Monday, 19 February 2018

Ashdown Forest.

Sunday 18th February, 2018.
Old Lodge, Ashdown Forest.

A stroll around Old Lodge with the family on my birthday, what could be better.
Well the icing on the cake was "bumping" into a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker.
A nice birthday bonus.
Otherwise very quiet but not many weeks until Tree Pipits and Redstarts ......

Old Lodge

Old Lodge

Old Lodge

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Twitching in the E.U.

Saturday 3rd February, 2018.
Belgium & Holland.

Garden list, "patch" list, Kent list, British List, the world !
That's how my birding has evolved, it's probably fairly normal.
I can't be bothered with Western Palearctic listing, it seems a bit daft to me (bits of Africa & Asia and islands more than half-way to the U.S !) but each to their own, birders love a list and I'm no different.

Twitter and RBA are my main sources of birding information and the near-continent gets lots of mention these days. Day-tripping is on the increase as it's reasonably easy and fairly cheap.

Ross's Gull is a major rarity in the U.K., less than annual, and rarely found that close to the south-east so news of a long-stayer in the Netherlands soon prompted a steady stream of admirers. There was a good supporting cast too so when Mike Buckland suggested a trip I was easily persuaded.

I picked Mike up at 01.30 and by 04.30 (05.30 CET!) we were heading east to Brussels in the dark and in light rain. 138 miles and just over 2 hours later we were parked on the Boulevard du Souverain by the fenced-off lakes of the Val Duchesse waiting for the light to improve. It did not take too long to find the long-staying Pygmy Cormorant though it was initially on the far side in a tangle of branches at water level. Before too long it was fishing and then thankfully chose to perch on a log on our side of the lake permitting some good scope views and the chance to do a spot of digi scoping.

Pygmy Cormorant, digi-scoped through a chain link fence next to a road and tramway, hence the soundtrack!

Just before 10.00 we headed north out of Brussels and along the western edge of Antwerp before passing an immense container terminal and reaching the agricultural fields and nature reserves set in a very flat landscape below the high grassy banks of a seawall near a nuclear power station at Doel. Here we looked for geese flocks amongst the polders with some success but sadly "no cigar" as we failed to locate the lesser-white-front that had been present in recent days. We did find plenty of small flocks of Barnacle and White-front and sensing that they had become more dispersed we set about searching the greater area and extended our search west across the border into the Netherlands around the towns of Nieuw Namen, Hulst and Zaamslagveer. The further west we went the more geese we found and they started to include large numbers of Tundra Bean Geese. It was dry but overcast, grey and rather cool.


Barnacle Geese

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted Geese

Tundra Bean Geese

Approaching 13.30 and wary of leaving sufficient time for the "main event" we left Zaamslagveer and drove west and then turned north to go under the 6km tunnel across towards more polders, the town of Middleburg and ultimately our destination; Vlissingen and the port of Binnenhaven.
As we turned west after leaving the tunnel we were soon driving into heavy sleet which after a few minutes turned to heavy rain.
At 14.00 we drove into the port, directly onto a quay and parked opposite a line of large fishing boats with a handful of other birders. We quickly established that the Ross's Gull had last been seen about an hour ago and apparently just seemed to appear in the inner harbour, fly around and then leave to where no-one seemed to know. With time limited and the Ross's surely due to reappear, disappearing off on a search looked unwise so we joined the small but rather "international" group of hopeful twitchers on the quayside and waited in the rain.
The rain got heavier, most retreated to their cars and I began to worry about how much daylight was left. However, around 90 minutes after we arrived I picked it up flying towards us from the south over the outer dock gates. I shouted and in their haste one birder who had been driving off shoved his car into reverse and promptly backed into the front of the car behind! (Light damage, fortunately.)
After a number of rapid fly-pasts it started to feed and circle around behind the fishing boats and eventually gave great views though it never stopped raining and got quite heavy when it was showing the closest!

Ross's Gull

Med Gull

We watched the superb Ross's Gull for around half an hour until it appeared to have drifted off and the rain had eased - typical!
We decided to finish the day checking out the local geese flocks and so drove a short distance to the north past Middelburg. We found an area of pools and rough grass surrounded by arable and somewhere in the region of 6,000+ Barnacles. Combing through the flocks Mike soon found the 2 Red-breasted Geese; both adults and one bearing a colour ring so of dubious origin. Mike also picked out what appeared to be a small Canada Goose but which we decided eventually was probably a hybrid. There were dozens of Ruff and hundreds of Golden Plover. The whole scene was stunning and as the light faded the flocks rose into the air and headed off to roost making a wonderful sound and spectacle to finish a very good day, despite the weather.
Our watches and the clock in the car said it was 17.00 only it wasn't ! It was 18.00 CET and our return Channel Tunnel Train was at 19.50 and around 140 miles away.
As it happened we only just missed it and we were put on the next train which after customs and passports meant just a few minutes wait.
 I dropped Mike at 21.30 and was indoors eating a curry at 22.00. I'd driven a shade under 500 miles and been up for 21 hours, it felt like a birdrace and in many ways it had been. Next time we should make it a weekend and a bit more relaxed - just like Mike had suggested.

Barnacles at dusk nr Middelburg

Thursday, 1 February 2018


Saturday 30th January, 2017.
Staines Reservoir & Thursley Common.

Surrey is not a county I go birding in very often.
As a kid I used to catch the 726 airport bus from Sidcup to Staines in the school holidays as a cheap day out birding somewhere different, usually when there was something good to see. In the late 1980's some of us did a regular winter visit to the Wraysbury/Staines area in search of wintering duck, divers and grebes. Thursley Common I still visit almost annually and was the first place I ever saw Hobby and Dartford Warbler when I was taken there as a boy by Mike Cottrell.

It was my nephew's birthday party in the afternoon and they live just outside Guildford so with a Horned Lark at Staines getting lots of press as a candidate for the North American race and perhaps a future "split" I decided to twitch the lark and then explore Thursley, hopefully seeing the great-grey shrike, before heading to my brother-in-laws for teatime.
The Horned Lark showed quite well on the mossy concrete edges of the reservoir. Given the huge global range and large number of sub-species and intergrades, who knows what decision is likely on it's origin? It certainly looks rather different to the shore larks you normally find on the east coast here and I watched it for well over an hour observing the whiter appearance of the supercillium, white ear coverts, streaking on the chest, and the overall difference in the plumage tones to what I recall on "regular" shore lark. 
A Black-necked Grebe showed well in the near corner and there were plenty of Goldeneye and other wildfowl. It was overcast and grey but the sun broke through a few times. A cool westerly breeze was developing and when I left it was just starting to rain. Mike Buckland, Barry Wright and John Tilbrook had all also made the trip that morning so we had a quick catch-up before going our separate ways.

I got to Thursley just after mid-day, it was decidedly grey and overcast and rain was due so I wasted no time and walked out towards "shrike hill" and the southern edge of the NNR. I'd barely got out of the conifers when I heard my first Dartford Warbler, good to see that they have well and truly recovered from  run of cold winters.
As I reached the area favoured by the great-grey shrike in most winters, I bumped into Lee Evans who said that the GGS hadn't been reported for a couple of weeks........ He headed off up "shrike hill" and I headed further east into the less visited area of the NNR.
Around 13.30, as I got to the eastern area of the reserve, the rain started and after a while I trudged slowly back.
No shrike, very little of anything in reality. Heathland in winter can be a tough place to find birds, especially in the rain.

Thursley Common

Thursley Common; Pudmore Pond

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

North Kent.

Saturday 13th January, 2018.
Sheppey, Eastling & Oare.

James Hunter and I arrived at Capel Fleet as the sun was rising on yet another mostly grey, dull, mild winters day. Within a few minutes we were watching a flock of around 150 White-fronted Geese which were rather uncharacteristically close to the road, albeit still several hundred yards away behind a low bank. They were accompanied by 8 Barnacles. It was not too long before a local farmer flushed the lot and they disappeared in the mist towards the west end of Capel Fleet.
A few minutes later 3 Whooper Swan's flew past; 2 adults and a juv. As the light improved we scoped the area and found the usual scattering of Buzzards and Marsh Harrier's perched on posts and banks and a few of the latter already quartering the edges of the fleet, reedbeds and rough grass.
We moved along to the "raptor watchpoint"at the other end of the fleet, pausing to look at the 20+ Corn Bunting and c100 Linnet that were present on their favoured bramble bushes.
From the watchpoint we soon had the wintering Hooded Crow (luckily for us flushed into view by a tractor), a distant ringtail Hen Harrier and a female Sparrowhawk. A good start.
Our next stop was Muswell Manor, out towards Shellness on the far eastern tip of Sheppey. Lapland Buntings had been being seen in recent days on a stubble field and we set out to search for them.
The stubble field was enormous and we started on the northern side, walking slowly alongside, listening and scoping for birds. It was very quiet. On winter wheat we had c200 Brents and c70 Skylark including one bird with a lot of white in the outer primaries that gave me a jolt when I first saw it. We also had another ringtail Hen Harrier and a few Buzzards and Marsh Harriers.
As we returned to the car Chris Gibbard texted me to say that they were watching from the seawall above the track to Shellness and had seen Lapland and Snow Buntings.
James and I joined them and over the next hour or so we scoped the stubble field as a huge flock of birds moved about it. There were at least 600 Skylark, 50 Linnet,  2 Snow Bunting and 2 Lapland Bunting. Unfortunately the flock never came close and in the rather gloomy conditions that was the best we could do.
A stunning sub-adult male Hen harrier flew along the back of the field towards the Swale NNR and on the beach behind us as the tide dropped there was a steady build-up of Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone and Oystercatchers.

Happy that we'd done better than we expected on Sheppey we headed off the island early afternoon and down to Eastling to check-out the Hawfinches.
On mixed woodland with plenty of yew and beech on chalk downland we found plenty of Hawfinches though they were mostly in the trees feeding and sheltering rather than sitting out on view. We estimated 40 birds but given how difficult they are to see there could well have been double that number.
Lots of Yellowhammers and a Marsh Tit added to our day list as we decided to end the day at Oare.

Arriving at Oare around 15.45 I laughed at James's suggestion that we leg it over to the creekmouth to see if the Long-billed Dowitcher was still on view - it was getting pretty gloomy. We went anyway and sure enough the first bird we saw, opposite the sluice, was the Long-billed Dowitcher, asleep on one leg on the waters edge. We walked back to the car along the sea wall, stopping to scan the Swale and the southern edge of Sheppey but added nothing to our days tally which at 86 species was rather good going.

Capel Fleet at dawn

Capel Fleet 

Buzzard on a swan that probably hit the wires

Muswell Manor

Wednesday, 10 January 2018


Saturday 6th January, 2018.
Walland Marsh & Dungeness; ARC, Lade, the "point" & "patch" &  RSPB Reserve.

James Hunter and I set out to kick off the new year with a trip around the Dungeness area, hoping to connect with some of the usual winter visitors and the more recent arrivals.
After what seemed like weeks of gales and/or rain, it was good to have a day out birding in more benign conditions though the wind was picking up as we finished.
We started with a wander across Walland Marsh which produced a Little Owl, now quite scarce, and the usual thrushes and finches and Tree Sparrows.
Onto Dungeness we started with the ARC pits from Hansen Hide with a drake Goosander of note.
Next stop was Lade pits where the Long-tailed Duck and Slav Grebe were both quickly seen so before long we were on the "Point" and walking out to the sea amongst the fishing boats.
On the sea we had a good number of auks with most, as usual, Guillemots but also small numbers of Razorbills. There were very few divers, just the odd Red-throated but it was good to see dozens of Kittiwake. James picked up a distant Bonxie and we had a few adult Med Gulls fly past.
We bumped into Laurence Pitcher and Jamie Partridge and before too long we were all standing watching the "regular" 1st winter Caspian Gull though there did seem to be a general dearth of gulls around the Point.
News came through that the 1st winter Glaucous Gull, now present for a couple of weeks, was on the "patch" (power station outfall) and James and I drove round and scoped the area from the sea-watch hide. That's where the gulls are, we said, surveying a scene of thousands of gulls wheeling over the "boil", sitting on the sea or roosting on the beach.
Before too long the Glaucous appeared over the "boil" then flew away up the beach.
The RSPB Reserve was our next stop and before too long we were watching a 2nd winter Iceland Gull, the 1st winter Glaucous Gull and an adult Yellow-legged Gull on the recently landscaped shingle islands opposite the information centre. 11 species of gull before lunch !
A single Long-eared Owl could be seen, back-on, roosting in the sallows near the car park.
We grabbed lunch in Lydd and ate it scoping the Bewick's on Walland at great range then headed back to Dungeness and connected with the Black-throated Diver on ARC.
We made a brief effort to look for Dartford Warblers but were defeated by the weather as the wind had picked up so we finished the day back at the Hansen Hide on ARC hoping in vain for a bittern.
82 species on the day. I cannot recall the last winter at Dunge when I'd got into January and not seen a Smew and I'm not sure if I've ever had a day's birding in January at Dunge that was Smew free!

Caspian Gull - 1st winter

Glaucous Gull - 1st winter (digi-scoped)

Little Egret

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Black Guillemot.

Saturday 30th December, 2017.
Eastbourne; Sovereign Harbour.

I twitched the Black Guillemot in Eastbourne today, largely because it's a really superb bird, very rare in our part of the country, and partly because the forecast weather (wet and windy) left me wondering what else to do. As such I didn't have an early start, spent a couple of hours in the relatively sheltered Sovereign Harbour and then went home.
The BG was often out of view, hunkered down out of the wind among the pontoons and boats but I had a couple of really good encounters when it fed and preened just a few meters away.
When I arrived I walked down the south side of the first basin and came upon the BG emerging from a pontoon and heading in my direction. I took my camera out of my Lowepro camera rucksack, put the rucksack on the ground and as I knelt to take a few photos a gust of wind blew the bag into the basin! Luckily I could still reach it and I yanked it out of the water. It had floated and nothing fell out despite the fact that it was open. Turning my attention back to the BG it had disappeared and took a while to re-find and even longer before it came close again. Great start!
My second encounter was a lot better and I got some great looks and some decent pictures before it again sought cover from the gusty conditions.
With rain on the way I headed home after a couple of hours.

So what's the fuss about, they probably breed !

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Christmas in Sussex

Christmas Eve.

Another overcast, dull and occasionally rainy day. As the morning gave way to a slightly brighter afternoon I left my family and in-laws in Bognor Regis and headed to Church Norton. The tide was high and there were a fair few waders roosting but mostly out of full view in the grass on islands and shingle bars; Grey Plover (200), Dunlin (250), Curlew (40), Knot (150) and small numbers of Turnstone and Black-tailed Godwit.
The sea was flat calm and rather disappointing with just 2 Slavonian Grebe's on view and a single drake Red-breasted Merganser. A brief sea-watch produced little beyond a few Gannet and Great-crested Grebes.
As the tide dropped I returned to Pagham Harbour and found a single Whimbrel feeding on one of the closer patches of exposed mud but it was way to gloomy to bother taking a photo!
Just a single Brent bobbed about in the harbour with hundreds of Wigeon, Teal and a few Pintail.
I decided to check-out the access to the newish Medmerry RSPB reserve and drove out along minor roads in the gloom seeing little of note. I found the tiny car park near Earnley as darkness fell; another day........

Pagham Harbour

Church Norton


Boxing Day.

Christmas Day had been wet with gale force winds, they had abated overnight and the forecast was for a dry morning and then a return to gales in the afternoon. With that in mind Jenny, the boys and I set off to Medmerry RSPB to explore the new reserve and see the effects of a "managed retreat". We parked in the small car park near Earnley and walked west along the new sea-wall and out towards the beach. It was good to see a flock of around 160 Linnet and c20 Yellowhammer as well as plenty of Stock Doves. Nearing the beach a flock of c200 Brents came in and eventually settled on fields to feed together with at least 6 Barnacles. It was windy on the beach and the sea still white-capped from the previous days gales. We walked as far as the breach which was fascinating but saw few birds. The sea has really been left to reclaim this area and it was amazing to see what effect the policy was having on the beach. 
Wader-wise we had a few Sanderling, Redshank and Curlew but it was low tide and generally quiet.
On our walk back I was watching a Stonechat on a patch of gorse when a Dartford Warbler appeared and by the time we got back to the car I'd seen another associating with Stonechat and flushed one from gorse at my feet.
Apart from a Kestrel no other birds of prey!
A good 5 mile stroll and certainly somewhere I'll return to.

Roe Deer

Medmerry RSPB -the new sea wall

Medmerry - view from the beach

Brent Geese

Brent Geese

Brent Geese

Brent Geese

Brent Geese


Brent Geese

Barnacle Geese

Looking east towards the breach

After breaching the shingle bank the beach has been allowed to reshape itself leaving the old groynes high and dry

shingle is now being washed over the old beach and into former farmland which is now becoming saltmarsh

the breach

remains of groynes near the breach

with the groynes no longer holding the beach in place the shingle has disappeared in places

the breach looking inland

the beach near the breach

remains of groynes

After breaching the shingle bank the beach has been allowed to reshape itself leaving the old groynes high and dry.
new channels on former farmland

we got back to the car just as the rain started and another gale swept in.