Saturday 31 December 2022

Going out with a whimper

Well, unless a Short-eared Owl hits the window carrying a Bittern to disturb me from my Lemsip in the next few hours, and both stay alive long enough for me to tick them, my quest to match last year's total of 224 species seen travelling under my own steam (walking and cycling) seems destined to end in failure. Grand plans to smash it this week have fallen foul of the nasty cold which has been working its way through the family. I avoided it until Boxing Day, which, being the last decent forecast of the year, had been earmarked for a long trip to the New Forest in search of a Great Grey Shrike, Hawfinch and a Red-crested Pochard at Blashford Lakes. But after a dreadful night's sleep I woke feeling sufficiently rough to conclude that a 70+mile bike ride would not have been the wisest of moves. I haven't left the house since - so nothing for it then but to relive the highlights of the year in the hope that it cheers me up a bit!


I started the year as I meant to go on with a 50+ mile New Year's Day flog through the rain to Dorchester to admire a lingering flock of White-fronted Geese. By contrast to last year, my strategy was to focus on quality first and quality later so I returned via Silverlake to snaffle a Goosander and then overshot home to get to Upton Country Park before dusk for the long-staying trio of Tundra Bean Geese. A successful start to the year adding three difficult species for Dorset which I was pleased to get under my belt so early in the month. I must have been in good shape as 2 days later I headed to Weymouth to see another long-stayer, an Iceland Gull, following a trawler out in the bay. Standard January fayre padded the year list but a Longham Lakes Whooper Swan (8th), a Maiden Castle Little Gull (16th) and a Lytchett Matravers Glossy Ibis (22nd) found by Paul Morton added some quality. 

Bird of the month though had to wait until the 29th when I reprised my 2021 quest with Phil Saunders to see Cirl Bunting coming to seed laid on by Al Barrett and Mike Morse at West Bexington. This year a male Cirl Bunting was present which made the identification challenge somewhat easier than last year's female. This is a coveted species for me as I know the East Anglian velo-mafia who I find myself competing with will struggle to add it to their lists! The month ended with 300 miles cycled and the year list on 114, a shade down on 119 in 2021.

January photo of the month: Little Gull at Maiden Castle

January 'green' bird of the month: Cirl Bunting at West Bexington (56 miles)

February was the first of three months in 2022 when illness took a toll and curtailed my cycling significantly - I scraped just over 100 miles for the month adding just 15 species. While highlights were few and far between, I managed to connect with a few tricky targets including Merlin (helpfully staked out by Jol Mitchell on a local heathland), Brambling (on the Lytchett Fields feeders topped up by Ian Ballam and Shaun Robson) and one of the Dorset exotics - Ring-necked Parakeet at Studland, ticked on a lovely day when I met up with the family for a bacon roll on the beach. February also saw the first of a series of unfortunate clashes between my need to be away from home for work, and good birds being seen locally when my back was turned - I missed Bitterns leaving the local gravel pit on two different evenings as a result, failing to hear or see them on at least 6 other nights either side of these.

February photo of the month: Med Gull at Studland

February 'green' bird of the month: Ring-necked Parakeet at Studland - the population here appears to be dwindling - perhaps the species range expansion elsewhere in southern England will save it?


A couple of local scarcities (including Velvet Scoter at Arne) and the first spring arrivals were added to the yearlist in March but I wasn't pulling up any trees in the first few weeks. The 26th of the month, however, provided an opportunity for one of my most ambitious bike rides to date. It started with a 25 mile pilgrimage to Maiden Newton for Dipper - a long way but a lot closer and safer than Lyme Regis where I saw them last year, and another species the East Angles will be lucky to see. After early success I pressed on a further 11 miles to Bridport for a wintering Yellow-browed Warbler, returning via Portland Harbour where a Red-necked Grebe completed a hat-trick of desirable species. That one 78 mile trip almost doubled my mileage for the month, during which 14 additional species brought the year list to 143, slightly ahead of my 2021 tally at the same stage last year.

March photo of the month: one of the long-staying Tundra Bean Geese which first arrived at Upton in December 2021 and later relocated to my local patch at Swineham where this picture was taken

March 'green' bird of the month: Yellow-browed Warbler, Bridport (78 miles)


April brought high hopes after a string of local rarities had boosted my yearlist in 2021 but 2022 didn't quite match up, partly because we spent two weeks of it on a family holiday in Scotland. That said, I managed to add a Lytchett Fields Green-winged Teal to the yearlist thanks to Ian Ballam's excellent tide-forecasting. April also saw my first visit of the year by bike to Portland, where I connected with Ring Ouzel, a species which eluded me in 2021, as well as a Little Owl and the low hanging fruit which a short seawatch can be expected to produce: Manx Shearwater, Great and Arctic Skua. A local Mandarin Duck at the end of the month added a dash of colour and took me just shy of 200 miles cycled in April. A teensy regret was panicking and driving the 4 miles to Corfe Castle for a Black Kite found by Nick Hopper, which I assumed wouldn't hang around long enough for me to get there by bike but did!

April photo of the month: Peregrine at St Aldhelm's Head

April 'green' bird of the month: Green-winged Teal, Lytchett Fields


Spring migration seemed later this year so there was plenty to appreciate in early May and I headed to Portland for the second time this year on the 2nd to add Little Tern and various common migrants to the list. I was back again on the 8th for a Woodchat Shrike, viewed from almost exactly the same spot where a Red-backed Shrike appeared a year earlier. Things slowed down in the second half of the month and my run of bad luck when away from home continued with Red-necked Phalarope, Rose-coloured Starling and Alpine Swift all appearing within cycling distance of home whilst I was working in Reading. Fortunately the Swift hung around long enough for me to catch it up with it early on its final morning before it flew high out to sea. I cycled 342 miles in May - my second highest total for a month in 2022 - for a reward of a further 16 species added to the yearlist.

Photo of the month: Little Tern on a grey day at Ferrybridge
May 'green' bird of the month: Alpine Swift, Ballard Down


June was a bit of a disaster for the year list as the first week was earmarked for a family holiday in Norway, depriving me of the opportunity to dash to Weymouth for a Gull-billed Tern which could have been bike-bird of the year! Contracting Covid on the way home from the holiday wiped out the best part of the following fortnight and in what was left of the month I added a paltry two species (Golden Pheasant and Honey Buzzard) to the stuttering list, ending the month on 187, well below the par figure of 192 which I had reached at the same stage in 2021.

June photo of the month: Barn Owl hunting at a local site
June's 'green' bird of the month: Honey Buzzard


I resolved to get back on track after the disappointments of June and clocked up another 300+ miles for the month as a result. This effort perhaps deserved more reward than the 6 species added though it was a clear case of quality over quantity as the birds added this month included Caspian Tern (seen with Charles Stubbs at the second attempt, another bird which turned up when work took me to Reading), Lesser Yellowlegs (my first trip across the Hampshire border of 2022), Balearic Shearwater (requiring my third trip of the year to Portland) and Quail (heard at the second attempt at Tarrant Rushton, the most northerly point I reached by bike this year). 

July photo of the month: Corn Bunting, Tarrant Rushton (where Quail was heard)

July 'green' bird of the month: Caspian Tern, Stanpit (69 miles)


With no big family holiday planned and a week's holiday booked mid-month, August offered an opportunity to push myself and bring an attempt to break last year's record back within sight. I made a supreme effort clocking over 370 miles for the month including three trips over the Hampshire border (for Black Tern, White-winged Tern and a Pectoral Sandpiper). Other highlights included a Friday night twitch for a White-rumped Sandpiper at Ferrybridge and 'in-the-hand' Aquatic and Grasshopper Warblers at Lytchett Bay courtesy of Shaun Robson. My man in the east Olly Frampton provided directions and Dave Bishop had the White-winged Tern pinned down for me when I arrived, whilst Julian Thomas did likewise with the White-rumped Sand. For the first time in a while I found myself ahead of par compared to 2021, with the yearlist on 205 by the end of the month compared to 202 the previous year.

August photo of the month: Spotted Flycatcher, Middlebere

August 'green' bird of the month: Aquatic Warbler, Lytchett Fields (also a Dorset tick)


I was determined to press home the advantage built up relative to my 2021 tally and figured that September 2022 could not be much worse than September 2021, a month during which I added a measly 2 species to the yearlist. I matched this total on 10th alone, finding a calling Bee-eater heading over as a I twitched a Wryneck found by James Leaver which Steve Smith managed to pick up in flight. A Red-necked Phalarope near Abbotsbury the following day clawed back a desirable species which I had missed earlier in the year due to work commitments. A mid-week dash to Lodmoor added a Citrine Wagtail found by Brett Spencer to the non-motorised life list as well as the year list, whilst my fourth and final visit of 2022 to Portland enabled me to connect with Rose-coloured Starling and a bonus Red-backed Shrike, again found by Brett Spencer, on the way home. A total of 211 by the month's end compared to 204 in 2021, and was just reward for 222 miles cycled. Surely this made it odds-on I would exceed my own record?

September photo of the month: Wheatear at Durlston

September 'green' bird of the month: Citrine Wagtail, Lodmoor (also a Dorset tick)


The first half of the month saw me indulging in some 'brown birding' with jolly group trips to Shetland for a week's birding holiday and Scilly for a Blackburnian Warbler. Penance was paid in the form of a 70 mile marathon to West Bay for a Barred Warbler. A patch Barnacle Goose and a St Aldhelm's Head Pallas's Warbler found by Phil Saunders - seen at the second attempt on the same stormy day - were the only other additions to the yearlist which ended the month on 214, still 5 ahead of the same date in 2021.

October photo of the month: a late Hobby at Swineham

October 'green' bird of the month: Barred Warbler, West Bay (70 miles)


After the distractions and temptations of October, I re-committed to non-motorised birding in November, though the dark nights drawing in limited the opportunities somewhat. Those which did arise were hard work with a run of storms bringing Arctic Tern and Sabine's Gull within reach in Weymouth and Chesil Cove respectively. Dusky Warbler (pinned down for me by Garry Hayman and James Leaver) and Snow Bunting (to which I was directed by David Foster and Rich Andrews) were a bit closer to home on the Purbeck coast, and helped bring the tally for the year to 219, still 4 ahead of the 2021 equivalent of 215, a reasonable return for 229 miles cycled. 

November photo of the month: Snow Bunting at Studland

November 'green' bird of the month: Dusky Warbler, Durlston

I had a very productive December in 2021, adding 9 species to the yearlist - but 5 of these were already on my 2022 yearlist when the month began so I knew it would be a challenge to replicate this in 2022. Still, with a bit of luck and effort the total of 224 should be within reach. Jack Snipe, located by Trevor Warwick a short walk from home, was belatedly added after much fruitless searching around local patches. My fifth and final trip to Hampshire by bike in 2022 was rewarded with good views of American Wigeon, a quality bike tick. And while Woodcock finally gave itself up in the fading light of Christmas Eve, unfortunately it was to be the last addition of 2022. 121 miles was the modest mileage for the final month of the year, and, as explained the start of this post, illness foiled my hopes of one last push between Christmas and the New Year. The total for the year ended up being 222 species, just two short of last year's figure.

December photo of the month: Great White Egret on a frozen Wareham Common

December 'green' bird of the month: American Wigeon, Pennington (69 miles)
So while the year ends with a bit of disappointment and a few regrets - as well as SEO and Bittern, which still haven't hit the window at time of writing, I also missed Redpoll, Long-tailed Duck, Hawfinch and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, all of which made the list in 2021 - it's been therapeutic reliving the highlights of the wonderful birds I saw and the places they took me. The 2,600 miles cycled in pursuit of the 222 species I saw this year kept me reasonably fit and I added 15 species to my non-motorised life list, passing the landmark of 250 species seen travelling under my own steam in the process. If you tot up your own equivalent and it's anywhere close to that without you living/working at a bird observatory or the like, you're doing ok!

If you were instrumental in finding any of the birds I enjoyed seeing in 2022 or otherwise helped me on my travels, my sincere thanks; if you were neglected whilst I pursued them, my apologies. As for 2023, I think I've established 220 species by non-motorised means is about 'par' for these parts, so while I'm not sure I'll go all out to break my own record of 224 again, I'll certainly be back on the bike for pretty much all my Dorset birding (plus the bits of Hampshire I can reach if the knees hold out). Until then, have a Happy New Year and thanks for reading!

Purple Sandpiper, Sandbanks, January 2022

Tuesday 27 December 2022

Running out of time

Saturday 17th December looked like being the last day of the recent big freeze but despite that, it was also the only day of the weekend where the weather looked conducive to a bike ride. With the year list on 220, time was running out to match last year's total of 224, and I was prepared to make a significant effort to move a step closer. 

American Wigeon, Pennington
A family party of Bewick's Swans at Abbotsbury mid-week didn't linger until the weekend, so by Friday night my best option looked like a more settled target: an American Wigeon at Pennington Marshes which had been present for several days. Although this was over the border into Hampshire, and a round trip of nearly 70 miles, it was a journey I had completed twice already this year (for a Lesser Yellowlegs in July and a selection of other waders in August) so I knew it was within my range. 

Those earlier trips were, however, completed in a T-shirt and temperatures about 20-30 degrees warmer than at the peak of the cold snap. With a lot of ice still about, setting out in the dark seemed a bit reckless, and whilst I was confident the roads would have been salted, daylight would at least give me a better chance of seeing any lingering spots of black ice. In the end the roads were universally clear, but some of the off-road cycle paths were still a bit treacherous - worth bearing in mind next time you hear someone moaning about cyclists being on the road! 

I hit the road around 0745 and my route took me clockwise around Poole Harbour, through a frosty Upton Country Park, down to Baiter and onto the long sweep of the Poole Bay seafront; then past the piers of Bournemouth and Boscombe to Southbourne, from where I headed north to Christchurch via the Tuckton Bridge. From there I followed the bypass to Highcliffe before zig-zagging down to Barton-on-Sea, onwards to Milford-on-Sea and eventually, after 33 miles and about 3 hours in the saddle, joining Lower Pennington Lane at Keyhaven. News came through that the American Wigeon was still present not long after I left home, filling me with confidence that it would still be there by the time I arrived later that morning.

The 69 mile route to Pennington
At about 1045 I rolled the bike along to a gap in the hedge from where the frozen surface of Efford Lake could be seen, only to see a large flock of duck fly overhead. The frozen surface of the lake looked worrying empty, and scanning with a scope produced just the odd Eurasian Wigeon. Another Dorset birder Chris Chapleo arrived at this point, breaking the unwelcome news that although he had seen the American Wigeon shortly before I arrived, it had indeed flown off, no doubt with the flock I had seen leaving as I arrived.

A large flock of duck were on the opposite side of the track to the lake, so we moved around for a better view but there were only a few Wigeon amongst them. I parted company with Chris and headed for the coast path. Many more Wigeon were feeding there in a deep channel and on the saltmarsh beyond the seawall, and despite grilling them for over an hour, with a biting cold wind whipping at my legs, I could not relocate the rare visitor. 

Returning to the relative shelter of the lake seemed like the best option and several locals who had assembled there convinced me that it was only a matter of time before the American Wigeon reappeared at its favoured spot. Almost three hours after I arrived, it finally did so and I enjoyed decent views and even a few photos as it moved from the ice to feed on the grass just west of the lake. Although often obscured, the bird could be readily picked out when it raised its head to show the creamy blaze on the forehead and bottle green face pattern. 

I had hoped for a quick result so I could return home in daylight but it was 1400 before I packed up the camera and telescope and began the long ride home. The first hour was ok but the following breeze which had been almost imperceptible on the way there sapped my energy on the way back. I ploughed on and knew I had broken the back of the journey when I passed the midway point around Bournemouth pier. I made good use of the free water refill stations on the seafront but as darkness fell the cold returned and each turn of the pedals seemed to get harder.

By this point the cold was such that travelling at anything over 10mph seemed to induce a brain freeze as if I was eating ice cream too quickly. Fortunately, such giddy speeds could only be achieved on the limited downhill stretches and I could barely manage 8mph for the rest of the journey home. I finally made it back to Wareham around 1740 to find that the children had reprised a previous party trick of using all the hot water, depriving me of the balm of a warm shower for another painful hour. 

When it eventually came it was was gratefully received. After a shower and dinner, American Wigeon was finally added to the virtual notebook - 221 on the year list and 257 on the non-motorised life list - over a celebratory cider before I turned in for the deepest of sleeps.

Spotted Redshank, Pennington

Monday 12 December 2022

November's birding by bike

October ended with my non-motorised year list on 214 species, 5 more than at the same stage last year - so inevitably I started to wonder if I could exceed my total of 224 species seen in 2021. I had a very good end to last year, adding 6 new species in November and a further 9 in December. Many of the species which turned up in December stayed into the New Year so were already on my 2022 year list, so it might be a bit harder to make up the numbers as the year approached its end. 

Dusky Warbler, Durslton

Dusky Warbler, Durlston
Still, I was determined to give it a go, and the first opportunity to do so arose early in the month with a Dusky Warbler at Durlston Country Park on the evening of 4th November. This would be a non-motorised 'lifer' as well as a year tick so was not to be missed. I would be cutting it fine though as it was a working day and the nights were drawing in, but I remember seeing Dusky Warblers on Scilly right up until darkness fell and set off as soon after finishing work. It was a race against the sunset but on arrival James Leaver and Garry Hayman were on site to point the bird out almost immediately. Fortunately it was very active and vocal, although a challenge to photograph in the last of the light. High ISO ratings and a bit of work to denoise the pictures in Topaz AI even produced some satisfactory images.
Arctic Tern, Weymouth
Arctic Tern, Weymouth
Early November produced some south westerly storms and a smattering of reports of Leach's Petrels, Sabine's Gulls and Arctic Terns, any of which would be good birds for the year list. Conditions the day after I saw the Dusky Warbler looked promising so I arranged to meet Phil Saunders at Chesil Cove on the Saturday afternoon. 
Sabine's Gull, Chesil Cove 
Sabine's Gull, Chesil Cove
It was 23 miles into the wind and I underestimated both the effort and time it would take to get there on the bike. The last mile or so from Ferrybridge into the storm was tough to say the least! In the end it was a disappointing seawatch with nothing more unusual than a Common Scoter. Jumping on the train to get home wasn't an option due to a strike, and to add insult to injury I got a proper soaking heading back along the Ferrybridge causeway where the high tide brought the sea almost up to the level of the road. Still, the wind was behind me for the rest of the way home which made it a bit easier.
Sabine's Gull, Chesil Cove
Black-headed, Mediterranean and Sabine's Gull, Chesil Cove
More storms over the next few days produced more reports of Leach's, Sabs and an Arctic Tern which appeared to be lingering around Weymouth marina. The problem was it was mid-week and the only chance to give myself a shot would involve a very early start and a bit of luck to see a target species and get back in time for work. By Thursday 10th November the temptation proved too great and I set off in the dark into another south westerly shortly before 0500. Arriving at Weymouth marina around 0700, I saw the Arctic Tern almost before I had got my binoculars out of the panniers, and after a few photos was on the road with the wind behind me and back at the laptop in good time. 
Snow Bunting, Studland
Red-throated Diver, Studland
A Sabine's Gull was reported at Chesil Cove whilst I was still in Weymouth but I lacked both the time and energy to press on for it. I would just have to hope that it stuck around until the weekend. If it did, I would have a decision to make as a Snow Bunting had also appeared during the week and appeared to be lingering on the beach at Studland. 
Snow Bunting, Studland
Snow Bunting, Studland
Early on the morning of Saturday 12th news came through that the Gull was indeed present, and figuring that this was less likely to stick around than the Bunting, I made the long trek to Weymouth for the third time in eight days. Again meeting up with Phil Saunders, this time our trip to Chesil Cove was more successful as the Gull showed in T-shirt weather. A celebratory bacon and egg sandwich from Quiddles cafe was called for before the wind-assisted ride home.
Snow Bunting, Studland
Snow Bunting, Studland
After these exertions Sunday 13th November should really have been a rest day. Unfortunately no-one had told the Snow Bunting. I hauled my weary ass into the saddle and bounced gingerly in the direction of Studland through Rempstone Forest. An hour or so later, I bumped into local birders David Foster and Rich Andrews in the National Trust car park at Shell Bay who confirmed the continued presence of the Snow Bunting. Within minutes I was face down in the sand photographing this confiding bird as it foraged along the strandline. Two young bird photographers joined me followed by their parents as we enjoyed our close encounter with the winter visitor. Roly Pitts then rocked up, and after more photos we wandered south down the beach to look for a Red-throated Diver which was reportedly very close in. 
Snow Bunting, Studland
Snow Bunting, Studland
After a brief but good view I decided to head back for more Bunting views whilst Roly continued down the beach - a tactical error on my part with hindsight as Roly saw and photographed 6 Long-tailed Ducks heading south shortly after - another key target for the year! Despite this it had been a good week with 3 additions to the list.
A trip to the guitar shop in Poole took us conveniently close to this bit of quality plastic: Wood Duck at Creekmoor Ponds
Wood Duck, Creekmoor
The rest of the month offered up limited opportunities to add to the year list. Several visits to the patch produced little more than the depressing realisation that avian flu was now running through the local bird population, judging by the number of dead or dying Canada Geese in the area. More positively, it took just a couple of quick visits to Lytchett Bay to catch up with a colour-ringed Water Pipit - so November ended on 219 species, 4 ahead of the total at the same point last year, with a further 230 miles on the clock. Could my 2021 record fall at the first attempt? That would all depend on what December had in stall...
Firecrest, Swineham

Water Pipit, Lytchett Fields

Snow Bunting, Studland

Monday 7 November 2022

An Oktoberfest of birding

October was always going to be a challenging month for the non-motorised yearlist as the first ten days of the month were earmarked for the near annual birding holiday on Shetland with Bradders Birding Tours (Proprietor: D. Bradnum; Vice-President (Finds): H. Vaughan). This year's crew was a man down on last year's as Team Sommelier Jono Lethbridge was otherwise engaged, galivanting even further afield. So it came to be that we found ourselves in smaller but classier than usual accommodation - a little croft way out west on Mainland Shetland in a place called Riskaness.

Goosander, Musselburgh, 2nd October

Redshank, Musselburgh, 2nd October

Pink-footed Goose, 2nd October

Curlew, Musselburgh, 2nd October
Howard has already chronicled the trip more extensively and poetically than I could hope to in his excellent Blue-eyed Birding blog - so my digested read is as follows. Apart from yomping through the vast iris beds of Quendale - which is every bit the 'Lord of the Rings' scene that it sounds - and sprinting down the road from Loch Spiggie to Scousburgh beach for the Least Bittern - during which time my fitness training on the bike really paid off as I left several birders for dust en route - physical exertion was limited to sitting in the back of Bradders' car and lifting my arm to add mega-tick after mega-tick to my bulging notebook.
Velvet Scoter, Musselburgh, 2nd October - we called in on the way north to Shetland to see the long-staying King Eider

Methil power station, 2nd October

Black Scoter (lower centre), Cocklawburn, Northumbs, 1st October - we stopped over nearby on the way north to look for this bird - terrible photos but a photo 'tick' for me

The bright yellow knob of the Black Scoter's bill was visible from distance - better scope views than these poor photos suggest!
It was an extraordinary trip during which I saw: 4 species new to my British list (Pechora Pipit, Lanceolated Warbler, Least Bittern and White's Thrush); 1, potentially 2, firsts for Britain (the Least Bittern and the Great Grey Shrike showing features of the race homeyeri); 2 American wood warblers (both Myrtle Warblers - almost the most numerous Warbler on Shetland this year); and a second for Shetland (Magpie). Plus they all showed pretty well except for the White's Thrush, of which I had to settle for flight views in the pouring rain of our last day.
Pechora Pipit, Hillswick, 3rd October

Pechora Pipit - the first I had seen on our first day on Shetland

Lanceolated Warbler, Wester Quarff, 4th October - found by our good friends Nick and Claire Oliver
The Lancy was my second lifer in 2 days on Shetland
We may not have achieved much in the way of finding birds - a Grey Phalarope at Melby being our most notable discovery - but we enhanced our reputation as the best fed birders on Shetland with some sumptuous home-made meals and a selection of shop-bought, pie-based luncheons.
Olive-backed Pipit, Aith, 3rd October

Possible Homeyer's Great Grey Shrike, Hillswick, 3rd October

Possible Homeyer's Great Grey Shrike, Hillswick, 3rd October

Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sullom
Whilst away from home, the only possible additions to the non-motorised year list which I missed were a couple of distant Grey Phalaropes at Charmouth and Chesil which may in any case have been out of reach, even if I'd been at home. I really needed a good workout on the bike by now but the rarities had other ideas, and news of a Blackburnian Warbler on the Isles of Scilly proved too much to resist. I returned the favour of Bradders driving me to Shetland by driving him, plus Phil Saunders and Paul Welling, to Penzance, where we boarded Scillonian III and, long story short, after a couple of bouncy boat rides were watching one of the brightest and most exquisite birds any of us had ever seen in Britain.
The Waddle - our accommodation on Shetland


Glaucous Gull, Lerwick Harbour

King Eider, Scalloway, 5th October
So by the weekend after my return, there was some serious catching up to do both in terms of my fitness and getting back to focusing on the non-motorised yearlist. I recounted in an earlier post how the Barred Warbler at West Bay provided the opportunity to do both. A patch Barnacle Goose the following day required much less effort but kept the list ticking along nicely. But with the dark nights drawing in, there were no further opportunities to get out after work mid-week so my ability to add any more to the yearlist would depend on the final weekend of the month. 

Shetland Wren, 5th October

Red Grouse, Walls, 5th October

The first Myrtle Warbler of the week on Shetland at Ellister

Myrtle Warbler, Ellister, 5th October
I had no particular plan but fortunately Phil Saunders was again on hand to provide one, locating a Pallas's Warbler at St Aldhelm's Head on the morning of Saturday 29th. I had some work to do and headed down as soon as I could and, although only 9 miles away, it was tough going into the wind, especially the last few miles up and over the Purbeck ridge. Unfortunately, on arrival I could find nothing but Chiffchaffs in the spot where Phil had seen the Pallas's and although I heard what I thought was the Pallas's call once, it wasn't enough to add it to the yearlist. 

Willow Warbler, Dale of Walls, 6th October

Red-throated Diver, Melby, 6th October

Otter, Melby, 6th October

Ruff, 6th October
On the way back to the road I passed a group of trees by the Weston Farm Coastguard building which held a tit flock, and despite catching a glimpse of what looked like a silky white underside within the flock, the owner of said underside didn't reappear for the next 15 mins. My eldest son was home from Uni for the weekend and I had promised to make dinner for him and his girlfriend, plus my other son and his girlfriend, so I reluctantly gave up and headed home to put a venison casserole in the slow cooker. 

The second Myrtle Warbler of the week - less than a mile from the first - at Bigton, 7th October 

Showing a flash of yellow rump

Both Myrtle Warblers fed at ground level

A very charming bird
As I was doing so, news came through that the Pallas's Warbler had been relocated - with a tit flock very close to the spot where I thought I might have seen it! Going back would have been unreasonable, especially as it was even wetter and windier by now than it had been in the morning. But the relationship between my birding by bike decisions and reason is tenuous at the best of times, so back I went, despite a warning from Phil that, although he had seen the bird again, it was a brief and difficult view as it was now in and out of gardens opposite the Coastguard where lines of sight were obscured.

My 'in the field' view of Britain's first Least Bittern - about 20 ft away but hidden in marram grass, it was hunkered down but facing me. The yellow around the eye can just be seen

We were close by when news broke and among the first dozen or so people to see the Least Bittern which was picked up and taken into care shortly afterwards

A tragic sight to see this tiny heron which had just crossed the Atlantic too weak to resist when picked up to be taken into care

It looked a bit feisty when first picked up but didn't survive the night
It seemed like a long shot for such a tricky bird and in deteriorating weather, but I knew Jol Mitchell was on the way there and we agreed that if I dipped I could at least sling the bike of the back of his car for a lift home. Arriving shortly before 1600 in rapidly fading light, I joined Jol sheltering from the rain by the Coastguard building. 
Magpie at Sandness - a Shetland mega, only the second record - 8th October
Goldcrest, 8th October

Fulmar, 8th October

Grey Phalarope - shamefully, our best team find of the week on Shetland!
Eventually I walked around to the other side of the building, and no sooner had I done so than the Pallas's Warbler dropped down in front of my face calling! I shouted to Jol but he didn't hear me, and despite the bird heading his way he didn't see it either. Bad news for both of us in that he had dipped and I would now have to reject the offer of a lift and complete the journey home by bike to add the bird to the yearlist!
The Pallas's Warbler was too quick to photograph - so here are some of the Blackburnian Warbler on Bryher, 15th October

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler
Fortunately the strong wind was now behind me so it was no great hardship. Topping 32mph down the precipitous Kingston Hill, after two trips to the coast and 36 miles cycled in total, I was still home with plenty of time to complete dinner for the lovebirds and reflect on the tally for October. 152 miles were cycled in total and 3 new birds were added during what was left of the month after the Shetland trip, bringing the non-motorised yearlist to 214, compared to 209 at the end of October last year. 10 more species would see me match last year's total of 224 - but time is running out!

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler