Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Birding doesn’t get any better than this. Norfolk in November.

Every year I try and get a weekend break to birding Mecca. I have to say that I was beginning to doubt this was going to happen until I was invited to join some of the ELBF (East London Birding Forum) on a two-day trip to North Norfolk.

Over the past year, most of my trips out have been very local especially as volunteering in the Lee Valley Park has become more important to me – largely due to the people I met up with rather than the pure birding draw. So it was with great excitement as well as the fact that some of the seven people going were those very people I enjoy the regular company of in the park.

Day 1.

There was no plan. I agreed to be one of the two drivers and I had my passengers, Brenda and Ed and just a text to confirm our rendezvous point, the McDonald’s on the Barton Mills roundabout. We arrived at 9am and met with the others over coffee and the odd McMuffin before deciding to head up to the Cliff car park in Hunstanton for a spot of sea-watching.

The weather was perfect with azure blue skies and a light breeze, which was some departure from the past few days of grey, overcast skies and rain.

We arrived shortly before 11am to a flattish sea and little happening bird-wise, with only a few piping oystercatcher and a small flock of bar-tailed godwit to get us in the mood. Dave Hutley, who had planned the trip, suggested we head for Docking to try and locate the Todd’s Canada Goose that was hanging out with a few hundred pink-footed geese. 

So it was back into the cars and with some assistance from local birders we zoomed up and down most of Norfolk’s B roads trying to pinpoint the goose flock. Eventually we found the flock but couldn’t pick out the Todd’s. With time getting on, we switched our attention to Titchwell in the hope of picking up the few bean geese that had been reported around the entrance track at the RSPB reserve at Titchwell.

Pink-footed Geese

Red-legged Partridge

Was it going to be one of days I wondered? No sign of any bean geese but we found ruff and red-legged partridge among the pink-footed geese.

It was lunchtime, so we had enough bacon (in the butties) to feed an army (or kill one) before heading off to the hides. We wanted to catch the raptor roost at Warham Green so there was little time to make it to the beach at Titchwell. We did get quite a few waders as we got to the Parrinder hide. Curlew, Grey Plover, Dunlin, snipe, little egret and ringed plover all showed well but we turned on our heels and headed back to the centre before heading off to Warham.

Ringed Plover

Little Egret



Warham Green. What you may not know is that to get to the raptor point here you really need to own a tractor. I don’t. My passion getting good views of rare raptors like Hen Harrier, Merlin and Marsh Harrier drove me to drive my standard road-going car through snaring branches and deep mud-filled troughs to get to a point where I could stand in the cold and stare at nothing…for ages…

Okay, that’s not fair. We did see Grey Partridge, Peregrine, Whooper Swans and Marsh Harriers. Dave did get a male Hen Harrier but the rest of us missed it. No one said birding was easy or if they did, I wasn’t listening.

Whooper Swan

Grey Partridge
With the light failing we retraced our tracks in the dark (not sure if that was better or not) back along the track with the branches scratching and screaming as my poor car brushed past them. At least we were heading for one of the best pubs in the area. The Red Lion at Stiffkey has long been a favoured haunt of mine and this time I was going to be able to have a few beers and spend the night there. I wasn’t disappointed. I was rooming with Ed Hughes, a Lee Valley volunteer and a lovely no-nonsense Manchester-born man who always makes me laugh and who can hold court with his stories and a lifetime of observations.

We were at the bar within 15 minutes of dropping our stuff off in the room. We chatted to another couple of visitors who were from York and waited for the rest of our group to come down for dinner.

The delicious food here and the great company of our group made up for a day that could have been better if luck had been with us.

Day 2.

We awoke to a cold and frosty morning and plans to see Shore Larks at Holkham.
With a full breakfast inside us we got news that a flock of Shore Lark had been reported at Salthouse. We all agreed this would be an easier ‘get’ than Holkham and checked out and headed with an air of expectation to the beach that sits in the shadow of Cley marshes – a hotspot for birding.

I like Salthouse. Free parking, a short walk to the Little Eye, and a raised mound that attracts good birds. The beach is a sliding mass of shingle, which makes walking harder than it should be but the rewards far outweigh the pain.

Even before we could locate the shore lark, we found a small flock of Twite, close to the cars and I got close enough to get some record shots.


Brent Geese
Within 10 minutes of the Twite, I located the shore larks – about 10 of them with other birders already watching them and called the group to me. We had good views. Some of our group was seeing these beautiful and scarce birds for the first time, which was just as satisfying to me as seeing them again for myself.

We spent a good hour watching and photographing these constantly moving gems as they searched for food amongst the shingle. Their numbers increased and I estimate there were closer to twenty in total with one or two rock pipit in with them.

On the sea, we had Red-throated divers and a grey seal. A pair of Lapland Bunting flew over, called by Dave and seen clearly by him through his scope. We also heard that a flock of snow buntings were in the area but a search for these proved unsuccessful.

Grey seal
With the shore lark in the bag, and everyone expecting a trip back to Titchwell, it takes a brave person to suggest what we did next.

We didn’t go to Titchwell. Dave consorted the group and suggested we re-try for the Todd’s Canada Goose. Was he serious? Yep.

One of our satellite friends, Dennis had picked the goose up (not literally you understand) in a sugarbeet field between Docking and Choseley. It would have been rude not to go for it. So here we were again, belting around the back of beyond looking for clues that could lead us to this elusive goose.

This time we got it. Okay, it was very distant and it was just a sub species of Canada goose if I’m honest, but when you work hard something, no matter how anticlimactic it may be, it feels weirdly good.

So if that success wasn’t enough, guess what we did next. You’re good. Yes, we went back to Warham Green. My car wasn’t impressed with this turn of events. In fact, it almost refused to go back down the ‘not suitable for vehicle’ track and we did a couple of passes before we drove down the hellhole.

We were about an hour earlier than the previous day and this proved to be the key to cleverness. Screw the seaducks and potential white-billed diver, we all wanted Hen Harrier. And boy, did we get them. Two male Hens and one ring-tail. This was a major highlight and the first time I had ever seen the glorious male bird. We were all happy. Ann-Marie had wanted to leave early to watch West Ham. She wasn’t complaining. None of us were, we were elated and ‘united’ apart from Ed (He’s a City man).

Hen Harrier

So that was it. My car left first for the journey home but the birding hadn’t quite finished. Almost as a way of saying sorry for the trouble my car had to endure along the track to the raptor point, a male merlin sat up on a low tree allowing a final good view in the dusk for my posse as we headed for a rather good fish supper in Brandon.

Just as a final thought, I used to do these trips alone. I had control and I would possibly have done things differently. A dawn start would have been a plus but no local knowledge? Now I might have got more species (we had collectively around 77) but I would have missed all of the good birds I have mentioned and I would have missed the companionship and experience this group of great people gave. You see, good birding isn’t about the birds, it’s about the people you bird with.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Getting a March on

March always brings me a premature hope of Spring; and by Spring I mean Spring migrants. While trying to overlook the boring winter migrants, already ticked and captured on camera, I focus on what  might be or could be seen as the earth spins inevitably toward the prospect of rarities and forgotten friends flying back from their winter homes.

It is a time for re-remembering warbler call notes and pretending to understand impact of weather systems and logical drop zones of early returners to which I am a poor student. So here is a bad school report for the month of March.

6th March – Rainham Marshes

After many attempts at getting a sighting let alone a picture of the long-staying Dartford Warblers on the reserve, my endeavour finally paid off. Thanks to a couple of birders who had the warbler in their sights, I was able to get some adequate images of the birds even though it kept itself at a distance that irritated the photographer in me. Beggars can't be choosers I suppose.

Even though now I have realised my camera settings have been askew for some time, I also had a bit of a champagne moment with the Short-eard Owls. As I left the MDZ, one said bird flew up and right across my line of vision. Without hesitation I just fired off 20 or so shots and one actually came out. I know it’s a bit grainy but who cares? Me. Moving on... Nice poses from Stonechats, Meadow Pipits and a Kestrel made for a reasonably good outing.

March 12th Lee Valley

The Bittern although still about won’t play ball and refuses to appear in any real way when I am there. To be honest, I feel let down. I volunteer at the Bittern Information Point not only to give punters amazing insights into this elusive bird but to take breathe taking images of the damn thing. Feel a bit short changed by the blighter this year. So a picture of a Great Crested Grebe and a Long-tailed Tit will have to suffice I’m afraid.

March 14th – Connaught Waters

I like Connaught Waters. It never over promises and can sometimes throw up a nice bird like a Smew or a Goosander during the winter months. It’s also an odds-on site for the over decorated Mandarin Duck. The fringes hold good numbers of Nuthatch and Treecreeper and if you’ve been a really good boy or girl, then Marsh Tit can sometimes be your reward. I had a nice wander around with Jo and Brenda zooming in on Nuthatches and creeping up on mandarins. There were a pair of Goosanders but they always kept a safe distance from our outstretched lenses and an over-friendly Pintail which made you wonder about it’s lineage.

March 20th

Slim picking at Lee Valley with only a quick walk around before taking up my duties in the BIP. Nice to see the Great Crested Grebes nesting on the Old Lea with a clutch of 4 eggs. Just hope those pesky Coots don’t predate the poor things this year.

March 25th  Lee Valley

Lee Valley once again. Chiffchaff are singing and a Blackcap heard. On 70 Acres, a pair of Shelduck seem to have taken up residence and I look to the skies for the first... no, any sign of our returning Common Terns. Not yet.