Sunday, 21 January 2018


I went up to Norfolk yesterday with Colin. The weather was rather indifferent, being damp and drizzly with rain in the afternoon, but it was a lot better than elsewhere. Travelling up, we noticed a lot of trees and branches had come down due to the recent high winds-I gather it was quite severe in North Norfolk.
We went to Thornham again-the Twite are still around in the harbour, with around 20 now. it was a bit problematic getting there as the road was closed between Hunstanton and Holme, needing a diversion from Heacham inland. This enabled us to pick up a few large flocks of Pink Footed Geese, a lot of Red Legged Partridge and a party of Bullfinch crossing the road in front of us. It also meant we arrived rather later than expected.
The Twite were easy to find, flying up from the puddles in the car parking area as we approached. They seemed to be a bit more approachable than last time, but only spent a few seconds around the puddles before flying off again. The usual selection of waders were in the harbour-Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing and Sanderling. One Spotted Redshank was in the creek behind us. Lots of distant birds over the sea, including Red Breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebes and a Great Northern Diver, but many remained unidentified due to the distance.

 We then went to Titchwell, which turned out to be rather less busy than usual. Colin had a quick test of one or two telescopes and while he was watching the feeders I noticed a Treecreeper-in 30 years I think it was my first for Titchwell. Apparently they are seen occasionally but are barely annual.
High water levels on the fresh marsh produced a lot of duck, some geese and not much else-one small island had a few Knot and Dunlin. Most of the waders were on the mud on the brackish marsh. Last year we missed a Greenshank here and I hoped it would be around today, but no such luck. Just the usual godwits, Curlew Grey Plovers and Redshanks. More were on the flooded lagoon behind the dune, and here we found all the Avocets and Oystercatchers, plus several Pintail.
The sea was rather calm, but visibility at a distance was poor, with the wind farm hard to make out with the naked eye. A sizeable  flock of Red Breasted Mergansers in Brancaster Bay had some Common Scoter with them. Apparently there was a single Velvet Scoter and Long Tailed Duck with them but I couldn't find them. Lots of Great Crested Grebes and Red Throated Divers as usual, with one or two Great Northern Divers on the sea, and I also  found a flyby Black Throated Diver. There were a few Guillemots and Razorbills as well.
On the way back we stopped off at Thornham Pool, found a showy Water Rail and had the water Pipit location pointed out-unfortunately largely hidden in the channel by the reed bed. A couple of calling Cetti's were the only warblers encountered all day.
The plan for the afternoon was to go to Leatheringsett for the Arctic and Mealy Redpolls, but as we were setting off, birds were reported again at Kelling, which seemed a better bet as we knew the area.
It was raining as we arrived and steadily got worse. The Redpoll flock were very flighty but dropped down into a bare tree every now and again. Seemed to be a mixture of Lesser and Common (Mealy). Three Coue's Arctic were supposed to be present but never showed while we were there. Bonus birds included a flyby ring tail Hen Harrier and at least three Woodcock.

Because we were getting so wet we popped into Cley Spy and had a look at some more scopes, tripod heads and binoculars, though it really entailed having a long chat with one of the staff members. Their feeders had a few House Sparrows but not much else due to the disturbance of a new hide being constructed.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Amwell on Saturday

Colin was thinking of a trip to Kent over the weekend, but I was still feeling a bit under the weather so I decided to go down to the Lea Valley on Saturday morning and see how I felt afterwards.
My initial plan was to go to Cheshunt and see if the Smew was still on Bowyers Water and then walk up to the northern pits for the Goosanders. However, if we were going to Kent there was a fair chance of seeing both at Dungeness so I went to Amwell instead.
It was a bit of a let down when I got there just before 9am. It was cold, overcast and there didn't seem to be much about. A scan of Hardmead Lake from the viewpoint produced two Egyptian Geese, a few Mallard and Gadwall, lots of Coot, a couple of Lapwing, one or two Black-headed Gulls, more Coot and a few miscellaneous geese.
After about 15 minutes I headed down to Hollycross on the nice new gravel track (the work has pretty much finished and they have done a decent job cleaning up afterwards). I hardly found a bird-a few Blackbirds, one Mistle Thrush and a party of Long Tailed Tits. The feeders had a couple of Great Tits and Chaffinches with a fly by Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Thinking I had made a big mistake coming here, I slowly headed off back to the car, with the intention of going to Rye Meads but bumped into William at the Bittern Pool . He wasn't impressed with the lack of birds either. We went up to the viewpoint and found Bill and Phil along with a lot more birds. Something like 40 Wigeon had arrived, Great Crested Grebes had appeared, along with one or two Goldeneye, and there were more gulls as well. Despite the conditions, there were at least seven Buzzard and two Kites, plus some thrushes over the woods.
We went back to Hollycross. No Bittern on the pool, and still no passerines along the track. However we heard some Ring Necked Parakeets and two Redpolls were found were seen on Alders by the cottage. We also heard Siskin, and found a few thrushes. Pretty hard going though and we had to really work to find many of the birds, but in the end a day list of 50 isn't too bad.
Unfortunately I was frozen and didn't really warm up over the rest of the day, and felt really rough in the evening,  so I didn't think it would be a good idea to do Kent on Sunday. To make matters worse, the Crossbills were seen again at Broxbourne.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Broxbourne Again

I was expecting to have a big day out this weekend to help boost my rather pathetic year list-I managed to add Grey wagtail at work to bring it up to a stunning 35. Unfortunately, I spent hours at the hospital on Thursday waiting to have a blood test done and seemed to have picked up a bug-just feeling very tired and a bit sick.
Anyway having told Colin I wasn't feeling great I woke up this morning and decided to go out for a couple of hours. The Broxboure Parrot Crossbills have been seen on and off all week and I still need them for my Herts list. Yesterday was very cold and frosty and today seemed  a bit better but heading down Mangrove Road was rather dicy with the car sliding around on every bend, and with the low sun in my eyes it wasn't a pleasant experience.
I got there at 9, Darren and William had already been there for quite some time with not a lot to show for their efforts. Mike Illet and Richard Pople turned up later, as did a few others. It was bitterly cold even with the sun shining down on us and maybe that affected things as I saw relatively few birds in the two hours that I was there. Great potted Woodpecker was the only new bird for the year, heard a few Siskin again, and tits and Robins were vocal.
No Crossbills again. They seem to be very erratic, some times they may only appear briefly, if at all yet some days they will remain on view for an hour or more. What doesn't help is that these ones aren't all that vocal, and I know from past experience you they can be in the tree right by you and you might not know they are there. Not sure if I would want to go down again, but I expect that they will stick around for a couple of months, so I guess I will have to try at least one more time.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Big Bills for the New Year

Colin and I had a fairly gentle start to the New Year with a fairly short run today. I only managed to get 34 species for the year list, but there were a few good birds, including a couple I hadn't seen for some time. We seemed to get a lot  of the big beaked non water birds today.
Departed at 8am and headed down the A1, and the first good birds were found at Welwyn Garden City. Recently a Ring Necked Parakeet roost at Stanborough has been building and peaking at over 500 birds, but even so, it was a nice surprise when ten or so flew low over the car.
We reached Wishmoor Bottom near Camberly an hour later and joined a steady stream of birders, dog walkers and those out for a New Year stroll. Unfortunately it remained dull, damp and cool all morning, and birds seemed a bit thin on the ground
Following a map and advice from a local dog walker and a returning (successful) , Colin and I ended up a little way off from the rest of the birders overlooking the shallow valley where the Parrot Crossbills have tended to be seen. We had missed a mixed flock of 16 Common and Parrot Crossbills by about twenty minutes and the information suggested that they had been seen flying over the ride where we were situated. A long wait of an hour produced a few birds, including Nuthatch and Redpolls, some Magpies and a Jay. Unfortunately our location was not good for Dartford Warbler (everyone on the other side of the valley seemed to have seen some). We did get a couple of fly over crossbills-the first a deep sounding bird wasn't seen but appeared to be calling from over the high ridge behind and east of us. We assumed Parrot. The second flew north over our heads and was clearly a Common. We headed off following it but bumped into a couple of birders who hadn't heard it. Believing it to be still around we returned to our lookout spot and the couple moved south stopping by some birches where I noticed them pointing cameras.
Approaching them I could see at least two Crossbills in the scope which dropped to the ground and then flew down to a puddle with some other birds. We fired off some shots and I thought one looked rather chunky in the scope, but they then flew off into some pines and were lost to view.

We got closer and realised that there were a number of Crossbills feeding in the pines. No idea how many were in there as they were very hard to see most of the time, but I suspect that ten would be about right. The scope views I had suggested that all were Common and the other three (later four agreed). Not entirely sure about the following male bird though.

The lighting was awful and deteriorating all the time , so the photos weren't all that great.
We left the others around 11am, pointed a couple of others we encountered in their direction and headed back to Herfordshire.
Arrived at Bramfield just after 1pm and joined four others just south of the church scoping the trees in the vicarage garden where one Hawfinch was sitting in the top of one of the trees. Didn't stay all that long as rain arrived.
Shortly after we reached Wishmore, Twitter alerted me to the fact that Mike Illet had seen three Parrot Crossbills at Broxbourne-the first report since I was there Christmas Eve so we decide to get there and hope the birds would come into roost. Met Ade Hall and Jane Free leaving in torrential rain that quickly cleared-they had been on site  for much of the day without success, so we went down to the cross track with a few others and waited. It got sunnier, but colder and apart from a Siskin we didn't see a great deal. Stuck it out until just after three and we all decided to call it a day. Laurence Drummond later reported a Siskin and a Brambling as the only birds coming in to roost.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Broxbourne Woods Christmas Eve

Earlier in the week Barry Reed found three Parrot Crossbills in Broxbourne Woods-part of this autumn's influx. The first records ever for Hertfordshire, and the first in the London recording area since the mid 19th C, so they have been rather popular. Being stuck at work and with other commitments, today was my first available opportunity to get down there.
By the time I got there at 9am, with one other car load in front of me, there had already been one report so it was a case of getting to the right area and waiting. Gradually numbers built up, including Simon West, Darren Bast, David Darrel Lambert, Colin Wills and Richard Pople, so there was plenty of chatting to while away the hours. David had been down yesterday with his recording gear and was using it again today, but unfortunately the Gibbons at the nearby Paradise Wildlife Park were pretty much the only things making a noise this morning.
We had lots of corvids and gulls going over, the occasional Redpoll and Siskin, and the usual species one can find in conifer plantations. Just about the only thing not showing were Crossbills. Richard and I stuck it out until just before noon, before giving up.
One distraction on the way back was a very close flyby Raven which was rather problematic as I was following Richard up the lane and we were both trying to avoid an oncoming car in the very narrow lane.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

A few hours at Amwell

I didn't go on any major birding trips this weekend. The White Crowned Black Wheatear in Scunthorpe was a non starter from the moment the news came out (returned to the aviary yesterday). The recent influx of Parrot Crossbills with a couple of flocks in Berkshire and the Brecks were better but I thought we'd try for those later in the month since Colin wasn't available.
This morning wasn't all that inspiring, overcast, light misty rain at times, but since it has been a while, I spent some time at Amwell this morning.
The recent work by the gas board seems to have gone fairly well so far, with a lot less damage and disruption than expected. Rather more worryingly though is British Rail's determination to close the level crossing on 'safety' grounds even though there have not been any problems in the 30 odd years since I have been visiting. This would make accessing the reserve very difficult, cause major problems for those living on the canal, and prevent any sort of vehicular access to the marina. Fingers crossed on this one.
Water levels are reasonably high considering the lack of rainfall. Lots of Wigeon in today, with some Gadwall, Teal and Shoveller. Only one pair of Goldeneye though. Recently Pintail have been present, and there have been sightings of Goosander as well (presumably wintering in the Cheshunt complex). Lots of large gulls around, with maybe a dozen Greater Black Backs, similar numbers of Lesser Black Backs, some Herrings and a few Common Gulls. A couple of white headed Herrings caught my eye and I spent some time on one particular individual before deciding that it wasn't anything unusual. Pity really as I then picked up a Yellow Legged Gull which quickly moved off, but I managed to get everyone on it and obtained one image. Its the one on the left in the close up.

A walk down to Tumbling Bay didn't produce much in the one tit flock that I found. The alders had the usual Siskin and Goldfinch flock, but no Redpolls. Nothing much on the feeders at Hollycross.
I found a Treecreeper on the way back that performed reasonably well for me (would have got better images if didn't have to change the battery in the camera).

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Birding in a Porsche

Well I finally got a run in Colin's new Macan yesterday. Still not feeling brilliant, with a lingering cough, but we had a short day out in Norfolk. Thoughts that the a walk in the fresh air would help didn't exactly work as it was very cold with a strong wind, but we had a good time.
The car is a bit more compact than the Nissan, handles much better and is far more comfortable. It is also a lot more economical and has a 500+ mile range so long distance twitches should be a bit easier on the pocket. I spent a good deal of the journey  fiddling with the 18-way seat adjustments. I haven't quite got the passenger seat right yet but its close. The one failing of the car, if I can call it that is that the GPS altimeter doesn't like being below sea level, and at one point was reading 19999 feet when we were near Welney. All I need is a lottery win.
We kicked off at Thornham where we hoped to see a wintering flock of Twite. Not much of a challenge as they spent most of the time in the channel just behind the car park.

Viewing from the sea wall was a bit challenging with a very strong wind so I didn't stay long. Scanning the harbour mouth produced the typical selection of Brent Geese, Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Dunlin and assorted gulls. Hopes for a Merlin or Hen Harrier appeared to go out of the window due to a shooting party on Thornham Marsh, though I was later told that it didn't usually cause much disturbance.

Titchwell was pretty quiet for a change, plenty of spaces in the car park. The tide was just about high when we arrived, though it wasn't a big one. Despite this, the fresh marsh was pretty full with only a few small flocks of duck and waders. One Avocet, a small flock of Knot and a few Godwits being the highlight. Seemed to be more Ringed Plovers than usual, but no Ruff, Spotted Redshanks or Greenshank.
Most of the interest was on the sea. This proved to be a bit tricky with the wind and the fairly rough conditions. Most of the birds were some distance out in the heat (!) haze. The usual flocks of Great Crested Grebe and Red Breasted mergansers were in the bay, with a few others scattered over the sea. One or two close Red Throated Divers were easy to identify, but most other divers were a along way out and only one Great Northern was identified with certainty. Also a long way out were a coupe of Great Skuas and many auks. Luckily a few Guillemot and Razorbills were close inshore as were one or two smaller birds-my first Little Auks for several years.
Returning to the car we spent some time scanning the Pink Footed Geese on the grazing marsh but failed to find anything else-Taiga Bean Geese have been seen in the area and a small flock that we saw fly over Thornham was supposed to have a Greenland (?) Whitefront with them. All I managed to see were a few Snipe and Red Legged Partridge.
We called it a day after lunch, not wishing to spend too much time in the cold and returned home via Welney. No raptors or owls, in fact apart from a few Lawping flocks most of the fields were empty, and we only managed to locate two herds of wild swans. The only one we got close to turned out the be Whooper.