Somerset & Avon, 26 - 30 December 2018

This was our customary post-Christmas trip away for a few days. For 2018 we chose to stay in an Airbnb property just outside Chew Magna near Chew Valley Lake  because it was handy for visits to Bristol, The Mendips, the coast and Bath. The least said about the place we stayed in the better because it was sub-standard in a number of ways. Luckily it was just a base for our adventures, had wifi and a kitchen so we could self-cater. The down sides being the place was a tip with rubbish and dog shit strewn around the grounds (the owner lived in an adjoining hovel!), a bed that was close to collapsing, no curtains at some of the windows, dirty washing discovered in the bedroom, 1 loo roll for 2 people for 5 days and the 'provided' breakfast being some items left for us to do a diy breakfast but again, nowhere near enough for 5 nights.

Anyway, enough of that, the bits and pieces of birding I managed to squeeze in were rather good! On Boxing Day we were in the area by about 09.30 and did a long walk around Pensford and the Stanton Drew Stone Circles. I managed Raven, Grey Wagtail, Nuthatch and Common Buzzard to add to the Red Kite seen by the M4 on the way down.

A quick look at Chew Valley Lake from Stratford Hide in the late afternoon yielded a nice close Water Pipit along the reedy margin plus Cetti's Warbler, 2 Reed Butnings, 15 Snipe, 2 Goldeneye, c250 Redwings and several Fieldfares plus 2 Goosander in Heron's Green Bay while passing through.

I didn't then do any birding for a couple of days noting just a Grey Wagtail in central Bristol on 28th.

The morning of 29th saw us at Barrow Gurney Reservoir no.1 tank where the fantastic drake Long-tailed Duck showed at c20 meters range from the small carpark. It even displayed a few times to a female Tufted Duck! Heron's Green Bay at Chew Valley had 1 drake Goosander and a Grey Wagtail in an ultra-quick stop. Later that day I persuaded Belinda we needed to finish the day by driving out onto the Somerset Levels. Here I had a false start with 16 Little Egrets in a roadside field near Westhay Moor but a couple of miles further east I hit the jackpot with a field full of 37 Cattle Egrets and c15 Little Egrets. What an amazing sight!

I left Belinda in our accom for an early morning re-visit to Stratford Hide at Chew Valley on 30th. Despite not having very high expectations it proved to be very good indeed. Much scanning was eventually rewarded with the drake Lesser Scaup at distance with numerous Tufted Duck and Pochard plus 4 Black-necked Grebes keeping each other close company. Also seen were 3 Goosander, 1 Goldeneye, 2 Cetti's Warblers, 28 Snipe and a Little Egret.

Yearlist = 249 (didn't quite make the 250!)

Long-tailed Duck (phone-binned!) 

Cattle Egrets!

          Stormlight at Chew Valley Lake

Christmas Eve at Bawdsey, 24 December 2018

I always like to do a little birding on Christmas Eve as I know tomorrow I'll be stuck indoors!
The sun shone on me today as I made the slow drive down to Bawdsey. My main aim was to try to photograph the 3 Shorelarks that have been ever-present there for a little while. And I was rather successful, getting what are probably my best ever shots of the species as a I lay on the shingle letting them come to me. Into the bargain the female Common Scoter was on the pit right by the first martello tower too and it swam within 5 meters of me allowing me to fill my photgraphic boots! Apart from a good few Little Grebes on the pits plus Reed Bunting and Common Buzzard there wasn't much to keep me there so I drove though the lanes to Leiston.

Once there I found the 9 Bewick's Swans (2 juvs) in the flooded field at the end of Red House Lane but desite the field being full of corvids and gulls (mostly Common Gulls) the 2 Tundra Bean Geese of earlier in the day were nowhere to be seen.

On the way home a Barn Owl sat beautifully in the sun near Withersdale Street.


Common Scoter

     Bewick's Swans

2018 - A Year of Natural History Highlights

Yes, it's that tme of year again when we all take a fond backwards glance at what the year has given and look longingly forward to more delights in the year to come.

At the start of this year I began a bit of UK yearlisting for the first time in many years. Soon realising that with me not being prepared to drive silly distances for 'not very exciting' yearticks and the fact that I was going to be out of the country for the whole of September it soon fell by the wayside. I've kept it going to a limited extent but 2018 has been a year more about all round nature experiences.

Rather than this being a condensed diary of the year which I've already covered in detail within these pages I shall pick out a few of the undoubted highlights.

A couple of days down in London with Jus in Jan and Feb were immensely enjoyable for good banter and some real quality birds - not least the American Horned Lark that decided to unexpectedly re-appear, a wintering 'blythi' Lesser Whitethroat and a co-operative Little Bunting.

In March a memorable day gave me some mega views of Snowy Owl at Snettisham having been watching a mid-Suffolk Glossy Ibis just a couple of hours earlier!

A twitch was on in April with Jus, Dave Russell and I heading north to Musselburgh for the American White-winged Scoter and scooping Surf Scoter, Ring-necked Duck, Grey Phalarope and Bluethroat the same day.

The Lowestoft area really came up trumps in April with the amazing discovery of American Bittern at Carlton Marshes, a bird I was very lucky to see easily. Lovely close-up views of the singing male Penduline Tit at Leathes Ham also stands out.

Belinda and I had a lovely long weekend in Dorset in May, obviously enhanced by Woodcock x Fly Orchid hybrids, a huge hybrid swarm of Lady x Monkey Orchids at Hartslock and a visit to the fabled Dancing Ledge for Early Spider Orchids.


Early June involved a yomp up to the end of Blakeney Point for the singing Moltoni's Warbler which tested my fitness, or lack of it!

Another trip was made to Scotland in June, this time a 5 day sojourn with Sean Cole, Chris Hazell and Mike Waller for an orchid-fest. I notched up 3 new orchids for my British list - Pugsley's Marsh Orchid, Lesser Twayblade and Heath Fragrant Orchid. We also saw 7 different hybrid combinations including only the 2nd UK mainland record of Frog x Northern Marsh Orchid, a truly magical moment! Even more magical was completing my British dragonfly list with Azure Hawker at Bridge of Grudie.

July's main event was much more local with both Glossy Ibis and Cattle Egret both at Dickleburgh Moor at the same time. A day gtrio down to the New Forest with the boys yielded my penultimate British orchid - Bog Orchid plus a plethora of odonata I'd not seen for many years.

Obviously the month of September and 4 full weeks in South Africa was the real huge event of the year. Without re-capping too much the stand-out highlights for me were Black Harrier at the West Coast NP, a mega pelagic off Cape Town, Cape Rockjumper, Southern Ground Hornbill, Martial Eagle and of course all the mammals of which Leopard was my fave.


Since returning from our travels the birding has been quiet with the main highlights being the unseasonal Red-rumped Swallow at Cley, Stejneger's Stonechat at Salthouse and both Parrot Crossbill and Rose-coloured Starling close to Norwich. A Vagrant Emperor at Kessingland was a very welcome and rare dragonfly tick and I've been filling in other time with getting to know a few fungi which has been very educational.

Other highlights:

Hume's Warbler, Waxham
Arctic Redpolls, Aldeburgh & Whitlingham
Otter, Santon Downham
Green-winged Teal, Southwold
Purple Heron, Cley
Montagu's Harrier, Hampshire
Burnt Orchid, Derbyshire
Corncrake, Beccles
Lesser Yellowlegs, Titchwell
Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Minsmere
Stilt Sandpiper, Frampton Marsh
Dusky Warbler, Stiffkey Fen
Siberian Chiffchaff, Levington
Twinflower & One-flowered Wintergreen, Highland
Black Hairstreak, Northants
Brilliant Emerald, Northern Damselfly & White-faced Darter, Highland


An unseasonal Red-rumped Swallow plus Dusky Warbler, 8 December 2018

Yesterday was an interesting day in many ways, some of which were even bird-related!
After leaving home in Pulham I got to Horsford only to get negative news from Cley - bugger! Luckily I did a little local exploring and an hour later the negative news had turned back into positive news so I hot-footed it up to Cley. Upon arrival the rather unseasonal Red-rumped Swallow was present in the area around Snipes Marsh/Walsey Hills and the adjacent pine plantation. During the next hour it was in view almost constantly and despite really awkward lighting conditions I fired off 350 photos of which most were of the sky! With the date there has to be some chance the bird is of eastern origin but at this time of year they are inseperable in the field. A Chiffchaff was also calling from the Walsey Hills bushes.

After a quick lunch pit stop I headed west to Stiffkey Fen where I quickly found 2 Greenshank, a real bogey yeartick finally nailed! There having been negative news of it I hadn't held out much hope of connecting with the Dusky Warbler there but a familiar 'tack' from the bushes by the path told me it was still there after all. As I had the place to myself and it not being a bird on bredding territory I decided some diligent use of playback was in order and to my amazement the bird started singing back! It did this a few times, showed briefly twice but was always keeping low and remaining elusive. It was really good to hear it sing though, a new one for me! I got a right soaking on my way back to the car so with the light fading I called it a day.

Yearlist = 248

     Red-rumped Swallow

'Northern' Willow Warbler

Going through pictures taken back in June in Scotland I took a much closer look at these 2 of a very grey and dull Willow Warbler that was singing it's heart out in scrub by the Cairngorm carpark.

This individual shows characteristics of 'Northern' Willow Warbler just taking a quick look at the Collins guide. I started digging  a little deeper and found this interesting blog article by Mark Lewis  

I won't repeat anything he's so eloquently written but from what Mark is saying it would seems that this bird is probably an 'acredula' bird which may be more common in Scotland than we previously thought. It's certainly very different indeed to the green and yellow 'southern' birds of the 'trochilus' race we're used to in Norfolk!  

Taiga Bean Geese, 2 December 2018

The plight of our local wintering popuation of Taiga Bean Geese in the Yare Valley is perilous. From the heady days of seeing 400+ the population has dwindled alarmingly over the years. Last year only 17 turned up and this year it seems like only 10. That seems to be the maximum count so far. Previously 9 had been reported but this lunchtime I found 10 on Cantley Marshes viewing from the usual elevated footpath off Burnt House Road.  That was after drawing a blank at Buckenham!
Their demise locally must be down to the fact that many are not needing to jump the North Sea from their staging post in Denmark due to milder winter conditions.
I was particularly pleased to see them today because, not only were they a yeartick but last year they arrived in early December and had gone again by Christmas!

Cantley Marshes held a huge number of Lapwings while on Buckenham 2 Chinese Water Deer and a hybrid Canada x Greylag Goose were the 'highlights'

Yearlist = 245

Tempest Car Hire - a warning

During the first 2 weeks of our recent South African trip we hired a car from Tempest Car Hire at Cape Town International Airport.
I'm not usually one to put this sort of thing on my blog but my advice would be to avoid this awful company at all costs. Let me explain.

The car itself and the 2 weeks we had with it were fine. The problems came when we got back home. Having settled the account up with no issues I then had an email from them claiming there had been a traffic violation during my car hire period and I would be hearing from the South African police. For telling me this (but providing no details) there was an 'admin charge' which they charged to my credit card. Despite many weeks having now passed I have heard nothing from the police. This smacks of a money-making scam.

It doesn't end there either, in fact it gets much much worse. I rec'd my latest credit card statement a couple of weeks ago only to find Tempest had charged 5 more amounts to my credit card totalling nearly £600! Despite numerous emails to them during which time they even sent me a copy of someone elses invoice proving they'd charged me for someone elses car hire they did not refund my money. Instead they just kept claiming they were investigating it but provided no assurance they would refund the money, only endless excuses. In the end I had to report it as fraud to my credit card company who refunded the monies immediately, cancelled my card and re-issued me with a new one. Into the bargain, they also refunded the so-called admin charge so in the end I got the upper hand over Tempest.

So, be warned if you go to Cape Town, avoid this bunch of crooked clowns!

I've emailed them a link to this blog post for their info! 

Tempest Car Hire - you are SHIT              

Holkham/Thornham/Titchwell, 25 November 2018

A winters day up north with the boys.

In an attempt to beat the bloody dog walkers and hooray henrys we hit Holkham first. Refusing to pay the ridiculous 8 pounds parking fee on Lady Anne's Drive we parked in the village carpark and walked. Unfortunately the Shorelarks were not to be found in the newly fenced-off area but we did have a flighty group of 13 Snow Buntings and a Chiffchaff in buckthorn behind the beach before we turned our attention to the sea. Here we eventually winkled out 2 Slavonian Grebes amongst good numbers of Eider and Red-breasted Mergansers with a few Goldeneye, Red-throated Divers and a Razorbill also loafing about. We set about leaving the site when we spotted 3 birders intently scoping an area of saltmarsh on the west side of the gap. Sploshing across to them (wet feet all round!) we were glad we did as c15 Shorelarks were on view. Despite being flighty due to constant dog and people distrubance they gave some great views. A brief sortie into the dunes behind the roped-off area revealed some old cracked specimens of Dusky Puffball   

Next up was Thornham, scooping 2 Red Kites and a Common Buzzard at Burnham Overy on the way. At Thornham we quickly found 14 Twite including at least 3 colour-ringed birds plus a few Linnets, Goldfinches and Rock Pipit.

Titchwell was our final destination of the afternoon where we decided a look at the sea was a good idea. The tide was well out and the sea choppy but with perseverance we winkled out 4 Long-tailed Duck, 1 Great Northern Diver, a couple of Red-throated Divers and then a mega Black-throated Diver showing rather well. When was the last time I saw all 3 diver sp in Norfolk in a day?! Also there were Red-breasted Mergansers, Goldeneye, Common Scoters and Guillemot. The usual waders were on the beach including big numbers of Knot plus Bar-tailed Godwits, Sanderling and a summer-plumaged Dunlin. On the way back a Water Rail was showing at point blank range in a ditch by the main path opposite the visitor centre.


Dusky Puffball

Apologies - more fungi I'm afraid!

Well, it is the main season for fungi so I've got to fill my boots while I can!

These photographs are mainly from another visit to Tyrrel's Woods as it's nice and close to home and seems a good spot for the budding mycologist. Hopefully it goes to prove that there are some very weird and wonderful fungi out there if you look hard enough. I'd been wanting to see Yellow Stagshorn and literally found some as I was walking back to the car!

Yellow Stagshorn

Candlesnuff Fungus

Silverleaf Fungus

Oyster Mushroom

Dead Mans Fingers

False Puffball

    King Alfreds Cakes

A long walk around Thorpeness/Aldringham, 17 November 2018

Belinda and I did a 12km walk starting and finishing in Thorpeness and taking in part of North Warren and Aldringham. The weather was glorious without a cloud in the sky. Birdwise the undoubted highlight were 9 Woodlarks flushed from a stubble field south of Aldringham. By far my largest gathering. Apart from that c30 Fieldfares on Aldringham Common, a scattering of Redwings, Mistle Thrush, Yellowhammer, Coal Tit and Common Buzzard were about it. 3 Common Darters making use of the warm sunlit wood of a gate on North Warren were very late indeed.

Common Darter

Blythburgh and Walberswick, 14 November 2018

The reason for visiting Blythburgh (to my eternal shame!) was the presumed escaped Hooded Merganser which was disappointingly absent. I did however have a Water Pipit there which was an unexpected bonus!

So, with time to spare I had a wander around Walberswick National Nature Reserve concentrating on some fungi associated with coniferous woodland. Maybe my last 2 Common Darters of the year and a Red Admiral were nice before I took the following pictures showing what I saw:

Silverleaf Fungus

Velvet Shank


Conifercone Cap

Common Rustgill

Conifercone Cap

Liver Milkcap

Silverleaf Fungus

Yellowing Curtain Crust

  Yellowing Curtain Crust