Wednesday, 2 August 2017

July Birding Summary - Essex, Kent, Essex and the South Yorkshire Moorlands

July - were we in the summer birding doldrums or was it the start of the birding autumn?

To be honest it was a bit of both at the start of the month as a couple visits to Rainham Marshes RSPB over the first two weekends produced southbound Whimbrel and Green Sandpipers, and yet plenty of time was spent taking in breeding Bearded Tits and the Lepidoptera and Odonata of the season. Always wanted to see the aptly named Scarce Emerald Damselfly, but despite the Thames estuary being a hotspot for this recent coloniser from the continent it's not easy to connect with along the public trails at Rainham Marshes RSPB. Tried to convince myself of one Damselfly on site being of this type, but following a RFI and further thought I reckon it was probably the Common Emerald Damselfly. Please judge for yourself, it's shown below.

A mid-month wandering to Kent as I've wanted to see the next twitchable (for me) and within reason 'local' Marsh Sandpiper. Not seen this rarity for many a year, checking up and it's just shy of 9 years. When an opportunity arose with a very good supporting cast it was one not to refuse, even if twitching by train, bus and Shank's pony were the only options.

Firstly using a return train ticket from London town to Faversham (for Oare Marshes) allowed me to break the journey at Rochester (for Cliffe Pools RSPB). The Marsh Sandpiper at 'Cliffe' was showing at distance soon after arrival, but it spent most of this one hour visit out of view. Then it was time for some but not all of the breeding Black-winged Stilts to steal attention (3 ads and 4 juvs of varying sizes). Not to forget the mass of passage Black-tailed Godwits and scattering of Mediterranean Gulls. After leaving the site I sadly made no time to take in the delights of Rochester Castle and this picturesque town/city on arriving back there by bus, was soon on the train heading east to Faversham. It was now mid pm but timing was good as I did not have long to wait for a bus at Faversham Railway Station to Oare. I was soon walking down the lane at Oare village to Oare Marshes which lies opposite the Isle of Sheppey to the north. First impressions was that this could be and probably is a gem of a birding site. A group of birders were watching and 'papping' the visitor from North America I was chasing after, the returning adult Bonaparte's Gull. It showed very well to the backdrop of camera clicks and a 'purring' Turtle Dove from a distant hedgerow. I hope future conservationists will not be writing about this Dove species in 100 years time along the lines of Dr Mark Avery's excellent yet sad summary of the plight of the North American Passenger Pigeon. The odds are not looking good though! Back at the flood lots of roosting Black-tailed Godwits (300+) surely all islandica. Begs the question 'Have I ever seen the limosa subspecies in the UK?' A couple were colour-ringed, but I could only get partial readings due to the annoyance of their one-legged synchronised roosting technique! A Black-headed Gull sporting a yellow colour-ring (2FPX) had the hallmarks of a Thames Estuary ringed bird. It had been ringed by the North Thames Gull Group at Pitsea, Essex in December 2014 and seen on one other occasion at Oare Marshes in March 2015. A female-type Garganey swam by one of the islands minding its own business. Another day this could have been the focus of attention, so I tried to give it equal viewing. Not a bad day's twitching.

Secondly, a week later on Sunday 23 July saw me do a similar double whammy this time taking the train to Southend but stopping off at Benfleet en route to twitch the beautiful Southern Migrant Hawker, a recent Thames Estuary visitor and potential coloniser. A ditch south of Benfleet Railway Station over on Canvey Island and just to the north of the A130 held double figures of this stunner. Personally they played second fiddle as the same ditch was home to similar numbers of the Scarce Emerald Damselfly. Nice to have close and prolonged looks, but after a good hour or so on site I left for Southend as shower clouds approached.

Arrived at Southend where the mission was to take a walk down the pier to check out its Mediterranean Gull offering. Turned out not too bad, approx 20 birds present mainly adults with a couple each of juvs, 1st summers and 2nd summers. One adult with a white colour-ring was probably of Belgium, Dutch or German origin. Details just in - 'E494' ringed in Belgium in 2010. A dozen or so Turnstones in an array of partial summer plumage supported the notion that the birding autumn was here.

A quick visit back home to see mum and dad at the end of July. Birded the South Yorkshire moorland edge with my dad and we bumped into loads of locals giving the area good coverage. The decent numbers of Kestrels on view throughout thee weekend was pleasing to note, 3 sites covered yielded double figures at each. Also, a young Peregrine was already mastering the glide forever technique characteristic of this wanderer, before showers kept raptors low. A couple of upland Hobby sightings with one taking a dislike to a Red Kite patrolling one site. Buzzards and Sparrowhawk were present and evidence of the start to autumn passage came in the form of a juvenile Marsh Harrier. It dropped in from high to the east at one site. Away from the raptors an adult (prob 3rd winter) Mediterranean Gull was elusive amongst Black-headed Gulls feeding in fields near Ingbirchworth Reservoir. Elsewhere Little Owls had bred well as a family sunbathed in the shelter of the prevailing winds.

More photos at the Latest UK Bird Photos section, click on the tab at the top of the screen.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Birding Videos Update

A couple of birding videos uploaded to my YouTube channel. Please enjoy.

Bonaparte's Gull (

The adult returned to Oare Marshes, Kent again this summer and showed very well on my visit in mid July. I would like to think the clicking in the background is the Black-headed Gull having a good scratch, but no it was the North American visitor being well and truly 'papped'. A cracking site, loads of Black-tailed Godwits on show and a Garganey, but the Gull was the centre of attention.

Cape May Compilation (

Another brilliant visit to the best birding site in North America IMHO, second best site in the world but it's almost on equal terms with birding the Barnsley Area! Highlights include Northern Harrier, Shorebirds, American Herring Gull and lingering Ducks as well as loads and loads of Bald Eagles with one clip showing an adult rob an Osprey of its fish supper. A good variety of other birds shown from common ones to scarce visitors to the eastern seaboard like the White-faced Ibis.

More videos at YouTube, please click on the Birding Videos (YouTube) section at the top of the page.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

World Series of Birding 2017 and Cape May, NJ, USA - early May 2017

The sun was setting over Ocean City, NJ on a cool Friday night in early May. As the series of bridges linking the mainland with the New Jersey barrier islands came into view it was time to contemplate the task ahead.

'Was the plan in place, will the schedule work, what's the back up and what's the destination at the end game? Did 'The Captain' pack the T-shirts for all? So many questions, but the most important of all...would the 'B' word be mentioned?' ...Brigantine!

Thoughts returned to the immediate journey as the lights turned green at the Parkway intersection (Garden State not Sheffield). Soon crossing the back bay as the neon glow began to take hold of the eastern seaboard, shattering the leaden sky. Most birds were flying to roost whilst for the night herons it was showtime. The driver received the instructions a few hours ago and was now near completion of this first set of tasks:

  1. Locate the base a block north of 5th and 2nd
  2. Park by the exit
  3. Take the equipment out of the trunk
  4. Head to the north of the building
  5. Find Room 1867 don't forget the equipment (and sandwiches)
  6. Remember the secret code, 'Gotta have a WAWA!'
  7. Be there for 1930

The downtown location was easy to find. Scaling the steps in a manner that would make a Mountain Goat jealous the recipient arrived at Room 1867 (that's the necessary Sheffield Wednesday reference dealt with). Rapped on the door in the style of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and after passing on the wisdom of buying a hoagie at WAWA, the base was revealed. A dim light coming from a side table captured the gathered souls in its path. Most of the gang were in place preparing for the 'Big Day' as it is known by some. The instruments for the next 24 - 30 hours strewn across the room- notepad with tables full of timings, the obligatory DeLorme and 'roof prisms' on the table. A bleeping cell phone alerting us that 'The Captain' would arrive in 30 minutes. Were we all ready?

As 'The Machine' and 'The Cyclist' scrutinised the DeLorme, last minute route calculations being thrown into the mix, all hell was suddenly let loose. On receiving another message 'The Deputy' who up to now was sitting calmly and silently by the window suddenly exclaimed, " 'The Captain' wants to go to Brig!"...

Thirty minutes passed, 'The Captain' arrived on cue and we were soon making our way out of the coastal resort heading north. As we crossed the nearby Cape May/Atlantic County line all of our phones went off simultaneously, each of us receiving the same message. The anonymous messenger demanded the following code be cracked before the midnight Great Swamp rendezvous!


Yep, it was that time again, another attempt by Team 1000birds at the World Series of Birding. The above text may be a million miles away from a novel by Clancy or Forsyth (Fred not Bruce) and would even make Dan Brown cringe.

If you do want to find out how Team 1000 birds fared at WSB 2017 then please check out my trip report at 'Birding Trip Reports - Cape May, NJ, USA'.

Alternatively, please click on the following link - Cape May and World Series of Birding 2017.

It's a full trip report covering the birding week both before and after WSB as well, mainly in and around Cape May, NJ, USA. Birding video compilation to follow soon on my YouTube channel, enjoy.

  • Did Captain Nick go to Brig during the World Series of Birding? Click on the link to find out.
  • Go on, crack the 7-worded code!

Team 1000birds in action during the World Series of Birding 2017 - dipping a Red-headed Woodpecker! Captain Nick is happy - he's determined to go to Brigantine :)

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Twitching by Train eventually Terned out nice again

Back in 2002 I dipped the putative/possible/probable/definite Elegant Tern at Dawlish Warren, with my first sightings of this enigmatic species occurring on a Birdfinders tour of California (USA) some 10 years later. The finding of a colour ringed adult Elegant Tern on the British south coast this June was therefore very tempting from both listing and learning perspectives, especially given the news that this individual was identified as one of the summering birds found in European tern colonies over recent years. See the excellent Birdguides article, amazing records considering they are even rare on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, e.g. there's only one accepted record to date in New Jersey. Keen to learn more on these 'carrot-bills', familiar with Caspian Terns in Europe and North America as well as a couple of UK sightings, many (American) Royal Terns from trips to Cape May and California, a couple of Lesser Crested Terns in the UK in the 1990s, as well as the Elegant Terns nearly 5 years ago now, in California.

The weekend unfolded by 'playing it by ear', the bird seen briefly Friday afternoon. I did the usual Rainham RSPB birding on Saturday, and on this day the Elegant Term had now found its way to the Tern colony at Pagham Harbour RSPB, West Sussex, and seemed 'twitchable'. Checked out the travel options and a twitch by train, tube and bus was on the cards.

Sunday morning - arrived early at London Victoria after 45min travelling north to south across London via train and tube to then catch a train to the south coast shortly after 0800. All going well so far but a third of the way in the train was unexpectedly terminated at Three Bridges. Bemused passengers left to wait on the platform for the next train nearly one hour later, along with another birder
heading for the Elegant Tern who also had to leave the cancelled train. Despite the travelling hassles the countryside was pretty smart, crossing the picturesque South Downs and the view as Arundel Castle came into sight being particularly noteworthy. After arriving at Chichester (over one hour late) we got a taxi to Church Norton with the last half a mile being a walk down a gridlocked lane, reminding me of the scene on approaching the East Yorkshire Little Bustard twitch on its first afternoon a year or so ago.

Joined the crowds watching the Term colony from the base of the churchyard and had brief looks of the Elegant Tern within a few minutes. This was my only sighting of it on the deck, the colour, distinctive shape and length of the bill reminded me of the birds seen in California. Soon moved down the line of twitchers for a different angle in better light and over the next hour saw the bird several times in flight before watching it head out over the seawall when the local Peregrine paid the terns a visit (1240). Before being spooked it spent nearly all of its time out of sight, and when not focussing on the area below the 'silver car', 'pink house' or the 'basketball hoop' (or was it a satellite dish?) the "cawwing" Mediterranean Gulls were a nice distraction, but they very much played second fiddle on this occasion. Bit of an understatement to say that the Elegant Tern was a nice bird to see, it's not yet sunk in as to how rare this sighting was, perhaps a first for GB given the difficulties of getting this species accepted.

The journey back by similar transport means except for catching the bus from the reserve entrance back north to Chichester. Made time to look at an adult Peregrine devouring a pigeon at Chichester Cathedral before the train back to London town.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

UK Red-veined Darters (Norfolk)

I've taken more of an interest in butterflies and dragonflies when out birding in the summer months especially since using a Lumix FZ45 'bridge' camera over the last few years. Focus will always be on birding and seeing any Lepidopteta and Odonata in the vicinity will be a nice diversion should the opportunity arise. However, a few times I've deliberately twitched them, the last being this Spring Bank Holiday weekend. Inspired by Penny Clarke's Norfolk update on the Friday eve noting several Red-veined Darters in Norfolk, I took in Kelling Water Meadows the following day on the what you could say indirect route home for the long weekend in Yorkshire. I've come across this species in Cyprus and Germany, but always wanted to see them as a UK 'rare'. Not to be disappointed as on this sunny yet windy Saturday afternoon at least 2 males sunned themselves sat out of the wind on favourite thorny snags by the path skirting the northern end of the big pool. This was not a million miles away from the bush that held my only Radde's Warbler to date, way back in October 1991. The scarlet visitors put on a good show, as can be seen below, unlike that skulking Phyllosc.

More photos of this ilk updated at the 'Dragonflies' page and other updates at this page and also at 'Butterflies' are of images from a recent trip to Cape May, New Jersey. Birding trip report to follow but some images uploaded including Swamp Darner, Common Buckeye and Red-banded Hairstreak. Enjoy.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

What's that Black-headed Gull mobbing?.. an OSPREY!!!

Walking back down the river wall a couple of 100 yards from the visitors centre at Rainham Marshes RSPB. We got split up into two groups on this last part of the circuit due to different pacing, the significance of this was that all of a sudden all hell was let loose. I picked up a Black-headed Gull mobbing a bigger brown bird about 20 feet above the Thames just off the mud bank and say at the same distance to the visitors centre. The target of its displeasure was an Osprey!

We had cracking views as it flew past us heading upriver before turning north over the reserve. We tried to shout to our friends in front in vain, but unknown to us and equally unknown to them was that both parties had picked up the bird at the same time as transpired from rushed phone calls. The cracking fish eater departed high to the NE and I believe several birders and visitors connected with the Osprey thanks to the local radio network kicking in. A couple of record photos below.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Germany Part 2: Early Spring Birding

Back over in Karlsruhe visiting friends Chris and Sue over a long weekend Thu 23 - Sun 26 March. Nice bit of Spring sunshine and early warmth (high teens), most days with a freshening yet welcome NE wind. A day in the Black Forest (Fri) was colder around 5C rising to low teens in sparse sunny periods. Probably to be expected as we were in the clouds at 1000m.

Waghäusel the excellent marsh between Karlsruhe and Mannheim was productive, this being my first visit here so early in the season. We made 2 visits (23rd and 25th). Bluethroats were back in for the summer, yet remained elusive with 2 males seen and possibly a couple of others heard as well but at distance. A Water Pipit showed well along one muddy edge with at least 3 GW Egrets hiding in the marsh which also held a variety of duck including Garganey and 3 smart yet unexpected drake Scaup. 3 types of Grebes (many Black-necked and a couple or so Little and Great Cresteds), but no Purple Herons as yet. Plenty of White Storks overhead included a group of 11 (23rd). The sky was the place to look. Several​ Swallows headed north over the two visits with the last one producing a Sand Martin. Early season Black Kites were seen on both visits as were Red Kites, lots of Buzzard and Kestrel. A female type Goshawk soared over woodland (23rd). The star was an Osprey that spent time hunting over the reserve (25th). Chris glimpsed it pass over the northern perimeter of the marsh but it was lost behind the trees and after finding an opening​ we could not locate it heading north. However, a brief view of an adult male Hen Harrier flying north was a surprise. We headed back towards the central track and had an even nicer surprise when I spotted the Osprey hovering over the eastern side of the marsh. It spent the next 15 minutes actively hunting the marsh, where it delighted German birders and photographers before taking its fish tea over nearby woodland and out of sight.

Birded several sites in the Black Forest about 20km east of Achern, namely around Hotel Schliffkopf (HS), Siebelsecke (SIE) and Ruhestein (RUH). The biting NE wind low temps and visibility caused by the clouds rolling down the upland passes made for testing birding! The weather was worst at HS where we dipped out on Citril Finches and Ring Ouzels. A Redwing sheltered from the elements. The weather had hardly improved at RUH - the ski slope drenched in cloud, but a local mentioned that Citril Finch had disappeared from the areas we were birding. The cafe at SIE beckoned where the local "Cherry Cake" was top notch. On leaving the weather had improved and a walk up the partially snow covered ski slope produced a few Mistle Thrush and a couple of Black Woodpeckers sounded off in the surrounding woods. Of note were 3 or 4 groups of Chaffinches totaling ca. 100 birds moving north through the upland passes as we ourselves inched our way down the side of the slope back to the car park. Decided to return to RUH and the cloud had lifted so we birded the ski slope and woodland at the summit bordering the Wilder See. More Chaffinches moved north many out of sight and a lone Brambling 'dweezed' it's way overhead. The ski slope area produced the best birding, a pair of Nutcrackers gave prolonged views as did several Crossbills. The stunning 'Continental' race Coal Tit was present and a singing Crested Tit 'trilled' its little head off! Mistle Thrushes ever present in this habitat with one bird sharing the slope with a male 'torquatus' Ring Ouzel.

The farmland/woodland edge at Blankenloch nr Karlsruhe characterised by its quilted pattern of smallholdings was birdy. Raptors overhead on the morning of Sunday 26th March included several Buzzards, Red Kite and a pair of Sparrowhawks. Serin and Black Redstarts were back in low density but the song of many returning Chiffchaff dominated the woodland, when not being drowned out by many singing Nuthatches. Several Woodpeckers included nice looks at a pair of Middle Spotted ones. Hawfinch and Firecrest shared a shady corner and Chaffinches were everywhere. Not a bad tally from a morning's walk.

The switch in weather over a period of a week in the lowlands from grey, cold and drizzly in Cologne (not a million miles away) to warm sunshine further down the Rhine was very apparent. Spring was finally here!

Many thanks to friends Chris and Sue for their kind hospitality, looking forward to returning soon. For further details including more pictures please see the additions in blue to the trip report at the first Germany pdf file at the section 'Birding Trip Reports - Other'. Enjoy.