Thursday 31 December 2015

A look back at my birding year of 2015

Slavonian Grebe

The year didn't start in Norfolk this year, instead it was spent in Kent. A total of 73 species were seen among them were Cattle and Great White Egrets, Bean Geese, Bewick Swan and Great Grey Shrike. A very showy Slavonian Grebe locally at Wanstead on the 5th was a nice bonus. A Surf Scoter at Wrabness took some time and effort to find and the month ended with another Essex trip when two Serins were observed at Gunners park. The year list at the end of January stood at 136.


Little Bunting
A small flock of Waxwings in Ipswich gave us the runaround, finally being located feeding on Mistletoe berries on a busy road. The first lifer on 2015 came in the form of a Little Bunting, showing down to a few feet at Forest Farm in Glamorgan. Adding the Lesser Scaup in Cardiff Bay on the same day. A Firecrest was added on the 21st at Tower Hamlets before heading for Kent. Shellness produced a Richard's pipit along with views of Short-eared Owl. Barn Owl normally seen on the 1st of January was finally added at Capel Fleet as well as several Marsh Harriers along with Corn Bunting. The final trip in February was on the 24th with a visit to Lemsford Springs watching  five Green Sandpipers. Year list now stood at 148.


Willow Tit
A Glaucous Gull at Dover Harbour was a nice start to the month and Purple Sandpipers were also added while there. Garganey, Whooper Swan, Common Crane and Bearded Tits were all added while visiting Lakenheath. My second lifer of 2015 was seen at Kelham Bridge in Leicestershire, when Willow Tits were watched coming to feeders. A trip to Crawley in West Sussex was eventually rewarded with superb views of an Alpine Swift. Year List total onto 163


Harlequin Duck
A slightly earlier trip to Scotland this year, but no less enjoyable or productive. A trip that returned twenty two additions to the year list with two lifers among them! A distant White-billed Diver was found at Portsoy but the Harlequin Duck on the River Don in Aberdeen was the complete opposite. Showing down to a few feet at times, a stunning bird. White-tailed and Golden Eagles directly over head, Red and Black Grouse, Crest Tit, Osprey, Iceland Gull, Red and Black-throated Divers on the same Loch in breeding plumage. Not finding a Caper this year was the only disappointment of a fantastic trip. The first Ring Ouzels were seen at Blows Down on the 11th and a pair of Black-winged Stilts at Bowers Marsh in Essex was another highlight. The month ended with a trip to Dungeness, where Whimbrel were added to the year list. The Scotland trip helped boost the year list total to 210 by the end of the month.


Broad-billed Sandpiper
May started with a dipped Red-rumped Swallow at Gunners Park, Rainham Marshes on the return trip was more productive with a Pectoral Sandpiper eventually found on the Target pools.The 18th began frustratingly at Titchfield Haven but the Greater Yellowlegs was finally located and added to the life list. Tinker's Marsh in Suffolk was the destination on the 24th and it wasn't long before another lifer was added with superb views of a Broad-billed Sandpiper. Dropping into Minsmere on the way home was rewarded with views of a a Red-necked Phalarope feeding on the scrape. Suffolk was again visited on the 26th. The first Spotted Flycatcher on 2015 was seen at Weeting Heath along with Stone Curlew and Firecrest. A Little Bittern had taken up residence at Lakenheath and although it was heard calling constantly it proved much more difficult to see. A Red-backed Shrike only a few miles from home at Fairlop Waters was too good a bird not to go for and it was added after a short search. Several Turtle Doves at Fowlmere in Cambridgeshire on the 30th was a very welcome addition to the year list, which now stood at 226


A much overdue year tick was added on the 8th when a Hobby flew overhead while watching a pair of Turtle Doves at Choseley. Church Norton in West Sussex was the site of another lifer when the Hudsonian Whimbrel was watched roosting and then in flight giving good scope views. A brief trip to Oare Marsh in Kent on the 22nd was rewarded with a Bonapartes Gull. Another Kent trip on the 28th, this time to Dungeness adding Black Redstart to the year list and two Spoonbills were also added when they were found on Scotney gravel pits. Year list total 232


A very disappointing month with the only highlight being a visit to Orwell in Cambridgshire where a Quail gave superb views along the edge of the wheat fields. It called constantly a short time after we arrived and gave good flight views from time to time. When it took flight again it landed along the edge of the next field and remained in view for several minutes calling. The Quail would be the only addition to the year list in July. Year list total 233


August proved more productive, starting at Dungeness on the 2nd where Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper and Yellow-legged Gulls were seen. Another lifer made it onto the list, after three visits to Oare Marshes in Kent searching for the White-rumped Sandpiper it was finally found feeding close to the road at first light on the 17th. Another Dungeness visit on the 30th produced views of a Honey Buzzard and Black and White-winged black Terns.The most photogenic bird of the year was without doubt a very confiding Merlin at Elmley Marshes it stayed perched at the side of the track even with cars passing at very close quarters giving amazing views! Year list total moved onto 245.


The month began with two trips to Wanstead in search of a Wryneck, it finally perched up on top of a bush just as I had given up hope of seeing it. A Barred Warbler had been present at Staines Moor for a few days, so on the 5th we decided it was worth a visit. The bird showed well from time to time early morning  with only a handful of birders present. Mid month produced another Wryneck, this time at Minsmere. But on the whole the month proved disappointing. A visit to Vange Marsh on the 26th produced the best bird of the month, a Wilson's Phalarope taking the year list to 248


Siberian Stonechat
A drake Ring-necked Duck showing well but in torrential rain at Startop's End Reservoir at Tring was the first trip of October. A Norfolk trip on the 11th saw us well placed when an Isabelline Shrike was reported at Beeston Regis, The shrike was found immediately upon arrival for another life tick, and soon afterwards news started filtering around that there was a Pallas's Warbler at Sheringham. After some time searching for the right area the Pallas's was found along the railway tracks. Another Norfolk trip on the 18th would prove even more successful. Six year ticks and two lifers would follow, firstly a Red-flanked Bluetail was seen at Wells Wood adding the first lifer of the day, this would be followed by sightings of Hume's Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler and eventually after an extensive search a Blyth's reed Warbler. At Muckleburgh Hill the second lifer was added a superb Olive-backed Pipit. It showed within a few feet immediately upon arrival. We made another visit to Beeston to get another look at the Isabelline Shrike on the 18th and timed it perfectly to add a Long-eared Owl while there. A Jack Snipe relatively local at Rye Meads the next day was too good to miss and it showed superbly well in front of the hide as we entered. The final trip of October was to Caister-on-Sea for a Siberian Stonechat and ended with a stop off at Holland Haven for several Short-eared Owls and a Rough-legged Buzzard. October added 11 year ticks and four lifers. At the end of the month the year list had moved onto 259


Crag Martin
November was very quiet, the only trip made was to Chesterfield for what proved to be at first a very frustrating and long wait for the Crag Martin to appear. When it did finally appear over the rooftops there was a loud cheer from many of the assembled birders. It spent the next hour or so circling the crooked Spire church. Year list total 260


Glossy Ibis
Another visit to Norfolk on the 17th and Golden Pheasant was finally added before we moved onto Cley in search of the Grey Phalarope. Several scans of the area failed to pick out of the bird before Brian eventually re-found it feeding along the waters edge. Glossy Ibis finally made it onto the list on the 19th when we visited Pett Level in East Sussex. The 23rd was a memorable day, finally adding Red-rumped Swallow to my life list. I didn't think I would be watching one in December though! This was followed by a walk out among the dunes at Holme, finally catching up with three Shorelarks feeding on the beach.

Another great years birding comes to a close, with another one soon to begin.
Fourteen lifers added this year with only three months within the year not providing any additions to that list. October (4) April (2) and May (2) the most productive. No surprise that Norfolk was top county providing five lifers to my list.

During the year several new sites were visited while birding, with many more sites again re-visited.
There is no other hobby where you can be at a sewage works or rubbish tip one week and the next birding the Scottish Highlands or the Oak woodlands of mid Wales?
Anything could turn up on any given day, you could be anywhere in the United Kingdom on any given day. Having dipped two Red-rumped Swallows in the last two years both in May, I never thought I would be watching one in Norfolk in December!

Happy new year to one and all

Thursday 24 December 2015

Red-rumped Swallow, Holkham

Another trip to Norfolk this morning, stopping firstly at King's Lynn Docks hoping to locate the juvenile Iceland Gull that has been present all month. As we approached the parking area the bird was found perched up on the rocks at the waters edge. It remained there until fish waste started emerging from the outflow pipe of the local shellfish wholesalers. We re-located the bird on the muddy slopes close to the pipe, where it remained until harassed by the larger gulls. 

Breaking news that the Red-rumped Swallow had been seen again West of Lady Anne's Drive at Holkham saw us make our way towards the area. Pulling in several times as we approached the area to scan the surrounding fields, we failed to locate the bird. Having dipped both the Thamesmead and Gunners Park birds by seconds in the last two years it wasn't looking good. However our luck turned when the pager bleeped into action to report the bird "showing well" just along the road at the ruined farm building!
As I crossed the road the bird appeared close by and remained in the area giving all present superb views. Finally Red-rumped Swallow had made it onto my list. 

Red-rumped Swallow

Dragging ourselves away from the Swallow, we headed for Thornham. Taking the path out towards the dunes a small flock of Twite were found. I managed a quick shot of one individual before they took to the air again.


Leaving the boardwalk at the end of the path, we managed to locate the three Shore Larks at the point. They remained distant and  out of reach of the camera. 
With the weather improving we decided to drop in at Brancaster Staithe for another look at the Red-necked Grebe. The tide was out leaving only the central channel of water for the Grebe to feed in. Good scope views but again far too distant for the camera.
Titchwell proved to be a rather brief visit as while there news broke that the Pallid Harrier had been seen again at Flitcham. Unfortunately the bird had disappeared shortly before we arrived, and it never re-appeared during the hour we were present. Plenty of Common Buzzard were on show along with a hunting Barn Owl and a nice covey of eleven Grey Partridge. With the light almost gone it was time to head for home.

Sunday 20 December 2015

Glossy Ibis at Pett Level, East Sussex

Having failed miserably on two occasions to connect with the Glossy Ibis at Wat Tyler CP earlier this year, we decided to try our luck at Pett Levels this morning. Arriving at first light we drove along Pett level road looking for the Coot flock that the bird had been associating with. Finally they were found at the far end and soon afterwards so was the Ibis. 
The bird moved around among the Coot's and would disappear among the channels and ditches from time to time. Along with the Ibis a Barn Owl and a pair of Marsh Harriers were seen hunting along the far hedge line. In the same fields as the Coot's were a large flock of Lapwing and Curlew with several Ruff feeding among them. 

Next stop was Dungeness NNR hoping to connect with the Long-eared Owl. that had first been reported on the 25th of November. The bird was still present and as luck would have it had decided to roost at the front edge of the bushes giving superb scope views! 

Making our way to the Makepiece hide, we were put onto a 2nd winter Caspian Gull by Martin Casemore (Plodding Birder) finder of the Acadian Flycatcher!

2nd winter Caspian Gull

At the fishing boats we found a 1st winter Caspian Gull taking advantage of the bread being thrown out by locals. This looked a much larger bird than the 2nd winter seen earlier. 

1st winter Caspian Gull
A brief sea watch followed before leaving for home. Several Red-throated Divers on the sea close in and a single Slavonian Grebe close being the highlights. 

Friday 18 December 2015

Norfolk, A hit & miss birding trip

We headed for Norfolk this morning hoping to bag a couple of end of year ticks. 
Having tried and failed to add Golden Pheasant to the list on several occasions while on route to Norfolk sites this year, we decided to give it another try at first light. After an  hour's wait we heard a single male calling, but despite the apparent close proximity to us the bird failed to show itself. 

An unproductive visit to Snettisham was next up. Unproductive in so far as there was no sign of the Pallid Harrier. It was to be reported later in the day at Flitcham!
The spectacle of thousands of Geese flying over our heads shortly after leaving the car park, and then thousands of Golden Plover, Lapwings and Knot flying over the mudflats was an impressive sight.

Keen to make the most of the daylight hours, we headed off to Choseley in the hope of connecting with the Rough-legged Buzzards that had been frequenting the area. 
As luck would have it we got straight onto first one Rough-legged Buzzard and then a second bird appeared! The first bird showed well as it hunted the surrounding fields, occasionally dropping to the ground before continuing it's search for food. The nearby hedge line produced double figures of Red-legged partridge and at least five Hares.
With Brian needing Red-necked Grebe for the year list, Brancaster Staithe was next on the agenda. No sooner had we pulled up the Grebe popped up between two moored boats. 

Red-necked Grebe

Titchwell was pretty quiet, but still produced a Brambling on the feeders outside the reserve centre along with a pair of flyover Bewick Swans as we walked towards the beach.The sea only produced double figures of Red-breasted Mergansers of any note while we were there.With the water levels on the reserve very high there was very few waders to be seen. I heard late last night that the water was being drained to make it much more inviting for waders. 

Cley had been hosting a Grey Phalarope for the past couple of days, so that was the next destination. Upon arrival we were told it had flown several times and that it landed on the pool in front of us!
Unfortunately after an extensive search with the scope there was no sign of the bird. Brian decided to head off along the track and search the pools there. The moved paid off when he re-located the bird busily feeding along the waters edge. It didn't seem to be able to settle in any area for long and would rarely feed in the typical circling motion. It preferred to feed among the wet grass at the waters edge.

Grey Phalarope
Before heading for home we had a quick search for the Iceland Gull at King's Lynn, But with the light fading fast we had very little time to search for the bird and failed to locate it.

Saturday 14 November 2015

Crag Martin Chesterfield's Crooked Spire

It's rare for us to break our own self imposed two hour driving distance twitch, today was one of those day's!
A Crag Martin first seen on the 8th was again reported as present yesterday at 1.40pm. Having had no further reports after that time, we decided it was still well worth making the trip this morning. The 150 mile journey took two and a half hours and we parked up in the pay and display car park around 8.30.
The roads around the Church of St Mary and All Saints were lined with birders as were the car parks. All that was needed now was the bird to show! Unfortunately the next two and a half hours were spent scanning the crooked spire and surrounding areas without any sign of the bird.
Frustrated with the no show birders started to drift away, only for the bird to suddenly appear circling the crooked spire ten minutes later.
Dad had decided to take a look around the church and of course that is when the bird made it's appearance!
As Brian phoned him, we spotted him across the road in the church grounds watching the bird.
A cheer from the assembled crowds greeted the bird, no doubt in relief as much as anything. Birders re-appeared from all surrounding roads to enjoy great views. 

Church of St Mary and All Saints

Monday 26 October 2015

Siberian Stonechat, Caister-on-Sea

A later than usual call from Brian, saw us starting the 120 mile trip to Caister-on-Sea around 8am rather than the usual start time of 5am!
After a couple of hours we pulled up in the car park by the lifeboat station and headed off into the dunes away from the fence line as directed by the news services. Although the bird wasn't showing when we arrived it was said to be feeding up and down the fence line among the brambles and gorse.
Soon after arriving Brian picked the bird up in flight heading our way, and it promptly landed on the wire fence bordering the golf course and dunes, allowing for a few record shots and some good scope views. For the next two hours it seemed to follow the same feeding pattern. It would fly along the gorse to a favoured patch of bramble and fly back and forth after insects. Only moving from the bramble when flushed by golfers walking along the fairway close by.

Siberian Stonechat

Holland Haven was a nice stop off on the return journey. As we approached the sea front a Short-eared Owl appeared along the hedge line hunting the surrounding fields. It quickly became apparent that there were several SEO's in the area!

Unfortunately the Rough-legged Buzzard had just been flushed by one of the SEO's and had flown to the nearby golf course, landing in a bramble bush between two fairways.
I grabbed a very poor and distant record shot of the view I had through the scope with a hand held phone.

Rough-legged Buzzard

If the bird over winters then I'm sure there will be a return trip. 

Monday 19 October 2015

Rye Meads RSPB: Jack Snipe

News broke of the presence of a Jack Snipe at Rye Meads RSPB reserve today. 
Being only 15 miles from home it was an easy decision to jump in the car and head for Rye Meads. Thirty minutes later we are parked up in the car park and heading for the reserve centre.
Greeted by a friendly member of staff and given a map we are soon walking along the reserve path heading for Ashby Hide.
A scan of the surrounding reeds and pools failed to locate the bird, but movement close by within the muddy pools in front of the hide found the bird much closer than I was expecting.
I even managed a few shots of the bird as it emerged from behind the vegetation!

Jack Snipe

Year list now stands at 258

Sunday 18 October 2015

Norfolk Birding: Red-flanked Bluetail & Olive-backed pipit

Having encountered a few dense fog patches where visibility was down to just a few metres, we still arrived at Wells beach car park around 7.15 having left Essex two hours earlier.
Barn Owls were again seen on route among which was a brief encounter with one perched on a roadside sign.
Having headed off along the main track we began scanning and listening for any signs of the Blyth's,  but could only find Goldcrests, Blackcaps, Blue and Great Tits with large numbers of Redwings flying over.
Further along the track another birder informs us he has just heard the Blyth's close to the old toilet block! Having doubled back we began the search along with a small group of birders, but after 30 minutes and with time short we moved on towards the "Drinking Pool" hoping to connect with the Red-flanked Bluetail. A Short scan after arriving and the Bluetail is spotted feeding low down at the base of a Beech tree. A cracking bird and it's finally on the life list!

Red-flanked Bluetail

Heading off along the track we failed to locate the Great Grey Shrike that had been reported by the metal gate, after joining a growing group of birders looking for the Hume's Leaf warbler we heard it call and soon after it flew across the track calling. Another year tick was added when a Yellow-browed warbler was found close by.
On the return walk to the car park we had another search for the Blyth's and got lucky when another birder put us on to it high among the branches! 

Leaving Wells we headed for Muckleburgh Hill in search of the Olive-backed Pipit. Having taken the right hand path we reached the top of the hill and joined the assembled birders already present. The OBP showed almost immediately feeding among the bracken. 

Olive-backed Pipit (B Anderson)

With time short we made our way to Beeston Regis and found the Isabelline Shrike perched up in a nearby Hawthorn bush. We had already connected with it the previous weekend but it was well worth a second visit.

Isabelline Shrike

Before leaving we managed to add a Long-eared Owl to the year list, when it was flushed by the local Magpies. It circled twice and tried to land in a large Oak tree by the roadside, before flying across the road and heading into the trees nearby.

A great end to another super day's birding in Norfolk! 

Monday 12 October 2015

Norfolk: Isabelline Shrike and Pallas's warbler

Sunday 11th October

A Barn Owl perched on a roadside fence post on route to Norfolk was a great start to the day, In the semi darkness we pulled over to take advantage before heading off to Titchwell for a day's birding.
Before reaching Titchwell car park a Little Owl perched on top of a telegraph pole is also seen along with large numbers of Red-legged Partridge in the surrounding fields.
At Titchwell a walk from the car park to the beach produced good sightings of Marsh Harriers, Golden, and Grey plovers, Curlew Sandpiper, Snipe, Eider, Common Scoter, Sanderling and Razorbill along with several skeins of Brent geese.

Curlew Sandpiper

 On the return walk we had a brief search for the previous days reported Yellow-browed Warbler but failed to find it among the tit flocks.
While enjoying views of Turnstones, Ringed plovers and Dunlin at a brief stop at Brancaster the pager bleeps into life to report a Radde's warbler at Holkham Pines.

Having parked up and headed off along the track towards the dunes the pager reports the presence of an Isabelline Shrike at Beeston Regis! Already half way along the track we decide to turn around and go for the Shrike. Arriving at Beeston and after a very short walk from the car we found the Shrike perched up in a Hawthorn Bush immediately!

Isabelline Shrike (B Anderson)

There were plenty of local birders already present when we arrived and after an hour of watching the Shrike news filtered around that there had been a Pallas's Warbler found nearby at Sheringham.
After some confusing information as to the exact location of the bird, we parked up and found the bird showing superbly along the edge of the golf course and railway tracks in the company of Goldcrests.

Pallas's Warbler (B Anderson)

Not a bad ending to another great days birding in Norfolk.