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.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Redbridge folk invade Norfolk

It’s 6.30am in Woodford Green. There is a dusting of snow on the ground and the temperature is -2ºC but it feels much colder. I’m standing at the bus stop by the Churchill statue waiting with one newly acquainted friend for a minibus driven by Daniel to take me and a group of Redbridge birdwatchers on a trip to the East Anglian coast. The bus arrives bang on time.

Redbridge Birdwatching is the work of Daniel Erickson-Hull. His up-to-date recordings of bird species and numbers provides detailed information for all those interested in birdwatching in the Redbridge Borough. Now, clearly, Suffolk and Norfolk are slightly outside the normal 'watched' areas but for me and I guess the majority of the others, the most important part of this trip was that local people got together to share a passion for birds and to just enjoy the camaraderie that naturally comes through when you throw a bunch of relative strangers together.

By 7am, we had collected everyone and set off to our first port of call (quite literally) Lowestoft. well, to be precise, Kessingland which is just south of Lowestoft. Kessingland is essentially a typical holiday resort that has long since lost its power as a fishing hub.

Kessingland Beach. Not a holiday-maker in sight!

Once we arrived, we met up with Richard, Daniel’s father who is local to the area and between him and Dan, had planned out our itinerary to hopefully get us up to 75 species in the day.

We had barely set foot on the snow covered sand before someone caught sight of an obliging Snow Bunting giving good views as it sat on a fence on a bank just above our position. And as if that wasn’t good enough, Richard had found the location of the single Shorelark that had been around for a few days and we all marched towards his position. Although we were a bit distant from the bird, we all still had good views of it as it stayed put for a good half hour. Rock Pipits and another Snow Bunting were recorded along with Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Turnstone. At sea, a couple of Red-throated Divers and 12 Common Scoters were picked up distantly along with a single Gannet.

It’s a rock....no it’s a Shorelark!

Shorelark, Kessingland Beach

From here, we went to that well-known birding haven, ASDA. What, didn’t you know?? Okay, so it isn’t quite on the RSPB radar but these places can often throw up some unexpected offers.

We had it on good authority that a Black-throated Diver had been spotted in on the Lake Lothing beside ASDA. We parked and all bundled out to find the bird. We think one or two of us just ventured into ASDA for a few BOGOFs but nothing was proven. However this might have been more productive as only one or two of the party managed to get views of the bird before it disappeared out of sight. By way of a consolation though, we were shown the location of a Peregrine Falcon perched opposite ASDA watching a few food shopping options of it’s own in the shape of fresh pigeon.

Peregrine on the 'Bird’s Eye' shelf at ASDA

On the other side of Lowestoft, is Ness Point. This is the most easterly point in Britain and is home to a regular but small flock of Purple Sandpiper. We nipped round to the north side of the harbour and began scanning for these small and scarce waders. However, one or two of our party weren’t quite focused on the job in hand. Without mentioning any names, one member of our intrepid party took it upon himself to really reach the most easterly point in Britain. Not satisfied with just standing on the designated mark, he skipped and bounded past the crashing waves, dropping his precious scope in the process and with soggy trousers, he reached the end of the concrete jetty probably expecting all of the stunned party behind him to applaud. Unfortunately, we were all too busy praying that he wouldn’t be swept out to sea by the next huge wave. Luckily, he made it back without slipping on the oilslick-like seaweed and actually seemed rather pleased with himself. Anyway Alan (whoops, sorry, no names) here’s one for you.

Go East young man.

Now, where was I? Ah yes, Purple Sandpipers. We put Alan back in his box and carried on north along the front searching for these small birds. The waves were crashing against the huge man-placed boulders and the thought that any small birds could withstand such a battering seems rather doubtful. Finally though and at the very end of these rocks, we found a small party of seven sandpiper. By nature, these birds are quite timid. We were able to get close views of them as they flirted with the onslaught of the sea.

Purple Sandpiper: Ness Point.

With no loss of life, we set about making our way to Waveney Forest and into Norfolk. From here, we would have a reasonable chance of seeing a good range of raptors from the viewing point. In particular, a Rough-legged Buzzard that had spent the week there already.

As we wlaked though this beautiful pine forest, we saw Coal Tits and plenty of Goldcrests. This was indeed pleasing as the harsh winter we have had could be disasterous for these small birds. At the watchpoint, which was quite crowded, we started to scan the wide vista of fenland in front of us. There were a few Kestrels and a probable Merlin. Alan then found the Rough-legged Buzzard although the views were distant to put it mildly! It was sat on a gate post – and there were many posts to choose from but eventually everyone found the one he meant. I think we would have stayed longer but for the fact that our main priority for the trip was to get to the Stubbs Mill viewpoint on Hickling Broad by 3.30pm for the raptor roost.

We might have got there quicker if we had ensured to make sure we had everyone back on board. However, one or two of the party had either got engrossed in the buzzard or had taken a wrong turning while walking back to the car park. (Guess who?)

The search party sets out.

With a quick stop for garage sandwiches (we were that hungry) and coffee, we headed off to Hickling, our final destination. Daniel and Richard were familiar with this site and had promised much; we hadn’t been disappointed so far. With the sun starting to drop and a rather sharp chill beginning to be felt, we arrived at Stubbs Mill. Daniel drove us all down to the watchpoint which doesn’t allow parking before taking the vehicle back to the main centre and walking back the kilometre to where we were.

With space at a premium along the watchpoint mound, we squeezed our way along to a clear space at the far end. After only a minute of arriving we had good views of a hunting Barn Owl, a pair of Common Crane and up to 20 Marsh Harriers making their way to roost. With the temperature dipping, snow falling and the light fading, observation became more taxing. The hardy amongst us managed to maintain an active vigil with Merlin and a couple of male Hen Harriers as reward. More Cranes flew in and a Sparrowhawk was seen.

A pair of Common Crane, Stubbs Mill

Finally at 5pm we gave in to the cold and started to head back to the minibus on foot. We still had time to marvel at up to ten Woodcock flying around the car park as we wearily got back into the bus. With everyone accounted for, Daniel somehow managed to muster the strength to drive us the 3 hours back to Woodford after what had been a truely epic trip with some really good people. Thank you Redbridge Birdwatching.

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