Trumpeter Swans, Boyton Marshes, Suffolk, 14 Dec 2014

With very little news of anything yesterday it seemed my spare day off today was going to be a flop - that was until news of these little beauties broke and that obviously made my mind up where I was going!

It didn't take me long to drive to Boyton Marshes and luckily I grabbed one of the very limited parking spaces by Banters Barn and hiked out along the seawall. The 2 adult Trumpeter Swans were with a small flock of Mute Swans with the target birds being amongst the closest birds for a change. I wasn't able to see the legs due to the crops they were feeding in but those who have confirm that both birds are unringed. One thing is for certain - the ID is not in question but the birds origins will probably never be known. With no accepted British or WP records it seems unlikely the powers that be will look upon them favourably but I'm a firm believer in 'innocent until proven guilty'. In their favour, they were wary (far more so than the Mutes when walkers passed by on the seawall), the population in the US has been expanding hugely over the last 30 years, there are 2 birds and they are unringed and free-flying. Against them the fact that they are largely a species of the west coast of the US and undertake only medium distance migrations, breeding in Alaska and wintering along the Pacific seabord.

Others items of interest weren't numerous but Stonechat, Little Egret, c80 Curlew, c40Golden Plover, c150 Dunlin, Marsh Harrier, 3 Common Buzzards, Sparrowhawk and then a nice Peregrine on Orford Town Marsh were the pick.

Trumpeter Swans, Boyton Marshes (phone-scoped so excuse the quality!)


The Gambia - return to West Africa!

With Thomas Cook deals for a week in the Gambia in January at ridiculously cheap prices we've gone for it and book ourselves a cheap getaway!
Last time we went was 4 years ago and we didn't venture 'upriver' but this time we have 3 days to Tendaba and Georgetown with my guide and buddy Ebrima Barry. He's planning visits to Bama Kuno Forest, Kampanti Ricefields, Kiang West NP, Tendaba, Ngain Sanjal, Kaur Wetland, Njau Wetland, Panchang Wetland and Nyaga Bantang Wetlands so it should be good. 
Belinda is mainly looking forward to Hippos and Chimps!

Looking forward to some easy birding with views like this...

Black-headed Plover

Covehithe, Easton and Benacre Broads, Suffolk, 11 December 2014

6 miles walked up and down this stretch of coast today but I gave the area a thorough flogging and eventually winkled out the goodies!
A walk down to Covehithe Broad initially produced nothing but 2 Goldeneye on the broad but I then inadvetently flushed the 3 Shorelarks from deep in the marrams and they flew high south towards Easton Broad. Cue a long hike which was worth it because I managed to relocate them right at the south end of Easton Broad and take a few snaps before they flew all the way back to Covehithe. This was keeping me fit! Luckily they showed really nicely back at Covehithe but the redhead Smew still eleuded me despite a thorough search. Just a Marsh Harrier, 2 Little Grebes and a couple of Pochard to add to the count.

1 Shorelark...

2 Shorelarks...

3 Shorelarks

After a coffee I then headed north along the clifftop to Benacre Broad where the Great Northern Diver was quickly located and watched nicely. A quick scan of the many Common Gulls revealed 3 adult Mediterranean Gulls loafing in their midst but apart from Little Grebe, a pair of Goldeneye and another Marsh Harrier the broad was pretty quiet. Back in Covehithe village I checked RBA only to find out the Smew had been reported so back to Covehithe Broad I trudged and this time it was the first bird I looked at!

 Great Northern Diver     

Dirty Dutch Twitch, The Netherlands, 29 November 2014

The presence of a Western Palearctic/World tick in the Netherlands plus a couple of other goodies tempted Justin, Andy and I over there on our first Euro twitch for some while.

A 2am channel tunnel crossing and a long drive through France and Belgium into Zuid Holland had us on site on the edge of the town of Alphen aan den Rijn 2 hours before daybreak. A while later we struck off across the flat and muddy polder farmland to the site. To say the site looked unpromising and completely unsuitable for a desert species would be an understatement but to our amazement the African Desert Warbler was indeed still present. The dyke the bird frequented had very limited vegetation (mainly confined to the base of the few concrete bridges) and access wasn't easy as numerous 'too big to jump' side ditches meant a long walk round to get to other areas to check. After jumping one such dyke to get to the spot the bird had settled in we enjoyed some amazing views of the is first record for northern Europe. Having missed this species on 2 trips to Morocco/Western Sahara it was a bogey bird well and truly unblocked! Other birds there were few and far between but 3 Common Buzzards, 2 Golden Plover, 2 Egyptian Geese, 2 Snipe and a Great White Egret were also clocked up.

African Desert Warbler

African Desert Warbler

African Desert Warbler twitch

Next up was a site in an urban area of the nearby town of Leiden. After some tricky navigation to the site we spotted birders watching our target bird before we'd even parked the car. After hastily making our way to the communal garden area bewteen blocks of flats we were watching the White-crowned Black Wheatear within seconds and it went on to show amazingly well as it moved from elevated perches high on the flats to feed at ground level and on nearly garden walls. A couple of small groups of Ring-necked Parakeets were heard flying over before we got brief views of one flying between buildings.

White-crowned Black Wheatear

White-crowned Black Wheatear

Our last main stop of the day was at Europoort, to the south of Den Haag. Making our way to a large area of waste ground behind the beach we began scanning the c12 Common Buzzards and eventually picked out the huge and distinctive Long-legged Buzzard which has returned to the erea for its 2nd winter. It's showed nicely in flight and perched albeit it a litle distantly. While scanning we also picked up a Merlin, Peregrine, c4 Kestrels, a very 'pied' looking Common Buzzard and a really good candidate for Rough-legged Buzzard which unfortunately refused to fly so we could clinch it!

Long-legged Buzzard

Long-legged Buzzard

Our last port of call was a the small harbour by the N57 bridge just SW of Ouddorp. Here we dipped on Black Guillemot but did manage c150 Red-breasted Mergansers (most flying inland to roost), Red-throated Diver, Golden Plover, Oystercatchers, Curlew, Turnstones and another Peregrine near Zierikzee. En-route there were also plenty of Barnacle Geese, White-fronted Geese and Brent Geese plus another Great White Egret.

A long dash back had us back to Calais with just 15 minutes to spare to catch our tunnel crossing meaning we'd really made to most of our available time! 


Suffolk coast rares, 21 November 2014

A day out without my camera for a change but despite the lack of photos it was a very pleasant day out at a couple of sites on the Suffolk coast.

First was the Stour Estuary at Stutton Ness which was a new site for me. After a lengthy walk down from the village and a few scans of the water I soon picked up the juvenile Surf Scoter cutting a distinctive profile even at some distance in the main channel between Stutton Ness and Mill with a single Velvet Scoter for company. Other items of interest were c20 Red-breasted Mergansers, c10 Goldeneye, 4 Grey Plover, c30 Golden Plover, 3 Little Egrets plus loads of Great Crested Grebes, Shelduck and Brent Geese. On the walk a solitary Fieldfare, Song Thrush and Bullfinch plus a flock of Chaffinches amongst which I could hear Brambling but just couldn't locate one.

Second was Boyton Marshes where I was extremely fortunate to get a couple of flight views of the Dusky Warbler as it flew one way and then the other across the entrance track c100 yards down from the carpark. Not ideal but better than I'd feared! Also there were 3 Black-tailed Godwits, 1 Shoveler amongst loads of Wigeon and Teal plus 3 Little Egrets, 9 Fieldfares and a Common Buzzard.

Desert Wheatears at the double, 8 November 2014

And so, with the lure of seeing 2 Desert Wheatears in a day (a UK first for me!) it was off to the coast today with Lowestoft being first on the agenda. The 1w male Desert Wheatear was showing amazingly closely to a small group of admirers on the sea wall by the Links Road carpark and 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls loafing about on the carpark were a nice bonus before we moved on... Desert Wheatear number 2, this time a female on the promenade at Gorleston. If it was possible this one showed even better despite it being far more active than the Lowestoft bird.

After a greasy spoon cafe lunch Belinda was keen to see the Grey Seals at Horsey so a yomp along the Nelson's Head track was in order and predictably there were loads of seals! None close enough to bother photographing but 4 pups were noted including a strange ginger-coloured one. 2 Sanderling, 4 Stonechats and a male Marsh Harrier were the only other things of note.

Last stop of the day was at Winterton where c30 Snow Buntings were located on north beach followed by scooping free sausage rolls in the beach cafe!

Desert Wheatear, male

Desert Wheatear, male

Desert Wheatear, female

Desert Wheatear, female

Desert Wheatear, female

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull

     Snow Bunting

Lowestoft, 19 October 2014

With us both needing a walk and some sea air today we made our way to Lowestoft and parked at Ness Point. Walking north I'd soon caught up with the long-staying juv Red-backed Shrike which showed very nicely indeed in scrub close to the Birds Eye factory fence. A walk around North Denes/Denes Oval produced very little but a fly over Woodlark was a nice addition. Back at Ness Point a look at the turbine yard proved very worthwile with a late Northern Wheatear and 2 Black Redstarts chasing each other about.

 Red-backed Shrike

 Red-backed Shrike

 Northern Wheatear

 Black Redstart 

Cley and Walsey Hills, 18 October 2014

With me needing to escape the house I decided on a Saturday afternoon at Cley.
First up was the 1w Grey Phalarope of the last few days on Eye Pool. It duly obliged but with the fencing now set further back than in the good old days I couldn't get as close as I'm sure it would have allowed. A Common Buzzard flew hight west and the Eye Field was full of Brent Geese and Golden Plover while a Rock Pipit popped in briefly

With not a huge amount of interest further along the coast I then spent a fruitful couple of hours mooching around Walsey Hills with 2 Yellow-browed Warblers and then I jammed in on a Pallas's Warbler found late on in sycamores at the rear of Snipes Marsh. All afternoon Redwings were passing over as well as smaller numbers of Chaffinches.

Grey Phalarope 

 Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler


Steppe Grey Shrike, Burnham Norton, 14 October 2014

After 10 days in Belgium and then a day of atrocious weather yesterday I finally managed to catch up with the Steppe Grey Shrike on the marshes at Burnham Norton this morning. With the sun out and a showy bird it was a shame I had to dash back to north Suffolk for work much sooner than I wanted to! Another county tick though - yay!
Bearded Tit, Reed Buntings, Stonechat, Brent Geese and Pink-footed Geese completed the brief picture.
The dodgy photo below was phone-scoped.


Belgium non-birding trip

Strictly a non-birding trip around Belgium but a few (not very exciting) things seen.

A walk in the woods and hills around La Roche-en-Ardennes yielded 2 bigs flocks of Crossbills (40+ and 20+), Crested Tit, Willow Tits, Short-toed Treecreeper, 2 Grey Wagtails and several Black Redstarts in the town itself.

Another pair of Black Redstarts were at an abandoned coal mine near Liege.

On the way back to Calais a quick stop at Oye Plage added 6 Spoonbills, 3 Little Egrets, 2 Cetti's Warblers, Curlew, Stonechat, Linnets  and a singing Chiffchaff. 

That was it!

Olive-backed Pipit and Barred Warbler, 21 Sept 2014

I admit to have been very slack with birding in the last month, mainly because I've been so busy with work and other commitments. This afternoon I had a little time to spare after some urban exploring with Belinda and as we were in Fakenham it would have been very shoddy not to have had a little time on the coast. Before really birding I'd almost had a Barn Owl take my head off while exploring some old farm buildings and a Red Kite flew over the B1105 just south of Wells.

My main target was the Olive-backed Pipit in Wells Dell, a species I'd not seen for some years. It didn't disappoint, showing nicely on and off on the south side of the Dell under the trees to a small assembled crowd.

Then it was a streak along the coast to Salthouse to fill my boots with some great views of Barred Warbler in brambles on Gramborough Hill. Unusually I jammed in within 2 minutes of arrival having expected to need some patience!

Peak District, 21 - 23 August 2014

A walking trip to our beloved Peak District that turned into a limping trip. But that's a whole new story!

Not a great deal of nature worthiness compared to our spring trips but the Bleaklow Head area revealed 4 Ravens, at least 12 Red Grouse and Mountain Hare while the River Bamford held a confiding Dipper, 4 Grey Wagtails and an overhead Hobby mobbed by the local hirundines. Around the grounds of Eyam Youth Hostel were Tawny Owl, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Common Buzzard plus plenty of Red Grouse, Stonechats and Linnets on Eyam Moor but there was little else to trouble the scorers!

These 2 pics were taken with Belinda's bridge camera as I'd not taken my big lens.

Dipper, River Bamford

 Red Grouse, Bleaklow Head


Franklins Gull dip, Cley, 17 August 2014

Franklins Gull is fast becoming my Norfolk bogey bird - having missed a bird at Breydon by minutes some years ago I proceeded to miss this years Breydon bird by 30 minutes about 2 weeks ago and again last night at Cley it failed to show despite having come in on 3 of the previous 4 nights.
3 hours of scanning and re-scanning gulls on Pats Pool and Simmonds until it got too dark to see resulted in 1 juv Mediterranean Gull, 1 Yellow-legged Gull, 4 Spoonbills, 1 Little Egret and eventually a Little Stint picked out in the failing light but nothing was much consolation for missing the star attraction. Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Ruff, Dunlin, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit brought up the rest of the waders.
The Painted Lady below was photographed at Happisburgh the previous day.

Spotted Flycatchers breed locally - again!

Having had just one brief view of an adult Spotted Flycatcher in the garden back in May I've not seen anything of them all summer. This morning I opened the bedroom curtains to see this fledged juvenile preening just a few feet from the window! They've bred somewhere nearby which makes 3 consecutive years. We've only been here 3 years so I've no idea if the breeding run goes back further. A single lingering Swift was also still hanging on in. In the afternoon a Hobby was over Goodies Farm Shop harrassed by the local Swallows.


Violet Helleborine in Suffolk, 26 July 2014

Violet Helleborine has been on my radar for a while and with yet another scorching day the shady woods of south Suffolk seemed like a good option. After a long walk around the wood and many mozzie bites (shorts were not a good idea!) I eventually located a small group of loosely scattered plants and pleasingly they were all in flower and in good condition. This species is a very scarce one in East Anglia with only a couple of Suffolk sites that I know of. It's stongholds are the beechwoods of the Chilterns where I'd seen my only other ones many years ago and Kent/Surrey/Sussex. Whilst stumbling through the woods I also found a nice patch of Herb Paris and some long gone remnants of Early Purple Orchids. At a woodland pond there were loads of Ruddy Darters and a single Southern Hawker

Well worth the attack of the killer mozzies and probably my last local orchid of the year.

Violet Helleborine

Violet Helleborine 

Violet Helleborine

Ruddy Darter

 Herb Paris 

Invasion of the Black-winged Stilts! 25 July 2014

With 2 breeding pairs of Black-winged Stilts in the south being well documented this summer there was another pair breeding in west Suffolk that were completely off the radar! News broke of this successful pair near Cavenham Heath about a week ago when the young had fledged. They must have bred at one of the gravel pits in the area and either been completely overlooked or just kept quiet. I made the trip this morning and an adult was on view on my arrival on the far side of the main gravel pit. With some patience I eventually had 2 adults and 2 juveniles as they flew in from an unseen pit behind the main one. The juveniles appear fully grown whilst one of the adults has a clean white head/neck and the other a black hind neck. Distance and heat haze prevented photography but even at range I also managed to pick up a Wood Sandpiper, several Lapwings, Great Crested Grebes and a Little Egret while Green Woodpeckers were a regular sight. Reed and Sedge Warblers were still in full song.

On nearby Cavenham Heath an impressive post-breeding flock of c25 Stone Curlews were very welcome. An Emperor Moth caterpillar crawled across the Icknield Way track and butterflies included Small Heath, Small Copper and Common Blue amongst the more numerous species.    

Great Knot - woo hoo! Breydon Water, 14 July 2014

An awesome after work dash to Breydon and a walk along the south wall that felt like far more than the 1.5 miles being quoted! But it was well worth it with some pretty distant but more than adequate views of the adult summer plumaged Great Knot on the flats on the far side of the channel. My 3rd Norfolk tick of 2014 which has been unheard of in recent years. After a good grilling for a couple of hours it flew a long way 'down river' and was subsequently scoped again on the way back when it was close to the tern rafts. Other waders included 1 Greenshank, 2 Whimbrel, Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Avocet and Golden Plover plus a handful of the usual Little Egrets. The knot was far too distant to photograph but Will Soar did very well get the shot below.

 Great Knot, Breydon Water (copyright Will Soar)

Great Knot twitch (if you can't get a photo of the bird, get one of the birders!)     

A long walk around Westleton Heath, 12 July 2014

A long and sweaty walk around the Westleton Heath/Dunwich area was pretty unremarkable naturewise. The only birds of note were a Woodlark singing like crazy (at 16.30 in mid July!) on the north side of Dunwich Heath, 2 Stonechats, Garden Warbler, Green Woodpecker and a Common Buzzard. A dead Adder on the Minsmere access road means Belinda still hasn't seen an alive one!
Insects were numerous though, odonata included my 1st Southern Hawker and Common Darters of the year but butterflies were to the fore. Several Graylings were out and a single White Admiral were joined by Red Admiral, Peacock, Speckled Wood, Small Heath, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Large White, Small White, Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Large Skipper and Small Skipper.
Best was saved until last though as a large green caterpillar crawled across the track on Westleton Heath which was later to be identified as an Emperor Moth caterpillar.

Emperor Moth caterpillar

     White Admiral