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.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Damn that Short-toed Treecreeper

Should have known it. Going to Landguard in Suffolk for a MEGA was destined to be a disaster.

I had only been saying (and joking) at work how staring a a bush for an hour or two – when the bird you want to see, isn’t even in it – was all part of the 'fun'.

Well I’ve changed my mind. Spending Saturday morning looking for a short-toed treecreeper, a little bird, no bigger than a mouse that blends in with tree bark and is elusive at the best of times is no fun. Needless to say, after a couple of hours, my eyes, mind and feet began to wander. I know, I thought, I’ll go and watch some birds that I can actually see and keep an ear out for any orgasmic shouts that come from die-hard birders if it was located.

Landguard is another one of those weird places that rare birds love. It is a finger of land that juts out beside Felixstowe at the mouth of the River Orwell. Back as far as 1540, the area has been utilised as a military defense against sea invasion. Landguard Fort was built in 1745 and was still in use during WWII.


In those trees there’s a treecreeper
There were a few birds about. A single fieldfare getting ready to leave these shores. Flocks of linnets and a group of about 12 ringed plovers.

Ringed Plover (Would only be photographed from it’s good side)
Having failed miserably to see the short-toed treecreeper (and I did spend another hour watching a tree), I tore myself away knowing full well that the little shit would show after I left.

My next target species was the Great Grey Shrike on Upper Hollesley Common. In some ways, this looked to me to be an even more futile expedition. The heathland is a big place and I had no exact details of the bird’s last reported position. Not only that but I felt I had to avoid a property called Gobblecock Cottage. God knows what would play out if I stumbled upon that place.

Upper Hollesley Common is about 15 miles north of Landguard. Near Rendlesham Forest, this is an extensive area of sandling heathland. At least the sun was out and the place was like an oven, lovely.

Upper Hollesley Common

Birdlife was evident with coal tits and goldcrests flitting about in the pine trees. I stumbled over a couple of startled red-legged partridges that scuttled away before I could even think of trying to photograph them. I entered an open area with a few low trees and unbelievably, the shrike was just sitting perched on top of a small birch. Why couldn’t the treecreeper do that?

Now the only problems were that a) the heat haze was distorting any clear views through an optic. and b) being early spring, it would have been a crime to walk across the heath to get closer because of any ground nesting birds would be disturbed.

Great Grey Shrike
I know these beautiful birds aren’t that rare but it had made my day. Not only that but it was now T-shirt weather and my afternoon would be spent at Minsmere another few miles north of Woodbridge.

The place was full of gulls. Mainly black-headed ones and boy did they make a racket. Waders were few and I only noted avocet, turnstone, oystercatcher and redshank. Winners of the best turned out gull went to a pair of pristine Mediterranean gulls.

Mediteranean Gulls

And if they were giving out prizes for the most accommodating bird of the day, then it would have to be, without doubt, this wren. It allowed me a good couple of minutes to fuck about trying to get it in my scope as I was so close to it, I even have to step back nearly tumbling into a ditch. Cursing and thinking the little 'darling' would wait just until I had it perfectly in focus before flying off, it didn’t. It just watched me, probably feeling sorry for me. Anyway, I thank it from the bottom of my heart. Might even be the best shot I have yet achieved.

Finally I visited the Bittern hide. Minsmere is famous not only as the flagship RSPB reserve but also for its population of breeding bitterns. You can’t expect to see one, only hope. Generally speaking, my day had improved and I had forgotten about the short-toed treecreeper by now. Marsh harriers displayed and even a couple of red deer showed up.

Then it happened. 

A bittern poked its head out from the reeds and slowly crept out into the water with its eye on a fishy snack. This bird’s patience was a godsend. I had time to get my camera set up and get some reasonable shots. The bittern was still a distance away but any shot of a bittern is a good shot in my book.

Bittern. It was actually motionless for at least a minute like this.

Another great day. But for those who have bothered to read this to the end, the treecreeper did show after I left and yes, I am bitter about that.

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