Friday 1 October 2021

Thirty years Ago - September 1991

1st -5th September: A family holiday to East Anglia

1st: Towing a caravan is never a quick way to get anywhere but we eventually arrived at our little site in Wenhaston just north of the Blyth Estuary.  We had stayed there many times over the years including with the YOC on some of our spring adventures.   Soon after making camp we headed for Minsmere where I hoped to connect with the Kentish Plover that had been around for a few days.  An initial look at the beach hides produced very little on the parched scrape but I did see Whinchat, Wheatear and Stonechat on the way. Near the hide we were confronted by a group pf puzzled birders who had had brief views of a very bright Hippolais Warbler that they thought could be a Melodious. It showed very well but the longer it was watched the more the id was contested and only when it started chasing some of the hundreds of Silver-Y Moths present did it go from a dumpy bird to a long one and the long wings became apparent and it was revealed as an Icterine instead.

Icterine Warbler

The Kentish Plover was immediately on view as it tottered around with a good selection of other waders  including eight Curlew Sandpipers, 60 Dunlin, Little Stint, Sanderling and 20 Ringed Plover. Scanning around produced a single Avocet, 30 Snipe, three Redshank, 4 Green and a single Common Sandpiper.

Kentish Plover

My brother found a Pied Flycatcher in the Sluice Bushes and there were many Whinchats and Whitethroats around.  Somehow I persuaded Dad to now go to Benace for the four Spoonbills and once we had dodged the holiday makers very good views were had of this quartet and they even had they bills on show at times.  Eight Greenshank, three Bar-tailed Godwits and two Knot were wader additions for the day and nine Sandwich Terns and a Kittiwake were offshore.

2nd: We were changing site and after a morning stroll around the farm produced all three Woodpeckers and a Sparrowhawk we headed north to Field Dalling and Mum and Dad dropped my brother and I off at Cley Coastguards so that we could walk up Blakeney Point [Ed: The enthusiasm of youth!]. 

Six Arctic Skuas were seen in one flock on the sea as we trudged up, exhibiting such wonderful plumage variation and two others and a single Pom Skua were also noted.

Arctic Skua

Passerines were thinly spread  but included lots of Whinchat and Wheatear, Tree Pipit, two Spotted and three Pied Flycatchers, three Redstart, three Garden Warblers and a few Chiffchaffs. The juvenile Ortolan Bunting at the very end was very flighty but adequate views were had.  The walk back was very fast and enlivened by two Bottle-nosed Dolphins heading the other way.

3rd:  We took a one way trip out to Blakeney Point to see the Seals and then walked back to Coastguards but there were no small birds and only a few Skuas, Gannets and Terns over the sea before the cold and wet mist rolled in for the rest of the day.

4th: A quick seawatch from Cley Coastguards in the morning produced a few more Arctic Skuas, a sub-adult Long-tailed and a lot of Terns. Breakfast followed and then a visit to Wells Wood.  The area just beyond the kissing gate was crawling with birds and it was soon evident that there had been an arrival.  

Pied Flycatchers and Garden Warblers were everywhere and Spotted Flycatchers were also obvious along with Blackcaps, both ‘throats and many Phylloscs.  A Barred Warbler briefly perched up on a Bramble before crashing back out of views and with at least 30 Pied Flys to look at I spent some time marvelling at the plumage variation.  I found one particularly cold grey individual with a paler nape, rump and ear coverts along with double white wing bars and a large tear drop shaped primary patch that did not meet the wing edge.  [Eds: Even at the time I knew it was interesting and I tried to get other birders onto it but none were interested as autumn non-Pied Flys were a no go back then.  Having now seen literally dozens of Collared Flycatchers including several autumn birds I would have been shouting louder and certainly would do nowadays! I wonder if it called?  I will never know].

A Ficedula Flycatcher

After lunchtime in Wells town a quick call to Birdline sent us westwards to Holme where there was  a good chance of some quality birds. A richly plumaged juvenile Red-backed Shrike was quickly found and then a Wryneck flew by shortly followed by a second than did the decent things and perched up for a while at close range.


We were just walking back when the Warden shouted that the missing Rosefinch had just been seen in the first paddocks so Russell and I started running back down the road and somehow blagged a lift wit ha car going in that direction! After 15 minutes I picked up the bird as it flew around us calling – a fluty ‘tu-ick’. Very good views were had perched up on some Hawthorns – my best one ever by a long way.  There were lots of Pied Flycatchers, Whinchats and Wheatears in the area along with a single Redstart to round off the day nicely.

Common Rosefinch

5th: After breakfast we headed for home with a slight diversion to look for a Lesser Grey Shrike that we had inadvertently driven past on the way up! Thankfully it had stayed around and was actively feeding n large beetles and dragonflies from his telegraph wire vantage point.  A fine way to end a few days away with 124 species, six year ticks and even a potential lifer.

6th September:

Ken Barrett phoned last night to let me know about a Red-backed Shrike that was being kept quiet at Dagenham Chase so Paul H and I headed over there nice and early to have a look for it.  It was immediately on show and was happily catching grasshoppers and although harassed by Blue Tits and Lesser Whitethroats it really took no notice.  A Siskin flew over calling and two Whinchats along with a young Ruff made four Chase ticks in one morning! A young male Sparrowhawk dashed through and four Swifts were getting late in the season.  Shoveler were up to 28 and Teal 14.

Red-backed Shrike

Later on I headed down to Canvey with Roy and Ian W and met Neil M down there.  The tide was wrong and still going out but the next hour was amazing with a fine tally.  All four Skuas were seen with eight Arctics, and singles of Pom, Great and Long-tailed and then Neil found a Leach’s Petrel beating its way up river. Ever detail was observed and it looked strangely like a cross between a Black Tern and a Skua in flight. This and the Pom were Essex ticks and a third followed very swiftly with a Sooty Shearwater that we had just asked for that came into the estuary before swinging back out again. 

Leach's Petrel and Sooty Shearwater

[Eds: The Thames was still in a poor state back then and there was often a ‘smell’ about Canvey while river watching down there and as such we amused ourselves that day by changing the bird names to more locally apt ones including Shitty Sewerwater, Leaky’s Petrol, Pong and Great Sewers, Turdstones and Common, Little and Sandwich Turds…]


7th September:

A day out a Bradwell with Paul H and Ian W produced bugger all except some glorified Hippies and Canvey only gave us two Arctic Skuas and a Fulmar but the Red-backed Shrike at Dagenham Chase saved the day.

8th September:

A solo effort at Canvey from 7-20 am to 2pm produced some very nice tallies with 24 Arctic Skuas, an adult and juvenile Long-tailed Skua, Pom Skua, Gannet, 200 Common Terns, two Arctic, six Little and 70 Sandwich Terns.  The adult Long-tailed was first seen bobbing upriver. 

Long-tailed and Pomarine Skua and Sandwich Tern

Other interesting sightings included a large back passage of Turds, many of which became stranded on the shore and Logs of various sizes, A 7-Up and Diet Lilt were added to the Common Coke and Green Perrier spotted by keen young eyes earlier in the week.

Back at The Chase the Shrike had gone but there were three Whinchat, Wigeon, two Ruff and Reed Warblers were still feeding young.

10th September:

A totally mad afternoon started by James H phoning to inform me of a Roller at Adleburgh in Suffolk.  I immediately decided to go for it and arranged after picking James up to meet Roy W and Simon P at Brentwood.  They were over twenty minutes late and so we went without them.  The walk was an absolute killer but the reward was worth it and after 2.5miles of shingle we had the bird.  Contrary to the news it was showing very well and although not an adult it was still surprisingly bright and was especially vivid when it occasionally flew.

I think that this may be a Jack Levene image - if not then apologies

There was plenty else to see including three Short-eared Owls, a Barn Owl, female Marsh Harrier and a few waders and the walk back in the evening gloom was punctuated but an African Grey Parrot flying up and down.  The drive back was a little more sedate.

11th September:

A rather disappointing day in Norfolk made worse by Peter’s driving [Eds: sorry Pete as I know you will read this!] with a Sooty Shearwater and a few Skuas being scant seawatch highlights at Cley. Three Pied Flycatchers were seen in Wells and a Barred Warbler flicked out of its chosen Hunstanton front garden never to be seen again.  It was just one of those days.  A few autumn waders were seen at a quiet Titchwell including a Purple Sandpiper before an adult Sabine’s Gull was seen on an end of day watch from Sherringham.

Sabine's Gull and Arctic Skua

13th September:

A morning visit to The Chase where the Whinchats were still present. The Ruff had moved on and there were now four Snipe and 147 Lapwing on the Slack along with 24 Teal and the solitary Wigeon. I rescued a Magpie that had become entangled in fishing line and a female type Redstart was in the Shrike bushes while the Linnet flock was now up to 300.

15th September:

Abberton Reservoir was our first intended stop but due to EMU [Eds: my first car – a white tank of a Morris Marina] taking a distinct liking to the rear end of a shiny new red BMW at Heybridge, we arrived slightly later than planned. By now it was absolutely tipping it down but fortunately the juvenile Red-necked Phalarope was still paddling around the edge of the causeway - an Essex tick. It was typically hyperactive and flighty. Various other waders including nine Blackwits, 25 Ruff, four Curlew Sandpipers, Snipe, Dunlin and both Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers were seen.  There were 12 Ruddy Duck amongst the throng of other species and five Barnacle Geese were unusual even for Abberton.

Red-necked Phalarope

Benacre Broad was our second stop and before too long we were watching the juvenile Wilson’s Phalarope feeding along the margins.  It was a little way off but all the plumage features could be seen although it was the bright orangey yellow legs that really stood out. It’s feeding action was very different to the Red-necked and it was dash along on whirring legs and then almost fall over itself as it dipped down to peck at something.  There were also three Barwit, four Greenshank and four Spotted Redshank present and a single Grey Plover.  Out to sea a Pom Skua headed south and a fine male Common Scoter came in off and landed on the Broad.  With one of my headlights damaged we had to call it a day before dark and headed back to the car seeing a Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and five Hobbies as we did so.

Wilson's Phalarope

17th September:

An afternoon dash to Ely Beet Factory with the Woodwards and Neil M to get Wilson’s Phalarope for Ian’s list.  It took a little while to come out from behind the reeds but when it did it was clearly a different bird being greyer on the back with no dark centred feathers. 

Wilson's Phalarope #2

It was in the company of a good selection of other waders with four Golden Plover, a Little Stint and two Curlew Sandpipers being the pick of the bunch. Three Swifts were some of the latest I have seen and there were still Reed and Sedge Warblers around along with a large flock of Stock Doves.  The evening was spent at RSPB Fowlmere where we just missed out on a Spotted Crake but we did hear three Tawny Owls and see one.

19th September:

We left home at 1.30am [Eds: I think this was with Stewart Lambert, Ian W and a chap called Glynn] and arrived at Soar Warren in South Devon just before first light in the hope of seeing the first ever UK mainland Bobolink.  Only ten other birders were on site which seemed a little odd but it only took us ten minutes to find it as it flew up at Glynn’s feet. His stuttered, garbled proclamations of the flying bird soon alerted the rest of us! It was a beautiful morning and the light was superb and we watched it feed on various seedheads in a narrow Bracken belt alongside a dry stone wall. To describe the bird is somewhat difficult and it looked and behaved like some bizarre cross between a Corncrake in shape and actions and a Aquatic Warbler in plumage. A really stunning bird with nice beady eyes and an inquisitive expression. The spiky tail feathers were really obvious when the bird called as the tail was spread with each utterance – a rather Stonechat like note.



There was a heavy passerine passage under way with over 500 Meadow Pipits, 50 Tree Pipits, three Rock Pipits, Siskins, all three Wagtails, Robins, Whinchats, hirundines, Phylloscs, Blackcaps, ‘throats and a 1st winter Ring Ouzel. A young Peregrine made a pass at the Pipit flock and was then harassed by a party of Ravens. A ball of fur and dust scooting across a field turned out to be my very first live Badger!


From here were headed to nearby Prawle Point where a similar spread of migrants were on the move but with the additions of Redstart, Stonechats, Spot Fly and Garden Warbler and of course Cirl Buntings, ten of which were seen. Most were colour ringed juveniles but three rather smart males were noted. Two Grey Herons took off from the beach and there were quite a few butterflies around including Small Tortoiseshells, Painted Ladies, Red Admirals and Speckled Woods.  A Buzzard glided through and was the first of the day.

Slapton Ley next and a couple of hours were spent trying very hard to find the Cetti’s Warblers. They were singing heartily but only gave occasional glimpses. [Eds: Cetti’s in the south east were still a long way from recovering at this point]. Chiffchaffs, Reed and Sedge Warblers were noted and Water Rails squealed while offshore Sandwich Terns could be heard.

We headed back to Soar Warren for even better second helpings of the Bobolink before dropping into the neighbouring Soar Mill Cove and watching a very washed out Melodious Warbler in some Ivy.  It had almost no colour underneath at all.  Cirl Buntings were seen here too and two more Peregrines rounded up a most successful day out.

Melodious Warbler 

20th September:

A Yellow-browed Warbler had been seen the day before had been seen at Buckhurst Hill Gravel Pits in the Roding Valley and we spent the morning searching for it and although it was heard several times it would just not show itself.  Roy, Ian and I spent the afternoon at Fowlmere where the Spotted Crake did not show again but a Water Rail did and Deadly Nightshade was a new plant species for me.  Back in at the YBW it was still a no show but we did see two Grey Wagtails, two Sedge Warblers, two Spotted Flycatchers and a young male Redstart.

21st September:

Back for the Yellow-browed Warbler and this time it eventually showed well.  This very bright individual was loosely with a mixed flock containing Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps.  There were 23 Pochard on the lake and a single Greylag with 220 Canada Geese was a good local record [Eds: That status has changed somewhat in the intervening years…].

Yellow-browed Warbler

28th September:

A trip to Felixstowe to see the Grandparents included seeing the Red-necked Phalarope at Abberton on the way up.

29th September:

A rather quiet day at Dungeness with Pete with beautiful sunny weather while everyone else had torrential rain.  Two sessions at The Patch produced 50 Little Gulls, many Common and Arctic Terns and Kittiwakes, five Eider, five Scoter, Guillemot, three Arctic Skuas and Gannets.  The undoubted highlight was a fine juvenile Sabine’s Gull that was chased by the Little Gulls.

 Sabine’s Gull 

The ARC was teeming with Pochard, Tufted Ducks, Grebes and Coots and a a first winter Red-necked Grebe was found close in happily catching small fish.  The RSPB reserve was absolutely dead and with that we came home.

Red-necked Grebe

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