A bit of excitement at my local patch this morning. A rather unproductive seawatch at Frinton (weather much too nice!) was followed by news of a Greenland white fronted goose on the scrape at Holland Haven. After a couple of errands I went to have a look as this is a good bird for Essex. I met some other birders going into the hide, and after a quick search we were enjoying good views of this bird in among the larger greylag geese, so good for comparison. Other birds on the scrape included: teal, black tailed godwit (17), lapwing (50+), common sandpiper (1). A few minutes later I spotted a juvenile little gull - another good bird for the site, so I put the news out. A group of the local birders rushed over from the seawall, where they'd been looking for a young whooper swan that had been reported drifting towards Frinton on the sea; and thankfully the little gull was still there. Other highlights included: common buzzard, kestrel, swallow (20+) and spotted flycatcher, before I had to leave to go to work.
2019 calendars have arrived!
Collected my new calendars from the printers last week. Really pleased with how they've turned out. Now available at £7.50 each (+ postage if mail order).
Mill Meadows Fayre
Had a brilliant day on my stand at Mill Meadows Fayre, Billericay. Great range of stands and live music, lots of people, lovely setting and atmosphere and good weather too! A great day; and rounded off nicely by stopping off at Abberton Reservoir (Layer Breton Causeway) and seeing 3 cattle egrets roosting among loads of cormorants, a great white egret next to a little egret for size comparison, and grey heron to complete the set!
Joining a Swallow Birding Pager Day saw us spend the day at Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve in Lincolnshire where 3 rare waders had been seen the previous day - stilt sandpiper, long billed dowitcher and red necked phalarope. Needless to say these birds had drawn a large number of birders to the site and the car park was packed. We paused by the first scrape to scan the waders - mostly black tailed godwit (c1000), but also avocet (6), ruff (12), snipe and dunlin. Then we noticed a crowd further round suddenly move off, so we followed, hoping that one of the rare birds had been spotted. It had! And we soon joined the crowd now watching the stilt sandpiper; and many people were taking many photos, including me! After lunch, and with no reports of any other rare birds being seen nearby, we went for a longer walk round the reserve. Highlights included peregrine (1), golden plover (1), wheatear (2), green sandpiper (1), spotted redshank (13), whimbrel (1), common buzzard (1), greenshank (2), little ringed plover (6 juvs), yellow wagtail (30+), more time watching the stilt sandpiper, and also brown hare (2). Another successful day trip.
A nice day for a visit to Abberton Reservoir. Started at Layer de la Haye church where we watched a stoat chasing a young rabbit around the sheep field, though it was gave up fairly quickly. In Wigborough Bay we noted yellow wagtail (30+), great white egret (1), red crested pochard (3) and black swan (1). Then we walked the trail around the middle section and causeways, where highlights included yellowhammer (2+), Egyptian goose (21 + a pair with 5 goslings), lapwing (30+), little egrets and grey herons at the heronry, common tern (30+), black tern (3) and lots of hirundines. Last stop was the Lodge Lane viewpoint where a large number of great crested grebe (120+) were gathered in the bay, and we also picked out a garganey among the ducks.
Our visit started well with c40 swallows around the visitor centre. As it was high tide we headed first to Laurie's Hide where 49 greenshank were roosting on the Scrape. Next we stopped at Kit's Pond to look for water voles, but sadly none showed for us today. However, there were a number of dragonflies on view - ruddy darter, brown hawker, small red eyed damselfly, and the surprise find of a southern migrant hawker. Moving on we noted turtle dove, chiffchaff, common buzzard and kestrel, as well as gatekeeper and small heath butterflies. After lunch we went to Margaret Hide overlooking the intertidal area. Here there were black tailed godwit (c400), little egret (20+), grey plover, curlew, a common sandpiper, bar tailed godwit, avocet, whimbrel (3) and common tern (2).
A visit to see friends gave me to opportunity to join an organised nightjar walk at Arne RSPB reserve in Dorset. We started with a walk around Coombe Heath where highlights included a stonechat family, an osprey on a post, distant views of a spoonbill in the channel, a brief dartford warbler flitting across the heather, a golden ringed dragonfly and numbers of sika deer grazing. Then we were taken to another area of heath as dusk approached where we stood and listened. First we heard a tawny owl hooting, and then the first nightjar began churring. We even had a couple of good flight views before the light faded; and at times we were surrounded by their churring, with at least 10 heard in total. Then as we walked slowly back to the car park a small common toad was spotted and a female glow worm glowed green at the side of the path.
Sunny spells and increasing warmth were good signs for this morning's guided walk in search of some of our less common butterfly species. Ringlets were 'everywhere', and we quickly ticked off meadow brown, comma, large white and green veined white. A larger orange butterfly caught our attention, albeit brief views initially, but with a bit of patience we had good views of our first silver washed fritillary. In total we saw at least 4 of this large species, both in flight and settled on leaves. Then we added small white, red admiral, gatekeeper, peacock and speckled wood, but sadly no white admiral today.
A lesson in how to lose a few hours wandering round a lovely woodland! Didn't see many birds - song thrush (3), treecreeper (2), common buzzard, blackcap, chiffchaff and jay were the best; but grey squirrels were very active, with at least 14 seen. However, it was the butterflies that really stole the show. The star was a purple emperor that fluttered past, landed briefly on the path and then flew off, never to be seen again! The supporting cast included lots of meadow brown and ringlet, comma, purple hairstreak, white admiral, gatekeeper and speckled wood - 14 species in all.
Today's guided walk at Cockaynes Wood was more about quality than quantity. Highlights included yellowhammer (3), reed bunting, green woodpecker, chiffchaff, linnet, blackcap, goldcrest, reed warbler, whitethroat, great spotted woodpecker and a very brief flight view of a water rail. However, the undoubted star/surprise was a red kite that drifted over.
Joined another Swallow Birding tour, this time to Northumberland, and in particular to the Farne Islands. Boat trips are always a bit weather-dependent, but conditions were OK, so we set off from Seahouses to make the short crossing to the islands. We were taken around some of the islands to look up at the cliffs and stacks covered in seabirds and grey seals hauled out on the rocks, and were then able to land on 2 of the islands - 2 hours on Staple Island and then 2 hours on Inner Farne. There were 10s of 1000s of birds - and at times you just didn't know where to look! Guillemots, razorbills, puffins, shags, terns (including being pecked by feisty Arctic terns on Inner Farne), kittiwakes, eider, fulmar ... What an amazing experience!
As part of Swallow Birding's tour to NW England we visited Gait Barrow in search of lady's slipper orchid - one of the UK's rarest species. We coincided with their open day and were quickly pointed in the right direction. What amazing plants! Having all taken loads of photos we had a walk around the site and its limestone pavement. Other interesting plants included a patch of herb paris, harts tongue fern, rock rose, tormentil and lily of the valley. Birds included coal tit, willow warbler, chiffchaff, goldcrest and blackcap. We also searched successfully for two species of butterfly - dingy skipper and Duke of Burgundy - both of which were new for me.
Twitch time again! Back to The Naze this morning following reports of a red rumped swallow near the visitor centre. A couple of other birders were already there, as well as lots of swallow, house martin and sand martin to check through. Someone spotted it distantly above the farm cottages and called out directions. I did see it, but not very satisfactory views! A few minutes later the red rumped swallow was spotted again, much closer, and this time much better views as it hunted above the grassland north of the visitor centre. It became fairly easy to pick out as one of its tail streamers was missing making it look a bit odd. I was even able to get a few record shots. Two swifts were also seen to complete the full set.
A visit to Marks Hall with friends wasn't really for birdwatching, but I just happened to take my binoculars and camera!! Good job I did! Loud and unfamiliar corvid calls made me look up and scan along the trees where I noticed a huge nest on the edge of some pine woodland with a big black bird on it. I took a number of photos, and we later confirmed that it was a young raven - a good bird for Essex. We also saw kestrel, house martin, jay, greylag geese (including 5 pairs with goslings), mistle thrush; and heard chiffchaff, cuckoo, coal tit and garden warbler. Dragonflies included 4 spotted chaser, large red damselfly, red eyed damselfly and blue tailed damselfly.
This morning's guided walk at Cattawade Marshes got off to a great start with a nightingale singing by the car park at the north end of the White Bridge. We then walked across the bridge, noting swallows and a chiffchaff as we did, and then walked west along the south bank of the River Stour to look north across the Cattawade Marshes. Along the river we noted gadwall, Canada geese, lapwing (including one chick), black tailed godwit (c150), knot (2), avocet (6), shelduck, little egret, black swan (2), Egyptian goose (4) and common tern (2). We spotted our first swifts of the year; and then watched in utter amazement as 2 hobbys worked as a team to chase and eventually catch one of the swifts - something I've never seen before. Other birds of prey included kestrel, an adult male marsh harrier and sparrowhawk. Another great day!
This morning's guided walk started from the EWT visitor centre at The Naze. The first birds noted were swallows and house martins collecting mud from a puddle in the car park. We then followed the 4 mile circuit anticlockwise round The Naze. Sand martins were flying around the cliffs; and we were pleased to see a cuckoo, albeit briefly. Among the bushes we noted whitethroat, chiffchaff, linnet, lesser whitethroat and green woodpecker. The shoreline produced a couple of brent geese, dunlin, grey plover, at least 4 whimbrel, and the surprise sight of 4 eider flying past close in. The reed filled borrowdykes held reed warbler, sedge warbler and reed bunting; and 2 wheatears along the seawall itself. Birds of prey included common buzzard and a couple of kestrels. There were butterflies too:- orange tip, red admiral, peacock, speckled wood and green veined white.
It's always nice when a good bird turns up on your doorstep! So, when I heard there was a confiding mealy (common) redpoll by the Waylings beach huts in Frinton it would have been rude not to at least go and have a look. Found it pretty easily; and they were not kidding about it being confiding. It was alone and feeding quite happily on the path below the beach huts, moving to the slope of the seawall when people, dogs, bikes passed. Excellent close views and lots of photos taken!!
I enjoyed close views of a slavonian grebe from the causeway prior to going into the visitor centre to lead a training session about bird song. We noted several common woodland species during the guided walk, as well as a great spotted woodpecker and two colonies of wood ants. The bird feeders outside the visitor centre were very busy with blue tit, great tit, coal tit and long tailed tit, while 6 stock doves, 2 grey squirrels, a pair of mallards, 2 coots and 2 dunnocks fed on the ground beneath the feeders.
Gt Holland Pits
It was mostly sunny for this morning's guided walk, but with a chilly N wind. The Lake was fairly quiet, with just a few moorhens and a little grebe, so we moved on. Mewing calls indicated that common buzzards were about, so we stood and looked up and a common buzzard duly drifted into view. It was joined by a second and then a third and they circled overhead together. As we watched a kestrel flew across the same view, and a few moments later a sparrowhawk. Brilliant! There was sufficient warmth to tempt adders out, and we found 4 (3 + 1) basking by the paths; as well as a red tailed bumblebee; and primroses were coming into flower.
A morning walk along the seawall at Kirby le Soken with farmland on one side and the Backwaters on the other. I noted a greenfinch in the hedge and a few skylarks singing overhead, and then an all too brief sighting of a stunning male hen harrier as it flew low across a field and disappeared behind a hedgeline. With crops still quite short brown hares had fewer places to hide, and I counted at least 14; and yellowhammers seemed to be doing quite well with at least 4 seen. A marsh harrier flew lazily across Skippers Island; and teal, wigeon, shelduck, oystercatcher and curlew were noted in the channels. A sparrowhawk flew across towards Skippers Island carrying prey; and a distant flock of 1000+ brent geese took to the air. As I walked back towards the car a peregrine flew low across a field and a common buzzard flew out from a small copse - making it 5 species of raptor for the day.
Mistley Walls & Quay
This morning's guided walk started at The Walls, but we soon moved on as the tide was well out and most birds pretty distant, noting a goldcrest and calling coat tit as we walked through to the Quay. We soon spotted 4 black swans among the massed mute swans, and then also 1 whooper swan (a scarce winter visitor with yellow rather than orange on its beak), which was pretty exciting. There were at least 50 pintail giving amazingly close views, as well as avocet (40+), black tailed godwit (60+), goldeneye (10+), turnstone, great crested grebe, little grebe, and a gull which I'm fairly sure was a Caspian gull.
There was a bitterly cold wind for our guided walk, which kept a lot of the small birds hiding, but we still had a successful morning. We noted common buzzard and song thrush from the track and then walked through Villa Wood, where the path was pretty muddy, and spent a while watching a flock of c20 siskins feeding high up in the alders. Bright red scarlet elf cup fungi stood out against the green moss and a few early lesser celendine were just coming into flower. We heard a yellowhammer singing and while searching for that came across a field with 45+ fieldfare, a couple of mistle thrush, at least 1 male yellowhammer and c15 linnet. On the lake we spotted a great crested grebe and 2 pairs of tufted duck; and also heard bullfinch and green woodpecker.
Gull ID course
After a classroom session at Abbotts Hall Farm we drove to Layer Breton Causeway (Abberton Reservoir) where highlights included common gull (c20), smew (3 male + 4 redhead), goosander (2 male, 1 female), black necked grebe (1), water rail (1), shoveler (400+) and goldeneye (5+). After lunch we drove to West Mersea where we added great views of Mediterranean gull (at least 6) and great northern diver (2 offshore).
A late afternoon visit - dull and grey with light drizzle. Not ideal conditions! However, a little egret and several teal and wigeon were noted in the small channels, a rock pipit feeding among the marsh plants, and a sparrowhawk flew across. A sharp call alerted me to the presence of a kingfisher, and I saw the flash of blue as it flew past twice. On the way back I came across it again, this time perched on the sluice and fishing from the steps. I stood near the car for a while as I could hear a number of birds in the nearby bushes and brambles; and eventually was rewarded with views of at least 3 tree sparrows (quite a scarce bird for Essex). Rounded the day off with a barn owl hunting along the verge as I drove home.
Estuary Birding - Fellowship Afloat
Helped to lead the Estuary Birding weekend based on board the "Trinity" lightship at Tollesbury. Highlights included smew, marsh harrier, goldeneye and little stint at Abberton Reservoir; massed assorted waders being scattered by a peregrine at Fingringhoe Wick; fieldfare, common buzzard, yellowhammer and linnet at Copt Hall; kingfisher, brent geese and pintail at Goldhanger; and red breasted merganser and great northern diver on a boat trip round to Salcott Channel.
SE Suffolk Coast
First stop was at Upper Hollesley Common where a small flock of parrot crossbills had been reported for a couple of weeks, but sadly they failed to show up during our visit. However, we did hear a woodlark near the car park, flushed a woodcock from the woodland edge, heard the chatter of a dartford warbler and with a bit of patience had several brief views of it, and also came across the Exmoor ponies currently being used for grazing management on the heath. Next stop was a Hollesley Marshes RSPB reserve. Here we noted white fronted geese (20) and barnacle geese (5) in among the greylag and Canada geese, as well as marsh harrier and common buzzard. Then on to Boyton Marshes RSPB reserve where highlights included fieldfare (8), little egret, kestrel, a common seal in the river and distant views of a peregrine.
A few hours birding around Brightlingsea today. Started at Moverons (where they do lots of wildlife-friendly farming). A weedy field held 30+ chaffinch, 2+ linnet and a yellowhammer, but sadly none of the hoped-for reed bunting, brambling or redpoll. Next we stopped by the boating lake, where we had great views of a Mediterranean gull and brief views of a kingfisher. After lunch at the beach cafe we walked along the river. It was a bit cold and windy and relatively bird-free, though we had close views of a female kestrel, at least 12 pied wagtails at the sewage works and a distant flock of about 800 brent geese.
Following this winter's massive influx of hawfinches to the UK I thought I was going to miss out as there didn't seem to be any local reports. However, some were then found at Braxted Park (it used to be a regular winter site for them), so it would have been rude not to go to see them! On arrival a small group of birders pointed out a waxwing sitting high up in a mistletoe-covered tree; and we enjoyed good views of this exciting winter visitor in the sunshine (if a little distant). The news was that hawfinches had been seen earlier, but not for a while. We walked on and soon came across a mixed flock of fieldfare and redwing feeding on the ground. Common buzzards were making the most of the conditions, with at least 5 birds up together drifting on the thermals. As we returned to the car someone pointed out a distant 'blob' in tall trees by the big house. Through the scope we could see there were 2 hawfinches. We moved to a different viewpoint and had better views of 3 of these large finches. Success!
Ran an Optics Day in the visitor centre today, but managed half an hour in Robbie's Hide before I started, noting a green woodpecker, goldfinch and 4 bullfinch as I walked down. The tide was high, but numbers of waders flew past in search of higher ground - dunlin, knot, grey plover, black tailed godwit, redshank, curlew. A flock of 1,000+ brent geese flew up from fields opposite, while on the river there were 500+ shelduck, 6+ red breasted merganser, a distant great northern diver, great crested grebe and a pair of goldeneye. A Mediterranean gull flew past; but the surprise sighting was a common seal that swam past towards the estuary. Later, from the visitor centre I spotted 3 common buzzard, 12+ little egret, male and female great spotted woodpecker visiting the bird feeders, 1+ kestrel, 1+ marsh harrier and a stunning barn owl hunting the rough grassland in front of the centre in the late afternoon sun.
south of Colchester
A bit of a local 'twitch' to get the year list going. Started at West Mersea with 3 great northern diver and 8 common scoter off Victoria Esplanade; 10 red breasted merganser off Dabchicks car park; an immature peregrine chasing a redshank that took evasive action a couple of times by diving in the water along Monkey Beach; and a song thrush by St Peter's Well. Next 3 stops were at different viewpoints across Abberton Reservoir where we added 7 smew (incl 1 male), 2 Egyptian geese, an immature shag,, 400+ teal, 2 ruff and c60 lapwing. At nearby Abbotts Hall Farm we found the hoped-for drake ring necked duck on the Lake, 40+ goldfinch, 10+ linnet, c10 fieldfare, 8 red breasted merganser on the channel, but sadly no sign of the glossy ibis on the saltmarsh. Last stop was at Copt Hall in the hope of spotting a barn owl to round the day off, but not today!
Guided walk @ Howlands Marsh
Shortly after starting our walk we had our first view of a common buzzard soaring across, followed later by another single bird and then 3 together. Along Flag Creek we noted shelduck, wigeon, teal, curlew, redshank, oystercatcher, dunlin, grey plover, lapwing, black tailed godwit and a few brent geese. An adult male marsh harrier flew across the creek and over the nearby reedbed; and through the telescope we could just about make out a distant flock of 50+ avocet. Continuing our walk we noted a large flock of geese grazing in a field. Through a gap in the hedge we could see that the majority were Canada geese and greylags, but careful checking also revealed 4 barnacle geese and a single white fronted goose. Nice! We also saw jay and kestrel and heard the explosive calls of a Cetti;s warbler; and in a sheltered bramble patch 2 red admirals made the most of the late autumn sunshine.
A beautiful cold sunny morning for a visit the grey seal colony on the beach at Horsey Gap on the E Norfolk coast. In late autumn the adult females grey seals come ashore to give birth. We were not disappointed. There were lots of females all along the beach, plenty of fluffy white pups (including one still with wet fur, less than an hour old), and several males hanging around just offshore. The pups are just sooo cute - fluffy and white, big dark eyes, smiley face ... What's not to like!
A lovely and successful morning spent at the Ouse Washes RSPB reserve. Started with a tree sparrow by the barn near the car park, plus at least 2 song thrush and 16 goldfinch. Viewing from the hides produced wigeon, teal, 500+ lapwing, 50+ golden plover, 5 ruff, 2 dunlin, mute swan, c20 whooper swan, shoveler, gadwall, pintail, 2 common buzzard, a kingfisher, 2 kestrel, marsh harrier, reed bunting, 5 redpoll flew over calling, 12 fieldfare and a stock dove. However, the highlight was the amazing sight and sound of 30 common cranes flying in and landing, walking around for a while and then flying off again into the distance. Magic!
E Dorset/W Hampshire
A few days' break visiting friends included a number of birding trips too:- 46 spoonbill, stonechat and 12 sika deer at Arne; 2 cattle egret, a first winter grey phalarope, 2 greenshank, 40+ turnstone and Cetti's warbler at Pennington Marsh; Mediterranean gull, 30+ pintail, 2 spotted redshank, 6 greenshank, peregrine, 2 ruff, kingfisher and water rail at Keyhaven Marshes; 2 stonechat, 6+ goldcrest, 2+ firecrest, chiffchaff, blackcap, 3 red admiral and a speckled wood at Durlston Country Park; 2 sandwich tern, Mediterranean gull, 10 black necked grebe and a red breasted merganser at Knoll Beach; 2+ nuthatch, bullfinch, 100+ siskin, 2+ treecreeper, great views of a Cetti's warbler, grey wagtail, a pink footed goose in among the greylags, a pair of goldeneye and a green sandpiper at Blashford Lakes.
Duck ID Course
Spent the day leading a Duck ID course for Essex Wildlife Trust at Abbotts Hall Farm. Started with a classroom session, and then went for a walk to the Lake Hide to put some of the theory into practice. There were plenty of mallard plus tufted duck, gadwall, teal and wigeon, but there was also one odd looking duck in with the tufties. Everything suggested a male ring necked duck (a vagrant from North America), but having been caught out in the past by a hybrid I was a little more cautious this time. We all had great views of this bird, and there was plenty of discussion and excitement and photos taken. Subsequently it was confirmed as the real deal. You couldn't write it - finding a rare duck on a duck ID course! After lunch we drove to Abberton Reservoir in search of more duck species and added shoveler, pochard, goldeneye, pintail and shelduck. All in all a pretty successful day!
Joined the warden for a boat trip around Hamford Water. A bit grey and drizzly, but a great way to spend a couple of hours. Highlights included c20 little egret, 6 marsh harrier, 2 common buzzard, 100+ brent geese, assorted waders including 1,000+ golden plover, a few wigeon and teal, shelduck and a distant kingfisher perched on a jetty at the end of Horsey Island. However, the real stars of the show were the common seals with c40 seen, including several quite inquisitive juveniles.
A rather misty and murky morning for our guided walk, but still pleasantly warm. The hedgerow and scrub below the car park held chiffchaff, goldcrest, long tailed tit, robin, blue tit and goldfinch, though we couldn't find the redstart reported earlier; and a Cetti's warbler called loudly near the brook. A sparrowhawk flew past; and a common buzzard was spotted sitting on the back hedge. A grey wagtail flew over calling; and at least 2 kestrels were noted, including one with jesses on its legs. Three turnstones on the seawall slope by the sluice were joined by a purple sandpiper. From the hide overlooking the Scrape we noted curlew (24), lapwing, black tailed godwit (1), little stint (1 juvenile), wigeon, teal, cormorant and a grey heron. All in all a pretty successful morning!
A lovely warm sunny morning at one of Essex's bird migration hotspots. Nothing particularly rare, but highlights included long tailed tit (c20), blackcap (10+), goldcrest (10+), sparrowhawk (1), Cetti's warbler (2), chiffchaff (8+), pied flycatcher (2 - and one posed quite nicely for the camera!), spotted flycatcher (1), jay (5), great spotted woodpecker (1), redstart (1 female type), several meadow pipit flyovers, green woodpecker (1), swallow (2), kestrel (1) and a small group of brent geese flying south offshore.
Gt Holland Pits
A nice afternoon mooch around the nature reserve. A couple of mixed tit flocks were noted, including family groups of long tailed tits; and at least 12 chiffchaffs were encountered around the site. A common buzzard was mobbed by corvids as it drifted through their airspace. Mallards and moorhens on the Lake were joined by 4 mandarins (including one adult male); and a red underwing moth fluttered past the hide. Small birds moving along the elm hedge included at least 3 blackcaps, a goldcrest and the pleasant surprise of a spotted flycatcher. Whilst watching these a male tawny owl hooted from the nearby scrub, but remained unseen.
A lunch stop at Mistley Walls proved to be a good choice! The tide was high, so no mud for waders, but gulls drifting just off from the Walls included an adult yellow legged gull and a first winter Mediterranean gull. Nice! Scanning from Mistley Quay was rewarded with 2 common buzzards over the far side of the river and then an osprey flying around near Stutton Mill, though it soon disappeared from view. A quick stop in Spinnels Road (Wrabness) added 4 turtle doves on overhead wires.
A bit of a flying visit as I only had an hour to spare, but still manage to see some great birds. Started at Wigborough Bay, where water levels were quite low, so good for waders. I counted 99 black tailed godwit, at least 2 redshank, 15 ruff, 4 avocet and a little ringed plover; and eventually picked out the pectoral sandpiper creeping around on the muddy edge (present for the previous few days). Teal and shoveler numbers were increasing; and a juvenile spoonbill was standing on a mudbar. I then drove round to Abberton Church to scan from the nearby viewing screen. A couple of common terns and a marsh harrier were noted; and after a few minutes the 2 juvenile red necked phalaropes came into view. Success!
Started with a walk round the reserve where flocks of goldfinches were busy feeding on seed heads, occasional yellow wagtails called as they flew overhead, and kestrel and sparrowhawk cruised past. Hide Bay was 'busy' with lots of coot and various duck species - mallard, shoveler, gadwall, tufted duck, pochard. Several grey herons stood around the edge of the bay and were joined by a gleaming great white egret. Lots of swallows were feeding over the water alongside common terns and 2 rather smart juvenile black terns. From Gwen's Hide we noted 18 Egyptian geese, 3 black tailed godwit and 2 common sandpiper. After lunch at Layer Breton Causeway, where marsh harrier was added to the day's list, we scanned Wigborough Bay in search of garganey, but heat haze hampered viewing and we failed to find any. However, we did spot 2 redshank, 3 greenshank, 5 black tailed godwit, several teal, single wigeon and a rather odd-looking leucistic female red crested pochard. Our visit finished with 2 young little ringed plover from Layer de la Haye Causeway.
A couple of hours at Holland Haven started at the dipping pond being entertained by 3 slightly elusive water voles. Sweet!! A few migrant hawkers patrolled the trees at the back of the pond. A wander round the Country Park produced signs of early migration - 3 whinchats near the wooden hide and a clouded yellow along the track. There was a nice mix of waders on the Scrape - including singles of ruff, wood sandpiper, common sandpiper and black tailed godwit. Numbers of swallow and house martin were feeding around the sewage works and were panicked somewhat when a sparrowhawk dashed through.
It's always nice to see new species on your local patch (and frustrating when you can't find them!). For a couple of weeks water voles had been reported (and photographed) on the pond at Holland Haven. I'd been a few times without success, but worth another try today! Patience, they say, is a virtue! During the first hour (!) I had two brief sightings of a water vole (at least I'd seen it!); as well as hearing Cetti's warbler and greenfinch, a kestrel flew across, and 2 siskins disappeared in to a willow but continued calling. Then the water voles decided to put on a show, with at least 3 individuals performing well for the next 45 minutes - and lots of photos later I had to leave! The supporting cast included 2 brown hawkers (which refused to settle), small red eyed damselfly and red admiral.
Mistley Walls & Colne Point
Not the most obvious combination of places to visit! But there was a reason - local sightings reports - yellow legged gull at Mistley Walls and southern migrant hawker (a new species of dragonfly for me) at Colne Point sewage works. Parked up at Mistley Walls and quite soon picked out the adult yellow legged gull among other resting gulls out on the mud before it flew off (it returned later). Also noted black tailed godwit (c200, mostly in summer plumage), redshank, curlew, oystercatcher, little egret (10+), Canada geese (65!) and shelduck (including 3 family groups).
After a picnic lunch we headed for Colne Point and parked by the sewage works. A number of swallows were hawking for insects, and we heard a distant corn bunting and yellow wagtail. Butterflies were enjoying the bramble - lots of gatekeepers, red admiral and small skipper. We stood by the bridge overlooking a ditch and reedy area and soon spotted a very blue dragonfly. It was very mobile, patrolling along the ditch, but as it flew towards us and got closer we could clearly see its blue eyes - southern migrant hawker (the alternative name is blue eyed hawker - well named!). Eventually it landed on a reed stem close to us, but was quickly buzzed off by a ruddy darter. The hawker returned to the same stem and settled for a minute - until seen off again by the darter. This continued for several minutes until the hawker gave up and flew across the reeds and disappeared from view. Success! And some nice photos too!
Guided Walk @ Stour Wood
Our main targets were some of the special butterflies of this RSPB woodland, though we were hoping for a few birds too (and some good photo opportunities!). Almost the first thing we saw as we set off was a white admiral (target No.1 - check!). Lots of ringlets and meadow browns flitted and danced around the bracken; and then a large orange butterfly appeared - silver washed fritillary (target No.2 - check!) - and it settled long enough for a few photos to be taken. Further sightings of white admiral followed (maybe 4 individuals) and possibly a different silver washed fritillary, as well as large white, small white, red admiral, speckled wood, gatekeeper and comma. Birds included: blackcap, treecreeper, song thrush, green woodpecker and chiffchaff.
Glow worms were on my bucket list of species to see, so an organised Glow Worm Walk (EWT) at Cockaynes Wood seemed like a good opportunity. As light levels fell we began our search for 'little green lights' in the grasses (it's the rear end of the female beetles that glows as she advertises for a mate). I didn't really know what to expect and was glad I was with people who knew what they were looking for or I'm sure I would have missed them - not unlike the glowing embers of a discarded cigarette, but green! Success! After seeing several we returned to the weighbridge where a moth trap had been set up. Species here included: black arches, swallowtail, pine hawkmoth, tussock, leopard, large yellow underwing, mother of pearl, peppered, July highflyer ... An very enjoyable evening out; and another one off my bucket list!
A bit cloudy for a butterfly morning, but quite warm and with some brighter spells it was worth a try! Several other people were already there when we arrived, gathered at the gateway and pointing at a car! Then we realised there was a purple emperor (butterfly) sitting on the front of the car! The main target of our visit seen within 10 seconds of arriving! How easy was that?!! We watched it for a while, marvelling at the iridescent purple as the light caught the wings; and then decided to go for a walk around the wood. Birds were in short supply - we heard chiffchaff, nuthatch and marsh tit[/b], and a group of [b]long tailed tits flew across the path. We had two more purple emperor sightings, as well as purple hairstreak, ringlet, meadow brown, small skipper, large skipper, large white and gatekeeper (though sadly no hoped-for silver washed fritillary); and we also noted several common spotted orchids now past their best.
We started at Upper Hollesley Common, where some of the heather was coming into flower with patches of pinky purple catching the eye. We noted various species of butterfly - small copper, meadow brown, small heath, red admiral, large white, silver studded blue. The scratchy song of Dartford warbler was heard in two areas, and after patiently waiting we were rewarded with brief views of both birds. A mistle thrush 'rattled' as it flew overhead, and a woodlark wandered along the path ahead of us before flying off, but bird of the day was probably the stunning male redstart that gave good (if rather distant) views. A common lizard scuttling along the sand looked a little odd until we realised it was missing half its tail.
We then moved on to the RSPB reserve at Hollesley Marshes, where we added more butterfly species - comma, peacock, ringlet, large skipper , small tortoiseshell. Birds included spoonbill (2), avocet (including 12 chicks), black tailed godwit (3), ruff (2 males), ringed plover, lapwing, shelduck, grey heron, marsh harrier (male & female), a cuckoo being chased by meadow pipits, swallow, teal (3), gadwall and Cetti's warbler (heard only).
An enjoyable morning spent leading a "Wildlife & Photography" course at Fingringhoe Wick. After a classroom session sharing some hints and tips on taking and improving wildlife photos we spent most of the time out on the nature reserve putting the theory into practice. Birds played hard to get, though we heard blackcap, chiffchaff, garden warbler and cuckoo. Interesting plants included white bryony, common centaury, ragwort hosting cinnabar moth caterpillars and a nearby adult, honeysuckle and plenty of bramble in flower. This attracted several butterfly species, including meadow brown and comma, as well as various bees and hoverflies. The ponds held various dragonfly species (always a challenge to photograph) - four spotted chaser, emperor, ruddy darter, azure damselfly, small red eyed damselfly. All in all a good day; and I think everyone went home with plenty of photos to process!!
Gt Holland Pits EWT reserve
It was a lovely warm and sunny morning so I decided to go on a butterfly hunt! And I wasn't disappointed - meadow brown, comma (10+), red admiral, green veined white, small skipper, ringlet, white admiral (4+), white letter hairstreak (2+ and highlight of my visit as I haven't seen them for a few years), holly blue. I also noted several damselflies (large red, azure, blue tailed and emerald), as well as black tailed skimmer; and there were a few birds too - jay, song thrush, common buzzard, kestrel, chiffchaff, blackcap, great spotted woodpecker, bullfinch.
Lackford Lakes SWT
A peacock strutting around the visitor centre looked a little out of place! As we walked round we had brief views of a Cetti's warbler and heard several others; and watched an adult willow warbler feeding a couple of juveniles. Other birds included chiffchaff, common tern, Egyptian geese, sedge warbler and a few swift overhead. Dragonflies included emperor, black tailed skimmer and four spotted chaser[/b]; and butterflies [b]brimstone, small tortoiseshell, speckled wood, meadow brown and red admiral. We also noted southern marsh orchid and bee orchid. However, the star was a kingfisher that brought a fish to the nest site in front of the visitor centre while we were sitting there having a cup of tea. What a great way to end our visit!
Weeting Heath NWT
A visit to the Brecks in search of stone curlews! Our target species was soon located with 2 stone curlews sitting/standing/walking around in front of West Hide - not particularly close views, but not hindered by any heat haze this morning! There was lots of activity at the feeders and drinking/bathing pool in front of the Woodland Hide - blue tit and great tit families, yellowhammer, chaffinch, goldfinch, chiffchaff, great spotted woodpecker family, coal tit, blackbird (lots of photos taken!). Other species noted included swallow, kestrel, common buzzard, swift, mistle thrush, goldcrest, marsh tit, skylark, lapwing, rook and jackdaw. However, the surprise find was 2 large, vocal tawny owlets in the woodland next to East Hide.
We had a lovely sunny morning for our Guided Walk round the EWT nature reserve at Wrabness. The first bird noted was a nightingale singing by the car park as we set off. Not a bad start! Whitethroats seemed to be everywhere, with at least 8 seen. Our first turtle dove performed right on cue, purring and preening in low bushes close to the track. We tore ourselves away and noted song thrush, chiffchaff, great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, 2 more turtle doves, swift, common buzzard low overhead, stock dove coming out of one of the barn owl nest boxes, little egret, kestrel and a family party of long tailed tits. We heard 2 more nightingales, as well as Cetti's warbler, lesser whitethroat and cuckoo. Butterflies included holly blue, meadow brown and red admiral. A very pleasant and successful morning!
Well overdue a visit to Minsmere! After a brief stop at Sizewell Beach to see the many kittiwakes nesting on the offshore rigs we made our way to the reserve. Avocets were evident on the Scrape, but sadly no chicks were seen. Other waders included redshank, lapwing, oystercatcher, turnstone, ringed plover and little ringed plover. Hundreds of black headed gulls were nesting on the islands, with numbers of common tern and Mediterranean gull in among them. Several pairs of feral barnacle geese had goslings, as did an escaped pair of bar headed geese. We spent some time in Bittern Hide hoping to see the purple heron and red footed falcon (neither of which showed for us!), but we did have several sightings of marsh harriers and hobby hunting across the reedbeds, and 5 sightings of bittern (4 flight views of probably the same bird and once in the reeds). Several southern marsh orchids were in flower along the path to Island Mere Hide, but it was too windy to hear the Savi's warbler reeling. Maybe a little disappointed by what we didn't see rather than what we did, but still a nice day!
My usual walk today - from Frinton Golf Club to Holland Haven and back. Swallows and house martins were hawking for insects around the Waylings beach huts. Every few metres along the reed-lined ditch by the gold course there was a reed bunting or a reed warbler proclaiming its territory in song. Walking through the country park I noted sedge warbler, whitethroat, skylark, meadow pipit and linnet. There was very little on view on the Scrape - shelducks (including ducklings) and redshanks, but noticeably no avocets. Butterflies included common blue, small tortoiseshell, meadow brown and red admiral; and there were also 2 cream spot tiger (moths). I noted a few dragonflies - four spotted chaser and hairy dragonfly - but also found my first ever red veined darter (a migrant species) and managed to get a few photos too.
Was this my chance to finally lay my bogey bird to rest?!! News of a singing male quail at Earls Colne for several days was tempting, but we went with more hope than expectation (and good directions)! We noted two male yellowhammers singing from the hedgerows and several house martins gather mud from a puddle on the track before flying off to their nests on nearby houses. Soon we heard the distinctive sound of the quail singing from somewhere in the first crop field. He'd sing for a while, then stop, and then start again from somewhere else, but we didn't see him move. At times he was soooooo close! Maybe 5m, but we still couldn't spot him. Still my bogey bird!! Maybe he was on the other side of the hedge! We tried another track, and again got very close. A small brown bird flew away along the track, but initially I thought it was a skylark as the wings looked quite long. Then I realised it might be the quail, so we walked further along the grassy track. Suddenly we stopped - there he was standing in the middle of a tyre track! We watched him singing and I managed to grab a couple of record photos before he ran away along the track and off into the crop field. Success!!! I thought we'd hear it, hoped we'd see it in flight, but never dreamt we'd see it on the ground - brilliant! At last!!
Gt Holland Pits
I was invited to join a dormouse survey team at Gt Holland Pits nature reserve this morning. What a privilege! Most tubes were empty, but 12 had nests in; and I got to see my first ever dormouse (and second, third, fourth and fifth!!). Soooooo cute!! Cuckoo kept calling in the sunshine as we walked round, as well as chiffchaff and blackcap, a pair of common buzzards soared up above the trees, and we also heard a nightingale. Other wildlife highlights included a pair of hairy dragonflies mating, mother shipton and bloodvein moths, speckled wood and green hairstreak butterflies, and tree and early bumblebees. What a morning!!
Guided Walk @ The Naze
On a warm, sunny morning we started by looking up at the cliff below the Naze Tower watching sand martins whizzing in and out of their nest holes in the cliff sands. A female green woodpecker flew down and landed on the undercliff giving excellent scope views. As we walked among the bushes we found numerous whitethroats, as well as lesser whitethroat, chiffchaff and blackcap, as also heard the explosive song of a Cetti's warbler. Along the beach we noted a small flock of dunlin (with their black belly patches of summer plumage) and sanderling. Butterflies enjoying the sunshine included small heath, small copper and orange tip. A couple of swallows were hawking around the Visitor Centre as we returned; and we spent some time watching house martins collecting nesting mud from puddles in the car park - a great way to finish our walk.
A lovely wander along the seawall to Holland Haven started with swallow and house martin around the Waylings; followed by reed warbler, reed bunting and 3 wheatear along by the golf course. Vocal sedge warbler and whitethroat declared their presence; and numbers of skylark and meadow pipit were evident around the Country Park. Highlights from the hide overlooking the Scrape included 15 avocet, 3 dunlin, 7 whimbrel, a first winter Mediterranean gull, 2 distant common buzzard, shelduck, shoveler and teal.
An afternoon visit to the Larch Wood hides. Groups of tufted ducks and greylag geese weren't doing very much, but a few great crested grebes were beginning to pair up, and a rather grumpy-looking grey heron stood motionless at the water's edge. Numbers of robin, blue tit and great tit were quite vocal in the woodland. We also encountered a dainty little goldcrest and a great spotted woodpecker. The feeders by the hide were still quite busy with chaffinch, blue tit, great tit, long tailed tit, a couple of coal tits; and 4 grey squirrels searched for scraps on the ground beneath. A sharp call alerted us to the presence of a kingfisher nearby, and soon we located it sitting on the end of an overhanging branch. On the walk back we noted a mistle thrush and a small group of fieldfares.
Guided Walk at Mistley Walls & Quay
A successful guided walk, with the sun coming out by the time we finished. We started as Mistley Walls where we noted lots of shelduck and a good variety of waders - avocet, black tailed godwit, redshank, knot, curlew, dunlin, turnstone and oystercatcher. We paused at the eastern end of the Walls to have a good look at a patch of spring flowers starting to bloom - aconite, snowdrop and crocus; where we also noted goldfinch, long tailed tit, song thrush and a flyover grey wagtail. Moving on to Mistley Quay we found the mute swans with a single black swan among them; as well as pintail, little grebe, a few goldeneye, an Egyptian goose, little egret, grey heron, pied wagtail; and the highlight of the day was a kingfisher perched at the west end of the quay.
Estuary Birdwatching Weekend
Helped to lead a birding weekend with Fellowship Afloat based on the "Trinity" lightship at Tollesbury, including giving the talk on Friday evening. On Saturday we woke to a light covering of snow and had a short pre-breakfast walk to overlook Tollesbury Wick. Then we drove to the Abberton Reservoir causeways, where it was still snowing and bitterly cold, and highlights included smew (5), goosander, goldeneye, pochard and tufted duck; before heading on to Fingringhoe Wick. From the visitor centre we noted marsh harrier (2), little egret, great spotted woodpecker (pair), common buzzard (2), reed bunting and brief flight views of a glossy ibis; before walking out to Margaret Hide overlooking the new intertidal area. Waders here included golden plover, knot, curlew, ringed plover, avocet (100+), as well as teal, wigeon, shelduck, goosander (pair), brent geese and little grebe. On the journey back we stopped at Copt Hall in the hope of seeing barn owl, but had to settle for fieldfare, redwing, song thrush, curlew and lapwing. Then it was back to "Trinity" for a superb dinner and another evening talk.
On Sunday we had a pre-breakfast birdwatch from the ship's helideck and noted sparrowhawk, marsh harrier (2), common buzzard and brief views of a barn owl. After another walk to scan across Tollesbury Wick we kitted up and boarded the launch "Sanderling" for a boat trip to birdwatch along Tollesbury Channel and Salcott Channel. Highlights included the spectacle of big flocks of mixed waders, avocet (c200), marsh harrier (2+), pintail, red breasted merganser (c30), guillemot (1), great northern diver (1), shag (1 adult), great crested grebe and a merlin to finish with.
All in all a very successful and enjoyable weekend with a great group of people and great food (including lots of cake!!).
Guided walk @ Moverons, Brightlingsea
A lovely sunny morning with just a gentle breeze. The finch/bunting flock by the farm contained chaffinch, reed bunting and linnet, plus robin, dunnock and blue tit! A tiny (and rather vocal) goldcrest flitted through the hedge; and we saw (and later heard) a stunningly yellow male yellowhammer. Skylarks made the most of such a nice morning and several rose up singing above the fields. A pair of stonechats were flying to and fro from a fence to feed in among the sheep, along with several pied wagtails. The tide was out when we reached Alresford Creek, but there were parties of wigeon and teal, and several wader species on view - redshank, curlew, black tailed godwit, grey plover, lapwing, oystercatcher; as well as more distant flocks of brent geese. I'd just mentioned that it was perfect conditions for raptors to be taking to the air when we noted a male marsh harrier; and then a common buzzard, then 2, then 4, then ... until we had 11 buzzards up together over the woods; and then just for good measure a sparrowhawk flew through as well! Brilliant! On the walk back to the cars we noted a green woodpecker; and a kestrel to round off a successful morning's birding.
20.12.16 The Naze
A rather grey day, but a nice walk along the seawall on the west side of The Naze. Numbers of teal, brent geese, waders (including curlew, bar tailed godwit, turnstone and avocet), and a little egret lined the water's edge of the Walton Channel; and a loose group of 13 little grebes mingled around the junction with The Twizzle. Two marsh harriers and a common buzzard cruised and sparred with each other over Horsey Island. A common seal surfaced briefly; and a small flock of linnets fed on seeds among the seawall vegetation. However, the highlight was undoubtedly the group of 5 long tailed ducks I encountered as I walked back, which gave stunning close views. Brilliant!
13.11.16 Hamford Water
A sunny but cold morning spent exploring Hamford Water by boat. The star was a little auk first spotted as we left Titchmarsh Marina, and still there when we returned, giving us close views as it dived around the pontoons. Brent geese and assorted wildfowl and waders moved around the saltmarsh with the rising tide. Two common scoter were spotted in the channel ahead of us, then a velvet scoter, red breasted merganser and the first of at least 13 long tailed duck. This is a scarce winter visitor to Essex, so we were delighted by multiple sightings; with groups of 3, 5 and 5 were seen at the same time. Raptors included at least 6 marsh harrier, 2 common buzzard, 2 kestrel and a merlin. Not forgetting 14 common seals hauled out on the mud or in the water. And a kingfisher as we moored back at the Marina. All in all a pretty fantastic morning's birding.
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21.9.16 The Naze
A fun day leading a Bird Migration Course at The Naze. An easterly breeze and early morning drizzle resulted in good numbers of migrating birds making landfall and busy feeding as they moved through the bushes. Common species such as robin, chiffchaff, whitethroat, lesser whitethroat and blackcap were well-represented (apparently even bigger numbers were seen by birders out earlier than us!); and we also found singles of pied flycatcher, whinchat and stonechat. Offshore we noted small groups of newly-arrived brent geese from Arctic Russia heading further south. A sizeable mixed flock of dunlin and sanderling moved along the beach as they were disturbed by the rising tide. Several red admiral and speckled wood butterflies made the most of the autumn sunshine; and numbers of swallow and house martin were busy feeding around the Naze Tower.
14.9.16 Abbotts Hall Farm
A lovely day spent leading a "New to Birdwatching" day course at Abbotts Hall Farm (Essex Wildlife Trust). After an initial classroom session looking at some of the basics and theory we then enjoyed pre- and post-lunch walks around the reserve in the sunshine! Bird highlights started with a common buzzard circling up higher on a thermal, followed by an amazing covey of at least 18 grey partridge along the edge of a recently harvested field. So nice to see such a group of this increasingly rare species. From the Wetland Hide we noted 8 species of wader (including 8 spotted redshank, grey plover and golden plover) and then 6 species of duck from the Lake Hide (including wigeon, teal and gadwall), as well as little egret and Cetti's warbler. Other species seen included kestrel, little egret, green woodpecker and great spotted woodpecker. I think a good day was had by all!
2.9.16 Guided walk @ Holland Haven
We started our walk checking out the Dell area, where an elusive wryneck had spent the previous day, but apart from a juvenile whitethroat and a spotted flycatcher flycatching from some dead branches it was all rather quiet, so we moved on. Numbers of pied wagtails were running around in the car park; and swallows were gathering on the overhead wires. After further views of the (or possibly another) spotted flycatcher near the viewing platform we came across a mixed flock of small birds moving through the bushes - long tailed tit, blue tit, goldfinch, willow warbler, lesser whitethroat, blackcap, goldcrest. The warblers in particular were busy feeding up in preparation for their long journeys south. As we walked round towards the hide overlooking the Scrape we noted a kestrel hovering and heard a kingfisher call twice from somewhere along the Brook, but we didn't see it. The Scrape itself was almost dried out, so there were no ducks or waders, but a number of birds were resting there - gulls, cormorant, lapwing, stock dove, rook, jackdaw. We also noted a common buzzard sitting on a fence post beyond the Scrape and a pochard (an unusual record for this site) in the pool to the right of the hide. We continued our walk and paused near the pillbox for good views of a wheatear, which then became 2, and then 3 wheatears! We finished with another unsuccessful look for the wryneck. Maybe it had moved on - and so did we!!
Parking in the Co-op car park at Manningtree we walked west along the riverbank, where several stands of tansy were just going over and grasshoppers leapt in all directions as we passed. The tide was well down, and few birds seemed to be actively feeding. Indeed, the largest gathering was a group of white 'lumps' standing on Hogmarsh Island across the channel. Checking through these the majority (47) were clean white little egrets, but 3 of them stood out as looking more 'grubby white'. These were our target - spoonbills. However, they were doing what spoonbills do best - sleeping!! As we watched each in turn woke up, stretched, preened briefly showing its 'spoon' bill, and went back to sleep. The only other bird of note was a common sandpiper creeping along the muddy edge. Stops at Mistley Walls (for ice creams) and Mistley Quay added greenshank and black swan to the day's rather short bird list
30.8.16 Walton Hall Marshes
On this warm and sunny afternoon we decided to take a walk from Foundry Yard, following the seawall along Walton Channel, and overlooking the Walton Hall Marshes. Even better when we found they'd recently mown the paths! Numbers of redshank and oystercatcher (including a pair with 2 well-grown juveniles) were feeding along the Channel. The fields and grazing marsh were very dry, but a couple of pools remained and held black tailed godwit (39), ruff (3), snipe (2), greenshank (1), teal (16+), grey heron (2). We found several migrant birds perching on the fence wires - wheatear (8), whinchat (2) and yellow wagtail (6+). Scanning across the saltmarsh we noted groups of golden plover (160+ in total, many still sporting the black bellies of breeding plumage) and sandwich tern (2). As we headed back an adult female marsh harrier drifted across, and we watched until she disappeared from view
18.8.16 Holland Haven
A warm, sunny morning with a moderate east breeze was a good excuse for a visit to my local patch in search of migrant birds. Swallows and house martins were busy feeding around the cottages, and a juvenile green woodpecker 'laughed' as it flew off. Two speckled wood butterflies fluttered in a dappled clearing; and a wasp spider lurked on its web in the tall grasses by the sewage works. There was very little water left in the Scrape, but still enough for a nice selection of waders - ruff (1 juv), lapwing (4), common sandpiper (3), dunlin (1), greenshank (1), little stint (1 juv). At least 4 wheatears moved along the track ahead of us; and a clouded yellow put in a brief appearance. A baled field on the grazing marsh held stock dove (4+), curlew (c50) and whimbrel (4). Dragonflies included emperor and common darter, and butterflies meadow brown and large white.
28.7.16 Cockaynes Wood
A nice sunny morning spent at Cockaynes Wood near Alresford. The sunshine certainly brought the butterflies out - meadow brown, gatekeeper, small white, peacock, comma, speckled wood, red admiral, ringlet. Dragonflies too - common darter, brown hawker, emperor. Birds included jay, great spotted and green woodpecker, chiffchaff, long tailed tit, yellowhammer, linnet, common buzzard, reed bunting and little grebe. However, the highlight for me was watching the various mining bees and wasps buzzing in and out of their holes in the sandy paths - including stunning tiny ruby tailed wasps.
16.7.16 St Osyth
OK - so I do "twitch" occasionally!! News of a woodchat shrike locally was worth the short drive - albeit rather late in the day! A few other local birders were there when I arrived and pointed out where it had been but reported that it had disappeared and not been seen for a while. I feared the worst! However, we waited and after a few minutes it re-appeared in the hedge. Not the best views in the world, but still a new species for my British list, so well-pleased! Also nice to hear the jangling calls of singing corn buntings whilst watching the shrike.
15.7.16 Holland Haven
A very productive hour at Holland Haven this afternoon. Plenty of waders to scan through and identify on the Scrape - 25+ avocet (including several juveniles), 5 dunlin, 2 common sandpiper, 1 juvenile little ringed plover, 1 adult curlew sandpiper (still in striking brick-red breeding plumage), 2 male ruff, 2 black tailed godwit and 2 lapwing. Also female mallard with 9 ducklings, 2 juvenile shelduck, 19 teal, 1 garganey, 1 female shoveler, 1 little egret and 1 juvenile marsh harrier. Continuing around the Country Park I also noted reed bunting, linnet, meadow pipit, skylark, swallow, goldfinch and a surprise juvenile whinchat.
12.7.16 Hythe Lagoons & Fingringhoe Wick
Morning visit to Hythe Lagoons (Colchester) where the highlight was the reeling song of at least 2 grasshopper warblers (plus brief views of one of them). Also several vocal sedge warblers and whitethroats, common buzzard, reed bunting and linnet. Several ducks and waders from the viewing screen - lapwing, green sandpiper, black tailed godwit, ruff, shoveler, teal, tufted duck. Surprise was a grey wagtail on the quayside. Then on to Fingringhoe Wick EWT reserve where highlights included purring turtle dove, tufted ducklings, chiffchaff, blackcap, great spotted woodpecker, black tailed godwit (c200), bar tailed godwit (3), avocet (4), spotted redshank (1), greenshank (1), common tern (10), little tern (2), little grebe families.
23.6.16 Minsmere RSPB
A nice visit to Minsmere RSPB reserve on the Suffolk coast. Highlights included southern marsh orchids in bloom beside the paths near Island Mere Hide, and then marsh harrier, bearded tit and hobby from that hide; young sand martins peeping out from the nest holes near the pond, where there were also azure, blue tailed and variable damselflies; stone curlew, green woodpecker and red deer on the heath near North Wall; lots of nesting black headed gull, avocet, common tern and Mediterranean gull on East Scrape, along with barnacle goose, shoveler, ruff, black tailed godwit, teal, gadwall and kittiwake. The rain started just as we were walking back to the car!
21.6.16 Gt Holland Pits EWT
Warm and sunny today and lots of birds singing - chiffchaff, blackcap, lesser whitethroat, cuckoo, bullfinch, nightingale (1 croaking) and at least 4 song thrushes. A few butterflies noted - meadow brown, holly blue, speckled wood and large skipper. Also brimstone caterpillars. A fox wandered across the path; and 2 mandarins flew off as I approached one of the ponds. Great spotted and green woodpeckers and jays were calling and flying among the trees. I met the warden, and he mentioned that a kingfisher had been seen. As I got back near the lake I heard kingfisher calling so returned to the hide, where I heard them again and had the briefest view of 2 chasing past the hide. Maybe they're nesting somewhere nearby. The warden also gave me directions to find mullein moth caterpillars, which I duly found and photographed!
20.6.16 Fingringhoe Wick EWT
What a day! Heavy rain all morning, easing a bit after lunch and then sunshine and showers. At least there were hides to shelter in!! Started at the Lake with tufted duck and little grebe, at least 14 little egrets roosting in the trees at the water's edge, bullfinch pair, a few flyover swifts and 3 turtle doves. The woodland held great spotted woodpecker, jay, nightingale, chiffchaff, blackcap and a distant cuckoo. From Matt's Hide we scanned across the new breached area and noted several common terns (including 3 chicks on the islands), 3 fishing little terns, 5 bar tailed godwit, curlew, grey plover and a distant common buzzard. At least 30 spikes of common spotted orchid were in bloom in one of the hollows, as well as 3 bee orchids in another area. At the scrape we noted a pair of oystercatchers with 2 chicks and 3-4 juvenile kestrels huddled in their nest box. On the way out we stopped by the sand quarry in Furneaux Road and watched the sand martins going in and out of their nest holes and also a hobby. And we didn't get too wet!!!
14.6.16 Holland Haven
A rather showery day, so the hide at Holland Haven seemed a good choice! Started at the viewing platform with sightings of lesser whitethroat, whitethroat and reed warbler, and heard the explosive song of Cetti's warbler. A little tern was fishing just offshore; and as we walked towards the hide a rather unseasonal short eared owl flew over the scrape. Avocets were in evidence, including several sat on nests, and at least 3 chicks were seen. There was a large shelduck crèche of 22 ducklings, and also a pair with 10 tiny new ducklings. Several swifts, pair of gadwall, male reed bunting and an adult Mediterranean gull were also noted. Juvenile kestrels were in the nest box on the radar mast.
29.6.16 Arne RSPB, Dorset
A rather damp and drizzly afternoon spent at Arne RSPB reserve in beautiful south Dorset. Birding was fairly hard work with only a few oystercatcher, redshank, curlew, shelduck and little egret on the marsh; a nuthatch, green woodpecker family and spotted flycatcher in the woodland; siskin and goldfinch on the feeders; and raven and sparrowhawk overhead. However, the highlight was undoubtedly provided by the sika deer - 40+ in total, including 3 young ones and several superb stags with antlers in velvet.
26.5.16 Upper Hollesley Common
Spent today around the Hollesley area in Suffolk. Started at Upper Hollesley Common where a female red footed falcon had been present for a few days. There were groups of birders dotted around the heath. The bird had apparently been performing well earlier, but had been seen to gain height and head off about 1/2 hour before we arrived!! We walked round anyway and heard a couple of woodlarks, saw 3 common buzzard, coal tit and male stonechat, and found small heath butterfly and a couple of green tiger beetles, but no falcon! We then drove to Hollesley Marshes RSPB reserve, where highlights included lots of avocets (including a chick), pintail (pair), shelduck, marsh harrier (2), greenshank (1) and lapwing. On the off chance stopped off at Upper Hollesley Common again on the way back. Well worth it!! We soon had rather distant views of a falcon, which landed briefly and turned out to be the red footed falcon. Over the next 1/2 hour we had several views of it in flight, hovering and perching on the MOD perimeter fence. Success!!
20.5.16 Strumpshaw Fen
A very pleasant hour spent at Strumpshaw Fen RSPB reserve on the way to set up my stand at Mannington Gardens for the Norfolk Bird & Wildlife Fair. It was cloudy but warm and numbers of swifts were zooming low over the reedbeds - fantastic speed and agility! A kingfisher perched in the reeds in front of the Reception Hide; but apparently I missed a white stork that flew over just after I left there!! I only had time to visit the Fen Hide; and as I walked along the path a very cute weasel ran towards me, paused and then disappeared off to the side. At least 3 willow warblers were singing in the scrub near the hide, and eventually one showed itself. Marsh harriers put on a wonderful display in front of the hide, including close views of a stunning well-marked male, and a lot of photos were being taken! The fist swallowtail of the year had been reported, but not today - all the reason I need to justify a longer visit in the near future!!
12.5.16 St Osyth
An early start! I arrived at St Osyth Beach at 7.30am and walked along the seawall towards Colne Point looking for harriers. Reed bunting, whitethroat and reed warbler sang from the reeds and brambles; while brown hare, stock dove, red legged partridge, skylark and lapwing were noted on the arable fields. Two chattering little terns flew along the shoreline; and 1-2 marsh harriers cruised across the fields. Then I glimpsed a harrier with a white rump, but it promptly disappeared! How frustrating!! Fortunately it reappeared a few minutes later, and then spent the next half hour hunting the field margins and rough grass areas, and revealed itself to be a beautiful ringtail Montagu's harrier. Well-pleased with that!
9.5.16 Abberton Reservoir
Our visit started with a walk along the old road, seeing nightingale, blackcap, whitethroat, chiffchaff, and orange tip and red admiral butterflies. Then it was off to Gwen's Hide in search of our main target - the recent black terns - and we were soon enjoying 7 black terns, beautiful in their dark breeding plumage. Scanning through the mixed common and black terns and black headed gulls feeding across the reservoir I found a distant, 'odd-looking', dark gull among them. I took notes and a few long-range photos to help with later ID. Sadly it was inconclusive, though I thought was possibly Franklin's gull, a rare visitor from America. Fortunately, it was seen a couple of days later (and subsequently by lots of people) and was confirmed as a FRANKLIN'S GULL! Excellent!
We had views of mercury's transit across the sun through a solar telescope that had been set up near the visitor centre; and then checked the area around Billets Farm. Pied and yellow wagtails were feeding and bathing, little ringed plover, singing corn bunting, a pair of Egyptian geese, a cuckoo (feeding on brown tail moth caterpillars), and 2 brown hares running and hiding in the long grass.
An exciting day out!!
3.5.16 Wrabness EWT & Colne Point EWT
A very enjoyable and productive day in the warm sunshine. I started at Wrabness, hoping for nightingale and turtle dove. Warblers were very evident with whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, sedge warbler, chiffchaff, Cetti's warbler and blackcap all active and vocal. Three nightingales were in good voice and one gave reasonable views. Best bird was undoubtedly the barn owl hunting (successfully) and later sitting on a nearby post. Brilliant! Other highlights included song thrush, yellowhammer, cuckoo, linnet, green woodpecker, 2 whimbrel, my first large red damselflies of the year and a good display of cowslips[/b]; but any turtle doves remained silent and hidden.
Then on to Colne Point, hoping for little terns. Sadly, these too kept out of my way; but I enjoyed singing [b]skylarks and reed buntings, a very brief wheatear, several common lizards basking on pieces of driftwood, an adder, and then best of all an absolutely stunning emperor moth on the bank by Jetty Hide (the first one I've ever seen!). The drive back along the lane was punctuated by short eared owl, marsh harrier, a pair of stonechats and 2 yellow wagtails.
26.4.15 Gt Holland Pits EWT
A nice stroll around the EWT reserve at Gt Holland Pits before the sleet showers swept through!! From the Lake hide there were 7-8 noisy greylag geese (including one sitting on a nest on the island), a female mallard with 8 uncontrolled little ducklings racing to all areas, a few swallows and house martins overhead, a stunning drake mandarin showing off, and a fox seen through the trees at the far side. Numbers of chiffchaff and blackcap were noted; a common buzzard drifted over; a whimbrel flew up and over from Holland Brook calling as it went; a pair of vocal kestrels chased each other; a nightingale sang from a large gorse patch and then flew across the path showing its 'rusty' tail; and I'm sure I could hear a firecrest singing by the pool behind the nissen hut (though frustratingly I couldn't locate it).
A lovely weekend birding around The Brecks - though the weather could have been kinder than a cold North wind with rain and hail showers!! Highlights included marsh harrier, cuckoo and roe deer at Lakenheath Fen; displaying great crested grebes, swallows and sand martins at Lynford Lakes; nuthatch, brambling, siskin and lesser redpoll on feeders at Santon Downham; stone curlew and grey partridge at Cavenham Heath; swift, Cetti's warbler and black necked grebe at Lackford Lakes; red kite as we drove through Mundford ...
15.4.16 Howlands Marsh EWT
Managed to find the dry 'window' between showers for our guided walk at Howlands Marsh EWT reserve at St Osyth this morning. At least 5 Cetti's warblers were very vocal and close, but apart from one very brief flight view they remained frustratingly hidden (as usual!). A stunning adult male marsh harrier was seen several times, as well as an immature male and at least one female. Other highlights included sedge warbler (2), chiffchaff (2), male blackcap, male reed bunting, whitethroat, long tailed tit, grey herons and little egrets at the heronry, breeding plumaged black tailed godwits, green woodpecker and greenshank (2).
13.4.15 Fingringhoe Wick
A beautiful warm and sunny morning for our "Birds & Photography" course at Fingringhoe Wick EWT reserve. After a short 'theory' session most of the time was spent out on the reserve putting it all into practice. Nightingales have arrived back from Africa, and we heard at least 8, with one giving good photo opportunities. Moving on we got good photos of adder (I know it's not a bird!!) and chiffchaff. We had permission to access the new reserve extension and spent some time in Margaret Hide. Most of the birds were at some distance, but we saw yellowhammers, male marsh harrier, summer-plumaged black tailed godwits, little egret, grey plover and more. A lovely morning to be out on the reserve and a successful event.
8.4.16 Local day
Another local day's birdwatching. Started at The Naze where there were several chiffchaff and blackcap, Cetti's warbler and my first swallow of the year. Then on to Howlands Marsh EWT reserve at St Osyth. Cetti's warblers shouted from several patches of reedbed; the rookery and heronry were noisy and busy; two pairs of common buzzard and one of marsh harrier made the most of the sunshine and the warmth; a lesser redpoll flew over calling; a green woodpecker collected ants on a grassy bank; and peacock butterflies and red tailed bumblebees were in evidence. Finished the day at Holland Haven Country Park where I had distant views of the overwintering rough legged buzzard, stunningly bright yellow wagtail, a white wagtail, 21 avocet and 4 black tailed godwit on the Scrape, and my second swallow of the year. A really nice day!
5.4.16 Fingringhoe Wick
Lovely day at Fingringhoe Wick EWT. Plenty of signs of spring - pussy willow, peacock butterfly, bee fly, singing chiffchaff and blackcap, bickering pairs of little grebe, the explosive song of Cetti's warbler, a very smart male marsh harrier and 2 adders on a south-facing bank. Drove home via the Abberton Reservoir causeways and added little ringed plover to my year list and the nice surprise of a red kite.
2.4.16 Spring Migration Day @ Abberton Reservoir
I joined with Swallow Birding and Essex Birdwatching Society to run a Spring Migration event, with pictures on display and co-leading the guided walks. There were skylarks everywhere, chiffchaff and blackcap singing along the old road, 2 adult Mediterranean gulls in among about 2000 black headed gulls feeding on a huge hatch-out of insects, 7 black necked grebes, 4 common buzzards; and my first comma and bee fly of the year.
1.4.16 Local birding
After a patient wander and wait in Wigboro Wick Lane, St Osyth eventually had good but brief view of the apparently overwintering ring ouzel. Then a very pleasant hour at Gt Holland Pits EWT reserve. Highlights included several newly arrived and vocal chiffchaffs, a pair of little grebes and a female mandarin on the Lake, green woodpecker, long tailed tit; and then 3 adders on a sheltered sunny bank.
30.3.16 Stow Maries
Visited the Stow Maries World War I aerodrome - what an amazing place, and great for wildlife too. Highlights included barn owl, yellowhammer, common buzzard, brown hare, sparrowhawk, little owl, chiffchaff - and we finished the day with point blank views of water vole, So cute!
23.3.16 Fingringhoe Wick
A good day running a "New to Birdwatching" day course at Fingringhoe Wick. After a power point presentation covering some of the theory we then had a walk to the Lake and plantation. Highlights included at least 3 pairs of vocal little grebes, tufted duck, teal and a singing male reed bunting at the Lake, and then male great spotted woodpecker, a couple of singing chiffchaffs, goldfinch, goldcrest, long tailed tit and at least 3 coal tits in the woodland. After lunch we birdwatched the estuary. Some of the birds really co-operated with dunlin and knot in the same view for easier comparison, and then black tailed and bar tailed godwits together as well. We also found male and female marsh harrier, kestrel, shelduck, redshank, curlew, grey plover, great crested grebe, but oddly no avocets today.
21.3.16 The Brecks
Successful day trip to the Brecks - in particular the area around Lynford Arboretum. Started (a little later than planned!) with red kite
and grey partridge
at Gt Cressingham; then common buzzard
and singing skylark
at Cockley Cley (whilst eating lunch); then on to Lynford Arboretum. First birds seen were 3 female common crossbills
feeding silently feeding in larches; followed by long tailed tit
, song thrush
. One of the key target species was hawfinch
; and after a bit of a wait we saw at least 6 of these large finches in the trees in the paddock, though they were frustratingly mobile and soon disappeared, and also a small flock of redwings
. On the walk back we a number of birds visiting food put out on tree stumps, including nuthatch
, coal tit
and marsh tit
; and then finished off with a couple of siskins
feeding on the ground beneath a fir tree.
7.3.16 Hythe Lagoons & Holland Haven
Bitter north wind from the Arctic today, but some of the birds had a much more Mediterranean feel. First to Hythe Lagoons at Colchester for the glossy ibis. Unfortunately only managed rather distant views at the back of the grazing marsh beyond the hide. Also at least 3 common buzzards, plenty of curlews, redshanks and black tailed godwits, single avocet and ruff, and 2 yellowhammers. Then on to Holland Haven to look for the rough legged buzzard. Not today! But that was more than made up for by 3 purple sandpipers with turnstones near the sluice, a fly-by kingfisher and wonderful views of an unusually active and mobile spoonbill.
4.3.16 Guided Walk @ Holland Haven
We met up in the car park at Holland Haven Country Park and set off for a lovely walk in the sunshine. What a beautiful day! First stop was the viewing platform behind the cottages. A number of blackbirds fled as we approached and a stock dove pretended to be a kestrel sitting on the overhead wires. There were assorted gulls on the pool along with the odd shelduck, wigeon, shoveler and oystercatcher; and we heard the wheezing of greenfinch, the tinkling calls of goldfinch and the laugh of a green woodpecker. The feeders by the sewage works only had a great tit on, plus a nearby goldcrest and a grey wagtail called as it flew overhead.
Next we checked the seawall and rocks for turnstones and purple sandpipers, but drew a blank, so moved on and met some other local birders. Just after we’d left them they shouted that “the rough leg was back”, and we were soon enjoying great views of the overwintering rough legged buzzard – initially on a gate post, then flying and hovering, and then watched as it disappeared off towards the golf course. Scanning across the grazing marsh we saw good numbers of lapwing, curlew and wigeon; and also noted a female stonechat on a bramble, a distant pair of common buzzards over woodland and heard skylarks singing somewhere above us. We walked down to the hide overlooking the Scrape. Several black tailed godwits were probing the mud among the grazing wigeon; and a few sleepy teal and a couple of shoveler, shelduck and oystercatcher were on the island.
The bird feeders were busier as we made our way back to the cars, with greenfinch, house sparrow, great tit, chaffinch, dunnock and a glistening male pheasant picking up any bits that the others dropped. As we finished off with hot drinks we all agreed that it had been a lovely walk on a beautiful morning with some excellent birds seen.
I've just taken delivery of two new additions to my canvas range - 'water lily' and 'wayside flowers'. They are 40x30cm/30x40cm and are priced at £35 each.
Poole Harbour and surrounding area
A brilliant few days around the Poole Harbour area. A couple of days were even pleasantly warm and sunny with almost no breeze, though a couple were much colder and there was one quite heavy sleety shower.
They say that birding starts at home, and garden highlights included long tailed tit
, coal tit
, song thrush
, a nuthatch
and a pair of bullfinches
nibbling on cherry buds.
Caught the chain ferry from Sandbanks across to Studland. It was high tide in Brands Bay and unusually quiet, so we moved on to Knoll Beach. After refuelling with coffee (!) we walked through the birch woodland to Little Sea and were delighted to find treecreeper
. After lunch had a nice walk round St Catherine's Hill, but not too many birds!
Heading east the next day we crossed the border into Hampshire and made our way to Keyhaven. The walk out towards Hurst Castle was a bit bracing and bird-free so we tried Keyhaven harbour instead. Here we had stunning close views of two male red breasted mergansers
, a greenshank
. We followed the path to view Keyhaven Marshes, but kept being distracted by birds, so didn't get very far! These included stonechat
, a very confiding rock pipit
and a hunting short eared owl
Having not really explored the area properly we returned the next day, this time starting from Pennington and walking back towards Keyhaven. Wow! What an amazing place! A lovely mix of habitats - pools, marshes, gorse scrub, saltmarsh, the Solent - therefore a wide variety of birds. And a beautiful day! We started with Mediterranean gull
and Cetti's warbler
near the parking area. Then all the ducks - shelduck
; and waders - more lapwings
than I've seen for a while, golden plover
, grey plover
. We caught up with a group of birders who pointed out a sleeping long billed dowitcher
(a rare visitor from North America). It eventually woke up, preened and moved around a bit giving good views. A little further on we added avocet
, spotted redshank
and two spoonbills
to the list; and then had great views of a pair of dartford warblers
flitting in some gorse. After lunch at the Gun Inn in Keyhaven we walked back, enjoying more views of the dowitcher
and adding long tailed duck
, black tailed godwit
The last morning allowed an hour at Sandbanks before leaving for home. A number of shags
were diving around the ferry terminal, and we found two purple sandpipers
on the rocks below the Haven Hotel and two great northern divers
out in the harbour; and all with Old Harry Rocks in the background. A great way to end the trip.
18.2.16 Guided walk at Gt Holland Pits EWT reserve
It was drizzling as we set off, so we headed straight for the hide overlooking the Lake. A number of mallards were resting or moving around slowly at the far side, along with 1 male and 2 female shovelers, and 2 moorhens chased each other round the island. Things were a bit quiet so we moved on and noted blue tits, great tits and delightful long tailed tits in the hedgerows, and a lovely charm of goldfinches feeding of seed heads. The rain stopped and a couple of jays squawked and flew across the path; a robin hopped along the path; and several blackbirds flew off at our approach. Primroses were in bloom (would have looked better with the sun on them!), and the harts tongue ferns looked very healthy. A large 'lump' in a tree beyond the meadow turned out to be a rather damp common buzzard. We heard bullfinches calling several times and had glimpses of them flying off, but failed to get 'proper' views. There's always next time! A tiny movement in the ivy at the base of a tree turned out to be a constantly moving goldcrest; a sparrowhawk flew over, as did a party of greylag geese; and a song thrush sang as the sun came out. We decided to try the old hide at the back of the Lake, but still couldn't find any mandarin ducks, but we did have good views of a kestrel on an overhead wire.
15.2.16 Cockaynes Wood, Alresford
Sunny start to the walk, but a cold N wind blowing. First birds seen were in the paddock - fieldfare (50+), redwing, mistle thrush and song thrush - and blackbirds nearby made the full set! We could see dark clouds coming, so headed straight past the pools to the shelter of the wood, and arrived there just as the rain started! There's a high proportion of holly, which gives good cover, but makes viewing difficult! We noted blue tit, long tailed tit and several very mobile goldcrests. Another crest caught my eye as it flitted at the edge of a small clearing. As it moved I definitely saw black and white stripes on the head - and over the next few minutes we had wonderful views of a lovely male firecrest. Seeing it was one thing, but trying to get photos ...!! It just never sat still! As we walked back we heard the "kicking" call of a great spotted woodpecker, and eventually had good views of a male in one of the trees above us.
12-14.2.16 FACT weekend
Helped to lead an Estuary Birdwatching weekend with Fellowship Afloat, staying on the "Trinity" lightship at Tollesbury. Birding highlights included barn owl, brent geese and marsh harrier from the ship; bullfinch, red breasted merganser and waders at Fingringhoe Wick; avocets, great northern diver and merlin on a boat trip along Tollesbury Channel; kingfisher, greenshank and great grey shrike at Heybridge Basin; smew, goosander and a surprise red kite at Abberton Reservoir. Spring high tides meant that the pathway out to the ship got covered, so we had to leave by boat, which was a novel way to end an excellent weekend!
8.2.16 Hanningfield Reservoir
A bit windy today!! Storm Imogen influenced plans for today, so spent a few hours at Hanningfield Reservoir. Plenty of birds at the feeders in front of the visitor centre - blue tit, great tit, coal tit, chaffinch, stock dove. Woodland birds keeping low, but several robin, long tailed tit and goldcrest evident. Water quite choppy! However, good numbers of tufted duck, wigeon and coot, as well as teal, great crested grebe, goldeneye (12+), shelduck (2), Egyptian goose (2), goosander (1 male). Other highlights included common sandpiper (1), common buzzard (1), marsh harrier (2).
29.1.16 Guided walk @ Wrabness
I met the participants in the car park at Wrabness EWT nature reserve; and the birding began immediately with redwings and song thrush in the paddock opposite and moorhens along the base of the hedge. Scanning from the end of the car park we noted oystercatcher, pied wagtail and teal in a flooded field. Next proper stop was the hide overlooking the River Stour. The tide was out coming in, so there was plenty of mud, and hundreds of waders were busy feeding - redshank, curlew, grey plover (more than I can remember seeing in one place), dunlin, knot, bar tailed godwit, lapwing, golden plover. Shelduck, wigeon and brent goose fed at the water's edge; and a few distant goldeneye, great crested grebe and red breasted merganser were noted on the river; as well as black headed and common gulls. Continuing our circuit we noted blue tit, jay and goldfinch. The walk back was interrupted first by a female bullfinch (others were probably also there as we could hear calls), and then by a greenshank among the redshanks (giving great comparison views) feeding on one of the flooded paddocks. After celebratory hot drinks and biscuits back at the cars (and adding little egret to the bird list) we went our separate ways.
23.1.16 Upper Hollesley Common/Hollesley Marshes
Beautiful morning spent wandering around Upper Hollesley Common - actually felt quite warm in the sunshine! Plenty of coal tits in the pine trees, along with long tailed tit, goldcrest and a great spotted woodpecker "kicking" from a tree top. Three dartford warblers showed themselves among the heather. Surprise of the day was two (maybe three) woodlarks already in song.
Then on to Hollesley Marshes RSPB to search for the reported glossy ibis. A bit foggy now and paths from Shingle Street very muddy. Thousands of gulls in the river mouth and on the reserve pools; plus a nice mix of duck species - wigeon, teal, shoveler, gadwall, shelduck. Sometimes you have to work hard to see a bird. Took the wrong track (!); met another birder who pointed us in the right direction; got the right path, which was flooded, and eventually got pretty good views of the glossy ibis in fading light. Rather wet and muddy by the time we got back to the car, but I think it was worth it. Bird of the day though was the woodlarks!
19.1.16 Walton Beach
An hour or so down on the beach near the pier with the camera today. Stunning late afternoon light, tide out, sea calm. Highlights included 'tame' turnstones
, carrion crow
looking quite blue in the low-level sunlight, limpets stuck on open old oyster shells stuck on rocks next to barnacles (!!), the biggest whelk egg casing I've ever seen washed up on a beach, and amazing light and shadows through the pier.
18.1.16 Heybridge Gravel Pits
Sunny morning but jolly cold!! The tide was out and the exposed mud was alive with waders - redshank, dunlin, black tailed godwit, a single bar tailed godwit, ringed plover, 800+ golden plover, 200+ avocet, oystercatcher and 2 unseasonal greenshank. The remaining ribbon of river held wigeon, teal, shelduck and a few brent geese. Turning our attention to the gravel pits and reedbed, we eventually located the long-staying great grey shrike in an area of scrub. A bit too far away for decent photos, but good views through the telescope. A small flock of corn buntings flew over and landed in a bush; a few reed buntings flicked among the reeds; and a rock pipit was noted on the saltmarsh..
16.1.16 Iken & Boyton Marshes
A beautiful winter's day - sunny but cold. The cattle egret
present at Iken for a while was very mobile and gave us a right old runaround. Four little egrets
'pretended' and set pulses racing. Patience was eventually rewarded with flight views and then in a field, where it was disturbed by a passing vehicle and disappeared from view. After lunch we returned to try again. This time we had some great views (and even a few photos!) - a cattle egret
in with cattle - perfect!!
Decided to make the most of the sunny afternoon and stopped off at Boyton Marshes RSPB to search for a reported whooper swan
among the mutes. Viewing conditions not the best - distant and into the sun! However, with more persistence we managed to spot it (the one with yellow in the beak, not orange); and there was a rather out of place black swan
present as well. We turned round and spotted a common seal
watching us from the river.
On returning to the car for a well-earned cuppa we were treated to close views of a stunning male hen harrier
. Brilliant day!!
12.1.16 St Osyth Beach
Visited St Osyth Beach today to look for the juvenile glaucous gull
. Beautiful sunny morning, but bitterly cold wind! A black redstart
had been seen just before we arrived, but had flown off!! Soon located the gull on an area of grass by the cafe.
After a few record shots carried on towards Jaywick in search of snow buntings
. Eventually found them, but they were very flighty in the windy conditions. Walking back was a bit of a struggle against the wind, but rewarded with more views of the glaucous gull
in flight and on the sea defence rocks.
Further unsuccessful search around the car park buildings for black redstart
. On getting back to the car noticed that the glaucous gull
was sitting on the sea wall! More photos!
11.1.16 Abberton Reservoir +
A drive around the Colchester area today to year-tick some birds for the 2016 list. Highlights included grey wagtail, chiffchaff (2), redwing (4+) and goldcrest (12+) at Copford sewage works; smew, goosander (20+), black necked grebe, slavonian grebe, stonechat, fieldfare and green woodpecker at Abberton Reservoir; little owl at Garlands Farm, Birch; and barn owl (2) at Copt Hall. A productive day!!
9.1.16 Rainham Marshes RSPB
Visited today to take away my exhibition photos, but also walked round the reserve. Rather grey, damp day, but highlights included: song thrush (3), reed bunting, pintail, marsh harrier (2), peregrine, snipe, lapwing (1000+), stonechat (pair), barn owl, but couldn't find the dartford warbler! Also found a hawthorn and blackthorn already in flower.
8.1.16 Alton Water
After a brief stop at Mistley Quay for a stunning drake smew, it was on to Alton Water for distant views of a red necked grebe among the great cresteds from the sailing club, and then close views of common species such as long tailed tit, coal tit, robin, and chaffinch on the feeders next to the Larchwood hide.
6.1.16 Gt Holland Pits
Wandered round for an hour in the sunshine today! Highlights included 5 mandarins with mallards on the Lake, goldcrest, bullfinch, jay and great spotted woodpecker. Primroses already in flower, and a song thrush singing away made it feel more like March than January!!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Didn't travel too far today, but the 2016 bird list started nicely with highlights including rough legged buzzard and corn bunting near Gt Holland Church, goldeneye and pintail at Mistley Quay, red breasted merganser and great northern diver at Stutton Ness, and brambling and lesser redpoll at Alton Water. Perhaps more surprising was the number of plants already in flower. Crazy! I wonder what delights the rest of the year will bring!
16.12.15 Frinton golf course
A walk along the seawall by the golf course revealed that the juvenile rough legged buzzard is still present (it's 2 months now). Hopefully it will remain into January to get on my 2016 bird list! It was very active and mobile today, spending most of the hour hovering over the golf course or more distantly over the grazing marsh, or being chased by the local crows. However, the highlights for me were a rock pipit and 2 purple sandpipers feeding among the seaweed and rocks on the seaward side of the wall and allowing very close views (and photos!).
At last! Finally caught up with an eider for this year's bird list. A female on the River Stour off Wrabness EWT reserve. Also c30 brent geese, 4 red breasted merganser and 4 goldeneye. Bullfinch, redwing and song thrush on the reserve.
7.12.15 Lackford Lakes
An overdue visit to the Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve at Lackford Lakes. Bird highlights included a grey wagtail on the visitor centre roof, lesser redpolls and siskins in the alders, nuthatch and marsh tit in the woodland, a female long tailed duck on Hawkers Pool (the main target of my visit) and 3 goosanders on the Slough. Called in at Southolt on the way home to look for a hoopoe that had been present for 3-4 days, but apparently no-one had seen it today.
5.11.15 Guided Walk @ Frinton Golf Course
Rather dull, grey and windy afternoon, but dry until the end of our walk. Damp conditions on the golf course encouraged quite a crowd of gulls to be 'puddling' for worms, allowing good comparisons of black headed, common and herring gulls. We then watched a female green woodpecker 'anting' in the light rough at the edge of the fairway for several minutes; but we were distracted by distant views of the rough legged buzzard hovering. We saw it again perched on a fence post at the back of the grazing marsh; then later be chased by a couple of carrion crows. Walking back we noted a kestrel, 6 curlews feeding on the fairway, and then flying off; and then a few brent geese flying north offshore. Our timing was pretty good as we got back to the cars just as the rain started.
HOT OFF THE PRESS!
I've just taken delivery of copies of my 2016 calendar (showcasing some of my favourite photos). These are now available for sale at £7.95.
3.11.15 Frinton Golf Course
Quick walk along the seawall after lunch produced distant views of the rough legged buzzard sitting on a post at the back of the grazing marsh, a couple of stonechats, several meadow pipits and a common buzzard. However, the star was a female green woodpecker looking rather lost on the the edge of the concrete seawall. No trees here my friend!!
I now have some large format canvas prints available (see attached photo) - 80cmx60cm £75; 60cmx40cm £50; 90cmx30cm £50; as well as the normal 40cmx30cm £35. Most images can be made to the different sizes. Please feel free to contact me.
2.11.15 East Mersea
After taking down my exhibition at Fingringhoe Wick I drove to East Mersea and spent an hour in the fog around Coopers Beach. Recently there was a juvenile rose-coloured starling in that area, but no reports for a week; so I was delighted to find it feeding on sloes opposite the water tower near the church. Nice!!
27.10.15 Frinton Golf Course
Two more visits today to look for purple sandpiper (unsuccessful), but also to see the rough legged buzzard, short eared owls and snow bunting again and try to get some better photos. Not disappointed!
25.10.15 Frinton Golf Course
A wonderful hour in the late afternoon sunshine walking along the seawall by the golf course. Stunning birds in stunning light - just amazing! Juvenile rough legged buzzard seen on a bush, then in flight, then on the ground in a bit of a stand-off with 2 crows, then flew off towards Holland Haven. Pair of stonechats; couple of Cetti's warblers in tamarisk; common buzzard; and a surprise snow bunting on the seawall on the walk back; but perhaps the real stars were a couple of short eared owls flying around - one of which perched nearby for a while. Wow!
24.10.15 Horsey Gap
An abundance of grey seals, including the first pup of the year (apparently about 10 days earlier than previous years). So cute!! The wardens now have their work cut out keeping people (and dogs) off the beach so the seals can come ashore and give birth without disturbance. About 300 grey seals there at present; plus a few common seals. Also saw a few distant gannets offshore, a small flock of noisy pink footed geese flying over, and distant views of a great grey shrike perched on a bush.
21.10.15 Holkham Park
Classic sights and sounds of autumn - the deer rut. Groups of fallow deer were spread around the Park - roaring and posturing prime stags with their harems, and groups of unattached younger and 'wannabee' stags. Two of these nearby stags began parallel walking (coming a bit closer than felt entirely comfortable!). Suddenly they turned to each other, lowered heads and engaged antlers with force and started pushing to and fro. They did this several times. The sound of antler on antler was amazing. Among the trees to one side of the Hall there was also a red deer stag with his 'ladies'. Well worth the visit!
A brilliant day spent at Pensthorpe. The aviary was a great place to start - bearded tits 'pinging' and flying from reeds to reeds; corncrakes scuttling at the back; more turtle doves than I've ever seen; ridiculously close avocets and ruffs. Took loads of photos!! The wildfowl collection provided privileged views of common and not-so-common species. Then there were the cranes and flamingos; and not forgetting the red squirrels. The camera had to work hard today!
19.10.15 Wells Wood
A slightly frustrating day given the rare birds present in the wood that I didn't see! However, let's focus on what I did see! Tiny goldcrests were everywhere - every tree seemed to contain these hyperactive little gems. With rarities present there were also lots of birdwatchers. Several were spread out round the 'drinking pool' so I joined them. Soon I had brief views of a rather mobile red flanked bluetail. With perseverance I eventually managed a couple of acceptable photos - a back view clearly showing the blue tail but not the rusty orange flanks. (PS - the birds I missed included blyth's reed warbler, yellow browed warbler, hume's yellow browed warbler, pallas's warbler, olive backed pipit - oh well, there's always next year!!)
17.10.15 Beeston Regis Common
A brief visit once the rain stopped to look for an Isabelline shrike that had been present for several days. (This is a rare species usually found in Mongolia and China.) Several other birders were spread around this small site doing the same thing! After a few minutes someone indicated they could see it, so we all moved round to that side. Looking through his scope we could just about make it out deep in a hawthorn bush. It moved slightly and then came out on top of the bush giving good (if a bit distant) views. A new bird to add to my list - a tick!!
14.10.15 Gt Holland Pits
I'm so fortunate to have such a choice of good local sites to visit. An hour between showers this morning was very worthwhile. The view from the hide overlooking the lake was stunning with the surrounding trees perfectly reflected in the water surface. Just beautiful! Birds included 8 mallard, 6 mandarin (3 adult male, 1 imm male, 2 female), a kingfisher (but it didn't stay long enough to be photographed!), and 6 curlew flew over. Around the reserve there were 2 jay, a common buzzard gave good views, 2 goldcrest, 2 kestrel, 23 lapwing, 12+ long tailed tit, a green woodpecker and 8 redwing. Also an immaculate speckled wood and at least 2 common darters. Lovely to see Exmoor ponies grazing at the far end of the reserve.
13.10.15 Holland Haven
A quick visit after shopping in Clacton. From the hide overlooking the scrape there were signs of winter birds arriving - teal (74), wigeon (92) and brent geese (5) joining the resident greylag geese (c200). The only waders were 3 black tailed godwits probing in the mud; but raptors were good with 2 peregrines (male + female) sitting in the field beyond the scrape (full crops indicated that both had recently fed), common buzzard, kestrel and sparrowhawk.
12.10.15 The Naze
A breezy visit to The Naze revealed that the NE winds had brought in lots of migrant birds. However, most of them appeared to be overactive goldcrests (50+)! Other species spotted included a female stonechat, brent geese (100+), teal (4), sparrowhawk, jay and two mobile flocks of long tailed tits. Also a muntjac and a pristine red admiral on bramble.
5.10.15 Wrabness EWT reserve
A visit between the showers! Signs of autumn all around - abundant crops of blackberries, sloes, rosehips, and sweet chestnuts, though the elderberries seem to have already largely been eaten. The tide was right out and hundreds of waders were feeding on the exposed mud - redshank, oystercatcher, curlew, grey plover, dunlin, knot; as well as brent geese, wigeon and teal. Two large flocks of black headed gulls were in feeding frenzies (one mid-channel and one near the shoreline) - presumably over shoals of small fish near the surface; and 27 great crested grebes were noted along the river. No mergansers or goldeneye yet, but I bet they won't be long now!
3 & 4.10.15 Fingringhoe Wick
A beautiful sunny weekend spent at Fingringhoe Wick leading walks to view the reserve extension, breach in the seawall and resulting new intertidal lagoon. The potential is so exciting; and birds are already using the area - kingfisher, green sandpiper, little egret, common tern, lapwing, curlew, redshank, ringed plover ... Also brent geese, avocets, bullfinch, greenshanks roosting on the Scrape, marsh harrier, common buzzard, swallow, chiffchaff and an influx of robins; as well as common darters and a willow emerald damselfly on Kit's Pond and the Thames barge "Thistle" sailing past on the River Colne both days. Brilliant!
25.9.15 Brownsea Island, Dorset
A brilliant day spent on Brownsea Island with friends. More red squirrels than I've ever seen (probably 10 in total) - and so close and confiding. Took heaps of photos! The lagoon was pretty good too - spoonbill (30), little egret, great white egret (1), avocet (2), spotted redshank (c20), greenshank (5), kingfisher (1), wheatear (1). Also sika deer (3) and peacock (14!).
18.9.15 The Naze & Howlands Marsh
Managed to dodge the showers today (makes a change!). Morning mooch around The Naze revealed an influx of robins and dunnocks, as well as good numbers of blackcap, chiffchaff, willow warbler, lesser whitethroat, whitethroat and a hobby; though the star was a spotted flycatcher in the sycamores. The beach held a few sanderling and noisy sandwich terns. Afternoon at Howlands Marsh (St Osyth) gave several frustratingly loud but invisible Cetti's warblers, a wheatear, common buzzard, great spotted woodpecker, but the highlight was undoubtedly an osprey that flew over being mobbed by corvids.
14.9.15 Alresford Creek
Nice start to the walk, but then rain set in and got pretty wet! Autumn's definitely here. Hedgerows laden with hips, haws, sloes and acorns - maybe we have a harsh winter coming up! Also several fungi. Birds included 3 greenshank, c500 black tailed godwits and a few avocets along the river. A common seal surfaced briefly mid-channel. Could also see work starting on making the breach in the seawall at Fingringhoe Wick. Exciting times!
12.9.15 Aldham Flower Festival
Brilliant day at Aldham Flower Festival. Great atmosphere, met some lovely people, stunning flower displays, and my stand did OK.
9.9.15 Canvey & Bowers Marsh
Seawatch from Canvey produced a small flock of common scoter, 2 brent geese, 2 black tern, and a couple of harbour porpoise. Then the weather became too nice (!) for birds, so we moved on to West Canvey and then Bowers Marsh. Highlights included wood sandpiper, 2 common sandpiper, avocets, black tailed godwits, greenshanks, spotted flycatcher, peregrine, marsh harrier, black swan (!) and hundreds of gulls.
7.9.15 (pm) Shingle Street
Walked along to overlook Hollesley Marshes - migrant hawkers and common darters around the sloes; whinchat on the brambles; black tailed godwit, avocet, ruff, dunlin, greenshank, teal and wigeon. Then checked the allotments - nice lesser whitethroat and pied flycatcher.
7.9.15 (am) Upper Hollesley Common
Heather display absolutely stunning. Butterflies - grayling, small copper, painted lady, red admiral. Adder moved slowly off the main track. Not many birds apart from a large roving tit flock - mainly long tailed and coal.
29.8.15 Landguard Point
A couple of hours searching for migrants. A bit quiet, but 2 redstart, 4 willow warbler, 4 wheatear, 2 lesser whitethroat, chiffchaff and a few swallow moving south were noted. About 100 linnet included lots of juveniles, indicating a good breeding season for them. Still can't find a pied flycatcher though!
28.8.15 Holland Haven
Brief visit today. Car park packed (park & ride point for Clacton Air Show). Best birds probably the 3 wheatears jumping around the pillbox! Also 69 black tailed godwits and 2 avocets on the Scrape.
19.8.15 Abberton Reservoir
Visit to Layer Breton causeway where highlights included an osprey seen perched and in flight, black necked grebe, kingfisher, 39 spotted redshank, 19 ruff, single black tailed godwit, 2 common buzzard and a dead turtle (!). Nothing really close enough for quality photography.
27.7.15 How Hill & Horsey
Still not really summer weather, but a bit drier than yesterday! Pleasant trip on the "Electric Eel" along some of the narrow dykes, but not much wildlife to see! Then followed the nature trail and checked out the little museum. Highlights were a couple of marsh harriers over the reedbeds, treecreeper, goldcrest and coal tit in the wood, and white admiral on the buddleia by Toad Hole Cottage. Then drove the road between Somerton and Horsey - one common crane standing in a field and two more flying over bugling. Amazing sound.
26.7.15 Strumpshaw Fen
Not ideal! Rather wet and windy day. Zero butterflies and dragonflies!! However, did find my first ever swallowtail caterpillar on milk parsley. Also marsh harrier family group flying, calling and interacting together, hobby sat in a dead tree, and several sightings of a couple of very vocal kingfishers from the main hide.
A lovely hour spent walking along the river at Dedham. Not many birds, but the highlights were a grass snake swimming along the edge of the river, banded demoiselles dancing, a brown hawker, and all the cows coming down into the river to drink!