Sunday 7 July 2024

2024 - Spring Birding - A bit of a birding Purpurea patch

At the start of the season Ring Ouzels had returned to their Peak District moorland haunts by the end of March where they gave their monotone song and surveyed their summer home from rocky crags. As is typical they disappear quickly either to breed locally in relative silence or head further into the upland cloughs. Stonechats in song flight and Meadow Pipits numerous, as were Curlew who were already several weeks back on the moors. Before the month was out an Osprey headed north along the eastern edge following the ridge slowly at first then adopted a power glide and that was that, it was out of here! Buzzards circled lazily and Kestrels hovered patiently but its smaller relative was in more of a hurry.

Birding on Cyprus around mid April and whilst it may be a couple of weeks or so after favoured visits for Spring birding it was still good, and can be recommended. This time of year offers the chance of seeing later summer visitors such as newly arrived Eleanora's Falcons and Rollers, but you may struggle to see any passage Sylvia Warblers and migrating Harriers. Highlights on this visit included Great Snipe, many Little Crakes and a confiding Baillon's Crake plus unexpected views of Corncrake and Quail. Not to forget a couple of Blue-cheeked Bee-eater sightings and the returning Rollers and Eleanora's Falcons. Please click here for a summary of the birding trip.

In early May back up on the Peak District moorlands where the becks held Willow Warblers and Cuckoos could be heard as could a singing male Redstart hiding away in the canopy. The first sightings of Hobby at the start of the month a time when returning Nightjars 'churred' as Woodcock patrolled a woodland edge at dusk.

Mid May visiting friends in Germany and birding Waghäusel (Wagbachniederung nature reserve) in Baden-Württemburg between Karlsruhe and Mannheim. A summer home to a variety of marshland and reedbed species and famous for its colony of Purple Herons. Bluethroats and a range of Warblers were on offer this Spring and nice views were had of Great Reed Warbler, Savi's Warbler and Marsh Warblers. Bluethroats were elusive but many Red-backed Shrikes present over a couple of visits as were Turtle Doves. A diverse variety of species can be seen or heard here in Spring on this reserve be it Short-toed Treecreepers and calling Golden Oriole in bordering Poplars the chance of passage Ospreys overhead and northbound Waders on the muddy margins, and a glance on the pools can reveal Black-necked Grebes swimming alongside Red-crested Pochards. On the first visit 1 or 2 Ospreys sighted this time plus 2 Honey Buzzards over the two visits and passage Montagu's Harrier also observed. The latter was unexpected as was a Black Woodpecker that flew in front of us over a field, no doubt heading to the forest away to the east. Please click here for a summary of the birding trip.

Moving forward to late May and Honey Buzzards sighted in the UK at Welbeck RWP, Notts. One a wing damaged male, looked quite shocking to see the extent of the missing inner secondaries. In this period and back in the Peak District where a passage Marsh Harrier was most welcome and an Osprey circled a reservoir before heading East in a typical power glide.

When birding in early Spring in the south east at Rainham Marshes RSPB, London there are clear differences between Summer migrant arrival times compared to back up in South Yorkshire. I remember many years ago watching a Glaucous Gull at the end of March whilst listening to a Sedge Warbler in full song during a sleet shower. 'Glaucs' and sleet are probably both now official rarities in the south east! Hobby showed well over the marshes from mid April this year with a gathering of 10 on one visit giving a wonderful flying lesson from the Serin Mound. No Serins here for what is about 12 years or so. Swifts moving through from a similar time and the river produced a movement of Arctic Terns alongside the to be expected Common Terns on one weekend visit when a couple of silent Sandwich Terns almost slipped by unnoticed. Cuckoos present on most visits later in the period and several hidden Lesser Whitethroats were nice to hear, as were 2+ Corn Buntings that sang from the landfill sides. Elsewhere and Black Redstarts just about hang on in the capital with 2 noted singing in April with still the possibility of singing birds continuing to be heard as we move into summer.

A good Spring's birding haul, but birding highlights continued late in the season. A visit to Rainham Marshes RSPB, London (Saturday 08 June 2024) and on walking back to the RSPB centre along the river wall a screaming gull over the Thames wouldn't stop shouting. A look revealed it was mobbing an Osprey that was trying to shake it off, shake it off. The pair flew low overhead and headed north over the reserve before the gull got bored leaving the Osprey to drift off north in peace over the A13 pylon line.

Next day I was back on site and thought watching a Red Kite flying low west up river over a group of passage Ringed Plovers would be the day's highlights. But, on entering the reserve and starting the walk down the ramp 2 large birds in flight caught my attention as they headed slowly east over Aveley Pools. The lead bird was a Grey Heron but the one behind it was clearly different. Another Ardea Heron but both smaller and darker. With relatively recent experience of this species in Germany and Cyprus - couldn't be a Purple Heron, could it? Hurried down to the seats overlooking the reserve and the Heron of interest was now continuing towards the Cordite woodland where I could now see the head profile, typical Purple Heron and the upperparts and overall colouring suggested an immature. It was soon gone behind the woodland so I hurried along to the next look out in case it came back to the marshes. Thankfully it appeared slowly drifting back over the woodland only to land out of sight on the edge of the Winter Pools. These flight views confirmed immature Purple Heron. I got my camera ready as it soon took off and headed out back east/northeast and out of sight. I put the news out on and returned to the centre to let other on site visitors know. Almost immediately it was picked up again this time flying in front of the centre heading west along the southern boardwalk where it appeared to go into Aveley Bay only to make a sharp turn and eventually settled out of sight near Aveley Pools. It was seen a few times in flight by others later in the day including as it left the reserve heading south east. A much better photo than my record photo below, and taken by another observer can be found at Birdguides - Review of the Week: 3-9 June 2024.

Before the summer solstice 2 or 3 Great White Egrets showed on the reserve and Red Kites seemed to discover the landfill as they did for a brief period around the same time last year.

Please find and enjoy:

Sunday 2 June 2024

Birding Germany May 2024


Waghäusel, officially known as Wagbachniederung is a jewel of a wetland located in the Rhine Rift Valley a few kms east of the Rhine itself and in between Karlsruhe and Mannheim, Baden-Württemburg. Characterised by Reedbeds, water meadows and basins this is a well known birding site. Essentially rectangular in shape the main entrance is from the south, heading in just north of the church. The track skirts a cafe and farm passing through the treelined southern perimeter. Working through this area the meadows flanked by plentiful hedges gives way to the basins, nettlebeds meeting reedbeds in the northern section of the reserve where an expansive 180 degrees view over a reedbed along its northern flank can be had. In the main the paths are elevated throughout and this allows for extensive views and especially from the ‘Bluethroat’ benches at the T-junction overlooking the northern reedbed and accompanying pools. From here the paths to the left or right allow for the northern perimeter to be walked.

A variety of species can be seen on this reserve and it is a great place to see and study species that are scarce Spring/Summer visitors to GB. Our highlights from two visits just beyond mid May 2024 as follows. The weather was fair throughout with light variable winds, although thunderstorms threatened late afternoon on the second visit.

The first visit saw a tally of around 75 species seen or heard, the entrance allowing passerines to get a head start of the marshland birds. Nightingales widespread though not as showy as last year. The entrance hedgerows and woodland edge held Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs plus Greenfinches and Goldfinches. Most unexpected was a low pass from a Black Woodpecker. A sentinel Red-backed Shrike was the start of many about the reserve and as the paths opened up to reveal the first nettle/reedbeds Marsh Warblers soon added to the list as were Turtle Doves, nice to see at least half a dozen over the two visits.

The ponds held a variety of ducks including Red-crested Pochards and Garganey and three species of Grebe could be found, Great-crested, Little and Black-necked.

A Little Egret was unexpected, more expected a lone Great White Egret. Grey Herons present and the colony of Purple Herons are now at the northern edge of the reserve. The pool/scrape north of the ‘Bluethroat’ benches held passage waders on the first visit such as Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Wood Sandpipers and Little Stints and more local Lapwings and Little Ringed Plovers. Activity from the Black-headed Gull colony best viewed from here and an adult Mediterranean Gull present plus a handful of Yellow-legged Gulls with a pair looking like they were nesting. Nice to hear the deep call, well different to Herring Gull. A 1st summer Little Gull dropped in and on the second visit, and a Common Tern flew over the site heading towards the Rhine.

Marsh Harriers over the reedbeds where one Bluethroat showed well late afternoon on the first visit, the white spot shone like a mirror reflecting sunlight. The reedbeds home to Reed Warblers, a reasonably showy Savi’s Warbler, with at least one more heard, and Cuckoos. Along the north west perimeter the poplars held a singing Golden Oriole that would not be seen although a party of Short-toed Treecreepers could be found. Here the line of reeds held a ‘croaking’ Great Reed Warbler.

As in previous visits over the years it is not just good birding at ground level, up above always something on offer. White Storks ever present, Marsh Harriers  returned from their wanderings. Common Buzzards and Black Kites in the skies as well as Kestrel. A single and brief Hobby was surprising, thought more would have been seen and more regular sightings. Raven heard to the south east and Red Kites only seen on the second visit, but numbers soon made up for the first visit absence. More to offer as at least one Osprey over the northern area of the reserve one came in from the north and on show for a bout 5 minutes before heading off north east. It or another came back from the north and drifted west towards the Rhine mid-afternoon. A dark type Honey Buzzard came in high overhead and drifted north east, typically not flapping once. On the second visit the north east corner saw a pale type Honey Buzzard patrolling above the woodland edge even ‘wing-clapping’ on several occasions. But a ringtail Harrier that came in high from the south and drifted off north east put Honey Buzzard and Osprey into 2nd and 3rd place. We could quickly establish it was Pallid or Montagu’s and a look on site at photos taken by another birder confirmed my gut feeling of Montagu’s Harrier, a 1st summer ringtail. Key was the pattern of the inner primaries. I’m thinking 1st summer male based upon the very pale underparts and the big pale ovals seen on a brief view of the upper-wing, whose true colour may have been ‘bleached’ out by the sunlight.

Red-backed Shrike

Great Reed Warbler

White Stork

Montagu's Harrier


Saalbachniederung Bruchsal

Saalbachniederung Bruchsal essentially a grassland area with flooded gravel pit is located a few kms to the south of Waghäusel. The walk out from the small car park to the south is pleasant through the grassland on well-marked tracks. The grasslands spread for miles and looks to be of birding interest throughout the year.

As to be expected at this location on approaching the pit/lake the far carrying song of Great Reed Warblers was heard. However, another could be heard by the workings near the start of the walk. The ones by the pit/lakes showed reasonably well where as in the past Great White Egrets, Grey Herons and several duck and geese species seen. Marsh Harrier seen in the distance and A Ruddy Shelduck could well have been a Category C (or equivalent) on the German list.

Kingfisher heard and brilliant views of feeding Sand Martins over the water. White Storks nesting nearby with Kestrels, Black Kites, Red Kites and Common Buzzards over the area. A ‘prup’ call revealed a fast flying Bee-eater that moved north west, perhaps no longer a surprise sighting.

A nice long weekend visiting friends, with many thanks to all. More photos and sightings from many trips to this part of Germany can be found at Birding Germany (pdf).

Wednesday 1 May 2024

Birding Cyprus 13 - 20 April 2024 - Summary

Generally warm and sunny weather throughout though cloudy and a few spots of rain towards the end of the trip. Light variable winds but one afternoon was perhaps typically breezy at Akrotiri. Temperatures mid to high 20Cs.

The north west – Despite staying relatively close to the north west corner of Cyprus I tend to be drawn more towards the south coast, the birding hotspots of Paphos and surrounding area then Akrotiri usually get more attention despite their distance from the NW. So, this time deliberately made a couple of visits to Baths of Aphrodite, but whilst it was slow for migrant birds it was still good birding with great scenic views. Pallid Swifts were consistent on both visits showing nicely over the ridge, and early in the trip a noticeable movement of (Barn) Swallows included a few Red-rumped Swallows. Eastern Olivaceous Warbler allowed for study including of their Reed Warbler like song.

A few kms inland and noted Masked ShrikeCyprus Warbler and Cretzschmar’s Bunting on territory near Agios Minas Chapel where a Nightjar “churred” one evening late in the trip. Cyprus Scops Owls called most nights but not with as much strength as found when visiting in March. Driving south from this corner produced Rollers returning to their summer haunts and Bonelli’s Eagle patrolling the area. Laughing Doves now frequently seen if not commonplace here, continuing their spread in this part of the world. Two of the most bizarre sightings occurred in the north west on the first day (Sunday 14 April 2024). Firstly, a Quail was seen crossing the road with about 10 young around midday and then that evening about one hour after sunset a dark shape, like a brown ball was in the middle of a road. It allowed me to stop and investigate. What I thought could have been a hedgehog was in fact a Corncrake. Didn’t think I’d be stood over a Corncrake in the middle of a road, which is usually busy but thankfully not on this occasion, asking it to fly into the neighbouring field! It did so with a bit of encouragement.

Masked Shrike
Bonelli's Eagle

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler

Paphos and surrounding area – only one visit to Paphos Headland this trip but had nice views of a male Semi-collared Flycatcher seemingly out of place in scrub by the lighthouse. Another gave fleeting glimpses as it annoyed a male Collared Flycatcher in the entrance trees where a female Pied Flycatcher completed the Ficedula set. Nightingale seen and perhaps a late wintering or migrant Robin. Nearby Asprokremmos Dam and Mandria fields offered a variety of species to keep the trip list going. At least 3, probably double that, of male Collared Flycatchers in the pines of the former noted on one visit where a couple of Wood Warblers shone brightly. Asprokremmos Dam always worth a visit as it offers chance of something migrating over. Not much this time but nice to see Purple Heron over and Marsh Harrier, the Dam itself yielded about 50 Yellow-legged Gulls on the water on all visits. The main attraction near to Paphos were the soakways, the ponds at Agia Varvara, in particular the motorway pools. It held quite a lot of Little Crakes usually several seen with 5, 6 and 9 noted on 3 visits. An elusive Baillon’s Crake eventually showed well as did the Great Snipe whose identification caused a bit of a stir as when first present tended to be more in cover than showing at the water’s edge. Pleased to get the following record shots showing some of the identification features. Little Bittern seen on one visit, but Night Herons and Squacco Herons present throughout. Purple Herons seen moving through one evening where early in the trip an Eleonora’s Falcon was hunting over the bottom of the Ezousas valley, allowing for nice continued study of the structure and flight technique. Great Spotted Cuckoo in the Ezousas valley, thought they may be difficult as mid to late April is relatively late in their summer season, and Long-legged Buzzards showed on occasion.

Semi-collared Flycatcher

Baillon's Crake

Great Snipe 
Great Snipe


Troodos – part of one afternoon spent walking the trails around Troodos village square produced all endemic subspecies that make home in this area. All seen apart from (Guillemardi) Crossbill that could be heard flying over. (Cyprus) Coal Tits showed their extensive dark plumage, (Dorothy’s) Short-toed Treecreeper widespread but tricky to locate but nice views of (Cyprus) Jay. Singing Masked Shrike seen by the village square, and the visit also saw a nice drop in temperatures of about 10 degrees compared to earlier that afternoon around Paphos.

(Cyprus) Jay
(Cyprus) Jay

Akrotiri – always could be relied upon to produce good birding. Lady’s Mile held a selection of wading birds. Noteworthy being 3 Red-necked Phalaropes in a variety of plumages (1x winter, 1x moutling to summer plumage and 1x advanced female in its moult) and almost being trod upon by feeding Greater Flamingos, or was it deliberately “slaloming” through their legs? 2 Avocets amongst the commoner Black-winged Stilts, 200 Ruffs and large numbers of Little Stints and the staple for the area, Kentish Plover. Regal looking Slender-billed Gulls had bills that looked almost black in the strong sunlight whilst Little Terns flew over the shallow pools. On one visit 2 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were on roadside wires nearby by the track to Zakaki Marsh Hide (Friday 19 April 2024). The following day 2 were showing and calling near to Akrotiri Marsh, which itself held a variety of Herons and relatives – Purple, Squacco and Glossy Ibis plus Cattle Egrets, and an array of waders including Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit and Spotted Redshank. Garganey slept at the same pools seemingly oblivious to the presence of the fast feeding migrating waders. A Great Reed Warbler “croaked” its song from out of sight in the reeds near the lower hide on one visit. Heading off peninsula my first visit to the M1 Pools, Akrotiri’s soakways. A variety of birds attracted to such an oasis including feeding hirundines and on a boom what would have made a cracking id photo were of Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper all in a line! Very lucky to catch up with a Citrine Wagtail on one of the rocky pools as it moved in loose association with Black-headed (Yellow) Wagtails through a boulder field (Friday 19 April 2024). Off in the north western corner Eleonora’s Falcons had returned to Episkopi (Kensington) Cliffs and Alpine Swifts put on a nice show there.  If only these Falcons could set up territory at Bempton?

Citrine Wagtail
Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters

Eleonora's Falcon

Cattle Egret

About 120 species seen during the week all at a relatively calm pace. A full trip report to follow plus video compilation.

Many thanks to all who helped me in the field and online, very much appreciated.    

Sunday 24 March 2024

Winter 2023/24 Birding Highlights

As 2023 closed out I was back home in Yorkshire for the first day of winter, and forget blue skies with crisp days and an easterly breeze bringing the promise of snow. As with recent years, wet and windy weather dominated. This time high pressure had slowly drifted west into the North Atlantic Ocean such that it became stuck with the jet stream then rolling around the top of it. This resulted in low pressure systems "barelling" into the middle of the British Isles one after another throughout the festive period, seemingly centred on Yorkshire.

On December 21st the up to 45mph winds put me off either twitching the Black-throated Thrush in East Yorkshire or birding the moorland edge, so it was off to Old Moor RSPB. Nice to shelter and see wintering Goosander and Goldeneye, a cream crown Marsh Harrier and a Caspian Gull. Several more visits over the period produced a variety of wintering wildfowl plus Pink-footed Geese moving west late one afternoon and one more look at the Caspian Gull allowing for photos and video to be taken. A group of Lesser Redpolls (4) moved around the scrub at the top of Green Lane were nice to see, but the star attractions were a pair of adult Peregrines present on most visits. They took to resting on one of the islands rather than from a lofty perch, no doubt due to the relentless wind which in fairness did moderate from apocalyptic to only a raging gale as the year came to an end. They gave one large gull a scare and spent the rest of the time upsetting the Greylag Geese.

Caspian Gull (1st w)


Connected with the Black-throated Thrush before Christmas, it showed reasonably well at the excellent Tophill Low Nature Reserve that yielded Red-crested Pochards amongst a variety of duck on 'O' reservoir. A flooded field along the seemingly never ending entrance road to the north west held 500 Pink-footed Geese and similar number of Greylag Geese, plus the majestic Whooper Swan (30). On the way back a Red Kite flew over the M62/A1 junction.

Black-throated Thrush

Spent some time birding the moorland edge but the weather didn't allow for any wandering. Buzzards and Kestrels showed with the occasional Raven sighting. The miserable conditions forced a Barn Owl to hunt early in the afternoon and nearby a Merlin spotted on two visits was my first winter sightings of this species in the uplands. Non avian highlight being of 2 Moles walking/swimming across the road as driving rain forced them out of cover. When the miserable weather relented Fieldfares and Redwings moved from bush to bush on most visits but no big or varied finch presence. That said, one site held a very noteworthy single flock of 200 Linnets. The absence of Crossbills continue to worry. Back in the lowlands I didn't time it well for Waxwings, most had dispersed by the festive period, but a bit of luck with a Barn Owl seen flying against the street lamps on the edge of suburbia early one evening.

The New Year and birding in London, which usually would be focussed on Rainham Marshes RSPB, was punctuated early in the year by twitching the Northern Waterthrush further out in Essex near Maldon, a smart drake and brief visiting Ferruginous Duck in London at Snaresbrook's Eagle Pond, plus looking for winter gulls elsewhere on the Thames.

First up, the Northern Waterthrush, took a couple of attempts and grateful for the opportunity to connect with this rarity from North America. Why Northern and not Louisiana? I'm not expert enough to go into the minutiae, but from experience of Louisiana Waterthrush in Spring in New Jersey, USA which is a stronger bulkier looking bird than Northern Waterthrush with stand out whiter underparts that hold the front streaking, and possess a larger white supercilium. Only seen Northern Waterthrush a few times in Spring across the pond and more regularly encountered in the autumn at Cape May, New Jersey, USA. I know Louisiana Waterthrush is an early Spring migrant and I assume would therefore move south early in the autumn, making Northern Waterthrush more likely a vagrant to these shores of the two.

Northern Waterthrush

On returning from the twitch the small group of local Waxwings (up to 14) were present for their 2nd and last day. Waxwings don't fly, they float in the air.


Come on give the Ferruginous Duck a chance! Why not wild? Present briefly around a cold snap, in immaculate plumage and whilst it came close it did so with the feeding masses of Mute Swans and other wild wintering ducks before retreating to slumber beneath the cover of overhanging trees at Snaresbrook's Eagle Pond. Sadly, this site so often the wintering haunt of a cracking Caspian Gull, has drawn a blank so far this winter for this much admired gull. More details here.

Ferruginous Duck

Looking for scarce winter gulls on the Thames. It looks like there's no tipping at the landfill by Rainham Marshes RSPB, or at least none on a Saturday. Struggling to find the commoner larger gulls in the area, in any number, let alone hoping to pick out an Iceland or Glauc. Best hope is for Caspian Gulls, any wintering Yellow-legged Gulls or the occasional Mediterranean Gull, the latter is scarce in these parts at this time of year. A first visit to the gull watching site on the south of the Thames by Greenhaven Drive, Thamesmead a couple of miles upriver from Rainham Marshes RSPB. Excellent opportunity for photography and a few hours visit one Sunday late in January saw 5 Yellow-legged Gulls in the area and a brief visit of a 1st winter Caspian Gull. The Yellow-legged Gulls comprised 2x 1st winters, 2x 2nd winters and 1x adult approaching summer plumage. One of the 2nd winters had a green colour ring and was presumably the one noted as being ringed in France in 2022.

Yellow-legged Gulls

Into February the lure of both Mediterranean Gull (1st winter) and Caspian Gull (1st winter) at Wanstead, London was tempting. Got the impression they were easy to see, but they gave me the run around. The Mediterranean Gull wasn't on Jubilee Pond but on the football pitches with what seemed to be the entire world's population of Common Gulls. Nice to see this plumage. Nearby at Alexandra Lake the Caspian Gull eventually flew in, and what a stunner. It didn't have the best of relationships with Herring Gulls, but allowed for excellent study and comparison of this species alongside the commoner Herring Gulls, of which there seemed to be far more of them on this small pond compared to the whole of the Thames by Rainham Marshes RSPB during this period.

Caspian Gull

Mediterranean Gull

Not forgetting Rainham Marshes RSPB, water levels good on the reserve for wildfowl and a nice variety of wintering ducks with well into double figures of Pintail looking smart especially when lit up by the scarce winter sun. Marsh Harriers everywhere, at least 6 probably more seen throughout. A Peregrine wandered over the landfill as did a Raven on one visit that had a big dislike of a Carrion Crow. Cetti's Warblers getting into song, the occasional pinging Bearded Reedling from the reedbeds and Stonechats scattered throughout the area. Finally the wintering Short-eared Owls showed on a couple of visits, with all 3 in the air on one occasion. Nearby an impressive group of about 80 Avocets swam out the rising tide. Looks like tipping at the landfill has stopped or at least stopped on a Saturday morning, gulls thin in numbers. That being said an adult Mediterranean Gull along the shore at Coldharbour Point was nice to see amongst the Black-headed Gulls.

Mediterranean Gull

Short-eared Owl

Another 'local' twitch, this time for the White-billed Diver off Southend Pier at the end of the Thames estuary. Knew a bit of good luck was needed but gave it a go on the second Saturday in February. Easy train ride from London and, via Greggs, arrived by the Pier for opening to the news it had been seen earlier heading west towards the Pier.  A couple of Mediterranean Gulls on the way down were boosted by a group of about 20 on posts at the end, one sported a White colour ring. During the day they gently chuckled to each other and gave their distinctive mewing call as if reminding birders what to listen out for when they move around in Spring. A female type Long-tailed Duck was nice to see drifting west close inshore on the way down. Turnstones scolded the visitors at the end of the Pier whose numbers were boosted by other twitchers arriving and awaiting the giant from the Arctic.

Long-tailed Duck

Mediterranean Gulls

Scanning east and the Mulberry Harbour and various yellow buoys were serving as markers, the latter attracted a regular then another Great Northern Diver as the tide came in. Red-throated Divers seen and a female type Eider added to birders' day lists. A few Brent Geese noted though not as many as seen from the train on the mudflats on approaching Southend (50+).

Great Northern Diver

Before 1pm I picked up a large "brown and white" Diver at distance. Got others on to it and soon a crowd of birders from the upper deck were studying this bird. A bit of 'birding' pressure, but IMHO could only be a large Diver sp. at such range. To be honest the Hubble space telescope would have struggled to id this bird, but it was worth a look. At worst a very pale Great Northern Diver but studying the actual GNDs and they were essentially and consistently "black and white" when sighted throughout the day. This had to be the rare visitor, Essex's 2nd record, got to be? The bird seemingly edged closer then as drizzly rain came it disappeared into the mist. On clearing it was picked up again, slightly closer and seemingly drifting towards the Pier, or was that wishful thinking. Similar murky weather and another disappearing act. Thankfully, clearing allowed for 3rd time lucky, by which time it had made strong progress in. Whilst I couldn't make out the bill's fine details, noted a feature being its posture in that it held its head pointing upwards when swimming, a trait of this species. Also, the bump on the forehead appeared to be very pronounced. Others with better optics were happy with the bill to already call it out as the White-billed Diver. It came closer from 3pm to allow good scope views of the bill and even to see the characteristic wing scalloping indicating an immature. There was one point when it turned showing the white tip to the bill that was the "that's it" moment. How distant? Best described as good scope views but just in the bridge camera dodgy record photo zone as shown below. It was certainly enjoying the flat fish and crabs on offer on the now ebbing tide.

White-billed Diver

The following day another trip to Greenhaven Drive at Thamesmead and with thanks for the help of other birders on site connected with a couple of 1st Winter Caspian Gulls on the rising tide. Both were nice to see as was a fleeting visit from a similarly aged Yellow-legged Gull.

Caspian Gull

Back home in early February and the Shorelark in the Sheffield area was tricky to see, a hunting adult Peregrine in the area spooked the Skylarks flock, but at least this helped birders locate this elusive flock holding the rare inland visitor. Showed briefly after several hours of fog prevented viewing on this Saturday morning. Deliberately not cropped or enhanced the photo below, want to emphasise the viewing conditions on that day.

Shorelark and Skylark

On the moorland edge the apparently wintering female/immature Merlin showed well mid afternoon on the Sunday before zooming off over a moorland reservoir. Nice views of it perched on a stone wall for a few minutes, after it flew in at warp speed. Size suggested a female. Curlews returning to the moors, staging in the area (ca. 40) and noisy Oystercatchers also back and typically flight at this time of the year.

At the end of the period another visit to Greenhaven Drive, Thamesmead saw a few more Yellow-legged Gulls remaining in the area and a presumed passage Red Kite over headed towards the City.

Yellow-legged Gulls

More average photos uploaded at 'Latest UK Bird Photos'. Please enjoy.