Tuesday, 31 December 2019

2019 Review of the Year

As another year draws to a close it's time to reflect. 

It was a year that started relatively quiet, but would end with a possible sixteen new additions to my life list! 

I had to wait until April to get my first lifer and it was to be the shortest journey from home of the year. I had always wanted to see an Ortolan Bunting and when one appeared at Billings Farm at Abberton, we wasted no time in making the trip. It showed superbly on the roof of one of the farm buildings. 

Ortolan Bunting

I was optimistic that May could produce something good, but I wasn't expecting two Tern species at the same site at the same time! It was an afternoon dash down to Dungeness to add Whiskered Tern to the life list, and while there a Roseate Tern dropped onto the same shingle island as the Whiskered Tern at Burrowes Pit. I had made many trips to see Roseate Tern but had always contrived to miss it. I could have gone to Conquet Island but that's over 300 miles from home. 

Whiskered Tern
Roseate Tern


June and July can be somewhat quiet, but this year would prove very productive. I managed to add five new additions to the life list.  Suffolk,  East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Gloucestershire, and Norfolk were all visited in order to do it. 
An Iberian Chiffchaff was seen at Dunwich Heath in Suffolk, A stunning Black-headed Bunting at Flamborough Head in East Yorkshire was added a week later. It had disappeared when we arrived but we re-found it ourselves which was even more rewarding. Nine days later we were on our way to Frampton Marsh in Lincolnshire which had been hosting a Black-winged Pratincole. I had dipped this species at the Ouse washes previously, so I was very pleased to grip it back. June still had yet another surprise before the month's end. A Little Bustard was found at Slimbridge WWT on the 23rd. It was a long drive along the M4 and then a wait for a member of staff to escort us through the reserve after hours. The bird itself proved difficult to locate but eventually, after many glimpses of the head, we managed decent scope views of the bird as it walked out into shorter grass.

July was as expected pretty quiet, but did still produce another lifer. A Pacific Golden Plover was at Breydon Water in Norfolk and we took the opportunity to see it while traveling back from seeing the Semipalmated Sandpiper at Titchwell earlier in the day. While walking the 2.5-mile path at Breydon I also added another lifer, this time it wasn't a bird, it was a Butterfly. My first Swallowtail was seen resting on the grassy footpath.

Pacific Golden Plover



A two-day sea watching trip to Cornwall added another long overdue lifer in the form of several Sooty Shearwaters. We did two six-hour sessions at Porthgwarra by the end of the sessions we had seen double figures of Sooty Shearwaters.


Almost a month later we returned to Cornwall, this time to Kynance Cove when a Brown Booby was reported. We arrived in darkness and after a two-hour wait, the bird was seen flying low across the sea. It then entertained us for the remainder of our stay. What a bird!!

Brown Booby

A week later we made the trip to Pilling in Lancashire. this time to see a species that has been subject to a lot of debate. Was it a Pied or Black-eared Wheatear? At the time of writing, many now believe it to be an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear as opposed to a Pied. Either would be a lifer for myself, but I'm obviously hoping it's the rarer Black-eared. 

 Black-eared Wheatear?

Four days later we are heading to Hampshire hoping to bag another lifer. An Eastern Olivaceous Warbler had been found at Farlington Marshes. It's normally a nervous drive heading to a site of a new bird but the birds continued presence was reported on the news services just as we approached the car park. The bird showed extremely well all morning.

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler


October would produce another two lifers on the same day. We had traveled up to Easington in East Yorkshire for a Red-eyed Vireo. The Vireo was spotted immediately upon arrival and while Brian was trying to get a decent photo of it, news broke of a Great Snipe at Kilnsea! We were less than 3 miles away!

Red-eyed Vireo

Great Snipe


Another potential lifer was found at Walberswick in Suffolk, An Eastern Yellow Wagtail. The bird had gone missing when we arrived, but it soon returned to its favourite feeding area much to our relief. 

Eastern Yellow Wagtail


I wasn't expecting another lifer in December, but a Black-throated Thrush appeared at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire. It's a relatively short trip from home and the bird showed in the Cotoneaster as soon as we approached the pig pen area. A stunning looking bird!

Black-throated Thrush

My year list ends on 286, with no trips to Scotland, Scottish Islands or Scilly I'm very happy with that total.

So a possible 16 new additions (Currently waiting on BBRC decisions on two birds). At the beginning of the year, I was hoping for maybe 7-8 new additions.

Towards the end of the year, I lost the Steppe Grey Shrike from my Life List as it was lumped back with Great Grey Shrike. So as it stands today my Life list is at 392 meaning I need eight more additions in 2020 to reach 400. I am quietly optimistic that I can achieve that target. 

11 Counties produced lifers this year.

There were only four months that didn't produce new additions, and the most productive months were June (4), September (3), October (3)

Most productive Counties for new life ticks this year were East Yorkshire (3), Kent (2), Suffolk (2), Cornwall (2)

Ortolan Bunting, Essex                           
Whiskered Tern, Kent    
Roseate Tern, Kent                                
Iberian Chiffchaff, Suffolk                      
Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Suffolk             
Black-headed Bunting, East Yorkshire   
Red-eyed Vireo, East Yorkshire              
Great Snipe, East Yorkshire                    
Black-winged Pratincole, Lincolnshire   
Sooty Shearwater, Cornwall                    
Brown Booby, Cornwall                          
Black-eared Wheatear, Lancashire          
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Hampshire 
Little Bustard, Gloucestershire     
Pacific Golden Plover, Norfolk               
Black-throated Thrush, Bedfordshire      

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Black-throated Thrush, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Arriving at Whipsnade Zoo shortly before the 10am opening time, the rain was already falling and the heavy dark skies were promising more to follow. 

After paying the entrance fee we made our way along the footpath towards what was the birds favoured feeding area yesterday, the Hullabazoo Farm. We were still walking towards this area when the bird was spotted perched in a berry ladened tree just outside the Pig-Pen. It soon flew into the fenced area and began foraging among the logs and branches on the ground. Unfortunately, it didn't stay long and flew off towards the distant tree line. As the rain, became heavier we took shelter under the roof of the play centre. The skies began to clear and the bird was soon re-located.

The remainder of the day was spent wandering along the footpaths viewing the various animals. It was a very blustery day and dad's Baseball cap took a trip into the moat of the Squirrel Monkey enclosure! much to our amusement. 

Red Panda


Bar-headed Goose

Caribbean Flamingos

Monday, 2 December 2019

Siberian Stonechat: Hollesley Marshes, Suffolk

Setting off this morning we had three main targets in mind, Siberian Stonechat in Suffolk along with Red-breasted Flycatcher and Taiga Bean Goose in Norfolk. Brian needed just one of them to reach his target of 300 species in a calendar year. Undecided as to where to begin we opted for Hollesley Marshes in Suffolk.

The walk of about half a mile along a very muddy and slippery track was well worth the effort as the bird was quickly located among the reeds. At one point it flew to the edge of the grass bank we were standing on but spent most of its time feeding among the reeds at a much greater distance. Brian had seen his 300th species of the year! Without any trips to Shetland or Scilly, that is some effort Congratulations mate.

The Winter Flood 

Unfortunately, The Red-breasted Flycatcher at Waxham was a no show and we had already failed to locate the Eagle Owl at Winterton on the way up. However, while there we managed to get a few pointers as to where to look for the Bean Geese at Buckenham Marshes. This information proved extremely useful as the geese were very distant and partly hidden among the grass. We managed decent scopes views of three of the reported four birds by the time we left.

Buckenham Marshes

Two of the three targets for the day had been found and on the way home, we stopped in the Brecks for another try at finding Golden Pheasant. The three previous attempts were all unsuccessful but we got lucky this time when a male was seen walking among the undergrowth.

PS News has since emerged of the Eagle Owl having a ring on its left leg.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Glossy Ibis: Thornham, Norfolk

The weather forecast for today was not looking very encouraging with light rain being predicted to fall all day. Our main target this morning was the Glossy Ibis at Thornham on the North Norfolk coast. We Arrived at Thornham Harbour around 8am, the journey from home having taken at least 30 minutes longer than normal due to road closures. As we stepped out of the car we were greeted with the light rain that had accompanied us on our journey and very heavy dark threatening clouds. Thankfully the field that had been hosting the Ibis was only a short walk from the car park and the bird was thankfully still present.

Glossy Ibis

The light was not as good hand holding the phone to the scope!

We moved onto Wells and were enjoying views of the Rough-legged Buzzard perched in a distant bush. Unfortunately, it was disturbed by a shooting party and it flew over the grass bank and was lost to view.

We spent the next few hours searching the fields around Binham and Field Dalling trying to locate the Lesser White-fronted Goose that had been reported yesterday. But although we saw large groups of geese in the air we never managed to pin them down on the ground. Hopefully, the flocks will become more reliable at certain locations towards the end of the year.

When reports of a Black-throated Diver being present in the channel at Wells Quay came through we decided to take a look. The diver was still present when we arrived but was, in fact, a Red-throated Diver

Wells Quay

On the journey home we again failed in a brief search for any Golden pheasant, but no doubt we will try again on our next visits to Norfolk.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Little Bittern, Amwell Nature Reserve

Reports of a Little Bittern seen in flight at Amwell NR today, had us planning the trip if any more positive sightings were broadcast. Forty-five minutes later the news services reported the bird as having been seen again in flight from the viewpoint. That was all the encouragement we needed. 

Amwell Nature Reserve is only 15 miles from home and with no traffic delays, we were parked up along Amwell Lane within 30 minutes. As we approached the viewpoint our main concern was if the bird was still present or had it just been a fly-over, never to be seen again?  Although all the reports had stated "Still from the viewpoint" this was not the case, Birders returning along the canal path told us it had in fact flown over Great Hardmead lake and was currently perched in a tree beyond the lake.  After another half a mile walk along the towpath, we joined a small group of birders who had the bird in sight!

Great Hardmead lake as we arrived

It remained in the tree for several minutes and then flew low and disappeared from view. Unfortunately for the later arrivals, it would not be seen again today.

It could have gone to roost in trees bordering the lake beyond the River Lynch and hopefully will be re-found again tomorrow.

This was my second Little Bittern within the London recording area, having seen the Rickmansworth individual in 2012.

Great Hardmead lake as we were leaving

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Isabelline Wheatear, Cley Marshes NWT

An Isabelline Wheatear had been present in Norfolk since Sunday and with very limited opportunities for birding throughout the remainder of the week, we headed for Cley this morning. The weather forecast looked to be in our favour as regards to the bird staying put overnight and we were quietly optimistic as we traveled the 120 miles North East. We arrived around 7.30 and walked along the East bank towards Arnold's Marsh. As we searched for the Wheatear a small flock of Snow Bunting were seen busily feeding among the shingle. We decided to split up to cover more of the area and eventually, Brian managed to locate the Wheatear perched on a fence post within the fenced-off area of Arnold's Marsh. It spent some time feeding within this area before it flew to the shingle banks. 

Isabelline Wheatear

On the walk back to the car, we stopped to scan the pools West of East bank and found the Long-tailed Duck still present. It was constantly diving and as soon as it re-surfaced it would dive again. 

Arnold's Marsh

We needed to be back home by1pm, but we had just enough time to stop at Wells hoping to locate the Rough-legged Buzzard reported yesterday. We scanned the fields either side of the track, only managing a flock of Golden Plover. Continuing over the ridge we scanned the next two fields and managed to pick out a Peregrine sitting among the grass. We were about to leave when the Rough-legged suddenly appeared. It quartered the field and then drifted over the ridge and slowly began searching the far edge of the field. We eventually lost sight of it after ten minutes but had enjoyed some stunning scope views by that time.

Rough-legged Buzzard

A short trip, but a very rewarding one nonetheless.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Eastern Yellow Wagtail: Walberswick, Suffolk

On Thursday the bird news services were reporting a possible/probable Eastern Yellow Wagtail along the beach at Walberswicks Corporation Marshes in Suffolk.  Subsequently, sound recordings were made and by Saturday the news services were reporting the bird as an Eastern Yellow Wagtail.

We set off around 11am and enjoyed a trouble-free journey up the A12, arriving at Dunwich Beach car park around 12.15pm. We left the car park and began the 2.5km walk along the beach, eventually joining a group of 25-30 birders and were told the bird had flown South, but not to worry as it had followed this pattern several times and had eventually returned. Thankfully this would prove to be correct, as after 30-40 minutes Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings began dropping back in along with a couple of Western Yellow Wagtails. There was still no sign of the Eastern Yellow Wagtail but when a small flock of Snow Bunting dropped onto the shingle the Eastern Yellow Wagtail suddenly emerged from within the long grass. It didn't seem to associate with its Western cousins at all while I was present. but it seemed to take an instant dislike to the Snow Buntings, several times we saw it harass one particular individual.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Its favoured area along the front of the grassy area

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Searching for Warblers at Spurn, East Yorkshire

Spurn in East Yorkshire was our destination this morning, we left home at 4.30am and arrived shortly after 8.30am, having encountered patches of heavy mist and fog on the way up. Upon arrival, the fog had cleared leaving clear blue skies. A Pallas's Warbler was to be our first target and shortly after parking the car the bird appeared in roadside trees bordering the Crown and Anchor car park. It flitted from tree to tree and showed extremely well on occasions. Having failed to see a Pallas's Warbler in Norfolk recently I was relieved to finally connect with this little gem of a bird.

Pallas's Warbler

We walked the canal path and managed to add a Lapland Bunting to the year list. Having heard it call overhead we then managed to locate it along the shoreline among a flock of yellowhammer and Reed Bunting. A single Twite was also seen among the foraging flock. A Bluethroat had been present for over a week but after several lengthy searches, we failed to locate it and had to settle for a very confiding Snow Bunting feeding only feet away from us among the Marram Grass. As we headed back towards the car a Woodcock suddenly appeared overhead giving superb close views.

Snow Bunting

News had filtered through of a Hume's Leaf Warbler being found along Peter Lane. It was only two miles from our location and immediately after parking up, we had the bird in the scope! It eventually took flight and headed further along the road and disappearing into the trees and was lost to view. As we returned to the car a Merlin appeared overhead, it was in pursuit of a Skylark. Thankfully for the Skylark, it moved off having made several failed attempts at catching it.

Another very rewarding days birding.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Seawatching at Cley Coastguards

This morning we headed for Cley, with the forecast for moderate to brisk North-northeast winds we were hoping there may be a chance of some decent passage movement. We arrived at Cley Beach car park to find around thirty other birders all had similar ideas. We joined their ranks and began scanning the sea. 

Gannets and kittiwakes were present in large numbers. The Gannets must have located a large shoal of fish as they were constantly diving into the same area of sea. Several Red-throated Divers were moving through and three were seen resting on the sea. Small numbers of Auks (mainly Guillemots with the occasional Razorbill ) were seen flying East and numerous groups of Common Scoters flew West. 

As the clouds darkened and the wind picked up the first Pomarine Skua appeared. This would prove to be the first of twenty-seven poms seen during our four-hour session. Also seen were at least four Arctic and seven Great Skuas. Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser, and three Velvet Scoters were also seen along with a Great Northern Diver. 

As we set off this morning we had hoped for some Little Auk sightings and two were spotted heading West towards us. They were close to the shoreline, but even at close range they still proved difficult to find among the crashing waves. Luckily as they moved out of the surf I managed to pick them up. 

Sunday, 20 October 2019

A productive days Birding in Kent and East Sussex

This morning we had our sights set on a couple of Kent targets. We headed South-East and stopped at Stodmarsh NNR. Upon entering Reedbed Hide there was plenty of Greylag Geese present, but the hoped-for Bean Geese were not among them. A Water Rail close to the hide entertained us and then geese began flying overhead, probably having roosted at nearby Grove Ferry. Several small groups of Greylags flew past and then the two Bean Geese were spotted. They didn't land on the reserve but carried on past us. We left the hide thinking that they may have landed on one of the fields along the entrance track, and sure enough, after a quick scan of the numerous Greylags, we located the Bean Geese among them.

Bean Goose with Greylags

Leaving Stodmarsh we headed for Dungeness, with our target here being a juvenile Sabine's Gull. The bird had already been reported earlier in the morning, so we were quite optimistic as we walked along the path bordering the power station. We met a local and were told it was showing well, but as we reached the gathered group outside the hide the bird was nowhere to be seen! Luckily Brian picked it up coming back in from the direction of the fishing boats and I was on it straight away. It made several flights and then settled on the water. 

Sabine's Gull

With both target birds seen, we decided to visit Cuckmere Haven in East Sussex in search of a Grey Phalarope. After receiving some directions from a local we parked up in Seven Sisters Country park and headed along the riverside path. After a walk of some three-quarters of a mile, we arrived at the flooded field it had been favouring. 

Grey Phalarope

This tiny little wader normally spends the majority of the year out at sea, only coming to land to breed. Breeding in places like Northern Siberia, Canada, and Greenland. Its migration route takes them past Britain but it's normally well out to sea. Heavy storms can sometimes drive the  birds off course and they can then get pushed inland allowing us superb close views.