Posts Tagged ‘Wild Birds


Horns of a Dilemma

Some time ago, in October 2001 to be exact, I was on the Isles of Scilly. Where else would you expect me to be in October? The Scilly archipelago lies some 20 something miles from the outreaching peninsula of Cornwall. Surrounded by the Atlantic, the islands are a crossroads for migrating birds; a rest haven amid the ocean.

Sadly my note books for this period have been destroyed. We’ll not go into that now but I do so regret not having them. They were a record of my thoughts and observations that I would love to have as a reference. So what follows is from my memory of the day.

I was on the beautiful island of Tresco for the day. Anyone who has been to Tresco knows what I mean when I call it beautiful. It’s a charming place with a unique atmosphere rivaled by nowhere on Earth I’ve been. Having caught the 10:30am morning boat from St Mary’s and landed at New Grimsby Quay at the North end of the Island I had come to Tresco for some particular bird. I can’t remember what it was. There are a couple of large freshwater pools on Tresco that attract duck and waders as well as rails and crakes, so to be honest it could have been anything. I just can’t remember. I can’t even recall if I saw whatever I went to see. However, I remember thinking I’d catch the early boat back to St Mary’s at 2:30 so I crossed the Helliport and made my way to Carn Near at the South of the Island to catch the return boat.

As I walked down the concrete roadway each isolated clump of vegetation seemed to be harbouring a Stonechat. As I neared the quay I could see there was a chap sitting down on the ground to the right of the path up ahead of me. He was watching something through his bins on the area of short cropped turf and gravel in front of him. I stopped and lifted my optics. ‘Bugger me’, I thought, it’s a Shorelark. I’d never seen a Shorlark on Scillies before. It was a Scillies tick! I continued walking until I was opposite the lark and took another good look. It wouldn’t have to be a long look. The boat was due.

The more I looked at it the odder it appeared. It didn’t look quite right for Shorelark. Something was different. I made the decision to forego the 2:30 boat in favour of the one leaving at 4:30. I wanted to sit down and study this bird. I remembered noting the different face pattern and the colouring of the scapulars being unfamiliar.

This week, 21 years later, the BOU accepted this bird as the first UK record of ‘Horned Lark’. This is a sub-species of Shorelark and is Nearctic in origin. Residing in the arctic region of North America and Canada.

Subsequently the lark visited other islands and I think the shot below was taken on St Agnes by Niall Machin who kindly allowed me to use his photo.

So this tale gives anyone that cares to read it a cautionary warning. Two in fact. Firstly if something doesn’t look quite right, study it … and take notes. Secondly keep your old notebooks. You’ll regret it if you don’t.



THIS HAS TO STOP. A couple of days on a 10 mile stretch of the Yorkshire coast gave an indication of the fish stocks offshore; Red throated Divers in their hundreds; one flock alone of 50 flew past us. Bottlenose Dolphins, a good sized pod of Harbour Porpoise and 10 Minke Whales feeding offshore. Crab pots littered about the sea in their hundreds (we counted 260 from one viewpoint alone) and the ominous shape of Supertrawlers. A fleet of them offshore. All, beasts and man, sharing the same bounty from the ocean.
The one dead Minke Whale pictured (you can see the diagnostic white band on the pectoral fin) was close in shore. We saw three dead whales in that ten mile stretch. It may have died AND THEN become wrapped in pot lines, it MAY have been bycatch from the super trawler nets. I don’t know and neither do you; but three dead whales in such a small area is GREAT CAUSE FOR CONCERN. We should be sharing the oceans NOT EXPLOITING THEM!

Stripy Pipit

Maybe it’s the tundra green combined with the stripy pyjamas but Olive backed Pipits are just the best aren’t they? This individual has been creeping through the bracken on Muckleborough Hillh here in Norfolk for quite a few days now.

Olive backed Pipit


Booty is in the eye of the beholder

Yellow rumped Warblers hail from across the pond and are good looking birds. That is unless they are first winter jobbies; then even if they are males it has to be said, they are an acquired taste. They do have a redeeming feature though; their bright yellow booty. So when they turn up on the edge of a semi-rural housing estate a couple of miles from the A1 in Durham and you’re making your way up to Scotland they have to be worth a shout … don’t they? Well, we thought so.

A grim day and poor light coupled with the feeders to which it was attracted being set low inside bushes away from patrolling Sparrowhawks led to poor photographic prospects. In the time we allowed nothing more than record shots could be gained.

Yellow rumped Warbler

Yellow rumped Warbler 1


The Devils of the beach

Not many years ago winter was the time you could easily see Shorelark in Norfolk; regular immigrants from the north. Now they are few and far between.

We searched for three reported on the shingle beach the other week. Bob saw them first and alerted me to something flying our way. Dog Walkers had flushed them from further down the foreshore. Even in flight the yellow and black faces practically shone in the low December sunshine. Luckily they landed nearby and ran into cover among the Marram.

With a little care we approached them and as we sat low and waited they eventually started to move our way. Shorelarks are normally a shy bird easily put to the air but one in particular favoured our company.

Those tiny ‘horns’ give the bird its American name of Horned Lark. I remember seeing a Shore/Horned Lark on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly one October. I think it was October 2001. I seem to remember it was quite long billed and differed slightly in its face, head, tertial and covert patterns and was thought by many to have been a Horned Lark. It has to be said there are so many races on both side of the Atlantic, all ever so slightly different; so assigning an individual to race outside of its normal range is often less than straightforward.




Most of the Alba type Wagtails moving through western Britain onto Scillies at the moment will be White Wagtails. The beaches and areas of short turf such as the airfield and golf course are at times seemingly brimming with them.  Several entertained us on the tideline last week as they refuelled on insects before they moved off on their journey south.

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May 2023


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