Wednesday 30 September 2020

A good September and looking forward to October

These are the strangest of times and I need the hobby more than ever. The virus seems to have taken a grip again following the advise of government with people being asked to return to the office, trust public transport again, the return of schools and uni, the promotion of eat out to help out and an endless list of gatherings for various protests and of course elements of social distancing being stretched by some.

We now face a reintroduction of restrictions with gatherings limited to six and a request to work from home if possible, avoid public transport if you can and the early closure of hospitality venues prompting yet more protests about liberty etc. It feels to me like we had a reasonable summer after the full spring lockdown and I'm grateful for that. The weather was great and allowed for meeting family outside which was more than welcome. The virus has sadly touched my family and we've also had the very difficult responsibility of moving my wifes elderly mother into care which is hard at any time but even more concerning in these times. We have been able to visit the care home with outdoor visits once a week using temperature checks and full PPE to protect the care home which to date has had no cases of the virus in residents or carers but as the weather turns that situation may change. 

We will have a much tougher autumn and winter. We're seeing local lockdowns all over the country with some areas now restricting movement in or out of those areas without very good reason. In other areas there are bans on mixing households again and that will be difficult to handle if it comes to our town as the father in law really needs our support. I feel a full lockdown at some point will sadly be reintroduced if we are to get the virus back under control and save lives through the cold months.

Back to birding and September proved to be a pretty good month, I managed a few days out but with the restrictions on holidays abroad and various self isolation requirements our coast line was full of staycationers and was to be avoided at all costs but of course many of the best birding sites are also on these coastlines. I managed a few days and managed to get myself away from the crowds. I added three life ticks by twitching Greenish Warbler at Holme, Brown Shrike at Warham Greens and a Short-toed Lark in Surrey. I also added Wryneck, Pectoral Sandpiper, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Barred Warbler from the expected September targets and bonus ticks with a late Gropper and early Lapland Bunting all of which moved the year list to a respectable 258.

Brown Shrike finally hit the life list in September

I move now to thoughts of October and over the last decade I've had some great October ticks which include

Some great birds but I'm mostly watching Sparrows at the moment

So the above list is evidence that October brings with it some cracking birds and this October will no doubt be equally productive, question is will they be accessible during the onset of further Covid related restrictions. Any hope of a birding holiday has vanished as it seems irresponsible in these difficult times. I'd love to spend some time in Scotland and had thought this might be the year I got to finally experience an October on Scilly but the virus has made me rethink that option and save it for another year.

Well that's my quick catch up for the end of September and here's to a decent October.

Stay well guys

Grey Catbird

Wednesday 23 September 2020

More images from my day at Titchwell


Lapland Buntings and an elusive Red-breasted Flycatcher

With the weather due to turn more autumnal now and with talk of further lockdown measures I thought I'd take a trip to the Norfolk coast yesterday in the hope of finding  something to point the camera at for a while.

I started my day at Titchwell, my first visit since March and the start of lockdown, The car park has reduced parking to limit people on site at any one time. The centre is closed as is the reception hut in the car park. I was greeted by a volunteer outside the centre and filled in a slip of paper for track and trace records then followed the one way system to the beach. On route I saw lots of Bearded Tits and at the beach I started the long walk along to Thornham point as the tide was in most waders were now roosting on the floods.

At Thornham point I found a small flock of Sanderling and sat down to enjoy them for a while grabbing a few images. Great little birds that happily approach you if you sit still (theme of the day).

Sanderling at Titchwell

Whilst watching I noticed a couple of small birds flush from the salt marsh by a Kestrel which dropped onto the beach and as I approached the area I could see they were Lapland Buntings. Again I sat myself down and in time the two birds wandered along the tide line and just happily walked past me giving me the opportunity to take the below images.

Lapland Bunting

I managed to help a few other birders find the buntings before setting off on the walk back. The tide was retreating and the waders and Cormorants were now starting to gather at the point which in itself is a spectacle. Sandwich Terns dived in the shallows, Great Crested Grebe were noted on the sea a couple of Great Skua flew past as did Gannets and it was great to be out to witness all of this.

 As I approached the path back to the reserve I found a couple of birders pointing there cameras at the dunes and then noticed a single Snow Bunting huddled up in the shadowy ridge between the beach and the dunes. The guys were pointing their cameras directly into the sun which is not ideal so I walked back up the beach a bit and sat down on the tide line hoping the bird might come out and feed. I waited quite a while but it did eventually come out and walk towards me but as it got to an area in full sun it ran fast towards me stopped to look at me then carried on feeding as though I wasn't there. By now it was far too close for my 400 prime lens so I sat and just enjoyed it feeding a couple of feet away. 

I didn't want to get up in case I flushed it as now there were five other people watching it and by default watching me. The gathering moved on and left me alone with the bird and at one point it actually walked over me and it just shows if you just sit still the birds will come to you.

Snow Bunting 

The walk back to the car presented me with the usual mass of waders and Geese but also three Great White Egrets at least fifteen Spoonbill and a couple of Marsh Harriers made up the highlights. I also bumped into Geoff K. for a quick year listing catch up which was nice then I set off for Wells Woods.

As I passed Holkham I was concerned to the see the car park full and an overflow being used too. At Wells the Quay was buzzing with people and the car park at the woods had a full sign up. I pulled in and the attendant said I could try but he didn't think there were any spaces however I quickly found a space, paid for a couple of hours and walked down to the woods avoiding the crowds making their way to the beach.

I walked through to the area of Birch trees that the Red-breasted Flycatcher has been reported from over the last few days and flushed a Tree Pipit on the way. Again I sat and waited and after an hour had superb views of the Flycatcher as it moved through the trees feeding. I think this is the best views I have had and unlike others that moved into the trees with their cameras I just sat and enjoyed watching it.

Tree Pipit

The one eyed Shrike was still present and I saw Siskins and heard Redpoll to make it a really enjoyable day. I managed to stay away from the crowds and you would have been hard pressed to know we had any pandemic concerns looking at the Costa del Wells yesterday. Bring on the colder quieter months.

Year list now 258


Lapland Bunting

Snow Bunting with no reason as yet to fear man

Saturday 19 September 2020

Brown Shrike and Greater Short-toed Lark

Yesterday whilst I was still dealing with the constant stream of images from Tiree news broke of a Brown Shrike "showing well" at Warham Greens in Norfolk to add to my stressing.

I dealt with the Tiree trip and couldn't justify it. I couldn't think of a way of getting there and back safely.

I could fly but that would be expensive and mean sitting on four planes and sleeping at Glasgow airport along with any drama associated with visiting the island and the reception that could be on offer for me there. I could take the ferry from Oban but that would require me driving eight hours alone (twice) as I haven't shared a car since March with my Dad's health more important than sharing the drive. I would then be on the ferry four hours each way and have to sleep on Tiree too. As much as I wanted to see the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher I couldn't justify the trip in any form but outside of the pandemic I'm pretty sure we'd have been making an adventure of the twitch.

Anyway putting that aside I now had the Shrike to worry about and it's a bogey bird for me so I really fancied dropping everything and heading up the A11. Problem was yesterday was my wifes birthday so I couldn't go and was left praying the bird stuck around another day for me and with this in mind I set off at 5am this morning. I pulled up at North Pools Wells and walked out to the sea wall turning right to walk a mile or so until I reached the field and found a few birders in their small social gatherings. I joined the general area and was delighted to be told the bird was still on site. 

I walked to the other end of the field to get the sun behind me as the others were all looking into bright sunlight. This option also allowed me to create my own social distance from the group and once in place I scoped back along the hedge to find a couple of Redstarts and then the target and my first Brown Shrike was at last in the scope. I enjoyed watching it for about four hours taking time to scope the marsh too where I spotted Peregrine, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard along with lots of waders and the highlight was when a dark and light phase Arctic Skua flew across the marsh quite close in.  The Shrike showed well but remained quite distant and kept low dropping onto the floor to feed now and again. It kept close company with a Redstart.

Brown Shrike

Brown Shrike

I was going to pop along to Holkham or Wells Wood and search for more migrants but the place was so busy I decided to head for home only to notice a Greater Short-toed Lark reported in Surrey. I considered the journey but dismissed it and carried on down the A11/M11 and it wasn't until I got to my exit on the M25 that I had a change of heart and just kept going. An hour later I was watching my first ever Short-toed Lark feeding in the ploughed field with a few Skylarks. I watched it for about half an hour but it remained distant so I grabbed a quick record shot and headed for home satisfied with my two life ticks. With talk of a second wave or even a second lockdown I don't know when the next opportunity may come along for another tick so I'm very pleased to have bagged these two today.

Greater Short-toed Lark

Year list now 256
Life list now 417 BOU

Socially distanced from the small crowd and the Shrike

A small gathering of gatherings to enjoy the Shrike

Thursday 10 September 2020

Pectoral Sandpiper at Dickleburgh Moor

 I wanted to make a trip to see the Shrike at Bawdsey yesterday but with a bit of Dads taxi duty to carry out I had to postpone until today. With clear skies overnight I feared the Shrike might have moved on and arriving at Bawdsey for first light (ish) I was carrying a glass that was half empty for sure. I walked down the sea wall towards the tower passing the lagoon to view the patch of bramble that the Shrike has been quite settled in for a few days and in the next couple of hours I picked up Hobby, Whinchat, Wheatears, Buzzards, Reed-Sedge-Cettis Warblers, Chiffchaff, Stonechat, Bluetit and Whitethroat and some quite large rats feasting on the corn but there was no sign of the Shrike.


I checked and the Pectoral Sandpiper had been reported as still at Dickleburgh Moor a place I had not visited before. It was twenty seven miles away so I decided to chase a year tick and see what this new place was like. I pulled into the small car park just north of the village and could see a small gathering of birders so joined the end of the line at a safe distance and scanned the pools and after some direction from the guy next to me I was soon picking out the Pec Sand with a group of five Snipe and in the company of a Spotted Redshank. This is a nice little nature reserve and I'm sure it'll attract other good birds and will give me reason to visit again soon.

Dickleburgh Moor

On the way home I diverted a few miles off the A12 to Abberton where I found at least six Great White Egrets and a very odd Bittern which for some reason has decided to feed on the bushes along the side of the farm tracks rather than hiding among the reeds as is normal here. 

I'm not sure they had a winter Bittern last year so this is a welcome sight at Abberton. 

Great White Egret

Great White

Great White

A decent day after the bad start at Bawdsey.

Year list now 254

Bittern was down that track....a long way down that track

Monday 7 September 2020

It's not Autumn without a confiding Wheatear

 A few more images from my visit to Oare yesterday focusing on a particularly confiding Wheatear.

As ever when I find a star bird like this the weather let's me down and yesterday was no different with very overcast conditions but I made the best I could of it. The sun came through the clouds just as I got back to the car to my added frustration but I still enjoyed my time in the company of this little smasher.

Apologies for the image overload but I had a difficult job picking them from the 150 I took yesterday.

Sunday 6 September 2020

American Golden Plover at Oare Marsh

I had a free afternoon yesterday so made my way down to Oare Marsh in Kent. I'm usually an early bird but Oare is one of the those reserves where the afternoon light is more favourable so I arrived at 1pm and found the East flood full to bursting point with waders. Hundreds of Blackwits and Golden Plover with dozens of Lapwing, Avocet and Redshank. Good numbers of Dunlin, Ruff and Ringed Plover were also present and a few Knot also dropped in. Upto six Curlew Sandpipers and a single juvenile Little Stint plus the odd Snipe completed the impressive list of waders before I set about trying to find the American wader amongst them all. Only seven birders were looking and nobody had seen the target but I have seen AGP before so scanning through I could rule out those that weren't the bird and eventually settled on one bird with enough confidence to put the other guys onto it.

Heavy crop and not easy among 300 Golden Plover

I moved on recording Buzzard, Kestrel and Marsh Harrier but missed an Osprey that flew high down the Swale mid afternoon. At Dans dock I found two Whinchat and a Wheatear along with a few Linnets, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtails and Whitethroats. A couple of Yellow Wagtail flew over.


A very confiding Wheatear

I walked back to the flood area and found that the Golden Plover had moved to Shellness after I'd left but after a while Mike B spotted the flock heading our way and sure enough about a hundred birds dropped out of the cloud and very quickly Mike picked out the yank again and with a little help from Barry W and a young man (think his name was Jamie) I was back on the bird and happy to say it was the bird I'd picked out earlier for the small crowd looking for it. A few other birders were then helped unto the target Lee E among them.

A Short-eared Owl was seen coming across West flood but I didn't pick it up and left before it showed again. Bearded Tits were quite vocal during the visit and showed quite well at distance but Napolean wasn't picked out with only a handful of gulls on the flood and the tide right in he'd obviously found somewhere quieter to roost.

Overall a cracking afternoons birding

Year list now 253

Waders and walkers

Just a stunning little bird.....good luck on your long journey

What's not to like