September, full of promise, my favourite month but 2011 is proving to be a tough challenge. Thursday fine and warm produced a small fall of Wheatears at Newbiggin with perhaps 12 individuals present in the north bay, smaller numbers than further north but one or two looked quite stocky and with the current wind systems there must be at least half a chance that these were Greenland breeders rather than Scandinavian.
Andy pulled out a Merlin that charged through the caravans before banking and building height in pursuit of a westward bound passerine, it was never in the hunt and quickly gave up and drifted off. Probably the highlight of the morning as we returned with little else to show for the next 2 hours.
Sunday morning after an early and rather fruitless visit to St. Mary's I headed along the Ash Lagoon banks. A steady stream of Swallows and Meadow Pipits tracked south along the slight shelter offered by the tall slopes. I counted 120 Swallows over about 45 minutes and probably missed a few whilst trying to dig out other birds in the scrub. Emerging from an hour long vigil all I could muster was a fresh Lesser Whitethroat offering welcome relief from the ubiquitous Common Whitethroats present since spring. I think this is probably a Newbiggin year tick for me though I haven''t checked.
Despite the strengthening wind I headed for the beach; low tide and the usual waders around, another half hour working through the 2-300 strong Golden Plover flock (again!). The seaweed on the high tide line was unusually quiet just one lone alba wagtail. With the identification of 1st-winter White Wagtails topical I gave it a second look. Quite pleased I did as I think it's a White Wagtail.
As I think the images above show, pale grey mantle, crown and forehead; mid-grey rump in the key area between middle two tertials and clean white flanks and belly all point to alba. The greenish/olive cast to the ear coverts and pinkish base to the bill apparently good features for 1st-winter; I don't think there is any moult in the greater coverts, so these are retained juvenile coverts/tertials? I'm posing this as a question as the broad white tips to the greater coverts seem, well, broader than on most of the images available for 1st-winters and maybe more indicative of an adult female?. I found the supercilium extending part way around the back of the ear coverts in 'Citrine-like' fashion quite striking, though maybe I've just not been looking closely enough at these before? Feel free to tell me how wrong I am, it won't be the first (or last) time.
Oh and just to avoid any doubt I've withheld this post for several days to avoid either of these migrants being tape-lured; from what I'm reading there's hundreds of you out there lurking behind every bush and it's all Steve Jobs fault which is the real reason he quit.