common Frog in my larger pond on a few occasions recently. Today, I saw it out looking for some food. Although it is hard to see where it will put that food, as it was remarkably stout.
Common Frog

24 Nov 2015

23 Nov 15 - Hiding In The Fluffy Reed Mace

About once a year, Longham Lakes have provided me with a good excuse to desert Poole Harbour. In some years, it has been Dragonflies that have provided the distraction with my first Red-eyed Damselflies, Brown Hawkers & a Lesser Emperor, over recent years. In Dec 2011, it was my first Dorset Blue-winged Teal. This year, it was my first UK Penduline Tits since the Lytchett Bay Penduline Tit in Jan 1998. It is perhaps ironic that on the 22 Nov 15, Lytchett Bay Birder, Shaun Robson, had 2 Penduline Tits fly past him while doing a Vis Mig watch. They quickly disappeared out of view of his watchpoint & despite being looked for afterwards, could not be relocated. Later that afternoon, came the news they have been relocated at Longham Lakes. But with WeBS roost counts at dusk for Black-necked Grebes around Studland, there wasn't enough time for me to get over that afternoon & still do the dusk count. Frustratingly, Longham locals looked unsuccessfully for the Penduline Tits the following morning & I thought I was going to miss them. Fortunately, they were relocated early in the afternoon & were still on view when I arrived. They stayed around for about twenty minutes, doing their best to hide in the fluffy Reed Mace heads. Towards dusk they quietly disappeared to the Western side of the lake.
Penduline Tit: This was the brighter individual & looks like a male
Penduline Tit: When quietly feeding, they were quite unobtrustive & wouldn't be hard to overlook
Penduline Tit: The first individual
Penduline Tit: I was pleased to see the second individual join the first one
Penduline Tit: The second individual
Penduline Tit: The second individual. The grey forehead just touches the top of the bill which looks like this is a 1st Winter female
Penduline Tit: A final shot of the two. Soon afterwards they moved to the back of the pool, before heading off the Western side of the Southern lake. Presumably, looking for somewhere to roost
Longham Lakes were converted to fishing, recreational & wildlife lakes about six years ago. They are freshwater lakes next to the River Stour & despite being a relatively new Birding patch in Dorset, the lakes have already built up an impressive species list. One of the local Poole Harbour Birders, Steve Morrison, was involved in a lot of the early survey work on the site, prior to it being converted. Steve has recently told me that he had recommended retaining the area of small pools with the Reed Mace that the Penduline Tits were feeding in, for their wildlife. Clearly, a wise recommendation as this area has provided a restaurant to the 2013 Penduline Tit, as well as, these two. I will have to look for some feather duster covers to put on the South Haven Reed Mace!!!

15 Nov 2015

15 Nov 15 - The End Of The Taxonomical Sub Committee (For The UK List)

Birders were shocked today to hear the surprise news that the British Union For Ornithology, BUFO, have bowed to government pressure & disbanded BUFO's long standing Taxonomic Sub Committee, TSC. For many years the TSC had provides an independent assessment of Bird species & subspecies. Now in a stroke & with no explanation, BUFO's independent scientific committee has been shelved. A Birder was recently heard to quip, Fowl Play was involved, but this is no laughing matter. It is being quietly whispered that the government Home Secretary, Mrs May, had been lobbying hard to do away with the TSC after 2015 has repeatedly shown that the government's has failed to secure the UK borders against arrivals of immigrants. The Birding world have been shocked to hear it was pressure from Mrs May, especially given her ancestral links to the world of Bird taxonomy. It was her Great Great Great Grandfather & pioneering naturalist, Cape May, who first described this small American Warbler.
Cape May Warbler: It is widely believed that Mrs May personally intervened to grant a visa for this individual to visit the May ancestral home in the Shetlands two years ago. Baltasound (29 Oct 13)
A BUFO spokesman said off the record, we believe the government is trying to look tough about immigration. They believe that by disbanding the TSC, they will fool the general public into thinking they are taking strong action against immigration. By stopping the TSC, they think the public will believe no new species will appear in the UK.

But a different viewpoint comes from the UK's leading NGO, Rare Immigrant Alert. They have been monitoring the arrival of these immigrants for 24 years. Their spokesman Mr 'Golly Its' Mark said 2015 is a year that has seen unprecedented waves of immigrants. They have many arrival routes. Mr Mark said that the Immigration Services should be commended for making good progress in a historically weak area of Scillies & the South West. Few immigrants have made it through that route this year, an area that has seen a lot of success over recent years. He added, I think that is a really good news story, it's a sod of a journey from my home in Norfolk.

But action has been poor at other traditional points of weakness such as the South Coast. In Sep, a major breach occurred with the well documented arrival of an American Acadian Flycatcher at Dungeness. This was seen perching on boats on the beach. Perhaps even the one that landed it. Large numbers of left wing do-gooders & environmental enthusiasts rushed there to welcome it, but not one member of the Immigration Services was seen. Mr Mark said the government have focused their staff on the Eurotunnel & the Dover ferries & have taken their eye of the ball off the UK coastline.
Acadian Flycatcher: This left egg on the face of the UK Immigration Services. Dungeness (22 Sep 15)
Another area of clear under-investment by the Immigration Services has been the Northern Isles. Mr Mark said this whole region had been totally ignored. There have been unprecedented arrivals of Yellow-browed Warblers from Eastern Russia. They came from well outside the EU. It is widely suspected that other Scandinavian EU partner countries were allowing the fast transit through the region to the Northern Isles. Once there, they quickly dispersed throughout the UK. A government spokesman, who refused to be named, said this has been devolved to the regions & it was the failure of the Scottish National Independence Party (SNIP).
Yellow-browed Warbler: The spokesman said the UK government had helped a number of these Yellow-browed Warblers get onto ferries from Portsmouth & Plymouth, to encourage them to travel down to Spain, once they got South of the border. This is our payment for the Spanish & French authorities helping to dump large numbers of Killer Jellyfish on our beaches (read the full exclusive by the Daily Wail here). Gisla, Lewis (16 Oct 15)
But there were many other breaches of the immigration in areas under SNIP's control, with a Wilson's Warbler, a Chestnut Bunting, as well as, a number of rare Thrushes & Warblers arriving throughout the Northern Isles & that was just this Autumn. Mr Mark said, SNIP has failed completely to get on top of immigration in the Northern Isles.
Chestnut Bunting: Papa Westray (28 Oct 15)
But the problem isn't confined to Scotland. The Welsh government has also failed when a new Welsh point of entry shown up in 2015 on the North West Islands of Wales. Here a Cretzschmar's Bunting arrived fresh from Turkey. It stayed for over a week & only disappeared when a Welsh government boat was seen approaching the island. This is another species which clearly arrived into Greece & should have stayed & sought residence there. But instead it appears to have been smuggled on its way to the UK, via Bardsey Island.
Cretzschmar's Bunting: The start of a new Welsh smuggling route for immigrants? Bardsey (18 June 15)
Many Birders are worrying now about who will decide about future splits which might be allowed onto to the UK List. A government official said the UK Treasury has this in hand. The TSC is to be privatised in the next year. His Secretary of State, Mr Bornin-Oz, has been holding high level talks with a number of interested parties. Recent discussions have included meetings & a state visit from the Chinese President, See Dis-Pingu. Birders feel their lists might be devalued if Pingu the Penguin, Peking Duck and Mandarin Duck are fully admitted onto the UK List.
Ring-necked Parakeet or Green Squawker: Presumed to be the former. Bharatphur, India (27 Jan 14)
Another more recent state visit was from the Indian Prime Minister, Mr Moody. Birders were less sure about this. Many were critical that they will be expected to fully tick Ring-necked Parakeet & how to separate it from the near identical Green Squawker Parakeet. The latter has been claimed on a number of occasions in London, but so far hasn't been accepted onto the UK List. Birders have said, if Martin Garner hasn't figured this out on the excellent Birding Frontiers website, then what hope have we got.
Indian House Crow: Some Twitchers were pushing for the Indian Birding Club to take over the role of the TSC, hoping they will go soft on any future Indian House Crows records. Port Blair ferry, Andamans, India (23 Dec 13)
A few years ago, the obvious Atlantic partner organisation would have been the American Ornithological Union. But following a recent & bitter bidding war, the AOU's Taxonomical Committee was recently sold to the Disney Corporation. This has been watched with interest by members of the UK government who couldn't decide if they preferred the rival bid by the Fox Corporation or whether they would prefer to see the Fox bid hunted to extinction. Birders expect to lose out, if the privitised AOU Taxonomical Committee take over the UK List. This would be a double whammy, with the loss of species such as Green-winged Teal, but also having to pay huge costs of taking the family to see Donald Duck, following the recognition by the AOU of the offshore UK dependency of Disneyland, Paris.
Teal (left) & Green-winged Teal (right): One of several potential losses to the UK List as the AOU Taxonomical Committee can't tell the difference (once the specimen has been shot & cooked). Brands Bay (31 Dec 14)
Many Birders feel the obvious choice for maintaining the UK List (if the TSC couldn't be saved), would be the Association of European Records & Rarities Committees, AERRC. But it is widely believed that Tory back benchers have already nobbled this option, as it is one of the government's demands over the future of the UK in Europe.

But perhaps Birders biggest fear is that the role of the TSC will go to the lowest bidder. Many Birders feels this could be sold cheaply to 'Bare' Lee Credible who is Life President of the IQ40 Club. Mr Credible has been lobbying hard for this in recent weeks, including a recent statement on Twitter of "It is crazy that an out-dated committee is making decisions of what listers can tick. That is a job I should be doing". There are rumours of a secret pact between Tory back benchers & Nigel Farfetched, the leader of UKIQP, the political wing of The IQ40 Club. This has increased the fear that the role will go to the IQ40 Club to 'buy off the Tory back bench rebels'. Birders on recent twitches having been overheard discussing this worrying scenario.
Crag Martin: Why aren't Birders on BF calling this an escape? It's a worrying time. Chesterfield Zoo (14 Nov 15)
A Birdforum spokesman said, there has been so much worry about the disbanding of the BUFO TSC on BF, that we had to upgrade to faster servers. He added, there has been a near total absence of anybody stating the Crag Martin was an escape. A year ago we would have expected the escaped Crag Martin theory to be a big discussion point on BF given the crazy date, ridiculous location, the end of the Autumn & the long dark nights. We even tried adding our own inflammatory statements to encourage people, but we have been unable to get Birders to say they wouldn't go to the end of their own road to see a Crag Martin. This is unprecedented for a top ten rarity. That's how much Birders are focused on the replacement to the TSC. What is clear is Birders will be spending the Winter months worrying about the future credibility of their Lists.

14 Nov 2015

14 Nov 15 - Arse, Drink, Feck, Feck, Martin

Last Sunday lunchtime while I was in the Brands Bay hide, the pager mega'd for a Craggy Island Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris fatherjacki) at Chesterfield. A quick look at the map, showed it wasn't that much further North than where I met up with Chris Gooddie for the Chestnut Bunting twitch & therefore should be just about possible to reach by dusk. Normally, I will wait for an update or two to say the new mega is still there before leaving, but that would have left me arriving after dark. So knowing how Craggy Island Martins don't like to hang around, I decided to leave immediately & hope for updates as I travelled. I had only gone halfway to Poole, when the next update came through saying it had gone. I carried on as far as the Poole Tesco store, where I abandoned the twitch in favour of the weekly food shop. I was worried I had made the wrong choice when I had another positive update while still shopping. It was too late to do anything by then, as I certainly would struggle to have got there before dark. A final update said there were no more sightings that day: phew. That evening I half made a plan with Peter Moore for a combined twitch for the Monday, if there was positive news the following morning. First light saw me out at South Haven, but the winds weren't brilliant & little was on the move. Then the pager mega'd again, almost immediately following by it has gone again. Peter was doing his week on call as Dorset Country Council's Major Emergency Man. He had noted his pager had gone off & it was a Birding emergency & not the other pager indicating a major disaster in Dorset. He made some final arrangements to take the day off, took great care to hand over the DCC pager (& keep the RBA pager), while I went back to looking for Birds at South Haven, until the next positive sighting. That soon came through & we both headed off to meet up at Wimborne. We had a good journey up & arrived into the car park at 13:15. Walking up to the nearest Birders, I checked the news of the latest sighting about 25 minutes before. The response was grumbles of 'Well some people saw it, but not me'. In hindsight, I could point out the particular Birder was standing in a daft place, well back in the car park, with a poor view of the church. Crossing the car park to the road, a shout went up & I saw it flight across the road to the church. Then almost immediately back again. I half wondered if Grumbling Man saw it: probably not. On both times, it was clearly the Crag Martin (although to be honest without getting the bins on it, I wasn't going to rule out Rock Martin (aka Pale Crag Martin)). We found a good vantage point on the road & expected it to appear again within a few minutes. Two hours later, the car park meter was topped up for another two hours, but in vain as it failed to show again that day. Easily, the worst seen tick on my UK List. ARSE.
The Crooked Spire: It is an impressive church (9 Nov 15)
After a slower drive back that night, I opted for a lie in the following morning. So I hadn't had breakfast when the pager alerted to say it was still there. I worked out I wouldn't get there until early afternoon, i.e. the time it had disappeared on the first two days. So it was doing to be tight to get there in time before it disappeared. I didn't bother leaving & settled to lots of cups of tea. DRINK.
The Crooked Spire: It is believed that it might of been the combination of unskilled craftsmen (as it was added soon after the Black Death would have decimated the population), use of unseasoned timber & uneven heating of the lead on the spire which caused the unusual shape (9 Nov 15)
Having decided not to go Tuesday, frustratingly, it showed most of the day & would have been easily twitchable (hindsight's great isn't it). So I was leaving at 04:30 on the Wednesday morning & on site at the church by 08:30. After two hours, I gave up & started exploring Chesterfield. I found another old church with lots of trees that looked an ideal feeding place, but it wasn't there. After two hours of driving & looking, I gave up & went to sleep in the Chesterfield Tesco's car park. Ironically, right next to the football ground where it was seen on Sat pm. I did look around the Tesco's car park & a prominent hotel opposite. But only looked along one side of the footie ground & that was only a quick scan as I was tired. After some valuable sleep & a bit more looking, I decided it had gone & started for home before it got dark. FECK.
The Crooked Spire: It is pretty impressive that it is still standing, 650 years after it was built (11 Nov 15)
Confusion seemed to occur the next day when it was reported again. This was followed by a contender for the most bizarre Twitter message of the year, that the Crag Martin sighting had been confused with an aeroplane. Perhaps one of the Red Bull pilots was exercising his plane around the Crooked Spire. The following day, another report, followed by confirmation it was back at the Crooked Spire. Could I really fancy a third attempt. FECK.

Part of the crowd on the Monday afternoon: Many more people were watching from poorer watch point in the car park, but most had gone by this point (9 Nov 15)
This morning, I was awake before 06:00. Deciding to take advantage of waking up early, I had a quick breakfast & decided to get on the road North. I still wasn't sure if I should be going, as the forecast was for rain most of the day (& it didn't perform in the rain on Monday pm). I was hoping there would be news before 09:00 as on most days it had been seen, there was news before 09:00. Warwick (09:45) came & went & still no positive news. I stopped for a loo break about twenty miles before the turnoff to Chesterfield. Well I might as well stop, as there was still no positive news. Back at the car five minutes later & the pager was ringing to say it was still there. Lots of frustrating 50mph roadworks to get through & then I was turning off to Chesterfield. Having had plenty of practice, I was quickly in the car park. I could see it was still there from the car park, but carried straight onto the main road, as I knew there were better views of the Crooked Spire from the road. It was circling the spire at great speed & making some very rapid manoeuvres in flight. I can now see why it was confused with a Red Bull pilot. MARTIN.
Crag Martin: A decent view at last
Crag Martin: Remarkable hard to photograph in flight, due to its rapid turns, but with Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Merlin & Peregrine all being seen passing the church, then perhaps that is why it is still alive
Crag Martin: It was a very similar colouration to the colour of the steeple tower
Ten minutes later it was gone. Twenty minutes later, it reappeared for another ten minutes of racing around the Crooked Spire, before vanishing just as quickly. I topped up the meter for another hour & returned to natter with some friends. Then the rain set in & didn't look like it would clear. I gave it another thirty minutes & decided that it probably wasn't going to show again & heading off to get some food, fuel & started to head home. When we were flying back from the Chestnut Bunting, I said I reckoned there was still time for one last mega this Autumn, but I was less certain if it was going to be a Tick for me. I really can't see much chance of any more Ticks for me now, unless we get a Northern Isles Brunnich's Guillemot in December. Perhaps the Autumn is almost over now.

28 Oct 2015

28 Oct 15 - Checking The Bunting

On 22 Oct, the pager beeped for a Chestnut Bunting on the small island of Papa Westray, Orkney on the previous day, but it hadn't been seen that day. Some photos emerged that produced further online speculation as to its actual identity: but the photos weren't great. Either way it seemed an academic discussion for most Birders (but not the finders obviously) as the Chestnut Bunting had been & gone. But on 24 Oct, the pager mega'ed to say it had been relocated a few hundred metres from where it was originally found. This prompted a number of Birders to explore ways of getting there for the next day: a Sunday. Having looked at the complexity of getting onto Papa Westray, which involved a drive to Northern Scotland to take the ferry to Orkney & then trying to get onto a charter flight onto the island: a long drive, complex logistics & very expensive. Had I not just had a few days on the Western Isles, I might have used it as an excuse to have a short break on the Orkneys. But after the concerns of its identification & with the previous eight records all on Cat E List (i.e. not tickable), I decided to stick with the committed plan of doing my WeBS count that afternoon.
The Orkney Islands coming into range: Papa Westray is one of the two most Northerly of the Orkney Islands, but it lies to the West of North Ronaldsay: which is closest to Fair Isle. It's still off the top of this map
On 26 Oct, much better photos emerged of the Chestnut Bunting from the first mainland twitchers, both confirming the identity & that it was considered to be a First Winter male. I found more information about the previous records of Chestnut Buntings & why they had been placed in Cat E (see BOURC 37th Report). Six had been in May to July, which the BOU considered this was outside of the pattern for other accepted far Eastern vagrants. The other two records were in Sep, which the BOU considered were too early to have been genuine vagrants, based on their movements through Beidaihi (North China) & Hong Kong. Additionally, most individuals had been adults. The report also stated that First Winter individuals in Oct or Nov would be considered seriously. This was suddenly looking a lot more hopeful. If any record was going to get accepted onto the British List, then it should be this one. This was supported by a number of accepted records, or likely to be accepted records, scattered across the Western Palearctic, included a First Winter individual on Ouessant island on 25 Oct 14: the Brittany equivalent of the Scillies.
Getting closer: EGEP is the ICAO airport code for Papa Westray airport
At this point, I saw places on a charter from Yorkshire being offered on the pager for 28 Oct, which was still two days away. A few phone calls later, I was sixth on the list for the charter, but it was only a five seater plane, but there might be two planes. By the following afternoon, the Chestnut Bunting was still there & I was on the single plane that was going, as three of the people ahead of me on the queue had managed to get over a day earlier (thanks guys). I was all set to pick up two of the passengers over night on the way to Yorkshire. I met the plane organiser, Vaughan Watkins, another ex-Southampton Birder, who I hadn't seen for 28 years at Chieveley services on the A34. A couple of hours later, we were picking up Chris Gooddie, near Derby. After a good journey, we arrived with enough time to go & find a quick breakfast near the airfield. We had all agreed we weren't planning on leaving from Yorkshire, until we knew the Chestnut Bunting was still there. As I was driving the final few miles to the airfield from the cafe, Vaughan received a message from the incredibly helpful Paul Higson on Orkney, to say one of the local Birders on Papa Westray had been out at first light & it was still there. The message ended with "Scramble, Scramble, Scramble". A couple of minutes later, I was pulling into the airfield to see our other two companions, Matthew Deans & Mark Sutton, who had just heard the news.
Matthew Deans & Mark Sutton (right): This photo suggests there was more room in the plane than there seemed to be in reality
Myself & Vaughan Watkins (right): Definitely tighter in theback seats
Our pilot was keen to get going, but was concerned we might not be able to land on Papa Westray, due to low cloud. The plan was to leave & see how the weather developed, with Plan B being a landing at Wick to wait & see, if the weather was poor. So all loaded we were quickly on our way. Fortunately, as we were flying, our pilot said the weather forecast for Orkney was improving & he planned to go straight to Papa Westray & see if we had enough visibility to get in. As we descended, we started to see the neighbouring island of Westray & then Papa Westray.
Papa Westray: It was overcast, cold & windy on the island, but at least it wasn't raining 
All set for the landing, which went perfectly. We were asked if we saw the Chestnut Bunting if we could be back in a couple of hours as the blustery winds were due to increase to a Force 7 wind that afternoon. It was only a ten minute walk from the airstrip to the track which the Chestnut Bunting had been frequenting.
Papa Westray is a small island & only 3.5 square miles in size
Looking West as I was walking to Hollard Farm: I saw few trees on bushes on the island, although there were some around Holland Farm 
No other Birders present, but we had been told to look at the end of the long track or walk around just into the field at the end. We got to the gate, but no sign from there.
Its favourite lane
A good search in the field & no joy either after fifteen minutes of looking. Fortunately, Vaughan & Chris walked back up the track & found it grovelling in the grass at the edge of the track. I suspect we had walked too fast down the track & had managed to boot it without realising & it had then flown behind us on the track.
Chestnut Bunting: It spent a lot of time partially obscured & grovelling in the grass
Chestnut Bunting: It is a Juvenile Male plumage, as they don't moult until reaching the Wintering grounds
Chestnut Bunting: An all too typical view based on my photos
Chestnut Bunting
Chestnut Bunting
Either way, we were soon all watching it in the grass at the edge of the track. By staying still or moving slowly, it was quite happy to feed in the grass about ten or fifteen metres from us. Despite, being fairly short grass, it was very adept at keeping out of sight or partially obscured. Eventually, it quickly crossed the central bare earth track, which allowed some photos in the open. A little later, it quickly walked back across the track. Finally, we carefully walked a bit closer so we were about eight metres away.
Chestnut Bunting
Chestnut Bunting
Chestnut Bunting
As it was feeding on the edge of the track, it tended to move in one direction. Chris decided to take advantage of this & jumping the wall & then using it as cover, he moved to the far side of the Chestnut Bunting. The plan was he was going to slowly move it towards us, but it seemed more happy to feed & walk towards him.
Chris Gooddie: Enjoying it slowly walk towards him
At one point, it stopped to have a drink from a small puddle on the track & then sat in the open for a minute or so.
Chestnut Bunting
Chestnut Bunting: Note the pointed tail feathers
Chestnut Bunting
Chestnut Bunting
Soon after one of the islanders on a walk came past & it quickly flew onto the wall, before disappeared further along the track. As we had all had plenty of time to watch it & get photos, then we decided on a quick look around Hollard Farm on the way back to the plane.
A trip photo after we had all seen it: (L to R), myself, Mark Sutton, Matthew Deans, Vaughan Watkins & Chris Gooddie
Looking South from the Chestnut Bunting track
Holland Farm: Site of the last UK Ovenbird. Had it stayed for a few days, I might have already visited Papa Westray. Having a tractor parked outside your house will be a lot more sensible than a car
Back at the plane
The windsock shows how strong the wind was
We had a refuelling stop at Wick both for the plane & with fish & chips (just chips for me) & about 2.5 hours later we were looking to land again in Yorkshire. Again there was a worry from the pilot as to whether we would be able to land, given there was a lot of mist in Yorkshire, but fortunately, it clear over the airfield (but with a fog bank only a mile beyond the airfield). Had we not been able to land, then it would have been a diversion to Teesside airport & a taxi back to our airfield. We were all relieved to be able to start the journey South again (& not to have had to go via Teesside airport).
Taking off over the Chestnut Bunting lane
The Chestnut Bunting stayed for one more day & then disappeared after the first clear skies night for at least a week, when there was a clear out of Thrushes from the area. Further reading up has shown that Chestnut Buntings, in line with several other closely related species migrate in their juvenile plumage & then moult on their Wintering grounds. So I guess it is fairer to call it a juvenile male in its First Autumn, rather than a First Winter. Young Birds are prone to make navigational errors on their first migration, so that would look good for it being wild. The date looks good. I also saw a map of the breeding grounds for White's Thrushes & Chestnut Buntings & there was very good overlap. I'm sure few Birders doubted the authenticity of the White's Thrush that was found on Shetland on 23 Oct: just two days after the Chestnut Bunting was first seen. But obviously, there is a more established pattern of late Autumn White's Thrushes in the UK.
The Southern end of the island has a beach & a lake
Personally, I think if this Chestnut Bunting doesn't get accepted, then it will be hard to admit any records onto the UK List. But I also think the BOU have made a good analysis of the previous UK records & can't see any of them getting accepted after the event. One of the other factors affecting those records, was the species was being regularly imported into Europe up to about ten years ago, but apparently this trade has been stopped following the avian flu epidemic a few years ago. All the previous records were before the ban. It is interesting to see the usual band of naysayers on line pointing out how approachable this Chestnut Bunting was. Well it was happy to feed about ten metres away while we were there, but did quickly flush when the islander tried to walk close to it. I have seen a photo of somebody standing close to it, but certainly no closer than Birders have got to a number of other approachable Buntings in the past on the Northern Isles. But given its Cat E classification, I will be waiting to see if the BOU accept it as a Cat A vagrant before ticking it. I think the supporting evidence looks good, but will have to wait & see. In the meantime, it will go down as another of those memorable twitches in my books with a great bunch on the plane.