Sunday 17 December 2023

2023 - Rainham Marshes RSPB Oct to Dec and a visit to the west

Birded Rainham Marshes RSPB on the eastern edge of Greater London several times during October through to December.

The seasons changed quickly on the river whose muddy shore hosted up to 200 Black-tailed Godwits, only seen in such numbers as they flew to roost on the reserve's winter pools. A colour-ringed bird evaded confirmation of the exact combination, which would more than likely have revealed its Icelandic origins. In excess of 1,000 and probably around 2,000 Dunlin used this area of the Thames in the main to find high tide roosts and Redshanks and Lapwings fed along the exposed shore. A Common Sandpiper present in late October may have been the one continued to be seen into December. Ruff noted on one visit and the small group of wintering Avocets (40+) defied the tide. 3 Grey Plovers roosting with Lapwings one morning in early December were nice to see, in the past would have expected to pick out Golden Plovers amongst the Lapwings, but sadly Goldies are scarce to rare now in these parts. Curlew present, one in two in Aveley Bay, became 10+ on the reserve at high tide. Wigeon and Teal commonplace in Aveley Bay, over 500 Teal noted along a few hundred yards if shoreline in early November. The wildfowl shared this area with wintering (Scandinavian) Rock Pipits whereas Water Pipit could be heard 'wisting' over the reserve, the usual view being of a 'brown and white' Pipit disappearing towards the middle.

On the reserve the duck list grew with many Pintail showing well from the visitor centre. Grey Herons present, Little Egrets scarce and up to 3 Cattle Egrets seen in November. A presumed family party of Whooper Swans was a nice sight in late November, one adult eventually resting on the Target Pools, a rare winter visitor to this area. The reedbeds remained quite apart from the burst of Cetti's Warblers and one or two 'squealing' Water Rails.

Gulls represented by the expected five, supplemented by a couple of cracking adult winter Yellow-legged Gulls in late October, the same visit saw an adult winter Mediterranean Gull fly onto the river. A week earlier a late juv to 1st winter Common Tern drew attention.

Marsh Harriers showed well, usually 4 in the area, but at least 7 seen in mid December, be interesting to see how they compete or work as a team when hunting during the coming winter months. Buzzard and Kestrel regular and Sparrowhawk appeared out of nowhere. Peregrine noted, on one visit one screamed at another that entered the area and then followed it when it flew off to the north. Barn Owls were showy but I did not come close to seeing the world's most elusive Short-eared Owl present in the later months.

Other sightings included both Grey and Harbour Seals on the river and cracking views of Stoat on one visit, shown below. Dragonflies- Migrant Hawkers and presumed Ruddy Darters continued into November. Butterflies- seemed to be a movement of Red Admirals earlier in the period.

Elsewhere, in early December I twitched by bus, tube and train the Black-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver present on Staines Reservoir North Basin, London. Expecting dots on the horizon, but amazingly they swam close by. You could even hear them diving. The Black-throated Diver was underwater for about 45 seconds on most dives, similarly for the Great Northern Diver, which did just over a minute on one plunge. The following photos give an idea of the views.

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Sunday 29 October 2023

2023 - Late September Cyprus Raptors

Cyprus birding late September with a heavy focus on studying raptor migration, but made time for a few visits as well to the marshes and pools at Akrotiri and Larnaca.

There's a very amiable birding community of locals and regularly returning visitors and it was good to catch up with all, many thanks for your help both online and in the field.

Please find a summary of repeat visits throughout to Akrotiri for raptor migration and one watch from Cape Greco. A full trip report being worked upon with many Honey Buzzard photos plus birding video compilations coming soon.

Sometimes raptor watching (migration) can be seeing a sky full of raptors, perhaps at distance when it can be like studying a deep field image of galaxies from the Hubble or James Webb telescopes. Whilst this can be good, it can also be confusing or overwhelming at first. I've seen this at Cape May, New Jersey, USA in autumn when the winds are pushing the raptors towards the point, but they remain to thermal to the north rather than passing overhead. Watching raptors on the move will always be exciting, and the experience at Akrotiri was seeing the raptors either lift off locally or move into the area from a northern component, some of which were off heading out over the Mediterranean Sea. Others coming into the area in the afternoons to roost before continuing their journey either the following day or soon after. Raptor watching at the three locations mentioned below had a nice anticipation in waiting to see what was coming through next. For the bigger raptors it was more often than not another Honey Buzzard. But not always so, what friends were tagging along?

Akrotiri Water Tower - essentially the high point to the west of Akrotiri village with a view overlooking the gravel pits and salt lake to the north. Excellent viewing to watch raptors leave Akrotiri from their morning roost as they continue south, and others heading into the area from further west. A light wind from the south or south east allowed to study raptors on the move overhead or out to sea off the west coast of Akrotiri. A westerly component ok when light, but when strong they were distant moving off south out to the east over Lady's Mile. 

Personal totals over the week shown below in which Honey
dominated but a nice variety of raptors seen. This included a wandering Bonelli's Eagle, shown opposite, that had 'issues' with the HBs, and Black Kites plus Marsh and Montagu's Harriers through. A good variety of falcons included local Eleanora's Falcons, passage Red-footed Falcons and Falco friends. 'Steppe' Buzzard new for me as was a male Levant Sparrowhawk on a day with several 'Sprawks' clearly on the move. But, not just about the raptors. Bee-eater and hirundine passage was spectacular, always something to see.

Akrotiri Beehives - peaceful roadside birding in the afternoons east of Akrotiri Marsh overlooking Phassouri Forest, good for continuing raptor migration and spotting those coming into roost. Again Honey Buzzards the welcome default raptor followed by Marsh Harriers and then the Falcons. But, lots of different raptors as shown in the following table. As with the earlier site non raptors delighted, such as the constant acrobatics of Bee-eaters and many Barn and Red-rumped Swallows plus Pallid Swifts overhead with Alpine Swifts noted towards the end of the trip. Little Swifts, one shown here, were seen throughout, where do they come from? 



Cape Greco - one visit on my last day of the trip to the south eastern tip of the island, more usually noted for passerine migration especially in spring, but ok for raptors in autumn. A few raptors through early on then a noticeable push of them south along the coast from midday - a precession of Marsh Harriers through (18) and a few Honey Buzzards (11) with Red-footed Falcons (4) moving in, then out. A smart juvenile Montagu's Harrier flew past the point. Barn Swallows and Bee-eaters got going mid-morning with totals of 595 and 127 respectively as well.

Saturday 14 October 2023

2023 - Late Summer Birding

Towards the end of August completed the Scoter set for GB, successfully twitching the adult drake Stejneger's Scoter in the 200 or so Velvet Scoter flock off the wonderful birding site of the sea wall at Musselburgh just to the east of Edinburgh. It was more elusive than it's American counterpart that I saw here back in March 2018. The Siberian version was also distinctive, in its head profile including knob and the eye-tick appeared broader than shown by its Velvet comparators. Over a few hours in fine weather that still warranted two fleeces, with good light and a gentle onshore breeze, this (returning) first? for GB showed 5x from its slumber/diving allowing most birders present to get onto it. Supporting cast included an Eider flock with singles of Scaup and Red-breasted Merganser in view when scanning the Firth duck flocks, and a dozen or so red-headed Goosanders at several points along the rocky shore. The tide influenced wader antics and nice to see many different ones with a flyby of Bar-tailed Godwits proving a worthy distraction to scanning the Scoter slick. Carrion Crows noted, despite being in Scotland this site being well below the Hoodie/Carrion cut off. 

The next day gave way to a brisk, yet bird-able and comfortable, northerly wind down the South Yorkshire moorland edge. Shortly before 11am an Osprey shifted on through from north to south stopping briefly to circle close to an inquisitive Buzzard, then back into getting out of here mode. Nearly missed a record photo, here's the best I could do. Slow birding on the moors but Spotted Flycatchers at a stopover site alongside an autumn male Redstart brightened up a quiet day. Passage later in the week included the first shift of Meadow Pipits, a lone calling Tree Pipit and a couple of Yellow Wagtails southward bound.

The South Yorkshire lowlands home to the world famous (IMHO) Wath Area saw part of the family from the nearby breeding Edderthorpe RSPB Black-winged Stilts now a couple of miles down the shallow valley on Wombwell Ings RSPB. Left it late and lucky to have seen them on their last day. Always good to catch up with this birding location and birders of the area, most helped me and my dad when we first started birding here in the late 80s. The 3 Great White Egrets in the area on this visit, lots of Little Egrets and Marsh Harriers, that would have been a description day in the 80s and 90s, and maybe receipt of a few challenging thoughts, but now not unexpected. A fair selection of waders and a Whinchat on a grass bund noteworthy.

Before more birding back home in Yorkshire in mid September I twitched the Lee Valley CP Osprey in South Hertfordshire in the same month. Train in to London (30mins), 20 mins walk to Liverpool Street and a similar length train journey back out to Cheshunt, the same type of approach in connecting with Solitary Sandpiper (Sep. 2022) and Grey-cheeked Thrush (Nov. 2005) both not a million miles away from this site. Took a good few hours for the lingering Osprey, thought to be juvenile Blue 256 ringed in Aberdeenshire this year to show. It showed briefly before taking its catch away to feed out of sight. Whilst waiting for the star attraction a distant Peregrine and Sparrowhawk were up high to the north and away from the birds a pair of Willow Emerald damselflies were present at one look out on the lake side. Perhaps no longer the scarcity/rarity associated with the SE only, nevertheless always nice to study.

People of a certain age may remember where they were at the time on the date of President J F Kennedy's assassination, but not many would be interested if I asked, "Where were you on Saturday 16 September 2023 at about 10:15?" For me it was the time I saw the Brown Booby sat on Pilot's Pier, south Gare, Redcar, Yorkshire. Unblocked a blocker, a fantastic view of a stunning rare and beautiful Gannet. Twitched by train from home to Redcar with a change in Leeds. With thanks to Stuart J who joined the train, and apologies for omitting the name of another birder from Leeds who also shared the cab at Redcar kindly covered by SJ. Now, my moan about the Kynance Cove twitch can be closed.

Overcast, grey with a brisk constant N wind, 2 fleeces and a cagoule for a wind cheater, far different to the 30C or so waiting for the Osprey and praying for a breeze the previous weekend. The Tees estuary was alive! A constant turnaround of birds, be it Sandwich Terns following a feeding line only to be disturbed by 3 or 4 Arctic Skuas, Auks bobbing up and down then off into the wind, a task seemingly made easier by several Red-throated Divers, and the occasional (Northern) Gannet remanding all that there was the common Sula not to be missed! Gulls represented by Black-headed, Common, Herring and Great Black-backed varieties plus a moulting adult Kittiwake whose lack of dipped-in-ink wing tips was there to trap the unwary!

The nearby scrub and dunes were quiet with a few Meadow Pipits and southerly bound Swallows seen. A walk back to Redcar along the beach brought memories of last year's (seems longer!) Greater Sandplover sharing the sand with Ringed Plovers. No GSP this time and single numbers of Ringed Plovers only. Sanderlings strewn along the tide all way along the walk, every busy, more relaxed were 2 groups of roosting Oystercatchers (250+150). Curlews flew over and a group of Knot went by and 2 or 3  flybys of Bar-tailed Godwits, a very smart wader, a record breaking species that we may not appreciate that much as the record involved a flight from Asia to Australia and not more local.

Not to forget moorland magic the next day. The swing of the wind to the East not being productive to hear some of the first "wink-winks" of the season but it was nice for my dad to pick out what we believe to be the area's first Marsh Harrier of the year, a cream crown that flew over a moor all in peace. That was until it strayed to an area holding a female/immature Merlin who quickly encouraged it to go elsewhere. Why have Marsh Harriers been scarce here in both passage seasons? This is unknown to us at the moment, only time will tell. Adult type Hobby seen, at least 2 different birds, getting late for them (17 Sep). Also getting late for the 2 Spotted Flycatchers present in the area. Grey Wagtail over added to an autumnal feel.

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Sunday 30 July 2023

Spring becomes Summer birding

Late May birding, a good time to look for returning Honey Buzzards, and the well known site Welbeck raptor watchpoint, Notts. was a must visit, especially as the weather was good for raptors to be taking to the skies. Looking north from the road over the lake and Welbeck Estate my dad and I had several sightings over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend. Sightings not guaranteed here, I've seen birders moan about the lack of sightings, and others have the luck of connecting within a couple of minutes of arrival joining birders who were having their first sighting in over x hours. It's definitely a site that deserves no less than a patient watch and when the HBs are not on show it's a good spot to study other raptors. Of note were Goshawk, a passage Osprey seen during HB interludes with Red Kite and Buzzard commonplace, Hobby also showed. The roadside hedgerow held singing Garden Warbler, Blackcap and both summering Whitethroats, and a brief view of a Banded Demoiselle dragonfly.

Back to the HBs and a female patrolled the area alone on the first visit late into the watch (6 hours in), and then it was joined by a lighter plumaged male the following day on a couple of sorties. It was nice to see this characteristic, perhaps diagnostic, patrolling behaviour as they move along over the trees. We were lucky with the eventual views of the female on the first visit, distant at first then it came close by, shown below.

Female White-tailed Eagle G318 returned to the Peak District for its third summer. I had a couple of sightings during this period when a Red Kite and Buzzard showed their displeasure to the wanderer from the Isle of Wight scheme. Hobby sightings seem to be on the up in late Spring in these uplands, whether or not they are passage birds may be difficult to tell over this vast expanse. Ring Ouzels and Stonechats defended their moorland territory by song and the moorland edge held Nightjar and Woodcock as dusk fell. Late in the period Redpoll and Siskin called overhead as they wandered around a tree cloaked moorland reservoir, where a single Crossbill called from the treeline, a species that has been more or less absent in recent years at this once reliable site. 

Back at Rainham Marshes RSPB on the edge of London a pulse of 30 Ringed Plovers stopped off in Aveley Bay alongside 2 Grey Plovers in early June before heading north month. Male Ruffs (2) in summer attire mid month on the rapidly diminishing Target Pools, soon to be replaced by returning Black-tailed Godwits on the 1st day of July. A mid June Stonechat noteworthy and a couple of adult summer Mediterranean Gulls over the Thames, 4 Cuckoos and a Hobby on the reserve and further west in London singing Black Redstarts served as a reminder that it was still summer even though the weather into July may have suggested otherwise. An increase in Yellow-legged Gulls along the Thames shore being characteristic of the season, and a selection are shown below. Saturday 8th July was a 7 gull species day, the 5 commoner ones included a 1st summer Common Gull, plus several Yellow-legged Gulls and a bedraggled 1st summer Mediterranean Gull that sneaked on by heading down river. An adult female Peregrine gave a juvenile female hunting lessons that morning where the youngster was finding its talons and almost playing with resting Black-headed Gulls. They were not at all amused as they didn't see it as a game!

South Hertfordshire yielded Marbled White butterflies in a local grassland as June became July, when an evening walk produced a Little Owl pestered by breeding Swallows. Hobby flew by on a couple of evenings, and on another a flyby immature Peregrine.

Back home for a weekend mid July and the Dearne Valley or as posted on social media, "Camargue-upon-Dearne", held an immature Night Heron and a feeding group of 6 Spoonbills at RSPB Adwick Washland. The Night Heron and a couple of the Spoonbills shown below. One of the Spoonbills was colour-ringed identified with 2 green rings separated by a black flag on its right leg. Turns out it was ringed as a pullus in SW Netherlands in June 2018 and seen at Hickling Broad, Norfolk in June 2023. A few miles away the breeding Black-winged Stilts at Edderthorpe Flash showed well as did a Hobby and resting Great White Egret.

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Sunday 11 June 2023

Birding Germany April/May 2023


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, home this year to probably the world's most showiest Nightingale. 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 benches at the T-junction overlooking the northern reedbed and accompanying pools. From here a walk to the left takes you to the western edge where one of its famous summer inhabitants, Purple Herons, make their 'tower' reedbed nests.

A variety of species can be seen on this reserve with Spring bird migration producing nice surprises. It's a great place to see and study species that are scarce Spring/Summer visitors to GB without the need to chase about. It is also interesting to see the style and approach to German birding. Watching German birders dragging carts full of tripods, scopes and cameras is different to the approach back home, but I guess it's quite practical on this reserve. So, our highlights from two visits at the end of April/early May 2023 as follows. The weather was pleasant and favourable for bird migration.

Nightingales simply everywhere, the one mentioned earlier wasn't singing from the middle of a hedge, it sang and showed as would a Song Thrush from a lofty perch. The hedgerows held Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs plus Greenfinches and Goldfinches. A few Turtle Doves "purred" from deep cover, only one showed briefly. The nettlebeds were quiet apart from one or two Cuckoos, a few weeks too early this visit for the returning Marsh Warblers. 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 very mobile colour-ringed Spoonbill (White FAFB) fed near to a lone Great White Egret, the Spoonbill later seen circling and perhaps heading off. Wood Sandpipers were on passage with Ruff and Greenshanks of note. A Black-winged Stilt drew the crowds and Little Ringed Plovers on territory. Purple and Grey Herons on site and on one visit another star attraction in the form of a visiting Glossy Ibis.

Red-backed Shrikes were back on site in the scrubby bushes west of the benches, and to add to the avian variety a Grey-headed Woodpecker gave its distinctive monotone repetitive call from cover. It eventually flew by, seen mainly in silhouette as it dived back into cover. The benches is a great point to say do 'a big sit' counting all that goes by. The reedbeds held Reed Warblers, flycatching Whinchats in bushes on the edge and at least two Savi's Warblers reeled away. One could be seen and it was nice to hear and compare a Savi's Warbler to the right with a reeling Grasshopper Warbler to the left. Not to forget the species that is arguably the main attraction at this viewpoint, Bluethroat. A couple of white-spotted males burst into sing late afternoon on the second visit, when one started it drew the other into singing from its nearby territory in the reedbed bushes and tangles.

Not just good birding at ground level, up above always something on offer. White Storks ever present, Marsh Harriers quartered the reedbeds occasionally venturing up high where Red Kite and Buzzard noted. Black Kites flew by every so often, Kestrels seen and a lone Peregrine was off to the north. The Black-headed Gull colony attracted Mediterranean Gulls, mainly seen and heard "meeowing" overhead. Less welcome to the colony was an immature Yellow-legged Gull looking for a snack.

Black-winged Stilt

Garganey avoiding Coypu

Mediterranean Gull


Purple Heron

Red-backed Shrike



Black Kite

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. On approaching the pit/lake the far carrying song of Great Reed Warbler can be heard. A top site for studying this species and one gave good views with at least one more singing from further in the reedbed. The water held a couple of Great White Egrets, several species of ducks and passage waders including Greenshank and Wood Sandpipers. A dapper adult Yellow-legged Gull stopped off to rest, Black-headed Gulls more active and vocal, and on leaving the site a couple of Mediterranean Gulls could be heard "meeowing" somewhere up in the heavens. Didn’t expect a couple of Ravens to be in the area, they "kronked" overhead moving east only to return back west half an hour later. Also unexpected was the Black Woodpecker in flight near the gravel workings on the way back, but the male Red-backed Shrike looking out from a bramble patch tree was a sign of summer on its way.

Great Reed Warbler

Yellow-legged Gull

Great White Egret

Black Forest - Schwarzwaldhochstrasse

The north west corner of the Black Forest is not too far from Karlsruhe to the south, and it's always nice to visit the area up on the Schwarzwaldhochstrasse taking in the walks about Hotel Schliffkopf and then the ski run of Seibelseckle. The latter home to very nice Schwarzwälderkirschtorte and Hot Chocolate as well as good birding over the years which saw us connect with a migrating ringtail Pallid Harrier back in April 2014. Several degrees cooler up here compared with down in the Rhine Rift Valley, but this didn't deter Willow Warblers and Meadow Pipits from singing throughout at Schliffkopf. Dunnock noted and 'continental' Coal Tits in the forest. A blink and you miss it Nutcracker wasn't obliging as it flew low into the forest across the 'High Street'. Notices posted throughout the area of footpath closures during Capercaillie lekking season, German equivalent of the 'Lek it Be' campaign found in Scotland. Just up the road we had the chance in the afternoon to sit outside the ever popular cafe at Seibelseckle allowing for a look for any raptors overhead plus Ring Ouzel on the now grassy ski slope. A male 'Mountain Blackbird' was present, have reasonable views until being chased off down the slope by a 'lowland' Blackbird that appeared to be huge in comparison when seen together,  Black Redstarts around the ski lift building. A Common Buzzard appeared drifting off into the Black Forest not before dragging up a Honey Buzzard, the pair circling together allowing a nice comparison of their flight silhouettes. A Red Kite in the area and then better looks at another Honey Buzzard drifting over from the north, shown below.

Honey Buzzard

Ring Ouzel

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