Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Norfolk Post

Hmm....a fair possibility of catching up with rarities such as Purple Heron and Pallid Harrier and a very good chance of meeting with a Red-rumped Swallow? Bank holiday? Norfolk? Don’t mind if I do!

Sunday 6th May – Holkham

'Showing well' is not an expression usually associated with Purple Heron, but that was the news yesterday from Joe Jordan Hide. We arrived mid-afternoon. No further reports of this bird but it was still worth a look; no negative news either and slow bird news in Norfolk is hardly unusual.

Sadly the Purple Heron did not show and there were no subsequent reports, clearly it had moved on.  It was interesting to learn however, that the heron had already been present several days prior to being reported.

Holkham anyway, always worth a visit. 6 Whimbrel were in a field from Lady Anne's Drive, also noted 2 reeling Gropper, 2 Spoonbill, 10 Little Egret and 4 Grey Partridge. The escaped Sacred Ibis was present. 2 Wheatear were in the dunes. 6 Marsh Harrier, single Barn and Short-eared Owl were noted.

Monday 7th May


A pre-breakfast amble around the gorse and shrubs of Friary Hills produced 5 Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Sedge, Blackcap, Chiffy and Willow Warbler. A Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwits were in the fields.


Full-English now lining the stomachs it was on to Salty. Here we had 16 Whimbrel, 2 Stonechat (m&f), 7 Wheatear and Willow Warbler. Hirundines were coming in off the sea, mainly Swallows (no Red-Rumped!).

Kelling Water Meadows

Highlights from the gate were a Whinchat, 3 Yellow Wagtail and a couple of Wheatear. Lots of Whitethroat and Blackcap along the hedgerows.

Cley Marshes NWT

Some time was spent here in the hides overlooking Pat’s Pool. A Temmincks Stint was the best bird here by far. Numbers of other waders were low -1 Ringed Plover, 2 LRP, 1 Dunlin, 4 Common Sandpiper. Also present 2 Wheatear, a single 1st-summer Little gull and 4 White Wagtail. A Bearded Tit was showing well on the boardwalk for one lucky photographer.

We then stopped at the Eye Field to have a look at a Channel Wagtail which was with 3 Yellow Wags. These birds were all very close to the car park.

Channel Wagtail
Channel Wagtail
Standard Yellow Wagtail

The Channel Wag was a stunning little thing, subtly different than the usual Blue-headed types often seen in spring. Very nice indeed.


Holme seemed like a good place for looking for raptors etc. Unfortuntely by the time we got there it was by no means raptor weather (ie rather wet). It was also rather dead here. 2 Whimbrel, 1 Marsh Harrier, Whitethroat, Redshank, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit was about all we could muster.

Grafham Water, Cambs

We had already started the journey homewards when news came of a Red-rumped Swallow at Grafham Water. Arrived there about 6.45pm and it was looking challenging to say the least, as we attempted to scan distant flocks of hirundines out in the middle of the res, in inclement conditions.

Despite continued soakings, wet optics and specs I held out hope that the bird would perhaps return to the trees around the car park where it had been earlier and in fact just prior to our arrival. The weather did eventually let up and Swallows began to return to this wasn’t long before the faboulous Red-rumped Swallow reappeared. I got some very good flight views of the bird, these were fairly brief but enough to note all the salient features.

Alas I did not see it on the deck, as illustrated in images by Mark Hawkes below. It lingered for a few days after my visit and would frequently rest on the dam. A cracking little bird all the same.

Red-rumped Swallow - many thanks to Mark Hawkes for the use of these images
Lifer 289.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Regional Catch-Up

Saturday 5th and Sunday 13th May were spent birding Staffs with the Regional Tick. This was interspersed with a brief visit to Norfolk and yet another life bird, however more of that later...

Saturday 5th May

A slightly later than usual start with Martyn and I arriving around 8:15am at the inner city Bird Obs. It was dead; very early is best for urban birding. A Grey Heron flew over and Lesser Black-backed Gulls came very close, a daily sight for Brum dwellers, with 555 pairs now breeding in the City and 31 confirmed breeding pairs of Herring Gull.*

*SOURCE – Jim Winsper’s survey - Roof-top nesting gulls in the Birmingham area

It was already noisy and difficult to hear any birdsong, so we headed northwards into Staffs.

Croxall GP

Two Hobby overhead and a showy Garden Warbler provided welcome year ticks. Also noted 3 Whitethroat, 3 Sedge Warbler and an elusive Reed Warbler. Around the pool - 6 Oystercatcher, 2 Common Tern, 6 Teal, a Shelduck over and many hirundines. Disappointingly the water was very high, meaning wader-passage is none existent.

Sedge Warbler - Image courtesy of Martyn Yapp -
Swift - Image Courtesy of Martyn Yapp -

Whitemoor Haye

Mass hirundine action in progress. This attracted the attentions of 3 Hobby, which flushed all the hirundines. 

We tried our best, but none of the Swallows had red rumps. There was also some Tern action however these were 12 plain old Common.

3 Common Sandpiper, 1 Redshank, 1 Oystercatcher. Also a pair of Lapwing were noted to have young. Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow present.

Blithfield Reservoir

A single Black Tern fed around the causeway and the mouth of Tad Bay. Great to catch up with, a bird I managed to miss the last couple of years. A mind-boggling number of hirundines were here, with probably a 1000 of both Swallow and Swift. Yet another Hobby was noted.

Around 5 Yellow Wagtails near the Causeway and another 10+ by Beechtree Point, along with a White Wagtail.

Waders, again foiled by very high waters but 3 Common Sand and 5 LRP were on the causeway. A Whimbrel was heard. 2 Goldeneye were in Blith Bay, with 5 more in Tad. Also in Tad Bay, was Richard Powell, reaching the latter stages of his big Staffs bird race day.

Our visit concluded with watching 3 Common Scoter (2 drakes & 1 female) in St.Stephens Bay, always an intriguing sight on a midlands res.

Sunday 13th May

Good news....

Cuckoo bank

My first visit to Cuckoo Bank, the area north of Chasewater, made up of gorse, heath and grasslands with the odd pool. Target bird - Grasshopper Warbler. This was not too difficult, we soon caught up with a reeling Gropper that didn’t take long to show itself.

It was certainly warbler-tastic here, also with a few Garden Warblers, several Whitethroat, a Lesser Whitethroat heard, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler. Also of note, the place lived up to its name with a calling Cuckoo, as well as 4 Buzzard, Kestrel and a Yellow Wagtail over.

Seven Springs / Stepping Stones, Cannock Chase

The warbler theme continued here. A Wood Warbler was easy-peasy here, but better views would have been nice; a close bird was disturbed by the poor fieldcraft of another observer.

Another couple of Garden Warbler were noted here, again very visable. Also Cuckoo, a cracking male Redstart in song, 4 Willow Warbler, Tree Pipit, Whitethroat, Redpoll and Siskn both heard and 2 Nuthatch. Pied Fly eluded us, but then it was getting later and busy with none-birder types enjoying all manner of weekend activity. Perhaps we should have taken a trip up to Flamborough Head instead...

Croxall GP

The high water levels still putting paid to Spring wader passage. Noted Reed Warbler, 4 Garden Warbler, 4 Common Tern, 1 Shelduck, 2 Oystercatcher, 5 Gadwall, a Sparrowhawk and a very distant Hobby.

Whitemoor Haye

I have to confess here that I had been feeling a little poorly and this and the early start had really started to catch up with me. There was very little of note here anyway – 1 Redshank, 2 Oystercatcher and a Yellow Wagtail were briefly noted and that was it really.

I am off to Portland for a week very soon, staying at the Bird Observatory. News to follow...

Saturday, 12 May 2012

28th / 29th April 2012

It was fair to say that the weekend of 28th/29th was slightly damp. However, it wasn’t about to stop me birding and in fact provided two new ticks, both in Oxfordshire.

Dotterel, for me, was one of those birds that I felt I ought to have seen by now. A bit of a tart maybe, however it’s just not that easy to connect with them in the West Midlands region. I missed one in Staffs in May 2011 (Whitemore Haye), birds are not even guaranteed annually and tend not to be long-stayers. I have also just missed them on Norfolk trips at traditional stop off places like Choseley Drying Barns.

So off to Oxfordshire to hopefully collect a long-outstanding tick, accompanied by Martyn. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite as straightforward as we had hoped and the bird was not present on our first attempt, having been earlier flushed by a Heron. We stepped back over the Warks border to Draycote Water for a while, but returned to Balscote when to my relief, news was paged of the return of the Dotterel.

Balscote Quarry, Oxon

Some strange folk here, including a chap who could not even see the carrying flock of 23 Golden Plover, let alone the Dotterel. The Dotterel (lifer 287) was a little distant but good scope views were available. The bird, signifcantly smaller than the Plovers, was presumed to be a partly-moulted female.

There was plenty other stuff to see too – this small field was quite the migrant hotspot with 2 Whimbrel, 1 Whinchat, 2 Yellow Wagtail and 5 Wheatear (a couple of these looking likely Greenland candidates). A Redstart was heard calling. Regular farmland birds included Tree sparrow, Yellowhammer & Stock Dove. LRP and a Common Sandpiper were present on the quarry.

Draycote Water - Farborough Bank

At least 3 Wheatear on the dam, along with up to 20 Yellow Wagtail and 2 White Wagtail. 3 Arctic Terns were distant by the water tower. Waders consisted of 1 Common Sandpiper and 6 Dunlin. Large numbers of hirundines and Swifts were noted.

We later decided to check some of the Tame Valley waters for Tern passage, but were sorely disappointed on that score with only Common Terns and no Arctic. A Common Sand was at Dosthill (before we were turfed off by a bloke on a quad bike, for none-payment of parking). A Lesser Whitethroat was heard at Helmlingford Water. Swifts were noted just about everywhere, now in good numbers.

News broke much later in the day that the wandering party of 6 White Storks had made Oxon of all places! White Stork is not too much of a difficult bird to see but one with often questionable credentials; however these were the real deal. Well a flurry of texts with Martyn and an early morning start was in order...waiting on news is for dudes.

Standlake/Newbridge, Oxon

We did wonder if we’d done the right thing as directions had been vague and neither of us had knowledge of this area. There were no other birders on site and it was extremely wet. However we soon located two of the birds in a wet meadow and they showed very well, until they flew over the hedgerow, presumably to join the other birds. We relocated now 4 birds sitting out the showers in a field north of the Thames and good views were again had through a hedgerow. Lifer 288.

Stork images both courtesy of Adam Hartley -

Tragic news the following day however, when one of the Storks suffered a fatal collision with a power cable. The rest of the party headed south on 1st May, being later picked up over Sussex, Hants and Dorset.

At Standlake, we were keen to view some of the pits (and seek refuge from  the rain) but disappointingly the hides were all locked. The distinctive death rattle of Lesser Whitethroat was heard.

We moved on to Farmoor where 5 Black-necked Grebes, all in sum plum showed extremely well and were worth an additional soaking.

Conditions were appalling here and around 5 Arctic Terns and 6 Common were briefly noted. Further inclemency of the weather meant a memorable birding weekend was brought to a close.

Thursday, 3 May 2012


Lakenheath Fen RSPB on Sunday 22nd April. A classic stop-off point for a voyage into deepest, darkest Suffolk.  A pleasant few hours here, despite the intermittent showers.

Most notably, were a fine pair of Garganey on the mere, 6 Bearded Tit, c6 Marsh Harrier and a Whooper Swan with an injured wing, which had sadly been reduced to feeding with Mutes along the river bank.

Reed Warblers outnumbered Sedge Warbler by far in the reedbeds. Common Whitethroat, Cuckoo, Blackcap and Green Woodpecker were also encountered. Unfortunately we were a little early for Golden Oriole and none had yet arrived, although they are in now.

A stop-off at a nearby undisclosed location notable for Stone Curlew was unfruitful. Although one was heard distantly, they failed to show. 2 Wheatear were noted here.

A few days were then spent around the Minsmere / Sizewell area. Rain was a major theme of our visit and the winds were not right for bringing major rarities, however a good range of species were enjoyed nonetheless.

On Monday the showy Bittern at Island Mere Hide was on view for an incredible 3 hours, making this my most sustained view ever of this species. It also fished extremely close to the hide most of the time, offering copious photography opportunities despite the poor weather.

Ridiculously showy Bittern at Minsmere

Bittern - Image courtesy of Mark Rayment

Water Rail, Bearded Tit and Marsh Harrier (up to 6 birds) were all standard in this part of the reserve.

Marsh Harrier - Image Courtesy of Mark Rayment

3 male Ring Ouzels were seen in the fields around the reserve, including this one. 

Rouzel - blurry record image

Waders observed on the scrape were in low numbers due to high waters, but there was a reasonable variety. Noted were 2 Knot, Redshank, 3 Bar-tailed Godwit (including a colour-ringed individual), Turnstone, 4 Dunlin, 2 Ringed Plover, 2 Grey Plover and of course, Avocets. Little Egret also present.

Warblers included double figures of Sedge and Cetti's and a smaller number of Reed. 2 Lesser Whitethroat and a small number of Common Whitethroat were new arrivals. Blackcap, Chiffy and Willow Warbler were present of course in good numbers

Other migrants included a Cuckoo and 3 Swifts which arrived on the 24th and a few Wheatears were hopping around Whin Hill and Sizewell Coastal Path.

More notable gull species included 7 Med Gulls and a single 1st summer Little Gull. The odd LBBG and GBBG were also on the scrape, with Kittiwakes at sea.

Gadwall - image courtesy Mark Rayment

Terns included around 20 each of Sandwich & Common Tern and a single Little Tern was also on the scrape.

The escaped Greater Flamingo ‘Fiona’ seemed quite at home on the scrape. In a plastic-type way of course.

Fiona - exile from Twycross Zoo

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

21st April 2012

Early morning with Martyn in the urban squalor of our second city, followed by a trawl of some of Staffordshire’s waters.

Three raptor species were noted around the city - a male Kestrel on a disused building on Eastside, a Sparrowhawk high over the city and finally 2 Buzzard near Spaghetti Junction, which has recently been transformed into a rather interesting art installation...

Another ghetto birding surprise was a swallow flying over Digbeth, heading north. Also a Daily Mail-bothering savage urban fox was scooting around the wasteground here. A pair of Grey Wagtail were near the Bling Quarter.

We have not yet managed to locate Phoenicurus ochruros, but then if we did I wouldn't tell you...

The weather was rather damp as we arrived at Cannock Chase, but it didn't deter us from a stomp around Anson's Bank & the Cadet Hut area.

Our best findings here included 2 Cuckoos and a singing colour-ringed Tree Pipit. Also noted were 1 Raven, 1 Kestrel, 2 Jay, 3 Buzzard and a single Swallow, with Willow Warbler and Goldcrest  in song.

Tree Pipit images by Martyn Yapp

The rings indicate that the Tree Pipit was ringed in Staffs as part of a Forestry Commission project.

Blithfield Res had continued to be quiet, so a brief stop at the deeps was the full extent of today's visit. Most interesting here was at least 7 Wheatear. Also noted 2 Oystercatcher, 4 LRP, Kestrel and Buzzard.

One of 7 Wheatears

Next up, Croxall - however the water had risen considerable since the previous visit. Not good for spring wader passage. The highlight was 2 adult Med Gulls which flew over the path, picked up by their distinctive mewing call. Other birds noted included 1 Common Tern, 2 Oystercatcher and Blackcap.

The log book at the adjacent War Memorial Arboretum (AKA birders toilet stop) also revealed some very interesting sightings... 


Finally, a stop at Gailey provided welcome year ticks in the form of a Swift amongst the hirundine flock over the causeway and a Common Whitethroat along the track. Also 2 Yellow Wagtail, 1 Common Sandpiper, 2 Common Tern and 20 House Martin.