Sunday 18 October 2020

Masked Shrike: Shuart, Kent

It's been sixty-five days since my last birding trip. There have been several reasons for this, Covid cases on the increase, more restrictions being implemented in certain parts of the country, not being able to go out birding as a trio, and lack of motivation all playing a part.

The arrival of a Masked Shrike at Shuart in Kent yesterday had me interested, and when it was reported again this morning it was enough to persuade me to make the trip. The roads were relatively quiet and the seventy-seven miles went by quickly. The news services were saying park at Potten Street and walk along Shuart Lane, but there was plenty of parking along Potten Street Road and at the top of Shuart Lane. A mile walk along Shuart Lane and then Shuart Drove followed before we arrived at a row of Hawthorn and sallows at the edge of a field. There were about twenty birders already present and Brian was among them. We have been observing government rules as closely as possible and this has meant we haven't shared a car since March! Hopefully, we can start birding together again soon. There was plenty of space available in the field and social distance was not a problem. 

I had wanted to see a Masked Shrike for many years, the last twitchable bird at Spurn in 2014, had proved to be well out of range at the time, and the recent Cleveland bird was not even considered due to the distance involved. Today all that was forgotten as I had seen the bird before even setting up the scope. It was perched in a Hawthorn for much of the time I was there but would venture closer at certain times and settle in the hedgerow bordering the two fields.

This could quite possibly be the same bird that appeared at Hartlepool Headland in Cleveland in the early part of October.

Thursday 13 August 2020

Temminck's Stint, Amwell Nature reserve

Early evening on Monday 10th, a Temminck's Stint had been found at Amwell Nature Reserve. With the bird still present on Wednesday afternoon we decided to make the 20-mile trip early today. We arrived at 7am and connected with the Temminck's Stint immediately. 

It was happily feeding on the central island in the picture below.

Temminck's Stint 

Friday 14th August

The lockdown measures this year have seen a big decline in my year list numbers and several birds that I would expect to see in April and May have been missed. Leaving me to try to connect with some of them on the way out rather than on the way in. One of these birds is the Pied Flycatcher, so when Nick C reported two at Wanstead Flats we made the trip that afternoon. As luck would have it we bumped into Nick shortly after leaving the car park and he took us to the SSSI area. It took a while to connect but eventually one showed very nicely among the branches of a Silver Birch.

Tuesday 21 July 2020

Caspian Tern: Frampton Marsh, Lincolnshire

A Caspian Tern had been frequently visiting the Reedbed Lagoon at Frampton Marsh since the 10th. During its stay, it had seemingly followed a daily pattern of roosting on the lagoon in front of the visitor centre and then according to the reserve warden it heads off in the direction of Boston and has been returning again 45-60 minutes later.

Leaving home at 7am we pulled into a packed car park some two and a half hours later, only to discover that none of the other birders had seen the tern since 8am. We began scanning the lagoon and soon added two-year ticks when a Little Stint was found followed by two Common Sandpipers. Scanning from one of the viewing mounds dotted along the pathway, we began scanning the large group of roosting godwits and suddenly found the Caspian Tern among them! It was almost completely obscured by the godwits with just its black cap visible. The feeding movements of the godwits disturbed it and it flew a short distance to the open water.

We were told that the Reedbed Hide was now open as long as social distancing was observed, so we made our way along the footpath and began scanning the lagoon. Some of the Spoonbills were showing at a closer range from here.

Social distancing being observed in the hide

View of the reedbed lagoon from the hide

Another scan through the Dunlin and a Curlew Sandpiper was found. Another birder entered the hide and said that there were two Wood Sandpipers on the flooded pools opposite the hide. A quick clean of the hands with the provided hand sanitizer and we were scanning the pools. The Wood Sandpipers were soon found adding another year tick to the list. Also on the pools were several Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers along with two Yellow Wagtails.

Handheld phone scoped photo of Wood sandpiper

After five hours we decided to head for home, but hopefully, it won't be long before a return visit to what is fast becoming my favourite reserve.

Friday 17 July 2020

Lesser Yellowlegs, Oare Marshes

A Lesser Yellowlegs was still present at Oare Marshes yesterday, having been present since the 12th of July and with reports of a Wood Sandpiper and a Curlew Sandpiper also present we decided to make the trip this morning. I arrived shortly after 6am and found the lesser Yellowlegs almost immediately. My fifth record of this species in England.

Entrance track 

Viewing was challenging from the layby

Lesser Yellowlegs

As is usual at Oare the early morning sun was making viewing difficult from the layby, throwing everything on the flood into shadow. The Lesser Yellowlegs was constantly on the move feeding and as it began feeding in the northern corner it allowed for much better scope views. Several scans of the flood failed to locate the Wood or Curlew Sandpipers and scans from the sea wall also failed to find either bird.

Returning to the layby the Lesser Yellowlegs was quickly refound and a single Whimbrel was found resting on a shingle island. Another scan of the northern corner added a Little Ringed Plover to the year list. Several more lengthy scans of the flood followed producing a single Spotted Redshank among the numerous Common Redshank, along with Med Gulls, Common Terns, Ruff, Knot, Dunlin, Avocet, and Black-tailed Godwits. A Barn Owl was seen hunting the surrounding fields and a Turtle Dove was heard calling in the distance.

Another enjoyable morning at Oare adding three more year ticks to the list.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

Bonaparte's Gull returns to Oare Marshes

The Bonaparte's Gull was first seen at Oare Marshes on the 22nd of May 2013  and it has returned every single year since. I have managed to connect with it five out of the seven years. On a previous trip in June, I had been unsuccessful, but recently the Bonaparte's had become more reliable and I was more hopeful of connecting with it today.

Looking East along the seawall towards the hide 

The mudflats looking across the Swale to the Isle of Sheppey 

Still unable to share a car due to Covid, Brian had left home earlier and was already on site and searching for the Bonaparte's Gull from the seawall when I arrived. Two hours later the Bonaparte's appeared on the mudflats east of the slipway. We watched it happily feeding on the mud for an hour or so and then did a loop of East flood picking out Bearded Tits, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Water Rail,  Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets on the way back.

Bonaparte's Gull

Hopefully, it will return again next year and we will be there to see it.

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.

Saturday 7 March 2020

Great Grey Shrike: Fincham, Norfolk

Having dipped the Great Grey Shrike last Sunday I was keen to visit the site again this morning. We arrived on site around 6.30am and began scanning the telegraph wires, hedges and surrounding fields for any sign of the Shrike, but after several scans and drives up and down Black Drove we had failed to connect. The surrounding fields were full of Hares and a sizable herd of Roe Deer was also present. Several Grey Partridge were busy feeding on the short-cropped grass and Yellowhammers were flying to and from the roadside hedges. We returned to the entrance track of Raven's Farm and while watching a Blackbird on the telegraph post the Shrike suddenly appeared close by on the wires.

Sunrise at Fincham

Great Grey Shrike

With my day's main target already seen, we headed to Thornham Harbour and quickly located a Greenshank for another addition to the year list. Spotted Redshank, Grey plover, Rock Pipit and Twite were also seen here.

View of Thornham Harbour from the car park

The RSPB reserve at Titchwell is only two miles from Thornham and shortly after arriving we finally connected with the Woodcock! it had proved very elusive on previous visits, but Brian managed to spot it among the tangled branches. 


The regular Water Rail was spotted on the walkout along with several newly arrived Chiffchaffs. Twenty plus Med Gulls within the fenced area on Freshwater Marsh gave me another year tick and among them was a Black-headed Gull with a really deep pink flush that really stood out among the gulls. A Water Pipit was also seen at close range along the water's edge. Reports of two Cranes heading our way from Holme saw us join a small group of birders along the West Bank and sure enough, they appeared overhead shortly afterward. 

We stopped at Lynford and connected with Brambling, Yellowhammer, Nuthatch, Marsh Tit and a distant Hawfinch before moving on to Cockley Cley. It was getting late in the day but we managed distant views of a single Goshawk along with several Buzzards.

A very brief stop at Lackford Lakes before closing time, saw us add Lesser Redpoll to our year lists. Thanks to the reserve staff member who provided some helpful information 

A very productive and enjoyable day produced 102 species and five new additions to the year list.

Saturday 15 February 2020

Ferruginous Duck, Abberton Reservoir

The plan this morning was to visit Abberton Reservoir at first light and hopefully find the reported Fudge Duck early and then return home before the predicted heavy rains and winds arrived.
Of course, it didn't go exactly to plan. Upon arrival, we began scanning the body of water between the two causeways, scanning through two large flocks of Pochard failed to deliver the target and after several lengthy scans, we only managed to find a Great White Egret a single drake Goldeneye and a Kingfisher of any note. We switched our attention to the main reservoir and added several Goosander and Goldeneye, a pair of Scaup two distant Long-tailed Ducks and a female Tufted Duck that had a hideous looking nasal ring.

There was still no sign of the Fudge Duck so we drove round to Layer Breton causeway and began the search again. We added two Whooper Swans two redhead Smew and two more Great White Egret to the days total but still couldn't find the main target.

We had been searching for four hours and decided to return to Layer De La Haye causeway and give it a final scan. After scanning through the small flocks of teal and Mallards that were emerging from the thick tangles of waterside branches the Fudge Duck suddenly appeared out in the open! There was just enough time to get decent scope views before the bird took flight and headed towards the large rafts of Pochard and Tufted Duck near Layer Breton causeway. We drove back around and managed brief views of the bird before it again disappeared out of view.

Saturday 8 February 2020

Hoopoe: Badminston Lane, Hampshire

After positive news yesterday of the continued presence of the Hoopoe, we made the two-hour drive along the M25 and M3 and were parking up by the horse paddocks along Badminston lane in Southampton shortly after 8am. Initial scans of the paddock failed to produce any sign of the Hoopoe, mainly due to the presence of a guy tending to the horses. 

The horse paddock

In previous days the Hoopoe could be quite wide-ranging and several birders began wandering off along the tracks hoping to locate it. We remained by the paddocks and were rewarded twenty minutes later when the Hoopoe flew in. It stayed for less than one minute and then flew off. We managed to re-find it along the track but it quickly took flight again. While searching for the Hoopoe we watched three Woodlarks displaying overhead for another addition to the year list. We decided to return to the horse paddocks and wait it out. This proved a wise move as the Hoopoe eventually reappeared and this time happily fed among the short-cropped grass close to the horses.


Keyhaven Marshes was only thirteen miles away and we were soon parked up by the sea wall car park along Lower Pennington Lane. We took the main path and found a single Spoonbill on Fishtail Lagoon, unfortunately, it took flight and headed over the far bank of trees towards Keyhaven Marshes. After walking the sea wall to the end of the path we managed to find the Spoonbill resting at the far edge of the marsh.

Fishtail lagoon