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, 29 December 2013

Return to Wallasea Island (The Sequel)

After days of dark clouds and heavy rain, the weather finally abated and gave us blue skies and a chilly ground frost that warmed my heart. The bird I have been chasing for a few weeks now doesn’t really enjoy damp wet conditions and so with my new fur-lined trapper hat attached to my head, I headed out to the Wild Coast Project at Wallasea Island. I was a man on a mission but a man without wellies which would prove to be only a small oversight as it would turn out.

Reed Bunting
So I had light, I had a camera (of sorts) so all I needed was the action. I’m still not totally sure about my little Nikon in terms of its ability to do what it says. The Sports mode seems to blur things even more than the Auto mode and everything else seems to do nothing I need. I did get this smart Reed Bunting though so it can do it when it wants but I need good light.

The mudflats held pretty much the cast I would expect for this feature. Dunlin, Common Redshank, Shelduck, Ringed Plovers, Lapwings, Curlew and a few Black-tailed Godwits. As I trod carefully along the seawall trying hard not to slide in the rivulets of muddy water that lay hidden below innocent patches of grass, I noted Meadow Pipits and a few Skylarks. Every now and then I would stop and scan the distance – across to Foulness Island and Holiwell Point for a glimpse or suggestion of the star performer, a real A-Lister, the Hen Harrier. Nothing doing. Was I going to fail again or would this epic end happily ever after?
View across to Foulness Island
After about 1.5km beyond the earth conveyor belt, the reserve comes to a halt. There is no access beyond this for mere mortals like me. A couple of other birders obviously have special needs or rather privileges as they were able to go beyond this point without a care in the world.

Common Buzzard
In the distance on Foulness, a Buzzard perched on a mast. It stayed on that mast or one nearby for a good hour but was difficult to see clearly (as you can see) and I missed it in flight the few occasions it moved from one perch to another. You see, a Rough-legged Buzzard is also on Foulness and although I’m 95% sure this is the common variety, I just wonder if there’s a ghost of a chance...

After some time spent scanning the horizon, an agile raptor flew low across the banks of the shoreline on Foulness. At first I thought it was a Marsh Harrier due to the darkness of it’s appearance but as it flew out into the sunlight more, I could clearly see the telltale tail with the white rump that meant I had a 'Ringtail' or rather a female Hen Harrier. Eventually it disappeared behind some farm buildings and was gone. I was well happy.

I decided to head back along a path that would test Indiana Jones, as I hoped from one safe bit to the next while still trying to keep one eye out for birds. And then it happened; the twist in the storyline. Just when I thought it was safe to go home a happy man, a raptor flew right beside me, teasing me with it’s beauty and grace. Another ringtail but this time I could almost touch it. It quickly realised its mistake and started to veer away from me. I quickly grabbed my compact and tried to zoom in on it but it was all a bit fiddly and the result a bit pointless.

Hen Harrier in flight from me.
It is a terrible image, heavily cropped and as it faded into the distance and the hairs on my neck calmed down, I knew I had to have a proper camera with a decent lens. It’s the only way now and although this may well take me two years to save for, it will be worth it.

Wallasea Island

Friday, 13 December 2013

Rainham Marshes. Mine for a day

It’s nice to birdwatch during the week when most pepole are working. Hides are empty and I can spread myself out. dash over to the other side of the hide whenever I want; open all the windows even talk to myself (this often happens even when there are people about).

So I goes to the Rainham Marshes RSPB Reserve. The tide was high from the recent North Sea surge but not enough to affect any part of the reserve. I had hoped to see the pair of European White-fronted Geese that had dropped in the previous day but they proved to be elusive – something fairly common when I’m looking for particular birds.

A walk along the Thames river path, something of a custom for me, produced the usual species. Wigeon and Teal on the river, a few Rock Pipits playing in the flotsam and indeed, the jetsam that litters the foreshore. The wind was brisk and the skies threatening but the walk along the river was still a release from the 9-5 slog many people were enduring.

I headed up to 'Serin' Hill. Never seen a Serin here or anywhere for that matter in the UK – another one of those elusive bogie birds that tease me every year. Not so elusive at Rainham is the delightful Common Kestrel (common can be a bit of a clue to any birdwatching novice; most of the time this means you can’t miss it but not always). Anyhow there is a certain Kesser that has been affectionately named Nelson who does allow people and even dogs to get reasonably close and the opportunity for a photo was too great to turn down.

Naturally the Kestrel wouldn’t let me that near but let a woman with a dog and an iphone to practically do a 'selfie' with it. Such is life.

Common Kestrel or Nelson as he is fondly known as.
From Serin Hill a Marsh Harrier sent the huge flocks of Lapwing and Gulls into the air and couple of Little Egrets with eight Grey Herons stood on sentry duty along the watery channels that cross the marsh. It was time to head back and enter the reserve.

The White-fronts hadn’t been seen. I wasn’t shocked. I headed in an anticlockwise direction around the reserve, finding a Water Rail in the Ken Barrett hide – not literally but you know what I mean. It was on a mud bank a bit confused by the fact that there was no cover for it. It quickly scampered off and dived into the reeds, no doubt wiping the sweat from it’s brow.

Atop its regular pylon, a Peregrine Falcon sat observing the reserve like reading a menu in a posh restaurant. I'I think I’ll have Teal to start followed by Pigeon for main and perhaps a Snipe or Redshank for dessert.' It clearly couldn’t decide as it stayed up there for ages.

On the Aveley Pools, there were four Pintail and more Teal and Wigeon than you could shake a stick at.

Drake Pintail
Drake Teal
Further along the trail, I found up to five Stonechats flitting about behind some tall reeds. This made digiscoping them a bit tricky but managed one shot with a bird in it.

Drake Wigeon
It really did feel like my reserve for the day. Sure, there were few senior citizens going around the reserve but a flick of my elbow and a slight splash soon dealt with that. Joke.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Wallasea Island v Tollesbury Wick

I thought it might be nice to Wallasea Island where the RSPB along with Crossrail have embarked on an impressive venture known as the Wild Coast project. The project is huge but they are slowly but surely sculpting an impressive wetland and salt marsh landscape using dumper truck after dumper truck of earth taken from the Crossrail tunnelling currently boring its way through the earth while at the same time, allowing the sea to flood into it, thus creating a natural biodiverse environment that will take until 2019 to complete.

The birds don’t seem to mind all this work going on and are largely undisturbed by it anyway. On the seaward side, Shelduck were counted at around 120 birds. lapwing about 450 and dark-bellied Brent Geese 240. Dunlin 135, Black-tailed Godwit 35, Ringed Plovers 20+. On the land a flock of 20 Skylark were of note as well as a pair of Stonechat in the Wild Bird Cover. This area by the car park also had a pair of Marsh Harriers but no Hen Harriers.

It’s going to be amazing one day.
There are no facilities here, no centre, no toilets (the funny thing is the RSPB website states that there are loos 7 miles away. Useful!) This is not a criticism, nearly an observation so go prepared – whatever that might be. I saw a Kestrel well I saw this Kestrel a lot. Every time something interesting caught my eye it was this blessed Kestrel. Not complaining.

The light was shit as you can see.
I walked the 2.5k that you can do before a sign stops you. It was enough but I will return...soon.

Should have bought my watercolours
Fron Wallasea Island, I went on to Tollesbury Wick – a very similar environment but Tollesbury has been a great reserve for a very long time and I hadn’t been there in a while. It was a favourite for my dad and it proved to be a great place to reflect on those times when he was around.

Borrowdyke and Tollesbury Wick Marshes

Looking across the Blackwater towards Bradwell Power Station
The birdlife here is much the same as Wallasea Island. Large numbers of Curlew, Golden Plover. lapwing and Brent Geese are the norm as well as a party of 23 Avocet on the edge of the South Channel which is always nice. A couple of Marsh Harriers quartered the Reed Fleet but no SEO or Hen Harriers here either. There is now a hide here and a you get good views of the marshes looking towards Ho Fleet and the large flocks of Wigeon that feed by the pools. A Kestrel brushed past the one open window of the hide giving me a slight shock...very close.

View from the hide
On the South Channel, there was more interest. I scanned the water for Slavonian Grebes or Black-throated Divers and came up with Red-breasted Mergansers and a smart drake Smew. Would have preferred the former but beggars as they say...

Red-breasted Mergansers
I continued around the reserve, all 8km but didn’t see much else. Another visit later in the winter is very much on the cards though when hopefully there will be more to see.

Overall, the match was a draw. Wallasea is playing catch up in my opinion but it will very soon be the  top reserve in Essex and it won't be long in coming.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

A day in the valley

I seem to have done quite a bit of birdwatching lately. It’s hard work you know. Not only do I have to* carry a ruck sack with a heavy duty Thermos, a not so light telescope which is inevitably attached to a tripod which, no matter which way I sling it over my back, sticks it’s lever arm into my back and a pair of bins to boot. Add to this a camera and assorted bits and pieces for digiscoping, a pen that works and a notebook with blank pages (rare), gloves, hat and iPhone. Everything is always in another pocket to the one I put it in and it can all get a bit frazzling. Then, when I get home, I go through all the bad pictures and try to salvage at least one to add to the blog I feel I must write now I have been doing them for 4 years...I have duty to my reader you know.

* I don’t have to do any of this really.

So sometimes, it’s easier for me to just go local. No fuss and no thinking. I know the valley well from Walthamstow to Ware and on a good day it can be as good as anywhere in the country. So it was decided. A morning trip to Amwell NR followed by an afternoon at Fishers Green; all very simple and all very relaxing.


Cormorants and Coot
Most of the time I spend my time at Lee Valley Park as a volunteer. So for the afternoon I decided to be Joe Public and headed to Fishers Green. I wandered up to Holyfield Farm first to see Common Buzzard and the regular Yellowhammers. The wind was gusting a bit and it made the usual 'find a yellowhammer by the call' game a little harder but I managed one at least. The Buzzard came slow and low across me so I had time to catch it on camera...miracle.

Common Buzzard
A quick look for a Bittern at the watchpoint proved fruitless but the Water Rail tried hard to impress me but I was cold and tired and probably a bit offish towards it by now. Sorry little guy.

Sod you then.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Oozing Whoopers if little else.

It must be 8 years since I last went to RSPB’s Ouse Washes. I wasn’t able to get there for the Northern Harrier but thought I might get a few of the species missing from my year list here. Specifically, Tree Sparrow, Short-eared Owl, Bewick’s Swan and Hen Harrier.

Wrong. I did find one Bewick’s Swan among the hundreds of Whooper Swans that honked back and forth from the Washes to the blackest fields you’ll ever see.

Whooper Swans

Quantity, not quality was the order of the day. Thousands of Lapwing, Golden Plover and Wigeon grazed on the islands across the Wash, only taking to the air when an interested Marsh Harrier glided through.

In the hedgerows that dissect the fields, only Corn Buntings were found. No Tree Sparrows among them either but there was a Canary of all things. Not sure I can count that though. Very bad photo coming up....

That whitish blob in the middle dummy!
Things could have been better. I think I forgot to mention that i had a hangover and my recently cleaned car was now covered in half of Cambridgeshire (but it looks cool).

I have to say, the visitor centre was a little under-manned. In fact, there was no one about. There were no feeders so no Tree Sparrows which I had photographed all those years ago. A real shame.