It has been a busy few weeks. Work has been busy, life has been busy, and the birding – at weekends – has been pretty frenetic. I am behind in what I could post, so have decided to share a sort of medley of my birding experiences over the last few weeks.
A couple of weeks ago I, along with every other birder in the country it seems, descended upon Wells and Holkham on the North Norfolk coast after a basket of eastern rarities had dropped in with the Easterly wind.
I stood in a rather strange circle of green and glass in the middle of ‘the dell’ and we all tried to get good views of a Red-flanked Bluetail as it flit back and forth down amongst the saplings:
Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus)
Also at Wells I joined a group of birders looking at bushes. This behaviour is normally rewarding. And it was, I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call. Excellent! Except, it wasn’t a YBW, it was the very closely related, but even rarer, Hume’s Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus humei). Despite me mistaking the call, better birders than me actually use the call as a distinguishing characteristic between the two incredibly similar birds – it makes a ‘dsu-weet’ rather than a ‘tsoeest’. Obvs! I watched the tiny thing move through the bushes – never quite still or unobscured enough to photograph – along with Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests.
Goldcrests. I have noticed significantly larger numbers of Goldcrests on the patch during the Autumn migration period compared to normality, but nothing prepared me for Wells. The woodland just on the other side of the beach dunes was absolutely full of them – blown across the North Sea alongside some of the rarities as they made their journeys South.
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
I missed the Pallas’ Leaf Warbler that was also there. It wasn’t so much a dip as disorganisation on my part that led to that. As it was my first time at this birding Mecca, and there seem to be very few good site maps, I wandered a bit confused and dazed (by all the anoraks – I am allowed to insult birders as I am one – and rare birds) in odd directions.
I also missed the Blyth’s Reed Warbler, but it would have been almost criminal to have missed the ‘Izzy’ Shrike. As is the habit of shrikes, it perched incredibly obligingly on exposed branches. Occasionally taking flight to grab an insect and then back and looking stunning…
Isabelline Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)
So, Norfolk was super, if a little weird (nothing inherently weird about Norfolk of course, just what birds and birders can do to a place when they fall upon it in such large numbers).
Essex was fun too. Yesterday I twitched a Rough-legged Buzzard at a place called Holland – the Scandinavian visitor is one of several on the East Coast at the moment. Some have seen it up close and very personal, whereas I watched the raptor from a fair distance – perched on a mound of grass on a golf course seemingly unperturbed by golfers walking and thrashing around almost right in front of it.
Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus)
The excitement was intensified by the fact that a Short-eared Owl (also over in large numbers at the moment – I missed one on the patch today unfortunately as I was busy watching a Water Rail in the opposite direction to its flight-path) flew a few feet right over the Buzzard – I won’t show you my attempt at a photograph of this event as it is beyond atrocious.
I dipped a Great Grey-Shrike at Heybridge Basin on the way back from the Buzzard that had been showing well yesterday morning, but still enjoyed my time there (see below).
After scanning for the Shrike for some time, I turned around from the quarry/lagoon/basin thing and just soaked in the huge Blackwater Estuary at low tide. It is super rich in both wildlife and history and I shall definitely return for a better look another day:
I have spent a lot of time on Essex coastline and Estuaries in the past few weeks, including at East Tilbury, by the ruins of the old defences of Coalhouse Fort:
Second World War radar tower near Coalhouse Fort
Waders and Waterbirds
It was at East Tilbury where I ticked off Grey Plover for my 2015 list:
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
And my second Bar-tailed Godwit of the year…
Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)
…alongside much larger numbers of Black-tailed Godwits.
I liked East Tilbury so much that I have visited twice in the past few weeks, although slightly mis-timed the tides on my second visit so it wasn’t quite as fruitful, although I could still make out a flock of hundreds and hundreds (my reckoning was 800) of Avocet just over the reeds:
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
On the subject of large flocks of waders, here is a distant shot of a flock of almost exactly 1000 Golden Plover (yes, I did actually count them) on the Blackwater Estuary – definitely a record for me:
European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria)
I have spent a lot of time watching waders over the past few weekends. Nothing rare, but…
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)
Although I did spend some time working out whether I had seen the two main Dunlin subspecies together in Norfolk:
Dunlin (Calidris alpina) alpina subspecies on left (and above in box) and schinzii on right (and below)
Other waders watched have included:
Little Ringed Plover
As well as my first Brent Geese for the year as they fly in up the fluvial motorways in large numbers:
Brent Goose (Branta bernicula)
And finally, the patch
I have driven a lot of miles and visited six different sites in three weekends, but I haven’t completely neglected the Patch.
I have picked up three new species for my patch year list.
Getting my first Ring Ouzel (embarassingly a life tick for me) was fantastic alongside Bob and Tony. I looked up at what I suspected was a silhouetted Fieldfare flying over, but as it got closer the pale crescent on the dark body became clearer and as my mind clicked on Ring Ouzel, Bob’s voice behind me confirmed it. Shortly followed by a distant shout from Tony who had heard it call over him. It perched briefly on a tree, not long enough for me to get a good photo, but long enough for me to feel a lot of gratitude.
I also finally allowed myself to tick off Lesser Redpoll as one flew over low enough and calling clearly enough for me to be sure of myself. I clearly need more visible migration call practice.
And today, I caught up with the return of an annual patch regular, a ringed Mediterranean Gull named Valentino (see here and here for more on this specific bird) after being led on a merry dance. Nick told me he had been seen on the football pitches with all the Black-headed and Common gulls, so I dutifully scanned every single bird before walking on to Alexandra lake where I saw the pristine bird almost immediately. Almost as immediately, Valentino took off. He flew around the island and despite me walking around the lake twice, I couldn’t re-find him. Later, Nick found him back on Alex so I traipsed back from the park where I had been watching a Water Rail and Kingfishers. And so finally, I photographed him:
Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus)
Valentino takes me up to 97 patch species for the year; tantalisingly close to my goal of seeing 100 species there in my first year birding it. But even without the new ticks, the patch still entertains:
Little Egret and Grey Heron
Common Gull – one of many returning after the Summer away