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Catching up with chat and a Stonechat

Bob Radford and I set off in good spirits during a horrendous Friday afternoon trip to Lancashire, it was a six hour journey! We made the effort to visit the NW to catch up with Graham and Jeremy at the formers home and have a night out in the excellent Burscough Bridge public houses. On Saturday we had tickets to join the travelling ‘Gasheads’ (Bristol Rovers supporters) at Boundary Park, home of the Latics (Oldham Athletic). Bob is an avid Oldham fan so we had some fun with the football banter. All of us could have done with an earlier bedtime!

After a highly favourable 0-2 win for the Pirates (Bristol Rovers) we dropped Graham and Jeremy back, had a snack and said goodbye, Bob and I made a late decision to head to the East coast so we booked a room in Hull, ate an Italian meal and settled down for a much needed early evening. We stayed at the functional Gril Campanile Motel, had a continental breakfast surrounded by Blackbirds, tits flocks and Goldcrest and were soon on the road early for Kilnsea, We parked up in breezy sunshine and took a look at the sea. 2 drake Eiders and 4 Gannet went N, Red-throated Divers were heading S.

We briskly walked the three miles from Kilnsea to Spurn Point seeing various birds on the way, the light would be better on the way back so we didn’t linger. At the point we searched the Sea Buckthorn and dunes for the interesting Stonechat reported the day before. This active bird could well be a Stejnenger’s Stonechat, a far eastern representative of the Saxicola group. Initially it was hiding, we spent the time scanning the Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests, Reed Buntings and watching thrushes such as Redwing and Fieldfare drop out of the sky.

Putative Stejnenger’s Stonechat at Spurn Point
I was struggling to digi-scope this mobile bird, there were plenty of photographers present that will undoubtedly produce detailed images.

Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (3)_edited-1 Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (4)_edited-1 Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (6)_edited-1 Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (7)_edited-1 Stejneger's Stonechat poss, Spurn, 23 Oct 16, MJMcGill (9)_edited-1

Eventually the Stonechat re-appeared and gave us good scope views but it was always on the move, it often towered into the sky to catch flies and never stayed on one perch for long as it ranged the sheltered side of the point. After a good hour or so with this busy bird we wandered back along the peninsula birding along the way. Apparently droppings were collected for DNA analysis, this and the hundreds of photographs taken should help identify the origin.  Dark-bellied Brent Geese, scores of waders, a Northern Wheatear, Great Tits, Blackcaps and commoner passerines were all noted. It was generally quiet especially compared to recent weeks here. Back at Kilnsea we put or feet up, had a brew and a cake in the Blue Bell Café and decided to start back for home.

A very enjoyable sociable weekend with a bit of birding thrown in, thanks to Bob for all the driving and good company throughout.

Filed under: Birdwatching Diary


at 4:13 pm

A forty eight hour day trip! Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire, 7-8 October 2016

Pallas’s Warbler, Donna Nook, Lincolnshire.
What a cracking little entertainer.

Pallas's Warbler 1, Donna Nook, MJMcGill  Pallas's Warbler 2, Donna Nook, MJMcGillPallas's Warbler 3, Donna Nook, MJMcGill

A day out was promoted with a week to go, the night before I mooted making it an overnight stay. All who were keen to attend were flexible, brought an overnight bag. We had a very early start on Friday morning (0530hrs) and set off North up the M5. The decision as to which direction we should head in was made as we reached Birmingham, we turned to the East to meet the many migrants that were still arriving. Over the previous few days an Eastern Crowned Warbler had been showing at RSPB Bempton Cliffs and we gambled on it remaining just one more day.

 with plenty of other birds about if it decided to move on it was to be our first stop. We had our answer well before reaching this East Yorkshire site, the bird had gone but carried on to see what else may have arrived. After passing through the swanky visitor centre we studied the adjacent copse and enjoyed good views of tired, grounded Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs and at least two Yellow-browed Warblers as they fed in the sallows, a few other common passerines were also seen around this site.

A good tristis Siberian Chiffchaff candidate was among the dozens foraging about the site. Five Barnacle Geese flew South and flocks of Redwings streamed inland. It was difficult to ignore the large numbers of noisy Tree Sparrows around the car park, visitor centre and copse, it was brilliant to see so many.

A short drive to Thornwick Bay followed and we took a cliff top walk above the chalk cliffs and stacks, two Wheatear, three Stonechat, a Peregrine and numbers of feral pigeons pretending to be Rock Doves were all seen, Gannets streamed by over the sea below which made the Black-browed Albatross seen a couple of days before something to dream about, sometimes it is all about timing. We didn’t see the Great Grey Shrike that had been seen an hour earlier but it was fairly breezy.

High above the sea cliffs a Short-eared Owl was flapping about being mobbed by Jackdaws, it hung in the air waiting to be allowed to descend and presumably hunt the grassland. At the North Marsh we had great views of a juvenile Taiga Bean Goose in the company of a small party of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese.

Moving on to the lighthouse we joined others who had seen a Ring Ouzel, the field and hedges were full of Redwings and Fieldfares, Linnets,  Reed Buntings, Yellowhammers and Song Thrushes. After looking over the sea and lighthouse fields we loaded again up to head south toward Alkborough Flats to try for the Western Swamphen before dark.

Arriving at the site we overlooked the vast wetland area from a vantage point, the birds were distant but as the conditions were so calm it was possible to hear most of the birds calling. A few Marsh Harrier came in to roost. Large numbers of Avocet, a few Ruff, Greenshank, Dunlin, Snipe, Bearded Tits and other unidentified species busied about in the reeds and on the flood.

The light faded, it was too late to see anything else so we headed back to the car, twenty minutes of information gathering and a group decision to seek accommodation and stay in the East was made. We booked bargain rooms above a busy Scunthorpe pub hotel, checked in and settled down to a drink, bargain evening meal and a pub singer belting out tunes we all know.

We had an early night as we had to be up and out at 0630 to try for the Swamphen again, it was great to watch the sunrise at Alkborough Flats and see the birds waking. Pink-footed and Canada Geese stirred and headed out for the day, Water Rails were bold and ventured out to the open mud. Six Little Egrets left the roost for the creeks, scanning through the waders a couple of Spotted Redshank were seen chasing fish, whilst we all focussed on them the Western Swamphen came out of its roost site and flew across to its chosen feeding site to give us a variety of action views albeit distantly.

Happy with our start we moved off to the Lincolnshire coast with a quick stop at a pleasant tea room for breakfast near North Somercotes, a few late juvenile Swallows still begged their parents for food on the roof. I am glad to say our breakfast was a little more civilized. Getting back to the birding we drove the couple of miles to Donna Nook and walked out along the sheltered seawall scanning the bushes along the route. We racked up 40+ Goldcrest, 5 Redstart, a Ring Ouzel, 40+ Robins, 20+ Reed Buntings, 5 and 6 Brambling, thrushes, pipits and other common passerines including a female Blackcap. Neil spotted two Hen Harrier that were hunting over the rough grassland and a party of Common Scoter from the seawall, as we walked back toward the car park we had more views of passerines and a few flocks of different wader species flying over.

Back at the car park we saw three Blackcap feeding on berries and were soon all watching a stunning Pallas’s Warbler as it hovered to pick insects from the sallow. Yet another party of Tree Sparrows fed nearby. We decided to take on the walk to where a Siberian Stonechat was showing but it wasn’t straightforward to access, we tried a route through the dunes seeing more Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs along the way, the fields held Curlew, Golden Plover and flock of Starlings.

We gave up trying to get to this bird, MOD land and the Sea Buckthorn hedges being part of the reason, we decided to call it day seeing more Tree Sparrows and the Pallas’s Warbler again on the way back to the car, a good drive back saw us back in Whitminster by 5.30pm to conclude this ‘day’ trip.

Thanks to my three eager birding companions for the company.


Filed under: Birdwatching Diary


at 6:36 pm

September 2014 blog

September 2014 delivered a good variety of waders to the Severn and WWT scrapes, unfortunately low numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover were generally recorded. The settled weather may well have allowed many migrants to pass through unhindered. Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers were present in double figures, an easterly airflow helped to deliver higher than average numbers.

Dunlin with a Curlew Sandpiper and Ringed Plover over the Severn

Waders in flight, Dunlin and single Curlew Sandpiper  (5)_edited-1

Great Crested Grebes
Adult and begging juvenile on Gloucester to Sharpness Canal
Some late broods around this year.

Great Crested Grebes, Frampton church, Glos to Sharpness Canal (3)_edited-1

Ruff juvenile

Ruff, juvenile, MJMcGill_edited-1

Golden Plover

Golden Plover, Dumbles, MJMcGill (3)_edited-1

Common Blue Butterfly

Common Blue butterfly, male, MJMcGill (2)_edited-1

Spotted Flycatcher
A few turn up in the Severn Vale on passage, a few more were around than is typical this year thanks to rain storms.

Spotted Flycatcher, Knott Hide (2)_edited-1

Crane and Greylags
One of the Great Crane Project birds at home among geese (and swans) as they are across their range

Crane and Greylags, Top New Piece (1)_edited-1


Filed under: Birdwatching Diary


at 4:22 pm

August 2014 blog- Marsh Sandpiper, a first for Gloucestershire!

All images by M.J.McGill unless stated.

Curlew Sandpiper juvenile
The first Siberian reared-Africa bound youngsters appeared on the Severn at the end of August

Curlew Sandpiper, Dumbles

Yellow Wagtail
Flocks of these busy birds were present locally favouring the cattle herds and the disturbed insects as a food source.

Yellow Wagtail, juvenile 1st winter, 29-08-14,  MJMcGill

Peregrine juvenile
The parents were in attendance around the Upper Severn during July and early August but eventually left the young to get on with. This one managed to bring down a juvenile Tufted Duck on the Severn shore. One species not learning survival as quickly as the other can be fatal.

Peregrine juv

Marsh Sandpiper, a first for Gloucestershire, 28-30 August 2014

Marsh Sandpiper, Splatt Bridge,Frampton on Severn, Glos, 003, 28-08-14, M.J (2)_edited-1

Marsh Sand, MJMcGill

, 007


The week began with some interesting weather forecasts, easterlies with heavy rain and migration was well underway. By coincidence I was due to benefit from a four days off due to a run of working weekends. A conversation with Nige Warren at In Focus had me speculating on a certain graceful needle billed wader being ‘next in line’, it was a good date and weather system.

I went in to work at WWT Slimbridge on the 26th mentioning to Dave Paynter that it feels rare.  I eagerly checked and balanced water levels and went through the birds on the scrapes, a good selection was present. All pumps and grids sorted so  I went on to spend all day tractor mowing on the Dumbles, just another part of management for the thousands of wildfowl and waders that winter on site. It was clear that a fall of birds had happened, a flock of Ruff were with the Lapwing so stopping for a sandwich late afternoon  I was pleased to see six Greenshank  among the other fall waders on the Severn.  It looked promising, I finished up  late, as we left for home I  mentioned ‘that’ hoped for wader again to Dave.

On Wednesday morning I went searching for migrants for a couple of hours and had a decent haul of passerines. I  wandered along the path north of Splatt Bridge at Frampton on Severn spotting  a small flock of Teal on the shallow flood. This temporary wetland was created by the recent super moon high tide surge. A party of 4 Ruff and 7 Greenshank  with the duck were very notable for this location and added to a very enjoyable prolonged  and above all relaxed birding walk, something which is not really possible whilst working.

The next day  I was keen to go out again so I set off to Hock Ditch, a distant wader flock was forced into mobility to the highest mud due to the incoming tide. A variety of waders were out on the Severn, a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was the first of the autumn for me, a few Common Terns, Whinchat and Redstart added to the tally. Five Pintail dropped out of sky and into the flooded field, I just had to check it again, I had thoughts of rare waders. I grew up rather obsessed with wildfowl but waders have really hooked me as a result I am into sifting through flocks of these varied birds.

A scan of the flood revealed an increase, more Greenshank and Ruff on every sweep of the scope. When I got to a tenth ‘shank’  it turned out to be a small, delicate and more elegant creature that made the Greenshanks look ungainly. ‘Get in’ , a Marsh Sandpiper was wading around among this mob of waders. This fine visitor was a juvenile, like so many young waders at this time of year nearly every feather was perfect. What a smashing bird, just what I had been hoping for. I spent a bit of time enjoying being in its company taking the time to study the plumage, when preening I noticed it had a slightly bent tip to the bill.

The Frampton Severn bird is only the second of have seen in England, the first being a spring adult I twitched with Rich Hearn at Earl’s Barton GP in Northants many years ago. I have enjoyed watching this species many times abroad including memorable parties of spring breeding plumage adults in Greece and most recently in October 2013 when I was among the small numbers of wintering birds that feed in the high tide creeks and pools in and around the Coto Donana NP.

After taking in all I could on this bird I began ringing friends so they could pass on news then tweeted out details. It was flushed by raptors flying over a couple of times and made forays south over the adjacent reserve. This allowed me to see it in the WWT Slimbridge recording area which was a bonus. The bird flew down to the reserve on a few occasions and it may well have actually roosted there.

From all the messages I have received it is clear that a lot of people enjoyed this bird, especially me and all local/county birders. A first for the county is always nice but this wader was something a little bit special.

27 August 2014

A few days off and a chance to spend time birding properly. Quietly watching and listening to a section of hedgerow can be very rewarding, even relaxing when you not in a rush to get on. Many juvenile birds will come out and have a look at you, a hedge which offers a sun trap for insects and basking for birds with a variety of berries is best. I managed to see and hear ten species in a very short section today which included three Reed and a Cetti’s Warbler, Lesser and Common Whitethroat.

Cetti’s Warbler

Cetti's Warbler, 28-08-14, MJMcGill (1) copy

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler, 28-08-14, MJMcGill (1) copy

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting, 28-08-14, MJMcGill copy

This August has been very good for records of this species around the Severn and scrapes.

Greenshank, juvenile, Rushy, 17-08-14, MJMcGill (14) copy

Great Crested and Little Grebe

Great Crested Grebe, 03-08-14, 001, MJMcGill Little Grebe, MJMcGill (3) copy

The challenge of sifting through sleeping late summer Teal flocks looking for Garganey is something I relish every year. I managed to record six plus on two dates this August around WWT wetlands.

Garganey, 100 Acre, 16-08-14, MJMcGill (3)_edited-1

Visited Slovenia from 5-12 August, see trip reports page for details.





Filed under: Birdwatching Diary


at 3:19 pm

June and July 2014 blog and sightings

All images taken by M.J. McGill copyrighted.

31 July 2014
Black Darter, Forest of Dean
My only dragonfly session of the summer, been too busy at home in the garden to take full advantage of the heat wave and insects. On my few hours out at a favoured site I managed to see Southern, Common or Moorland and Migrant Hawkers, Emperor, Black-tailed Skimmer, Black and Common Darter, Emerald, Azure, Blue-tailed and Common Blue Damselflies.

Black Darter, Woorgreens, FoD, 31-07-14, MJMcGill (14)_edited-1

22 July 2014

Cattle Egrets at Frampton on Severn, Court Lake
A good summer find for Nick Goatman who seems to find scarce egrets for a pastime.
Remarkable for being in full breeding plumage and mating.

Cattle Egrets, Frampton

Albanistic Meadow Pipit with normal mate
John Budd reported this bird to me earlier in the season, I managed to locate it and find out what it was for sure.

Albanistic Meadow Pipit, Dumbles, 22-07-14, MJMcGill (1)_edited-1

Albanistic Meadow Pipit, Dumbles, 22-07-14, MJMcGill (4)_edited-1

Blue-headed Wagtail female
I first spotted this bird in late June and carefully watched it. It had attracted a male and the pair settled down to nest in a recently topped section of the Tack Piece at WWT Slimbridge. Keeping an eye on timings it hatched and successfully fledged young on the predicted dates. The pair could be located when nest building and feeding young but not at all when incubating. A summer success.

Blue-headed Wagtail, female, Dumbles, 22-07-14 (1)_edited-1

20 July 2014

A July rarity at WWT Slimbridge
Spotted Crake
Somebody reported this bird but we do not know who, a good find for summer hinting they may be breeding locally. It did appear after thunderstorms.

Spotted Crake, Top New Piece, 20-07-14, MJMcGill (1)_edited-1

Again appearing this summer with fresh juveniles locally.


Another two more obvious July birds

Oystercatcher chick

Oystercatcher and chick, 15-07-14, MJMcGill (1)_edited-1

and…reedbeds full of Reed Warbler activity

Reed Warbler, 15-07-14, MJMcGill_edited-1

Dunlin on the Severn
July sees the return passage of this familiar wader, it also heralds the first sightings of juveniles.
An adult and juvenile (right) compare plumage and bill length.

Dunlin, Severn Estuary, 14-07-14, MJMcGill (16)_edited-1

Close up head study of an adult Dunlin

Dunlin, Severn Estuary, 14-07-14, MJMcGill (42)_edited-1

July saw many second broods of House Sparrow fledging in my garden. They give me great pleasure and I try to help them as much as possible with feed and nesting sites, once again 9-11 pairs nested on my property.

House Sparrows

House Sparrows, fledging at 6 Holbury Crescent, 11-07-14, MJMcGill (1)_edited-1 House Sparrows, fledging at 6 Holbury Crescent, 11-07-14, MJMcGill (18)

29 June 2014
I was making my back through the WWT Slimbridge grounds when this bird appeared overhead and circled, it looked to land in the African pen but chose to move off NW.

Spoonbill, 23-06-14, WWT Slimbridge, MJMcGill (4) copy Spoonbill, 23-06-14, WWT Slimbridge, MJMcGill (6) copy


22 June 14
Golden Plover on the Severn estuary
An unusual mid-summer record of what appeared to be a female ’southern race’ apricaria 

Golden Plover, Severn Estuary, 22-06-14, MJMcGill


Meadow Pipit
Another bird who brightens up midsummer with it’s song and display antics

Meadow Pipit, Dumbles, 22-06-14, MJMcGill (1) copy


14 June 2014
Grasshopper Warbler
A male took up territory locally and sang for two weeks.

Grasshopper Warbler, Frampton on Severn, 14-06-14, MJMcGill

13 June 2014
A visit to Strawberry Banks GWT to search for Marsh Fritillary butterflies. It was a hot sunny day albeit late in the season for them but I was fortunate enough to find a few.

Marsh Frtillary, Strawberry Banks GWT, 13-06-14, MJMcGill (10) copy


12 June 14
Glossy Ibis
One of a trio that John Budd had initially discovered on the Dumbles at WWT Slimbridge. Despite feeding conditions looking perfect, they moved on.

Glossy Ibis, Top New Piece, 12-06-14, MJMcGill (6) copy

9 June 2014

Red-necked Phalarope at WWT Slimbridge
I finally caught up with this ‘here today, gone tommorow’ bird

Red-necked Phalarope, Top New Piece, 09-06-14, MJMcGill (4)_edited-1

8 June 2014

House Martin collecting mud pellets for nest.
This individual is sporting a flat fly parasite.

House Martin with flat fly, MJMcGill

Close up of the flat fly.

Flat fly parasite

Goldfinch coming for a drink on a hot day

Goldfinch, drinking, MJMcGill (4) copy

5 June 2014

Garganey male in the Rushy

Garganey, MJMcGill

Looking their best in June.

Oystercatcher head study, 05-06-14, MJMcGill

Heatwaves are good for insects, insects are good for this summer visitor

Hobby, in flight, 05-06-14, MJMcGill


2 June 2014

Reed Bunting
June is full of birdsong, the reedy ditches are home to these smart birds

Reed Bunting, male, 02-06-14, MJMcGill


Filed under: Birdwatching Diary


at 2:07 pm
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