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.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

No chance of a Red-billed Tropicbird at Lee Valley...thank God.

People often ask me why I like watching and recording the birds I see. To be honest, I don’t really know. I don’t really remember why birds hit the mark for me except I know it relaxes me and makes me feel good, free and most importantly, makes me feel as though I’m doing something positive to help the future of the nature around me. But it’s not all about me. I record winter thrushes for the BTO and I have started counting butterfly species I see and recording them for The Butterfly Conservation and I submit my recordings to local bird groups. I’m lucky.

This doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated and disappointed if I miss something good – it’s happened a lot. But it never gets the better of me. It just doesn’t matter because there is always next year. People always give me a funny look when I tell them I’ve never seen a Puffin or at least a live one. I will eventually... hopefully. Something to look forward to I say.

I would hate to get to the point where a a missed sighting or a mistaken sighting ever had the cause to cause me grief. So I feel for the birders who should have seen the red-billed Tropicbird at Pendeen but didn’t. And the birders that travel hundreds of pounds and miss a little brown job on some remote island. Just hope they can all have a good laugh about it...not sure I would so I don’t do that.

What Lesser Sand Plover?
Thank God for the Lee Valley Park. You pretty much what you’re going to get here. Bittern, Smew and Goosander in Winter; Nightingales, Terns and Little Ringed Plovers in the Spring/Summer.

We get all sorts of people coming in saying they’ve seen this bird or that. People also think they’ve seen Otters in the park. The park does have Otters but they are few and far between and basically nocturnal in habit and not likely to be sunning themselves on their backs trying to prise open oysters as they might in Ireland or Scotland. We have to manage disappointment all the time.

Common Blue. Nothing more, nothing less. And certainly not a Long-tailed Blue.
Comma. Really wanted it to be a Pearl-bordered Fritillery but hey-ho.
Banded Demoiselle. Common as muck.
We all see things and get them wrong but it should never stop you from making that call. If you see a Siskin and everyone says it must have been a Greenfinch who cares? You saw it and you made the call. The day we stop saying what we see is the day we miss the mega.

Another great British Bird Fair...in the bag.

Well that was a weekend and a half. Saturday was an eye-opening adventure to Rutland Water. The 25th British Birdfair took place over three days and I was invited by Lee Valley Park to help man the stand they have along with five other members of the Park team including my good friend Brenda who taught me how to womble for freebies.

You sure can collect a vast amount of 'stuff' at these fairs but there are a few gems as well. I’m well made up with the double (two stuck together) mousemat(s) I secured from the Butterfly Conservation chaps and this means I can donate one to myself when I’m in the Bittern Information Centre. Win win as they say. Got a million brochures from bird trip companies that think I’m a millionaire. You should see the cost of some, no, all of them. Certain people managed to find free alcohol too but I restrained myself as I wanted to remain the consummate professional that everyone knows me for.

Dawn showing excited fair attendees where they can find me at weekends.
There’s most of the British Bird Fair in Brenda’s bag you know..
One of the things about being at the fair and focusing on selling the delights of LVP is that you forget you’re at a premier bird reserve (I know there are a thousand bearded gentlemen walking around decorated in optics) and that one of Britain’s major birding success stories is all around you. We do of course get plenty of time to take in the bird fair and we had 40 minutes to find Ospreys.

We didn’t find Ospreys. We did pick up Little Gull, Green Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper but Brenda couldn’t fit them in her bag so we had to leave them there. So an excellent adventure and a great reward for volunteering for something I love anyway. Another win, win.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Bacon butties, burgers, beer, brilliant birds and butterflies


Every year there are certain days that stand out from the main as memorable and incredibly satisfying. Yesterday was just such a day.

For a few weeks I had been planning a birding trip and had my eye firmly fixed on Kent. Specifically Oare Marshes – one of my favourite sites – and Grove Ferry, more for the delightful watering hole than anything else but the reserve has been good to me over the years so why not?

My good friend Ed was riding shotgun and I would pick him up from his home close to Brentwood. Now Ed is pretty brilliant at many things; it could be Star Wars trivia, BBQ’d kebabs or knowing how to design the interior of a double decker bus. But on this day it was his ability to make the most amazing bacon butty breakfast.

We got down to Oare around 8.30am and already there seemed a larger than usual gathering of camouflauge. Now camouflage isn’t always easy to see but when most of it is squarely positioned on the road with huge tripods and rucksacks then it does stand out a bit. We weaved our way through this and somehow managed to find a spot to park. I suppose Oare was popular because recent sightings of the long-staying Bonaparte’s Gull and a regularly commuting Cattle Egret has had a magnetic effect on a lot of birders.

Temminck’s Stint causes road block
Ed and I played it cool. We decided to walk off away from the madding crowd and headed off along the seawall. We saw plenty of Black-taied Godwits, a pair of Curlew feasting on crab and hoards of Common Redshank busily probing the exposed mudflats. On the East Flood, small parties of Linnet flicked over the reedbeds and the occasional ting-ting call of the Bearded Tit could be heard but the breeze was keeping them down in the depths of the reeds.

Probably time for a picture of a bird or something.

Small Copper, Oare Marshes
Butterflies were a bit thin on the ground but there were a couple of species I hadn’t seen before. The first was a Clouded Yellow. Actually there were at least six of the flighty butterflies about and at no time did they settle or even come anywhere near to us to even give us hope of a picture. The other was the Small Copper which is a delicate and dainty butterfly. Again I heard the Bearded Tits calling and I did eventually see a pair but – and I’ll say it quickly – Ed missed them. He hasn’t seen one yet but we will sort this out soon (I hope)

Little Egret, Oare Marshes
The East Flood held a good number of wader species. From the hide we picked out a Curlew Sandpiper, a few Dunlin, 150+ Black-tailed Godwits, Common Redshanks, 50+ Golden Plovers and a couple of Greenshank. The hide was hot and getting full so we headed back to fresh air and the hoards of birders in the road. We had heard from a friendly local birder that a Temminck’s Stint was about and it would seem all the fuss surrounded this small wader.

Now I was quite excited I admit because I have regularly dipped this bird and looked around for some fetching camouflage but it wasn’t needed. The bird was distant (theme for the day really) but was clear to see as it patrolled the water edge on the West side.

Well I said it was distant!
Temminck’s Stint with Little Egret
With this nicely in the bag, we focused back on the East Flood where a single Little Ringed Plover could be seen. A few more birders, one with serious camouflage on were scoping a small group of birds with a couple of gulls on the water. Yep, one was the Bonaparte’s Gull. And guess what? Yep, it was a bit distant and therefore the shot is a bit crap.

Bonaparte’s Gull. It’s the one on the left!!
Feeling almost as satisfied as eating an Ed bacon butty we journeyed south and just east of Caterbury to Grove Ferry. We had heard some disappointing news about the reserve consisting of neglect and a lack of any development in the reserve from those that should have been building on the reserves past successes but it would possibly be the best place to get Wood Sandpiper and if nothing else, the Grove Ferry Inn is pretty damn good...even on a Sunday.

So, in line with my oncoming dementia, we got lost. I’ve been to Grove Ferry numerous times and I can only think that my mind must have been fixed on where best to buy some snazzy camouflage clothing for the winter. Anyway a delightful lady on my SatNav put us straight albeit taking us on a winding route through single lane tractor roads which the motor didn’t appreciate. Eventually we arrived and parked at the front door of the pub; found a table overlooking the boat-filled river to enjoy a couple of Shepherd Neame’s finest ales and a rather daunting burger.

But we did get lost Ed!
God these were good. And look, mine is so much bigger!!
Two pints later we waddled over to the reserve. It was really overgrown but there was bird life and we could just about see it from the viewing ramp. About 5 Green Sandpipers were on the boundary towards the back of the water but I couldn’t ID any Wood Sandpipers. A few Lapwing, a Grey Heron and a Little Egret sat among the many eclipsing ducks on the scrape. All you could hear was the breeze chasing through the vast fields of reeds...no Ting, ting of the Bearded Tit though.

Green Sandpiper
Grove Ferry/Stodmarsh. A few dark clouds over its future.
We did our best to find a Wood Sands but failed. We did get one brief glimpse of a Marsh Harrier and a hunting Kestrel but little else. A Wood Sandpiper was seen there but while we were eating those burgers. Just about worth the dip if you ask me.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Painted Ladies and a Damsel in distress

There’s a definite chill in the air in the early morning now; a clear sign that autumn is thinking about emerging from summer’s strong shadow. My newly found love for butterfly and dragonfly photography will soon be packed away to make room for the birding Grand Prix that is autumn. But before that gets into full swing, there is still a few weeks (longer than most butterflies live) to enjoy the fascinating spectacle of these beautiful creatures.

I had some time recently to visit a new reserve in Essex that has a strong reputation for butterflies. Langdon Hills Country Park/EWT is situated in south Essex near Basildon and consists mainly of woodland and meadowland.

Large White
For the novice explorer though, it is difficult to get your bearings and it is hard to say what bit of the reserve I was actually in. But I know one thing. The area known as Plotlands  where a number of cottages once stood is brilliant for butterflies. The management of the wildflower meadows is skilled and to be admired. Peacock, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and Large Whites were abundant here. But the special one must go to the Painted Lady that sat amongst them all.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Painted Lady
The Painted Lady proved to be a real poser for my camera but the same could not be said for the Common Blue. I found a pair of these tiny butterflies in an open area of meadow. They refused to settle and had me chasing after them like an end title sequence usually reserved for Benny Hill.

As soon as I caught up with one, it would fly off back over my head. Anyone watching me would have called the local looney bin for advice.
Common Blue
Common Blue
Small Heath
Also in the meadow area I found a Small Heath. This is a very small butterfly and rarely rests with it’s wings open. It too seems to sense my presence and I had to tread carefully to get close.

From Langdon Hills, I made my way over to Hanningfield Reservoir.. There were a couple of birds that I need and I felt Hanningfield would be good for them. Firstly I needed Red-crested Pochard and Hanningfield is a sure bet for this duck. I also needed Common Sandpiper which again I have nearly always seen here.
Red-crested Pochard
The RC Pochard were a bit distant but I counted about 14 birds. There was a pair of Common Sandpipers too so I achieved my goals. I noticed that butterflies were not quite as abundant here as they were at Langdon but Hanningfield made up for that in Dragonflies and Damselflies.

Ruddy Darter
White-legged Damselfly
Silver Y
I can even say I saved a Damsel in distress as I found a Common Blue caught up in a spider web and pulled it free (what a hero) It sat on my finger for a minute but it was too close to photograph – just a blur and my ugly thumb to see so I have not put it here.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

When the birds take a back seat.

No, I can’t quite work it out.

This year has been a bit of an epiphany for me. Here I was aiming for a 200 count for my bird list of 2013 and with only 145 noted, I’m gaily jaunting around meadows ripping my legs to shreds shooting all manner of butterflies. dragonflies and moths until they’re coming out of my ears. Any bird that appears on the horizon is but a distraction – not that I’m missing much. The summer months are slow when it comes to birding; not that there aren’t great birding opportunities to be had. Plenty of waders are being seen, Two-barred Crossbills are turning up and sea-watching is starting to get interesting (oxymoron anyone?)

So a bit like when the football season ends my attention turns to cricket. It is slower, takes longer and requires a completely different mindset but underneath the rules and the whites, its a team sport and that”s all that matters. The same is true of birdwatching and the art of watching butterflies and dragonflies.

To be honest, I find birdwatching a little boring in the summer. It’s too hot with scope-crippling heat haze. Wildfowl are moulting, most other species go dead quite and well, thats enough. My sudden interest in Odonata and Lepidopterology, big words for such little fellows has come about because of others around me. The people I work with at the LVP are well versed in these areas and their enthusiasm and knowledge has rubbed off on me. Add to that the ability to take real close up shots of these fascinating creatures and suddenly, you have an exciting challenge on your hands.

Comma, Hadleigh Downs
Marbled White, Hadleigh Downs
Common Darter, Hadleigh Downs
Emperor Dragonfly, Hadleigh Downs
Peacock, Lee Valley Park
Red Admiral, Lee Valley Park
Common Blue Damselfly
Of course we are now staggering out of the heat of high summer and the early mornings have started to feel fresh with that distinct smell of autumn (I can’t explain this so don’t ask) This means my attention will soon turn back to the birds and this weekend, a long overdue trip to Kent with my mate Ed.