Cape May Warbler, Cuba
This year I have chosen one highlight from spring, one from summer, and one from autumn.
The Cape May Warbler in Cuba at Easter was one of several colourful wood warblers which we saw. It epitomises how birds and other wildlife regulate their lives independently of the political and other ‘boundaries’ created by Homo sapiens.
The Purple Emperor in Rutland in July was one of the discoveries I made during fieldwork for the Rutland Butterfly Atlas. Although this species receives more than its fair share of attention, it is undeniably exciting to discover at new sites.
The Lanceolated Warbler on Fair Isle in September was an example of the quintessential autumn rarities which draw visitors to Shetland, and performed admirably for all present. It was a new bird for several experienced birders.
What will 2017 bring?
Purple Emperor, Rutland
Lanceolated Warbler, Fair Isle
Common Seal, Shetland
Our first visit at this season was rewarded with views of a ‘trumpeting’ Northern Bullfinch at Kergord on 20 November, Water Rails in unusual places, two Glaucous Gulls in south mainland, the Killdeer at Sandwick on two out of four visits, good views of Porpoise in Quendale bay, Pintail x Mallard hybrid at Scatness (a rare hybrid in my experience), and another dead Polecat-ferret at Sumburgh.
For our growing Shetland garden list, see https://birdingontheedge.wordpress.com/garden-list/
Pintail x Mallard (right) with Mallard and Whooper Swan, Shetland
At Easter 1990, I was fortunate to accompany a school exchange with Kamuzu Academy. After rediscovering and scanning some of my slides, now seems a good time to reflect on our visit. Between 29 March and 14 April, we visited Kamuzu Academy itself, Chipata Mountain, Nyika Plateau, Nkhotakota (on Lake Malawi) and Kasungu. The gap between the wealthy few in Malawi and the many poor is very wide indeed, but here we concern ourselves with the wildlife we recorded.
Nyika Plateau is an outstanding area of montane grassland which at the time still had a healthy population of Leopard (we saw four). Some of the more spectacular birds included White-headed Vulture, Martial Eagle, and Wattled Crane. At Chipata Mountain we noted Ayres’ Eagle, Southern Ground Hornbill and White-necked Raven amongst others. At Kamuzu itself a wide variety of birds included Black Crake, Striped Cuckoo, Fiery-necked Nightjar and numerous passerines.
Flap-necked Chameleon, Malawi
Elsewhere highlights included Saddle-billed Stork at Kasungu (where we also saw the Serval above), numerous African Fish Eagles around lake Malawi, and White-fronted Plovers. The experiences provided by wildlife in Africa, from the small to the very large, are outstanding. Cats in particular are compelling partly because they can be so elusive: who could forget their first Leopard?
Leopardess with cub, Malawi
Meadow Pipit, Fair Isle – how often have you seen the pale yellow outer axillaries?
During my stay on Fair Isle this autumn I was fortunate to see no fewer than seven species of pipit. The most numerous, and perhaps for that reason the least appreciated by some birders, was Meadow Pipit.
Meadow Pipits are quite variable, to the extent that there were misidentifications as both Red-throated and Pechora by visitors on Fair Isle. Although the 8th edition of the British List recognised whistleri, its validity (in common with that of some other currently recognised endemic British taxa) should be re-assessed. There may well be a good case for treating Meadow Pipit as a variable monotypic species.
Migrant Meadow Pipits include birds from Iceland and Scandinavia, and many British breeders migrate to the Bay of Biscay and Iberian Peninsula. In L&R, three-figure counts in autumn are not unusual and 1,125 flew south over Deans Lane on 21 September 2003.
Time spent watching Meadow Pipits is time spent well.
Meadow Pipit, Fair Isle
Whitearse = wheatear. Our Anglo-Saxon forebears had a pithy way with words: I’m told that we have them to thank for many of the four-letter words in English.
Before this extraordinary autumn, Isabelline Wheatear remained a genuine rarity. We certainly wouldn’t have predicted one inland in Cambridgeshire. My guess is that we should make the most of them.
For good measure, here’s the striking male Desert Wheatear present recently on the ‘desert’ in north Norfolk. Those who saw four wheatears in a morning earlier this month in south Shetland had a real treat.
Speckled Wood, Rutland
Thanks to all those who have contributed already!
During the coming weeks I shall be completing maps, text and images for the Rutland Butterfly Atlas, so any additional significant records will be very welcome.
I am hoping to publish the finished Atlas in spring 2017.
Continental Robins, Fair Isle (adult, left, and first-winter)
Presumed ‘continental’ Robins have been recorded in L&R, so are worth looking out for in late autumn.
As these two from Fair Isle show, they have distinctly greyish tones on the crown and nape, are less contrastingly brown on the mantle, and have paler orange breasts than resident ‘British’ birds.
If Robins were rare, they would doubtless attract more attention.