Tuesday 25 May 2021

Thirty Years Ago - May 1991

6th May: 

A Vaughan family day out to visit my Grandparents in Felixstowe usually involved a visit to Languard as part of the adventure but on this particular day there was an inordinate amount of birding undertaken.

Hanningfield Reservoir was the first stop with many hawking Swifts, a female Sparrowhawk and a fine male Ruddy Duck. I find it interesting that I always mentioned Sparrowhawk sightings and their resurgence was still underway at this point following the crash of the 1960s and ‘70s.  A female Blue-headed Wagtail was seen at Abberton Reservoir from the causeway before some serious garden centre action (presumably give my Mum something for the day!).   Languard next where an immaculate male Black Redstart was seen along with a female Ring Ouzel and some strapping Greenland Wheatears while a Little Tern was offshore.

Black Redstart

Grandparental duties followed and then we retraced our steps back through the Essex countryside with two Barn Owls and a Little Owl noted before visiting Fingringhoe Wick where at least 20 Nightingales and all the other usual warblers were belting out.  Abberton got another visit where a Temminck’s Stint crept along the causeway edge with two Little Ringed Plovers and three Little Gulls dipped down over the water. 

Little Gull

Seven Dotterel at RSPB Old Hall Marshes lured us away but they had already left the turf fields and we had to be content with calling Cuckoo and Green sandpiper to round up the day.

7th May: 

A quick visit to Dagenham Chase produced all the usual warblers including the first site Lesser Whitethroats and Reed Warblers of the year but the surprise was a smart Fieldfare feeding with a Starling flock out on Crowfoot Marsh.

In the evening Dad and I popped up to Gernon Bushes at the top end of Epping Forest and almost the first bird we found was a singing Wood Warbler in the flowering Oaks. My notes casually refer to ‘a few Willow Warblers were in, another pair of Marsh Tits were found and the Hawfinches were as obliging as ever...’.

Wood Warbler

8th May: 

An afternoon stroll around Hainault Forest CP produced another pair of Hawfinches.

9th May: 

Ken Barrett had let me know that a Short-toed Lark had been seen at Tyttenhanger GP near St Albans, Hatfield or London Colney depending on what bird line you rang but I headed round and picked up James H and headed that way as we both needed it for a British tick. The directions were appalling and once in the vicinity it took a further 45 minutes and a 25 extra miles to find the place.  Only one other birder was present but despite his glum expression he had seen the bird well on the dry island. We had to wait another 30 minutes for it to work its way around to our side though. Very good views were had of this delightful little creamy Lark and having dipped four before it was a welcome addition. Two pair of Little Ringed Plovers were displaying and a Common Sandpiper bobbed around the edges.  We dropped into Gernon on the way back so that James could see the Hawfinches.

Short-toed Lark #369


11th May: 

A disappointing day out in Essex with nowt at The Naze or Holland Haven and just a few waders at Abberton with Common Sandpipers, Ringed Plover and Turnstone along with two adult Little Gulls. A Whinchat was seen at Hanningfield Reservoir on the way home and we rounded things up with a Greenshank and male Sparrowhawk at Dagenham Chase.

18th May: 

After being thoroughly griped off by James H about the Lark Sparrow in Norfolk yesterday, Dad and I left home at 3am for Waxham in the hope it would linger.  We arrived at 5.30 and the already glum faces told the tale – it had not been seen – yet. The day was young but if the bird was still around it was doing a very good job of hiding.  With no sign and an ever growing crowd, we headed back south a little way to see a female Dotterel in a field just south of Winterton passing a male Reeve’s Pheasant on the verge on the way. Parking was interesting to say the least but after dodging the local speeding bus very good views were had as she tottered around the furrows.


Retracing our steps we decided to have a good look for the Cranes as Dad had never seen them and line of verged cars had us hastily pulling over and looking skyward where two of these huge birds were circling in the beautiful sunlight. An ever bigger surprise came when they started being mobbed by a Common Buzzard (double underlined in notes!). The Cranes drifted out to sea and the Buzzard became my 250th Norfolk species. How things have changed now for this species.  A Garden Warbler was singing well behind us before we headed back to Waxham just in case the Sparrow had reappeared.  

Common Cranes and Common Buzzard


There were even more pissed off birders now and still no sign but news from Stewart Lambert of a Lesser Grey Shrike down near Lowestoft soon had the crowd thinning. We were about to leave when someone said ‘ I suppose you have seen the Flycatcher?’ umm... no and just a few minutes later a full scarlet throated male Red-breasted Flycatcher was in the bins as it hunted from the trees by Shangri-La.  I wrote at the time that it would be a long time till I saw another like this and in fact to this day I never have.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Flycatcher in the bag it was time for the Shrike but by the time we got to Carlton Coleville it had become a Great Grey which was an equally remarkable record for May. Many birders actually turned back, preferring to wait it out at Waxham Barns but we enjoyed our time with this bird. To this day I still maintain that it was not a normal ‘excubitor’.  The bird was darker grey above than any UK GGS I had seen with narrow but obvious white above the eye and along the covert tips, reduced white at the base of the primaries especially obvious in flight, greyish underparts with a pink flush and a contrasting white throat.  My original notes talk about the North African races and I was unaware of ‘meridionalis’ which of course is now known as Southern Grey Shrike.  In 1995 I was persuaded to submit the record to SOG and BBRC as a potential Iberian race as by now I had seen Tunisian, Spanish and Steppe birds but it was rejected as such.  I never saw any photos of this bird either but I can still replay my head videos of this striking shrike as it fed from a stand of hedgeline dead elms.  Whatever it was it was a smart bird and the only spring Great Grey type I have still ever seen.

Grey Shrike... but which one?

Minsmere was the last stop of this long day and although it was fairly quiet I did get two reserve ticks with a smart adult Med Gull and a Roseate Tern with a gammy leg. Waders were represented by a Redshank, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Avocets, a Bar-tailed Godwit, Snipe and four Whimbrel and Little Terns were whizzing to and fro.  A Nightingale was singing near the car park and a dashing Hobby near Brentwood on the way home rounded up a strangely brilliant day.



20th May: 

Hawfinches were again the order of the day at Gernon Bushes with Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Cuckoo and two pair of Spotted Flycatchers now on territory.  There were plenty of woodland edge butterflies and hunting Stoat too.

24th-28th May: Vaughan family break in Norfolk

24th May: I was going to stay home this Bank Holiday weekend and wait for something to turn up but as all was quiet I decided at the last minute to go with them. The journey up to our little caravan site at Corpusty was typically slow although I did see some Tree Sparrows and a Chukar in a layby on the way. A walk around the village in the late evening produced a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, pair of Spotted Flycatchers and plenty of singing Warblers.

25th May: The day started well with an Osprey over the site at 8am and the Gropper was still busily signing away. After breakfast we headed for Blakeney Harbour (passing singing Nightingales on Kelling Heath as we drove through) where two hazy Spoonblobs were soon seen before we moved back to Cley.  There were a few waders dotted around the pools with Common Sandpipers, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Ringed Plovers and both Godwits while a summer plumaged Golden Plover stalked around the Eye Field avoiding the cows and Woodpigeons.

A quick look for a pair of American Wigeon on Holkham Freshmarsh drew a blank and back in those days you could chance your luck and park with a couple of wheels off the road on the main A149! On again to Wolferton where both Red and Black Kite had been reported. No longer being able to drive down to the pumping station meant a fairly long walk which was enlivened by male and female Sparrowhawks and a pigeon-scaring Marsh Harrier.  We were the only people down there which was quite surprising as this was where both Kites had been seen from and sure enough with in just a few minutes we found the Red Kite soaring effortlessly around. Just behind it was another Kite – a dark one with a square tail when spread, pale inner coverts and a greyish head. Bingo - Black Kite! There were ten Marsh Harriers of both sexes to compare it with but it always felt different even in the mode of flight with floppy wing beats and generally flatly held wings.  It also appeared to have more fingered wing tips. 

With both Red and Black Kite in the bag we only need to see the Montagu’s Harriers but with no joy we headed to Marsh Farm at Wooton where quite a crowd had gathered to look for the Kites and Montys. No one believed me but how they expected to see either Kite at over two miles range in the severe heat haze I do not know. I was quite happy to stand there and watch a pair of Montys quarter the fields before a second male caught us all unawares and made several passes close to where we were all parked.   Waders swirled over the distant Snettisham pits and a Little Owl was perused by Crows and Magpies.


Back at Corpusty there were now two reeling Groppers and a Woodcock was roding over the meadows where a pair of Grey Wagtails were feeding by the stream.

26th May: Most of the day was spent at Cley where yesterday’s waders were augmented by a few sparkling Grey Plovers, Turnstones, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank,  a pair of Little Ringed Plovers and a subtle Temminck’s Stint. A Whimbrel was also seen with the still present Golden Plover in the Eye Field.

A Bittern boomed invisibly at Dawkes Hide where Bearded Tits showed well and a Little Gull dropped in briefly before departing west with two Arctic Terns.  Both Spoonbills were snoozing merrily and woke up as soon as Mum looked through the scope. One was in full breeding regalia with all the bells and whistles.  An adult Yellow-legged Gull was another Norfolk addition.

Spoonbill and steaming pool!

After some dinner back at the van we headed back to the East Bank for the evening and although the midges were biting we persevered and got our rewards with a new adult Spoonbill being harassed by Lapwings until it left, a pair of Marsh Harriers, squealing Waters Rails, various warblers and pinging Beardies, four reeling Groppers and a Bittern that almost snuck past us as it came in from Salthouse.  There were a few of the already encountered waders down on Arnold’s Marsh but Sanderling and Little Stint were both new for the trip.

A pre dark look for Nightjars on Salthouse drew a blank although we did see a Tawny Owl and Woodcock and hear Nightingales in full song while a Skylark sang high above despite the fact that it was now pitch dark and the stars where shining through.

27th May: My morning walk around the site revealed a Moorhen nest and two fledged Grey Wagtails attended by theirparents. After breakfast we wormed our way through the Creakes to Titchwell passing several Grey Partridges on the way and an Egyptian Goose on a nest under a hedge.  The weather at Titchwell was very strange as I walked down quite comfortable in a t-shirt and then got drizzled on a froze to death at the end! The female Kentish Plover was very skittish and only seen briefly on the deck as it was constantly chased off by Ringed Plovers


A Temminck’s Stint was similarly mobile and quite a few people were happily ticking off summer plumaged Sanderlings as both species of Stint! The first young Avocets were tottering around on oversized legs and five 1st summer Little Gulls were doing circuits over the pools where their weird little grunting calls could clearly be heard. Marsh Harriers talon grappled and Bearded Tits showed very well along the path as I walked back with Swifts playing a game of dare to see just how close they could get to the tripod wielding public.

Lunch was taken in Downham Market (not sure why or where!) before heading back to Holkham for a full walk all the way down to Burham Overy Dunes and back.  The pair of American Wigeon were still out on the marsh and I seem to remember some doubts about their parentage but I could not see anything wrong with them from a quarter of a mile away! Three pair of Egyptian Geese (still a novelty!), a few Avocets and two Greenshank were also seen but the wood was unsurprisingly quiet with just a female Pied Flycatcher and both Marsh and Willow Tits being seen on the walk back.

28th May: We packed up after breakfast and headed for home via the Grandparents in Felixstowe where I think we had lunch n the Wimpy before undertaking the tedious walk all the way down to Trimley Marshes where there were no Temminck’s Stints but a good selection of other waders were seen with 14 Black-tailed Godwits, five Curlew, a black and orange Ruff with his spangled harem, two Little Stints and a Greenshank.  Little Terns were around us the whole time and Little Gull bobbed over a hidden reservoir.  There were lots of Yellow Wagtails and Reed, Yellow and Corn Buntings singing across the field while four Wheatear spoke of ongoing late passage. A tailess Lesser Whitethroat looked like a brown and white Goldcrest and we finished the trip with the expected visit to Languard where a Black Redstart was seen and a male Kestrel hunted insects on the ground while watched by two Ringed Plovers, one of which had been spray painted luminous orange as was the trend for tracking birds back then.  I seem to remember seeing a couple of orange ones the previous winter in Essex as well as pink, yellow and orange day glo Black-headed Gulls!

30th May: There had a been a big push of Common Swifts over the prevous few days and that had included a Needletail in Maidstone so I headed to the Chase with Paul H to check out te swirling birds over the lakes.  Alas there were no mega Asian Swifts but there was a very rusty Swallow amongst them. Little Ringed Plovers and Redshanks were displaying on the Slack and the first juvenile Grey Herons stood with four tired looking adults.  Reed Warblers and a lone Sedge sang and a pair of Spotted Flycatchers were down by the river.

No comments:

Post a Comment