Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Tern paradise

The Safari was back on Patch 1 this morning after a break of a couple or three days. As we approached the Butterfly Zone we could hear the Blackcap singing from the scrub and the Lesser Whitethroat away in the distance but from the big Bramble thicket behind the big house on the corner the unmusical scratchy warble of a Whitethroat (P1; 53) was heard...and about time too! All very springy despite the frost on the grass...at least that wind had died down a bit.
Once we were in the ‘Zone’ the Chiffchaff fired up but this didn’t sound like our ‘normal’ Chiffchaff. This one said chiff chiff chiff chiff chiffity chiffity chiffity chiff – the chiffity bits slight accelerating. What the *$(*^ was THAT? We stood awhile and heard it a few more times before continuing in to the park where a Blackcap was the only bird to hit the notebook – no Herons or Moorhens on the bottom pond today. Cutting the walk short we returned to the Butterfly Zone but this time we were on the sunny Rough Field side of it where we stood and listened for a good few minutes. Away down the old hedgerow behind us the Lesser Whitethroat was heard and a Chaffinch and a Wren sang from the scrub in front of us. Within a couple of minutes the ‘Chiffchaff’ started again with the same unusual song and gave us a several more repetitions. We didn’t see the bird nor hear it call and we didn’t hear any ‘normal’ Chiffchaff song or calls...so what WAS it?
Before we hit Patch 2 we had a listen to the Iberian Chiffchaff songs on Xeno-canto recorded in late April and early May and they were scarily similar to what we had heard earlier.
Patch 2 was cold draughty affair and only slightly productive. We inadvertently flushed a small bird off the back of the sea wall which flew across the road and into the bushes in the work’s front garden...hmm not sure...coulda been interesting. Out at sea there was nothing much happening until we’d scanned round to the mouth of the river, here in the distance there were about 200 ‘Commic’ Terns feeding away; too far to ID but most will have been Arctic Terns.
Bird of the day shot low over the edge of the low tide southwards past us towards the terns, a dark phase Arctic Skua. With the terns a couple of Gannets dived for fish and another went past us northwards in the distance.
At lunchtime it was much the same with all the action either very distant or over to the south in the river mouth. No skuas this time but we did get a small number of Sandwich Terns.
Another birder who had been watching from a short way down the wall joined us and he’d just had a large diver, almost certainly a Great Northern Diver from his description but we hadn’t seen it. He told us that his pager went off mid morning when two Black Terns and two Little Terns were reported from here – doh they musta flown straight past the office window...Again a couple of Gannets mooched about and a dozen or so Arctic Terns headed north past us but that was it, pretty quiet really particularly when compared to Heysham not too many miles up the coast.
Where to next? We’ll be taking the camera, set to video mode, to Patch 1 to try to get a recording of that ‘Chiffchaff’, if indeed it is still there and is one.
In the meantime let us know what’s been singing the wrong song in your outback.

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