Tuesday 31 December 2013

Looking back on my 2013 birding year


The new year started with a trip to Norfolk. As the light broke through the darkness the first bird of 2013 was again a Barn Owl Sitting on a fence post by the side of the road as we drove past. It could quite easily have been the same bird seen on the first day last year.
Buckenham Marshes produced flocks of Bean and White-fronted Geese, but the real highlight here was watching the massive corvid flocks going to roost.
Another visit to the Queen Mother Reservoir in Berkshire produced not one but two Buff-bellied Pipits along with Long-tailed Duck and Slavonian Grebe.
The local patch highlight was watching a Bittern hunting, eventually catching and eating a large fish right in front of me.
Another highlight was watching a small flock of Waxwings within ten minutes of home. 
The month ending with a trip to Priory Country Park in Bedfordshire on my birthday to bag a Ferruginous Duck, an added bonus was the presence of a Black-necked Grebe at the same site.


The month started with a Great Grey Shrike at Therfield Heath in Hertfordshire, followed by a day in Norfolk resulting in good views of Rough-legged Buzzard and two male Golden pheasants.
Stodmarsh in Kent was the site visited for a showy Penduline Tit, and the Slavonian Grebe that turned up inland on a small pool at Littlebrook was unexpected but very much enjoyed.
The Black-bellied Dipper at Thetford was a real highlight, made even more memorable by the presence of a family of Otters.
My first lifers of 2013 were added this month with four in one day. A trip to Ham Wall in Somerset bagged the Pied-billed Grebe followed by an American Wigeon, Lesser Yellowlegs and Cirl Bunting all in Devon.


March proved to be a quiet month. A trip to Bramfield Church in Hertfordshire produced good views of several Hawfinches.
An early morning visit to Dunwich Heath added Dartford Warblers and close up views of Red Deers, while at Minsmere on the same day a stunning male Garganey stole the show.
A trip to Rye Harbour this month eventually added a Kentish plover to the year list  after several hours of searching. As did a jack Snipe found among the reeds at a small nature reserve within a hotel complex at Tewin in Hertfordshire.


A first visit to Samphire Hoe in Kent gave good if only brief views of a female White-spotted Bluethroat. A Green-winged Teal at Crossness was another highlight of the month, walking past the sewage works on route proved less enjoyable.
Dungeness in Kent didn't disappoint again this year and it was alive with Firecrests on my visit on the 14th. After helping one of the ringers trap a Firecrest in the nets, I was rewarded with close up views of the bird in the hand.
I added a new bird to my local patch list when a Short-eared Owl was flushed by dog walkers.
Nearing the end of the month I took a trip to Grove Ferry where I enjoyed great views of Turtle Doves and to hear them calling was a real highlight.
Chigborough Lakes was my last trip of the month adding a female Ring-necked Duck to my year list.


May is normally a month that delivers and it didn't disappoint again this year. Having somehow missed the Bonapartes Gull in Eastbourne, I managed to catch up with the bird at Elmley Marshes in Kent to get the month of to a good start.
Lakenheath added a very smart looking male Red-footed Falcon to my year list.
The now annual weekend trip to Wales was again very enjoyable, Choughs, Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts, Wood Warblers, Puffin's and after several searches a Glossy Ibis were all added.
A quick diversion from a planned trip to Reculver on the 19th proved to be one of the highlights of the year when a Dusky Thrush! was reported from Margate Cemetery. After spending several hours here I still had time to pay a visit to Reculver and bag another lifer in the form of a very showy female Montagu's Harrier.
I made my first trip to Scotland last year and was determined to visit again this year. The long weekend trip was fantastic. Apart from the stunning scenery we even managed to get sunshine on every day. Walking up the Cairngorms with snow and ice under foot in t-shirts and then adding Ptarmigan to my life list was a real joy. Abernethy Forest proved to be even more rewarding with breeding Ospreys and Crested Tits. But I had to wait until the final morning of the trip to bag the bird I had made no secret of wanting to see. Having searched for it on each and every day of the trip I finally got to see a male Capercaillie. An absolutely stunning male was spotted among the heather and then watched for over three hours, it would have been longer if there wasn't a flight to catch.


What is normally regarded as a quite month, was anything but for me.
A Savi's Warbler at Lakenheath started the month off. Walking along the path I had the opportunity to compare a "reeling" Grasshopper Warbler to a Savi's Warbler at the same time.
I added another new bird to my patch list when I spotted a Marsh harrier hunting over the reedbed at first light. A real pleasure standing there in silence just watching it hunting across the reeds.
Another highlight was an early morning visit to Minsmere. While walking out along the footpath heading towards East Hide an Otter came running up the bank across the footpath in front of us. We would see it again shortly after we entered East Hide when it swam straight across in front of us and started hunting along the edge of the reeds.
Mid way through the month and a trip to Faversham in Kent for my first Black Kite, then news came of a "Mega" down in Suffolk. A Pacific Swift was found at Trimley Marshes on the 15th. After arriving early the next day to find the bird still present it proved very frustrating when I couldn't get on the bird while viewing the area from the hide. After moving outside and climbing the grass bank I finally managed to get on the bird. Eventually managing to follow the bird in the scope several times.
There was still time left in the month to make my first ever trip to the Isle of Wight, where I added Wilson's Phalarope to the life list.
Before the end of the month I added a Melodious Warbler to my life list, all thanks to Brian who having already made the trip days before drove back up to Nottingham so that I could see the bird.


With so many fantastic birds seen in June, it had to slow down, and it did in July.
A Pectoral Sandpiper watched locally at Rainham Marshes was a highlight of the month. 
As was finding a family of Little Owls within a few minutes walk of the house. I spent some very enjoyable mornings watching the youngsters growing up and the adults hunting the surrounding area.
A day trip to Titchwell at the end of the month produced 17 Spoonbills. It's a pleasure seeing one of these birds but 17 together was a real thrill.


Things picked up again in August. The highlight of the month being the trip to Horsey in Norfolk to add the Roller to my life list, What a stunning bird! On the return journey home we stopped off at Ouse washes and added another lifer in the form of a Blue-winged teal.
Oare Marshes produced my second ever Temminck's Stint, and a local trip to Chingford Reservoirs added a Red-necked Phalarope.
Landguard NR in Suffolk is normally visited a few times throughout the year and this year it came up trumps when a Wryneck was seen here.
Sabine's Gull was at last added to my life list when four adults were found in Aveley bay at Rainham and to round the month off a trip to Grove ferry produced another lifer in the form of a Spotted Crake.


September proved to be a very quiet month bird wise. The only highlight being a very close encounter with a stunning Red-backed Shrike. Showing down to a few feet at the new reserve at Bower's marsh in Essex.
Having dipped on the Brown Shrike at Hook-with-Warash LNR in Hampshire and struggling to find any birding sites nearby we dropped in at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey.
It turned out to be a fantastic day. If you want close encounters with many of Britain's mammals then you won't be disappointed with a visit here. Red Squirrels were running across our shoulders and one perched on my camera lens at one point. Badgers and Otters gave superb views and if you wanted to grab a few photos of these animals this is the place to visit.


After a disappointing month bird wise in September things started to pick up again in October.
A visit to Wareham Greens in Norfolk in the first week of the month gave me another life tick in the form of a Red-breasted Flycatcher.
Missing the chance to go for the Lesser Grey Shrike in Suffolk I managed to add it to my life list with a visit to Capel Fleet in Kent when another Lesser was reported from here. 
A day trip to Norfolk came up trumps with a Long-eared Owl seen in the dunes at Cley and then two more lifers were added when a Pallas's Warbler was seen at Wareham Greens and a Dusky Warbler was heard and then seen in the pouring rain at West Runton.
A trip to Keyhaven Lagoons in Hampshire failed to produce a Long-billed Dowitcher, But at Hayling Island the Semipalmated plover certainly made up for it. The trip made even more memorable when we got caught up in the back end of a tornado on the walk back to the car. I've never seen anything like it, in fact I couldn't see anything at all. 
The month ended on a high with two more lifers when I caught up with my first Two-barred Crossbill, having dipped this species on 4-5 occasions earlier in the year it was fantastic to finally get to see one. A stunning male bird at Hemstead Forest. An added bonus was a male Parrot crossbill seen during the same trip.


November was probably the worst month of the whole year for me.
Very few trips or birds.
The only exception was a trip to Suffolk to watch Common crossbills feeding and drinking around the edges of a car park.
Spending an enjoyable few hours watching them from the comfort of the car.


Wallasea Island was the first trip of the month and it produced good sightings of Hen and Marsh Harriers along with a pair of Peregrines. We spent the rest of the day on the seafront photographing Sanderling and Turnstones.
A brief visit to Amwell NR in Hertfordshire gave good views of Smew, Goldeneye and what is probably a hybrid Harris hawk x Common Buzzard.
Crumbles Pond in Eastbourne was the destination when a Black-throated Diver was reported from here. Giving great views although it proved difficult to photograph.
The month and year ended with a bang when a Brunnich's Guillemot was found at Portland harbour in Dorset.
What a way to bring 2013 to a close!

2013 has given me some fantastic memories from places visited, people met and of course the birds seen.

This year I've managed to add another twenty six birds to my life list!
It's still a relatively small list, but adding to it is going to provide even more fantastic memories.

A special thanks  has to again go to Brian without his help and his constant driving  seeing the majority of these birds would be impossible. (Thanks mate)
Dad continues to provide the back-up driving and the comedy moments even when there's no birds to be found we still have a laugh.

Come midnight tonight it not only brings with it the start of a  new year, but more importantly the start of a new birding year.

Happy New Year  to one and all

Here's to 2014

Sunday 29 December 2013

Brunnich's Guillemot, Portland Harbour Dorset

Boxing Day and news breaks of a "Mega" found in Portland Harbour in Dorset. A Brunnich's Guillemot had been found "showing well from Osprey Quay".
A species that is normally to be found wintering off the Arctic coasts of Greenland, Iceland and Newfoundland in Canada. Although many remain throughout the year in the Barents Sea North of Norway and Russia
Today was the first chance we had of making the trip, and so after meeting up at 5am we started the 168 mile trip from Essex.
Making great time, despite the dreaded average speed cameras on route and several lorry convoys, we pulled into Mulberry Avenue and had parked the car by 7.30am
As was expected a good number of birders were already searching for the bird, even though the harbour was still in semi darkness.
Making our way towards the first group of birders, a small dark shape appeared close in to the water's edge. It was quickly confirmed as the Brunnich's.
As the light improved many more birders arrived , At some points during the morning the whole length of the harbour walkway was covered with birders and photographers.
The bird would appear briefly, giving brief views before diving under the water and re-appearing some distance away from where it dived.
It then became a guessing game as to where it would pop up next. Many birders and photographers choosing to walk up and down the length of the harbour walkway.
A small group of people from the sailing club appeared on the jetty and took to the water in a small rowing boat. As luck would have it when they returned the bird popped up right in front of them and it pushed the bird closer towards the water's edge.
This was my chance to grab a couple of photo's before it disappeared under the surface again.

Brunnich's Guillemot

Brunnich's Guillemot

Brunnich's Guillemot

While waiting for the Brunnich's to re-appear, several scans of the harbour produced plenty of other good birds.
None more so then the Black Guillemot that was found feeding around a small boat and a group of buoys. There were 2 possibly 3 Great Northern Divers within the harbour and large numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers were on show. Several Shags were joined by a Common Guillemot and a couple of Razorbills and a Kingfisher zipped past close by.

After several hours we dropped in at Radipole Lake. The reserve centre was showing plenty of signs of storm damage, and was surrounded by scaffolding, but it remained open to visitors.
After having been informed of the presence of a Glossy Ibis showing well a short distance away in a flooded playing field, it would have been wrong not to have a look for it.
The playing field was only partially flooded and contained 1 football pitch and a children's play area.
The bird was still present and busy feeding among the sodden grass. It didn't seem bothered by the children playing on the swings or the small group of birders watching it.
Occasionally it took to the air, only to circle round and land again soon after.

Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis

On the way home we made a detour to Walpole Park in Gosport hoping to bag the Ring-billed Gull.
Parking the car our luck was in when a local lady was busy feeding the local gulls. Among them was our target bird. 
I grabbed a couple of photo's before the birds were put up into the air by a local dog. They took to the small lake and once they had settled a Mediterranean Gull was also found among them.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

A great day.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

CoalHouse Fort, Tilbury

The plan was to reach Coalhouse Fort well before high tide.
The plans went a little awry and we arrived at Tilbury at high tide. The result being very few birds to be seen.

The first birds seen were two Grey Plovers, both were struggling to find a perch between them
A small flock of Corn Buntings were seen around the moat area and a pair of Stonechat were a welcome sight, a single Little Egret was also seen when it flew from the moat.

Avocets were very much in evidence, with a count approaching 1500 birds. Shelducks were also seen in good numbers with over 100 birds seen.
A single Great Black-backed Gull drifted over and put the huge flock of Avocets up briefly. 

On route home we dropped in at Rainham and parked up at the Stone barges.
Good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits were roosting on the barges along with Redshanks, Lapwings and smaller numbers of Dunlin.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Black-throated Diver, Crumbles Pond. Eastbourne

We took a drive down to Eastbourne this morning, hoping the Black-throated Diver would still be present on Crumbles Pond in Princes park Eastbourne.
This is the same site that was graced by a Bonaparte's Gull at the start of the year.
The plan was to arrive at first light and hope the bird was still present. Unfortunately unforeseen traffic queues meant we arrived later than intended, and had to watch the sun rise while still on route.
The good news though was when we did eventually arrive the bird was still present.

A single photographer was already on site, and with what sun there was nicely behind us we sat ourselves down and waited for the bird to approach.
The bird spent much of the first 30 minutes close to the far bank, but as the park and the pond  area got busier with dog walkers the bird started to drift towards the middle of the pond.
With more and more people turning up, and walking around the concrete path the bird spent more time in the middle or far edges of the pond.
It showed no interest in the bread being thrown out by a couple of photographers that had turned up, and in fact swam away from the commotion this caused among the Black-headed Gull masses.

I managed to grab a couple of photos when the bird drifted a little closer,  but conditions were not ideal and I spent much of the time there just watching the bird through the bins.

Black-throated Diver

On the way home we stopped off at Tide Mills on the off chance that the juvenile Spoonbill may have dropped into the creek to feed.
Unfortunately there was no sign of it.

Friday 6 December 2013

Afternoon at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire

I spent the late afternoon at Amwell today, being only 30 minutes from home.
After parking the car along Amwell lane it's a short walk across the railway lines and up the footpath to the viewing area looking across Great Hardmead Lake.
A quick scan produces a male Pintail followed shortly afterwards by a Common Snipe along the edges of one of the islands.
Plenty of gulls were present but after scanning through them all I couldn't pick out any Yellow-Legged or Caspian among them. Both species having been reported as present on the 4th among the gull roost. A Water Rail flies in and drops down among a small patch of reeds in front of us. Soon afterwards it appears in the short vegetation and gives good views before making its way back in among the reeds.
As we made our way down the path past the Bittern Pool a Cetti's Warbler was very vocal in the scrub to our right. Before heading off towards Tumbling bay we took the right-hand fork and reached an area with a few bird feeders hanging from a tree in a nearby field.
A large bird catches my attention as it flies up off the ground and perches at the top of a nearby tree.

Tumbling Bay was pretty quiet with only the commoner species present, so we headed back along the footpath and another scan of Great Hardmead Lake.
More gulls had flown in to roost, but again after a lengthy scan, still no Yellow-legged or Caspian Gulls could be found.

Just before the light had completely gone another scan of the lake produced 2 male Goldeneye and at least 5 females and with this group was a single redhead Smew.

A short but very enjoyable few hours spent here, and only 30 minutes from home.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Harriers, Peregrines and Sanderlings in Essex

Having missed the trip last weekend, we re-visited Wallasea this morning hoping for sightings of harriers and maybe owls.
The temperatures were predictably low, but the wind was minimal, helped by the fact that we were below the grass banks bordering the estuary.
After a short wait and scan, the first harrier appeared in the form of a female Marsh Harrier. It drifted across searching for a meal and soon dropped down out of view.
Shortly afterwards a ringtail Hen Harrier flew into view as it quartered the marshes. Staying much lower to the ground it soon dropped down among the vegetation.
Shortly after the female Marsh Harrier reappeared and with it a pair of peregrines. They proceeded to put a flock of Lapwings into the air and we watched as they separated a single bird from the flock.
After a couple of very narrow escapes, the lapwing somehow managed to evade the two birds and flew back towards the flock.
A third Peregrine flew across calling while we were watching the other two birds, maybe a juvenile of this pairs breeding success?
Kestrels were regularly seen hunting the marshes but there was no sign of any owls.
There were small flocks of Corn Buntings seen flying overhead and occasionally they would settle in a single tree bordering the road.

Corn Bunting

From here we made a trip to the seafront and found plenty of Turnstones soon after leaving the car. Sanderlings were also present in good numbers. A flock of some fifty birds were found feeding along the water's edge.
Dog walkers pushed the birds towards us on occasions, giving us the chance of some photos. The weather conditions were not good, very overcast and no breaks in the thick cloud cover made it difficult to photograph the birds.


The Turnstones soon joined the Sanderling to feed at the water's edge.


A visit from one of the cafe workers with some leftover food soon brought in the local gulls.
Among the numerous Black-headed gulls there were also Herring, Lesser Black-backed, Common and a few Mediterranean Gulls.

Common Gull

Mediterranean Gull

A cold but very enjoyable mornings birding.