Saturday 13 July 2024

Franklin's Gull, Crossness

A Franklin's Gull was reported at Crossness early this afternoon. Brian was keen to go but decided to wait for a second sighting as the first gave little detail about the bird's continued presence. When the bird was reported again one hour later, we headed along the A12 towards the Blackwall Tunnel.  The traffic was much heavier than expected approaching the tunnel, and the last eight miles took nearly an hour instead of the usual twenty-five minutes. We decided to park in Lytham Close and walk east along the Thames Path past the sewage works to the outfall, where we were told the bird had flown off west and had not been seen for forty minutes! 

We decided to wait it out and hope the bird would return to feed among the numerous Black-headed Gulls. Thankfully after two hours, it did just that. It flew in from the west and landed right in front of us showing to within just a few metres. It was only the second Franklin's Gull I had seen, the other being at Abberton Reservoir in 2016.

1st summer Franklin's Gull

Crossness Outfall

Tuesday 25 June 2024

Oare Marshes, Bonaparte's Gull returns for its 12th year

We spent the morning at Oare Marshes, with the temperatures set to soar, the plan was to get there early and be on our way home by midday. We arrived at six and began with a scan of East Flood. The returning Bonaparte's Gull was absent which normally means it's feeding out on the Swale mudflats. A Barn owl was seen hunting over the grazing marsh and we picked out three Turtle Doves by the wind turbines. We heard Cuckoos calling and saw groups of two and three flying out over the Swale towards Sheppey. Another Cuckoo gave superb scope views perched on a telegraph pole. 

We scanned the mudflats from the ramp and soon found the Bonaparte's Gull. It was busy feeding with several Black-headed Gulls. It took a liking to a stone block embedded within the mud and would return to it after each feeding venture.

Sunrise over the Swale

Bonaparte's Gull


Tuesday 18 June 2024

Chobham Common, Nightjars

Instead of heading North East towards Bury St Edmonds and our usual Nightjar site at West Stow, we decided to try another site in Surrey this year. So it was a trip around the M25 to Chobham Common. The plan was to park at either Staple Hill or Jubilee Mount car park, but these plans were scuppered by road resurfacing work. We had to make other plans and decided to park at Monument car park and try to find a suitable spot from there.

We took the main path onto the heath and found an ideal area. The sun was dropping below the trees and by 9.15 we had our first view of a Woodcock. It flew straight past us just above the heather. Just fifteen minutes later the first Nightjar started churring. 

By 10pm we had seen ten Woodcock and heard several Nightjars one or two would allow quick glimpses of individuals as they flew between trees. The best was still to come, two Nightjars appeared from behind us and came so close we could have touched them!

When we set off from home, we had no idea what to expect, but safe to say we will be back next year.


Almost a full moon

Sunday 16 June 2024

Quail and Spotted Flycatchers

Brian asked Dad if he wanted to spend Father's Day morning birding. With other family members due to visit in the afternoon we stayed relatively close to home. We set off for Upper Ray Meadows in Buckinghamshire where a Quail had been heard singing in the meadow since the 15th. We pulled up by the specified gate and when Brian got out of the car he could hear the bird singing. Before we could join him at the gate the bird had gone quiet! Thankfully half an hour later the Quail started singing again. 

Upper Ray Meadows, view from the gate

We moved closer to home and visited Wilstone Reservoir, hoping to find Spotted Flycatchers. We had heard that a pair had been present around Cemetery Corner of the reservoir. Swifts were present in large numbers, flying low across adjoining fields and then heading out across the reservoir. 

We took the footpath between the trees and soon had our first views of a Spotted Flycatcher, giving us all another year list addition.

Spotted Flycatcher

We returned home in plenty of time for Dad to receive visits from other family members in the afternoon.

Friday 14 June 2024

Minsmere, Roseate Terns

Brian had an unexpected free day today, so we headed to Minsmere this morning.

On the walk out we heard several Bearded Tits pinging and managed good views of two birds as they climbed the reeds near a small pond. We took the new boardwalk to East Hide and began scanning East Scrape. The scrape was quieter than normal with very few species of waders present. The only waders found were Ringed Plovers, lapwing, Avocet, and Redshank. Sandwich Terns were present in good numbers along with much smaller numbers of Kittiwake. There was no sign of the previous day's Roseate Tern. Brian picked out a Common Tern with a black bill, which had us briefly thinking of the reported Eastern Common Tern, but this was dismissed and recorded as a Common Tern.

We left East Hide and walked along the beach to the public hide where we found the two reported Roseate Terns among masses of Sandwich Terns of the furthest bund to the south of us. The whole flock was soon flushed, and when they all settled back down again the Roseate Terns were refound on a small narrow spit, allowing for some great scope views. A Little Tern was also found, giving us both, another addition to the year list. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew in from behind Wildlife Lookout and settled down on south scrape.

Roseate Terns


Roseate, Little, Sandwich, and Common Terns

Part of South Scrape from the Public Hide

So far this year I had not seen a Hobby. Although I had been to some ideal locations and habitats in previous weeks. This changed when I scanned the large area of reedbeds from the Wildlife Lookout Hide. On top of a small bush in the middle of the reedbed was a Hobby.

We decided to spend the last part of the morning scanning the reedbed from the Bittern Hide and were rewarded with sightings of three Bitterns, several Marsh Harriers, and numerous Hobby flybys.

An excellent morning's birding, finishing with 78 species and picking up 3 additions to the year list.

Sunday 2 June 2024

Thursley Common and new Honey Buzzard site

Brian and I set out this morning to check out the newly released Honey Buzzard viewing area in West Sussex. But before we did we visited Thursley Common, hoping to add a couple of year ticks. As we walked past the Moat, I heard my first Garden Warbler of the year. As we wandered along the tracks and boardwalks we heard plenty of Skylarks, Woodlarks, and Tree Pipits, and soon we were enjoying views of all three species. Stonechats were abundant and several Dartford Warblers were also seen. Swifts and Swallows were seen overhead, but as hard as I looked I couldn't find a Hobby! The weather looked perfect as did the habitat, with dragonflies darting around every pool of water, but there was no sign of Hobby. We searched for the recently reported Red-backed Shrike but failed to find it. We checked several areas for Redstart but it was on the walk back toward the car park that Brian spotted one. A stunning male perched on a burnt stump close to one of the tracks.

Dragonfly sculpture



We wanted to give ourselves plenty of time and the best chance to see Honey Buzzards., so we left Thursley Common and headed for Woolbeding Common. The track to the car park was up a single lane and could easily be missed if not paying attention. The car park was quite small and was almost full.  Having parked the car we crossed the road to join thirty or forty other birders. Only one Honey Buzzard sighting had been seen before we arrived, but over the next couple of hours we managed five separate sightings, whether these were different individuals or the same birds we couldn't tell, but we do know that there were at least two birds present as one was a very dark individual and another was very light coloured. The birders were spread out along the ridge which helped quickly get people on the birds as they appeared from different directions.

Honey Buzzard viewing area

Honey Buzzard

Although quite distant for Brian's camera the scope views more than made up for it.

Saturday 25 May 2024

Great Reed Warbler: Ouse Fen, Cambridgeshire

A surprise phone call from Brian this morning saw us heading up the M11 into Cambridgeshire for a visit to Ouse Fen RSPB. A Great Reed Warbler had been present since the 17th. After a trouble-free journey, we arrived at the car park and took the footpath towards Crane's Fen. The bird had stayed loyal to one particular area throughout its stay, and as we approached the viewing mound we could hear the bird calling. During our visit, the bird called constantly and with patience and constant scanning gave several decent views. After a couple of hours, we got used to its movements. It would remain hidden among the reeds, then suddenly appear to chase a common Reed Warbler, then fly across the small water channel and make its way towards the top of the reeds on the opposite side, before returning to its favoured patch of reeds.

Bitterns were very vocal and we enjoyed several flight views, one flew straight past us, and then four were seen in the air together! 

It was a shame we didn't have more time to explore the rest of the reserve, but I'm hopeful we will return soon.

Great Reed Warbler territory

Great Reed Warbler

Sunday 5 May 2024

Woodchat Shrike, Rainham Marshes

A Woodchat Shrike was discovered at Rainham Marshes today. It's only twenty miles from home, a journey that would normally take thirty minutes took nearer to fifty minutes due to the Friday afternoon traffic. The latest reports suggested the bird was along the path close to shooting Butts hide. From the visitor centre, it's a walk to the furthest point on the reserve of about a mile. We passed several birders as we made our way along the path, and received positive news that the bird was still present. As we joined the small group of birders already present, the Shrike was spotted among the bramble bushes at the side of the footpath. We watched the shrike for a couple of hours, as it spent its time making small flights down to the footpath and back to the brambles. Sometimes flying further along the path and out of sight, only to return soon afterwards. 

The Woodchat Shrike was the first record for Rainham Marshes Reserve and, a new addition to my London list.


Wednesday 17 April 2024

Minsmere day trip

We made our first visit of the year to Minsmere this morning, arriving around 7am we headed along the north wall footpath, hearing several Nightingales among the north bushes. Our first Cuckoo of the year was heard as we scanned the area for Stone Curlew. As we approached the new boardwalk section a Grasshopper Warbler was heard "reeling" within the reeds. The new boardwalk now takes you directly to East Hide without the need to go onto the beach. Several scans of East Scrape produced a male Garganey, two Greenshank, Knot, Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwits, Med Gulls, and our 2nd addition to the year list in the form of several Sandwich Terns.

Several more Sandwich Terns were seen from the public hide, and large numbers of Kittiwake were found roosting on the towers out at sea. 

Several Bitterns were heard "Booming" on our walk around the reserve, but we only managed views of one individual in flight. 

View from North Wall, looking south towards Sizewell

Black-tailed Godwit

After leaving Minsmere, we stopped briefly at Dunwich Heath and managed to spot three Dartford Warblers. Large numbers of Sand Martins were present but we didn't see any House Martins among them. 

Leaving Dunwich, we drove northeast to Walberswick. We parked in Cliff Field car park and walked back along the beach until we found the scoter flock we were after. We were searching for a Surf Scoter and, quickly located it drifting along at the back of a raft of Common Scoter.

Surf Scoter with Common Scoter

We ended the day having seen 94 species, 5 of which were new additions to the year list and the Surf Scoter was also a new bird for my Suffolk list.

Sunday 14 April 2024

Rainham Marshes, In search of warblers

A Wood Warbler was reported at Rainham Marshes yesterday,  Brian and I hadn't seen one in London before, so were eager to make the trip. It's only a short distance from home and twenty-five minutes later we were parked in the car park. We headed down the ramp and past Purfleet Scrape towards the Cordite Store area, where the bird had been reported from earlier. As we turned the corner we could see a small group of birders looking towards a group of Willows and brambles. As we joined them the Wood Warbler began singing. Although it sang regularly during our visit it remained largely hidden within the thick cover. The walk back to the car produced a couple of Reed Warblers singing from the reeds for another year tick.

We had been told that a Grasshopper Warbler had been heard earlier in the day, but by the time we arrived at the top car park, all was quiet. A scan of the Thames added a single Common Tern, seen heading upriver to add to the year list total.

Brian and I headed back to Rainham this morning, thinking we would have a better chance of hearing the Gropper "reeling" early morning. As we headed down the path the Gropper was heard immediately. As we began scanning the area the Gropper was spotted surprisingly quickly. It was perched on a low branch just above the vegetation. As we watched the Grasshopper Warbler a Short-eared Owl flew up from the grass and landed on a fence post. It was soon mobbed by crows and went to ground among the taller grasses.

Grasshopper Warbler

Short-eared Owl

Friday 12 April 2024

Frampton Marsh, Delivers again

Brian had a rare free day, so we decided to head north to Frampton Marsh this morning. We arrived around 8am and quickly found the Lesser Yellowlegs feeding at the edge of one of the pools close to the car park. The Black-winged Stilt was also found although it was at a much greater distance than the Yellowlegs. A Short-eared Owl flew across the flooded fields and was mobbed by Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits. We spent plenty of time scanning the flooded grasslands and enjoyed views of  Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Great Egret, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, and Greenshank. The Greenshank was a new addition to the year list.

Lesser Yellowlegs

We walked along the main path, and Brian picked out two Little Gulls (an adult and a 1st winter) on the south scrape. We enjoyed closer views from the viewing mound by Reedbed Hide.

Little Gull (1st winter)

Little Gull (Adult)

Three Little Ringed Plovers were seen from the 360 Hide along with several Ringed Plovers. There were also large numbers of Dunlin and Knot all packed tightly together on one of the islands.

Little Ringed plover

We scanned the south scrape again from the viewing mound and found a Black Tern. It flew back and forth across the scrape and briefly headed across the path over the 360 Hide before returning. The Black-winged Stilt had returned to the south scrape and was standing on the shingle at the end of an island. We had been talking to another birder earlier in the morning and while watching the Black Tern he asked Brian "What's this odd-looking gull". It turns out to be the Bonapartes Gull that had been reported as having flown off yesterday evening. It showed superbly right in front of the viewing mound.

Black Tern

Bonaparte's gull

Black-winged Stilt

We finished the day with 84 species seen, including five new additions to my year list.

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Abberton Reservoir

A few hours spent at Fishers Green in the Lee Valley on Monday failed to produce any sight or sound of any Nightingales, even though Brian had, heard a singing bird the previous day. 

This morning we headed for Abberton Reservoir and immediately heard a Nightingale singing as soon as we left the car. We walked the approach road to the reserve and heard at least six Nightingales. However, seeing one proved much more difficult. I eventually managed brief views of a single bird.

We moved along to the causeway and found an Arctic Tern resting on a small buoy on the water between both causeways. 

We checked the small flood opposite Billets Farm and after several scans from different areas along the road, I managed to find two Little Ringed Plovers. A check of the sheep fields around the farm added another early year tick when we found three Yellow Wagtails feeding among the short grass.

The flood which held two Little Ringed Plover

On the drive to Layer Breton causeway, Brian found four Med Gulls in a field behind Garr House Farm. A scan from the causeway produced a single Swallow, which was our only hirundine of the day. We also found a single Spoonbill deep among the tree branches, we eventually managed decent views after walking further along the causeway.