Alton Water quickie, 29 December 2013

After a country ramble in the beautiful Dedham Vale today (nothing of note except several small groups of Redwings and Fieldfares) we had just enough time for a brief stop at Alton Water before the drive back up the A140. 

Parking up close to the sailing club (and completely ignoring the pay and display machines!) I made my way across the grass to a suitable vantage point and after a quick 2 minute scan had the juvenile Black-throated Diver I'd come to see. A further scan revealed good numbers of Little Grebes, even better numbers of Great Crested Grebes and then a welcome female Red-crested Pochard.

The year's not quite over! 28 December 2013

With a day to myself and cloudless blue skies it would have been a shame not to make the most of it and do some birding. So it was off to the Lowestoft area.

My main aim was to see the Glossy Ibis of the last few days at Oulton Marshes but having never been to the site before I spent ages trying to find where to access the reserve! After much map consulting, scanning for an elusive 'viewing platform' and then a lengthy and muddy walk I eventually found the spot. Luckily the ibis was in view on arrival and showed nicely albeit a little distant. It had a fly round at one point and landed in a spot slightly closer and in better light enabling a bit of phone scoping for a record shot. A lovely male Hen Harrier flew through and both Marsh Harrier and a Common Buzzard circled overhead. On the trudge back a male Bullfinch added a splash of colour to proceedings.

Glossy Ibis, Oulton Marshes

Glossy Ibis, Oulton Marshes

I then drove the short distance to Waveney Forest and walked to the 'viewing mound' where it's possible to gain some height to view a nice vista of Haddiscoe Island. One of the wintering Rough-legged Buzzards (the adult) was perched on a gate in the middle of the marsh with a Chinese Water Deer in close attendance but despite a good look I couldn't find any other raptors at all. The newly created clearfell area in woods yielded a flock of c20 Common Crossbills on the way back to the car.
Rough-legged Buzzard (and Chinese Water Deer), Haddiscoe Island

2013 - The birding year that was

It's Christmas Eve so it seems like a good time to reflect on my birding year.

My British birding has been a little curtailed in 2013 which has been a year in which I think I've finally outgrown the whole twitching and UK listing thing. I've done my fair share of twitching in the past but this aspect of birding has become less and less attractive to me over the last few years. The huge cost of twitching these days and the fact that the vast majority of good birds are turning up in such far flung places have combined to put me off. I was never one to twitch the highlands and islands anyway.

Locally I've been doing bit and bobs when the mood and other time pressures have allowed me. Highlights for me have been the showy Thetford Black-bellied Dipper, the lovely Eastern Subalpine Warbler at Landguard in April, a month where an inland find of a Ring Ouzel on my patch at Weybread GPs got me excited anyway! Nightingales singing on a beautiful spring day in deepest Suffolk also lingers in the memory as does the long staying Red-footed Falcon at Lakenheath. My best find of the year was saved for June when a splendid Black Kite graced the skies over Brockdish. The 'Italian' Sparrow up at Northrepps was probably the biggest poser of the year while I also particularly enjoyed the Ouse Washes Northern Harrier (mainly due to how hard I had to work for it!), Red-flanked Bluetail and Pallas's Warbler on one great afternoon in east Norfolk and finally a dozen Parrot Crossbills up at my old stomping ground of Holt CP.   

Foreign birding was once again to the fore, a trend which looks set to continue in the years ahead. With the cessation of my birding tours it was just 2 personal trips this year - Thailand in February and Georgia in May. The former was amazing and although not a full on birding trip I still managed a trip list of 214 with 132 lifers. Highlights are almost impossible to pick out of the array of great birds I saw but if I had to name a few they'd include Silver-eared Mesia, Mrs Gould's Sunbird, Pied Imperial Pigeon, Pygmy Cupwing, Chestnut-headed Tesia, White-browed Shrike Babbler, White-capped Water Redstart, Giant Nuthatch, Maroon Oriole, Silver Pheasant, Siberian Blue Robin, Large Hawk Cuckoo...

Georgia was also a great birding experience despite missing Guldenstadt's Redstart. With Great Rosefinch, Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Black Grouse, Lammergeier, Mountain Chiffchaff etc set against the stunning back drop of the mountains it's hard to complain!

So, what of 2014? Well, 3 weeks in Costa Rica in February is certainly something to look forward to...

Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Landguard, Suffolk 

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Khao Sok, Thailand