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.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Clocking a few birds in South Fambridge

After rains of biblical proportions, it was nice to see a clear sky this morning coupled with a warmish air. This meant I could steal an hour at South Fambridge before beginning the working week.

You sometimes get a good feeling about birds in terms of quality and quantity and this morning as I opened the car door I knew it would be good. The air was full of birdsong and small LBJs were hopping from tree to tree – difficult to know where to look as so much was happening.

One hour is a long time if you’re stuck in a boring meeting or saddled with someone who just wants to tell you about their new ipad app (probably should point out that I possibly bore people in the same way about birding) But one hour with so much potential like this morning is like a nano second to me.
Sunny South Fambridge
About five minutes in and the quintessential sound of spring in the shape of a Cuckoo could be heard somewhere across the fields. A quick scan of the tops of the trees and bushes revealed one bird in full view. This was my first cuckoo of the year which for me quite late. But hey, it’s all good.

Cuckoo and my clock was still ticking
Ten minutes in and the numbers of Reed Buntings were high. This is a bit annoying as every time a bird flew across my field of vision, I’d get all excited only to be met by yet another reedy. Eventually I decided to take a picture of one male reed bunting but it was, as usual, half hidden by some hawthorn branches. They do this on purpose just to see my face getting redder from the frustration. They have a little snigger at this I think.

But what’s this? Just as I think of giving up on the bunting, a Yellow Wagtail land on an adjacent branch. Sling your hook reed bunting, I’ve got a new star now.

Yellow Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail
A really beautiful and bright yellow bird. and I was only twenty minutes into the hour. There are some modest reed beds along the track and these held a few Reed Warblers but none actually could be seen. The usual Brown Hares and Pheasants clung to the edges of the fields and an occasional Swallow zipped low 'below the radar' coming off the river and over the fields.

A Whimbrel caught my eye as I stepped up onto the seawall. It was difficult to get a good shot as the sun was in the wrong position. Another two birds called loudly as they flew overhead. My sun dial now told me that I needed to start heading back I was now 40 minutes into my hour.

Back at the entrance, Blackcaps and Common Whitethroats were vying for attention but it was a more distant and Tinnitus-like sound that interested me. I had heard and seen a Grasshopper Warbler near here a week or so ago and this time there seemed to be two or more birds reeling. I didn’t have time to wait to see if they would appear but I will be returning to investigate this at another time soon. But for now and if you know the sound of TV’s Countdown clock that’s all I have time for.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Guy Taplin and the good-looking birds with chiseled features

There are many famous people I admire, artists, musicians, sports players, political leaders and film stars. The list would be filled with people everyone knows but there would be one person on that list that perhaps would confound most. Guy Taplin.

Who’s Guy Taplin? Well, he was one of the finest 20th century observers of birds. His observations weren’t in the form of lists or photographs and he probably didn’t go around chasing rare species. He basically turned driftwood into birds.

Guy Taplin
I certainly hadn’t heard of him even though I love art and I love birds. It was only when a friend at work gave me his book as a Christmas 'Secret Santa' that he came to my attention. That was some SS, quite special.

His life story reads like a roller coaster. He left school at 15 and got sacked from most of his jobs. He destroyed over £2000 of stamps by pouring water into the stamp drawer when he worked at the Post Office. Feigned madness so well to get out of national service that he was put away in a mental home and so it went on. he got fired when working as a meat porter and when he dyed an Arab’s hair orange in a hairdressers. Then the 60’s happened. 

He moved into belt design and did well for a while. He then gave this up to study Zen and fell into working as head of wildfowl in Regents Park. It was here that he started to carve birds. A small gallery in London exhibited his work and ended up selling it all. Now his work can be seen in the Tate Modern and on Michael Palin and Jackie Onassis’ mantlepieces.

His work is magical and full of such grace and style that even mother nature must admire his work from a far.
Great Egret

I would love to be able to do this kind of sculpture and indeed, I will try (indeed, I already have some 'driftwood' I picked up from Rainham although it’s origin might be slightly dubious) but I don’t expect much of a result. Shoot for the moon though, isn‘t that what they say?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Sewardstone Marsh and Cornmill Meadows in a finishing time under 4 hours

Another lovely start to the day and it was either do a slow amble around a couple of the smaller pockets of reserve that are part of the Lea Valley or do the Marathon. Unfortunately I couldn’t find my running shoes  so the hiking boots have it.

Dunnocks. Why can’t every bird behave like a Dunnock? They sit in the open, let you get quite close and don’t mind having their picture taken. I’d take my hat off to them if I had one.

There were a lot of birds singing. Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a single Willow Warbler. It took me a few minutes to locate the Willow Warbler as it was high up in a willow and unlike the Dunnock, was half hidden behind foliage. Eventually it moved out enough to be seen properly.

Willow Warbler

Sewardstone is usually good for Cuckoos but not today. Not even a call could be heard, maybe in a week or two this will change. Another absent friend is the Nightingale. They are fairly common just up the road in the Holyfield area of Lea Valley and I have seen and heard them here for many years but not in the last two. I don’t know why this has changed, the habitat is no different, a real mystery.

On the other hand, Blackcaps seem to on the increase. they are everywhere this spring. I think I counted 18 singing birds here this morning.

I walked up to Enfield Lock and found a Little Egret and a Kingfisher in the flood channels. I managed a shot of the Egret but the Kingfisher was too far off...needs to talk to the Dunnock.

Little Egret (and Coot)
Had a look for Grey Wagtails but nothing doing, so decided to walk the path towards the Navigation Inn. So many joggers this morning...shouldn’t they be somewhere else today? A Cetti’s Warbler chucked out it’s call – very close. It showed for a few seconds in the brilliant sunshine before disappearing low into the reeds. With the sun in my eyes, I turned heel and headed back the way I’d come. Added a tidy looking Lesser Whitethroat to the list but no chance to photograph it...one day maybe. Still no hirundines to speak of not even a Sand Martin.

I just had time to visit Cornmill Meadows. This was very quiet. Blackcaps aside, there was very little to see or hear/ It wasn’t until I got to the Wake hide that things improved. There were a few Lapwings, Gadwall, Shelduck and Teal on the main pool but the main star was a single Greenshank.

Again, no Yellow Wagtails or Martins but I must be patient. After all, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Rye Harbour. Birdwatching in a wind tunnel.

Most of you won’t remember or will have never seen the TV ad for Maxwell Tapes of a guy sitting in an armchair and playing a music tape recorded on a brand called Maxwell. he puts it on and is blown backwards in his chair with his hair nearly being ripped from his scalp. Not sure what the point of the ad was but if you ever wanted to experience a similar effect, a trip to Rye Harbour, yesterday, would have given it to you.
Rye Harbour, flat as far as the eye can see.
Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is between Hastings and Dungeness on the coast of East Sussex. It is a huge triangle of land made up of shingle and saltmarsh and home to many rare flora and fauna. But all I know is, it’s bloody windy.

Rye Harbour is, regardless of the weather, a great place to see Terns. Common, Sandwich and Little Terns all breed here in varying numbers and even in the prevailing gale, I could hear their cackling cries high above me.  Time for a nice map.

A map
I made my way to the Ternery Pool which promised much in the way of Terns. Sure enough, there were loads of terns. I wonder what the collective name for terns is? Maybe it should be a quiver of terns as these birds fly like arrows and are so streamlined and agile especially in the high winds.
Common Tern not being very agile but still a little streamlined.
There were Common Terns and Sandwich Terns but no Little Terns unfortunately. Mixed in with these were a couple of Ringed Plovers and a few hundred Black-headed Gulls.
Sandwich Terns
With nothing much else to see, I moved away from the seaward side of the reserve and made my way inland to the Narrow Pit to look for any spring migrants. The first to make itself known was a Nightingale as it flew from one small tree to more dense cover. It then began it’s unmistakable song, a real pleasure every time. This then set off a Cetti’s Warbler, another skulking and difficult to see bird and I didn’t see it. Then, as if in a procession, a Chiffchaff landed in front of me, I paid it a fiver and it posed for me. Good old Chiffy. Finally, a Common Whitethroat with it’s gravelly vocals got going and it did show briefly thank god.
Chiffchaff, would have preferred it have been a Nightingale
All together, a good couple of hours birding. No hirundines on the reserve but I did get a fly by Swallow on the A259 as I headed back to the M20. Maybe it just got wind of me wanting to see it.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Where Eagles, Gulls, Waders and other amazing birds dare

Following on from my last blog, I started thinking about all the less attractive places us birders like to frequent for the quality of the birds. If you have read my last blog or even just looked at the pictures, you’ll know that I featured an Iceland Gull at the Rainham landfill site. This is clearly not the sort of place you’d want to take a picnic or a place you’d want to impress your other half with by spending the day there with them. But there’s no denying the quality of the birds, if you’re into gulls at least.

So this got me thinking about all the other 'unusual' places I have visited in the pursuit of birds and here are a few that I’ve managed to think of.

Dungeness Nuclear Power Station.
This isn’t that unusual as it is one of the country’s premier birding hotspots. There is a bird observatory and an RSPB reserve just a stone’s throw (and there are plenty of stones to throw) away. But around the station itself, it is often possible to see Black Redstart, Firecrest, Whinchat and Wheatear.

Dungeness Power Station
Wheatear, Dungeness
The 'Patch' is an area in the sea where the waste hot water from the plant is pumped out into the sea from outfall pipes which enriches the seabed and attracts hoards of gulls, terns and skuas.
Common and Black Tern at the Patch

Birchanger Green Motorway Services Car park (off the M11)

This was a one-off but it’s not uncommon for a certain winter visitor to turn up at similar places. I am of course talking about the Waxwing. they love supermarkets especially because the planners always plant Cotoneaster and Pyracantha shrubs which they love.


M40, Junctions 5 -8 
I love the M40. I would even go out of my way to use it even if the M1 was easier because of the magnificent sight of reintroduced Red Kites. I’m surprised I haven’t crashed yet as I can get sidetracked by these majestic raptors as they glide overhead, usually around junction 7-8 in my experience.
Red Kite, more fun than watching the road.
But it’s not just Kites you can see. The ubiquitous Kestrel, hovering at the road edge and often a few Common Buzzards can be seen on trees or soaring over the Chiltern Hills.

Small mention should also go to the M3 for the Black Kite I saw near the Fleet Services.

Wormwood Scrubs
If you fancy doing a bit of bird then The Scrubs is for you mate. A large area of the Scrubs is made up playing fields and open land. There is a line of tress, Birch and Sycamore and an area known as Chats Paddock which is where much of the bird interest lies. Skylark and Meadow Pipit both have a strong presence and during spring and autumn, chats, redstarts, warblers and thrushes all put in appearances.
Wormwood Scrub
I guess the point is, great birdwatching can be undertaken pretty much anywhere. From a train, walking to the shops and even from an airport lounge I seem to recall.

Watch out for the 'How many bird species I have seen walking to the tube station?', coming soon....