Wednesday, 14 June 2017

A colour-ringed GREAT WHITE EGRET in Warwickshire

Great White Egret (colour-ringed) by S Rose (14/06/17).

On the 14th June there was yet another sighting of a Great White Egret on my local patch at Alvecote Pools SSSI. Over recent years this species has became quite a regular visitor to the area following a huge range expansion on the Continent and recent breeding attempts in southern England. I never take these appearances for granted though and so I made my way down to check it out myself after work.

During early evening, Simon Rose and I found it roosting over on Upper Pool. Upon closer inspection of the bird through the scope I could see it was colour ringed. The combination was white (or cream) over yellow above the knee on the left leg and blue over red over metal above the knee on the right. The most likely colour ringing project to have involved this bird takes place at Lac de Grand-Lieu in northwest France. Apparently over forty individuals are processed there each year. I have submitted the sighting via Euring but I have yet to receive a response. I would be interested to know if anyone else out there has also spotted this individual elsewhere in Britain or beyond, so please do not hesitate to get in touch. 

In addition to the Great White Egret, we also had a trio of Avocet feeding on Teal Pool nearby. Believe it or not this was both a site record count and only my second, third and fourth sighting of this species ever on the patch, following my first one on the very same pool last year.

Avocets - Teal Pool by S Rose (14/06/17).

The GREAT WHITE EGRET at Alvecote Pools 2000-2017

It is hard to believe that it has been over seventeen years since I found my first Great White Egret at Alvecote Pools. On the 21st May 2000 I spotted a bird in flight heading directly towards me as I searched for Little Owl at the top of Laundry Lane. It flew low overhead and across the River Anker before veering over towards Mill Pool. At the time, this was the first record for Staffordshire and only the third for Warwickshire following the first at Brandon Marsh in 1992 and another at Packwood House in 1995. Since this sighting we have been lucky to have had perhaps a dozen different birds drop in at Alvecote. All sightings are listed as follows:

Great White Egret by A Archer (25/12/09).

2000 - Alvecote Pools - Laundry Lane & Mill Pool - 1 x bird on 21st May 2000.
2009 - Alvecote Pools - Mill Pool & Upper Pool - 1 x bird from 23rd to 25th December (see photo above).
2015 - Alvecote Pools - Mill Pool - 1 x bird from 19th November to 5th December on & off.
2016 - Alvecote Pools - Mill Pool - 1 x bird on 9th April only.
2016 - Alvecote Pools - Mill Pool - 1 x bird from 8th to 17th August on & off.
2016 - Alvecote Pools - Mill Pool - 2 x birds from 18th September to 9th October on & off (see photo below).
2016 - Alvecote Pools - Mill Pool & Upper Pool - 3 x birds from 10th October to 29th December on & off.
2016 - Alvecote Pools - Mill Pool & Gilman's Pool - 2 x birds on 30th & 31st December.
2017 - Alvecote Pools - Mill Pool & Gilman's Pool - 2 x birds from 1st to 6th January on & off.
2017 - Alvecote Pools - Mill Pool - 1 x bird on 2nd February only.
2017 - Alvecote Pools - Mill Pool - 2 x birds on 1st April.
2017 - Alvecote Pools - Mill Pool & Gilman's Pool - 1 x bird from 7th to 19th April on & off.
2017 - Alvecote Pools - Mill Pool & Upper Pool - 1 x colour-ringed bird on 14th June only.
  
Great White Egret by A Archer (09/10/16).

Saturday, 10 June 2017

MEGA ALERT: The ELEGANT TERN in West Sussex

Elegant Tern - Church Norton, Sussex by J Charteris.

It had been a hell of a tough week. As a committed socialist I was finding it difficult on Friday to contemplate how 13.6 million deluded wank spangles could vote for an inept old crone and a party that encouraged the sale of parts of our precious NHS, that cut benefits for the disabled, ill and elderly and slashed the budgets of our already overstretched education system. From a concerned conservationist perspective this was also an evil collective who were considering a free vote to bring back fox hunting with hounds, who defy science to cull badgers and who continuously fail to prosecute most who persecute our native birds of prey. 

To add insult to injury, as I battled against the election night fatigue of the previous day, the 'selfservatives' were even considering joining forces with the 'Democratic' Unionists in a desperate bid to form a majority government. I really do fear for the future of this planet at times. In the face of adversity and depression though, I seek solace in wildlife and in the company of my wonderful like-minded pals.

Somewhere along the south coast of England, an extremely rare bird and a species that is native to the Pacific Ocean did lurk. On Wednesday it had been spotted briefly, at high tide on Hayling Island in Hampshire and on this very Friday it had also made another tantalizing appearance in the area before flying off east. The species in question was a pure, adult male Elegant Tern, confirmed by multilocus barcoding of its DNA. This colour-ringed individual had been present in a Sandwich Tern colony in western France during the breeding seasons on and off since 2002.

Despite the negativity surrounding the election result and the odds of this bird being relocated being pretty low, I was determined to take a positive stance and give it my best shot. What better way of banishing the blues than spending the day on the coast, sat on a sandy beach scanning the sea for birds. Luckily for me, two other keen birders had similar ideas and during the early hours of Saturday morning, I pulled on my lucky boxer shorts, gathered my kit together and was joined by Jules Allen and Jase Oliver on an expedition south.             

With the 'lucky pants' you cannot dip!
 
There was no better location to start our search than Hayling Island, east of Portsmouth. If the bird had been seen there twice already this week then there was always a chance it may return. With a small group of birders staking out Sandy Point near Eastoke and a few more keeping an eye on Fishery Creek nearby, we decided to check out the area around Hayling Island Sailing Club, just in case it was missed by either group.

With the sun blazing, we were all initially in very good spirits as we methodically scrutinised every distant tern and gull that passed by. There is always something to knock you off kilter though as a report of a Red-necked Phalarope came through from Middleton Lakes RSPB, just a few miles from where I live. Perhaps we had made the wrong decision after all. As the time elapsed and the tide rolled in, we found nothing except for the occasional Sandwich Tern and Common Tern popping into view. As we started to discuss our lunch options and our strategy for the afternoon, a 'mega alert' sounded. Each of us nervously fumbled around for our pagers and phones. The Elegant Tern had been spotted about fifteen miles further east near Pagham in the neighbouring County of West Sussex. 

The short dash from Eastoke to Church Norton.

With Jules using his best Lewis Hamilton moves to neutralise the threat from the dawdling Saturday afternoon motorists, we made pretty good progress over to the western side of Pagham Harbour. There was one major problem though, the bird had disappeared. Unfortunately terns have a habitat of doing just that. To make matters worse, we hit rural gridlock as we approached the tiny hamlet of Church Norton. After more U-turns than Theresa May though, we eventually located a quiet place to park and we calmly made our way to where the rarity had last been seen.

As we trundled and moped across to the view point I suddenly caught sight of the small line of birders. Seasoned twitchers can tell a mile off whether a rarity is showing, just by tuning into the general mood and behaviour of the distant crowd. Just one glance at the nervous shuffles and the purposeful gestures of this particular posse sent alarm bells ringing. The Elegant Tern had returned.

What followed was about fifteen minutes of shear agony. The rarity had apparently flew back in and landed out of view among the breeding Sandwich Terns on a tiny offshore island. I set up my scope, composed myself, took a few deep breaths and waited. I was reassured by the chap next to me that it was definitely still there. With the tension mounting I foolishly decided to check my phone. At that exact moment though the bird spiraled upwards briefly, only to return back to the safety of the colony within a few seconds. Jules and Jase had both seen the tern and were obviously ecstatic, I on the other hand had not.

After a further five minutes of mental torture though the bird took flight once again, but this time I was ready for it. After missing this species in Devon and dipping it in Gwynedd back in 2002, the pain of fifteen years rapidly dissipated into the balmy, coastal air.

Elegant Tern - Church Norton, Sussex by J Charteris.

For the next hour or so we enjoyed some pretty decent scope views as the Elegant Tern circumnavigated the seabird colony several times before dropping back down into the vegetation. At one point we could also see it holding its bright, yellowy-orange bill aloft as it displayed to the other terns nearby. On two other occasions it also flew off purposely towards the sea before it thought better of it and double-backed. On the third occasion though it continued out of the harbour, over the shingle ridge and disappeared from sight.

The modest Elegant Tern twitch at Church Norton.

After a prolonged period of hand-shaking, celebratory fist pumping and post-twitch socialising, our attentions then turned to the other bird species in the area. As well as the numerous Sandwich Tern and Black-headed Gull there were also smaller numbers of the diminutive Little Tern to enjoy, some of which spent their time fishing the nearby creek, down to just a few yards. We also counted around forty Mediterranean Gull in the vicinity along with a very interesting pair of Peregrine.

We had taken a bit of a gamble driving all the way down from the West Midlands, however on this occasion it had been well worth the effort. 'He who dares, wins' and all that good stuff.

Little Tern - Church Norton, Sussex by J Charteris.

Our day of birding was not over though, not by a long shot. By 6.00pm that same evening, Jules had safely driven us the 180 miles back north and taken us to one of our local patches, Middleton Lakes RSPB reserve. Following the long stroll over to East Scrape, we were soon watching the aforementioned Red-necked Phalarope we had briefly agonised over earlier on in the day. This was the first twitchable bird in the Tame Valley for over 17 years and what a little stunner it was too.

It was while watching this gorgeous gem spinning around that a report of yet another local rarity came through. There was apparently a Cattle Egret within striking distance, down at the adjacent Kingsbury Water Park. After a brisk walk along the canal, we entered the hide and there it was, a handsome summer plumage Cattle Egret roosting low down on the opposite side of Otter Pool, sheltering from the early evening drizzle. This was only my second sighting of this range expanding species following a bird that had graced nearby Middeton Hall with its presence during April 2009.

Yet another 'Best Day with British Birds' as the classic book goes.

Cattle Egret - Warwickshire by A Archer.

The ELEGANT TERN in Great Britain

This species has a very restricted breeding range, spanning less than a thousand kilometres along the Pacific coast from southern California to the Sea of Cortez in northwest Mexico. It has a relatively small breeding population, estimated to be in the region of just 30,000 breeding pairs, of which more than ninety percent are in a single colony on Isla Rasa, Mexico. It winters along the Pacific coast from southern Mexico to southern Chile but mainly south of the Equator. 

So how is it that this species can occur so far outside its range? A plausible explanation is that the odd Elegant Tern could perhaps join Cabot's Terns, which they tend to mix with outside the breeding season and cross Central America to the Caribbean with them on their spring migration. Once on the Atlantic side of Central America they could then disperse within the North and South Atlantic and pair up with either Cabot's Terns or Sandwich Terns when the opportunities arise.

As all keen birders in Europe know all too well, there have been records of mixed pairs of Elegant Tern and Sandwich Tern in France for a number of years. Please view this excellent article entitled, 'Occurrence of multiple Elegant Terns confirmed in Western Europe' courtesy of Birdguides that covers this phenomena superbly. Within the article you will also be able to read about the history of our Elegant Tern labelled 'bird C' that is currently gracing the south coast of England.

As it stands, this species is yet to be formally accepted onto the British List by BOURC, however with this pure Elegant Tern appearing, it will no doubt make their decision much easier in accepting both this particular individual along with other past records. These are listed in full as follows:

2002 - Devon - Dawlish Warren - adult on 18th May, then 8th to 9th July & again 18th to 19th July.
2002 - Gwynedd - Black Rock Sands & Porthmadog - adult from 24th to 26th July. 
2005 - Dorset - Christchurch Harbour and Hengistbury Head - adult on 10th May.
2017 - Hampshire - Hayling Island - adult male - 7th & 9th June.
2017 - West Sussex - Pagham Harbour, Church Norton - adult male - 10th to 17th June at least. 
  


Special thanks to my comrade Jan Charteris for the use of his photographs.





Monday, 29 May 2017

A Corncrake in North Warwickshire

On the afternoon of 27th May I received a text message from another Alvecote Pools 'patch worker' to say he had stumbled upon a Corncrake. One of his dogs had flushed a strange bird from cover briefly whilst he was taking a stroll around Teal Pool. Convinced he had found something unusual, he staked out the bird and to his credit remained on site until it called. It was the sound of a singing male Crex crex! Surely not?

Unfortunately at the time I was staking out a bird of my own, a marvelous singing Marsh Warbler at Lakenheath Fen RSPB in Suffolk. There was no way I was cutting short our weekend away in East Anglia so I messaged a few local birders to see if they would head down and check it out. Unfortunately due a fair share of alleged, spurious sightings in the area over the years, none of them could, or would visit the site and check out the claim. A few of the replies I received could not even be reproduced here for fear of an in depth investigation by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Then on the evening of Sunday 28th May, another fellow Alvecote regular, Simon Rose made the same discovery, completely independent of the previous sighting. On this occasion he decided to record some footage of the bird with his phone and sent it through to me via the wonders of social media. There was no doubting this time, there was a Corncrake on my patch, the first record for the site since 1978. Any thoughts of spending another night in Norfolk were dismissed and we quickly downed our fish supper and departed Hunstanton at about 8.30pm.

View only from here. Thank you.

It seemed a little strange nervously twitching a bird a few miles from where we live, at this distance, especially as it would be dark by the time I got there. I eventually arrived on site just after 11.00pm and upon opening the car door the bird could be heard instantly. I was absolutely thrilled. The bird called constantly and clearly just a short distance from the metal gate overlooking Teal Pool until I left just after midnight. I headed down again at 5.00am and after a brief wait, it recommenced its repetitive repertoire.  
 
The mega 'twitch' on Monday morning by Adam Archer.

The Corncrake could be found breeding in reasonable numbers throughout the lower Avon and Severn valleys of the southern West Midland Bird Club recording area up until the 1930's and 1940's. Unfortunately the species fell victim to agricultural changes when mechanised mowing of its favored habitat earlier in the year destroyed nests and young. The last confirmed breeding attempt occurred at Chesterton in south Warwickshire in 1969. Records in the region were more or less annual up until 1972, after which, sightings and calling birds began to become exceedingly rare. This Alvecote bird is only the ninth confirmed instance in the County of Warwickshire since this year. These are listed in full as follows:

2017 - Alvecote Pools - singing male at Teal Pool - 27th May to 7th June.
2005 - Kites Hardwick area - one bird flushed several times whilst mowing set-aside - 25th to 26th August.
2000 - Clifford Chambers area - one bird flushed several times whilst harvesting - first week of September (no date).
1994 - Packington - one bird heard by local gamekeeper - 8th to 9th July.
1988 - Packington - one bird flushed by local gamekeeper - 15th September.
1978 - Alvecote Pools area - one bird heard - 9th May.
1978 - Newbold Comyn - one bird seen & heard - 25th June, 30th August & 24th to 25th September.
1976 - Bodymoor Heath - one bird flushed - 8th September.
1972 - Southam - one bird calling for several days during the Spring (no date).

Viewing Instructions: Please park sensibly along the west side of Polesworth Lane (incorrectly labeled as Polesworth Road on Google Maps) only and do not block any gates with vehicles. There is no public access to this sensitive site without prior permission from the owner therefore do not enter the fields. The bird is audible from the metal gate at the southern end of Polesworth Lane (see map above). It has only been seen briefly in flight on a couple of occasions but it is still a real treat just to hear it sing, sometimes at very close range.

Thank you all for your cooperation.
 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

MEGA ALERT: The RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD on Orkney

Red-winged Blackbird - Orkney by Steve Nuttall.

It was the afternoon of Saturday 29th April. I had been searching for Spring migrants down at my local patch in North Warwickshire and was enjoying the mellifluous sound of my first Garden Warbler of the year. For some reason I was not in possession of the pager, but as I was logging the  sighting on the phone I noticed an unread text message from the lads at RBA. They had foolishly issued a 'mega alert' in respect of a female Red-winged Blackbird up on North Ronaldsay, Orkney. Usually such a text would have thrown me into a blind panic but on this occasion I just shook my head, chuckled to myself and carried on birding at the shear, comedic value of such a farce. I knew for a fact that all historic records of this species in Britain had been considered escaped cage birds.

As the days rolled by though and with an array of top listers, teeny tickers and paranoid insurance twitchers chartering small planes and booking scheduled flights, this little, nearctic b*stard of a bird started to stick in my craw. Could a wild example of this species make it all the way to our shores at this time of year? Yes, of course it could. Just like the Hermit Thrush that had made a remarkable appearance on Noss, Shetland just ten days before this bird had been found.

Later in the week I was offered at place with Sean Cole on a 'luxury cruise' out of Kirkwall to see the bird the following Saturday. Alas I had to decline his kind offer though due to family commitments. I had promised my darling, teenage daughter I would accompany her to a crucial promenade dance, dress fitting session. A prom and a Red-winged Blackbird. From one overpriced, American influenced sham to another. Actually, for what the gem encrusted gown cost I could have hired an helicopter and flew to Orkney. Then again she did look very beautiful indeed all dressed up like a little lady. Sometimes in life there are occasions that are way more important than any bird..... just sometimes!

With Sean's trip proving a resounding success and a fifth less costly than a charter flight, Phil Andrews and I seriously suggested having a punt the following weekend. The main issue though was the weather. It was looking far from ideal for a long journey through some treacherous seas in nothing more than a rigid inflatable. Undeterred though, I eventually managed to gather a crew of six other desperate souls to commit themselves to our Orcadian adventure. A plan was put in place and there would be no turning back, or would there?   

Supplies for the trip, including my lucky undercrackers!

As predicted, the adverse weather forecast scuppered our plans for a Saturday trip, with the skipper notifying us on Friday night that it would be way too dangerous to make the attempt. He did however confirm that a Sunday morning sailing looked to be possible. I checked with the rest of the party and everyone was still up for it, despite us not being due to arrive back in the West Midlands until 'wake up for work time' on Monday morning.

On Saturday evening our particular party of four, consisting of me, Phil Andrews, Jase Oliver and Steve Nuttall left Belvide Reservoir to embark on the long journey north. As always, there was plenty of banter along the way, in fact so much that at one stage my car actually became offended and scolded one of the passengers for using industrial language in her presence. This modern technology is pretty frightening at times but it did make us all laugh. Just before the Scottish border we met up with the other gentlemen who would be joining us, Mike Doughty, a fellow Warwickshire lad, Steve McCann from South Yorkshire, Graham Megson from County Durham and Terry Stopher from Suffolk.

We would not meet up again until we pulled into a lay-by just south of Berriedale in the Highlands at around 6.00am. Here we spotted our first birds of the day, a Red Grouse up on a small patch of coastal moorland, a calling Cuckoo and a couple of singing Willow Warbler. As we continued north we also flushed a Long-eared Owl as it perched up at the roadside in the village of Berriedale itself.

John O'Groats harbour, Highland by Adam Archer.

Less than a hour later and we finally pitched up within the pretty under whelming surroundings of the famous village of John O' Groats. I had only visited the site once before, during September 2009 to see another American vagrant, a Sandhill Crane, just over the water on South Ronaldsay. After a brief nap it was time to grab our gear, change into our waterproofs and see what birds we could find. It was soon evident that there were pretty good numbers of Great Skua heading east with at least forty birds gliding by in just over half hour. In addition we also had a trio of dark phase Arctic Skua, a winter plumage Red-throated Diver, modest numbers of Kittiwake and a single Sandwich Tern. Around the harbour we also enjoyed mainland Britain's most northerly colony of Sand Martin, a couple of Hooded Crow and a confiding pair of Twite.

It was while were watching these diminutive finches that the news we had been hoping for finally filtered through. I received a text from the Bird Observatory on North Ronaldsay to say the Red-winged Blackbird was still present. So far so good. I tried to forget the fact that this species is a diurnal migrant though and could quite easily to a bunk at any time.

MV Pentland Venture at John O' Groats harbour.

At 8.45am we boarded our first vessel of the day, the trusty MV Pentland Venture that would transport us to Burwick on South Ronaldsay. During this forty-five minute crossing rafts of auk were encountered with good numbers of both Guillemot and Razorbill, about a dozen Puffin and a few Black Guillemot. We also enjoyed a small group of Arctic Tern, a few Gannet and Fulmar as well as a single Manx Shearwater. It was already turning out to be a pretty good day for birding. 

At 9.30am we had finally touched down on Orkney but we still had a hell of a way to go. Luckily Mike 'Dog' Doughty had managed to charm his way into the affections of the lovely old gal in the ferry booking office back at John O' Groats. As a result, she had arranged for an eight seat minibus to meet us at Burwick and transport us north to Kirkwall, all for bargain sum of £2.00 each return. Unfortunately, there was no sign of last weeks White-billed Diver as we whizzed past St Margaret's Hope but the rusty wreckage of the sunken warships off the Churchill Barriers are always a sight to behold.

This boat can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs!

In Kirwall harbour it was now time to embark on our fourth stage of the trip via the Millenium Falcon of Orcadian waters, the 'Agricola' (meaning 'farmer' in Spanish). As we all eagerly climbed aboard our charter boat, there was a sense of high excitement throughout the modest craft. After packing our scopes and bags away in the small hold it was time to don our life jackets for the bumpy crossing ahead. Unfortunately this took us longer than expected which is unsurprising really as a fair proportion of us reside in an area of Britain as far as you can get from the ocean. Our nautical experience is pretty limited and this showed as one of our party foolishly yanked at a toggle he should not have done, igniting a gas canister which in turn blew up his safety device in an instant. It was all rather embarrassing for the individual concerned.

Guess who pulled the wrong toggle?

After the laughter and the pointing had subsided, the skipper, with a shake of his head, finally decided to depart. As we sped past Shapinsay we encountered a large flock of around forty Long-tailed Duck. Between Rousay and Eday we had brief glimpses of both Black-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver as well as the usual auk species. It was then on through the North Sound with Westray to the west and Sanday to the east. As we passed through some strong currents and down a few high troughs it did start to get a little scary but with Graham at the wheel we knew we were in capable hands. After a ninety minute, white knuckle ride we had finally reached our destination, North Ronaldsay. After a tricky mooring we eventually landed safely on the southern tip of the island and made our way to the famous Bird Observatory, just a short brisk walk away.

Scanning the iris beds at Garso, North Ronaldsay.

We had prearranged a lift with the observatory staff up to Garso towards the north of the island in their battered old Land Rover and after ten minutes or so we had arrived at the bird's favorite feeding area. This consisted of a modest patch of wetland habitat with a number of iris beds bordered by a dry stone wall on one side and the road on the other.

In nervous anticipation all eight of us set up our scopes along the road as our driver stepped carefully among the vegetation to gently coax the bird into view. It was sheer agony as every step she took failed to prompt the rarity out of cover. After around ten to fifteen minutes and with all the habitat covered there was no sign of the bird. We only had two hours on the island before we needed to make our way back. We were becoming desperate.

Then suddenly, a call came out from Graham Megson, 'There it is on the far wall!'. It had probably been there all along watching us from its vantage point atop a pile of rubble along a grassy bank. There it was, potentially the first acceptable record of Red-winged Blackbird, not just for Britain but for the whole of Europe.  

Red-winged Blackbird - Orkney by Steve Nuttall.

The rarity sat peering around completely comfortable in its temporary surroundings for about ten minutes before flying across us and dropping down into the irises. About ten minutes later it appeared once more perched up on a post where it again provided us all with some great views. It then performed tremendously well on and off for the next ninety minutes or so, perched up calling from the wires overhead, on top of various walls either side of the road and occasionally on a collection of gas bottles in the backyard of one lucky islander. It was this particular area where it enjoyed drying off and having a preen before heading off to feed again.

Red-winged Blackbird - North Ronaldsay, Orkney.

Above photos kindly provided by Chris Bromley.

During the brief periods it spent out of view, we had the chance to congratulate each other on our success, grab a quick bite to eat and celebrate with a wee dram of single malt whiskey. As you would expect on such a wildlife friendly island there were also plenty of other birds to enjoy in the area. The calls of nesting Common Gull and Curlew filled the air, interspersed with 'pee-witting' Lapwing and the evocative sound of drumming Snipe.
 
Celebratory selfie: Oliver, Nuttall, Archer, Andrews.

'The Pride of Perthshire' among the buttercups & irises.

In addition to the gulls and waders there were also plenty of Greylag Geese and Arctic Tern along with the odd Shelduck, Great Skua and Wigeon. Over the nearby loch, a mixed feeding flock of hirundine dashed around, consisting mostly of Swallow but with also small numbers of House Martin and a single Sand Martin. The surrounding fields contained around a dozen Northern Wheater along with several pairs of Meadow Pipit and Linnet.

Red-winged Blackbird - Orkney by Adam Archer.

As the rest of the party slowly made their way up the road to meet up with our lift back, Steve Nuttall and I struggled to tear ourselves away. After such a long journey, I guess we just wanted to soak up every single moment of the occasion. As we hesitated, the Red-winged Blackbird flew across us once again and eventually made its way over to the gas bottles for one final encore. Little did we know, as she sat there conditioning her plumage, this would be the last time the bird would be seen. If we had, I reckon we would have lingered just a short while longer. There is a chance this species may never be recorded in Britain ever again.

All aboard the Land Rover. Next stop, Nouster.

After squeezing into the cab and spilling over the back of the Land Rover, we headed back down to Nouster for our return sailing back to Kirkwall. After chucking a few quid into the collection bucket and thanking our helpful chauffeur, we had a quick scan of the bay. The most numerous species feeding among the seaweed was Turnstone, with fifty or so mostly summer plumage individuals picking their way methodically along the beach. There were also good numbers of Sanderling, a small group of Dunlin and at least six Purple Sandpiper. It had been a memorable few hours on one of Britain's most remote and wonderful islands.

Our Red-winged Blackbird sighting duly plotted!

We arrived back in Kirkwall at around 4.00pm. With no sign of the White-billed Diver on South Ronaldsay since earlier in the week, we decided to spend thirty minutes checking the small body of water known as Peedie Sea just a short walk from the quay. A Red-rumped Swallow had been frequenting the area on and off for the past couple of days so it was well worth a punt. Unfortunately there was no sign of it despite a few of the more usual Swallow feeding over the pools. The highlight at this site though was undoubtedly the small groups of Long-tailed Duck, some of which loafed just a few yards from the shoreline. Other species included Mallard and Tufted Duck, the usual gulls, a pair of Common Tern and a fly over Whimbrel.

Long-tailed Ducks - Peedie Sea, Kirkwall, Orkney.

Above photos kindly provided by Steve Nuttall.
 
With the arrival of our minibus it was time to head down to Burwick for the ferry back to John O' Groats. At this stage the weather was glorious as we sailed back to Caithness through the bubbling waters of Pentland Firth. The tidal races of this particular strait are among the fastest in the world and are an impressive sight to witness. Viewing the waters and the bird life feeding here is worth the price of the crossing alone.

Burwick and the Pentland Firth by Adam Archer.

Now for the tough bit. To get home we were faced with a further 550 miles of road from John O' Groats back to the West Midlands. To complicate matters we were understandably exhausted, hungry and thirsty. The first leg of the journey back to Inverness was pretty easy for me to drive though, with the rugged scenery of the Highlands to the west and the deep blue of the North Sea to the east, spurring me on. After several false alarms at Wick and Brora we finally found a chippy that was open at Golspie. The mood at that point was nearly as joyous as when the Red-winged Blackbird had first appeared. We ordered our freshly cooked meals and sat along the coastal path demolishing them. It had been a pretty epic trip and yet another one to look back on in years to come with smiles on our faces. Life is all about making memories such as these.

The rest of the journey went pretty well and the birding continued right up until we approached Loch Moy when a male Ring Ouzel flew over the busy A9 and perched in the hard shoulder briefly. After a few brief stops for fuel and to stretch our legs, we finally arrived back at Belvide Reservoir at around 4.30am on Monday morning. A few hours later at this site, the American theme would continue when Steve Nuttall found a summer plumage Spotted Sandpiper, remarkably his third one on his patch. I on the other had to grab a couple of hours sleep before logging on and working from home.

All in, the trip cost us £119.00 each including fuel, the return ferry to Orkney and the charter boat to North Ronaldsay and back. I realise some of you may think that is a whole lot of cash to spend on a bird that may well be banished to Category D, or even E of the British List but to me it was money well spent.