Thursday, 22 October 2020

A Bittern Vigil 22nd October 2020


Calvert Jubilee Nature Reserve is managed by BBOWT (Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust) and has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. It has the misfortune to lie in the way of the ludicrous folly that is HS2 and much of the reserve has been decimated by this ridiculous, way over budget, vanity project demonstrating just how out of touch our Government is from the everyday world the rest of us live in. It has destroyed countless trees, robbed people of their homes and is an environmental disaster, yet still it goes on.

Fortunately that part of the reserve that harbours the two bird hides and the lake with its reedbeds that  Bitterns frequent has been left intact and undisturbed for now and hopefully this will remain the situation. 

I knew from earlier reports that a Bittern had been regularly seen here in the last month. One or more winter here every year and it is a well known location for those who wish an encounter with this secretive bird.

I rose early today in order to get to the hide at first light. The hide is very small and I wanted to ensure I got a seat as occupation is restricted to three persons (not that you can get any more than four persons in there anyway), courtesy of the ongoing virus crisis.

I arrived just as dawn was about to break. As anticipated I was the first to arrive and took my place on one of the unforgiving benches in a hide even more draughty than usual due to all the viewing slats being purposely left open due to the virus.The hide incidentally has not had a door for years.

Across the lake that lies in front of the hide the sky commenced to be underlit by yellow and pink, a gash of pale colour heralding the coming morning in an otherwise monochrome landscape.Slowly, as the light improved, the familiar features of the lake appeared and the sounds of waking birds came from out on the water. Gulls were calling, while Coots and Moorhens added their explosive metallic calls and guttural croaks respectively.

I became conscious of a constant gurgling, murmuring background noise coming from the reeds. Starlings were roosting and being late risers they were communing amongst themselves, hidden deep in the golden leaves and stems of the reedbeds. Their conversational chatter went on for at least half an hour and we were an hour into the early morning before, with a roar of many wings, the assembly lifted out of the reedbeds, forming up into a close packed cloud of around five thousand individuals, swept up above the reeds, described a tight circle and were away to feed in their chosen fields.

For forty five minutes I saw very little else. Six Little Grebes did their rubber duck/powder puff impressions on the still and sheltered water in a channel between two of the four small reed beds in front of me.A Water Rail squealed and two chased each other from reedbed to reedbed.

At 7.30 a Bittern appeared at the edge of a reedbed. One minute it was just reeds the next it was the more solid form of a Biitern, coloured exactly as the reeds it stood by. Hardly visible to the naked eye its profile camouflaged by the reeds that stretched away either side of it. Its head snaked out, held in a pose then lowered for it to dip its bill into the water, holding it there motionless for a couple of minutes before it waded across the narrow channel  of water to the adjacent reedbed. 

It stood, unmoving, as Bitterns often do and then jumped, flapped its wings and inflated its neck feathers in a gesture of aggression. The cause of its alarm was an errant reed stem waving wildly in a gust of wind, the reed's involuntary movement an annoyance to the Bittern.

Treading with exaggerated deliberation it walked beside the channel of water before entering the reeds and was gone.


That would be it for a few hours and I knew from previous experience there would be a long wait before the Bittern re-appeared. I hunkered down on the hard bench prepared to sit it out.

The hours passed slowly and I spent time, as everyone does now in such situations distracting myself by fiddling with my phone, checking twitter, emails and birdnews and when done with that, staring out at the lake and reeds in contemplation. I needed a distraction. A Green Woodpecker obliged by bounding past the hide and landing on a nearby hawthorn trunk, clinging to the damp corrugated bark, its white eye expressionless, wary, before dropping out of sight.


That was really all there was to see during the five hours I sat and waited. Yes, five whole hours. I kidded myself that such a vigil was good for the soul but it is more testament to my stubborness. I knew the Bittern was in the reedbed somewhere and was bound to venture out eventually. It was just a matter of waiting.

I was joined by a photographer, newly discovering the wonders of nature and birds in particular and who had never seen a Bittern. He told me he had heard that here was as good a place as any to achieve his ambition. 

I explained that I had been here for five hours and had only seen the Bittern once for ten minutes early in the morning but, in order to not ruin his day, added he stood a very good chance that the Bittern would re-appear shortly as it had been invisible for such a long time.

Half an hour later and you can guess what happened. From out of the reedbed stalked the bittern and my companion clicked away happily with his camera as the Bittern crossed the small channel of water and entered the opposite reed bed.



My companion was overjoyed. He had seen his first ever Bittern after considerable efforts in other places that had met with failure to see one. Forgive me a wry smile. He waited just half an hour whilst I had sat for five hours but I was really pleased for him. Really I was!

He was about to leave thinking that was it.

'If you wait it might walk through the reed bed it has just entered and come out the other side' I told him

'Really?'

'Yes, it sometimes happens that way.'

He sat down again and for twenty minutes we sat, silent and expectant and then in some excitement he exclaimed '

'There it is! Its just coming out of the reeds!'

Indeed it was and treated us to another 'bittern stalk' through the water. Ever so slowly, neck outstretched as if uncertain about being detached from the sanctuary of the reeds, it cautiously moved across the open channel and as before disappeared into the next of the four small reed beds opposite us 



'Fantastic! I never dreaned I would see it so well' he enthused.

I suggested that we wait and see if it came out of the reed bed as this would give him one more chance to photograph it as it crossed the last channel of water into the fourth and final reedbed.




Twenty minutes passed and there the Bittern stood on the edge of the reeds and this time dallied for a while before crossing the channel and was gone into the last of the reedbeds.

'That's it for sure,' my companion announced.

I had to agree and we left the hide.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Yet Another Mega - Rufous tailed Scrub Robin 17th October 2020


Late  on Thursday night I returned from seeing a Taiga Flycatcher in Northumberland and lying in bed I relished the thought of a day doing very little, spending Friday morning ambling round Farmoor Reservoir with two friends, Dave and Phil, chewing the fat and sharing a coffee or two at the reservoir's Waterside Cafe.

On Friday I met Dave and Phil as planned and we sat with a coffee while I told them of my birding exploits over the last two weeks. I jokingly said I was praying that no more rare birds would show up for a while as the pace was beginning to catch up with me. We wandered down the causeway and saw, as usual very little, just a migrant Rock Pipit and a couple of Meadow Pipits and that was that. No stress, no anxiety, no worry about getting to some far distant location. It was all rather pleasant in the autumnal sunshine and the unexciting and untaxing surrounds of Farmoor.

After our wander and another coffee I bade Dave and Phil farewell and returned home, stopping off to get the car washed and cleaned.Tomorrow, Saturday I planned a lazy day with maybe some light gardening and then some sofa surfing watching Exeter Chiefs playing the French club Racing 92  in the European Rugby Union Championship Cup Final. Perfect.

I wake early these days and after a coffee on a grey Saturday morning, as is my habit, consulted the RBA (Rare Bird Alert) app on my phone to see what if anything had been found at this comparatively early hour. I knew that two Pallas's Warblers, always a good bird to see, had been found in the wood by the campsite near Stiffkey in North Norfolk. If they were still there today I might consider going to see them on Sunday.

There was no mention of the warblers but the second entry on the RBA app sent a shock of adrenalin through my body.

The entry was timed at 7.24am.

MEGA Norfolk RUFOUS BUSH CHAT  Stiffkey Campsite Wood just east of car park at 7.23am

Aaaaggghhh! Thoughts of a lie in, gardening and rugby fled as fast as the clouds of night. 

The last Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin to be seen in Britain was in 1980, forty years ago, so this was going to be a huge event. There are in total only eleven records, of which eight are in Britain and three in Ireland and of these eleven, four are from the last century. All bar two are of birds found in September or October, the exceptions being one at Cape Clear in Co. Cork on 20th April 1968 and the last to be recorded in Britain, until today, which was at Prawle Point in Devon on 9th August 1980. 

I immediately rang Les to see if he was interested in going and he answered on the second ring.

'You seen the news about the scrub robin?' I enquired

'Yes I know. I am already on the way and am at Lakenheath.Should be there in an hour!' he replied

I wished him luck, said I would see him there and hung up.

I rang Mark but knew he would still be asleep. Predictably there was no answer so I left a text message for him to call me as soon as possible as I knew he would want to go and it made sense for us to travel together although I was not willing to delay my departure for Norfolk. 

Now conditioned to the almost constant arrival of rare birds this autumn I leave everything I need ready and prepared for a swift departure and I was out of bed, dressed and set to go in minutes. 

I met Mrs U in the kitchen.'What is it this time?' she enquired

'Rufous tailed Scrub Robin. Norfolk. Got to go. I'll be back late'.

She rolled her eyes and wished me luck

I set the satnav for Norfolk and tried to call Mark en route but still could not raise him. Two calls, three calls as I sped along and still no answer. The satnav told me I  would be at Stiffkey in three and a half  hours and  I knew that every other twitcher would be making the same plans. It was going to be chaotic at Stiffkey and parking in the tiny village with its very narrow roads and limited areas for.parking would be a challenge to say the least.

By now it was near to 8.30am and as I was approaching Milton Keynes Mark finally called, having just woken up and noticed all the missed calls on his phone

'I've been trying to call you' I told him

'Sorry. Where are you? Are you on your way to Norfolk?

'Yes. I'm near Milton Keynes'

'Can you pick me up?'

'Yes but you need to be ready to go when I get there'.

'Not a problem. It will take you another half hour to get to me so I can have breakfast and get my stuff together'

'OK. See you then'

I reset the satnav for Mark's home which fortunately did not require a huge deviation from my route to Norfolk.

As promised Mark was ready and waiting outside his house when I drew up. Five minutes later we were on our way to Norfolk or at least we would have been but I needed to refuel the car. Mark knew a nearby Sainsburys and of course the queues of cars at the pumps meant a frustrating wait. Time was of the essence but eventually we were all set and now it was a matter of making the long drive east to Norfolk.

Mark commenced calling other twitcher friends to find out the current situation at Stiffkey. Some were still on their way whilst others were already there.We learned from one contact that there was an accident that had closed the road at Lakenheath in Suffolk, which was on our route but we hoped it might be clear by the time we got there.

Les rang us to say he was already there and had seen the bird fantastically well in his scope.Thanks for that, as our anxiety consequently shot up several levels. He also told us parking was very difficult because there were so many cars, the small car park was full and the road leading to the village was lined with cars on both sides.The police were already taking an interest.This also added to our worries but there was nothing we could do but drive on.

We wound our way across eastern England and soon ran into wet weather but it was not persistent just a smirrr of drizzly showers that came and went. Approaching Lakenheath we found that the accident was still causing the road to be closed. Police cars with flashing blue lights diverted us off onto a side road and we followed all the other traffic.

The satnav then took us on a magical mystery tour of rural Suffolk and Norfolk but we had to presume it was taking us in the right direction but the lanes seemed to get smaller, narrower and ever more remote. I shrugged and we carried on until finally we got onto a main road and Mark, at least had some idea of where we were.The rain continued coming in squalls and it looked pretty miserable outside.Worse, my newly cleaned car was now covered in a thin layer of mud left on the  the lanes where tractors had passed down them. The previous day's car clean and wash now a complete waste of money.

From various reports we learned the scrub robin was in a large clump of suaeda right out on the marshes below the Stiffkey campsite and if the rain persisted it would be pretty miserable viewing but there was nothing we could do about that either. When we arrived, in the rain, on the outskirts of Stiffkey, I swallowed hard at the sheer numbers of cars lining each side of the road.There was not a space to be had. Birders were running down the road in their anxiety to get to the marshes. 

One of Mark's friends had advised us to turn off the road and drive down the rough track to the small car park at the end that lay adjacent to the marshes .The hope was that birders who had seen the scrub robin earlier would be leaving and we might find a space if we were lucky. I was less sure about this but we turned off the road, drove a short way down the track and opted to take the first space we found along the track. As soon as we saw a space we dived in and one major worry was gone. We had successfully parked the car. The track, as with the main road near the village, was lined each side with cars. It looked to be utter chaos but somehow everything worked out fine, no one was blocked in and people and cars could come and go freely.

We donned wet weather gear and set off down the track, then passed through the car park and walked out further onto another wide track, consisting of a very wet quagmire of lake like puddles and shallow mud, churned to perfection by hundreds of birders feet as they made their way to or from the saltmarsh. Still it rained. 

I could see literally hundreds of birders lined up along one side of a deep tidal channel of glutinous mud and water looking over it to a large clump of suaeda in the saltmarsh beyond.This was obviously where the bird was and more to the point it was still here.


We now had two options, cross a small wooden bridge and view the suaeda from the seaward side or divert right to view it from the other side.Mark told me to cross the bridge as one of his friends told him that was the best side from which to see the bird.

Now came our second logistical problem, finding a space amongst the throng of assembled birders to view the suaeda clump. We walked along the back of the birders and found a gap which gave us an uninterrupted view of the suaeda. The bird would appear from the depths of the suaeda we were told but was highly elusive and we might have quite a wait.


That was not a problem, so we stood and waited. Fifteen minutes later a very bedraggled scrub robin hopped up onto a twig in the suaeda. Pandemonium ensued as the bird was partially obscured so not easily visible and from certain angles not at all. Panicky cries asking for directions rang out. I had the good fortune to be standing next to a birder who had it in his scope and offered me the opportunity to see it through his scope. I seized this generous offer with indecent haste and grateful thanks and here was my first sight of a bird not seen for forty years on British soil. Thirty seconds and I relinquished the scope to its kindly owner and transfered to my bins.

The scrub robin was very wet and its wing and tail feathers were reduced to spikes. I watched as it shuffled and fanned its wings to shake off the water and then sat for a minute or two before jumping back into the heart of the suaeda and it was gone.

A sigh of relief went through the crowd or at least those who had managed to get onto it. We had seen it and that was what mattered. Now we could relax and wait for another view.The pressure we had felt during the previous few hours was well and truly lifted.Others who had missed it would have another anxious wait but would surely see it when next it became visible.

Half an hour later the scrub robin appeared once more in exactly the same place as before and sat for a few minutes before disappearing once more into the suaeda.It had stopped raining.


Mark and myself then discussed if we should move our position but decided to stay put. In hindsight this was not the wise thing to do. Over the next hour it became apparent that the scrub robin was being seen regularly on the other side of the suaeda. The weather in the meantime had improved markedly and it was now sunny with no hint of any more rain.The other side of the suaeda clump was also sheltered from the east wind that was blowing across the large expanse of saltmarsh.

I said to Mark that if I was a bird it would make sense to favour the other side of the suaeda clump as it was out of the wind and also that is where the sun is shining into it. The side we were looking at was in the shade and open to the wind.

Five minutes later, with Mark unenthusiastic about moving, I decided to move so I could observe the other side of the suaeda


The scrub robin frequented the clump of suaeda on the other side of the 
channel.The suaeda can be seen in the middle of the picture and the scrub
robin favoured the brown patch half way along it

I found a position where I could view the  other side. It bore instant results as the scrub robin was immediately in view and just as I had thought was standing in the sun sheltered from the wind. 




Through my scope, only just returned from a service by Swarovski, I studied its plumage. Overall its upperparts were an unremarkable sandy brown and its underparts buff white, whiter on the throat and washed with darker buff on the breast. Its similarly bland coloured head was marked with a large pale supercilium contrasting with a dark eye stripe.In direct contrast to this understated appearance was the rump and tail, both of which were bright rufous in colour, the tail with a prominent sub terminal black band and white tips to all but the central tail feathers.When it fanned its tail these features were most obvious and the contrast between the strong colour of the rump and tail and the rest of its body were very marked.  


In size it was slightly smaller than a Skylark. It spent much time preening, doubtless after all the rain a few feathers needed sorting and putting in order but even when dry it looked markedly scruffy and rather unkempt, an image enhanced by its habit of fanning its wings and allowing them to droop as it hopped around on long pale legs, while at the same time also fanning its long tail and cocking it until it was at times completely upright.








It had a favourite spot that was a small bank of dead grass stems in front of the taller suaeda with a pale stick running horizontally across it. Here it would return regularly after sorties into the suaeda, to either stand, preen or sleep. Yes it would literally snuggle down into small depressions in the grass stems and close its eyes, basking in the sun, the suaeda acting as a windbreak. It was obviously a very tired migrant although others said it was unwell. I disagreed with this. I have seen migrants such as this before that are tired and sleep when they can to recover their energy. To prove my point the scrub robin would only rest for a period before jumping up and with much wing flicking, tail fanning and cocking, hop into the suaeda in search of food.When it did this it looked very lively and I knew all was well with it. 






Even when squatting on the grass, half asleep it opportunistically snatched a large fly that came too near its bill. Mark got the message and he too moved to where he could see the bird and with many others enjoyed regular views of this very rare bird as it came back to its favoured spot to sleep or preen.


We were on the saltmarsh from just after noon until around four pm and for the last hour and a half the scrub robin was more on view than not. The crowd too had thinned out considerably and there was space enough for everyone to get a good view of the bird and maintain a social distance.

It was an absolutely thrilling experience and so totally unexpected to find such a bird in such atypical habitat, this also being the first record of a Rufous tailed Scrub Robin for Norfolk.

Their normal habitat is dry, scrubby open country with patches of dense bushes so I suppose an area of desolate albeit very wet open saltmarshl with clumps of dense suaeda is the next best thing for a completely disoriented and thoroughly lost migrant such as this.

c Mark - my twitching buddy

Rufous tailed Scrub Robins are found breeding in Portugal and southern Spain right across North Africa from southern Morocco east to Egypt, the Levant and parts of Arabia, through Transcaucasia and much of Central Asia. They are migrants and winter in sub Saharan Africa and as far east as India.With such a large distribution it is inevitable that there are a number of races, three in fact. This bird's relatively pale coloured, grey brown body plumage has suggested it is from the east and either of the race Cerchotrichas galactotes syriaca or C.g. familiaris, the former being found in south and central Turkey, northern Levant, south to western Syria and wintering in the Horn of Africa and Somalia.The latter is found in southeast Turkey, Iraq,Transcaucasia and Iran, east to Kazakhstan and wintering in northeast Africa as far south as Kenya. 

Eventually we agreed that we had both got as many images as we wanted and had watched the bird for so long that we were sated with viewing it. 

There was now the welcome dilemna of whether to go and see a nearby Red flanked Bluetail at Holme or an even nearer Pallas's Warbler. in the adjacent campsite woods. We decided on the latter which only required a ten minute walk through the wood to its far end, where we had been told we would find the warbler feeding with a small number of Goldcrests.

At the end of the wood we joined about half a dozen birders standing at the edge of a field looking up at the trees  and immediately we saw the tiny form of a charismatic Pallas's Warbler. An absolute gem of a bird, hardly larger than a Goldcrest, having flown here all the way from Siberia. A bird of yellow stripes and bars on head and wings respectively, moss green upperparts and a square of pale yellow on its rump. It was a total nightmare to try and photograph, as it searched the twigs and leaves, high and low, endlessly active, never still, even more so than the Goldcrests with which it shared the trees.






The light began to fade. A Peregrine flew over us and Brent Geeese muttered out on the marshes.

What a day to savour as our unbelievable run of good fortune twitching rare birds continues.

Not having eaten all day we stopped at Swaffham for al fresco fish and chips and then headed for home.

Such days do not come often but when they do they are to be savoured.


Postscript

The Rufous tailed Scrub Robin was still present around the saltmarsh near Stiffkey from 18th-21st of October after which it was seen no more

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Hold that Taiga! 15th October 2020


On Tuesday I had just returned from Pennington Marshes in mid afternoon when I received a text from Les asking if I 'needed' Taiga Flycatcher. The answer was an unequivocal yes. It could hardly have been anything else as only three have ever been seen before in Britain, the last one being 11 years ago from 22nd-29th September 2009 on Fetlar Shetland and the last mainland record was 6 years prior to that when one was seen at Flamborough Head EastYorkshire on 26th-29th April 2003 and another on Mainland Shetland  on 12th-15th October the same year.

Taiga Flycatchers were only 'split' from Red breasted Flycatcher in 2004.It is closely similar to the Red breasted Flycatcher which occurs in Britain on migration in varying numbers each year.It is probably under recorded due to its close similarity to the Red breasted Flycatcher but for now it remains a major rarity in Britan. They breed in Siberia from the Urals eastwards to Sakhalin and Kamchatka then south as far as northern Mongolia and Amurland. They migrate to spend the winter in northwest India extending eastwards to southern China and south to the Malay Peninsula.

I called Les to find out  more details and was told a Red breasted Flycatcher had been found at a place called The Leas at Trow Quarry which is on the northeast coast of England at South Shields in Northumberland. Photos taken of the bird resulted in it being re-identified as the much rarer but very similar Taiga Flycatcher. Many birders would want to see it as it was easily accessible on the mainland and did not require a difficult journey to an offshire island such as Shetland.

Les told me he was determined to get to the quarry before first light tomorrow and if I wanted to come I could meet him and Mark at our customary rendezvous point when going north, which is at Leicester North Services, at 2am tomorrow morning and he would drive us to South Shields.

I was desperately short of sleep and really was looking forward to a lie in on Wednesday but this manic year of rare birds arriving in Britain had just delivered another huge mega and it could not be ignored. I would just have to marshal my physical resources and keep going for another day.

I confirmed to Les that I would make the rendezvous at 2am which gave me just enough time to get everything together and then get two hours sleep before I had to rise and drive to Leicester. 

As is now inevitable when driving Britain's roads at night I encountered a road closure on the way but the diversion this time was only minor and somewhat tired and irritable I arrived at the services and parked to await the arrival of Les. He drove in fifteen minutes later  grumbling about also having to cope with road closures but now here we were all together and in ten minutes we set off for the north 

I took the back seat and slept fitfully while Mark and Les talked politics. I awoke as we drove through heavy rain and my heart sank. Already tired, it now looked like I was in for a good soaking at South Shields whilst standing and waiting to see if a tiny flycatcher would grant us an audience but this is what you do when twitching. You just have to get on with it and if the weather does not co-operate, too bad. The one positive note was that the bird would hardly be likely to migrate in this foul weather so hopefully it would still be there when dawn arrived. That was the theory but as everyone who twitches knows there is always an exception to the rule. Cue the inevitable and customary anxiety!

We made a stop at some services on the motorway for a reviving coffee and found we were well ahead of schedule, due to Les's safety first policy when twitching, and would arrive at South Shields well before dawn. Rather than sit or sleep in the cramped confines of the car, we opted to remain and relax in the deserted services, chatting away and then, surprisingly, were joined by Phil who I had seen only yesterday at the phalaropes in Hampshire and who was now driving north on his own to see the flycatcher. We sat and chatted some more and then parted to set off into the night once more.

An hour and a half later we were at South Shields and parked up in a layby on the coast road, opposite a pub called The Bamburgh, to await the dawn. I realised that the nearby and currently invisible Trow Quarry was where I had come some years ago and failed to see another mega, an Eastern Crowned Warbler, missing it by one day. Let's hope I would be more successful this time. I was reasonably confident the flycatcher would be here as all night it had been very wet and cloudy.I was also heartened to see that the weather forecast predicted the rain would clear by dawn and the day would be sunny from noon onwards.

Slowly the sky lightened and we could see that there was a huge grassed area to our left and beyond it dropped a considerable way down to another smaller but still extensive grassy area that ran to the seashore. This was where the long defunct Trow Quarry was situated

Getting our gear together we joined other birders and set off across the grass and followed a treacherous track that ran down one side of the quarry face to bring us to the bottom where we joined a semi circle of birders looking at the scrub and small trees growing in the shelter of the rock face. This, according to local birders, was where the Taiga Flycatcher had been seen yesterday.

Looking down on birders scanning the rock face
for the Taiga Flycatcher

It was cold and a biting east wind blew on our backs from the sea as we huddled into our warm clothing.It was still too dull to see anything in the trees and bushes but slowly as the light improved we saw movements. Tiny birds, Goldcrests, that moved through the twigs and leaves apace, obviously just arrived from the North Sea behind us. Migrant Bramblings, called their harsh wheeze as they too made  landfall but little else was to be seen or heard.

For maybe forty five minutes we stood, looking expectantly at the trees and bushes under the rock face.Our number had now swelled to around fifty but nothing moved in front of us. Then to my left came a definite movement in the crowd and soon everyone was running, madly following everyone else. The flycatcher was round the corner where the rock face continued eastwards.

Careful not to trip on the rough grass and uneven ground I made my way as best I could for several hundred metres to join those already looking at the flycatcher. Someone shouted out directions and I soon found it, perched very low at the base of the rock face on some dead spikes of willowherb.It had its back to me and all I could see was a grey brown head and dimilar coloured upperparts, a pale underbody and a black and white tail. It was there for a minute before flying high up the rock face and, carried by the wind, disappeared at speed over the top.

This was not good. I had seen it, true, but not for long and not nearly well enough to feel satisfied. Everyone walked along a pathway until we could ascend to the top of the plateau and walk back along the top searching for the flycatcher. It was rough grassland with some wind blasted  hawthorns but there was no sign of it, just an alarmed male European Stonechat and an exhausted migrant Redwing, that flew up from the long grass.


We descended to where the flycatcher had first been seen and not long afterwards it was re-found nearby and the tiny bird proceeded to work its way up and down the length of the rock face, usually remaining at its base, sometimes visible but often not, due to the concealing vegetation. Long spells occurred where no one knew where it was but eventually it would be found somewhere along the rock face, perched low  down on the remaining vegetation. Occasionally it would fly high up onto the rock face and perch there but soon would descend to a much lower level and use the dead vegetation as perches to hunt insects.


Images c Mark

Its plumage was markedly dull in comparison to a Red breasted Flycatcher although the same in overall pattern. The main difference that I could see was its all black bill and tail coverts which were blacker than the tail. Its breast to my eyes did not show the classic grey wash contrasting with the white throat of a Taiga Flycatcher and the fringes to its tertials were hardly pure white but seemed to have a buff hue.


It was very small and when it flew the spread tail showed extensive white flashes either side of the all black central tail feathers. It would perch on dead vegetation or jutting rocks on the rockface and then fly out to catch insects in the air or sometimes from the rockface itself, swooping and diving at great speed. When it perched it had the habit of flicking its wings and moving its tail upwards at an angle as it fidgeted with nervous energy.


Images c Mark

It was hard to follow at times as its dull plumage melded with the grey hues of the rock face and it appeared so small against the rock and was so fast in flight.Everyone religiously followed as it flew from one spot to another, back and fore we went along  the length of the rockface but eventually it seemed to settle in a more sheltered corner. The sun, earlier than predicted, emerged around 1030am, shining directly into our eyes which made it even more difficult to locate and follow the flycatcher on its fast flicking flights up and across the rock face but by now we had seen it very well and for extended periods, so all of us felt we had done it justice.

We left it with its growing attendant band of admirers and apart from an unsuccessful look nearby for an Olive backed Pipit that was our day completed. Another successful twitch under our belts in this quite exceptional year that  I will remember not only for the human disaster of a pandemic virus but just as much for the almost constant arrival of rare birds from both east and west this autumn.

There were some who queried the identification due to this individual not showing all the classic features of a Taiga Flycatcher but someone managed to record its call which is diagnostically different from a Red Breasted Flycatcher and this confirmed it was a Taiga Flycatcher. Just to be on the safe side some faeces were  also collected and sent off for mitochondrial DNA anlaysis.