There are some birds you look at in the guides and think I really want to see that. One such bird for me was Siberian Accentor (and its cousin the similar looking Black-throated Accentor). These two species have reached Scandinavia on the odd occasion during the 40 or so years I have been looking in bird books, and I secretly hoped that one day I’d find one lurking under a bush on the east coast. I have carried that image round every autumn for many a year to no avail.
This year we have had extraordinary weather since the end of September, with a large and far reaching high settled over northern Europe with its lower flank funneling easterly winds constantly towards the UK and western Europe. The first sign of oddity came when a thin line of wind dropped ridiculous amounts of Yellow-browed Warblers onto the coast of Yorkshire, with 130ish on Flamborough alone! These soon funneled inland too…..
Soon Shetland too was ringing to the “tiss-icks” of Yellow broweds. The first week of easterlies was pretty standard then all of a sudden there began to be records of Siberian Accentors turning up in Scandinavia, just the odd one…. then more…. Shetland birders were on the alert. It was now or never. Several Whites Thrushes made it to the islands and then a single Siberian Thrush. Then it happened, the first Siberian Accentor for Britain was found on Sunday afternoon in a small quarry on the Shetland mainland. I was driven mad over the next day as a succession of planes ferried birders on and they enjoyed great views. We tried to get over but we thwarted, by cost and practicality, then by me being silly and cocking up the flight search. The bird departed after its second day on the Monday night so I was not tantalised any more.
Oddly I remained calm…. more birds were being found in Europe including the first for Germany on Wednesday. Looking at the weather I realised that we had two more days of strong east winds before the direction altered. I even told a mate we have two more days for one to arrive on the east coast. Looking at the wind forecast for Thursday I saw that it was coming straight from the direction of the small island on the far east of Germany where their first had arrived.
We decided to head for the east coast to try to see a Paddyfield Warbler at Flamborough and try our luck at finding an Accentor for ourselves.
Thursday dawned and was windy and when we reached Flamborough in the early afternoon we were caught in a very heavy shower that forced us to abandon the Paddyfield without seeing it and head for shelter. One the way we got good but brief flight views of a calling Olive backed Pipit.
Once the shower had passed we set off back out to the Paddy, however barely had we reached the field when the mega alert went off…..I knew before I read the pager what it was going to be …. “Siberian Accentor in Easington”. Damn! We had gone to the wrong location…. and it was now gone 3…. Panic! The Paddyfield was abandoned to its bushes… How long to Spurn from here… 1hr 30ish was the locals reply. We set off…. it seemed to take an age getting through Bridlington as it was school run time. Once clear we drove down the coast road. Now how is it you always end up behind a succession of “hats” and “45ers” when you need to get somewhere in a hurry? It took us just about spot on the time suggested and we arrived in Easington with light to spare… there were cars parked everywhere on the roads. We hurried round to the site which was the old school car park across the road from the the gas terminal boundary fence. A crowd were gathered under the trees…. finding a spot we looked into the garden, “its by the skip” was the instruction…. sure enough there was a first winter Siberian Accentor calmly shuffling around on the mossy asphalt picking up insects and tiny worms.
We enjoyed about an hour in its company as it fed within 6 feet of us at times. A beautiful bird with subtle designer yellow, grey and rufous tones and a lovely blackish bandit mask.
As the light went we left and returned to the car. The area was heaving with birds and we decided to stay in a B&B until the next day to get seconds and see what else we could find.
Next morning we returned to Spurn… it was mayhem and there were far to many folk for us, so we ignored all the rares and wandered round the back bits seeing loads of common migrants. there were 100’s of Robins, some very grey continental birds, the air was full of Thrushes and Goldcrest dripped of bushes… fantastic. A single Shorelark was in the Blue Bell carpark!
Later we returned to the Accentor and enjoyed crippling views as it continued to feed on the carpark asphalt….
A one point the bird flipped up onto a bush actually growing in the fence we were all standing against, about 18inches from some birders. Then it flew up a short way into a tree and called.
A life times dream achieved……. Ok I didn’t find it but seeing it in the UK was the goal really!
Up to the 16th October there were 2 more records in the north east, one in Cleveland and the other in County Durham meaning the first 4 records for Britain all fall within a week!
I wonder if we can expect more as the running total in Europe now is over 35 with multiple individuals occurring at some sites. Including 3 in Germany on the same island that got the first record only a couple of days before! I suspect more Accentors may be lurking waiting to be found yet. To be honest I don’t really know what has caused this explosion of records of this little known species, its got to be due to the extraordinary weather system with its continuous focused easterly winds, but there may be other factors in play. Maybe this wind has happened at exactly the right moment to catch a movement of birds as they set off to migrate, has there been a good breeding year too… my guess is its a combination of factors and I’ll guess we will never see its like again.
The east winds now have shifted to the south east and are dying away for a few days, the forecast suggests we are going to get more in the next week though…. what comes next, more Siberian Accentors or a suprise from the east no-one yet expects? Or simply nothing, the joy of birding is we really don’t know yet…