Wednesday 29 December 2021

Thirty Years Ago - December 1991

1st December:

An early start saw myself with Jon and Ad Clifton at UEA Broad on the outskirts of Norwich searching for the 2w Ring-billed Gull that had been around since October. It had been quite tricky to pin down but we were lucky and picked it up easily.  It was in quite advanced plumage and at glance resembled an adult although the eyes were still dark. 

[Eds: I believe that this was possibly the first for Norfolk?]

2w Ring-billed Gull

Some nearby gravel pits failed to produce Red-necked Grebe or Red-crested Pochard but we did find what appeared to be a female Ferruginous Duck. Cranes were next on the agenda at Horsey but we could not find any but a Short-eared Owl showed very well and caught several voles while a single female Marsh Harrier quartered and a herd of 100 Whooper Swans was out in the fields.

Down now to Lowestoft where a single Purple Sandpiper was seen at Ness Point along with a few Kittiwakes, a cracking male Eider and some Rock Pipits to be followed by two Waxwings gorging on Rosehips in Bloodmoor Road.


Our final stop of the day was at Benacre which we approached from the Kessingland end.  We eventually found the six smart Shorelarks on the beach along with a single Snow Bunting and six Skylarks.

4th December:

A disappointing trip to East Tilbury with none of the potential sea duck, Pom Skuas, Red-throated Divers or Merlin! There was only one Black-tailed Godwit but 45 Corn Buntings and 110 Stock Doves was notable. Hanningfield Reservoir had very low water levels and was quiet bar 2000 Lapwing and flock of 600 Pintail.

5th December:

Another early Norfolk venture with Jon Clifton, Tariq Watson and Ken Barrett [Eds: sadly the last two are no longer with us…] 

A Pacific Golden Plover was our quarry on Cley Eye but after two hours scanning thousands of Plovers it was only obvious by its absence.  

Steve Gantlett turned up and let everyone know that it was showing from Blakeney Quay causing a very sudden exodus of birders I that direction.  There were even more birds down here but no sooner had a couple of us picked up this small Plover than the whole flock got up and few back towards Cley.

A quick retrace and then another 30 minutes scanning to find the bird in the field. Crippling views were had and it came to within 15 feet of where we were standing. A tiny delicate bird only a little bigger than a Turnstone in body size but on long spindly legs.  We noted three projecting primary tips and the tertial tips ended about even with the tail.  A couple of short flights revealed the smoky grey underwings.

Pacific Golden Plover

With nothing better to do we headed back south and spent a couple of hours in the Yare Valley where 300 [Taiga] Bean Geese [Eds: those were the days…], 150 Russian White-fronts, 100 Greylags and 15 Canada Geese were noted [Eds: no Pinkfeet were wintering on this side of Norfolk back then]. 

We estimated 15,000 Wigeon across the flooded meadows and two Sparrowhawks and a female Marsh Harrier were seen before we called it a day.

8th December:

A crisp frosty morning walk at The Chase with Mum and Dad was greatly enhanced by finding the Long-eared Owls on show but not two but eight in two groups of four!.  There were still lots of thrushes around and duck were represented by 20 Teal and four Wigeon. I was not expecting a Chase tick though and the freeze had obviously displaced two Grey Plovers which circled the Slack but did not land. A Chiffchaff called from the scrub and a Water Rail popped out briefly on the ice.

10th December:

Back to Dagenham Chase with Ken B where four of five Long-eared Owls seen were selfishly flushed by a dog walker but allowed us some flight views for a change. Two Golden Plover flying around became my second site tick that week.  I had just left Ken and headed back off to find him and in the process relocated the Jack Snipe that Ken had seen earlier down near the Rom.

Two Sparrowhawks were out hunting and on the pit nearest the road there were two stunning male Goosanders paddling around along with 28 Tufted Ducks, a Pochard and a single female Gadwall. I was almost back at the car when 18 more Golden Plovers flew over!  Quite a morning on the patch!

11th December:

A quieter morning at The Chase with Peter G with only two LEOs and no special ducks.  Thrush numbers had risen again and the Jack Snipe was still lurking near the spring. Two Foxes patrolled the Slack and 45 Lapwings drifted over. I headed up London later on and saw four Snipe and amazingly a Woodcock from the train.

12th December:

Out with Dad, this time to Fishers Green.  It was very cold and frosty with little open water available and as such all the wildfowl were tightly packed in. We counted 26 Mute Swans, a single Canada Goose, 32 Great Crested Grebes, four Little Grebes, 180 Mallard, 199 Gadwall, 69 Shoveler, 24 Wigeon, 42 Teal, 65 Pochard, 64 Tufted Duck, 14 Goldeneye, one female Ruddy Duck, 60 Moorhen and 1100 Coot jammed into the small open areas. There were a few waders too with 130 Lapwings, 26 Golden Plover and two Snipe and two Kingfishers dashed along with Lee. There were a few roving Tit flocks and six Water Rails out and about searching for food.  Two Mute Swans had succumbed and one was be devoured by a very smug looking female Kestrel. A most satisfying morning out.

13th-17th December:

Daily visits to Barking Park to keep an eye on the Mute Swans in the ice resulted in a Jack Snipe around the edge and two male a female Gadwall.  Both good records and obviously the result of the cold snap.  Tawny Owls were vocal around home as well while a Great Spotted Woodpecker in South Park was the first local sighting away from Valentines or Wanstead.

18th December:

A bitterly cold but sunny day out in Essex with Peter G. We bravely walked out to Shinglehead Point  at Tollesbury and were rewarded with a good selection of winter waders and wildfowl including a male Scaup, nine Eider, 64 Goldeneye and 13 Mergansers along with a selection of small birds too with five Snow Buntings, ten Twite, 50 Skylark, 200 Goldfinch and Rock and Meadow Pipits. The only slight disappointment was getting totally covered in rich, black, smelly mud right up to my knees which Pete, as usual though was hilarious.

Abberton next where six Bar-headed Geese was the goosy highlight along with 800 Wigeon, 87 Shoveler, seven Goosanders, five adult Bewick’s and a single Whooper Swan. After Pete brewed a cuppa we headed to Mersea and dipped some Waxwings but I did get an Essex tick with five distant Velvet Scoter.  There were countless Golden Plovers and big flock of cackling Brent Geese while 67 Goldeneye, three Eider and 11 Mergansers were in the Colne.  A flock of 32 Corn Buntings was a nice was to end up the day.

21st December:

Our usual pre-Christmas visit to Felixstowe to visit my Grandparents resulted in brief views of the adult Iceland Gull heading towards the outfall and nine Corn Buntings and four White-fronted Geese battling against the wind at The Ferry.

24th December:

A couple of hours at The Chase was well spent with seven Long-eared Owls in one bush, 32 smart Shoveler, 40 Teal and a dashing female Merlin to become my third site tick this month.

25th December:

A very late post dinner visit to The Chase with Dad gave superb views of one of the LEOs actually out hunting.

Long-eared Owl

26th December:

A quick visit to show my Grandad Stan the LEOs.  We saw four and he was most impressed.

27th December:

A very early start for a special bird – a Laughing Gull. The 140 mile journey up to north east Norfolk with Peter G and Roy and Ian Woodward was enlivened by two Tawny Owls. We had only been at Walcott twenty minutes when it was picked up on the beach before quickly flying inland to a field where it paddled around with some Black-heads in a puddle. A small dark looking first winter gull with a black smudgy mask and a droopy dark bill.  This was a much welcome life tick.

Laughing Gull

We headed south to Waxham and passed eight Whooper Swans on the way.  The Cranes had just flown over the bank but our usual little bit of trespassing [Eds: I am pretty sure I can remember where this was] saw us peering around a barn at five stalking adults at close range.  They were sharing the fields with 42 more Whoopers and a quartering female Marsh Harrier.


Onwards to Cantley where 170 Bean Geese were on show including two blue and one white neck collared individuals. Sixty White-fronts and 15 Ruff were also noted before we crossed Reedham Ferry and made our wat south to Butley where both an adult and immature Rough-legged Buzzard were dutifully on view at the same time, both perched and in flight. Four Barn Owls were our hunting the fields and Sparrowhawk and Kestrel were also seen before we called it a day.

Rough-legged Buzzards

29th December:

After Jon and Ad’s wedding in North Essex yesterday I needed a walk and so headed down to the Concrete Barges at Rainham. It was a most worthwhile visit to my least favourite spot [Eds: says he, just coming up on 19 years working at the place…].  

Six Water Pipits were located amongst the numerous ‘littoralis’ Rock Pipits and a Purple Sandpiper was tottering around the Barges with the Dunlin and Redshank and was my first Essex record away from Southend. [Eds: There has not been another Rainham one since…] A Common Sandpiper was also seen along with Snipe, Ringed Plover and Lapwings.

Water Pipit

31st December:

A final Chase visit with just three LEOs found but any owl is a nice was to round up the year.

I ended up with 313 species in 1991 but only managed 11(ish) lifers which was probably to be expected as my list creeps ever closer to the magic 400. I wonder what species that will be?

Thursday 2 December 2021

Thirty Years Ago - November 1991

3rd November:

A day out in Sussex with Peter G that started very well near Arundel at the very pretty Swanbourne Lake where an immature drake Blue-winged Teal lurked at the back with a small group of Gadwall and a lone Ruddy Duck. It was fully winged and unringed and apparently not from Arundel WWT just up the road. It was shy and wary and a welcome year tick although I suspect many people will not even bother going for it.

 Blue-winged Teal

On now to Church Norton where the weather conditions deteriorated to squally, very windy and cold. Waders and ducks were everywhere and there was a good mix of Mergansers, Goldeneye, Great Crested and two Slavonian Grebes.  It was too windy for small birds and so after lunch and coffee we headed north to Staines Reservoir where quite a lot had been present. When we got there the temperature dropped and rain was imminent although when it arrived it fell as whopping great hail stones which stung painfully. However a small cluster of birders were on the causeway and soon we too were watching a cracking female Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye, Goosander and Slavonian Grebe along with a creeping Purple Sandpiper [Eds: The only other LNHS one I have seen was on the Concrete Barges at Rainham] and a dashing Merlin. A good end to a wintery day.

Velvet Scoter

6th November:

Jon Clifton phoned early on in the day and asked if I fancied going for the Desert Warbler near Whitstable and a supressed [Western] Bonelli’s Warbler nearby at Shuart Farm at Reculver.  The trip down was enlivened by my very first crossing of the newly opened QEII Bridge between Thurrock and Dartford. What a view! [Eds: oddly, after the last twenty years of commuting over it most days I still enjoy the view!] The Desert Warbler had gone but two Swallows were first in November and there were many Brent Geese and we estimated that 70% were juveniles.

We soon moved on and snuck down to the farm and it took half an hour to find this silvery little Bonelli's Warbler flitting amongst the Willows and Sycamores.  It regularly called – a vaguely Chiffchaff like poo-eet.  About eight Chiffchaffs were also present along with a few Tree Sparrows and a couple of Brambling.  There were over a 1000 Fieldfare and 600 Redwing in the fields.   The warbler had been present for about a week I believe.  A subsequent seawatch from Reculver produced lots of waders and a Little Auk.

 [Western] Bonelli’s Warbler 

10th November:

After the disappointment of netting getting a lift up for the St Andrews Chimney Swift [Eds: still need it…] I was quite pleased with the results of a day out in Norfolk with Peter G.  He did not tell me that we were going Goose hunting and amazingly we pulled up at Stanhoe and I immediately refound the adult Lesser White-fronted Goose with the Pink-feet. 

 Lesser White-fronted Goose

The flock soon departed and so we headed for Burnham Norton to look for Lapland Buntings.  The flock was found but only one was seen well.  Lots of Linnets, Skylarks and Twite fed in the damp pastures while Rock and Meadow Pipits were numerous. Amongst the Brent Geese was a coffee coloured leucistic bird that I first saw in 1987 and once again there were plenty of young birds. A Ruff was found with the vast flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers and Wigeon grazed all around us. We bumped into a couple of Essex birders – Adrian Kettle and Tony Wells and they had just re-found a seldom reported Richard’s Pipit.  It was a very grey individual with well marked uppers and clean peachy underparts.

Richard’s Pipit

Back on the road and just before Burnham Overy Staithe a fine Rough-legged Buzzard glided across the road and was first in Norfolk since my life tick one way back on that most memorable of October half terms in October 1985.

Cley was the next stop and after some beans on toast down at the beach cafĂ© [Eds: those were the days…] we ambled along the bank picking up a Little Auk and some Scoter while a second Little Auk was paddling up and down the North Dyke. Hundreds of Wigeon, Teal and spectacular Pintail were outside the hide and two Black-tailed Godwits made a brief stop.  The Golden Plover flock on the Eye Field was as good as ever while a nice winter plumaged Water Pipit on the shingle was a good November bird.  Having found Stu we decided to follow him to a phone box to call Birdline but he did not see the  beautiful Short-eared Owl that glided over his car with wonderful golden eyes. News of four Rough-legged Buzzards at Massingham Heath sent us scurrying homewards but only one was seen distantly and briefly along with three Sparrowhawks. [Eds: remember that there were no Common Buzzards or Red Kites to worry about back then!]

11th November:

Being stuck in the traffic as usual on my way to Middlesex Uni proved beneficial especially as I was between the William Girling and KGV reservoirs when a male Peregrine perched up on a post at the top of the bank! 


13th November:

A day trip up north. Peter G and I met up with Jon Clifton at Great Bentley at 5.45am on a cold crisp day for our journey to Scorton Tip near Catterick on North Yorkshire. The weather held until we got there when the heavens opened.  Our quarry was a Franklin’s Gull and thankfully it only took ten minutes to relocate it with the handful of other birders present.  It certainly made up for my previous dips.  It still had a lot of black on the had and put on a good show.

After this we headed north just a 25 more miles to look for the Black Grouse at Langdon Beck.  A couple of inches of fresh crisp snow lay on the ground but the Grouse were proving tricky until we eventually found a single of each sex someway apart. It was my first good look at a female and she reminded me more of small female Capercaille. After a look at the mighty High Force waterfall we headed for home with a Merlin over the A1 the only highlight of the long journey home.

17th November:

A day in the Home Counties with Jon and Ad Clifton and Peter Pyke that started in the Lady Amhurst Pheasant woods but it was very foggy and a couple were heard and two briefly seen as they dropped out of the trees. All six Tit species were present and some cute Muntjac.  Our main quarry for the day was an American Golden Plover near Milton Keynes and after some chasing around superb views were had of this first-winter bird with the Golden Plover and Lapwing flock.  A lone Dunlin was with the flock and a Sparrowhawk cruised over.

American Golden Plover

On again and back southish to Uxbridge where the adult Ring-billed Gull had returned to Rockingham Rec. There were footie games going on but we soon found him loafing around the edges.  He still had a full white head with not one speckle. 

Ring-billed Gull 

On to Wrasbury for Ring-necked Parakeets where a local resident kindly let us into his garden to get better views with at least 20 seen.  

 Ring-necked Parakeet

The Velvet Scoter was still present at Staines but there was not much else on this occasion bar an adult Yellow-legged Gull so we soon moved on again stopping at Papacourt GP near Ripley in Surrey where another female Velvet Scoter and a Black-throated Diver were quickly despatched.  There was a big flock of Siskins and a few Brambling were with some Chaffinches.  Only the lack of Great Grey Shrike at South Norwood dampened an otherwise great day.

Black-throated Diver 

Later that evening news broke of a Mugimaki Flycatcher up north.  I had never even heard of this far eastern species and after a few frantic calls I had myself a lift and headed for my bed…

18th November:

A dip… What a day. Seven hundred miserable birders at Stone Creek on the banks on the Humber in the pissing rain and several inches on squishy mud.  I was not too disappointed and enjoyed a good natter with friends. [Eds: I can remember LGRE that day being particularly animated…] By 3pm it was getting dark and the bird hade already become known at the ‘F@£&£”% Shitty Flycatcher’.  The trip home in continuous rain was made more bareble by using a Drive Thru McDonalds for the first time. Says it all really…

20th November:

I headed over to Dagenham Chase in the hope of finding the Long-eared Owls and was pleased two sitting full out in the open. Nice to see them back again.  Later on I took Mum over so that she could see them too and added a male Sparrowhawk perched up in the next bush.

22nd November:

Back to The Chase but no LEOs today but there were more thrushes and the Sparrowhawk again.  Six Shoveler, two Wigeon and 60 Teal were on the Slack and I found six Reed Buntings and three flocks of Long-tailed Tits.  A fly through female Goosander was new bird for the site for me.

24th November:

A slightly misty day out in Essex with Peter G which started well at Shop Lane on East Mersea where 16 Lapland Buntings, 300 Skylarks, 25 Corn Buntings, 15 Yellowhammer, 15 Reed Bunting, 30 Twite and a few Meadow Pipits were encountered in the fields along with about 800 Golden Plover, Brent Geese and a few other waders. The Colne was fairly quiet although there were two Mergansers and 11 Eider. 

We moved onto Fingringhoe Wick for lunch and in a couple of hours we did very well for raptors with three ringtail and an adult male Hen Harrier, Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and two Merlins and a Rough-legged Buzzard. [Eds: note that we did not see a Marsh Harrier or Common Buzzard and even Peregrine was still a very scarce bird back then]. 

A flock of 600 Fieldfare fed in the Hawthorns before we headed to Abberton Reservoir where 2000 Golden Plovers, Goosander, eight Whooper Swans and 44 Bewick’s Swans were noted.  A Little Owl was seen on a roadside tree at Birch on the way home.

Rough-legged Buzzard

25th November:

I tried to get onto the KGV Reservoir for the Great Northern Diver but all my usual gaps had been filled in so I had to be content with a walk around Connaught Water.  The duck count was pretty good and included 32 Gadwall, five Wigeon but just two Mandarin while a Kingfisher was my first in a long time.