Saturday 12 November 2022

Sabine's Gulls in Kent

Heading to kent this morning we had a couple of targets in mind. The first stop was a search for a Grey Phalarope on the sea at Dungeness. We arrived at sunrise but after several trudges, up and down the length of the shingle beach we failed to locate the phalarope. While searching for the Phalarope we picked out what looked like a distant Sabine's Gull but it disappeared before a positive identification could be made. Two male Eider ducks were picked out as they headed south past the fishing boats.

Sunrise at Dungeness


A quick check of the bird news services informed us that the Osprey at Appledore was showing well. We parked up off the road by the bridge and headed down the track, to find the Osprey sitting in the middle of a field. After a few minutes, it flew up onto a nearby telegraph pole. It didn't stay there long and soon headed back to its favourite dead tree.


The main target today was the Sabine's Gull at Port Lympne Safari Park. As we drove down the entrance track we could see the Sabine's Gull on the grass by a car passing area. It fed just feet from the small group of birders. If any Black-headed Gulls tried to feed in the same area it quickly saw them off and would regularly pull worms out of the ground on its small circular trips in front of us.

Sabine's Gull

Before heading for home we stopped at Dungeness for another search for the Phalarope, only to be told it had flown south an hour ago and had not been seen since. We settled for a brief seawatch from the hide and picked out an Arctic Tern feeding over "The Patch" for a bonus year tick. Then the Sabine's Gull flew straight past us along the shoreline. It made several flights back and forth and was still showing well when we decided to head home.

The Sabine's Gull at Dungeness

Thursday 27 October 2022

Alpine Accentor: Slaughden, Suffolk

Back in 2016, I failed to add Alpine Accentor to my life list. A trip to Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire the day after the bird was found resulted in disappointment, but finding a Western Bonelli's Warbler softened the blow.

Six years later and one turns up in Suffolk on the day we are unable to make the trip. However, with encouraging news that the bird had gone to roost on the Martello Tower, we made plans for the following morning. We left at 5am and after a trouble-free journey along the M25 and A12, we arrived shortly before 7am. As we approached the tower we could just make out the line of assembled birders in the darkness. As we joined the line we were told the bird was still roosting on a pipe jutting out from the tower wall, as a thermal imager had picked up its heat signature. As the light improved we could just make out some of the bird's features in the semi-darkness. At 7.15 it became more active and after a quick wing stretch, it flew up onto the tower wall face and then flew around the side of the tower and was lost to view.

Forty minutes later the bird was relocated feeding along the shingle bank. There was limited space across the path and with birders and photographers now five-six deep, viewing the bird was difficult. Eventually, I managed to get views of the bird albeit not the views I had hoped for. We headed back along the path and began chatting with another birder, only for the bird to fly along the beach and land on rocks close to us, it then flew onto the path and started walking towards us. It was now just a few feet away! The four of us had a few brief moments alone with the bird before the masses joined us. 

The bird seemed unconcerned and continued happily feeding among the shingle and vegetation for all to enjoy.

The dipped bird at Gibraltar Point in 2016, is now a distant memory and I can remove Alpine Accentor from my dipped list. 

Martello Tower

Alpine Accentor

Sunday 9 October 2022

Grafham Water and Lemsford Springs

A trip to Cambridge this morning, with the main target being the American Wigeon. A scan of Valley Creek failed to find the wigeon but we did locate a  Pectoral Sandpiper. There were also Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers, Grey Plovers, Dunlin, and Ringed Plovers all feeding along the shoreline.

The majority of the ducks were loafing in Dudney Creek, so we scanned the creek from Dudney Hide. We began scanning through the flocks, which was made more difficult by a fishing boat putting them all up several times. After working my way through the flock again, the American Wigeon was found in the company of three of its commoner cousins. 

Monday 10th

This morning we spent a couple of hours at Lemsford Springs. A 4-hectare nature reserve in Hertfordshire. The warden lives next to the reserve and access can be gained to the reserve via a key from the warden. If not a member of the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust he asks for a small donation towards the upkeep. The main attractions are the watercress lagoons which remain free from ice all year. There are two hides overlooking the lagoons giving excellent views.

We failed to find the Jack Snipe from the previous day, but enjoyed close views of  Green Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Water Rail, Grey Wagtail, and Kingfisher.

The lagoons contain millions of shrimp, a food source greatly enjoyed by Green Sandpipers, Water Rails, and several other species. 

The shallow lagoons are filled with fresh water from unground springs. 

Wednesday 28 September 2022

Blue-winged Teal, Fairlop Waters

When news broke of a possible juvenile Blue-winged Teal present at Fairlop Waters we arranged to go, but before leaving the house news came through that the bird's wings had been clipped! Then later that morning another report stated that the bird was "fully winged". This was enough for us to make the short five-mile journey. Upon arrival, I had a quick scan while Brian sorted out the parking fees. No sign of the bird, then we spotted three birders in the distance and quickly joined them. They had the bird in sight, it was asleep on the bank of the main island. 

Eventually, it awoke and had a stretch and a short walk, Its left leg looked quite badly damaged and limped whenever it walked. There was no sign of any rings on either leg that we could see.

When it did eventually take to the water and flap its wings, it was indeed fully winged.

No leg rings 

After I came home I did a bit more work on the sexing of Blue-winged Teals. 
If there's very little white in the wing it would point towards it being a female, Males have bold white wing markings and even juveniles have a lot of white in the wing.

If the tail feathers are sharply pointed and new looking that would point towards an adult, whereas notched and worn feathers would point towards a juvenile bird.

Bill spots can help identify if the bird is an adult female or a juvenile female. Small spots indicate a juvenile and large spots an adult.

On the male's, leg colour can determine whether adult or juvenile, bright yellow indicates an adult, and washed out dull yellow a juvenile.

Monday 26 September 2022

Common Nighthawk: Wantage, Oxfordshire

 Just another Monday, or so I thought! 

My mobile rings at 11.50

Brian, Have you seen it?
Me: Seen what?
Brian: Common Nighthawk in Oxford
Me: Are we going?
Brian: Yes, of course, we are!

By 12.30 we had met up with Brian and had begun the ninety-mile journey along the M25/M40 towards Wantage in Oxfordshire. Having encountered no problems en route we arrived around 2pm. Having duly paid the £10 donation we joined the hundred or so birders already present. We were expecting to join a long queue and wait for our turn to enter a resident's house and grab a few minutes watching the bird. To our surprise, the bird was perched on a fence in a Cul de sac! We were now able to enjoy the bird for as long as we wanted, no more than 10 metres away.

It remained on the fence all afternoon, occasionally shuffling from side to side to turn 180° from left to right. There were numerous Red Kites in the area and the Nighthawk would raise its head when they drifted overhead and then flatten itself along the fence.

It remained until 6.56pm this evening when it took flight and was last seen heading south in the darkening evening skies.

Sunday 25 September 2022

Flycatchers and Redstarts at Wanstead

On Friday we visited East Tilbury, hoping the three Stone Curlews would still be present. One had been present since the 31st of July and was joined by two more on the 4th of August. Since then they have been commuting between Tilbury and across the Thames at Cliffe Pools in Kent. However, since the end of August, they seem to have settled down at Tilbury.

The walk from the car park at Coalhouse Fort to the scrape is about a mile, it's a concrete footpath along the seawall that overlooks the Thames.

Reaching the scrape we found Green Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing, and Ringed Plover, but we were struggling to find the Stone Curlews until local birder Paul Wood arrived and pointed us in the right direction. They were tucked down among the taller vegetation right at the back of the scrape. Once pinpointed we managed to find all three close together.

The scrape at Tilbury

25th September

This morning we had a couple of hours free and decided to visit Wanstead Flats hoping to find any lingering migrants before they depart.  Meadow Pipits and Stonechats were seemingly everywhere we looked and a single Whinchat was found among them. We reached an area known locally as "The Enclosure" and the bushes and trees were alive with birds. A roving tit flock was flitting about from tree to tree and Linnets, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were also present. A family party of Greenfinch was also seen, sadly no longer a common sight locally these days. We were hoping to find a Spotted Flycatcher and two eventually appeared among the tree branches. As we were watching the Flycatchers a Redstart flew in and sat out on a branch long enough for a photo. A short trip but a rewarding one, with all three targets seen. On the walk back to the car another Redstart was seen feeding on the path with numerous Meadow Pipits.

Spotted Flycatcher


Saturday 17 September 2022

Disappointing seawatch at Cley

We set off early this morning, a Seawatch from Cley beach at first light our objective. North Westerlies yesterday reached 40+ mph, but this morning the winds had dropped into the 20's. We spent four hours scanning the sea and managed to see a dozen Arctic Skuas, two Bonxies, and a single Pomarine Skua. Gannets were numerous if mostly distant, Small groups of Red-breasted Merganser, Scoter, Teal, Wigeon, and Auks were also seen, but overall we left disappointed.

Sun breaking through at Cley

Heading for home we made a small detour and visited Dernford Farm Reservoir in Cambridgeshire. A Pectoral Sandpiper had been found here on the 17th and thankfully it was still present when we arrived.

Dernford Farm Reservoir

The Pectoral Sandpiper always remained distant and the harsh light and windy conditions didn't make viewing the bird easy.

Pectoral Sandpiper

Sunday 11 September 2022

A morning at Dungeness

We spent the morning birding the Dungeness area, starting at Galloway's at first light in case the army decided to hoist the red flags, thus preventing access to the track. It was relatively quiet, allowing us to search the bushes on either side of the track. Stonechats, Whitethroats, Meadow Pipits, and Chiffchaffs were all seen, and finally, I saw my first Whinchats of the year


On the drive down we had encountered plenty of mist, but by the time we had reached the sea watching hide perched up on top of the shingle banks the mist had cleared. The sea was calm and flat and with very little wind, expectations were not high. However, a two-hour session produced double figures of Arctic Skuas and at least one Pomarine Skua. 

View from outside the sea watching hide

We drove the entrance track towards the reserve centre and managed to spot a Great White Egret and a Glossy Ibis. While watching the Ibis, eight Cattle Egret flew in, and to complete the trio of Egret species a Little Egret was spotted feeding in a nearby channel.

The scrapes on Arc Pit were looking really good and we had great views of two Black Terns, four Common Sandpipers a Little Stint, several Black-tailed Godwits, and plenty of Golden Plovers.

View of the scrapes from Hanson Hide

Common Snipe

We ended the mornings birding with a brief scan from Springfield bridge and enjoyed views of two Wood Sandpipers, four Curlew Sandpipers, and another Cattle Egret.

Tuesday 30 August 2022

Greater Sand Plover: Cleveland, Redcar

Although the Greater Sand Plover was found on the evening of the 25th, we all had various family commitments preventing us from making the trip until today. Positive news of the bird's continued presence yesterday saw us set off on the 250 miles north at 4am. After a trouble-free journey, we pulled into the Majuba car park four hours later. After a 1.5km walk along the beach, we were soon looking at the Greater Sand Plover busily feeding among the Ringed Plovers. After watching it for over an hour it suddenly disappeared, later to be re-found opposite the bandstand at the car park end of the beach. This bird must surely be the same individual that was present at St Combs in Aberdeenshire earlier in the month.

A scan of the sea, beach, and rocks produced Gannet, Fulmar, Curlew, Whimbrel, Shag, Common Tern, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, and Redshank.

The first record for Britain was in 1978 at Pagham Harbour in West Sussex. A 1st winter bird that was present from the 9th December until the 1st January.

This species normally breed in the Middle East to Central Asia and winters in Southern Asia to Australasia and Southern Africa.

The area the Plover was feeding in when we arrived

Greater Sand Plover

In previous days there had been reports of a Red-backed Shrike a short distance away at South Gore, so we headed that way hoping to connect with it. After a brief search of the area with no success and other birders reporting they had, had no luck all morning we moved across the road and scanned the bay below. Several Little Terns were seen feeding in the flooded areas below and a local birder put us onto a single Curlew Sandpiper.

Wednesday 24 August 2022

Purple Heron: Weston Turville Reservoir, Buckinghamshire

A juvenile Purple Heron was reported at Weston Turville Reservoir on Monday, At the time we were at Rainham Marshes hoping the Wryneck would reappear, having gone missing some 2-3 hours earlier!

Yesterday there were regular reports of the bird's continued presence, and when it was again reported this morning we made the forty-five-mile journey into Buckinghamshire. Parking in the layby just outside the reservoir we climbed the steps to find a pleasant little Nature Reserve with fishing and sailing included. 

We took the path alongside the reservoir and soon joined a small group of birders. They were looking at a distant Willow tree, and the juvenile Purple Heron was perched among the branches. Apart from a couple of very brief flights, it remained in these trees throughout our visit.

Not the most inviting signage!

The Purple heron was perched in the trees at the back of the reservoir in the middle of the photo below.

Purple Heron

Below is a short video, filmed through the reeds while trying to avoid falling into the reservoir.