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, 29 October 2014

New England birding on a non-birding holiday

I don’t really do birding holidays or treks or whatever they’re called because I have to spend my money on a normal holiday. My wife usually has all the ideas and I”m cool with this. If I was ever to buck this trend and blurt out Trinidad & Tobago for instance, she would eye me suspiciously and accuse me of picking a birdwatching hotspot and, well, she’d be on the money. So I leave it to her. It actually doesn’t matter where in the world we go because wherever it is, it will have birds and more to the point, birds I haven’t seen...and if I’m really lucky, birds I haven’t a clue about.

New England. Unlucky.

It’s good but not exactly South Africa (next year hopefully) I love America though and this wasn’t a bird trek so I couldn’t expect much. More than that, it was a coach tour so I didn’t even have the luxury of slamming on the brakes and running through the undergrowth to spot a fly by.

We were going to whale watch so I had a plan there. Screw the whales – but not literally you understand.

So it goes like this. I only had a compact camera so the images are record shots at best so pleas be underwhelmed.

Our first stop was New York and the only birds I could positively ID were these two Red-tailed Hawks circling over Central Park when we visited Strawberry Fields and the John Lennon Memorial.

There were thrushes hanging out in the park but I couldn’t get a good look at the so have to leave that to imagination which is apt I suppose. We weren’t in New York State for long and headed into Massachusetts where we stopped at a farm shop to get coffee etc. While everyone took photos of pumpkins and other random crap, I found a Hairy Woodpecker taking lumps out of the next door farm. There were also a small party of Red-winged Blackbirds and a rather elegant Monarch butterfly.

Hairy Woodpecker

Red-winged Blackbirds
My first Monarch Butterfly.
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler
There was quite a lot of bird activity at our next stop over. By now, we had arrived in Vermont and were based in a ski resort hotel in the Green Mountains. I had an hour or so to spare after breakfast to check out the hotel car park which was surrounded by forest. First, I had Yellow-rumped Warblers. One was in the trees close to the hotel and the other was actually on the hotel roof which I managed to shoot through a forth floor lobby window as it hunted for flies.

Back in the hotel grounds, things were hotting up. Birds were flying about everywhere. Dark-eyed Juncos, Downy Woodpeckers and a Field Sparrow grouped together under a few shrubs close to the hotel entrance. I wish I had been staying all day in the hotel but I was booked on a trip up Mount Washington so any detailed viewing was nipped in the bud.

Dark-eyed Junco and Field Sparrow

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker is small, smaller, just, than our Lesser Spotted Woodpecker by about 10mm. Most of the time I found it climbing the limbs of small shrubs it is that small!

I also saw a Northern Cardinal but couldn’t get a shot, not that any I may have taken would be any good.

On the road to Mount Washington, I had an American Kestrel and an unknown raptor in a telegraph pole – how I wish I could have stopped the coach for a better look but that’s package holidays for you.

American Herring Gull

Cory’s Shearwater

Cory’s shearwaters



Ring-billed Gull

Manx and Cory’s Shearwaters

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Ring-billed Gull
Great Shearwater
So from Vermont, we traveled back to Boston and apart from some mandatory gulls on the beach beside our hotel – Ring-billed Gulls and American Herring Gulls, I did spook four Black Ducks out of the reeds early one morning before we set off whale watching.

Very Black Ducks

The whale-watching was of course the perfect place to watch birds. Everyone got very excited about the humpbacks, me included but when the marine biologists told us that an indication of where the whales were would be huge seabird activity, my excitement was always going to be greater than anyone else's. Gannets first followed by an A-list of Shearwaters including Manx Shearwaters, Great Shearwaters and very numerous Cory’s Shearwaters really made my day.

Trip List: Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Great Shearwater, Cory’s Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Mute Swan, Mallard, Black Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Wild Turkey, Killdeer, Ring-billed Gull, American Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Hermit Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, Eurasian Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle), Field Sparrow, House Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, House Finch.

Monday, 6 October 2014

How not to blow a fuse birdwatching

Electricity is a marvellous thing. It can give you power, heat, light and if you’re stupid, it can kill you. And I’ve always got on with the sparky stuff even on the odd occasion I’ve been stupid.

And then there’s my car. My Peugeot is an electrical engineering feat of ineptitude. The lightbulbs can’t be reached, the electric pump for the screen washer reservoir can’t be got at easily; you basically have to dismantle the car to be left with it. The car had actually been in a 'good' garage the day before to have a new pump fitted which is why I know how hard it is to sort. And when the battery goes flat, the lights still work. In my case and just as my brother had carted all of his stuff from his car to mine it waited until we were ready for weekend of blistering birding to say fuck you. My brother is a hero. He wasn’t expecting to have to drive all over North Norfolk with me pointing at all the pubs we could go to when the weather turns but he did and he was awesome (rarely do I use that word but for once, it’s appropriate).

Although not much in the way of rarities were being seen in Norfolk, the whole deal of birding for the weekend made the atmosphere electric (moan). We decided to hit Cley first as bad weather was due around 2pm and our plan was to be at Sheringham to sea watch while sheltering in the er well, shelters. (Actually, the technical name for these shelters is Turnstone meeting booths.)

We got to Cley-next-the-sea in good time. The sky was still a vague light blue colour and the wind was barely noticeable. So it was nice that Bearded Tits were our first proper bird of the day and there were loads pinging all over the place like bullets ricocheting around a bell factory.

Ding Dong
We worked our way along the East bank stopping mainly for photo opportunities to share with you good people – selfless to the last.

Ant’s a sharp eyed birder and a good driver and even a bit of an electrician
The sky was changing fast now. By the time we’d noted Brent Geese and a few Curlew and Redshank, the air was charged with a damp anticipation (sounds rude but not intended) and we set our bums down for a bit of sea watching.

The wind direction meant not much was happening. Juv. Gannets passed one way, I think east but it’s not a strong memory. Brent Geese went right and Cormorants just got in your face. So we gave up.
We trudged over what the last tidal surge offered up along this coast and which had damaged much of the reserves hard work. Thankfully, the desire to protect birds and give people like me and my bro a place to enjoy birds has shone through and this commitment to nature is winning the day although much still needs to be done.

just look out and not up.
The skies were turning nasty. I was more worried than Ant as he had had the foresight to wear this season’s must have October birding waterproofs whereas I was in a demure green jumper and antique threadbare gillet. We dragged ourselves away from the scintillating sea watch to use a new hide shield that replaced the old hide that had obviously died for the cause when the tide attacked these shores.

Curlew preparing for the worst.
The dark clouds were still holding on to their watery payload as we heading back along the west bank. Ant picked up a pair of Golden Plover among the squabbling Starlings and as spots of rain fell, I made him wait while I fiddled with my camera to get a few shots. He’s a patient man too by the way.

Golden Plover brightens up the dullest of days
Holst’s Planets 'Mars' should be playing right now.
Totally out of my price bracket and actually, out of keeping for Cley.
I have a real passion for Cley and would love to one day live close to this area. An Outsider label doesn’t worry me because the benefits with birdwatching supersede this ten-fold. This abode attracts me like the waders to the Cley coast but at £1.4M, I don’t think so and neither would my mortgage provider. Still, those big windows overlooking the marsh......

We lunched at the Dun Cow which is the done thing and the food and beer were top class. By now, the rain was clearly on its way and we headed to Sheringham.

Then we stopped because the rain didn’t start. We parked up at Salthouse and wandered up Gramborough Hill. Surprise surprise, not much here but then who would have thought to go to Burnham Norton?

Gramborough Hill

Sheringham is Sheringham. I won’t diss it because Diss it isn’t. It probably great with the right wind direction and with people who know what they’re looking at/doing. We had more Gannets and Brent Geese and entertainment was supplied by the local speed walkers in the shape of Turnstone who clearly wanted feeding and would venture up as close as our tripod legs in their vain search.

Probably faster than Usain Bolt over 10 yards.
The rain was now set in and as 4pm arrived we decided to head to Langham and the sanctuary of our plush apartment.

If only the inside was like the outside.
This is the third year of my Norfolk weekends and I always come to the Langham Hall Apartments. It’s cheap – £60 for the night with two double bedroom and a lounge area and usually a kitchen with a cooker and a sink etc. This was nice but when we got in (you get a key code texted to you to enter) we had no socket power. The fuse box had tripped and my mobile was in the red. Oh I must mention that connectivity is a foreign word in this part of the country so any internet action is limp to say the least. We called the EMERGENCY number but no answer. We fiddled with the fuse box and started to work out the problem but again it was Ant who realised the 'kitchen' – a microwave, kettle, tooter, fridge combo all connected to an extension lead was the likely culprit.

If in doubt, call a qualified electrician.
We of course were desperate to watch Strictly and after a few heated conversations with the Norwich office, we found out the kettle was what was killing it.

But we had beer and we have wine so we survived. We also had a good pub for dinner. I had been to the Red Lion in Stiffkey with Ed, an old work friend last year and it was ideal.

The Red Lion at Stiffkey ****
Cockles to share before the pate, fish, venison and rib eye steak.

Early the next morning would prove to be a watershed or at least a garage or bike shed or whatever.

Now, I would like comments to this because at 4am the following morning, I was awakened by a Tawny Owl call outside my bedroom window. I was either awake or it awoke me, I don’t remember. But I got up and opened the window and watched and listened as first one then two and then three owls started calling. The one I believed to be in the tree closest to me change it’s twit twoo call to a screech and I thought, 'should I wake my brother, a brother that had driven all day and might not take too kindly to being woken to hear a bloody owl call. I also felt if I left my post, it might go and I would wake him to hear nothing. Dilemma. Anyway the awkward decision was made  for me as the owl then flew out of the tree over the garage roof and was lit up for a 2 second period. Oh shit. i had Tawny Owl to the (my) list.

The trail to Gun Hill
The next morning was beautiful. Clear skies and hot bacon cooked in a microwave. Once I had apologised for the owl we set off to Gun Hill an area near Burnham Overy (not to be mistaken with Burnham Norton where most birders would flock to which is just next door).

Jays, Dunnocks, Song Thrushes and a host of other small birds flicked through the bramble bushes and rose hip. We headed towards a pool where we caught up with the long-staying Black-necked Grebe and then were directed to a Wall Brown butterfly giving every cameraman a runaround but I got it eventually as well as a punctured hand when I steadied myself by putting said hand down on dried out thistle heads. Not good.

Overhead, skeins of Pink-footed geese came in waves, a wonderful sight and sound.

Pink-footed Geese

Wall Brown
Far easier was this Comma which we found on the walk up. In the creeks, there were Redshank and a confiding Little Egret.

Little Egret

The beach was amazing. As this was bang next door to Holkham, it was not surprise but how these beaches are so under used is beyond me but good from a wildlife POV.

You decide
By the foreshore we saw Sanderling, Oystercatcher and offshore, there were more Gannets, a Guillimot, Grey Plover, Common Scoter a single Velvet Scoter and a couple of Red-throated Divers.

The walk back produced Wheatear, Stonechat and a pair of Common Buzzards all found by Ant. Okay, I should have woken him, I know now.

We then drove to Titchwell, bypassing Burnham Norton which probably by then had a Steppe Grey Shrike on many birders lips and lists, a first for Norfolk. But we didm”t know this because internet is a phrase used only by lobster and crab fishermen around here.

Titchwell would prove to be the most giving in terms of bird species though so in hindsight, we or at least I don’t care. Two Little Stint was the star and Snipe were everywhere. Bearded Tit, Chiffchaff and a a neat female Pintail (Ant again) made for a great trip.

Black-tailed Godwit


Common Redshank

Small Copper

Red-throated Diver
We left Norfolk with 88 species but not the Shrike. We could have short-circuited when we got the news but you know what, we had a time. A great time and sometimes, you just have to make the most of what you have and we did. Pity Ant only had Coldplay in the car. A bit of AD/DC wouldn’t have gone a miss.