Saturday, 31 July 2010

good times at Canons

Here's Roy's description of the Goshawk that he, Kevin and I were fortunate enough to see at Canons Farm in April. Goshawk being such an impressive raptor and such a difficult and unpredictable bird to catch up with in the London area this bird easily makes the highlights of the year at the patch.

Crayford again!

Common Sandpiper

I decided to join Kevin at his new patch Crayford today for a third time, and again via hellish pubic transport. I can't keep this up for long, as much as I like Crayford it's too far away/expensive/difficult to get to regularly and I like Canons too much to abandon it anyway.


Nothing new was seen today but we still saw a nice set of birds including the female/juvenile Marsh Harrier over Rainham again as well as 2 of the Avocets still in Aveley Bay. The only other raptors were a Hobby and a couple of Kestrels. 3 Whimbrel showed well along with 3 Greenshank and a handful of Common Sandpipers.


The Greenshanks were particularly interesting to watch, I never noticed before that they so carefully run to the water's edge to wash every muddy prey item they catch! One persisted in chasing its rival from its patch of mud, only to fly to where the other bird had flown to in order to flush it from there too, no matter how far away it got!


I really couldn't face scanning through the tons of Gulls so finished when I got to 3+ Yellow-leggeds, if you committed yourself to thoroughly grilling all Gulls at that place it would leave no time for any other birding! A couple of Oystercatchers were around as always. A couple of Reed Warblers were the first I've seen in a while and 5 Common Terns were fishing on the river. The only sign of non-wader movement was a single overhead Sand Martin. An immature Great Crested Grebe was a patch tick for Kevin. In Aveley Bay the usual family of 2 adult and 11 small young Shelduck were amazing all still present and correct.

Yellow-legged Gull

Wednesday, 28 July 2010


Black-tailed Godwits

Thought I'd do something a bit different today and do some general birding at Rainham, getting there and back by train (I need all the practise of doing that I can get, so I can get there ASAP when the next mega turns up!).

Black-tailed Godwits

It should have cost me just under £20 to get there and back, bad enough but clever old me completely screwed up tickets and oyster cards and it ended up costing me something really painful like £35 or £40, I don't really want to add up an accurate figure to be honest!


I arrived on site at about 8.20am and alternated my time between scanning the Thames (the main point of interest at the moment), scoffing myself in the cafe and checking the main reserve until 3.25pm when I started to make my way back.


The river produced a nice flock of 14 Black-tailed Godwits, 3 Whimbrel, 3 Oystercatchers, a pair of Common Terns attending to 3 juveniles, and 6-7 Common Sandpipers. A small number of Sand Martins and a Swallow moved overhead while a Reed Warbler sang and a Reed Bunting called from the riverside vegetation.


The reserve held a female Marsh Harrier, 3 Green Sandpipers, 2 juvenile Little Ringed Plovers, a Dunlin, another Common Sandpiper, the summering Wigeon and an assortment of commoner wetland birds. I managed to pick out at least 7 Yellow-legged Gulls (3+ adults and 3+ juveniles) throughout both the reserve and the river.

Saturday, 24 July 2010


Today I paid another visit with Kevin McManus to Crayford Marshes, an excellent London birding site just over the river from Rainham.

Little Egrets

I was very pleased to obtain two much overdue London ticks in the form of a female Marsh Harrier that Kevin picked up over Rainham and a group of Sandwich Terns which I located flying upriver (before they flew back down again). Both aren't everyday sights in the London recording area but it really was about time I got them. This brings me up to 189 for London, poor but I reckon I can get to 200 soon without too much effort; I still need birds like Garganey, Nightingale, Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Barn Owl, Red-legged Partridge and Turnstone!


The highlight of the day, however must have been the four Avocets that Kevin and I found along the shore of Rainham Marshes RSPB. The last time I saw this species in London was when they bred at the London Wetland Centre about four years ago, there's definitely something different about seeing them in London than in Kent or East Anglia. Also on that side of the river was a Whimbrel.

juvenile Yellow-legged Gull

We were treated to a good supporting cast which included a juvenile Mediterranean Gull, 4 Yellow-legged Gulls, 2 Greenshanks, 3 Common Sandpipers, 5 Little Egrets, 4 Dunlin, a Hobby and c.3 Oystercatchers.

adult Yellow-legged Gull

It was very rewarding to at last stumble into my first Canons Farm and Banstead Woods Common Crossbills yesterday, when six flew over, calling, at the spot that I had staked out for them countless times over the last few weeks. It was my first patch tick in nearly three months!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Back to Norfolk

Having retrospectively unticked the Norfolk River Warbler because I decided definite views of the bird on Monday were so awful (glimpsing it with the naked eye as it flew from one singing position to another) and further sightings that evening could not be reliably confirmed, I immediately suggested Norfolk when dad asked if we'd like to go somewhere for a night this weekend (10th-11th). Saturday evening saw me with up to 100 others enjoying excellent views of the singing male RIVER WARBLER, very satisfying (see video)!

I thought we'd have to return the next morning because the bird did not sing until about 9.20pm but around that time it suddenly burst into song and showed rather well for quite a while before it found a slightly more discrete perch from which to sing and it's head was just about visible as darkness grew. A Barn Owl, a Kingfisher, a Hobby and a Sparrowhawk all provided something to watch while we waited for the main attraction.


Sunday morning we headed to Titchwell after breakfast and I scanned the freshmarsh for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper which I missed by about ten minutes (again!) while my parents appreciated the Spoonbill from the hide. A Pectoral Sandpiper gave good views onn and off while I was searching for the main Sandpiper of interest. Scanning revealed a Spotted Redshank, many Ruff, Avocet, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and a couple of Greenshanks but no Buff-breasted.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

After a good couple of hours or so searching I was getting fed up and went to the cafe to have a snack, planning to then go to Swanton Novers for a while before returning for another look for the Buff-breasted. Just as we were about to leave the pager bleeped, the Sandpiper re-appeared - I dashed out and back up to the freshmarsh to be greeted with 'It's not showing at the moment', my heart sank; surely not for a third time!? Then another voice said 'The Buff-breasted? Yes it is, have a look over there!', to my relief it was the Buff-breasted Sandpiper and not a Ruff (which had been called as the bird before), my 277th British bird. It showed well until I left for Swanton at 2.00pm.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Swanton didn't provide the desired Honey-buzzards but up to 5 Common Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk were seen along with a couple of Yellowhammers. I wasn't really expecting to see any Honeys and was very happy with the weekend's haul.

Thursday, 8 July 2010


I reluctanly awoke at 11.30am this morning to answer an annoying phone call but if I didn't I might not have made it up in time to see this montrously mega bird for London, so thank you Santander!

Turning my mobile on the first thing that flashed up on the screen was 'London WHITE-TAILED LAPWING Rainham Marshes: one on Aveley Pool at 10:57 this am' and being half asleep I closed it before thinking 'hang on, what did that say?' looking again and saying 'oh ****' I proceeded to text just about every local birder I knew but everybody was either at work or already on their way so I logged onto National Rail, planned my route, picked up bins and scope and was off. The journey was relatively simple; Sutton to Farringdon where I walked to Fenchurch Street and took the train to Purfleet where the RSPB visitor centre was a ten minute walk away; it still took at least two hours though.

On arrival I rushed through the visitor centre and headed straight for Aveley Pools, and got onto the WHITE-TAILED LAPWING lying flat on the bank almost exactly where I saw the Sociable Lapwing nearly five years ago. It stayed like this for ten minutes or so and I have to say views of just its brown back against a brown background weren't too great but then the bird stood up and started feeding, stretching its wings from time to time; it was then that the bird looked really impressive, a real stunner and it wasn't terribly far away either. Those long bright yellow legs, white tail & underparts, pale brown upperparts, paler face and white secondaries & primary coverts as well as the very short primary projection combined to make the bird a very attractive and interesting one to watch.

After enjoying the bird for about an hour it was time to make my way back to the visitor centre if I were to have a snack there before heading home, as I was beginning to leave my dad rang up to ask if I'd like to spend a bit more time there and he'd pick me up at 7.30pm; I accepted and walked the seawall, scanning the Thames and picking up a Whimbrel, an adult Yellow-legged Gull and 2 Oystercatchers which provided some nice bonus birds.

I spent the next hour enjoying second helpings of the Lapwing which was a bit more elusive than earlier but still afforded good views. Other birds on Aveley Pools included a Greenshank, a juvenile Water Rail, a Green Sandpiper, 2 Common Sandpipers and two or so Little Ringed Plovers. I headed back to wait ages for dad to pick me up, he was was late because of the same traffic which caused us to have to endure a five hour journey back; one which would normally take 45 minutes to an hour. A very worthwile trip, White-tailed Lapwing for London, what a bird!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Take me to the River

Before plumping for the New Forest on Sunday, Phil Wallace and I considered going to Norfolk and as we set foot at our first New Forest site the pager went off with a River Warbler in Norfolk rendering our decision a bad one - plans for the following day started materialising there and then.


We left Sutton at 8.00am yesterday, arriving at the first of our list of sites to pass the time until 7.00pm; a Stone-curlew breeding locality not far from Lakenheath. We spent about half an hour there, enjoying relatively good views of four Stone-curlews including three together. It was nice to see a Eurasian Curlew with a young downy chick too as well as a Stoat which took a strong interest in the local rabbits.

Lakenheath was next up but the visit proved very brief, we didn't even go past the visitor centre because staff informed us that the Golden Oriole situation (a target for Phil) at that moment was so bad that they would be very interested to know if we did see one.

Knot and Dunlin

Bearded Tit

This at least meant that we could spend more time staking out the elusive Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Titchwell. Approaching the reserve we stopped the car to enjoy brilliant views of a singing male Corn Bunting. On arrival at the reserve we had lunch at the cafe which retrospectively was a bad move as we missed the Sandpiper by ten minutes because of this; it had flown into dense vegetation on the freshmarsh. We searched for three or so hours to no avail, the star attractions amongst the general interest of the more expected marshland birds were four splendid summer plumaged Spotted Redshanks, a summer plumaged Golden Plover and a male Bearded Tit which showed well completely still for a long period on the mud at the bottom of a set of nearby reeds; it looked rather poorly.

Spotted Redshank

Golden Plover

We had spent too much time at Titchwell and we had to leave if we were to have any time at all at the Montagu's Harrier site (a bird which Phil needs as a lifer). A birder at Titchwell told us that the main area to watch from had changed so we quickly called in at the old lay-by to see if anyone was there (there wasn't) before driving around the area that the birder suggested, again finding no-one. We thought it best to leave for the River Warbler slightly early to get there in good time.

The River Warbler twitch was well organised, we arrived just before 7.00pm and gave our £2 to the local children holding buckets before Dick Filby directed our parking. It took a long time for the bird to start singing it was a tense wait but at least we had 2 Barn Owls and a Hobby to watch and some Little Owls to listen to in the meantime. Eventually, approaching 9.00pm the bird sang. The bird was singing to my right, I glimpsed what was without doubt the bird fly left with the naked eye and it started singing again from its new position but this was just movement seen with the naked eye and too poor to tick. A bit later on the bird stopped singing and what I believe was almost certainly the bird was seen a handful of times briefy in flight but realistically, Reed and Cetti's Warbler could not be completely eliminated, though on the views I did have I'd say it was far more likely the River than anything else and the bird was seen in the general area that the bird was singing from.

At the time I thought that the evidence was strong enough to prove that the these sightings involved the River Warbler and to tick it but I've been thinking over the last couple of days and come to the conclusion that Reed and Cetti's, although I feel it's unlikely it was either of these species, cannot be completely ruled out and views were really too poor, anyway I really wanted more on it than brief bins-only flight views.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

New Forest

male Stonechat

A trip to the New Forest today with Phil Wallace went rather well. See Phil's blog soon for many more photos than are shown here, of much higher quality. The day started well with a Red Kite that flew low over the M3. Acres Down at mid morning was first on the iternery and after not too long a magnificent female Goshawk flew into my scope and performed for the other birders present; no Honey-buzzards as desired (apparently they haven't been seen there this year) but three or four Common Buzzards and lots of Siskins were noted. The edge of the wood at the bottom produced two of both Tree Pipit and Woodcock and some heard-only Woodlarks. Inside the wood itself we failed to find any Common Redstarts but did enjoy a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker as it materialised about ten metres in front of us and nearby I got a brief view of what I'm fairly sure was a juvenile Firecrest.

Just as we began to drive away from Acres Down we heard the loud and distinctive song of a Firecrest and immediately stopped. The bird showed incredibly well, singing away and flashing its glorious crest; Firecrests are top class birds, I can never get enough of them!

We spent the rest of the day at Bishop's Dyke which was also productive, a handful of Stonechats still persisted in perching obviously despite the strengthening wind whereas a calling Dartford Warbler was less tolerent of the chilly and gusty weather, only showing once in flight. We searched a sample of the wooded areas for Common Redstarts but failed. We got onto a tit flock which provided a Goldcrest and a couple of juvenile Chiffchaffs along with an adult. At least one Common Crossbill was heard flying over. We started making our way back and as we left the wooded area Phil got onto a family of Common Redstarts, including at least an adult male and at least two juveniles the latter of which showed well on and off while the male was seen only once, briefly.


The walk back across the open heath to the car park yielded superb views of a pair of Ravens which gave us an excellent aerial display and even settled on the heath next to some iconic New Forest ponies. Nearing the car park we flushed three Woodlarks, two of which we managed to relocate, getting good views, and one turned out to be a juvenile that was regularly being fed by the adult.


A good day, with only two target species (Honey-buzzard and Wood Warbler) slipping through the net, thanks Phil!