As previously planned we went on a September twitch tour. WP twitching on this scale is pretty strenuous, it involves many boring kilometers in rental cars and many boring flights. Also the amount of actual birding is pretty low, OTOH once you reach that target bird it’s a good bird. Good – as in rare.
We started out with a flight to Nantes, France and a reported Wilson’s Phalarope at Ollone-sur-Mer. We arrived in the evening and had a few hours to search for the bird. Next day we had an additional couple of hours to search. A local birder we met said that they had seen the Phalarope being chased by a Peregrine. We never found the Wilson’s and the most likely explanation is that it was taken or injured by the Peregrine. Bad luck.
Next on our improvised itinerary was Terceira, Azorez. Quite a number of good birds had been reported from the famous quarry at Cabo de Praia including a Western Sandpiper. However, the Western was gone (or it was a Dunlin) so we decided to throw away the tickets to Azores and go to the UK instead. First up in the UK were two yankee birds in Weymouth, Dorset, a couple of hours drive from Gatwick. Both birds were found after some searching in the marsh.
We contacted Chris Batty for advise on how to plan the UK tour and Chris told us what we already knew – that we had to go for the American Redstart on Barra, Outer Hebrides. There is a bit of inertia before embarking on such a trip, the Hebrides are remote – to say the least. We decided to drive there. The alternatives with flights were slower and much more expensive. Decided to pick off a couple of other vagrants en route. First was a Long-billed Dowitcher reported from Yorkshire. When we were driving north in the morning, there were no RBA alerts on the Yorkshire Dowitcher so we decided to detour through Kent instead and another Long-billed Dowitcher that had been stable for several weeks. Wise decision, the Yorkshire bird turned out to be gone.
Picked up a wind-blown Sabine’s Gull at Daventry Country Park, east of Birmingham
Finally arrived at Oban where the ferry took us – and quite a few other Redstart twitchers – to Castlebay, Barra. Quite an outpost.
With at least an hour of decent daylight left we all went straight to the bird which was eventually very cooperative – showing well. The local birder (never got the name of the guy) who had found the Redstart was proudly acting welcome committee at the church. All in all, a very friendly and social twitching experience.
Year-Ticked a fairly common bird on Barra too, the Lesser Redpoll, Acanthis cabaret which is split by the IOC into a proper species.
At this point we decided to stay for a while on the Western Isles. We went slowly north, ferry-jumping the Islands scanning the large flocks of Golden Plovers for that American Golden which we needed.
Suddenly Mårten reacts to a smaller bird in one of the flocks. Our second self-found Buff-bellied Sandpiper this year.
No AGPs though. On Uist, we suddenly, just before dark, saw an alarm in the Rare-Bird-Alert (RBA) app for Snowy Owl on Uist, very close to where we were. The Brits don’t use GPS coordinates though, making it impossible for us to find the exact location of where the Owl was last seen. This is a major deficiency in the otherwise decent RBA app. Our only explanation for this is that 3G/4G coverage is so poor in Britain that the birders in Britain cannot yet use their phones to report/find birds. This is in stark contrast to rest of the world including not so developed countries as Mauritania and Egypt.
Eventually we find ourselves at the famous “Butt of Lewis” the most northern tip of the Western Isles scanning for Sooty Shearwaters in the early morning hours. Sure enough, soon we pick up a couple of Sooties – another year tick. At the Butt, we also had a few overflying Common Loons which is a very good bird – at home at least.
Returning back to the mainland from the Hebrides, we had a hard choice to make in the car going south. A Black-billed Cuckoo was just reported on Shetland and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler was reported from Norfolk, just north of London. After a longer stop at an unexpected point with 4G coverage we made up our plans and decided against Shetland. We drove through the night to Norfolk and arrived at the site 4am. Slept a couple of hours in the car and was at the site of the PG Tips (UK slang for Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler) at first light.
It was a pleasure meeting up at the site with Dan Pointon, WP birder with whom we have discussed many issues of birds, countries and tactics over the year. Quite a few UK birders were present and the PG Tips is a skulky bugger. Together with Dan, we started to more actively search for the bird, trying to flush it. Soon we found it, and the three of us all got decent to good flight views of the bird. Especially some of the views from the back, with the bird flying away along the ditch showing well the round tail, the buff rump and the patterned back were good. None, or almost none of the famous white tips were present in the bird. After we left, quite a few of the present birders hadn’t seen the bird at all. More and more birders arrived at the site, and apparently things got almost completely out of hand later in the day.
Besides, the decision to drive to Norfolk instead of trying for the Black-billed Cuckoo on Shetland was the right one, the Cuckoo was gone by the morning.
With the PG Tips in the bag, we decided to go to Ireland. Two good birds awaited us there and both were easy to pick up due to some excellent support from the Irish Birding Community with help from Niall Keogh, Wilton Farrelly and Gerry O’Neill.
At this point there was nothing left for us in the UK/Ireland except for the small matter of a reported Siberian Thrush on Shetland. We deemed the Thrush as un-twitchable and decided go to Holland instead. Quite a few people told us it was madness to leave the UK now that it was raining rarities. Holland turned out to be the right move though, the Thrush disappeared and short of an Helicopter we wouldn’t have made it there in time. Two uglyish birds bagged the first afternoon in Holland. Cat-C Cackling Goose and an alleged Cat-A Ross’s Goose.
The real reason we decided to go to Holland was to try a little bit harder for Dotterel, a bird that had been regularly reported at various sites, mostly over flying on waarneming, the Dutch bird reporting portal. We got a tip to search the fields near Europoort which we did to no avail. At the very last moment when we had given up to find one ourselves, Dutch birders came through and a Dotterel was reported in southern Holland. We went there and found it in a flock of several hundred Golden Plovers.
Home at last, only to see Magnolia Warbler being reported from The Azores and a Radde’s Warbler present in Uppsala, just 100 km north of Stockholm. We cannot go for the Radde’s though, Erik is out sailing in the Baltic and Mårten is stuck on an island in the archipelago. Stressful.