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, 29 May 2012


Well I’ve been messing around with a website for a few weeks now and although I know it could do with a bit of spit and polish, it does the job. It’s solely dedicated to bird images I take through digiscoping and that’s it. If you want a laugh, go to www.wildgoosechaser.co.uk

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Greenish goes AWOL as I go brownish in the sun

You can’t blame rarities when they’re not where they’re supposed to be. After all, they aren’t supposed to be there anyway.

Every now and then, I choose to visit a place a rare bird has been seen. In this case, it was a Greenish Warbler at Northward Hill in Kent. It had turned up only yesterday and I was hopeful that it would be around for a day or two. A few of spent a couple hours searching for the Asian Houdini but to no avail. I did find a Nightingale which gave brief views and green and Great Spotted Warblers kept us entertained.

I left hoping it wouldn’t reappear and headed off to Elmley Marshes to get over it. This was probably a mistake as Elmley is a vast tract of land with very little cover. With the sun already beating down at a steady 26Âșc I was going to be toast.

I nearly ran over a Red-legged Partridge as I drove through the entrance gates so that was a new bird for the year. All along the 2 mile track to the reserve there were Lapwings, Yellow Wagtails, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. As I neared the farm, a Brown Hare popped up and didn’t seem to mind my presence.
Brown Hare
There aren’t many reserves where you can bird watch in the WC. I thought I would make myself comfortable before the 6 mile walk on the reserve which really doesn’t have any cover so having a comfort break can leave you feeling a little exposed. As I answered the call of nature, another call from nature rang in my ears. A family of Swallows had made their home in the toilet block and I was clearly embarrassing them.
Swallow looking a bit embarrassed.
On the trek out, Goldfinches and a single Corn Bunting were singing. On the first set of pools, Avocets cared for the numerous young birds, Redshanks danced nervously about sending up a few Yellow Wagtails and a single Common Sandpiper prodded the mud seemingly without a care in the world.

Common Redshank
Not many trees

While there are no trees to speak of on the grazing marsh, there are small crops of shrub-like bushes that act as song posts for pipits and skylarks. One particular Meadow Pipit was happy to pose for me.

Meadow Pipit
And the sun seemed to really bring the birds out on show as even the usually skulking Reed Warblers gave me the time of day.

Reed Warbler
Approaching the Welland Hide, a Bearded Tit flew across the reedbeds with a few Reed Buntings and Sedge Warblers. Overhead, a Marsh Harrier was getting some grief from a few Black-headed Gulls and a bit later the same happened to a Peregrine although I doubt it was the same gang of gulls.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

A little purring at Paglesham

Paglesham and the River Crouch
I had it on good authority that a couple of Turtle Doves were to be seen around Paglesham Boatyard. I had never been to Paglesham even though it’s only a couple of miles from work but will now check it on a regular basis.

Turtle Doves are a big deal. They have dropped in numbers across Europe by 62% and are a serious concern. The main reaseons are, as always, changes in farming and unsolicited shooting in some Mediterranean countries with Cyprus and Malta coming top of the list.

Turtle Doves can be difficult to see. The first thing you get is the soft purring sound coming at regular intervals from dense foliage. The first sounds I got were from Whitethroats and Cuckoos. There were a couple of Cuckoos in the area and one quickly showing atop a line of trees close to the boatyard.

The boatyard was busy with Swallows relaying back and forth to nest sites inside boat sheds. behind the sharp chattering of the swallows calls, that steady purr of a Turtle Dove could be heard.

Paglesham Boatyard
Two doves were located in the car park. They were easy to see as they glided from treetop to treetop.

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Today’s colour is Yellow

A quick update from the wilds of South Fambridge. Lots of noise coming from the bushes and trees this morning. Dunnocks, Robins, Blackbirds, Blackcaps and Common Whitethroats all acting out their own version of The Voice (only ten thousand times better). freaked out a couple of Shelduck that had settled down on some small hut by the river to enjoy the warming sunshine. Sorry. Now, left or right? Right takes me to the Grasshopper Warbler and left to buntings, wagtails et al. But it was the clamour of reed warblers that swung it and they were in to the left (try and keep up).

The Reed Warblers were playing hard to see but a rather nice Yellowhammer unashamedly displayed in front of me and didn’t even fly off as I set my scope up.
Then, the Yellowhammer was knocked off its perch by a Yellow Wagtail to have its picture taken. If I’d known how popular I was going to be, I’d have sold tickets. I suppose it’s the same bird as the previous one I shot here.
Yellow Wagtail
A Cuckoo flew low across the fields and a single Corn Bunting sang from a small tree nearby but flew as I attempted to catch it on camera. Overhead a single Common Tern went by and a few Black-headed Gulls.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Whimbrels, Wheatears and warm weather

It’s sunny! I can go birdwatching in a force 9 gale but when it’s sunny is better. A morning down at good old Rainham Marshes was the plan (no plan really). My routine is to walk along the Thames path to the landfill site and the wander back to the visitor centre and do a steady lap there.

The walk along the Thames path at 8:30am meant the sun was nicely behind me giving the best light and viewing conditions a man can get.
Rainham, a hotspot for Whimbrel this spring

The foreshore of the Thames had a single Whimbrel, a few Oystercatchers and a few small groups of Shelduck. Overhead, a party of Common Terns argued with each other other something or nothing. From here, I walked through Wheatear alley and not surprising in the least I saw a Wheatear. Fancy that.

Northern Wheatear
In every clump of reed or dense vegetation, the random chattering of Reed Warblers – they sound as though they are talking to themselves – sounded out. They keep themselves pretty low down in the reeds and only a patient or lucky person will see one clearly. However I did happen upon one that hadn‘t read the script. It was a fair way away and obviously didn’t think anyone could see them.
Reed Warbler, not in reeds.
Along the gorse bushes that edge the road to the landfill site, a smart male Stonechat popped up onto the fence. This was my first stonechat of the year and well worth the wait. There were Linnets, Goldfinches, Dunnocks and Whitethroats all singing their heads off – such a wonderful sound.
European Stonechat
Across the marshes, a Marsh Harrier came under attack fro a mob of bullying Carrion Crows. I can’t understand why the harrier doesn’t just turn round and take them out? She has bloody talons for God’s sake and a beak that can rip the flesh off a small rabbit or pheasant so a crow or five shouldn’t present much of a problem.

Once on the reserve, it was clear there were masses of Reed Warblers setting up homes along with smaller numbers of Sedge Warblers. Today there wasn’t any sign of Yellow Wagtails but up to four Hobbies performed acrobatics in the sky as they fed on damselflies and other insects. the warm weather had certainly woken flies in their thousands and many of these followed me around all morning.

The recent heavy rain has affected the breeding of many of the reserves wader populations. The Lapwings look a bit forlorn and the chick from the previous week has disappeared. The Little Ringed Plovers have also gone which is a real shame. Hopefully there’s still time for all these species to have another brood, this time with more success.

Little Egret

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Essex birds are the best.

A two centre trip today, starting with Five Oak Lane – a hidden-away area of scrub and grassland adjacent to Hainault Golf Club and then a short trip south east to Rainham Marshes in Essex beside the Thames.

Five Oaks Lane is a hidden gem. I love it best for the almost guaranteed Cuckoos and Yellowhammers you will find here at this time. With heavy, leaden skies making it very dark and some seriously waterlogged paths making it foolhardy not to keep looking downat where you walked, looking for these birds was slightly hindered. A pair of Bullfinches made it easy as they barrel-rolled past my head with the unmistakeable white rump flash easing identification. 

Then that unique call of the Yellowhammer could be heard. 'A-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeeeeese' is what it sounds like but finding the yellow devil was less simple. Some careful scanning of the hawthorn bushes produced a fine male bird. Normally there are around ten birds at this site but this one was the only one I saw in my hour long stay.
Yellowhammer playing hide and seek.
Next up the classic cuckoo call came from the near distance and before long, two males flew close together and low over the open scrubland. In a small pocket of woodland, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Jays and Blackcaps were very active. Next stop Rainham.

Again, the skies at Rainham Marshes were dark. But not just because of the threatening rain clouds. The sky was full of Common Swifts. They were buzzing just over my head and I have never experienced these birds at such close quarters; I felt sure I could catch one in my hand they were that close.

Common Swift. The other 100 were caught up in my hair.
Along the Thames shoreline, there were lots of waders. The fresh northerly wind had obviously persuaded them to come down and have a break. Dunlins, Grey Plovers and a few Whimbrel fed close to the incoming tide.
Whimbrel and Grey Plovers
A little further on, a party of godwits, a mixture of Bar-tailed Godwits and Black-tailed Godwits also probed about in the mud for sustenance.

Bar-tailed Godwits
While scanning the waders, a bird caught my attention from the corner of my eye. I was positioned close to a tall wire fence and sitting atop of this fence was a male Wheatear. I had missed the chance of getting a shot of one of these confiding birds only day ago and I wasn’t going to miss out again.

Wheatears are predictable. You can’t really creep up on them to get a shot, you have to work out their habits or favourite perching posts are and just wait. Eventually, they will return to allow you decent shooting opportunities like these:
Female Wheatear
Male Wheatear
At the end of the river path, close to the small car park, there were a couple of Lesser Whitethroats. One day I will get images of these skulking warblers.

On to the reserve itself. There were at least 15 Yellow Wagtails at the first hide. House Martins, Swallows and Swifts skimmed the water surface while a pair of Lapwings kept a close eye on a single chick that looked ambitiously at the water with a view of stepping on it. Towards the back a pair of Avocets came in to add a bit of event branding for the RSPB reserve here.

With the weather now turning with an irritating rain messing with my optics, I holed up in one of the hides. There wasn’t much to be seen but a Little Grebe and a Sedge Warbler kept the crowd entertained. I was really impressed with the younger members in the hide who spotted Yellow Wagtails and marvelled at the Pied Wagtail that displayed right in front of us. the hide walls are covered in kids paintings and drawing of birds and nature that make you realise how important the work the RSPB do to educate people from an early age, the importance of conservation and the enjoyment we all get from it.
Sedge Warbler

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Reeling in the ears

No, not the classic rock hit by the brilliant Steely Dan but that ‘where’s that noise coming from’ call of the Grasshopper Warbler.

If you have read my previous post, you’ll know I didn’t have time to locate this Houdini of warblers due to time constraints. Today though, I devoted all my time or at least most of it to finding this little joker and getting a few snaps of it.

The weather was just about okay. There was a mizzle but that disappeared and I only had a brisk easterly wind to deal with.

Within minutes, a Cuckoo showed along with Blackcaps, Common Whitethroats and a supporting cast of Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Linnets. It wasn’t long before I picked up the reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler. They are very good at throwing their voice and as I went in one direction, it sounded like it was coming from another. Good game this. Needless to say, my extraordinary birding field skills along with the gut instinct of going either one of two ways I found it. Well I found the weeds it was reeling from anyway.

Eventually it climbed up the weed/plant/whatever and reeled away like crazy. It was a bit distant and the aforementioned weed swayed about a lot. Digiscoping is a black art at the best of times but trying to get a nice sharp image is hard especially as the camera wants to focus on the swaying weed (must find out the Latin name to impress you) and not the bird.
Grasshopper Warbler and some plant

...and these were the better shots!
I managed three passable shots and about 50 that were so blurred, they were positively artistic. Also of note, as I was waiting for the warbler I was thinking about how it was that I hadn’t seen a single Wheatear yet this spring. Then, guess what?

Yep, a lovely male Wheatear appeared in a classic pose atop a fencepost just metres from me. I would have taken a beautiful picture of it too if it hadn’t decided to disappear as I readjusted my scope. Oh well, if photographing birds was a piece of cake, it wouldn’t be so satisfying when it goes to plan.