DAVID'S BLOG

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22-27 DECEMBER 2016 NORTH DEVON


I spent a few days (including Christmas) with my sister Val at her home near Bideford, Devon. For the first 2-3 days, the weather was wild and windy (though mild for the time of year) settling down to bright and cold for the latter days. My intention was to do as much birdwatching as I could (subject to Val being available to provide transport) but we were restricted a touch by the fact that Val's dog Flo (a border collie) was hospitalised on the day I arrived due to an operation on her shoulder which meant that she was virtually confined to her 'cage' with complete rest when Val picked her up from the Vets in Bristol on the Thursday which also meant that Val was unable to leave her for more than a couple of hours at a time; thus the restriction to sites local to Bideford.


Before Val and Ken (Val’s ex-partner) could collect Flo from the Vets, we had a few hours to spend at Northam Burrows, which is a lovely part of the coast, between Bideford and Instow. Here, a lone Barnacle Goose was feeding with several Brent Geese along the shoreline; with a good sprinkling waders. Out on the tide (which was rapidly rising) a small flock of ducks were eventually identified as Eiders which according to a local birder were very unusual (though didn’t seem at all impressed).


Late on the morning of 24th December (Val had to tire Flo out before we could go out, so that the dog could rest in her cage without feeling too lonely and stressed), and whilst Ken was manning his stall at the Pannier Market in Bideford, me a Val made a bee-line for the cliffs at Westward Ho! where we connected with several Ravens (and I made my first attempts at photographing this marvellous Corvid); a lone Buzzard, which was being mobbed by two of the Ravens; a Little Egret and a Shag on the jagged rocks below; and many Jackdaws taking advantage of the swirling winds.


On Christmas morning, we all took a short drive to Yelland where we connected with at least four Spoonbills (up to six were known to be in the area for the winter). At Fremington where I found a single Greenshank in company with 100 plus Black-tailed Godwits. Later that week we travelled to Croyde Bay where we walked up to Baggy Point (where I saw couple of Kittiwakes flying just above the waves) then down to Cornwall and in particular, Tintagel; Bude; Widemouth Bay and finally, Boscastle where I found a Rock Pipit in the harbour.


I’d enjoyed my first Christmas away from home since I went on Safari to Kenya in 1979, and although we didn’t get out as much as we’d planned, I did actually achieve my target species (with the exception of Dartford Warbler). 

         Eiders are apparently quite an unusual site in North Devon

                  Ravens common along the cliffs of North Devon

                                   Ravens harassing a Buzzard

                    A Greenshank and a Black-tailed Godwit

                                        Black-tailed Godwits

                                                Blackbird

                                  The ubiquitous Christmas Robin

7 NOVEMBER 2016 - CLEY AND HOLKHAM, NORFOLK


Due to the forecast for gale force N.NE winds, interspersed with long periods of sunshine and some heavy showers, the birding looked excellent for seabird movement; so, John Slee gave me the opportunity to go with him to Cley, with a view to capitalising on this potential bonanza of seabirds.


Well, it didn’t fully materialise as we’d expected. In normal circumstances, when the weather conditions were that favourable (as they were here) it is advisable to get to the venue (in this case, Cley, on the North Norfolk coast) as early in the day as possible, as seabird movements usually at their best before 10.00 a.m. in my experience. John wasn’t able to leave home sufficiently early however (due to family commitments), so we arrived about 11.45 am, expecting a large volume of birdwatchers and stories of all the things we missed. But apart from a few distant skuas and several close passing Little Auks, we hadn’t in fact missed out dramatically, and within 30 minutes or so, our first Little Auks had been seen, in excellent light. They weren’t exactly close, but were readily identifiable as they whizzed over huge waves in a westerly direction. I have to say that there wasn’t a great deal of activity, except for large skeins of Brent Geese; Eider Duck; Common Scoter; a lovely group of mainly male Pintail; a few juvenile Gannets (some quite close in) and a variety of gulls, including at least two Little Gulls; and, out on the horizon, one could just make out a couple of Pomerine Skuas skimming over the waves.


Following a brief stop for coffee at the NNT Centre, which also produced a lone Waxwing, outside on the bushes, we headed for Holkham to try for Shore Larks. Within a short while of arriving out on the beach, we’d found the said Shore Larks, a large flock of about 80 individuals, comprising mostly males. They were quite flighty, but eventually we gained reasonable views of this stunningly attractive lark.

 

 

3 NOVEMBER 2016 – TITCHWELL


John Slee (who I’d known for several years as a local birdwatcher, but had never actually been birding with before) kindly offered to take me birding; Titchwell was to be the venue.


We arrived around 10.30 a.m. with a flock of birds ‘trilling’ over the car park which could only have been Waxwings (possibly around 20 in total) which we reported at the centre straight away. A good start, and maybe other birdwatchers would report them to and we might even be able to catch up with them later in the day.

A female Brambling at the feeding station, followed by a reasonable view of a Water Rail in a ditch nearby were worthy of note, but it was obvious once we got onto the reserve that it wasn’t going to be a ‘wader’ day, although there were literally hundreds of duck species to scan through. Large numbers of Common Teal, with significantly lesser numbers of Wigeon; Pochard; Shelduck; Gadwall; Shoveler; Mallard and Northern Pintail. There were some waders – 13 Ruff; Black-tailed Godwit; Redshank; Dunlin; Grey Plover; Ringed Plover; several Avocet, and Turnstone. A couple of Western Marsh Harriers quartered the marsh, whilst an excellent Merlin swooped in mid-afternoon.


Down on the beach we’d missed a fly-by Little Auk, but reports of good views of Velvet Scoter and Gannets, failed to materialise for us, and we had to content ourselves with distant Common Scoter; Red-Breasted Merganser and Red-throated Diver, whilst on the beach, Sanderlings scurried along the wet sand in their normal comic fashion, in company with a few Knot; Turnstone; Oystercatchers, Godwits; Curlew, and a few Gull species.


On the way back to the car, someone informed us that a large flock of Waxwings had been located at the entrance from the main A149, so we made a bee-line straight away, before they departed. And sure enough, a flock of 60 plus - constantly ‘trilling’ - were entertaining a small crowd, giving exceptionally close views down to a mere metre or so at times (one could almost literally reach out and touch some individual birds- if they’d allowed it). I would have been in my element, but unfavourable lighting conditions, meant that photography was extremely difficult in terms of getting blur-free shots. But the experience of being amid and so close to such stunningly beautiful birds was well worth the journey. We both felt extremely privileged.

                                                                       Common Stonechat

31 OCTOBER 2016 - LOCAL WAXWING


It’s always good to see Waxwings, but when they are local - this one had been found feeding on Rowan berries two days ago - one usually tries to see them if possible.  A forty-minute walk from home on this occasion, I’d waited to get news that it was still there this morning before venturing out. But I was lucky, it was still in situ when I arrived around 1.00 p.m. This was a first winter juvenile I believe and it performed well enough, occasionally chomping on a rowan berry, then preening its lovely plumage.


There’s no way of knowing if this sighting is the beginning of a ‘Waxwing Year’ - the last was about four-five years ago  (from about late November) when Bishop’s Stortford had its fair share of sightings, with several flocks exceeding 30 individuals, some considerably more. But if so we could well be seeing Waxwings once more in the streets of Bishop’s Stortford.

 

23 OCTOBER 2016 – RYE MEADS


This was my first actual birding trip for quite a while; on this occasion Colin Wills was doing a local trip to Rye Meads Nature Reserve (owned and operated by the RSPB) and asked me if I’d like to go.


There wasn’t much to see however, although a distance view of a sleeping Jack Snipe (my first JS anywhere for several years) provided some lacklustre ‘excitement’ for a while. A fly-by Red Kite and some lovely male and female Bullfinches were the only other ‘highlights’. There was a sprinkling of waders in the form of Lapwings, several Common Snipe and two Green Sandpipers, together with a distant Grey Wagtail, but it was good to see common duck species close enough to appreciate their beautiful, delicate winter plumage – particularly male Gadwall and Teal.

1 SEPTEMBER 2016 - AMWELL


We hadn’t been over to Amwell Dragonfly Reserve this year, so I suggested to Gary that it might be worth a visit, especially since Willow Emerald Damselflies has been recorded there again, and they’re always good value. So, even though I’d recorded the Damselfly myself near Thorley Wash Reserve (south of Bishop’s Stortford), there should be some other species too.


In common with a lot of areas this year, the numbers of dragonflies generally, is down on previous years, and this was what we found today, disappointingly so. There were no Willow Emeralds to be seen, and with just one Brown Hawker; one Emperor Dragonfly; one or two Migrant Hawkers, a few Common Darters (some in tandem), and only a sprinkling of Common Blue; Azure and Blue-tailed damselflies, we were going to have or work cut out to get any pictures, let alone decent ones. But we persevered, and managed to get a few shots that were (arguably) worth retaining. There were several sheep grazing on the reserve, and they provided some interesting opportunities for photography too.


Later, on the way home, we passed through Stanstead Abbots, and were fortunate to see a (probable juvenile) Little Owl posing for us, perched against a chimney - the very same chimney we’d seen at least one Little Owl at varying times over the past two years or so.

30 JULY 2016 – DUNSTABLE KITE FESTIVAL


I’d never been to a Kite Festival before, so didn’t really know what to expect. Gary had been in 2015 and said it was really good, with lots of opportunities for photography. So, together with his friend Terry, off we went, arriving around 10.00 a.m.


As it turned out the Festival proved quite disappointing, as some of the big kites from previous years never materialised, yet I persevered and by the end of the day, had managed to amass a fair number of photos, of which these are a selection of the better ones.


As one might expect, seeing wildlife was not on the cards. but I managed a distant Red Kite, and several butterflies including some late Marbled White, and a couple of Chalkhill Blues.

 

I don’t know if we’ll repeat the experience, but it was a free festival, so we could try again next year.

15 JULY – 19 AUGUST 2016


Not a great deal to report as I haven’t been able to out as much as I would have liked, courtesy of an arthritic hip!! Yet even when I did, and even taking into account the warm, sunny weather of late, there was a surprising lack of insects (butterflies and dragonflies in particular) so. There were a few highlights though. 

A visit to Therfield Heath on 17 July was exceptionally windy, despite the warm, sunny conditions; Dark Green Fritillaries were still on the wing - we saw about 15 individuals - but were well-nigh impossible to photograph (though I did manage two shots); many Chalkhill Blues, though once again extremely difficult to photograph. A Red Kite was also seen here.


A trip to Hatfield Forest on 20 July netted only a few Silver-Washed Fritillaries - a female full of eggs was photographed; but the main quarry - Purple Emperors - proved so elusive, despite scanning the Master tree, and we managed not a single one; though we did see a lone Purple Hairstreak near the same tree.

Thorley Wash has been disappointing of late, but a Small Copper butterfly was a nice surprise on 23 July. On 27 July House Sparrows were making good use of an empty barrel as a dust bath, though through the front room window, it wasn’t ideal for photography. A Hedgehog seen in the street outside my house, was the first ‘live’ one I’d seen for many years, and was surprisingly happy to be photographed.


A Common Blue butterfly (a male) was seen at Rushy Mead, Essex on 17 August; and along the Essex side of the river between Twyford Lock and Thorley Wash reserve, a male Willow Emerald Damselfly was observed and photographed (though not very well). Last year I was fortunate to record the first ever sightings of Willow Emerald - at Rushy Mead and along the river Stort just past the bridge at Spellbrook. Good to see the species has maintained a presence this year too; but not yet on the Herts side of the River. In addition a Southern Hawker was remarkably obliging.


On 18 August, I approached the kitchen window (as one does) and immediately sprang back. A female Sparrowhawk was on prey less than 20 feet away! I rushed upstairs (as fast as my hip would allow) to get my camera, hoping that the hawk was still there. It’s never ideal to photograph anything through a window but I simply didn’t have a choice, and fired off several shots; but the bird was clearly intent on finishing her meal - a juvenile Blackbird (no doubt the same individual that I’d enjoyed seeing over the past couple of weeks.  I thought I’d try to sneak outside without the need to photograph through the window, but the bird was obviously acutely aware of me and soon high-tailed it away. I’ve observed Sparrowhawks on prey (usually on Collared Doves) in the garden before, but never at such close quarters. What a superb experience.

                                                                DARK GREEN FRITILLARY

                                                                                     RED KITE

                                                                                   MOORHEN

                                  SILVER WASHED FRITILLARY

                                                                          SMALL COPPER

                                                             HOUSE SPARROW - DUSTING

                                                    HEDGEHOG

                                                                                   MOORHEN

                                                                                         COOT

                                                                           SOUTHERN HAWKER

                                                                            COMMON BLUE

                                                                  WILLOW EMERALD DAMSELFLY

                                                                           WILD FLOWERS

                                                   SPARROWHAWK ON JUVENILE BLACKBIRD

14 JULY 2016 – SOUTHERN COUNTRY PARK


The clouds were wispy cumulus; the sunlight intermittent yet strong; the wind light. So, good enough to attempt some insect photography. I was very pleased with my last visit to SCP a week or so previously, so I thought it would be a good place to start.


I made a direct bee-line for the lake, and the newly constructed walkway along the northern end, and waited for the dragonflies to come in; and waited!! But there was very little activity until the sun began to emerge properly from behind a large cloud, and a good gap meant some strong sunlight, at least for a while. And this seemed to do the trick, as a small number of dragonflies and damselflies began to dart around in front of me – though nothing like the numbers I saw previously. There were three male Black-tailed Skimmers, fiercely fighting for territory; several Azure and Common Blue Damselflies; a brief glimpse of a female Broad- bodied Chaser (which was soon seen off by the Skimmers), and a lovely male Emperor Dragonfly, which wasn’t bothered by anything!


Suddenly, a flash of blue, as gorgeous Kingfisher alighted on a reed mace, posing beautifully in the sunlight. It was a touch too far away really to get a good close-up, but an enlargement in Photoshop soon gave me the shot I wanted. Later on the same bird was seen at the eastern end, and eventually I was able to get another shot, more in keeping with what I wanted to achieve. Three Common Terns – two juveniles and an adult (presumably locally bred ……… possibly Hatfield Forest lake where there is a tern raft), provided excellent poses as they hovered nearby, and a mallard with her chick provided more photographic opportunities, though by then the light was a touch harsh.


Later in the park I counted at least 16 Marbled White butterflies, so the colony is going from strength to strength; a few Ringlets; at least three Small Skippers; but not much else, and no Common Blue or Brown Argus, which was a big disappointment.

                                                                 BLACK-HEADED GULL

                                                                  BLACK-TAILED SKIMMER

                                                                                KINGFISHER

                                                                  MALLARD WITH CHICK

                                                                            COMMON TERN

                                                                            LARGE WHITE 

                                                                          MARBLED WHITE 

                                                                             RABBIT KITT

24 JUNE 2016 SOUTHERN COUNTRY PARK


The weather this week has been largely abysmal, with no prospect of getting out to do some photography; but this morning dawned bright and sunny with a light wind, and was perfect for what I wanted to do ………………… photographing dragonflies, and butterflies. Thinking that the river option would prove very muddy after the recent deluge of rain, I chose instead to visit Southern Country Park, on the NW periphery of Bishop’s Stortford. It proved an excellent choice.


Being a weekday there was likely to be very little disturbance from anglers and dog walkers, and that proved to be the case. There has been some work of late making public access much easier to the northern end of the lake, with a wooden fence and walkway constructed in the past few months. Immediately I arrived I could see a pair of Common Terns circling above the lake, so I made a beeline for the walkway. 


It was quite difficult to get pictures of the terns, due to the fact that they were constantly on the move, though occasionally hovered right in front of me, which made things a touch easier in that regard. Then I noticed dragonfly movement over the pool at the rear end of the lake behind the walkway, which set my heart pumping, as it was quite apparent that several species could be observed here.


Through the time I was there, several Common Blue Damselflies and a Blue-tailed Damselfly could be seen darting around trying to find places to land; several pairs were in tandem, and some females were already laying eggs, although even with a 400mm telephoto it was difficult to get photographs. A couple of male Four-Spot Chasers were also observed, as they too looked for suitable landing places in the sunlight.


Then a male Hairy Dragonfly (too fast to photograph) drifted into view - the first time I’d recorded the species here – and immediately began chasing off two male Broad-bodied Chasers, which were striving, and sometimes failing, to gain a landing place on the reeds. A female Broad-bodies Chased joined the melee briefly. Then a beautiful male Emperor Dragonfly, winged over the pool, and that too had an altercation or two with the Hairy Dragonfly, the latter seemingly winning the argument each time.

In the flower meadow which had been fenced off from the rest of the park, I failed to find a single Common Blue Butterfly, recording a handful of Meadow Browns instead. A quick look over the bridge connecting Thorley Church with the park, and the tantalising view of a single Marbled White Butterfly in the long grass which lined the A 114, so I knew at least that species still had a foothold in the area. I recorded a total of six individuals, which considering it was late June and the weather had been bad, was a promising sign that the species was doing well. The only other species I saw were a couple of Large Skippers, and a colourful Jasmine Moth.


I failed to get a Small Heath; Brown Argus; Common Blue; Small and Essex Skippers, or Small Copper, all of which I’d recorded here in previous years, but I’m hopeful of getting those in the coming weeks.


The final picture here is of a Silver Y Moth, which was perched on the handle of my back gate, posing beautifully.

                                                                                    BLACKBIRD

                                                                            COMMON TERN

                                                                     BROAD-BODIED CHASER

                                                                       BROAD-BODIED CHASER

                                                                  BLUE-TAILED DAMSELFLY

                                                   COMMON BLUE DAMSELFLIES - IN TANDEM

                                                        BLACK-TAILED SKIMMER - TENERAL MALE

                                                                         OXEYE DAISIES

                                                                 COMMON SPOTTED ORCHID

                                                                        MARBLED WHITE

                                                                        MARBLED WHITE

                                                                             MARBLED WHITE

                                                                           SILVER "Y" MOTH

11 JUNE 2016


I had intended to stay at home today to try and capitalise on the photographic successes of yesterday; but a phone call from Colin Wills soon put paid to that. I didn’t have to go, but a Purple Heron at Rye Meads Nature Reserve was quite a draw, so I relented; as one does of course.


Half an hour later (or so) we were waiting at the required spot (just outside the reserve boundary) waiting for the bird to reappear. And suddenly, there it was; first, alighting in a tall willow behind some power lines, and then a little closer, in another willow.


Through Colin’s telescope (I no longer possess one) the views were excellent and all the salient features were there to see in (almost) glorious technicolour. The bird was a first summer male, but it’s plumage was immaculate, and the colours truly breathtaking (although my pictures don't do it justice). Of course, one wouldn’t expect to get the same kind of views (from a photographic point of view) from a 100-400mm telephoto; but after initial problems trying to focus, I managed some reasonable shots.


Later, at Rye Meads reserve proper, we had reasonably close views (eventually) of a pair of Garganey (later, joined by a third bird, another female, which had not previously been logged). Other birds were seen of course, but nothing of the standing of a Purple Heron, or indeed a Garganey for that matter. A Little Grebe; Common Tern; Coots; a Gadwall family and a Holly Blue butterfly. A very a worthwhile local trip out indeed.

10 JUNE 2016


I’ve had some stunning results from my new Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5/5.6 telephoto. Strangely with lots of lovely sunshine over the past few days, there hasn’t been the array of insects one might normally expect in such conditions, so I had to try my luck elsewhere. I choose to try it out on birds visiting the bird table and bird bath ……………. and really, I couldn’t have predicted that the results would have proved so successful. Here is a small selection, including Blackbirds; a Juvenile Starling and a majestic adult Carrion Crow.

17 MAY 2016 TITCHWELL


There wasn’t much around bird-wise nationally, but as the weather for Norfolk was predicted to be dry and mainly sunny, we pitched for Titchwell.


We began by visiting Choseley, near Titchwell, where a small party of Dotterel had been seen in a huge field (the largest totalling 28 individuals a few days previously, but now down to just 8); but they’d been disturbed by the farmer crop spraying, and they’d moved off by the time we’d arrived.


Very nearby a stunning male Snow Bunting (in almost pristine summer plumage) was giving birders great views. They are known to be quite tolerant of people during the winter months, and can often be observed at quite close quarters; and this one was no exception. Though it should not have been here this late in the season and by rights should have been on the breeding grounds in Scotland or Scandinavia. Then we moved on to Titchwell, where we hoped to see a good selection of migrants birds. But the number of species was somewhat disappointing for the time of year, with just a sprinkling of migrants - mostly wading birds on show.


The majority of birds on show were quite distant, and whilst we were scanning the scene Colin picked up a wading bird which looked interesting. The light was hopeless which made proper identification difficult; but with at least two telescopes on it, together with my binoculars too (as I don’t possess a scope) we’d settled it down to one of two species - either a Pectoral Sandpiper or a summer plumaged Purple Sandpiper. John and I were fairly adamant that it was the former, and eventually Colin too agreed after careful consideration. Meanwhile John and I returned to the car to collect our lunch and one the way called in at the RSPB Visitor Centre, where the said bird had been entered on the board as a Wood Sandpiper. Unfortunately, our opinions were dismissed because we were told one of the ‘wardens’ had checked it out earlier and he was satisfied it was a Wood Sandpiper. But they were wrong in our view. However, later in the day, when the light had improved and the bird had moved much nearer, it was accepted as a Pectoral Sandpiper (although in our view we just couldn’t see how the original identification could have been that wrong). Here we also saw an adult Little Gull (invariably the most delightful of all our gull species); a pair of Little Ringed Plovers and not a great deal else.


Photographic opportunities were in short supply (regrettably none of the Sandpiper); so I only managed a few of the Snow Bunting; Little Ringed Plovers, and an obliging Reed Warbler.

 

 12 MAY 2016 - MINSMERE/SOUTHWOLD, SUFFOLK


After some thought as to whether it was worth the two-hour journey, Gary and I set off for Minsmere at 0735 hrs, arriving shortly after 0940. It was a beautiful, sunny yet breezy day which promised much in the way of bird species (if one was to connect with the list of birds seen that morning by the warden).


It was good to see a healthy number of Sand Martins at the sand bank, where 50 or so martins were actively making their nests, some birds using the holes excavated the previous year. Walking around the reserve it was obvious that the number of species was going to prove harder to obtain than one might have thought compared to the species reportedly seen by the warden on his early morning rounds before the reserve was opened to the public for the day – quite simply because the most of the water birds (including waders; gulls; terns; ducks and geese etc) were spread over the entire area of the various scrapes, so one had to work especially hard to scan with binoculars in order to see and identify the birds properly; and some were quite a distance away. There was a large population of breeding Black-headed gulls; some Herring and Lesser Black-backs; Common and Little Terns (the latter showing a healthy improvement on recent years), and a pair of Mediterranean Gulls. Lots of Greylag Geese with goslings; Canada geese with theirs, and several Barnacle Geese (which I assume were of feral stock). Good numbers of Redshank; some Turnstones; Dunlin; with good numbers of Red Knot in their summer finery (we saw 5 but there actually 40 plus on the reserve); a single Bar-tailed Godwit (but no Black-tailed Godwits); Grey Plovers and Ringed Plovers. We were to miss out on a Black Tern; a singleton Little Stint and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers. Along the beach several Little Terns and a single female Wheatear (surpisingly low numbers of this species given that the spring migration was well in advance). Also no Ring Ouzel; Stone Curlew and Turtle Dove (seen previously at this time of year). On the way back to the Visitor Centre for a welcome cup of tea and a sandwich, we saw several dragonfly species including Variable Damselfly; Large Red Damselfly; Azure Damselfly and at least two Hairy Dragonflies. Later on a stroll through pleasant woodland brought us to the Island Mere Hide where we spotted several Bearded Tits in the reeds (though they were quite difficult to see because of the strong breeze,) and four Marsh Harriers, but we didn’t connect with Bittern (despite a booming male somewhere out in the reedbed).


The afternoon was spent at Southwold with a pleasant stroll along the beach and a couple of stops for more tea/coffee. Some of the photographs here have been posterised to (hopefully) improve the overall effect.

                                                                                           SAND MARTINS

                                                                                        SAND MARTINS

                                                           SWALLOW

                                                                                           SWALLOW

13 – 20 APRIL 2016


Not a great deal happening as yet in terms of migrating birds, as we haven’t had a good spell of easterly or southerly winds to promote it, so I’ve not captured much with the camera.


Garden Blackbirds have continued to nest (one pair nesting in the front hedge and one pair at the rear of the garden in the ivy) and these have provided some opportunities for me.


At Thorley Wash, near Bishop’s Stortford, the year’s first local Cuckoo was briefly observed, and with a newly arrived Willow Warbler were the only highlights. The Cuckoo was my second earliest on 13th April, a day later than in 2015. Over a period of several years now this species had proved remarkably consistent, arriving within a six day window 12-18 April.


A trip to Abberton Reservoir in Essex on 20th, was slightly disappointing too with little in the way of movement, except for good numbers of Common Terns (well in excess of 50); a male Common Whitethroat with a half-hearted song stubbornly failed to show itself; a Common Sandpiper; a few Swallows and that was about it in terms of bird migration. Instead, I concentrated my efforts in gaining shots of a pair of Great Crested Grebes in pre-nuptial display - which was like watching a lovely choreographed ballet; but they kept their distance, which meant that photographic opportunities were fairly restricted. Skylarks sang their beautiful song overhead…………….a really good sign that hopefully, spring has finally arrived.

5 APRIL 2016


I had fully intended to take a bus down to Spellbrook, then walk along the Stort Navigation to Tednambury and back to Stortford; but I met someone I used to know at the Bishop’s Stortford Camera Club, and she asked me in to show me around her garden (which was a lovely, tranquil haven). A Reeves Muntjac was feeding in a field adjacent to the rear of her garden, which was the first she’s seen there; and whilst we were talking, a Red Kite was observed circling overhead, which was her first and my second record at Spellbrook since I moved to Stortford in 2002. Cloud cover had increased by the time I restarted my walk, so I left out Tednambury and took in Thorley Wash instead.  No new migrant birds to see, so I continued on to Twyford Lock where I took a welcome break at the lock side.  It was a bit busy here with at least five other people, making it difficult to observe a pair of Grey Wagtails for any length of time.


Just past the lock and the familiar song of a male Blackcap could just be heard amid the tumbling waters at the sluice, so I took the time to observe the bird for a while (my first in five months, since October last year). There was no evidence of a Nuthatch or a Treecreeper as I continued along the navigation until I came to a small clearing, adjacent to Rushy Mead Nature Reserve (managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust). Suddenly a Red Kite came into view over Twyford fields, followed closely by two others once the first had moved over the river to Rushy Mead.


Of course it was hard to see the birds clearly through the surrounding trees, but eventually I managed a few decent shots against the blue sky and white puffy cumulus. So, I ended the day with a total of four Red Kites, when previously I’d only ever seen single birds. It was a major event for me.

3 APRIL 2016  - GARDEN SIGHTINGS


Having missed out on photographing a Red Kite from the garden the day before, once I’d completed a few garden chores, I sat in the garden waiting to see which birds I could see today. I also took the opportunity to photograph this year’s crop of frogs from the garden pond, having saved an adult from its demise – one which I’d found an hour or so previously laying tummy up on the lawn (indeed one of around 10 discovered on the lawn over the past week or so and all of which were lost).


Nothing of note came by (or over) until I was having lunch when I just happened to look out of the front room window and in the sky were at least three Buzzards soaring. I grabbed my binoculars and camera ready for possible action and ran out into the back garden where four buzzards were seen quite high up followed by a lone Red Kite, which was flying south at considerably lower altitude – in fact low enough for me to attempt a few shots…………………the first time I’d succeeded in gaining any photographic evidence from the garden.


Later, back in the garden I think I might have discovered the culprit in the frog saga…………………a pair of stunning Carrion Crows, one of which was observed with said frog in its bill! Up until then I’d been rather perplexed as to what was taking the frogs, since I’d previously observed two separate cats (on different occasions) pawing the surface of our tiny pond…………….and had concluded (possibly wrongly) that a cat was to blame. A little earlier in the afternoon I’d been fortunate to get photographs of a Carrion Crow at the bird table. Other species photographed included a Starling and a pair of Blackbirds which are nesting in the ivy at the bottom of our garden.

17 MARCH 2016 – THORLEY WASH ETC


I couldn’t resist the urge to get out as the morning was fresh and clear, despite a keen north-easterly.

So, I took the trail down through Rushy Mead Nature Reserve along the Stort, then Tywford Lock, following the Stort down to Thorley Wash and back. There wasn’t a great deal to see but it was good to be out in the sunshine. There were two male Siskin at Rushy Mead; with a male Nuthatch calling wildly without revealing himself; and at Thorley Wash a Goldcrest (my second sighting ever for the site); two singing male Chiffchaffs – new in for the year ; and a trio of Common Buzzards, their mewing calls cutting through the morning air.  And on the way back at Twyford Lock, a pair of Grey Wagtails were observed in pre-nuptial display at quite close quarters.

16th JANUARY 2016 - LEA COUNTRY PARK


We were a bit undecided where to go that was fairly local, so we opted for Lea Country Park, near Cheshunt, Herts.


It had been a particularly frosty night, so there was quite a bit of ice about, and some of the lakes were slightly frozen over. But although it was cold, the sun was beginning to make headway; and better still, there was very little if any wind.


Bird numbers were disappointingly low however, especially wildfowl numbers, so there was very little to observe save a few gulls; cormorants; mute swans; and a small variety of ducks like Tufted; Mallard; Shoveler etc.  A trio of Goosander comprising two stunning drakes with an attractive female were the only birds of note…………………. that is, until we got to the Bittern Hide.


Luckily it wasn’t anywhere near as full of birdwatchers as was normal on a weekend, so we were able to get seats looking out over the reedbeds; so we took up our seats and waited for the show to begin. I was aware that a bittern had been seen here  recently, although it had  always extremely elusive; so I wasn’t expecting to connect – I was more hopeful of seeing a pair of Water Rail, which had been seen that very morning. To be fair we’d only been present for 20 minutes or so when – quite out of the blue - a bittern came into view as it crossed a small channel cut between two reedbeds, and almost in a flash had disappeared into reeds on the other side. It was a brief glimpse, and really I hadn’t had sufficient time to utilise the camera in the way I would have hoped. But I guess one picture is better than none, and with a little tweaking, a reasonable final image was obtained. The Water Rails failed to show whilst were there.

7th JANUARY 2016 – ABBERTON RESERVOIR, ESSEX

The first birding trip of the year (with Gary Raven) promised much in the way of a reasonable species count to get my 2016 bird list off to a good start. Weather forecasters predicted clearing conditions with sunny spells, but they were a little wide of the mark, because virtually the moment we arrived the heavens opened and we were effectively stranded in the car for a good 30 minutes.  Abberton is often affected by gusty winds, even at the best of times, but on this occasion the squall which hit us was arguably one of the hardest I’d experienced here. When it eventually eased it was clear that we were not going to be blessed with a good species count as quite frankly the reservoirs were almost bereft of birds. But we persevered and were rewarded in the end with excellent close views of Little Egret and both drake and female Goosander - arguably one of the more attractive of our wintering species - together with a smattering of the more common varieties of duck and other species.