Saturday, 27 June 2020

Gull-billed Tern, Dungeness

Early evening on the 23rd June a Gull-billed Tern was reported on Arc Pit at Dungeness. Brian headed down there the next morning and after a couple of hours of searching had bagged himself a lifer.

Thankfully the tern continued to stay faithful to the site and when it was still present on Saturday we decided to make the trip late morning. On route, we had received positive news that the bird was still around Arc Pit. Joining a small group of birders ( always maintaining a safe social distance) along the causeway I had the Gull-billed Tern in the bins before I had even set the scope up! During the next hour, we enjoyed prolonged scope views of the bird flying up and down Arc Pit.


Gull-billed Tern



Happy having added another lifer to my list, we set off in search of a Black-winged Stilt which had been reported from the other end of Arc Pit. Thankfully the car park had been reopened recently thus making parking easy. The Stilt however was anything but easy! After nearly two hours there had been no sign of the bird. Heavy rainfall began to fall giving us a good soaking and forcing us back to the car. The rain eventually relented and the sun came out, another walkout and scan was rewarded with excellent scope views of the Stilt.


Black-winged Stilt

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Nightjars in the King's Forest

Our annual visit to the Brecks this year for Nightjars meant not sharing a car with social distancing rules still very much in place. I Still needed Stone Curlew for a year tick which meant leaving an hour ahead of Brian and visiting a site just six miles away from the Nightjar site. A Woodcock was flushed from the roadside giving dad a year tick. Upon arrival on the heath, the setting sun didn't help with locating the Stone Curlews. Eventually, a family party of four birds were found. They were more distant than usual maybe because of the presence of sheep in the same area.

Difficult viewing conditions


I joined Brian at our usual Nightjar site around 9.30 and didn't have to wait very long before the first Nightjar appeared. Within the next hour, we enjoyed several close views of the birds directly overhead churring, wing clapping, and calling with two birds perching in nearby treesTawny Owls were calling throughout our visit and provided another welcome year tick.


Wednesday, 17 June 2020

A morning at Minsmere

The plan was to arrive early and have a walk around Dunwich Heath before spending the rest of the morning at Minsmere. Unfortunately, upon arrival, we found out there was no access to the heath car park without prior booking the previous day. 

Westleton Heath is only two miles from Dunwich so we decide to stop there and have a leisurely stroll hoping to connect with Dartford Warbler. There's plenty of Stonechats perched up on gorse bushes and several Woodlark are also seen and heard. Dartford Warblers were proving much more elusive. Eventually, we managed to find a single bird.


Signage at the car park

On route to Minsmere, we stopped close to Saunders Hill just a short distance from the entrance track to the reserve. The target bird was an Iberian Chiffchaff, which had been present since the 18th May. As soon as we stepped out of the car the bird was heard singing close by. Could this be the same bird that was at Dunwich Heath last year? 

At the reserve itself, there was plenty of evidence of the coronavirus impact, from keeping plenty of space between cars when parking, a one-way system in place for the toilets and the shop, cafe, and hides all remaining closed. The only hide open was the public hide overlooking the South scrape and we headed towards it stopping several times to scan the east scrape from the dunes. A scan of south scrape added two more year ticks with numerous Sandwich Terns and a single Little Gull present.


Minsmere beach, looking south towards Sizewell in the distance

View across south scrape from the public hide

Having struggled to find Dartford Warblers earlier this morning we enjoyed excellent views of at least three birds among the gorse and dunes outside the public hide.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Red-footed Falcon: Fen Drayton Lakes

The RSPB reserve at Fen Drayton Lakes in Cambridgeshire had been home to a Red-footed Falcon the previous two days. This morning we made the sixty-mile trip hoping it had decided to stay for at least another day. We were twenty miles from the reserve when positive news broke of the bird's continued presence.

Having parked up a short distance from the Busway terminal, we turned right and ended up half a mile away in the wrong direction! A quick phone call to Brian and we are heading in the right direction. Eventually, we reach a small group of birders. We join them on the grass bank ( observing the 2m distancing rules) and begin scanning the sheep field and fence line. There's no sign at first but within a few minutes, the bird appears. It flies low across the distant field and then drops onto the grass behind the fence posts. 


Red-footed Falcon


It was very distant!

The falcon hunted the field two more times and returned to the same area each time. Then suddenly it flew high and headed over the Busway lines and began feeding very high up among the numerous gulls. The last views we had of the bird were watching it heading towards the main car park.

Willow warbler was added to the year list with several birds singing from nearby trees. A Hobby perched in a tree, two Kestrel hunting, a Cuckoo calling, and a Turtle Dove "Purring" made for a very enjoyable few hours.

Information Board and shelter

Busway waiting terminal


Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Garganey, Oare Marshes

An early morning trip today, leaving home at 5am heading for Oare Marshes in Kent. As we pulled up alongside the East Flood we had two main targets in mind. Garganey and Bonaparte's Gull. Water levels were high, therefore, leaving very few shingle islands for roosting birds. A small flock of Black-tailed Godwits along with single numbers of Lapwing and Avocet were the only waders present. A Water rail emerged from the reeds and Bearded Tits were "pinging" either side of the track.
A short walk out towards the west Hide produced a singing Turtle Dove in distant trees and a Barn Owl flew up from nearby waste ground and began hunting within a few feet of us. 

We returned to the road and took the main path towards East Hide, scanning the flood as we went for any sign of the Garganey. Having had no luck locating it we continued on past the East Hide and began walking the sea wall. Scanning one of the grass islands I managed to locate the drake Garganey asleep among the Mallards. It did eventually wake and I managed a couple of shots with the phone handheld to the scope.


Grass Island where garganey was roosting










The Bonaparte's Gull however could not be found! Several scans through the gulls present on the mudflats either side of the slipway failed to locate it.

On the way home, we stopped at one of the local cemeteries and quickly located several Spotted Flycatchers. They were using the surrounding trees and regularly dropping down onto the gravestones.




Monday, 8 June 2020

Marsh Warbler: Ware, Hertfordshire

Little did I know that a trip to Rye Meads on the 10th March would be my last birding trip for the foreseeable future. Lockdown measures were implemented some days later and birding and normal life as we knew it disappeared overnight. Having been restricted to garden birding for several weeks, it was a relief when the government announced that travel restrictions were being lifted. A couple of cautious trips to my local patch followed, making sure social distancing rules were strictly followed.

On the 6th June, a Marsh Warbler was reported in Ware, Hertfordshire. Not knowing the area the bird had been found in and thinking there may be a crowd I resisted the temptation to go and although it was reported throughout the following day I decided not to visit and waited to see if it would still be present today. At 7am the news services reported the bird was still present and I decided to make the trip. Matt M kindly replied to my tweet and provided directions to the site. A call to Brian telling him I was going was all that was left to do before leaving.

Eighteen miles later and having parked up in Myddleton Road it was just a short walk along the  River to find Brian already present. Soon we were enjoying several bursts of song followed by a brief view of the bird low among the branches. Eventually, the bird perched out in full view at the top of the bush. 

Social distancing was not a problem as only a handful of birders were present. 


Marsh Warbler




Below is a short clip that was taken by handholding my phone to the scope.




Marsh Warbler favoured this area

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Jack Snipe, Rye Meads Nature Reserve

A relatively local trip this afternoon saw us visit Rye Meads Nature Reserve in Hertfordshire. Upon arrival, we headed for Gadwall hide hoping to find the Jack Snipe that had been reported yesterday. As we entered the hide a local birder had the snipe in his scope and after some helpful directions so did we. It was tucked right down among the short reeds on a narrow spit and only the back of the bird was visible. Thankfully it did become more active during our visit.


View from Gadwall Hide (Jack Snipe was on the small spit to right of shot)

I tried to grab a shot with the phone handheld to the scope.


Jack Snipe (right of centre)


An added bonus was two Green Sandpipers that flew in and landed on one of the islands, giving myself a dad another welcome year tick. The reserve itself was relatively quiet, perhaps due to the work being carried out on the new Kingfisher hide further along the track.