Britain’s first Siberian Accentor

When news broke on Sunday 9th October that a Siberian Accentor had been found on Shetland – Britain’s first – I was incredibly lucky to be second in the queue for a cost-share plane the following day.

After some wrangling, the crew was assembled, and we met at 7.30 the following morning. My benevolent boss had agreed my annual short-notice day off, taking the pressure off.

News came that the bird was still there, so it was all systems go, and by 12.30 our pre-booked taxi was dropping us on site, to meet a massive crowd of c40 people. Many day twitchers had beaten us to it, having taken scheduled flights.

Shortly the bird showed and the pressure was off. An absolutely stunning bird, feeding actively in a small quarry on a hillside overlooking the west coast of the southern mainland. Today it was much more flighty than yesterday, several times flying out of one of the quarries and across the hillside to the other. It was clearly getting fed up ready for off, and that proved to be the case.

Many people missed it the following day, but were rewarded by the continuation of a European influx (currently standing at c130 birds on 22nd October, less than two weeks later), when a second bird turned up in East Yorkshire on Thursday 13th. That too showed well, but the crowds were somewhat larger, and instead of a hillside quarry it showed on a piece of tarmac and on a skip in a gas terminal. Um. As of 22nd October the British tally, following further easterly winds, stands at 7-9 birds, an amazing influx for a bird never even recorded here before. All were in the north east of England or Scotland.

Below are my best efforts, both photos and video. Amazing experience and fantastic bird.

The rest of the day was spent wandering the south of the island around Sumburgh, with some nice Twite showing on a wall, and a Yellow-browed Warbler in a garden. Time prevented us for going to look at a Black-faced Bunting found on nearby Bressay.



Eastern Kingbird on the Western Isles


The above photo was taken by my birding buddy Chris Bromley, on Barra, Western Isles, on the afternoon of Friday 30th September 2016.

I was sat in my office at work desperately hoping the bird was still present on Saturday evening, as I had finally organised the appropriate transport, and a couple of full cars, to go.

Often, when a bird such as this, fresh in from across the Atlantic, is found on a Thursday afternoon, Saturday is a good bet. But this bird followed the pattern of the two previous, Irish, Kingbirds, and flew off in front of the eyes of the birders watching it, towering high and flying away northeast, then completely disappeared. 77 birders saw it.

There was no way I could have gone on the first ferries or flights due to work commitments, waiting for my mate Al to come off Scilly to join me, and a previous arrangement on the evening of the 30th. So I can’t really regret not seeing it.

Until Sunday 2nd October when a lady on South Uist found the bird in her garden at Bornish. She knew exactly what it was, but wasn’t aware it had been seen two days previously further south. News broke this time at 9.30am, and it was a Sunday – good!

Further hours were spent getting a new crew together then finding flights or ferries. It was apparent that the only real way to get across was on a 9am ferry on Monday, so the waiting had to happen again.

But the bird repeated its Friday flight and disappeared at 13.25, not to be seen again.

Two chances, failed. Only people who keep and care about a British list can understand how that makes somebody feel. Looking at the picture above makes me imagine crashing up to the spot to find the bird still present, putting the bins up and getting that excited rush of relief as you breathe out slowly and feast on a new bird – a first for Britain no less. Then my imagination takes me to the point of the bird getting up and flying, high and then away, further, further until no longer visible. And looking round at other birders’ faces as they look shocked but relieved, knowing that is it – gone. On your list but feeling terrible – but secretly a tiny bit pleased – that nobody else will get a chance to see it. It’s like I was really there.

My whole weekend, from 5.10pm on Thursday evening right through to 7.30pm Sunday evening – when we accepted the bird must then be gone for good and was lost – was consumed by this bird. Even searches for Ghost Orchid at two very promising locations did little to affect my concentration or melancholy.

There are two reasons for writing this post; firstly so there is a report from someone who didn’t see it – so all those others can console themselves with me. Secondly, to provide information on getting the the Western Isles in case something else turns up there that requires swift action. Then we won’t waste hours considering all the options and can just get up and go.

This may not be complete, but it should be good enough to achieve quick travel to these wonderful islands.


Commercial flights

Flybe is the only commercial airline to fly to the Western isles. The direct flights all go from Glasgow international Airport, but of course they do connecting flights, so if you are in Southampton or Birmingham for example, you can still get there. Typically though prices are high at short notice, can be up to £400 each way. You may get lucky.

They fly to

  • Stornoway – Isle of Lewis
  • Benbecula – between North and South Uist
  • Barra – southernmost Island. Lands on the beach so flights depend on tides



I am currently working on prices and options for charter flights, but there is one “official” company worth mentioning here, Hebridean Air Services who run scheduled flights to several islands in the Inner Hebrides (for example, Oban – Islay is £65 one way), but for charters different, twin-engine aircraft are required. I haven’t got exact prices yet, but they are likely to be quite high – approximately £2,000 per hour. A flight to Benbecula though is likely to be 40 minutes each way, and the planes can take nine passengers if they don’t have much baggage, meaning a cost per person of c£300-350.



The only Ferry company is Caledonian McBrayne,

All ferries allow cars to be taken to the islands, even the Eriskay-Barra crossing. Sometimes the car capacity fills up very quickly, so if you wish to take the car, you need to book as soon as the news comes on. BUT, foot passengers can just turn up at the terminal and get on without restriction, so no booking is required – so if the bird flies off, you can just change your plan without worry. In fact, going as a foot passenger and hiring a car the other end is actually cheaper if you are just daytripping. For example, foot passenger return (October 2016) Uig-Lochmaddy was £12.20 per person. To take a car would cost an extra £125, but hiring a car and having it delivered to Lochmaddy Ferry terminal would cost £94. The biggest advantage of taking the car is if you wish to depart from a different place to your arrival, if some ferries are booked up and others aren’t.

If you aren’t sure of options or availability, for example if you do wish to take the car, it is best to call them on freephone number 0800 066 5000

Routes are:


Uig (Isle of Skye) to Tarbert, Harris (southern half)

Ullapool to Stornoway (northern half). Ullapool is a lot quicker to get to than Uig if coming from the south

The Uists/Barra:

Uig to Lochmaddy (North Uist)

Mallaig to Lochboisedale (South Uist)

Oban to Barra

Benbecula is reached by road from North or South Uist. Barra is reached from Eriskay (can be driven to from South Uist) by ferry.

Journey times are on the calmac website.

In the past, private charter boats have been used by birders, but accidents have occurred!

Weather can affect sailings – for example, the 9am that would have taken us on Monday 3rd, got cancelled due to high winds. Well worth checking up front before travelling.

Hopefully this provides a useful guide. If anyone has any amendments or additions, I’d be pleased to add them.


Another dilemma bird

News of a “Western Purple Swamphen” (Purple Gallinule to us old people) at Minsmere in Suffolk meant another visit to see a bird that may or may not get accepted as wild.

The bird was easy enough to see as it appeared and disappeared among reeds on a small pool, stopping to break off reedmace stems and chomp out the soft middles. But the gawky big blue and red bird did look really out of place on a Suffolk marsh!!

All previous records have related to birds from different populations of this super-species, and some have been proven escapes. So there was bound to be scepticism, but also bound to be plenty of people going for this one – the first Iberian bird to turn up – for insurance purposes.

The credentials of this are as good as any, and maybe even better than either of our Chinese Pond Herons. They are definitely spreading as a breeding bird, and there was a northern eruption of several birds into France contemporaneously with the arrival of the Minsmere bird.

A much more scientific and complete summary can be found on Birdguides, here:

There are much better photo’s than mine out there, but it is always nice to get your own.

A link also to a quick and shaky video clip where you can see the feeding action.


Worcestershire Wasps

I run a Twitter feed call Orchid Records UK, @ukorchids if you wish to take a look. On it I post news of sightings, and share pictures posted by followers.

On Friday 9th June a picture of a Wasp Orchid, the pointed-lipped variant of Bee Orchid, popped up. What drew my attention was that it was from an orchard in Worcestershire, my home county. I’ve only ever seen this variety at three sites before, and this was the third ever county record. Previous records were at Stoke Works in 1987 and Cleeve Hill in 1997. There are quite a few Orchids in the Wyre Forest, very close to home, so I was hoping they would be there.

I contacted the finder, Gerry Davies, and he kindly informed me where the site was – in the Vale of Evesham – and also that he had found it on a plant survey of the site, on behalf of the owner. Bad news was it is a commercial orchard with no public access. Good news, though, he offered to meet me there and show me the two plants he had found.

Twitch on! I met him at a nearby car park, and he had brought his step ladder to enable us to get over the fence. A short walk later and there were the two gorgeous, tall and colourful plants in the flesh. Excellent!

A further search of the area eventually revealed another seven Wasps, along with six “normal” Bees. Also growing in the unmown meadow between cider apple trees were five Greater Butterfly Orchids, about 30 Common Spotteds and a single Pyramidal Orchid just coming into flower.

In an adjacent part of the Orchard, currently being grazed by sheep as part of a management experiment, all the remaining Orchids had been caged, but because they were taller than the cages, had mostly been chomped off at the top. Here were a single Common Twayblade, three more Greater Butterfly, and a few more Common Spotted.

I hadn’t, in the two hours of my visit, covered the whole orchard, so expect there to be more of all of the species present. I am attempting to gain access from the site owners to do a full survey, so watch this space for updates.


Dalmatian Pelican in Cornwall

A whole host of southeastern rares turned up in the UK in May, such as Calandra Lark on Fair Isle, Britain’s second ever Green Warbler on Shetland also, a Great spotted Cuckoo in Dorset, amazingly, a Lammergeier – perhaps from the Alps, but nobody could be definite, and a Dalmatian Pelican.

All of these birds could feasibly have come from somewhere like eastern Turkey, for example. Europe’s first Sulphur-bellied warbler, in Denmark, was found soon afterwards – nearest breeding in Khazakstan.

I was in Seychelles when all this turned up, and only the Pelican remained and was easy to see when I returned. On the bank holiday weekend Trudy and I had already planned to go to the south west to try and re-find the East Cornish Small-flowered Tongue Orchid (last seen in 2008) and to spend time with her family, who were in Exmouth for a few days. Ideal!

On Saturday 28th we spent an hour in the company of Jon Dunn looking at the now overgrown field at Penlee, and failed to find the Orchid. It was a long shot, though.

On Sunday 29th, having dropped Trudes at Exmouth, I headed back west and went to Drift reservoir, where the Pelican had decided to spend the whole day.

Parking in the main car park on the west side, and walking over the dam and up the east side, the bird was easy to spot once halfway along. It sat preening on a submerged tree stump for the entire time I was there. The nearest accessible point was in the trees at the north east corner, about 150m from the bird.

At one point, the bird spread its wings, revealing two or three differently aged primaries. This could mean that the bird is not an adult, as was generally being reported. What is certain is that this bird was first seen in Poland in April. It then tracked through Germany and France before reaching the UK. Records below:

First sighted in
Przygodzice, Poland (06.04.-11.04.2016)
Was then resighted in
Pfaueninsel Berlin, Germany, (probably the same as others, 14.04.2016)
Brandenburg/Streng (16.04.2016)
Volkmannsdorf and other places (22.-23.04.2016)
Worms (01.05.2016)
Alsace, France (03.05.2016)
Cornwall, Great Britain (7.5.2016- still present 4.6.2016)

Whether the bird is wild is of course unknown, whether it will be countable is perhaps more of a certainty – unlikely! Whatever the decision, it is a spectacular – if ugly – bird. Just look at its size compared to a Grey Heron!


Bats in the garden!

My house is on the end of a recently-built estate at the northern end of Kidderminster, with a small meadow out front, a tributary of the Stour of to the left with “Stourvale Marshes” nature reserve beyond, and the Worcestershire canal to the right. Behind that is a small pool known as “Stack Pools”. So although I don’t have much of a garden, I do see lots of birds and wildlife from the kitchen window. The downside is the sound of Canada Geese honking loudly as they move from the pool to the canal early in the morning. Is it legal to shoot them?

On the evening of 20th April 2016, which was a beautifully clear and sunny, if cool, evening, I noticed a number of large bats flying about around the front of the house before it got dark. It was at least half an hour before nightfall. In total there were five or possibly more. I ran for the camera and managed to get a small number of record shots. Having posted a couple on Twitter, it would seem that these are either Serotine or Noctules. I don’t have a bat detector, and have not seen them since. Hopefully, then, they are identifiable from the photo’s?

Any feedback welcome.


Second Hoopoe of the year in the Midlands

The Hoopoe at Wall Heath disappeared in March, so was a recent memory when another was discovered at Romsley, near Halesowen, on 16th April. It was quite tame and feeding in a horse paddock. The equestrian ladies thought it looked exotic and odd, so asked a neighbour what he thought it might be. Luckily, he was a birder, so on Friday 22nd April news got out. I called to see it on the way home from work, but of course had no camera, so a revisit was required on the Saturday, this time with Trudy, who had seen quite a few before in Europe, but not in Britain.

The bird fed constantly in a single paddock, regularly picking up leatherjackets and other flightless and hapless insect prey. It wasn’t bothered about the small number of gathered birders, but did move aside for the horses and Crows when they decided to give it their attention.

Some photo’s below, and link to the youtube videos taken the same day. Unfortunately the sound is spoiled by strong wind and camera bursts from nearby photographers, all anxious for that moneyshot when the bird tosses prey into the air to catch in its gob.

Enjoy! It is a fantastic bird!