The focus for early September was the local patch of Wanstead Flats and a few visits to the Old Sewage Works and Wanstead Park thrown in for good measure. The Red-backed Shrike that had been around since the 28th August, continued to be present in Pub Scrub on the eastern part of Wanstead Flats, until at least the 7th September (at least that was the last time I recorded it). I made six visits to the patch between the 1st – 9th and it is an understatement to say that migration was a bit on the slow side. There were a few Whinchat, albeit just ones and twos, a cracking male Redstart, the odd Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Lesser and Common Whitethroat, and regular hirundines, but there was no significant passage of note. I managed to catch up with my first patch Grey Wagtail of the year along the River Roding on the 9th, and later in the month my first ever patch Yellow-legged Gull, so September wasn’t too bad. It was a pretty good month for raptors on the patch with sightings of Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Hobby, Buzzard, Red Kite and Peregrine – six species of raptor within Greater London is pretty impressive. I’m still looking for my first patch Merlin though – maybe in October?
On the 1st I did my first BTO Tawny Owl survey in Epping Forest. After three minutes of the initial 10 minute count period there was a burst of two ‘kee-viks’ but then silence for the rest of the survey. Checking my BirdTrack records, this was actually my first Tawny Owl of the year. I’ve got three more tetrads to complete so hopefully I’ll get to hear a few more ‘kee-viks’ and ‘hoots.’
The middle part of the month was spent working on a project in Saudi Arabia that involved establishing some preliminary bird surveys to assess a site for a possible conservation project. Migration was certainly evident with large numbers of warblers passing through, including an incredible eight species in one bush – Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Garden, Willow, Olivaceous and Upcher’s Warblers!!
On the 29th I headed for a 9-day birding trip to Shetland, and despite the persistent strong westerlies and regular rainfall, the visit got off to a cracking start. After landing and picking up the hire car I headed straight to West Voe beach car park which is traditionally my first stop whenever I visit Shetland. The winds were in the region of 40mph and the sea was a bit choppy even in the bay. Focussing my binoculars on some distant diving Gannets, I saw a first winter Sabine’s Gull along with a few Kittiwakes – not bad for pretty much the first bird of the trip! I managed to get a brief scope view as the bird headed south towards Scatness and I lost it from view. A couple of summer plumage Great Northern Divers were a nice bonus. Given the weather conditions it wasn’t surprising that there weren’t too many migrants about. My target bird for the 30th was a reported Icterine Warbler at Lunna which turned out to be a Melodious Warbler. I’d gone along with the ID as an Icterine after some brief views – it seemed to have an obvious whitish secondary panel, slaty-grey legs, it had been reported as an Icterine and given the location that is what would be expected. Later in the evening some photos emerged on one of the local WhatsApp groups that showed that the bird had a short primary projection and was indeed a Melodious Warbler. A timely reminder to check all ID features.
Whilst on Shetland I have set up a mini ‘patch’ – a small bay adjacent to Scatsca Airport which can be scanned from a roadside pull in. I intend to visit the ‘patch’ several times to see what turns up, it looks good for waders, and a few Curlew, Redshank and Ringed Plovers were there on the 30th despite the wind and the rain.
September wasn’t as productive as recent months with only 99 species recorded from 19 complete lists, but with Red-backed Shrike, Sabine’s Gull and Melodious Warbler, sometimes it’s about quality not quantity. As for the year so far, by the end of September I’ve submitted 176 complete lists to Birdtrack, just about on target for my year total of 250.
September 2018 highlight: The Melodious Warbler was the highlight, not only because it is a cracking bird but also as a salutary lesson to check all ID features and don’t always follow what others have said before you.
October 2018 target: As with last month there are no specific targets for October, but I am hoping that the Pallid Harrier at Therfield, Herts, hangs around for a few more days.
Photo credit: Melodious Warbler by Frank Vassen via Wikicommons