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.


Monday, 29 February 2016

February Highlights, mostly in low light

Hmmm? I guess you can see a pattern forming here can’t you? And you’d be right too. Writing a blog was easy when I only ventured out once or twice a month birding but now, as a freelance chappie, I find I have quite a few pockets of time in my week and rather than watch Antiques Road Trip or other such banal TV or even do any housework, I find myself suddenly in a local nature reserve asking myself 'How did I get here?'

So my point is, I would have to use the pockets of spare time I have, to write the blogs that record the events of that spare time and thus, I wouldn’t have any spare time to write about anything other than writing non-existent blogs! See? So I save them up for moments like this.

The month kicked off in the Lee Valley on a dark mid-morning (a feature of most of my ventures out) and a 2 hour walk around the south part of Fishers Green covering Hooks Marsh and Hall Marsh. I had a low-flying Red Kite over Hooks but failed to focus the telephoto on it. My lens, which I love, has a real problem in low light. This is mainly because it’s a slow lens f5.6 and basically refuses to lock onto anything distant and moving when the sun don’t shine. It did wake up for the pile of Siskins that busied themselves in the alders a bit later on and the Little Egrets I came across on the path of all places! I managed to locate the sneaky Smew on Hooks Marsh which is an area of water dotted with small tree covered islands before it saw me and sped off behind one of the island never to be found again. I finished with the obligatory visit to the BIP to hope for Bittern but only managed a Cetti’s Warbler before heading home.

Siskin (Female)
Siskin (Male
Little Egret
Redhead Smew
Cetti’s Warbler
My next moment of escape came again at Lee Valley up at Holyfield Farm. The farm has a bit of a hotspot for birds near a hay trough which has a pool of deep mud surrounding it. The Chiffchaffs love the hay in the trough and the Grey Wagtails can always be relied upon to loop in with their tails wagging to find grubs and flies around the mud pool.

Chiffchaff
Chiffchaff
Goldfinch
Grey Wagtail
Long-tailed Tit
Dunnock
On Feb 8, a big day out was planned in North Norfolk with Brenda. This coincided with the arrival of Storm Imogen – just typical of my luck. The weather wasn’t as bad as it forecast with very little rain but the winds were gusting and the light was predictably dull.

We popped into Lynford Arboretum but missed the key species – Hawfinch and any photography was poor. We did see Nuthatch, Marsh Tit and Coal Tit through the gloom but decided to move on the Abbey Farm at Flitcham for the Pallid Harrier. It wasn’t showing but we enjoyed good views of a single Hen Harrier and a large flock of Brambling along the roadside bushes.

It was then off to Old Hunstanton to see the dead Sperm Whale but it had been turned into a giant whale sandcastle so we gave it a miss. We took a wrong turn and ended up at the golf club only to be met by a pair of Grey Partridge on the golf course so worth the detour.

Finally we tackled the windswept beach at Titchwell and saw many waders as they battled with the weather. Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Ringed Plover. On the reserve we got a flock of Twite, Brent Geese and Avocet. The occasional Marsh Harrier hunted over the marsh and Rock Pipits frequented the small pools. Another Brambling appeared on the feeder at the visitor centre just for good measure.

Brambling
Brambling
Ringed Plover
Black-tailed Godwit
Common Gull
Grey Partridge
Rainham on the 15th was once again a grey day but one soldiers on you know. A good tick for the bird race showed up in the shape of a female Brambling. A walk along the river path had Black-tailed Godwits and a group of 50+ Dunlin. On the reserve, a Water Pipit skirted the edge of one of the scrapes from the Butts Hide and a number of Stonechats sat up on the fences but no sign of the Dartford Warblers once again.

Brambling
Dunlin
Black-tailed Godwit
Meadow Pipit 
Redshank
Reed Bunting
Stonechat
Water Pipit
Wigeon
On the 20th, I was back in the Valley, volunteering. I finally managed to add a Yellowhammer to my valley year list. These brilliantly yellow buntings are getting scarce and the numbers in the valley appear to be falling if my records are anything to go by. I found a single male but had neglected to carry my camera due to...you guessed it...bad light.

Dunnock
Fieldfare
Grey Wagtail
Ring-necked Parakeet
Ring-necked Parakeet
Stonechat
Stonechat
Still no sign of a Bittern at the Watchpoint, it really hasn’t been a good 2016 so far and time is running out before they depart for their breeding grounds. We have started getting those parakeets on the feeders which make good photos but spell doom and gloom for a few of our tree-nesting species. Something will have to done to cull them down to a manageable level and soon.

On the 27th Feb it was back to Rainham. It feels a bit like having a mistress, me flitting between the Valley and here...only not as much fun...I guess.

It was another really grey day but brightened by the news of an Iceland Gull on the Kent foreshore. Although very distant, view through a scope the bird was clear to see. Near the Iceland was a Caspian Gull. For this I had to have an expert show me – I’m useless when it comes to gulls so whoever he was, thanks. In Aveley Bay, a pair of Avocet probed the London mud and around 20 Shelduck with Redshank running round them stood watching for danger. An Oystercatcher flew down river piping loudly and a poor old Grey Heron got mobbed by some kind of gull.

On the reserve, Golden Plovers with Lapwing and a few Dunlin scattered skywards as an invisible predator hunted overhead. No sign of any Short-eared Owls and another another no show from the Dartford Warbler.

Avocet

Caspian Gull, left-hand side and Iceland Gull over on the right
Dunnock (easiest bird in the world to photograph)

Grey Heron
Oystercatcher
Mostly Golden Plover
Reed Bunting

Thursday, 18 February 2016

January Birding Highlights

I say this at the start of every new year, the first trip out is alway great because every species sighting is a tick for my year. 2016 was no exception. With two bird races kicking off, The Rainham Marshes one created by Howard Vaughan and a smaller more private affair in the Lee Valley with Roy Woodward and Dave Hutley.

Lee Valley, particularly around the Fishers Green area held a good number of Lesser Redpolls through January. These were mainly seen around the Longlands Hide occasionally coming to the feeders. A pair of Coal Tits also enjoyed the feeding station while large flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing could be found on the outlying fields. A Lesser spotted woodpecker was also sighted near the hide by my friend Brenda. Lucky lady!

Up at Holyfield Farm, regulars included Grey Wagtail, Chiffchaff and a pair of Stonechats, often sighted on the pathway towards the farm. Common Buzzards, Kestrels and a couple of Red Kite were in the area.

Nightingale Wood had a good number of Goldcrests and close by, Goosanders numbered 6 individuals in the Ashley Pit area as well as a regular pair on Seventy Acres Lake.

From the Bittern Watchpoint, sighting of the Bittern were irregular with my only clear view being of one flushed by a Mink and taking flight. Water Rails too, were only occasionally seen. A Treecreeper kept people entertained from both sides of the information centre preferring the tree to the left of the hide and the Alder at the front.

Further south towards Hooks Marsh and Hall Marsh Scrape, Little Egrets, a pair of Smew and Siskins were seen. Wigeon, Teal and Pochard were also in good numbers here.

Goldcrest

Goldcrest

Bittern

Chiffchaff

Coal Tit

Grey Wagtail

Long-tailed Tit

Lesser Redpoll

Redwing

Greylag Goose with Canada Geese

Goldfinch

Over at Rainham, the stars of January were definitely the Short-eared Owls. Up to 6 birds were on the reserve or close by at the landfill. Barn Owls could be seen – just from the nest box on the reserve and Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers were seen hunting over Wennington Marsh.