The unsound approach

28th October, West Cornwall (RDM)
Whoever said autumn was over can stick my American Bittern's can er....

25th October 2010 Urban Vis-mig (DB)

A crisp clear morning was too much for me to take, especially with the advancing swarms of Waxwings heading south across the country so I left the computer and headed out into the slums of Glasgow in search of my own Waxwings. Armed with only some change for a coffee, DSLR, and a new set of reinforced body-armor went out into Maryhill. The streets where lined with ripe berry trees but all remained empty. Small flocks of Fieldfares passed overhead and occasionally the odd bird would drop out into one of the roadside trees. Redwings, Chaffinch and Greenfinch joined in the passage and finally a single Waxwing trilling overhead. Onwards to the Botanic Garden where the vis-mig properly started. I lapped up the sun with a coffee in-hand and a steady stream of birds passed in front of me. Most clearly originated from the nearby university but the movement of thrushes continued and now the likes of Brambling, Grey Wags, Skylarks and a fat female Sparrowhawk, but no more ‘wings. Better luck tomorrow maybe…?


10-14th October, Northern Scotland (DB)

10th & 11th Oct saw myself straight up to Skye to get on with fieldwork. Two completely cloudless and windless days favoured a strong passage of Pink-feet across the island, a Guillemot flew at eye-level past my VP (half way up a mountain) and off out to the Minch shortly followed by a brace of AC's – nice. There was even a baby White-tailed Eagle with a backpack on for entertainment. Once work was complete I hit Waternish. On the way out a pair of Ring Ouzels just west of Portree bode well and within a few minutes of searching around Trumpan I had pulled a Rosefinch out the bag. The copse of rare and pool of dreams were still fruitless though – one day there will be a Hermit Thrush in there. I worked the various gardens and woods back along the peninsula but they were just too extensive so I gave up and headed out to Neist/Waterstein. The gardens were too mega, and a very brief Phyllosc may have been a Pallas's but never showed again. At Milovaig a Yellow-browed was present plus a late juv House Martin, the latter got the heart pumping for a second. Tanterlised by views of Barra and Uists I resisted the temptation to venture out that way and instead headed east...

12th Oct

Another windless day and phenomenal acoustics. Virtually nothing moved bar the odd flock of pinks and the occasional Buzz. Highlight was a single Lap south.


13th Oct

Early breakie and straight up the road to Skirza. Aim: start at the north and work south. Pinks and the occasional Barnie streamed south. Tens of Robins littered the gardens along with a couple of Redstarts, loads of Reed Bunts, a Yellowhammer, 300 Redwings in one garden etc etc etc and finally a couple of Laps over. Not a bad start but no Blyth’s Reed or Radde’s…yet.


Onwards and Nybster held a Yellow-brow although the habo looked pretty good. Next stop Keiss, and time to re-live the magic of a year ago. 300m SW of the hotel and a tiny flock of GP's was worth a scan. On the second pan through a small grey bird becomes apparent. A quick scope up and sure enough its a fine Juv AGP. As well as the usual features it was noticeable how elevated its rear end was in comparison to GP's when tilting its body forward to feed, this was very apparent in the long grass where it was the only one to show any tail/primaries when feeding. After a quick circuit of the field the flock got up and headed off SW. Result!



Buzzing with excitement I kept on hitting the sites; Noss, Latheronwheel, Dunbeath, Berriedale. Whilst the field of Noss were carpeted with larks, pipits, and finches, the woodland at Latheronwheel proved to be just too extensive and too rare and I couldn’t cope. At least Dunbeath had a reduced amount of cover which meant locating a Yellow-brow was substantially easier as well as an obliging Ring Ouzel. Berriedale was even scarier that Latheronwheel and again I could only psychologically cope with the tiny seaward section of cover but even this had another Yellow-brow in it. With dusk upon me I returned to Golspie to psyche myself up for another day of birding.


14th Oct


After finishing the last hour of work it was on with the thrashing. First stop Loch Fleet area to check through the geese/waders/gulls/seaduck. Again flat calm but overcast and a steady stream of mipits, crossbills and large divers (!) moved south along the coast (sadly no banana bills). Nothing interesting in the aforementioned groups but a superb adult Long-tailed Skua joined in with the Arctic’s to harass Kittiwakes before dropping on to the sea whilst 4 of the Arctic’s headed off inland! Embo proved Northern Eider-less as did Dornoch but plenty of LT Ducks, a few scoter and more vis-mig. A jaunt out over the saltmarsh for Dick's Pips and Shorelarks revealed a super juv Pec only 300m from the car. The bird flushed and called continuously whilst tazzing around before dropping back in, and vanishing in the tall veg-the birds just keep on coming! The rest of the saltmarsh proved unrewarding but full of potential although 3 Merlins together was a pleasant sight (no tundra tho’). Checked through thousands of geese, gulls and wigeon in Dornoch Firth - screwed my head up. Got access to Loch Evelix - just dodgy Aythya hybirds, a bunch of Scaup, and more head screwing. Final port of call - Nigg Bay. Brimming with birds including 18 000 Pinks, 200 Whoopers, and everything else. A distant 'grey' Goldie was probably just that but who knows and still no Snow Geese...yet. Not a bad haul in total for 4 days of work/birding; AGP, Pec, Rosefinch, 4 Yellow-brows, 3 Laps, and a Long-tailed Skua.


18th October, NE Norfolk (RDM)

Early start at Trimingham produced some big vizmig, mainly involving finches - stacks of Chaf, Gold and Siskin on the move north along with a few Laps and plenty of thrush. Highlight was a lone Waxwing that whistled north at 09.30. Happisburgh was great, particularly after the cold wind dropped a bit. Stand-out bird here was a Richard's Pipit that I found along the clifftop between the village and Cart Gap. It showed well for a minute but was easily booted and I thought it had f'd off, however, it was seen by some twitcher types later in the afternoon so obviously dropped back in to its favoured spot. No pics from me I'm afraid. Laps were all over the show with one flock of 32 north of the village and still plenty on the main clifftop field. Out to sea, 6 Grey Plover went north and 2 Dunlin south. Other recent highlights include a couple of Shorelark, Rock Pipits and 4 Twite (see below). Big frustration recently came in the form of a tree pipit species in the pub car park, that due to a combination of sun in the wrong place and over-eagerness booted into infinity before I could get a view (though odds are it was trivialis).

mid October, Brazilian Amazon (AL)

Well, the weeks are beginning to blur now and if I don't get to speak English soon I might forget how to. Still mustn't grumble, well, not too much. Am gradually coming to terms with the fact that I've missed one of the best Eire/UK autumns in living memory. Who, would have thunk it, a wood-warbler on Inishmore... Anyway, back to matters at hand, here's some photos...

fav birds of the week: fly-through flock of AGPs (with ubiquitous Brazilian Teals), good to get them on the inventory... (AL)

Tropical Screech-owl: I thought it would be a good idea to tape this in to my window at a fazenda we were staying at, it proved to be a good idea for the first five minutes when it gave killer views, but then it stayed there calling for the next hour and wouldn't let me sleep... (AL)

presumed tundrius Peregrine, an amazing pick by my field-assitant, given that it was sat in the shaded canopy of an emergent and we were passing by at 50 kph!

White-browed Purpletuft, in second-growth so canopy height rather manageable! (AL)

Turquoise Tanager (AL) technically dross, but quite pretty to look at... (AL)



12th - 14th October, Co. Kerry (RDM)

Since inventing the noble art of birdwatching, we Brits considered ourselves really good at it for a while. Quite quickly, the superior Scandy race took over, followed in brisk pursuit by the lads from the low countries. We could accept this, they're better than us at most things. However, now it seems even the French have unfurled their stringed-up onions and are throwing them one by one into our sobbing eye regions (apologies for low-level racism- as my girlfriend is French, I figure I can get away with it). Sein Island appears to be the new Corvo, well, at least the new Scilly. With a PB team dispatched to that latter archipelago last weekend we hoped to regain some of that lost national pride. How wrong we were (more of that to come on their return - and I'm predicting that they'll find nothing on their final morning). For my part in trying to turn around our nation's fortunes I went to, errr, Ireland...

Dunquin should have been amazing, and was quite exciting the first day with Black Redstart, 4 Pied Flys, 4 Reed Warblers, stacks of Chiffs and Goldrests as well as a few Willows. Nothing half-decent or better though. Bumped into the lovely Jill Crosher who was on good form with her usual mix of eloquence and shipyard language (Hi Jill!) as well as Seamus Enright and the lad who found the first Pied-billed last winter (sorry, didn't catch your name - drop us an email). Garden Warblers, Spot Fly, further Pied Flys, Whinchat and the like completed the scene at the peninsulas west end. I spent a morning on Valentia Island, which was pretty rubbish aside a further Pied Fly, zillions of finches and a Hen Harrier. On the way back to Dingle I stopped in at Trabeg and immediately spotted a lone wader on the first bit of mud - White-rumped Sandpiper! As I went around the corner I bumped into a lovely group of old girls on a birding holiday. They asked me if I'd seen the small mystery wader, oh no, beaten to it. Luckily they were referring to a Little Stint further down the estuary and hadn't seen the WRS up til then. The remaining wader sites were predictably pretty quiet, with other action limited to 3 Otters and the Black Tern at Lough Gill and 15 or so BNDs off Gowlane Strand.

11th October, East Norfolk (RDM)

With a plane to catch in the late pm, there was only time for a quick blast around a few sites out east. Having used up 95% of my allotted time at Happisburgh and Sea Palling, I only had 10 minutes to do Waxham. I had to stretch it to 15 though when I bumped into this elusive Pallas's Warbler. What a scorcher (and loads better than bloody bluetails). Come on!

10th October, The S.H.I.T

After struggling to maintain my composure with each refresh of Birdguides throughout Saturday, a slight nervous tension hung in the air as I disembarked the car at the staithe next day. Now, I was mainly nervous due to the RoMa detailed marsh tide ripping big water down channel. After nervously poking my way across through the soft sands (always a pant-filler what with £2,000 worth of camera equiment on the back), I slid across the freshly-wetted saltmarsh bare-foot to the island. You don't need me to tell you the action was still large, however, no singular biggie materialised and to be honest, I did lose a bit of interest once I was caught up by BTO guru, Nick Moran, who also gripped me off with a Jack Snipe.


9th October 2010 East Hills (RoMa)

Awesome day. Arrived half twelve with the monster marsh tide still hanging on in the creeks and caught up with Da Furze and Ian Prentice, heading for the hallowed pines. John found the RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL, at which time I was 50m away having just found a Great Grey Shrike on the very edge of the dune arc. Slightly galling, but an awesome bird. Really bright one, sticking low in the dense young pines at the apex of the arc with some of the many Robins. With it safely in the DSLR, we ploughed on; Yellow-brow, Firecrest, 4-5 Redstart, 3-4 Ring Ouzel, a Tree Pipit (sadly not ITP!), Garden Warbler, several Blackcap, scores of Chiffchaff, dozens of Brambling going over, stacks of Song Thrush, Redwing, Blackbird, a few Fieldfare, 1 Mistle Thrush and a second Hills tick for me today in the unlikely form of a Blue Tit. 2 Hen Harrier were dashing around as well, and the final action was a Black Redstart by the channel on the way back.

7/10/10 East Norfolk (RDMoores and JG)

Birding-wise, we’ve gone a bit Fernando Torres recently, our mana of a few years ago has deserted us, and we’ve stumbled through the past 12 months as mere shadows of our former selves, culminating in a proper howler back in September, the now infamous ’Flycatchergate’. Ideal tonic would be to come through with a good clean solid rarity find to get us back in the good books. Unfortunately the best we can muster is this dodgy scarce claim/id headache: an Acro at Happisburgh. First seen by ‘Roy back on 29 September, he got brief views and felt it looked good for Marsh Warbler, but couldn’t manage any pics. No pics = no claim with these beasts, so he forgot it, other than mentioning it to a few people as being “in the garden down from the church”. 

I visited on 4 October and following up a Lesser Whitethroat-like call coming from the bottom of a hedge near the mansion, found an Acro playing hide and seek in amongst the tall ruderals (in addition to a Yellow-browed Warbler and Firecrest). It then turned out that this was the same bird in the same place. I managed to get some shots but these were a bit rubbish so I headed back the next day, stood by the hedge for 4 hours and saw the bird for seven seconds, so again, we had nothing more to go on. We both travelled over on 6 October but the bird hadn’t shown by the time ‘Roy had to leave. I kept plugging away and eventually the litter bugger came out and I secured some better shots (see below)….

Now, we’re claiming it as a Marsh for the following reasons:

·         It’s got super long wings (relative to tail) with long PP.

·         Nice yellow legs and pale claws

·         Contrasty tertials - dark centered

·         General plumage tones, particularly the pale yellowy underparts, olivey tinge to the mantle

·         Even primary spacings

·         Face pattern/head shape – a bit subjective, but we think it looks better for Marsh and wrong for Reed

·         The call – it actually matched Hannu Jannes’ Blyth’s Reed Warbler recording spot-on, but we can rule out this species by the wings before we even start. We know Marsh can sound like this, but Reed rarely/never (?).

·         Ok, the bill is pretty long but depth/yellowness/pattern are again good for Marsh

This little ripper moved through at pace with a rampaging flock of Chiffs, Willows, crests and tits (RDM)

Hen Harrier trying to give a Redleg some what-for! (RDM)

4th October

Weather Report

At the risk of forcing eggs into grandma's unwilling toothless mouth, it's worth pointing out that the weather system currently looming off our western shore crossed the Atlantic in TWO DAYS. It came at a good angle, and followed a long period of southerly winds on the eastern seaboard that should have stacked up a good horde of 'potential'. Galway, Mayo, Kerry and Cork will take the first hit, but the system is set to sweep over the whole of the British Isles over the next 24hrs, Unst to Agnes. If you go out birding ANYWHERE, make sure you take your yank search images with you. West coasters, it's time to stop dithering about in the brambles and get into the canopy.

3rd October

Shetland (DB, SP, KL, TL) 

(per AL) News, just in, an email from Special-D, seems that he's having a great time but nothing big post River II. Seems that the nominal PB team and the Llamas are being thoroughly spanked by some Leics heroes...

"just a few quick pics which you can put on the web if you want. I'll try and get some words across when i get a break from this insanely rare birding. Can't cope up here. Today Horny and 14 Greenland Rolls, Little Bunt, 2 Rosefich, 3 YB, 2 Barred, Hawfinch, Turtle Dove, Wood Warbler, plus an elusive Acro but they aint no PG Tips or Swainsons.......D"




Paragominas, Brazil (AL) 

Mmm my first October ever without even a sniff of an east coast action - never mind an island ‘holiday’. Tough times, calling for vicariant survival techniques, like using 90% of my precious access to the internet refreshing Birdguides and most of the remaining credit on my UK Sim Card sending desperate texts to teams at opposite ends of the British Isles. Last news I got, Dan had found a River Warbler* (are they really common or something?) in a ditch on Shetland and Gilroy and the remainder of the class of 2001 are soon to be on Scilly.  During my last epic Amazonian field season I survived September by going out looking for waders every Sunday afternoon, amassing a respectable (and as yet unpublished data-set) despite the prerequisite massive hangover that followed my only morning of the week off. Paragominas had until now delivered the hangovers but not the waders. Pretty serious stuff, as without some sort of Holarctic contact it’s all too easy for one’s mind to wander off on a slow forest point count, to ponder upon what is in the last bush on Hills - to the extent that the soft ‘bock’ of a Crimson Fruitcrow emanating from the rainforest canopy might go unnoticed...

*he sent an image through, but its the worst ever taken of a bird by anyone, anywhere, so to spare a new B*rdforum thread I've binned it. Thankfully the record (the second River this autumn!) comes with stringent peer review, and now with Piner on the team no birds will be reported without supporting data in .jpeg, .mpeg, .wav and .mtDNA. So sorry if you hear about the news of the Sharp-shinned Hawk some time next autumn.  

So, the last microbacia – 443 – delivered a slice of autumnal action, when in the dying minutes of the last evening I finally found a lake with substrate fit for Calidris. Ignoring the myriad Brazillian Teals, Muscovies and Horned Screamers, a careful check of the shoreline revealed 6 Solitary Sandpipers, 2 Spotted Sandpipers, 2 Least Sandpipers (a Brazil tick for me) and best of all a Semipalmated Plover, which is practically unknown away from the coast. All in all more exciting than the presumed ‘first for Para’ I had found the previous evening – a smashing Masked Water-tyrant, a vagrant at least sensu Veit. Of course the holy grail – well apart from some of the mega forest birds I still need – would be Dendroica – given that there are regional records of Yellow, Blackpoll and Blackburnian I’ve got to be in with a chance, but the real money is with species like Cerulean that are known from a handful of records from the more heavily-birded Atlantic Forest and must pass Amazonian en route. Or maybe I should reconsider my priorities – where’s my ground-cuckoo tape....

waders! (AL)

Rufous-sided Crake (AL)

incubating Ocellated Poorwill, eye-shine at night a dead giveaway... (AL)

Zorro's Water-tyrant (AL)


just in case anyone might miss pics of standard neotropical fayre, here's a Brown Jacamar (AL)

Tiger Rat-snake, 2.5m of arboreal anger found moping around in an area of recently burnt cattle-pasture with only Yellowish Pipits for company (AL) Note typical Amazonian 'countryside' reflected in its eye.

Punkbirder tropical ecologist field tips (first and probably last in the series) - a roll of adhesive tape doubled back on itself is an extremely effective way of removing 1st instar ticks from both clothing and exposed skin.... (AL)


Bay of Biscay (RDM)

Now I'm not the greatest twitcher, but if something mega comes along within an hours drive of the house I'll usually try and give it a go. So, imagine my chagrin to discover the BP Emp stayed for only the exact amount of time that I was on a MMO course on the last ever Pride of Bilbao Portsmouth-Bilbao crossing. Hmmm...

The Pride of Bilbao is an interesting beast, now I'm no snob, but it seemed to be chock full of a class of people that had previously been unbeknown to me. It was like 1984 on there, what with the poor fashion, open racism and outlandish drinking habits. The course was good though, in between lectures we managed a fair amount of time on deck, the highlight being a close Northern Bottlenose Whale, a species now firmly on the list after the 'is it dead/isn't it dead?' back of a barge on the Thames episode a few years back. Other than that the flat calm conditions enabled us to rack up double-figure tallies of Cuvier's and Fin, LF Pilots, big groups of Common and Striped, and probable White-beaked.No birds of note though other than a few Soots and Bals.

NBW giving it large

Same again

"Yeah, dolphins!"

Ponce -ious Pilot

Tuna escaping a Pygmy Killer Whale (possibly)

Fin (get it?)