Thursday 28 January 2021

More Owls

The local Short-eared Owls have now been present over three months and have given good value to the locals during our lockdown walks of late. It's been great to witness the interest from non birders too.

Both birds appear to be male and one shows what I consider diagnostic signs of a juvenile or first winter bird with the deep v in the central tail feather bar. They sometimes roost together and sometimes roost as far apart as possible within the park. When they come together they are very vocal and often show what looks like aggression to each other, almost defending hunting territory. I always enjoy watching Shorties but these being so close to home have permitted a real appreciation of their behaviour. 

A few more images......

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Oh and in other news I had a male Blackcap in the garden yesterday for another year tick.

Year list now 105 

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Ring-necked Duck

I was already in the valley enjoying my "exercise" walk yesterday when Jim called to say Neville had refound the female Ring-necked Duck on the pools at the back of Holyfield lake so I was able to get to the pools without delay. There was nobody looking when I arrived but I quickly found the female duck at the far corner of one of the two pools. She was distant but I haven't seen too many females over the years so it was nice to catch up with her. I'd tried earlier for Siberian Chiffchaff at the muck heap but found only a single Chiffchaff along with dozens of Pied Wagtail, a Grey Wagtail and a couple of Mipits although I didn't stay long.

Female Ring-necked Duck

I've again managed to connect with the Short-eared Owls on a couple of my local walks this last week and had decent views of Peregrine, Red Kite, Kestrel, Sprawk and a couple of fly over Goosander too.This week I've also come across some quite large Tit flocks and seen lot's of Goldcrest but I'm yet to find a Firecrest and it doesn't help that I can no longer hear them. There's lots of Fieldfare and Redwing around still but I  haven't found a Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Woodcock, Blackcap or Yellowhammer yet so plenty to look for on my walks. The White-fronted Geese seem to have moved on now but there are still plenty of Goosander and Goldeneye on Holyfield lake. I also heard a Raven calling around the farm at the weekend. 

Short-eared Owl in the snow

I was blessed when this one came and perched next to me

So pleased to share any time with these remarkable birds

Occasionally they drop to the floor and appear to be hunting smaller prey in the grass

Another shot of one flying whilst it was snowing

I'm managing to keep to a fairly local patch and I'm quite enjoying birding without driving miles. There's the obvious benefit of having more time to actually walk and bird as opposed to sitting in the car then there's the cost benefit of not putting fuel in the car and of course there's the green benefit but having said all that I still miss the coast bad so as soon as I can I'll be in the car and heading for Kent, Suffolk and Norfolk or maybe even a trip to Abberton or Wallasea in my home county. I continue to miss them all equally and long for a time when we can travel again.

The park is a couple of miles from my home, I do have walks closer  but the valley gives me a chance to walk and find space. Seventy Acres gets busy with dog walkers so I avoid that unless I'm very early but the track to the farm and the long walk along the river to Holyfield lake are very quiet. As for the Owls well that's got a lot quieter since lockdown thankfully but the sun still brings people out to see them on their "exercise" walk so I find it  best to avoid those days. I can't remember a time before Covid-19 where I ever said to my wife "I'll be back soon, just going for my exercise walk" 

My year list currently sits at 104 and I'm sure I've missed a few good birds but most of the wintering species I hope to catch up with in the autumn if we are lucky to be able to travel by then but for now I'll keep walking locally enjoying what comes my way. I can't help wonder what rarities have been suppressed to avoid giving people the temptation to twitch and although I agree with the suppression under lockdown I will still be interested to see what I've missed at some point in the future.

Onwards and Upwards guys and we can be thankful that the local cases continue to decrease giving some hope that we may be able to come out of lockdown this spring. My parents have been vaccinated too so some positives to take from the doom that surrounds us all. I personally now know three people of the 100,000 plus that have sadly been taken too early by this virus and my thoughts are with them all and their families. 

Latest local stats

Wednesday 20 January 2021

Missing the coast

I'm three weeks into the new year and with the national lockdown still in place I'm still restricted to local exercise to get my birding fix. I'm taking advantage of the fact that I'm allowed out and unlike last March I am taking binoculars with me. On the odd occasion I'll also pop the camera over my shoulder too but the with stories of birders getting warned by the police for stopping to use the scope I'll be leaving that at home for a while.

I'm trying to stay local but the guidelines do give mixed messaging and I find it a little confusing but have adopted the principal that anything under ten miles is local but I try to stay within 5km where I can. I'm around 40 miles from the nearest coast and find myself really missing the usual trips to places like Wallasea, Dunge, Cley, Titchwell, Minsmere etc and of course Abberton is too far even if it is in Essex.

That said I haven't had much to write about with my daily walk mostly being from the front door down to the motorway and back and along the River Roding until that flooded and I had to look a little further for my exercise. I've walked the Lee Valley country park trying to find quiet areas like the farm track etc and had a single trip to Wanstead park where again I find myself walking away from people in order to maintain an extra social distance. Epping Forest would be nice but it's just so incredibly busy with everybody staying local.....guidelines should include the phrase "find somewhere quiet for your walk"

With all this going on I've managed to add a few ticks to the year list.

Lesser Redpoll at Lee Valley along with a Mistle Thrush on the way home

Med Gull and Little Owl from my walk around Wanstead park 

Skylark and Red-legged Partridge from yesterdays walk to the farm and back and a Sparrowhawk in the garden on 19th was a first for the year followed by two more on my walk to the farm in the rain.

A Cormorant coming into it's breeding plumage

Little Owl that saw me a long time before I saw it

The wintering Med Gull on Jubilee Pond

Med Gull

The local Parakeets have decided they do like my feeders now adding both colour and noise

Great spotted Woodpecker a more welcome visitor to the garden

Just a single look at the local Shorties this year but good to know they're still there and feeding well

The year list sits at 101   (down 46 on January 20th 2018 pre Covid.)

I'll try to stay around 5km from home if possible on my walks but have produced the map below to highlight just how restrictive that  guidance is when I'd usually be taking a drive to the coast on a weekly basis.

That tiny green dot is my new focus as opposed to my old two hour rule

Thursday 14 January 2021

Latest BBRC work in progress summary

As I did back in July last year I've reviewed the latest WIP report and put together the below summary mainly to help me digest the report. 

First thing of note for me is that the Lancashire Eastern Black-eared Wheatear I have on my life list is still in circulation so remains vulnerable as part of my life total. I remain hopeful that this will eventually be accepted and I can then underline it unlike the Cackling Goose I had pencilled in and had to remove once the BBRC eventually refused to accept the particular record.

Is it an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear?

The oldest record now still in circulation is a Northern Treecreeper from Spurn in October 1959

The oldest record accepted in this latest update is an Alpine Swift from 1964.


HELD RECORDS (Waiting on taxonomy or ID criteria)

Black-eared Kite .Siberian (Eastern) Common Tern, Great grey Shrike (Homeyeri)

All of which are currently not evaluated

and there's also two Eastern Yellow Wagtail records from 2016 being held by the BBRC



Thrush Nightingale reports form the Isle of May 2018 and Shetland 2019

A Lesser Grey Shrike report from the Highlands in May 2020

The 1996 Dawlish Warren South Polar Skua was finally deemed Not Proven 

A Booted Eagle report from Worth Marsh in Kent from April 2020

The Brown Booby reported 100km from Edinburgh at sea also fell into the "not proven" bracket

Four different reports of Barolo/Boyd's Shearwater from Lancashire, Scilly and Caithness all failed to convince the panel and remained not proven. These being reports from 2018/19

A Pacific Diver report from Hampshire didn't make the OK list and the same outcome was handed out to a Fudge Duck in Hertfordshsire and a Blue-winged Teal in Cornwall all from 2020.

A total of thirteen NOT PROVEN reports.


The OK'd reports

Only one report was put into the holding zone of Category D and that was the Bufflehead in Hythe Kent on 19th April 2020. The bird will be moved to Cat A or Cat E depending on the panels views on how it came to be at Nickolls Quary.

The Paddyfield Pipit from Sennen in Cornwall has been accepted to species by the BBRC and sent to the BOURC to be considered as a FIRST FOR BRITAIN. The obvious concern is how did it get here and that as a first will be left for the BOURC to establish if that's at all possible. 

A Giant Petrel seen at two places along the north-east coast on 2nd July 2019 has been accepted to group and forwarded to the BOURC.

The Brown Booby seen at Swalecliffe in Kent on 19th August 2019 is now accepted and as such should be confirmed by BOURC as a first for Britain taking the title from the Cornwall bird.

The 1996 South Polar Skua record from Dawlish Warren was found to be not proven however the record from Dorset later in the January of 1996 has now been accepted and forwarded to BOURC.

Two records from 2001/02 have also been accepted.

Two Eastern Yellow Wagtail records have also been sent to the records committee  and also OK'd and sent to BOURC are aged records of North American Night Heron (2017) and North American Horned Lark (2001)


The other accepted records of note include the Staines Reservoir North American Horned Lark of 2017/18 which has been accepted to group status. I'll take it on my list as accepted to group tho and await IOC recognising it as a split.

The Scopoli's Shearwater that was seen well in between the 9th and 11th of August between Fife and Lothian. Another two reports from Norfolk on 15th August were also accepted. 

A Barolo/Boyd's type Shearwater was accepted from Cape Cornwall in September and a Zino's/Fea's/Desertas Shearwater was also accepted as passing Filey earlier in September. There remains fifty reports of Barolo/Boyd's in circulation dating back to 1967 and a couple of Zino/Fea's/Desertas remain on the IC list from last year.

The Zino's seen on the Scilly Paleagic in July last year still sits in the in circulation group but has been submitted to specific species as opposed to the group above.

The July sighting of Black-browed Albatross was accepted from Filey Brigg whilst three reports from 2020 remain in circulation along with one from 1985 and one from 2016.

The Yelkouan Shearwater report from Dawlish Warren in July remains in circulation whilst the earlier bird at Portland is strangely missing from the WIP report. I dipped this bird but had a fantastic day at Portland all the same. I wonder if the report has yet to be submitted as it was a headline bird as a potential second for Britain.

Other noteable accepted reports that would be life ticks for me include:

White-throated Sparrow (Cornwall)

Terek Sandpiper in Lothian and Linclonshire

The Killdeer on Lundy back in March last year

The Greater Sand Plover that was in Lothian from June 27th to July 6th last year.

American Herring Gull in Devon was a two day bird  on 25th and 26th January although the bird was seen again on 14th Feb.

Sooty Tern was accepted from four sites last year one being the Sizewell sighting that I dipped.

Calandra Lark and River Warbler on Fair Isle in June and they also had a Song Sparrow accepted from April.

Sardinian Warbler in Cornwall in April (I note also no reference to the Winterton sighting)

Shetland had an Eastern Subalpine Warbler back in April the only accepted from last year at this point with another eleven still in circulation although only six are from 2020. A bird I still need following the recent IOC split and having dipped one at Landguard in the past.

A Cackling Goose was accepted from Loch of Skene in February 2020.

Of course many others reports have been accepted with a total of 130 OK's on this latest WIP report.


In terms of  IN CIRCULATION which is the reports that the committee is still considering there are still a total of 460 on this latest WIP.

The biggest one as far as I'm concerned is the Lammergeir which forms five of the 460 reports as it was sighted first in Oxfordshire back in June before the summer sightings in Derbyshire where I first connected with it. It was then reported in Leicestershire, Norfolk and Sussex where it eventually set off back to France. I note that no reports for Lincolnshire are pending which is strange as that's probably where it showed best in all it's travels across the UK.

There's clearly no issue with ID here. DNA has even proved the birds parentage and it now just leaves the powers that be to decide if being born in the wild to a wild father and a mother that was released fourteen years ago and has since raised four broods in the wild is wild enough. 

We know what it is and where it came from..we even know where its parents came from.

Other interesting IC's include 

Five seperate Cackling Geese dating back as far as 2011 with just two from last year pending.

Three Band-rumped Storm-Petrels from Pendeen and Porthgwarra dating back to 2009.2018 and 2020

Porthgwarra also has a report of Trindade Petrel ending from July 2018.

The exciting White-chinned Petrel report from Orkney back in May is still in circulation and I guess will involve all ten members.

The Frigatebird from October 2018 on the Isle of Wight still remains in circulation.

Lundy had a Sora in September and that too is still being circulated along with Cornwalls Sociable Lapwing.

Two Upland Sandpiper reports remain in circulation from Cornwall in 2019 and Skokholm Island in 2020 and again I note no report yet of the Suffolk sighting from last year.

The Hudsonian Godwit that spenT most of November in Fife is yet to be accepted and remains in circulation with the 460 other reports.

A report of Long-toed Stint submitted back in 2011 from Sussex remains in circulation still. 

Royal Tern is another bird still in circulation from June 2019 on the Hayle estuary in Cornwall.

A Bridled Tern on Lundy last August is still being considered.

A Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the New Forest last November is being circulated too as are both the Kent and Sussex reports of Nighthawk from last year.

The much debated Lesser Kestrel report from Yorkshire in 2019 remains in circulation and is joined by the spring bird on Scilly from last year which should see a quicker route to being OK'd.

One of the most interesting reports is that of Eleonora's Falcon at Heacham Norfolk from 7th October until 4th November 2020. I'll follow this one with interest after dipping the Winterton bird that as yet hasn't made the official report file. I don't recall any published sightings of the Heacham bird and to my memory we could still travel to Norfolk back in October so I'll be interested in seeing more detail of this report. Many a lister would have welcomed the chance to add this elusive bird but let's see how the circulation goes.

The Tiree Yellow-bellied Flycatcher has been submitted and remains IC. as does the Tennessee Warbler on Yell and the Blackpoll Warbler on Mainland Shetland.

The House Crow that spent time in Kent last year remains IC too.

Green Warbler was reported from Fair Isle in June last year and that remains IC at this point.

Three different Aquatic Warblers are IC from last year. Lundy, Dorset and Hampshire all represented here.

Sykes's Warbler have two reports still being considered. One from my home county of Essex dating back to 2002 and another from Caithness in 2017.

No fewer than five Lanceolated Warbler reports are being considered along with Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers.

Scotlands crowd pleasing Western Orphean Warbler forms part of the 460 records still being debated or still to be debated as is the Nothumberland Asian Desert Warbler.

Eleven Eastern Subalpine Warblers remain on the IC list dating from 2004 - 2020

A Moltoni's Warbler on Shetland is awating it's acceptance as are any of the four reports of Short-toed Treecreeper all from Dungeness in 2020.

Thrushes account for seventeen of the 460 reports that remain in circulation and include Black-throated,  Siberian, White's, Swainson's and Eyebrowed. with no 2020 records yet moved to OK.

Two Thrush Nightingales remain IC from June 2020 and August 2020.

Shetlands East Siberian Wagtail from October last year is added to a list of Wagtails in IC that includes another fourteen birds.

Two Tawny Pipits have made the WIP with one in Sussex and one in Porthgwarra last year being reported.

White-throated Sparrow and Rose-breasted Grosbeak make up the last of the more interesting reports.


So that's my summary of the latest WIP file

I found it interesting to study and make the above notes and await the next one.

I am left wondering why some reports take so long to gain acceptance and why some are left so long in circulation ...can that much really change over time?  I guess if you're waiting for DNA results then yes or if you've put it out to an overseas expert more familiar with species maybe but I would have thought many of the 460 could be agreed upon without too much debate.

You can view the full WIP report here ......BBRC

Wednesday 6 January 2021

Another year another list another lockdown

I had considered not blogging this year but then having looked back over previous years I found the diary format I adopt quite good in terms of refreshing my memory of days out, places visited and birds seen  so for now I plan to continue purely for that reason and if somebody else gets any pleasure from it then that's great too.

And so to the year of 2021.

We moved into the new year with Essex sitting in Tier 4 with a reported high case level of Covid-19 and that's had a marked effect on the family over Christmas and New Year and made for a very quiet and at times lonely festive break. The tier system has also impacted on my birding activity. The tier four restrictions permit local exercise and so my year started locally and not at the coast as is usual. I expected a much lower day one count but by birding the Lee Valley CP I managed a respectable 64 species with the highlights being Cattle Egret on Hook Marsh, a pair of Smew on Seventy Acre lake, a flock of White-fronted Geese at Holyfield farm a couple of Peregrines and a Short-eared Owl at Gunpowder park. On the way home I picked up another three year ticks with Kingfisher, Goosander and Mandarin on Connaught Waters in Epping Forest to give me a total day one list of 67 different species seen.

Distant view of the Cattle Egret on Hook marsh

On day two I walked around King George Reservoir with Neville S. My reward for the long treck around both north and south basin was two drake Scaup, lots of Goldeneye, two Black Redstart, a Grey Wagtail and a fly over Common Buzzard to bring the year list to 72. 

A drive past Eagle pond also gave me this years first view of the wintering adult Caspian Gull.

One of the two Black Redstarts on the west side of King George V

Black Redstart

View from the far end of the reservoirs

One of the two drake Scaup in with all the Tufties and Coots

On day three I walked down to Beckton sewage works meeting Shaun H and another local birder along with two dog walkers so socially a very quiet place which I'll return to soon hopefully. As for the birds I picked up a few ticks with at least ten Chiffchaff including one very pale bird that Shaun H. managed to photograph later and the other birder heard to call and thought was a good candidate for Siberian. A Peregrine flew through and sat on a pylon, Cetti's Warbler called and a Meadow Pipit added another tick before a flock of twenty plus Linnet added another. At the outfall I found a couple of Common Sandpipers, single Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit along with several Redshanks. I checked through the gulls finding one Herring Gull with an orange ring which looked like Y5ST which if I read it correct was ringed by the North Thames group in 2018 but not seen since. Great Black-backed added a year tick but otherwise I struggled to find anything else among the hundreds of gulls present on the mud, the sewage works and over the tip. On my walk back I looked again for the pale Chiffchaff but didn't see it. At the feeders by the blue container I found a single Brambling hiding among the Chaffinch flock.

Beckton where the Roding meets the Thames

The Brambling thinking I can't see it 

A short drive down to Rainham and having parked by the Serin mound I first scanned Wennington Marsh adding Barnacle Goose then a scan of the riverside added Avocet to the year list. The walk along the concrete path towards the reserve kept me distanced from most other people and gave good views of both Rock and Water Pipit. There are good numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing at Rainham but none came very close as I walked down to the reserve and back. I scanned the reserve from outside to keep a distance again and picked up Pintail and yet another Peregrine which was sat on the grass for a while before getting up to put everything into panic. It just shows how well Peregrine are doing as in three days I've seen five birds. Whilst scanning for Raven I picked up a single Rook but somehow missed the Raven. As the tide came in a flock of Dunlin flew over pushed onto the reserve and as I was packing up to leave a Marsh Harrier flew over putting up all the Lapwing and Wigeon.

The view across Rainham marsh

The view across Wennington marsh

I had a days rest Monday waiting on the PM's announcement which delivered the news of another national lockdown and a move to threat level five on the pandemic. Today I watched the garden a lot whilst staying at home and my prize was first a Fox strolling about then a fly over first for the year when a Red Kite came through really low checking the local gardens for scraps. A walk along the local field gave nothing new but I did find a couple of Hare which I'd never have imagined being present so close to the house.

Not sure where I will draw the line in terms of LOCAL but I hope to get more birding done within my daily exercise "allowance" which will be good for the soul. I can walk to the farm fields and Epping forest , I'm a couple of miles from Lee Valley and a short drive gets me to places like Wanstead, Beckton or Rainham so I do have options and will try to keep the year list ticking along if at all possible whilst trying hard to stay within the "local exercise"guidelines.

After five days the year list sits at a modest 91 and I really don't know how this latest lockdown is going to go but I do know I need to get out locally so I expect a few more birds to be seen before our freedoms of travel return.

Stay safe and well guys