Going birding this week presented a major challenge. It was either drizzling and pouring with rain, or so hot that the tarmac roads began to melt. Most sensible people retreated to the more controlled temperatures of their home or workplace, comforted by the thought that August is one of the best months to start the decorating that has been put on hold since spring. Readers were warned last week that August is arguably the best shorebird and seabird month, and this week proved that theory right. After days of yet more Little Egrets, a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, a much sought-after rarity, paused frustratingly briefly at Pegwell Bay to feed with Dunlin before being moved on by the tide. Meanwhile the endless stream of Balearic Shearwaters made way for Britain's most popular Fea's Petrel to date. The Scillonian has made more than a dozen trips into the western approaches, each one usually producing a Wilson's Petrel, but most passengers always hoping for something special. Each trip has been characterised by a claim of something mega positively identified by up to half the observers and categorically disputed by the rest - 2001's trip was different. Having set off in blustery weather, the voyage began in typical Scillonian style with chumming from volunteers attracting little but the odd Storm Petrel. When the good stuff was ladled over the side, only Sabine's Gulls and a single Great Shearwater were found.
One could only imagine the frustration when Soft-plumaged Petrel was called. The words "where?", "directions" and "s**t" were chorused among the masses as the ship finally struck lucky. Nowadays people with no experience of either easily sort out Fea's Petrel from Zino's Petrel. ID problems mentioned in past literature fail to be a consideration when the statistics show that one of the twenty or so pairs of Zino's left in the world has little chance of being sighted (or accepted) in Britain. Photographs are the key here, and the Scillonian bird, like the one in July off the Scillies, should leave few doubts. The only worry now is how far over the 3-mile limit required for admission into the British record books this bird was. Either way, who would not have wanted to be on this year's trip?
The month is still only half way through. Black Duck, probably our dullest mega-tick, is featuring once again as birds move around in readiness for winter. The Stithians bird looks set to be in place when people 'pop in' to see it on route to Scilly. August has attracted early American vagrants in the past - Northern Waterthrush and Nighthawk have turned up early - but Greenish Warbler, Wryneck and Barred Warbler will be more likely during the coming week. Things could liven up on the East Coast, given favourable weather conditions, Norfolk is due for a major crowd-puller - will it arrive next week?