Friday, 28 December 2018

Boxing Day

Wednesday 26th December, 2018.
Cliffe Pools RSPB.

On a rather grey, overcast and unseasonably warm Boxing Day afternoon we headed to Cliffe Pools in search of a leg-stretch, some fresh air and some birding.
We walked the circuit of the main pools up until dusk and whilst we failed to turn up anything truly notable it was rewarding if only for the wader roost.
We parked near the radar and walked clockwise out to Cliffe Creek. I scoped the ducks and grebes but found little out of the ordinary with 51 Pintail and 4 Goldeneye the highlight amongst hundreds of Shoveler, Teal and Tufted Duck.
On arrival I noticed that we had fortuitously timed our visit to coincide with high tide and as we reached Flamingo Pool we could see small groups of waders flying in to roost.
Over the next 30 minutes or so we stood in wonder as flocks of waders whizzed over the sea-wall either side of us and over onto Flamingo Pool. It even silenced the boys!
Conservative estimates;
Dunlin 1,900+
Grey Plover 80+
Ringed Plover 20+
Curlew 50+
Black-tailed Godwit 30+
Redshank 20+
Already on Flamingo were 100's of Lapwing. a few Avocet and a Greenshank.

We completed our circuit by dusk with small numbers of winter thrushes but very few Reed Bunting and no Corn Bunting today. A small flock of c40 Linnet, 5 Mipits and a Stonechat were the only other birds of note aside from the expected Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, handful of Buzzard and a couple of Marsh Harrier.
I though we'd missed out on any owls but as darkness fell whilst we were about to head home a Little Owl could be heard calling from the direction of Cliffe churchyard.

Monday, 24 December 2018

East Sussex

Saturday 22nd December, 2018.
Pagham Harbour.

We spent the weekend in Sussex at Jen's mums in Bognor and kicked off the weekend with a good walk around Pagham Harbour from Sidlesham Ferry to Church Norton and back. The weather was great; sunny, dry and still, and the high tide around mid-day allowing us to witness the roost and then get good views as the waders returned to feed on the mud.
Nothing especially notable though the wintering Whimbrel was good to see. Presume it's the same bird I've seen in the last couple of winters.
Very few Red-breasted Mergansers and no Slav's on the sea today.

Pagham Harbour

Pagham Harbour looking towards Church Norton

Pagham Harbour

Avocet roosting at high tide






Bar-tailed Godwit

Monday, 17 December 2018


Sunday 16th December, 2018.
Elmley track and Capel Fleet.

My son Alex's football team had a 10 o'clock KO so I was able to squeeze in a couple of hours birding on Sheppey this afternoon. If I'm honest it was not that productive; no owls, no cattle egrets, few passerines and no surprises but its always nice to be out and you never know what you might find............
Highlights were few; a single ringtail Hen Harrier along Capel Fleet, the regular Corn Bunting flock and in the greater Capel Fleet area 30+ Marsh Harrier and 15+ Buzzards.

Elmley NNR

Lapwing; I simply never tire of seeing these beautiful birds


Abberton Reservoir, Mersea Island and Hanningfield Reservoir.

Saturday 15th December, 2018.
Essex; Abberton Reservoir, Cudmore Grove CP & Hanningfield Reservoir.

In my 20's and 30's I did an immense amount of birding and twitching with James Hunter but family commitments and diverging interests have led to our outings becoming a fairly rare event. We'd planned to meet up today but the forecast was terrible; strong westerly winds and heavy rain due in the afternoon. Not wanting to be beaten by the weather I suggested Abberton Reservoir and an early start to make the most of the expected dry morning.
We started at the church viewpoint soon after 08.00 and it proved a good spot to start. James quickly found the long-staying drake Ring-necked Duck and we also saw Red-b Merg, 14+ Goldeneye, 2 Peregrines and a host of ducks. The adjacent hawthorns held plenty of Fieldfare and Redwing.
Next stop was the Layer Breton causeway where we quickly found out how sheltered the previous spot had been! You certainly couldn't let go of your tripod and it was really uncomfortable in the strong wind. We had a redhead Smew, 20 redhead Goosander, 5 Great-white Egrets, 20 Little Egrets and a Sparrowhawk.
At the Layer de la Haye causeway there was even more to comb through and we eventually saw the drake Smew, 23 Goosander (20 drakes), a Black-necked Grebe and a mixed flock of 1,000+ Pochard and Tufted. A Peregrine flew past as we checked the muddy edges for waders but we only found a Dunlin.
It was now midday and we drove across onto Mersea Island to Cudmore Grove CP on the edge of the Colne Estuary. Now looking for a single Shore Lark on a small shingle point does not seem much of a challenge but throw in a strong wind easily gusting to 30+ mph and you have a different game.
We did eventually find it with a couple of Skylark but photography was impossible and it did not allow close approach so rather than kick it all over the point we watched from a distance and slogged back to the car in the wind and a light drizzle.
Back at the car at just after 2pm the rain started in earnest and I drove south in increasingly wetter weather. We stopped at Hanningfield Reservoir as it was en-route and quickly located a single Bean Goose in the gloom. There were 14 Goosander too but we left it at that rather than get a soaking just before dark.  Despite the weather we rated it a good day out and a decent catch-up.

Abberton Reservoir from the church viewpoint

Abberton Reservoir from the Layer Breton causeway.

Cudmore Grove CP looking out onto the Colne Estuary

Cudmore Grove CP looking out onto the Colne Estuary

Monday, 10 December 2018

Hume's saves the day...........

Sunday 9th December, 2018.
Shirley Moor, Lade Gravel Pits & Burrowes Pit.

After a fun night out with a few close birding friends and our long-suffering wives at the Chilston Park Hotel,  Mike Buckland and I took the opportunity to grab an afternoons birding.
We started on Shirley Moor, just outside Tenterden, looking for a Great-grey Shrike that had been seen earlier in the day and on at least a couple of days previously. Despite a fair amount of searching and scoping we failed to find it in bright, if rather breezy conditions. A Red Kite and a handful of Buzzards and winter thrushes was the best we could find.
With just a few hours of daylight left we dashed down to Lade Pits at Greatstone to look for the Hume's Warbler that's been present a few days though proving rather elusive.
After about 40 minutes searching all we'd seen were a few Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and a Red-necked Grebe. We started our walk back to the car when Mike suddenly dashed ahead as the Hume's had started calling; all I could hear at first was his feet on the shingle.
The Hume's showed really well for a few minutes in sunlit bushes on the main causeway before disappearing as quickly as it had appeared.
Feeling a lot happier now we headed to Burrowes Pit on the RSPB Dungeness reserve in anticipation of something good in the gull roost. It started well with a Barn Owl along the entrance track and 5 Mergansers from Makepeace hide but unfortunately very few gulls flew in to roost despite the fact we stayed until dark.

Hume's Warbler in the late afternoon sunshine.

Hume's Warbler

Hume's Warbler

Hume's Warbler

Monday, 3 December 2018

Higham & Cliffe........rain, mud and grebes

Saturday 1st December, 2018.
Higham & Cliffe.......Timber Lake, Higham Bay and the Alpha Pool.

The forecast was spot on; wet, windy and cool. After a morning of heavy rain had subsided and with just a few hours of light available I headed out to Cliffe to see if I could connect with the scarce grebes on Alpha Pool.
I parked at Higham church and walked out to the Alpha Pool along the footpath which skirts the "Timber Lake". There was a flock of over 250 Fieldfare with a few Redwing mixed in and a Peregrine swooped over but it was generally quiet in light drizzle. The path was very muddy with some quite deep stretches and was tricky in places; I was nearly on my bum a couple of times!
Up onto the bunds near the sea wall it was a case of dodge the horse - there are dozens- then negotiate muddy slopes on the approach to Alpha Pool. I met up with Barry Wright briefly, we'd chatted earlier in the day, then I slogged on to the far end near Cliffe fort to see the Red-necked Grebes. It seems to be scarcer in Kent these days so 2 together was excellent though the light was poor which was a shame because they were fairly approachable.
There were also 2 Black-necked Grebes and 130+ Little Grebes and 40+ Great-crested.  A single female/imm Red-breasted Merganser added to a tidy haul.
With dusk approaching, and in the gloom anyhow, I slogged back to the car.
It's always worth getting out, whatever the weather.

Timber Lake, Higham

The sea-wall on Higham Bight - close to breached. It was repaired a few days later.

Higham marshes looking west towards Gravesend

Red-necked Grebe - digiscoped

Red-necked Grebe - digiscoped

Sunday, 25 November 2018

As winter approaches..............

Saturday 24th November, 2018.
Dungeness; some lighter moments in the gloom.

It's been a rather quiet autumn in many ways on the birding front. A lack of easterlies left birders from Shetland to Kent contemplating what might have been.
I'd arranged to go birding with Barry (Wright) when Mike (Buckland) called to say he was around so we teamed up and headed to Dungeness aware that the forecast was poor but that it might stay relatively dry and calm until dusk. As it turned out that was pretty much what happened and we concentrated our efforts on a relatively small area, namely the ARC and the greater RSPB area.
We started at Cockles Bridge, just off the RSPB reserve, where we had 4 Bewick's Swans, my first of the autumn/winter. Next stop was the ARC where from the Hanson Hide we had a good mix of waders and wildfowl and Mike and Barry were soon finding Caspian Gulls. We had two; a near adult and another that was ringed; HC62A and Mike contacted the ringer and was told that it was ringed near Minsk in Belarus on 17/06/16. Now a third-winter bird it had not been reported for nearly a year and not reported from Britain for 2 years!
We strolled up to the screen hide on the back of ARC and then up to the railway crossing. Hearing Redpoll, Barry "taped" them in; 3 standard Lessers. We had up to 4 Chiffchaff, Kingfisher and several Sparrowhawks.
On our way into the RSPB Reserve we paused long enough to see a single Cattle Egret before parking up and wandering over to the Marsh Hide. That produced a Merlin (fem/imm), another    Great White Egret and the usual common wildfowl. From Christmas Dell we had a female/imm Common Scoter that had been present at least a couple of days and Bearded Tits and at least 2 more Chiffs.
To finish we watched from Makepeace hide hoping for a decent gull roost but it was not that productive though we managed a single 1W Caspian and a few more waders.
Given the gloomy weather and the small area we covered it was a pretty reasonable day out and always good to catch up with friends.

Great-white Egret on ARC from Hanson.

Great-white Egret on ARC from Hanson (same shot as above just cropped).


Great-crested Grebe

Caspian Gull 1W (centre)