Thursday, July 20, 2006

A quiet month

July is the quietest month in the birding calendar. Some birds have already started their outward migration from the UK, others are beginning their autumn moult, youngsters are getting thier final 'life' lessons from parents.

Despite knowing this we went full of expectation to Pitsford having set aside the whole day to meander round the 7.5 mile walk. We were back in the car less than three and a half hours later having seen almost nothing. However the light was excellent so I did manage to get a couple of improved snaps including this Little Grebe:

The Lapwings on the causeway didn't appreciate us walking past:

I am very pleased with this snap of a Common Tern:

Finally we had an unusual visitor to our garden, a Rock Dove with a red ring on one leg. I didn't get to read the ring but I reckon this is a racing pigeon that's a long way from home. It stayed around and fed regularly for a week or two and then was gone.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

East Anglia Holiday - Day 10

The last day of our trip consisted of a visit to Wicken Fen, close to our B&B accommodation. By now the heat wave was on and the air had become quite humid so even with a 9am start at the reserve it was very quickly oppressive. By 10am the hides were unusable as hey had the effect of concentrating the heat and with no breeze they had no ventilation. We heard a couple of Cetti’s at the reserve but no sightings.

The second hide we checked out was opposite this small island and the group of Grey Herons, some of whom were cooling themselves already:

The next hide we stopped at probably faces a pool most of the year, but this summer it is a shallow mud scrape, being used by these ponies to try and cool down:

I wonder how they coped as when we left it was already 29 degree and it hit 33 degrees that afternoon. Finally having decided to stick to just the inner loop of the reserve we saw this Juvenile Barn Swallow (note the distinctive yellow bib - that'll be a dark red bib when he 'grows up').

So headed home, we'd walked 72 miles and seen plenty of new birds and some very attractive parts of this country. Our next job is to update the bird list and UK count... (152!) but we will definately be heading back to both Norfolk and Suffolk this winter, and might just squeeze in a long weekend in autumn.

East Anglia Holiday - Day 9 pt 2

In the far pool there was a large group of summer plumage Black-tailed Godwits, they are so different it's almost like seeing a new bird:

Again, apologies for the technology but this is the best snap I could get of the very distinctive upper-body colours, and it clearly shows the half yellow, half black beak:

Making further progress along the path we spotted this Whitethroat showing well:

and close by some Juvenile Whitethroats, including this one:

We went on from Welney to the RSPB reserve at the Ouse Washes ( which was deserted, being almost completely absent of both humans and bird-life. The humans were watching England struggle against Portugal while the birds were struggling with the heat! This reserve sounds like an excellent place to visit in the winter with one notable word of caution. As you can see from the above link some locals and visitors like their 'killing for pleasure' so Sunday is the only guaranteed quiet day.

A quiet day in which we ambled for 6 miles.

East Anglia Holiday - Day 9 pt 1

Day 9, Saturday, saw us back at Lakenheath Fen, early (for us!). Full circle from the start of the holiday but we headed back for two reasons (1) hoping to see the Golden Oriole and (2) because it just such a beautiful place. It is peaceful despite the odd train passing the back of the reserve and a few paces from the car park you are in an environment which is clearly supporting wildlife in significant numbers.

We didn’t see the Orioles but there were lots of Reed and Sedge Warblers including this one:

These little birds don't hang around to be snapped and you can see this one is about to dive into cover. Over the lake a Common Tern hovers before diving in to catch a fish:

And on the lake itself a young Mute Swan family are getting their sea legs:

Next we headed to the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust reserve at Welney ( In summer Welney is a completely different place gone are the thousands of migrant ducks, waders, geese and swans of winter, instead there are some small resident populations of waders, mallards and mute swans as well as the summer visitors including Warblers and Wagtails. This view is taken from the hide on the far right of the reserve where in winter you get the best views of the departing and arriving wild birds:

This Reed Bunting was showing really well along the path between the hides:

Monday, July 03, 2006

East Anglia Holiday - Day 8

Another day, another tricky sighting. We were on a walk from Sutton Hoo ( again from the AA's 1001 Walks in Britain book. We'd been taking in the view along the River Deben:

when we turned a corner into a ploughed field and saw two birds, I immediately said 'crakes', as the ran across the field away from us. I was too busy watching these mainly brown birds through my binoculars to take a snap until they were some distance away:

We tried to creep along the side of the field to relocate them but they'd gone to ground. As we got nearer to their hiding spot one flew away across the hay field, the other stayed and continued to make long mechanical call, whether warning or otherwise I don't know but the bird and the 'song' combined lead us to believe we had seen Corncrakes. We listened to this call for a good few minutes and had plenty of time to check the bird guide for this and the other possible species based on shape, colour and sound and confirmed this view.

Getting over the excitement of this we carried on with the walk and spotted another Yellowhammer:

We got closer by circling around and hot a good rear view of the bird:

We also saw Red-legged partridge and youngsters. Finally in the farmland before the turf farm we saw these two deer. They didn't hang around once they'd detected us but I managed to get this snap. Interestingly one of the Roe Deer was an uncommon black variety:

Along then to Witchford, for our final B&B accommodation, although not at a venue I'd recommend. Again we saw Red-legged Partridge, as well as a Turtle Dove on a local telephone wire and as the evening drew in, a Little Owl perched on a telegraph pole at binocular only range.

A very hot day for seven miles of walking.

East Anglia Holiday - Day 7

So back to Sizewell again looking for Black Redstart, again without success. We did however find a very interesting bird. It is clearly a wagtail and equally clearly not a Pied Wagtail (body shape, tail length, markings and colour scheme), nor is it a Yellow or a Grey Wagtail (no yellow anywhere!). In fact the only bird in my bird guide (Collins Bird Guide) it could be is a Citrine Wagtail 1st Winter. The sighting was corroborated by a couple we met who do volunteer work at the nearby Minsmere reserve and who contacted the County Bird recorder with the sighting. We took our time eliminating all the other possibilities, checking and rechecking and trained the scope on it to confirm details. So here are the first two snaps of the Citrine Wagtail:

If this truly is a Citrine Wagtail and I believe it is, it's a long long way from home. We then headed back to the car park ready to head on to RSPB North Warren when we spotted a pair of these birds, here's a snap of one bird showing clearly from this pair (and they were a pair as they moved together):

The only other explanation in my view is a cross breed between a Citrine and a Pied or Grey Wagtail but I believe this is even more unlikely. In amongst all the excitement of the Citrine Wagtail, I also snapped this Skylark flying past:

With the scope we checked out nearer of the two platforms above the hot water outlets from Sizewell and I am certain there were breeding Kittiwake including one nest with two youngsters in, which is further south than Lowestoft and much further south than Yorkshire!

North Warren was very quiet (, we didn't see any of the Woodlark and got bitten to death on one of the paths but it made for a good walk. We did see this Whitethroat displaying near a visitors bench:

A seven mile day.

East Anglia Holiday - Day 6 pt 3

From Minsmere we headed on to Sizewell and the local car park. The area around the Nuclear Power station is very quiet as people tend to avoid going there. Again we'd picked a walk from the AA's 10001 Walks in Britain. We particularly wanted to see Black Redstart as there is a colony close to Sizewell A, between it and the car park. The walk takes you inland from the car park and away from Sizewell. Then it turns on to Sandy Lane. As the path narrows we encountered Lesser Whitethroats in the hedge there but I was unable to get any of them in a picture. A little further along and I could hear a different Dove call, a gap in the hedge showed a Turtle Dove perched on a power line over a barley field.

We followed the walk on encountering warblers and garden birds and then turned back towards the power station along the coast. I like the way Sizewell B's dome is half concealed by the trees in this picture:

Just before we walked in front of Sizewell B we saw some birds in the bushes to our right, they were Redstart rather than Black Redstart and the light was against us but I managed this snap:

We resolved to come back to Sizewell first thing in the morning to try again to see a Black Redstart. All in all we managed 11 miles today.

East Anglia Holiday - Day 6 pt 2

The last snap from around the Sluice gate and the path beyond is of this female Stonechat, a completely different bird to black headed male:

We followed the path along the beach side of the reserve to the East Hide, which is right in front of a Black-headed Gull colony, which is a very noisy and smelly place. These youngsters were begging for food from any bird that came within a yard:

We also saw Spotted Redshank for the first time, and they are a remarkable colour, almost starling like but with long legs and beaks!

On from the hide and heading back to the visitor centre we still hadn't seen a Bittern but the next five minutes were to prove very rewarding. First I spotted this Bearded Reedling youngster in the reeds:

Then the male Bearded Reedling, who posed nicely for a snap:

And finally in the last ten minutes of our visit to Minsmere we spotted a Marsh Harrier flying out close to some trees, only it wasn't a Marsh Harrier - the profile was wrong, so I immediately started snapping, even though the Bittern was at some distance:

Watching her fly was really quite something as we'd been wanting to see a Bittern since we first started birding last year. We got a 180 degree arc as she took off to our left and landed in the reeds to our right. This was a genuinely goosebump moment! Minsmere lived up to its billing as one of the foremost reserves in the country. But our day hadn't finished there, next stop Sizewell and a 7 mile walk we had planned there...

East Anglia Holiday - Day 6 pt 1

And so to Minsmere (, the centre of this holiday and our goal of seeing a Bittern. We knew the visitor centre opened at 9am so we arrived shortly afterwards to minimise contact with other humans and with a view to seeing as many birds as possible. The staff were very friendly and helpful and pointed us in the right direction to see our first Bittern...! So we headed out to the Bittern hide. Being impatient we waited for only about 20 minutes before getting itchy feet and heading on. We've found sitting waiting for birds to come to you much less successful than getting out on foot and going to find them.

Between the Bittern and Island Mere hides we got some great views of Marsh Harriers including this one taking off:

We tried the Island Mere hide next and saw our first Little Gulls - two of them darting around on top of the water. There were at least 5 Hobbies and 3 Marsh Harriers visible too - but still no Bittern. We trekked on to the Canopy hide but this was a waste as we didn't see a single bird from this hide so quickly abandoned it and headed back round to the visitors centre and the other circular path.

The West hide had excellent views of some waders, mostly Avocet and lots of Black-headed Gulls, we even saw a gull take a young Mallard chick, fly up with it, and drop it back from about 12 feet high, which wasn't pleasant. Most impressive of all though were the Little Terns, out of camera range but excellent through the scope. Four of them were sat or wandering around on the closest island so we got some excellent views.

The South hide was gulls again and some waders so we headed up to the Sluice where this Barn Swallow was taking a rest from feeding:

In the bushes around the sluice, we spotted this pair of Linnets:

As you can see on this female, the distinctive red of the male is absent:

This Wren was showing well with his tail cocked in the familiar position:

East Anglia Holiday - Day 5 pt 2

Our primary ambition for Dunwich Heath was to see a Dartford Warbler. The first bird of note we sighted though was this Meadow Pipit:

We followed the advice of the birders we’d met back at Cley Marshes and explored the path behind the loos and all around that mound area, finding lots of Reed Warblers but nothing else. We then followed the coastal path towards Minsmere and walked along the edge of the reserve all to no avail. The evening was getting on so we decided to complete the 2+ mile walk back to the car following the walk directions. As we headed along the path inland and uphill we spotted some small birds flitting around the branches of a dead shrub. On closer inspection they turned out to be Dartford Warblers, evident from their tails. We had found a family, feeding their young as you can see from this snap showing an adult male (left) and juvenile:

Here’s a view of that tail shape – it really is quite distinctive, and a good guide if the light is poor:

Walking back at pace now we spotted this Stonechat perched prominently:

On the last stretch of grass path we flushed a pair of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers and spooked a bird at some distance, which we completely failed to identify, as it was across private land.

Eventually we made it back to the car and on to our next accommodation a Bed & Breakfast called Lime Tree House in Benhall Green near Saxmundham ( In my opinion the best B&B I have stayed in as Linda, the hostess makes sure every breakfast is different, the bedrooms are big and airy as are the adjoining bathrooms and they leave you to yourself, which I really appreciate.

We walked for a total of 11 miles.

East Anglia Holiday - Day 5 pt 1

Day 5 saw us heading in to Lowestoft to get a back-up battery charger from Jessops, an all-purpose one for £49.99 which hurt the wallet but was essential. I got them to charge one of the batteries while we headed out to the end of the South Pier. From here you can see a man made 'cliff-face' which is in fact a purpose built Kittiwake breeding wall, which was covered in Kittiwakes. Apparently this is the only place south of the Yorkshire coast where they breed (a fact I dispute later in the week). But it is clear a simple concrete construction can have a significant impact on a birds’ ability to breed. Unfortunately no camera, so no snaps :(

Having collected the charger and battery we headed to the north end of the town following directions from the ‘Where to watch birds – Britain’ book (by Simon Harrap and Nigel Redman, ISBN 0-7136-4137-1) which is our birding bible and is central to planning the vast majority of our trips. What we found is a seafront in decline with businesses closed and the general area run-down and no birds to speak of at all.

We decided to head down to Dunwich Heath and try and find a Dartford Warbler!

We’d decided to ‘do’ Dunwich Heath ( using a walk taken from the AA’s 1001 Walks in Britain. The walk starts by heading into Dingle Marshes ( an adjacent RSPB reserve:

It then cuts along the shore towards Dunwich Heath, with Sizewell clearly visible on the Horizon. There was single Ringed Plover hopping along the shingle:

Back on the track and heading inland there were tens of Skylarks all around including this one who seemed braver than most:

Finally after getting back on to the coastal path, past Dunwich itself we got to Dunwich Heath:

East Anglia Holiday - Day 4

On day 4, Monday, it rained continuously and mostly heavy rain, so not a single snap. We first stopped off at Carlton Marshes having now arrived in Suffolk ( The reserve itself seemed decent enough but a combination of the weather and the fact that due to them hosting an A Level group the visitor centre was closed to adults (an Ofsted ruling apparently!) meant we only did a short walk and then headed off pretty disappointed. We had lunch at a garden centre then headed on to Strumpshaw Fen (, which was completely different. It was still raining heavily but at least the reserve was 'open', albeit deserted. We will definitely head back to Strumpshaw, the reserve itself looks very promising, the hides are well located and we left with a very good impression of the place. I wanted to take a snap from the heights of the Tower hide (least I think it was called that - excellent views!) but found that my camera had drained my second and only back-up battery and my charger was at home - a four hour drive away :( Much fretting later I decided to buy a new charger if I could.

Soggy and cold we headed back to our hotel to watch the football and fight with a bottle of red wine (we lost). A damp 5 miles, not helped by my boots leaking too :(

East Anglia Holiday - Day 3

On the morning of Day 3, Sunday, we popped back to Cley Marshes in the morning before heading off to Hickling Broad (

Hickling is another beautiful location with loads of birds, but it is rather awkward to get to. We did however see large numbers of Reed and Sedge Warblers and Long-tailed tits, amongst others. There's one path, beyond the Bittern Hide (nothing doing there - we waited for half an hour then headed on) where we were accompanied along by Long-tailed Tits and a Cetti's Warbler. This is very unusual behaviour for a Cetti's but reflects the fact that in certain locations their numbers are building up and therefore they are having more contact with humans and are becoming more gregarious. I tried to get a snap but the combination of a lack of light and dense foliage thwarted me. Cetti's song is stand-out, literally, completely unmistakable and quite an achievement for such a small bird. We were talking with some other reserve visitors on the path and were able to identify the bird to them from the call alone.

Once off this path we meandered around the reserve taking in the hides. from one we got a good view of a family of Goldfinch feeding, including these two youngsters:

We had heard Hickling has roosting Common Cranes so decided to head down to the old pumping station which is outside of the main reserve/viewing area. As a consequence of this there was very little human activity along the path which meant the birds hadn't been flushed, and neither had the Muntjac Deer (but he didn't hang around long enough to snap!). There was one spot in particular where we caught site of this confusingly yellow bird, which is clearly a Yellowhammer - just much more yellow than our guide suggests he should be:

Returning from an unsuccesful foray to the pumping station the first Yellowhammer had been replaced by a second and much more conventionally coloured bird:

This perch however was clearly prime property as, having flushed the Yellowhammer by edging closer to take snaps, he was replaced by this Whitethroat:

On Sunday we walked a total of 6 miles.