Tuesday 31 August 2021

Thirty Years Ago -August 1991

11th August:

Pete and I started off at Abberton Reservoir where there were hundreds of geese and ducks including over 800 Canada Geese, three Barnacle Geese, a Pinkfoot, four Bar-headed and a solitary Egyptian. (Ed: We did wonder at the time if the Bar-heads could have been continental in origin and Gypo was still a good county bird back then!).  The first two Wigeon were back and four male Ruddy Duck were noted. Waders were represented by 12 Green Sandpipers, five Common Sandpipers, ten Ruff, Greenshank, Turnstone and two Ringed Plovers while Yellow Wagtails were everywhere. On to East Mersea next where there were 70 sum plum Golden Plovers amongst the Sea Lavender and about the same of Dunlin out on the mud.  Little Terns were all around us and two juvenile Black Terns were steadily heading south.

We spent the next four hours at Fingringhoe watching the tide rise with many waders roosting up on the rapidly submerging saltmarsh with 600 Black-tailed Godwit, 1000 Curlew, 150 sum plum Grey Plovers, 15 Spotted Redshank and 27 Greenshank, 350 Redshank and a single Turnstone. Several Emperor Dragonflies and 15 species of Butterfly were seen including many Wall Brown.

12th August:

East Tilbury was the spot for a walk with the Woodward brothers although I am slightly perturbed by the casual mentioning of ‘many Small Blues’ which have not actually been recorded in the county for over 100 years. It was a species I was familiar with so I am still puzzled by what we actually saw.  I now live less than ten miles away in a straight line across the river and have the species on my doorstep so to speak so who knows.  It was not a time of everyone having a camera let alone a portable phone that could do amazing things! We shall never know.

Anyway we also saw Brown Argus amongst the 15 species seen along with a good selection of waders on the foreshore and three Yellow-legged Gulls.  A Wheatear and lots of Yellow Wagtails were along the river wall.

15th-19th August

Cornwalll and the Scillonian Pelagic


James H and I headed down at 5am  and by nine were we at Exminster Marshes and had bagged a male Cirl Bunting in record time as he sat in a hedge making plaintive little chip noises. This was a welcome year trip and saved the long diversion down to Prawle.  A couple of Spotted Flycatchers were added before we moved on.  

Cirl Bunting

Our next stop was Haldon were two Honey Buzzards were poorly seen in the rather overcast conditions along with a pair of Peregrine, five Buzzard, two Raven, Grey Wagtail, Tree Pipits and a single Crossbill.  However it was the sight of a Fulmar weaving in and out of the tree tops that made the visit!  Ed and Chris P arrived and joined us for a while before we moved on south to Stithians Reservoir but it was very quiet and we only found eight Dunlin and four Snipe. An hour later we were through Penzance (Ed; roads were poorer back then!) and on our way down the wiggly lanes to Porthgwarra. It was the first time I had driven down here and I never realised what a test it would be. Sooty and Manx Shearwaters were both year ticks before we retired to Mr Shea’s back in Penzance for the evening. 

(Ed: We used to stay with the Shea’s in their B&B on a side road off the high street in town for £8 a night for those first few years of Cornish visits and him and his wife always looked after us lads with a hearty breakfast at whatever ungodly hour we decided to get up and go out, dried wet clothes and generally made sure we went back to our parents in one piece.  I suspect that both are long gone now but will always be remembered fondly.)


We were back at Porthgwarra by 9.30am and had a good couple of hours seawatching with 395 Gannet, 20 Kittiwake, three Storm Petrel, 83 Manx Shearwater, one Balearic Shearwater, one Sooty Shearwater, 60 Fulmar, four Scoter and singles of Arctic and Pom Skua. A female Peregrine cruised around. (Ed: there were no Choughs back then). We drew a blank at Pendeen and the Hayle with only a family a Peregrines being taught how to hunt with a single beleaguered Bar-tailed Godwit taking the brunt of the terrifying practice runs. The day was rounded off with a couple of hours at Marizion where we found no Aquatic Warblers but did hear several Cetti’s and watched Great Green Bush Crickets and Oak Eggar Moths.

Great Green Bush Cricket


We got up at six to spend a few hours at Marazion again but still found no Aquatics. The Grey Herons were returning from their nightly sorties and there were a few other warblers and two Swifts before returning to breakfast.  With the winds swinging north west we went back to Pendeen where we had 1650 Manx, single Balearic and Sooty Shearwaters, hundreds of Gannets and Fulmars, 12 Whimbrel and James found a winter plumaged White Winged Black Tern going by (Eds: my notes are quite extensive and it even says that it was James’s first BBRC rarity although I can’t remember if we submitted it!). 

Down to the Hayle where the same Barwit was still getting hounded by the Peregrines although they ended up catching a male Sparrowhawk for lunch but we were soon lured away to Loe Pool for and eclipse male Ring-necked Duck that was bobbing around with some Tufted Duck.

Ring-necked Duck

Back in Penzance we searched for Med Gulls in Mounts Bay opposite the Heliport and found a winter adult along with a Sandwich Tern and a single Dunlin.  Some birders told us of an Icterine Warbler at Porthgwarra so off we dashed once again but saw nothing before giving up and sewatching off Pendeen once again where a Cuckoo was the highlight!

With the pelagic looming an early night was called for…


‘Beep beep beep!’ was followed by a the crash as I leapt out of bed at 3.27am to ready ourselves for the Pelagic. We were on the Scillonian by 5am and soon underway on what was to be another memorable trip despite the fact that not as much was seen.  It was still packed with excitement, laughs, disappointments, mistakes, chum, and above all a great crowd of people. Shearwaters were thin on the ground but performed superbly with six each of Great and Sooty, single Cory’s and ten Manx.  About 150 Storm Petrels were noted along with a the appearance of a dark rumped Leach’s type that appeared alongside before soaring away from the ship and yet produced a strangely mixed response of disbelief and complacency.  

(Ed: Several years later I answered a BB request for notes on all DRSP especially given the subsequent occurrence of North Atlantic Swinhoe’s and at the very least the record found its way into the records as such and leaning heavily towards this mythical species.)

Gannets were actually quite low in numbers and several near Albatross were encountered by those of wishful thinking along with the regular Cory’s Gannet. Amongst the Gulls were ten Bonxies, four Arctics and a single moulting Pomarine along with a smattering of Terns including a possibly Roseate.  Two Grey Phalaropes came up from alongside the ship Sanderlings and Golden Plover were also seen while two Wheatears and a Willow Warbler landed on board.  

Forty Harbour Porpoise were encountered in small pods as well as four Commons and ten sparkling White Sided Dolphins and a single bull Grey Seal.  Six wobbling Sunfish fins were seen and a Blue Shark and four large Basking Sharks were noted too.

Sooty Shearwater

Great Shearwater

During the quiet spells which sometimes lasted hours, we amused ourselves with talking about a scratch and sniff pelagic car sticker as the chum this year was particularly foul and appeared at one point to contain a pair of tights complete with attendant legs. One newcomer almost fainted when she saw one of the crew remove his hands from the dustbin thinking that they potent soup had stripped the skin from his hands and not realising that he was wearing some shocking pink Marigolds. 

We disembarked happy and tired and although it was not a ‘classic’ we were all happy as we ambled back to Mr Shea’s but not before I was offered a lift to Aberdeen for a Greater Sandplover which I declined as who needs it anyway?!


A last hearty breakfast and then down to Marizion for one last look for an Aquatic Warbler.  Thankfully one was seen well if briefly along with an equally brief Spotted Crake and Water Rail.  A Green Sandpiper lifted up from a pool and a Cetti’s Warbler flicked across the path. Stithians Reservoir next where we found two Green and a Wood Sandpiper, two Garganey any my first ever Med Gull in juvenile plumage.  A last look at Haldon as we headed for home was too hot for anything bar a female Goshawk but it rounded up a fantastic few days away with about 130 species seen and 831 miles on EMU’s clock (Ed: my first car… a white K reg Morris Marina).

Med Gull

26th August

Dad had been raving on about a place called Wicken Fen for ages and so we visited it as a family with James H on board on the Bank Holiday Monday.  It was beautiful weather but birds were almost non-existent. However, dragonflies and butterflies were abundant with Painted Lady, Brimstone, Emperor and various Hawkers and Darters.  A Short-winged Conehead was a new cricket species for me.  The highlights for me were a day flying Daubenton’s Bat catching insects just above the surface of one of the lakes, a bright Grass Snake in the margins and Great Crested Newts in the ditches.

After a spot of lunch we phoned Birdline and a Pec Sand at Welney tempted us north a little way.  The scrape in front of the hide was in superb condition and there was a good selction of waders to be seen with the well marked Pec, 25 Ruff in various plumages, six Dunlin, five scaly, peach breasted Curlew Sandpipers, six Green Sandpipers, three Wood Sandpipers, Common Sandpiper and lots of Lapwing and Snipe.

There were plenty of eclipse ducks and Mute, Bewick’s and Whooper Swans made an unseasonal trio while a Glider obviously missed his landing site and crashed way out in the middle of the floods.

27th August

The Woodwards, James and I paid our traditional late summer visit to The Naze and it was immediately obvious that a small fall of birds had taken place and during the visit we logged 15 Whinchat, ten Wheatear, Redstart, four Spotted Flycatchers, 30 Willow Warbler, 25 Lesser Whitethroat, ten Whitethroat, two Garden Warblers along with many Yellow Wagtails and finches.  An Icterine Warbler was seen very well in the Elders and a completely sandy cream leucistic Skylark had the pulses racing.

Thirteen Sandwich Terns was an Essex high count for me and 37 Sanderling and two Whimbrel were on the beach while offshore nine Wigeon arrived.

After lunch at Fingringhoe with Butterflies and a Nightingale for company we headed to Abberton where the feral Goose collection had just got weirder with seven Bean Geese with pink – not orange – bare parts.  On consulting my books it would appear that these variants are called Sushkin’s Goose.  Where the came from who knows but they also has a pair of Fulvous Whistling Ducks for company too so someone had obviously dumped a new batch on the causeway! (ED: I have just Googled Sushkin’s and in fact they even once had their own name of Answer neglectus but I have heard no mention of the form ever since!)

Five Wigeon, 13 Ruddy Ducks and 18 Black Terns were located and 13 Ruff, Green and Common Sandpipers and 14 Black-tailed Godwits were seen around the edges. Via a mistake on the way home we ended up at Hanningfield where we saw nothing!

29th August

A quick visit to Dagenham Chase resulted in three site ticks with a Dunlin, Wigeon and a Redstart along with a side order of six Teal and 110 Lapwing.

30th August

A Sabine’s Gulls that went past Canvey earlier in the day never materialised at West Thurrock Power Station as we hoped but we did see 44 Common Terns and two Arctics on the river and 28 Grey Herons standing around the outfall.

31st August

I took myself down to Canvey for a seawatch produced a few Skuas- well in fact three Skuas of three species with singles of Arctic, Great and a frosty juvenile Long-tailed. There was little else bar a few Terns that included 25 Sandwich, eight Little and a single Black.

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