Thursday 1 September 2022

Thirty Years Ago - August 1992

2nd August:

Pete G and I picked up Mick and Darren from Lackford at 9.30am and headed for the Honey Buzzards at Great Ryburgh where one appeared literally as we were about to give up.  It was a fine dark bird and performed overhead for nearly ten minutes in near perfect conditions.

We poodled on toward Cley, pleased with our effort, popping into the visitors centre to see what was about. A quick glance at the board revealed nothing of note so I set about looking at the recent bird photos that were for sale.  Then I heard Darren gibbering by the door something that sounded like ‘eleven Little Stints’. I could not understand his highly emotional state. Noticing the puzzled look on my face the lady behind the desk said ‘oh you obviously don’t know about the Red-necked Stint…’

It had only been conclusively identified ten minutes earlier and so off we went but no before I had another glance at the blackboard where in two inches high red capitals was ‘RED NECKED STINT – NORTH SCRAPE’. Ten minutes pater we were all in the rapidly filling hide with the bird immediately on view on a small grassy island with a Little Stint for comparison.

We spent an hour with the bird and it never left the island and returned there even after short flights.  I was very pleased with the notes that I took.

Many other waders were about including 40 Whimbrel, 4 Curlew, Black-tailed Godwits, sparkling Spotted Redshanks, Ruff, Dunlin, Snipe, Ringed Plovers and 20 Curlew Sandpipers. Feeling exhilarated at being on site for such a bird, we smugly wandered around to the other hides where we added ten Green Sandpipers, Common Sandpiper, Turnstone, Golden Plover, Lapwing, six LRPs and a couple of Egyptian Geese dozed with the Greylags and over summering White-fronts.

We sat around savouring the occasion for a while before heading west to North Wootton where 16 Marsh Harriers and a female Montagu’s Harrier obliged. Apparently three pair of Monty’s have bred this year and raised ten young and the Marsh Harriers had produced 38 so nearly 80 Harriers all told in the area!

Montagu’s Harrier 

After dropping the lads back off at Lackford and a much needed cuppa, Pete and I made our way to a random Breckland clearing that looked good for Nightjar and at  9.30pm they duly obliged along with a Goshawk and a lone Woodcock. What a day!


6th August:

Ian W and I headed up to Minsmere to meet Roy and the others so that we could go up to Cley for the Greater Sandplover that had turned up the day before. Once at Minsmere we were told that the Lesser Crested Tern that had roosted the previous night had departed before first light so we did headed straight for Norfolk.

The drive up was interesting and five up in Roy’s original little Mini was somewhat challenging and uncomfortable.  Add to the that the fact that the tyres needed some air and the rear seat was no longer attached to the frame made it an experience to remember but it was the ‘short cut’ to the Reedham Ferry that finished us all off as we nearly took off at the ‘unexpected’ humpback bridge causing said seat to move forward, three heads to crack into the roof and arses to land on the exposed metal work.

I have never been more glad to get out of a car.  The Honey Buzzards did not show so we made our way in a more sedate pace to Cley to find that a Sparrowhawk had spooked the Sandplover half hour before so with it being high tide we spent three hours grilling the reserve but unlike the 2nd it was no longer a wader fest with just some Green Sandpipers and LRPs.

With all possibilities exhausted on the reserve we made out way to Blakeney. As the tide was going out mud was gradually being exposed from the harbour wall and we were delighted to find the Sandplover tottering about amongst the first Ringed Plovers we looked at.  A very pale sandy silver colour with a huge white supercilium and forehead and a good orangey breast band that barely made it to the middle. 

Greater Sandplover

[Eds: My first ever twitch back in August 1985 was for a Greater Sandplover at Cley and we dipped.  This was a few days before the Little Whimbrel (still need) but I was happy ticking Pectoral, Curlew and Wood Sandpipers, Whimbrel and Spoonbill amongst others! Fortunately I had then seen the bird at Dawlish Warren on May 1st 1988 with Charlie Wilkins, Ian Lycett and Nik Borrow I believe! – happy days]

From here we headed back to Minsmere and the journey back was almost as bad – I got a window perch this time, hung onto the door handle and willed myself to sleep.  There was a good turn our for the Lesser Crested Tern but unlike the previous two evenings it did not come into roost but we had a great evening seeing three well plumed Spoonbills, 31 Spotted Redshanks, two Curlew Sandpipers, LRP, Green Sandpipers and a flock of 22 Common Sandpipers that teetered skittishly around the edge of the closest island.

Marsh Harriers quartered the reedbeds and Sparrowhawks tried to catch a Starling or two from the swirling masses and we finished up with a good natter in the car park followed by a some quality Nightjar action before a smooth journey back home with Ian.


8th August:

An afternoon trip to Dagenham Chase to look for a Garganey proved successful and I found it asleep with four Shoveler on the Scrape. It soon woke up and had a good paddle around – a really well marked obvious bird. There was very little else bar a young LRP, brood of Little Grebe and 16 Grey Herons.



9th August: 

A seawatch off Shellness with Peter G was quite productive despite the unexpectedly strong westerly wind with a good selection of moving waders, three Fulmars, 45 Scoter, 27 Black Terns and 30 Common, 15 Little and two Sandwich seen.  A single Marsh Harrier was hunting and there were many Yellow Wagtails.

We stopped for lunch at Funton Creek and as the tied dropped we counted 75 Blackwit, 50 Curlew, seven Whimbrel, 25 Oystercatcher, 150 Redshank, four Knot, 15 Grey Plover, 30 Lapwing and an amazing flock of 72 Spotted Redshanks!

Cliffe was our final stop and the biggest pool [Eds: Flamingo] was alive with Terns with seven Little, 19 Sandwich, 20 Common and a staggering flock of 150 Blacks of which 110 flew across the Thames and into Essex!  There were very few waders but four Greenshank were nice.


11th August:

The Cley Greater Sandplover had moved south and pleased all Essex Birders but reappearing on the Thames at East Tilbury. The orangey breast band actually appeared more obvious and the vent and belly also appeared to have gained some colour.  Thirty black-bellied Grey Plovers, two Curlew Sandpipers and two Avocets [Eds: 1300 there this week!] were also seen while a Hobby scattered Sand Martins and Yellow Wagtails.


14th-15th August: Cornwall

All week hundreds of Cory’s Shearwaters had been streaming through the south-west and it looked good for early Friday morning at Porthgwarra so a hastily arranged trip was concocted with Stewart Lambert. The drive down was illuminated all the way by a huge full moon and you could see the road for miles ahead.  I can’t quite ever remember seeing moonlight shadow like it. By 5.30am we were huddles on top of the headland watching a fairly calm sea with no wind at all – not ideal. During our five hours there were a few bits and bobs seen but it was all too slow to be classed as good.  Amongst the 110 Manx Shearwaters there were only three Sooties and one Med [Eds: now Balearic] but Fulmars and Gannets were ever present.  One microdot Storm Petrel was picked up and an adult Sabine’s Gull headed through with some Kittiwakes and there were only three Skuas with two Bonxie and a single adult Pom.

Waders were fairly well represented with Dunlin, three Whimbrel, five Common Sands and four Grey Phalaropes that actually landed on the sea for a while.  However not a single big Shearwater was claimed by anyone there. I was not complaining though as I did get seven year ticks and some amazing cetacean encounters with two pods of Risso’s Dolphins through and a pod of 22 Bottled Nosed Dolphins that stayed around the base of the cliffs for well over an hour.  The water was so clear that you could see them beneath the surface. They were just hanging and playing in the area where the two currents met off the headland. I was mesmerised and could have watched them al day but the lure of Aquatic Warblers drew us away at lunchtime.

Given the heat I expected nothing at RSPB Marizion but was pleasantly surprised to see two Aquatics immediately in the first big juncus clump thanks to a couple who had been keeping tabs on them. [Eds: oh the days when Aquatics were an August given in the south west…]

Aquatic Warbler

A third bird was seen a little further and again gave great views. I always seem to do well with this species. The reserve looked fantastic with secluded marshy pools amongst the juncus and reed clumps. Clouded Yellows flitted around and male Oak Eggers hurtled by at horrific suicidal speed.  It has taken my two summers to actually identify what this species is as they never seem to land!

I got two Odonata ticks too with a female Beautiful Demoiselle and a striking Golden Ringed Dragonfly. Emperor, Ruddy and Common Darters, Broad-bodied Chaser, Southern Hawker, Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damsels were also seen.  [Eds: I think that this was the first summer that I started to take a specific interest in other stuff]

Feeling pretty pleased with our day we headed back into Penzance to our B&B behind Jack Shea’s place [Eds: this is where our gang all used to stay when we first came birding in Cornwall by train before we could drive] and then made our way to Cape Cornwall to look for the Stella’s Sealion that frequents the rocks offshore and as usual it was not there [Eds: did it actually exist and did any birders actually ever see it?]

While I was off getting fish’n’chips in St Just, Stu was in the car and being propositioned by two teenage girls to pop back to their place for a good time at a reasonable hourly rate… He apparently politely declined and said that he was on holiday – I have never seen him looking flustered!

Back at the B&B I abandoned Stu and popped round to see Jack and Vera and have a catch up over tea and biscuits.  I got in at 11.20 needing some sleep as we were going to be up at 5.30!

The nest morning I felt like death warmed up but by 6.40 we were back at ‘gwarra and very soon there were about fifty mainly London birders in situ but with a glassy sea it was once again poor. Four Storm Petrels, two each of Manx and Sooty and a single Med is not exactly what we had in mind.

At 8.30 we headed back to Penzance for breakfast and then after filling some flasks with hit water for John Allen and Linda we trundled back and we had missed absolutely nothing at all. The next couple of hours added nothing new and the Dolphins were again the highlight. A female Peregrine performed acrobatics above us and Swallows and various Butterflies were obviously on the move with Red Admiral, Small Torts, Peacock, Painted Ladies and Clouded Yellows coasting.  Common Blues and Graylings were newly emerged cliff top dwellers and there were several Wheatears amongst the Stonechats.

The afternoon was spent at Marazion where the Aquatics were not as obliging and so we started for home, failing to find any Little Egrets at Topsham on the way.


17th August:

The chance of a Little Egret at Two Tree Island lured us along the Thames but there were too many creeks for it to hide in and we dipped but Paul W and I did see lots of Little Terns, Whimbrel and Grey Plover and a near adult Yellow-legged Gull paraded on the mud.

Three Whinchat and two Wheatears were on the tracks and a flock of 23 Corn Buntings were in the Hemlock stems.

With time pressing on we headed up to Mayday and the Nightjars churred on cue. One female was seen well and several Roe Deer moved across the clearing. We also heard our first juvenile Long-eared Owls and the squeaky door analogy is quite apt.

19th August:

An afternoon dash with Roy W and Simon Papps to Cantley Beet Factory.  It was a tedious journey but within minutes of arriving we had the Baird’s Sandpiper in the bag as it fed along the nearest edge of one of the cleaning beds. A small stretched wader and my first new bird for a while being one of my most sought after gaps.

There were many other waders present including a chocolate and gold striped juvenile Red-necked Phalarope that had eluded most birders but not us.  We counted 25 Green Sands and 15 Ruff and a Wood Sandpiper was a most welcome year tick.  There were also six Common Sands, six Snipe, three LRP, Ringed Plover, three Lapwing and 30 Golden Plovers to make up the impressive wader list.  A juv Garganey paddled around amongst a selection of other wildfowl.

Red-necked Phalarope 

As the evening drew in Pied and Yellow Wagtail started to drop in and presumably roost there and gangs of Migrant Hawkers patrolled the margins. 

From here we made our way to Breydon Water where we added nothing from by ASDA so we made our way back home seeing a Tawny Owl on the way.

23rd August:

Two Tree Island was pants so Pete and I went to Wakering Stairs and walked around adjacent to Potton Island. We faired better here with a good selection of waders encountered including two Spotted Redshank, two Avocet, two Greenshank and 33 Grey Plover. Yellow Wagtails were everywhere and we saw a couple each of Wheatear and Whinchat but it was the 200 Goldfinches in a field of Thistles that stole the show.

24th August:

A family visit to my Grandparents in Felixstowe tied in nicely with a Tawny Pipit at Languard Point but it took me two hours to re-find it on the Common.  It was meant to be a juvenile but I am sure it was an adult.  There were many Wheatears and Yellow Wagtails on the deck and several smart young Willow Warblers and a single Pied Flycatcher in the fort bushes.

Tawny Pipit 

27th August:

A female Sparrowhawk harassing Starlings over my house in Ilford was only my second record.

29th August:

The first stop for Pete G and I was Abberton Reservoir and I was pleased to immediately find 12 Ruddy Duck, a Ruff and an LRP from the Layer Breton causeway. Mark Wickens pulled up and reeled off a list of local goodies including the juvenile White-winged Black Tern.  We put in the time and eventually found it at some distance along with two juvenile Arctics.  Yellow Wagtails and two Whinchats fed around the field margins and in the EWT compound all the usual warbler species were present along with a fly by bird that I was sure was  Wryneck.

Speaking if which, on to Holland Haven where after a short wait a Wryneck duly popped into view. My sixth in Essex.


A good walk around with the three additional Pete’s [Eds: Newsom, Loud and Davies if memory serves] and the mercurial Tariq Watson produced a few passage warblers, two Spotted Flycatchers, 70 Yellow Wagtails, eight Wheatear, 52 Corn Buntings and two Turtle Doves and a large female Sparrowhawk was seen well.  We had lunch back at the car surrounded by 40 Migrant Hawkers – magic.

Latchingdon was the final stop of the day where the Lion Inn was the perfect spot to sit with a pint and watch the immature male Red-footed Falcon (my 6th this year) hunting dragonflies from a big Oak out back.  A fine way to end any day out.

Red-footed Falcon - John Humble

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