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, 5 November 2014

The Suffolk coast. More storm-watching than bird watching.

Where are we with the weather in this country? It is now November and there hasn’t ben a proper easterly wind for yonks. Every time I go birding, the wind is always blowing hard but in the wrong direction. This weekend’s trip to Suffolk was no exception. In fact although it was rubbish for sea-watching, it was okay on the ‘how dry do you want to be’ scale-o-meter.
Another major plus was that the car didn’t break down. I did have a heart-stopping moment on Saturday where the wipers failed to wipe or even move to be precise. And with a forecast of heavy and prolonged showers to hit on Sunday, I can admit that I was a bit worried. Cars are weird. I stopped the car, turned off the engine and then started it again. I had wipers again. No idea what that was all about but I said nice things to it and gave it a bath to show my appreciation.

The plan was to get to Lowestoft for the Red-backed Shrike; a long-stayer near Ness Point and at the same time, search for those little Purple Sandpiper rascals. We arrived at Ness Point with the weather behaving although there was a rather noticeable SW Wind that made life difficult but there was very little at sea worth watching bar a few Brent Geese and a Common Scoter skillfully picked up on between the white horses by Antony. We hunted high and low for the Shrike but there was nothing (it was there but the wind must have pissed it off a bit so it kept under cover).

We went looking for the Purple Sandpipers and found them sliding about on the huge sea defense granite blocks. There were three birds and they all took great pleasure in disappearing from view just as I was taking a photo. I have some great shots of granite rock if you want to see them? No, thought not. I did of course persevere and managed a couple of okay shots. We had another look for the shrike and figured that the smell from the Birds Eye Factory was possibly the reason the bird had gone (it hadn’t and maybe, just maybe we should have hung around like that bad smell for a bit longer). 

We quickly popped into Lowestoft to see if we could at least see a Siberian Lesser Whitethroat or at least, a 'possible'. It wasn’t possible as it had hiked off down the way with a bunch of Long-tailed Tit we were told by a guy who then offered to get us a sausage roll for Greggs. We hopped it or rather climbed what appeared to be Suffolk’s answer Mount Everest – Mariner’s Score. if we had accepted the sausage rolls, this climb would have killed us. It was steep.

Don’t let anyone tell you Suffolk is flat.
Our next stop was Kessingland Beach. It’s a bit like Dungeness’ little brother with pockets of Marram Grass sprouting up from the shingle and other tundra-like flora spotted about. The only difference is there are no old shacks, fishing boats and no birds. I suppose we did chase a Meadow Pipit around for a bit but it bored with that game and disappeared. Oh and a couple of Gannets. Whoopee!

And you should have seen what the wind was doing to my hair.
I know, let’s go to Minsmere I said. We arrived at lunchtime and were met by an enthusiastic RSPB man. ‘You been for the Hoopoe?’ ‘Nope. we said. We just wanted quantity now not quality although that all depends on your outlook and what you consider quality.

From the North Wall, we saw very little as the wind cut into our eyes. We made it to the dunes and attempted to look for life out at sea. All I got was sand in my coffee and watery eyes. The sky was looking proper dirty so we ducked into the East Hide mainly to get a few birds as that was the whole idea of the day after all.

This was better. No wind and plenty to see. Ducks-a-plenty; Pintail, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler were all here. Shelduck, a single Greylag Goose and Moorhen and Coot added to the list. Waders included Avocet (2) 40+ Black-tailed Godwit and a handful of Dunlin. A Marsh Harrier quartered the reed beds to the south battling against the wind – probably with sand in its eye.

The rain was now tipping down and in protest, Ant tipped coffee everywhere. The rain was getting in and it all just too much and we donned our plastic trousers which was all too much for the rest of the hide’s inhabitants.

Plastic trousers are good. They keep the rain out but a call from nature can be a little tricky…enough info there.

Ant with Minsmere’s answer to Stonehenge

Soggy Stonechats, birds, not the result of the call of nature in plastic trousers, were feeding on the ground in the dunes close to the concrete blocks. We slowly made our way to the Island Mere via the South Hide from which we watched a Kingfisher and a Common Buzzard. We then made our way to the Island Mere hide and had a couple of Red deer along the way. The reason for going to the hide was because we had been informed that up to 50,000 Starlings have been roosting in the reed beds and the classic Mumuration display would start around 4-4.30pm. It was like going to a west end show. A trickle of people were making their way to the hide and like us, you could tell it was for the mumuration as we all passed the Bittern Hide without a glance at it.

However, there was more to the Island hide than we had catered for. Actually the only catering was from my brother who had fortunately brought some egg sandwiches with him from a party the previous day. Trust me, they were better than you’re thinking. In fact, they were lovely but I was hungry.

It has clearly been a while since I could be bothered to trudge down to the Island Mere hide as the thing had transformed itself into a civilized and totally modern hide.

We watched at least five Marsh Harriers hunting in front of us before the Starlings started to fly in. They came in waves of hundreds and you could hear the wing beats as they flew over the hide away towards the reed beds.

Great White Egret
To the right-hand side a large white bird started to show. This wasn’t a mute swan or a little Egret, no, this was the Great White Egret that has resided here for some time. It stayed distant but came out into the mere to fish. A Bittern flew low over the reed bed coming into roost. Then another Kingfisher followed by a Water Rail followed by another Bittern.

It was a good trip even if things didn’t quite go to plan. Starting to think about the next one now...maybe Norfolk or maybe Nepal in the rainy season.

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