Saturday, 4 February 2023

Thirty Years Ago - January 1993

1st January:

After a typically quiet New Year, Jon and Ad came down at about 11am and we pottered over to scenic smelly Rainham Barges.  It was fairly disappointing although the Water Pipits performed as desired. The Thames was quiet although two Gadwall were a surprise [Eds: Oddly is has since become a local hot spot for the species].  There were six Dunlin and a lone Jack Snipe came up from the shoreline with three croaking Commons. Small birds other than Reed Buntings, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were scarce but it was good to see three Tree Sparrows.

After this we headed over to The Chase where I soon found two Long-eared Owls snuggly tucked into a small Sallow in the reeds.  Two Short-eared Owls quartered the Travellers Field while both Teal and Shoveler numbered about 40 each. The journey back home was enlivened by both a female Sparrowhawk and a female Merlin hunting Sparrows through the rooftops. [Eds: At this time seeing an urban winter Merlin was not that unusual and I had a few encounters ‘in town’. Most winters several wintered in the Ingrebourne Valley].

2nd January:

Back to The Chase where it was very murky with thick ice everywhere.  I primarily went Jack Sniping and consequently circumnavigated the whole area. I failed but did put up six Common Snipe. The LEOs were nowhere to be seen but the Shorties performed amazingly well allowing a very close approach.

Short-eared Owl

A fine male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker occupied the bushes on Crowfoot while the Firecrest had moved into the copse behind the farmhouse. It was as bright as ever and in the company of four Chiffchaffs while the cold conditions brought out several Water Rails.

3rd January:

A bitterly cold morning with Roy W at -7c. The frost at Fishers Green was stunning and everything was covered in a thick coating. The main hide was not open so we walked to the Grebe Hide and back.  It was not as good as it could have been although Kingfishers were numerous as were the scuttling Water Rails with their feet-a-pumping and legs-a-whirring. The only duck of any note were 12 Goldeneye which included some smart drakes.

Amwell was our next stop but like Fishers it failed to produce any Smew. The male Red-crested Pochard was still there but a male Pintail was new. To make the day a little more interesting some pillock in a Nissan rammed me – further denting poor EMU’s already crippled wing.  [Eds: I honestly have no recollection of this!] To round off a fairly eventful day we called back into Fishers where one of the Bitterns performed well as it lurked in the reeds.

9th January:

An afternoon pop out in the drizzle for the Bitterns at Fishers did not disappoint and three were seen. Two definitely do not get on and were chasing each other all over the place. Three Water Rails and three redhead Smew added interest.

10th January:

A day to remember with Adrian Wander and Stu Lambert but more for the weather than the birds.  The overnight drive down to Highbridge on the Bristol Channel was rather wet but not as wet as we were going to get when we ventured out to get the Spotted Sandpiper that had been frequenting the banks of this tidal tributary.

We saw the bird immediately as it flicked off down river and we tracked it in the increasingly heavy rain but it only seemed to be going away from u so we stopped and waited for it to return.  Over an hour later we were still standing ankle deep in the mud and water getting battered by the icy rain.  To make matter worse I succeeded as per usual to fall over twice and jeans are not the best form or lower body attire in such circumstances.

Hundreds of Dunlin, Redshank and Lapwing were wheeling about along with a few Curlew and Oystercatchers but the Spot Sand still had not returned. With that we trudged back to the car only to find the little bugger bobbing around within ten yards of it.

Spotted Sandpiper

Al the salient features were noted and it was good to hear the single note ‘pwit’ call and if anything the flight also looked more fluttery. After ten more minutes we retired to the warmth of the car and then headed to the nearest Little Chef for a Big Breakfast.

The Weymouth area was where would spend the rest of the day but the weather only ever got worse and once at Ferrybridge we received a heavy battering from the wind and salt spray mingled with the rain.  The Kentish Plovers were being very difficult and it needed me to get out of the car and creep up on the flock of Ringed Plovers to find one crouched down amongst the stones.

A few Dunlin were getting blown about for a while two Grey Plovers, the Brent Geese and a windblown Gannet were all year ticks.  We visited Radipole more for the chance to use the warmth of their heather that the bird life.  We could not be tempted back outside by the prospect of a wet bedraggled Cetti’s Warbler and so headed down to the ferry terminal where the superb adult Iceland Gull was quickly picked up and two diving Slavonian Grebes rounded off the day.

16th January:

A Red-breasted Goose had been supressed in the Old Hall area for a week or so warranted a look with Neil M and Simon S on the Saturday morning.  We walked in from the Salcott end to save the long walk from Tollesbury.  I hoped the Brent Geese would be preening and bathing on the fields closest to us, which they were and Simon very quickly located this smart little goose amongst the 1000 Dark-bellied Brents.  This was surprisingly only my second record.

Red-breasted Goose

Also using the area were many Curlews and 13 Ruff while huge numbers of Lapwings moved about as they were disturbed by a male Hen Harrier. It was pleasing for a plan to work for once. Shortly afterwards I got something in my eye that dampened things.  Mersea was our only other stop but it was pretty quiet although there were plenty of Black-tailed Godwits in the flooded fields with Snipe, Golden Plovers, Brents and some Corn Buntings.  Five Twite came down to drink in a puddle [Eds: whoo hooo!]. The Colne was almost birdless but we did find two adult Yellow-legged Gulls.  After watching the Rugby back at Neil's, I went home and ended up in Moorfields to have the horrible little bit removed from my eye.

17th January:

An afternoon trip to Amwell with Dad to sort out some photos to go with the accident report [Eds: which I still don’t recall].  No sign of the Red-crested Pochard although two female and male Smew were a nice bonus. A Ringed Plover flew around calling which was unusual for the time of year.  The journey back down towards Fishers was enlivened by a male Goshawk cruising across the road.

Fishers was crowded with birders but two Bitterns and Water Rails still performed to the crowds. A little later I popped over to The Chase to help Adrian K and Tony W find the Firecrest and LEOs but we found neither which was disappointing. Four Chiffchaffs were scant compensation.  I checked the fields on the way out and was pleasantly surprised to find a 2w Yellow-legged Gull amongst the other gulls that also included several dark Common Gulls and British Lesser Black-backs.  This as it turns out was the first record for The Chase and only a day after they were officially split from Herring Gull.

23rd January:

I had been holding my breath all week, hoping that the Ross’s Gull at Fraserburgh would still be around and so I ended up meeting Steve Bale on the A1 [Eds: no idea where] at 10.30pm before heading north to pick up Stuart Read and Rob Wilson.  The journey up to northeast Scotland was rather uneventful save for a little snow on the Kielder pass and as we approached Fraserburgh small parties of Pink-feet and Barnacle Geese were seen.

Once we found the site at the harbour we settled in for what we hoped would be short wait.  It was not to be and in the ensuing five hours I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching the other birds in the area. Gulls were everywhere and amongst the usual species there were various white winged lovelies. I clocked up three 1st-winter, a 3rd-winter and two adult Iceland and one each of 1st, 2nd and adult Glaucous Gull as well as two Viking Gull hybrids in 1st-winter plumage.

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull

Offshore Black Guillemots, Razorbills and Guillemots patrolled up and down with Long-tailed Ducks, Mergansers, Eiders, three Red-throated Divers and a few Gannets and Fulmars.  I counted 70 Purple Sandpipers and a few Turnstones on the rocky shoreline along with Redshanks and Oystercatchers but there was still no sign of the pesky Ross’s Gull.

At about 1pm I wandered off back to the sluice where only one Iceland was present but for some reason I suddenly felt the need to get back to the harbour and I almost jogged back to where the others were watching the Ross’s about half a mile out to sea but the distance was irrelevant as it glowed a vibrant pink.  It was difficult to keep tabs on amongst the waves but gradually a Ross’s Gull came closer until it was drifting around the rocks in the small cove in the company of a 1st-winter Little Gull, many Kittiwakes, several Goldeneye, a Guillemot and a couple of Shags!

Ross’s Gull! Honest guv!

Ross’s Gull

A delicate and graceful bird and a bit larger than the Little Gull with pale grey white wings and upperparts with a white trailing edge.  The white, obviously wedge shaped tail was used very effectively as a rudder.  It had a grey nape and half collar with a dark smudge behind the eye and a dinky dark bill.  The legs were bright red and the underwings were smoky grey with contrasting  salmon pink underparts although birders noted that it seemed far brighter when way out at sea [Eds: the two bird theory at play here and indeed there were at least two in the area later in the week].

Ross’s Gull - no idea why the life list total changed again but at least it was up!

Ross’s Gull had always been right at the very top of my birds to see list after Stella’s Sea Eagle that is! [Eds: Still on my wish list!]  The relief on the faces of those birders who had made the long trek was wonderful.

The weather was closing in and time was pushing on so we jumped into the car out of the light rain and headed south towards Aberdeen and the various wildfowl in the area.  As we progressed the rain turned to snow and then the snow into a raging blizzard by which time we were ten miles inland and sliding around the lanes around an invisible Loch Skene.  Consequently only a few roadside Greylags were found and unsurprisingly there was no sign of the Snow Geese or Cackling Canadas and the other accompanying geese species although we somehow had some quality roadside Bramblings.

With almost no light left and terrible road conditions Steve decided to go for the American Wigeon at Loriston Loch.  It was officially dark by the time we reached the tiny loch and in the wind and rain we somehow picked out this drake bird amongst the flock of Eurasians.

With that we headed homewards with Steve driving from Aberdeen to Dundee and then I took over driving of the Nissan Primera Twitchmobile. I just about managed to stay awake to Perth and then the weather got incredibly nasty.  A huge bank of fog was followed by 100mph winds and driving horizontal rain.  This excitement was followed by getting stuck in traffic on the horrifically swaying on the Forth Road Bridge. It was especially bad if you were positioned over a join in the road.  It felt like you were being pulled in every direction at once.  The delay was caused by a coach that had been blown on to its side about half way across and was in the process of being winched back upright.  Some of the side windows were neatly wrapped around the upright girders of the bridge. We were certainly glad to reach the other side safely. 

We had the radio on and the bridge was closed shortly afterwards after a tanker lost control in the wind just before the bridge and just stopped in time.  I continued on to Newcastle and the rain had ceased but the wind was still very gusty but the only other travel incident was finding one of the roundabouts on the A1 under over a foot of water with the road missing on one side! To cap it all Emu refused to start when we got back to Barnet and with Steve’s help I eventually got home at 4am. But was it worth it? Of course it was!

30th January:

A rather forgettable day in Felixstowe although a 1st-winter Med Gull was seen from the car at Levington.

31st January:

A pop out to Old Hall with Eamon and his dog Frisky for the Red-breasted Goose drew a blank amongst the huge flock of Brents but the Ruff numbered 60 and a Spotted Redshank was nice winter bonus.  A ring-tailed Hen Harrier quartered the marshes but Mersea was a dead loss while the Heybridge Little Owls performed surprisingly well.

Friday, 3 February 2023

Kentish Nature Walk #64 A Blue Eyed Birder day on the North Kent Coast - 1st February 2023

A jaunt along the north Kent coast in a strengthening cool breeze was in order and after meeting up with Rob and Jeremy we began our day at Motney Hill on the Medway.  The tide was on the point of turning and I was fortunate that there were some waders jammed up under our noses below the hulking wreck on the saltmarsh which gave a good opportunity to show them a good selection in one group.  Dunlin and Turnstone huddled down amongst the Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank with the odd big eyed Grey Plover, Lapwing and Curlew.  A line of Avocets were roosting in the distance.

Assembled waders


 Black-tailed Godwit & Curlew

The wildfowl all gleamed in the sunshine and the Shelduck looked particularly resplendent while rafts of Wigeon, Shoveler and Pintail bobbed about waiting for the tide to drop.  This is the only spot where I regularly see estuarine Shoveler and just over 200 were present.  I can only presume that they is something in the mud surface in this particular bay that is attractive to them.



A few family parties of Brent Geese moved about in the margins of the flooded saltmarsh grasses while the Teal stayed within its sheltering confines which was probably a good move as Marsh Harriers made occasional low passes.

Wigeon & Brents


I scanned for Mergansers, Grebes and Divers but did not find one of any species which was disappointing.  Reed Buntings and Chiffchaff called from the reedbed behand and Fieldfares and Redwings were in the Poplar tops. 

Marsh Harrier

With the tide still so far in we did not venture that far and after hearing a couple of Rock Pipits we headed back.  I had mentioned the chance of a wintering Spotted Redshank but was still surprised to see a silvery Tringa at our feet on the first exposed rocky margin. We enjoyed some of the closest views I have ever had of the species which conveniently had a Common Redshank buddy close by for comparison.

Spotted Redshank - it is rare for me to post quite so many images of one bird but it was very charismatic and posed rather nicely

Common Redshank & Spotted Redshank

We moved on and wiggled along the coast to Funton Creek where huge flocks of Knot and Dunlin were encountered along with about 200 Avocets and both Godwit species.  Brent Geese milled around close to the road and a couple of Marsh Harriers hunted the distant seawall.  I always check the paddocks behind us and found two Mistle Thrushes diligently worm hunting while another mournfully sang in the surrounding trees.

On to Sheppey and Shellness and the Swale NNR although I did stop on the way down to scan the sea adding a Great Crested Grebes and line of seven Red-throated Divers which were moving north.  The sound of serious artillery testing out on Foulness reverberated through everything but the Brent Geese and dozing Oystercatchers on the beach seemed unphased by the incredible sound wave.  There were a couple of Turnstones and a single Sanderling too and Curlews were probing the grassy fields on the opposite side of the road with Stonechats looking out from fenceposts.

Brent Geese



We bumped down to car park stopping briefly to check out what I thought might be some wild Swans.  They were, and five adult and five juvenile Bewick’s Swans were watched grazing in the winter wheat.  A family of five had been around for a while but these had the feel of recent arrivals.

Bewick’s Swans 

With the tide on the turn and the light in our eyes we opted to head straight along the inland seawall path which immediately got us closer to the Swans which had mostly decided it was time for a nap.  Flocks of Skylarks were feeding out over the saltmarsh with a few Meadow Pipits, Rock Pipits and Reed Buntings.  Gone are the days of wintering Twite although we did see a small flock of Linnets.

Brent Geese

The floods on the inland side looked in grand condition but were strangely devoid of birds with just a handful of duck and Coot.  It was all a bit odd.  Down towards the hide we found the mixed Goose flock with a couple of hundred Brents around the edges and a mixed group of 20 Greylag, 12 Russian White-fronts and 33 Barnacle Geese, many of which were decked out in either yellow leg Darvics or white neck collars.  I know that both schemes are part of the national project to survey the movements of our naturalised Geese species.  It was too windy for me to read any of them but others have noted them, so hopefully there will be some feedback that I can report on.

Four Goose combo

 Russian White-fronts

Marsh Harriers and Buzzards were seen over the woods and crowds of Rooks methodically worked the pastures.  With the wind getting u owe about turned and trudged back adding another couple of Stonechats before a sheltered lunch in the muddy car park.

A final stop back at the Raptor mound at Harty was in order and although it was very cool and windy we persevered for half an hour and were rewarded with at least 16 Marsh Harriers, three Buzzards and best of all an immature female Hen Harrier that was hunting super low and dipping in and out of view.  A Raven flew over and was my first on Sheppey and a cloud of Golden Plover and Lapwing came up from behind the Fleet although I could not see anything causing such avian consternation.

There were no Corn Buntings on the wires and just a couple of Stonechats and some grovelling Linnets around the car park and with that we packed and headed homewards before the off island traffic built up.

Thursday, 2 February 2023

Four days in East Anglia - Day 4 - 30th January 2023

After a mini lay in there was time for a look around Enid’s developing garden and marvelling at the Bee Orchids already popping up in the lawn. I wonder if they ever got the chance top flower with the previous owners?  I could hear Fieldfares and Redwings in the trees and a Coal Tit was singing as I packed the car and headed on my way back towards The Broads. 

Having to drop of Antony’s missing Wellies meant I had an excuse to go home via those pesky ducks again.  The light was better and there were far more Pochard and Tufted to search through but again I drew a blank on any Ring-necked Ducks but I did find that slightly troublesome female Ferruginous on Rollesby and better views of the drake on Filby where the male Red-crested Pochard also gave himself up with the displaying Goldeneye.  A female Scaup and Great White Egret were noted and Siskins were in the Alders.

Great White Egret 

The Goldeneye were once again the show stealers

From here I moved down to Ness Point for the Welly drop and initial neither of us could find the Purple Sandpipers despite perfect tidal conditions.  Thankfully they decided to stop hiding and six alighted just in front of us on the seaweed covered concrete apron where they actively fed completely unconcerned by our presence.  They are such enigmatic little waders.

Purple Sandpipers

A scan across the sea revealed a minimum of 48 Red-throated Divers flying in both directions and at various heights which was good and I added Gannet, two Guillemots and a Razorbill to the trip tally which had nudged over the 130 mark for the four days.


Cormorant & Great Black-backed Gull

It was easy to be persuaded to pop back and have a cuppa with Sarah before the last couple of hours home and of course Antony had a moth to show me before I left with the fresh emergence of a Cosmopterix pulchrimella that breeds locally in Pellitory of the Wall.

Cosmopterix pulchrimella -  what a stunner - Antony Wren

It was a relaxing way to round up a superb few days back in East Anglia.