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, 8 November 2011

Escape to Lee Valley

After four days of cutting branches from a few trees and ridding the garden of every leaf in Woodford, I rewarded myself with a trip to Fisher’s Green in the Lee Valley.

The weather had been uncomfortable with that irritating mizzle that soaks you without it feeling like it’s raining. But yesterday was great. Blue skies and a mild, shirtsleeve-ready temperature made for perfect walking conditions.

I’d seen enough trees for one week

Fisher’s Green is very popular and forms just a small part of the Lee Valley. It is also a strong link in a long chain of reclaimed gravel pits that now act as an important home for a vast array of wildlife including, the growing-in-numbers Otter to the elusive and rare-breeding Bittern

I don’t expect to see otters or bitterns although I have seen the bittern here on many occasion. The fact is, the bittern is the shy, retiring type and a bit of a dab hand in the disguise department. Fisher’s Green does everything it can to help you see one of these enigmatic birds but never a guarantee. The Lee Valley Park have built a ‘watchpoint’ for the bittern which favours a small (but dense) patch of reedbed and a bird will occasionally wander between the gaps in the reeds to tease, before disappearing again for hours.

Love this. No one in the hide which, at weekends, can feel like a tin of sardines, sardines with a ton of optical equipment and huge flasks of oxtail soup no less.

Water Rail. A battle of wits and cunning when it comes to photographing one of these jokers.

There wasn’t any sign of the star bird but there were two or three Water Rail, squealing and running between the watery channels that dissect the reedbeds.

The main lake beyond the reedbeds plays a supporting role here. For when one becomes bored watching reeds swaying or the movement in the water that turns out to be a moorhen, relief can be taken by observing the wildfowl and huge cormorants that sit on the tern rafts hanging their wings out to dry. A pair of Egyptian geese mixed with the teal, gadwall and tufted ducks on a distant scrape.

I headed from here up to Holyfield Lake. Historically, I have always had siskins and bullfinches on this trail and I needed both for this year’s list. Fifty feet from the Bittern Watchpoint hide, a bright yellow male siskin landed atop a spindly birch or larch. Another year tick. Then along the winding river, that amazing flash of turquoise and orange that can only mean a kingfisher. Yet another tick for the year. In fact, this is the first kingfisher I have seen for a couple of years. Unbelievable really.

As I approached the Grebe hide that sits facing the Holyfield Lake, a small flock of finches flew hurriedly into the larch trees. I observed Goldfinches, Siskins (about 10) and a single Lesser Redpoll. 

Look, Siskins just aren’t very photogenic.
Holyfield Lake was swarming or swimming with birds. Hundreds of Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal, mixed with what seemed like thousands of Coot.


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Is seawatching a shore bet?

It’s always a gamble.

Deciding the day before about where to go bird-watching is a bit like putting your house on a horse. You can check previous days activity via websites etc. You can try to be all meteorological about it and check wind directions, the chance of fog, rain, low or high pressures over Scandinavia, blah, blah, blah. Or, if you’re like me, you hedge your bets.

lady luck for me takes the shape of North Norfolk. The North Norfolk coast can kiss my dice anytime. You just have to never expect to win the jackpot.
Holme NOA Nature Reserve
I placed my first bet on Holme-next-the Sea. The reserve is a maze of dunes with a belt of pines that faces the North Sea and a magnet for migrants. A 50/50 bet was the Pallas’ Warbler that had made itself at home in the buckthorn for a couple of days. The early morning fog hung low over the sea and dunes and a fine mist dampened the skin but it was unseasonably mild and still. A few early birders were looking for the 'Sibe' but hadn’t had a sight or sound of this eastern gem by 7am.

I politely looked for it for 30 minutes, seeing only a small group of Pink-footed Geese before deciding to move from an obviously 'crap' table, to a safer, more spreadable bet that was the sea. Bingo. ( I don’t use exclamation marks.)
Pink-footed Geese
Maybe not rare birds but Razorbills, Guillemots, Red-breasted Mergansers, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Gannets were wonderful to watch. Alas, there were no Skuas or Shearwaters about but I hasd already got a return on my investment from a couple of hours sea-watching.

Fulmar, Old Hunstanton, April 2009

A few Red-throated Divers and one Black-throated Diver flew east as the weather started to improve. Eventually, the sun broke through and I figured it was time to change locations and head just down the road to Titchwell.

Popular place, Titchwell. By the time I’d arrived, there was nowhere to park. It was like Sainsburys on a Saturday. I had to drive around in circles until I found someone who looked as though they were leaving and then drive behind them really slowly only to find they were just getting a flask of coffee from the boot.  I parked in the coaches only area. Fucking rebel me.

The only table here to gamble with was a picnic one. The good news was that a Yellow-browed Warbler was frequenting the picnic area and a number of observers were busily looking for the little leaf warbler. We heard it before we saw it but see it we did. It hovered briefly under a leaf of the sycamore before zipping off with a few tits and disappearing.

Yellow-browed Warbler, courtesy of Wiki.
Well that was a good start. My plan was still to put most of my money on sea-watching so I headed towards the sea, neglecting the new, rather posh hides that have sprung up since my last visit.

Plenty of action here. A Slavonian Grebe lingered offshore for a while and a lovely pair of Eider flew west. Along the shoreline, Godwits – both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed prodded about for food. Oystercatchers, Knot, Sanderling and the odd Grey Plover patrolled the sand bar fingers that appeared as the tide withdrew. Overhead, Dunlin and Golden Plover flew in small parties and arrows of Brent Geese went back and forth seemingly unsettled by an occasional sortie by Marsh Harriers.
My last chance saloon would be Cley. Little Auks and Sabine’s Gulls had been observed earlier in the day so everything felt positive. The sea was very calm and visibility crystal clear. A few Common Scoter passed along with more Red-throated Divers. Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Gannets. I was getting a sense of déjà vu to be honest. I checked every Kittiwake just in case there was a Sabine’s there but there were none. As I left a fellow birder enquired if I had seen that small tern with dark wings, a White-winged Black Tern or even a Sooty Tern he amusingly suggested. 'No', I said, 'fat chance, mate'.

Truth was, I left a winner. 66 species with a couple of nice scarcities, decent weather for late October and an extra hour in bed to come.