Recent Trip Reports

Pagham Harbour, 15th March 2020

The last BOC event to go ahead before the Coronavirus shutdown was the day trip to Pagham Harbour on Sunday March 15th. At that time, government advice only impacted indoor gatherings so it was disappointing that the group that assembled at the Pagham Visitor Centre numbered just two, and that included the leader. It was a chilly day that didn’t offer much promise of early spring migrants, yet as we walked to the hide overlooking Sidlesham Ferry, a Chiffchaff started singing and gave good views. A selection of common duck species was on the Ferry Pool, numbers of waders such as Lapwing and Curlew were low on account of the low tide in the harbour, but a flock of gulls on the fields revealed several Mediterranean Gulls, some looking very smart in full summer plumage with jet black heads and striking white crescents above and below the eye. We returned to the car park via the tramway which gave us views of more waders including a distant group of Avocets.

Our next stop was Selsey Bill where it was extremely windy. We scoured the sea for divers and grebes without success and there was too much disturbance on the beach for waders to land. A couple of very distant auks sped past. It was soon time to head for the expected shelter of Church Norton, but with lunch and high tide in mind, we headed first for the sea where the wind was blowing as strongly as ever. We picked out a Great Northern Diver in the middle distance and after walking along the spit towards the harbour entrance, we found a tight group of four Slavonian Grebes battling the weather but very hard to observe even though they were quite close to the shore. Birds within the harbour were easier to watch – there was a fine drake Red-breasted Merganser, a Bar-tailed Godwit and groups of Brent Geese and Skylarks along with common waders and duck. Over lunch, from the shelter of the hedge near the hide we could hear another Chiffchaff singing, and in centre of the harbour a flock of 20 Mediterranean Gulls was continually being joined by more in all stages of plumage.

It was now mid-afternoon and there was time for one more stop, Medmerry RSPB. To protect nearby houses from flooding by the sea, the Environment Agency has constructed an inland sea wall and allowed the sea in, creating a variety of habitats. Here we saw Kestrel, Linnets and Green Woodpecker around the fields and Teal, Gadwall and Redshank on the flood. Closest to the sea are the so-called Stilt Pools where Black-winged Stilts have bred in the past – here we found Greenshank and two Ringed Plovers allowing comparison with two nearby Little Ringed Plovers. The walk back to the car was enlivened by close views of a Barn Owl hunting and lastly by a Yellowhammer, at first zitting unseen in a hedge but eventually revealing itself with its colours further intensified by the final golden rays of the setting sun.

Although we had encountered few spring species and the weather by the sea had made for challenging viewing conditions, by the end of the day we had amassed a total of 71 species and were pleased to have made the effort.

Robert Godden

BOC Day Trip to North Kent, 25th January 2020

Six BOC members assembled on a murky Saturday morning at Funton Creek, where a layby on a minor road not far from the crossing to the Isle of Sheppey affords extensive views over mudflats between the Chetney and Barksore Marshes. It was high tide and there was a scattering of common waders and a few Avocets in the middle distance, with Brent Geese and various ducks further out, and in the far distance Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards were quartering the grazing marshes beyond the mudflats.

We moved on to Elmley NNR for a quick diversion to look for a species that was high on everyone’s wish list – Long-eared Owl. In recent days two or three of these birds had been roosting close to the car park. The reserve is no longer owned by the RSPB and we paid our £5 fee at the entrance gate. We took the long approach track slowly, but the large numbers of ducks, Lapwings and Golden Plovers usually present were not apparent this time, and we made do with Marsh Harriers and a Brown Hare. We scoured the bushes behind a pond by the car park without success, but a helpful volunteer who knew the best places to look very quickly struck gold. In reality, the owl wasn’t that far away and only a few layers of branches were in the way, but it proved very difficult to see. Over time we were able to combine our views of a handful of feathers and a left eye and turn them into a Long-eared Owl – a typical view of this secretive species. We scanned the adjacent fields as up to nine Short-eared Owls had been present recently, but apparently afternoon was the best time for these.

Our next stop was Shellness at the eastern tip of the Isle of Sheppey, where a rough track passes a line of shacks on the way to the remote Shellness Hamlet community at the far end, with towns of the North Kent coast ahead across the open sea and the River Swale. This river often provides shelter for sea-going species in rough weather but we found around six Red-throated Divers despite the calm weather. With high tide just an hour away, numbers of waders at the high tide roost were building up – initially many hundreds of Oystercatchers which were later joined by Grey Plovers, Turnstone and Knot. A walk along the seawall in the hope of finding wild geese just yielded Little Egrets, Linnet, many Marsh Harriers and huge flocks of Curlew and Brent Geese. The lack of ducks was surprising, with very few Wigeon, Shoveler and Gadwall, and no Teal or Pintail – maybe they all go to Oare Marshes on the other side of the River Swale these days.

It was time to move on to Capel Fleet where each afternoon in winter birds of prey gather to roost in the reedbed, and where a viewpoint has been made offering a slight height advantage over the flat landscape. Marsh Harriers and Kestrels were common here, and there was a brief view of a ringtail Hen Harrier, and a possible Short-eared Owl was watched over a distant field. Nearby a large flock of Corn Buntings were perching on wires and bramble bushes and Red-legged Partridges scuttled along the roadsides. The morning’s murk had never cleared so checking out distant swans for the rarer species was a challenge, especially with white farmyard geese present, but as we drove back we were lucky to see a small flock of Bewick’s Swans hiding behind a haystack and a large flock of Russian White-fronted Geese.

Our final stop of the day was a return visit to Funton Creek. High tide had been and gone, and the mud was covered with hundreds of Bar-tailed Godwits and many Avocets. The light, such as it was, was failing but despite calls to call it a day, we gave it another fifteen minutes. A buzzard flew into some trees behind us – a Common Buzzard on closer inspection, but then we got a call from some other birders and soon had our scopes trained on a Rough-legged Buzzard perched high in a tree, its pale head and upper breast contrasting with a black belly standing out well in the gloom. A perfect end to a successful day, and though our day list stood at a modest 62 species, it did include some very special species.

Robert Godden

BOC Weekend to North Norfolk, 4th-6th October 2019

Nine of us met up at the Cley visitor centre/cafe soon after midday on Friday, after fairly smooth drives from Berkshire.

As the winds had generally been from the south and west there were few migrant species on the Norfolk coast apart from brief viewings of Yellow-browed Warblers. We decided to seek out a flock of Spoonbills at a previously unvisited site at Stiffkey Fen. After some confusion we found the correct footpath into the fen and, sure enough, after about half a mile, we found a large pool with a dozen Spoonbills dozing, sleeping or preening. There was quite a variety of other ducks and geese on the same pool.

A quick look for a reported Yellow-browed Warbler yielded nothing so we headed off to Burnham Overy Staithe to find some Cattle Egrets and for a walk out to the dunes at Gun Hill. We failed to connect with the egrets but had a really enjoyable walk along the embankment between the sea and marshes and the fields. There were a good number of the usual Redshank, Dunlin, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and some Black-tailed Godwits on the marsh side of the embankment. Little Grebes were in a ditch running alongside. We decided not to go all the way to Gun Hill but turned right onto the path back to the road where we’d parked. One field contained four enormous and impressive bulls. Another held about 100 Pink-footed Geese and about 20 Egyptian Geese. As we got closer to the road another field had a covey of perhaps 10 Grey Partridge amongst some Pheasants.

We headed off to the Burleigh Hotel in Hunstanton to check in, and then returned to Thornham, where some Marsh Harriers compensated for a fruitless search for Barn Owls; then dinner at the Lifeboat.

Saturday dawned quite mild with a slight westerly breeze which had changed from an overnight northerly. That boded well for a possible influx of migrants. We spent 40 minutes at the seafront scanning for not very much, finding many Oystercatchers and Turnstones, and some Black-tailed Godwits, but not much else.

A good breakfast followed and we all headed to Titchwell. We started with another look for Yellow-browed Warbler, without success, and then headed to the beach, stopping for a few scans across the pools and reedbeds. Several Bearded Tits were seen, a Kingfisher, Avocets, a single Golden Plover, Cetti’s Warbler and a variety of ducks. On and over the sea, there were a few flocks of Common Scoter and several divers including a probable Great Northern and a close Red-throated. Two mergansers flew by, some saw a Sandwich Tern, and there were a few juvenile Gannets. A Snow Bunting made a short visit before flying further down the beach. Sanderlings were readily seen scurrying backwards and forwards by the shoreline and a Bar-tailed Godwit flew over. On the walk back, at least one Spotted Redshank was clearly seen next to a Common Redshank giving a good comparison. Water Rail was added. Additionally, Rock Pipit and Knot were seen by some of the group. A probable Hen Harrier was seen by Gray and Adrian, confirmed by a sighting reported on Birds of Norfolk.

Most people had a light lunch before we headed back to Burnham Overy as there was a report of a Dusky Warbler sighting and the Cattle Egrets had moved to a new location nearby. This time we parked in the harbour car park (it was low tide) and walked back out on the embankment seeing a cluster of birders about half a mile away. “Not seen for an hour”, was the refrain from some dispirited birders. Another group of about ten birders had gathered along the other path lower down. Marcus and John H went down to join them as they seemed to be looking at something specific. Sure enough, they had seen a Yellow-browed Warbler, which obligingly popped up and flew along the hedgerow. It then flew towards us and disappeared in the reeds immediately in front of us. The remainder of the group came down just in time for the Dusky Warbler to make the first of several fleeting appearances, giving just about satisfactory views to most of the group. We went back up onto the embankment, as we had directions to look at a herd of cattle halfway to Holkham and, amongst them, were the six Cattle Egrets and further away a Great Egret. On the way back to the harbour we got another glimpse of the Dusky Warbler.

Three of the group then went to Holkham to search for Shorelarks and the remainder returned to Titchwell to look for a Yellow-browed Warbler. Reports of this species were coming in from all over the coast. Both groups had a good level of success … the Holkham party didn’t find a Shore Lark but did see a large flock of Linnets and quantities of Meadow Pipits, as well as a pair of Wheatears and a late Yellow Wagtail. The Titchwell group immediately saw a male Brambling at the feeders followed by a Treecreeper. After walking past the Fen Hide there was a flighty tit flock which contained a Yellow-browed Warbler, although it was not seen by all. Finally, a small flock of Redwing passed over.

Another pre-dinner look for Barn Owl was unsuccessful although there was a distant very probable Tawny Owl.

Sunday dawned very wet as forecast and after breakfast everyone vacated the Norfolk coast as it was supposed to rain until early afternoon. Seven of the group reconvened at Welney and picked up some further birds including a flock of Tree Sparrows, an over-summering non-migratory breeding flock of Whooper Swans, another Great Egret, two more Cattle Egrets, about a dozen Snipe, Stock Dove and a Bittern in flight. Some late House Martins made an appearance to add to some Swallows seen the day before. A Weasel showed very well as we had a final coffee in the visitor centre. We all finally said our goodbyes and headed south into lighter skies and even some late sunshine.

In total 108 bird species were seen by some or more of the group. We visited some sites not explored by the BOC before and enjoyed some good banter in generally pleasant conditions for two days.

Marcus I’Anson

BOC trip to Pagham, 8th January 2017

A 9.30 start at Pagham in early January is a real test of enthusiasm, but 11 of us were at the rendezvous near Pagham Church well before time. I always enjoy the village side of the harbour early in the year: it never fails to produce a spectacle. The always-threatening drizzle held off and the birds performed very well.

We spent the morning along the eastern side, a little disappointed by the lack of small birds in the scrub, but completely fascinated by the crowds of wildfowl and waders out on the mud as the tide dropped. Brent Geese were in big numbers, with occasional large flocks right overhead.  A great many Shelduck dotted the scene, with Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and elegant Pintails in the gullies.

In many ways, though, this was ‘wader day’, since we enjoyed large numbers of them at great leisure, with the opportunity to concentrate on comparisons and identification details. In all we noted some 14 species of wader, including Knot, Spotted Redshank and Greenshank.

The village lagoon held a female Goldeneye, a couple of Pochards and some Little Grebes, but the big moment of the day came when we reached the shingle ridge above the beach. As we scanned a calm but misty sea, Gray spotted a distant trio of small grebes. This is a hot-spot for Slavonians, and while this trio was a bit unconvincing for some, the flock of twelve that I found just over the harbour bar was much more viewable. As the group absorbed that sight, I found four more fishing in the channel exit at the surf line. Like many birders I am usually happy to see the odd one or two a year, so that was an exceptional experience for us all.

With a Stonechat in a bush behind the beach, and a distant Ringed Plover added to our tally, we walked back to the cars for lunch and then spent an hour or so checking out the area from the North Wall. A Kingfisher is often seen near the sluice, and one performed to order. With waders and wildfowl still dominating the harbour mud, we scoured the inland meadows, bushes and scrub. Most unusually there were few raptors and no owls. We found just two Buzzards, but that search drew our attention to just how many Curlews and Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the damp spots of the rough meadows inland.

On the way home we took a short diversion to Warblington, to look for Cattle Egrets. The first people to arrive had views of one, but that flew off before the last two cars arrived. Three Little Egrets raised hopes, but were little consolation. This has been an exceptional winter for sightings of a species which may be on the cusp of joining Little Egret, Spoonbill and Great Egret as regulars here.

Ray Reedman, January 2017

BOC Coach Trip to WWT Slimbridge, 22nd January 2017

By leaving Whiteknights at 7.30 a.m. we were able to arrive at opening time and to maximise our time at the reserve.

We were in the middle of a cold spell, so conditions were not ideal for either birds or birders. Ice and frost were significant factors, since large areas of open grass, creeks and pools, where so many waders and wildfowl normally feed, were largely empty – and it didn’t help that the tide was out. Rooks and Jackdaws seemed by far the most numerous species in those areas.

However there were plenty of consolations, with a Bittern showing at one hide, a Water Rail in the open in front of another and a small flock of European White-fronted Geese moderately close, though not quite close enough to be sure whether there were any of the Greenland race among them. When we saw a much larger flock on the Dumbles later, they were even further away, as was the large flock of Barnacle Geese.

The news of recent sightings proved to be important, because one report posed a real moral dilemma for the ‘listers’. When we found the reported ‘wild’ female Ruddy Shelduck flirting with the captive males, right in the middle of the collection area, it was clear that she was un-ringed, but to tick or not to tick was the awkward question. Less so, perhaps, with the ten Cranes we saw later on the Tack Piece, but this reintroduced population is now wilding up nicely and maturing too, with some evidence of them linking up with the Norfolk population. They certainly make a magnificent addition to the scene as they return to winter close to their alma mater.

A lot of the wild ducks were to be found on South Lake, which they were keeping ice-free by their sheer numbers and movement. There was an impressive mass of swirling Shovelers, but Pintails and others were in good numbers too.

The wader population seemed to be sparsely represented, with just a couple of Oystercatchers and a Snipe at various points. A brave Little Stint had taken refuge on a shingle island in Rushy Pool among the comparative giants of swans, geese and ducks resting and feeding there.

There were a few Bewick’s Swans there too, but the rest were way out of sight for most of the day. As always it was the twilight feed which brought in many more, as well as masses of Canada Geese, Greylags and wild ducks. I have watched that spectacle many times since first visiting Slimbridge fifty plus years ago, but I never tire of it.

Thanks to the support of the East Berks and Maidenhead/Bracknell RSPB groups, we were able to break even with the coach costs. There are several more trips during the year, so I hope that BOC members will repay the compliment when the opportunity arises. In any case, all the trips visit major sites – and it is so nice to sit back and doze on the way home!

Ray Reedman, January 2017

RSPB Coach Trip to Elmley, Isle of Sheppey, 5th February  2017

I joined the RSPB coach at Bray Wick on a damp and unpromising morning. However, Elmley on a grey, bone-chiller of a dank day is a price well worth paying for the sights it offers. The expanse of unwelcoming marshy land greeted us with an initial sense of emptiness, but slowly revealed its many and wonderful secrets during the next few hours.

The first clue was a Marsh Harrier seen soon after the coach had left the main road on the two-mile run to the centre on the winding, exposed track. We glimpsed grazing Wigeon, Coots in the gullies, and Lapwings resting among the tussocks.  We were greeted by a veritable flock of House Sparrows and Goldfinches at the car park feeders. The oak trees near the visitor centre yielded a Little Owl, but we were soon distracted by the swirling panic of a sizeable flock of Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Starlings. It was hard to spot the little falcon among the swirling mass. We found it again on a fence post a few hundred yards down the track – a lovely Merlin. Marsh Harrier sightings became frequent, with several different individuals quartering the landscape. There were at least three rather lazy Buzzards too, and a couple of active Kestrels. A male Hen Harrier passed close in front of us at the central hide, but was soon lost as a silhouette in the distant landscape.

The pools were a quiet, probably because the Swale Estuary was a mass of inviting mud at low tide. From the screen on the wall we could see a wide variety of waders: Dunlin, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Oystercatcher etc. What at first looked like a distant line of foam near the tideway turned out to be a line of hundreds of Avocets. The other white forms were Shelduck, but there were Wigeon, Teal and Pintails too.

Curiously we saw very few geese: a family of four Brent Geese was feeding in the marsh, and there was nothing of interest among the handful of Greylags and Brent Geese. The smaller birds were a bit more of a challenge in the dim light: there were a couple of Skylarks in song, and we also found a few Meadow Pipits, a pair of Reed Buntings and a Stonechat

Later, as we returned towards the farm, we watched an area of short-cropped grazing which was covered in feeding birds: among the many Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Starlings were a few Bar-tailed Godwits and a couple of Pheasants, but also a surprisingly large number of Stock Doves. A Hare decided to lope through the middle of this throng, the birds hopping aside rather indignantly as he passed. Suddenly he stopped and fixed his nose to a spot in the ground and remained that way for some time. He appeared to be testing a scent-mark. Some while later and further on I watched a pair of them, the smaller male hopefully trailing a female. Spring was clearly not far away after all.

At the edge of the yard we spent time scanning the landscape towards the road, checking for more raptor activity. Suddenly three Short-eared Owls rose up to challenge one of the harriers. We had superb views.  Shortly afterwards we watched a flock of large waders approach from a great distance to land just a hundred metres from us. A flock of perhaps a hundred Curlews was not a bad finale.

Ray Reedman

BOC Coach Trip to the Birdfair, August 2017

Bookings had been a little stronger this year, but we were still highly dependent on members of the RSPB groups to make the coach hire viable. On the bright and sunny morning of 19th August, a nearly-full coach trundled its way into the car park at the Birdfair. Conditions were ideal, with only a vague chance of rain.

A small group of us decided to make our way first towards the area where the Ospreys breed, but the young had already left the nest. However there were plenty of other birds to check out and a Great Egret was hard to miss. A Kingfisher flashed past and some did miss that, but we all saw the two Common Sandpipers. We did eventually catch up with more than one Osprey at the other end of the site, as well as with a Black Tern and a number of other species, including two or three more Great Egrets. We heard later that some others had seen the odd Tree Sparrow, but we failed on that one.

It was then time to concentrate on the Birdfair proper. I needed to look out one or two old friends and was reassured to see that my book was still on sale on the main book stalls. As usual the site was busy with marquees full of tempting offers of trips, spectacular optics, wonderful art work, outdoor clothing, etc. The many wildlife organisations offered advice and demonstrations, while some of the top names in bird watching and ornithology offered talks, entertainment and quizzes. It is great to see the event still thriving after many successful years and to know that our entry fees contribute to conservation of some of the most threatened species in the world.

Although we spent about seven hours there, the day flew by and the group all too soon reunited with bags, leaflets and stories to tell of how they had spent the day. There will be trip to Rutland again next year, but this time in May, when East Berks RSPB group have arranged a guided visit to the Osprey project. That trip is on our programme and details are on this website.

The Birdfair is always highly recommended, but you will have to make your own way next year, since we are giving the coach trip a rest in 2018.

Ray Reedman

Coach trip to RSPB Arne with East Berks RSPB, September 2017

Unfortunately there was to be no dreamy Indian summer day for this trip, since the forecast looked dodgy to say the least. However, our luck was in, with a bright sunny morning that held long enough for most of us to spend time on the open heath, and much of that at the viewpoint at the south-west corner overlooking Middlebere Lake

This year, half a dozen young Ospreys were relocated to a release pen on Poole Harbour to imprint them on the site in the hope of repeating the success of the Rutland project in creating a future breeding population there. These youngsters were now flying free and some could be seen perched in some distant trees. From time to time one would make a circuit of the area and, in doing so, would turn the patches of white and grey down in the marsh into flocks of swirling birds made jittery by the presence of the raptors in the area. As a result we could more easily count the largest white birds properly. These just happened to be Spoonbills and there were 24 of them in that flock, distinctly larger than the few Little Egrets. A supporting cast of Black-headed Gulls already contained one or two Common Gulls. The grey birds were Black-tailed Godwits and there were literally hundreds of those, with smaller numbers of Redshanks. Eventually a greyer wild adult Osprey showed up, did a circuit, and dived without fuss to fly off with a large fish held torpedo-fashion. If the rain had forced us home at that point, that spell alone was worth the journey.

As it was, we were able to fit in a lot more. There was a scattering of passage Wheatears, the odd Stonechats, and a pair of Ravens overhead. We didn’t, however, locate the Great Egret that was reported to be somewhere in that area. As we came back.the dragonflies around one pool included at least one Black Darter.

The rain did start for real at about 1 p.m., just after we had taken to the wooded area to make for Shipstal Point. The trees afforded enough protection to save us a soaking and while we sheltered a mixed flock of small birds flitted about nearby: these included Treecreepers and Chiffchaffs. A small number of Sika Deer moved under the trees in the nearby field and we found a larger herd later. As we neared the point we could see good numbers of Curlew and other waders in the marsh, but the number of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins over the marsh was almost as impressive. From the high viewpoint the storm clouds looked spectacular over the wonderful scenery as we enjoyed a lull, but then a Dartford Warbler popped up nearby to distract us. As we came back by the outer path, a roost of gulls was worth checking, since there were a dozen Sandwich Terns with them. Nearby, a Little Egret was standing belly-deep in the still water to dabble its bill like a lure for the small fry that were bubbling the surface.

Thanks to the tree-cover we returned through more heavy rain no more than a bit damp, and celebrated the finish with a good cuppa at the newly-refurbished visitor centre-cum-cafe. A good day out!

Ray Reedman

BOC Long weekend in North Norfolk, October 2017

It is very odd how much difference the weather makes. This year there were none of the easterly winds of 2016 and virtually no warblers or ‘crests’ to be found. Nonetheless we enjoyed a very good weekend, partly because there was plenty of coverage: we met several other birding groups, including one led by the familiar faces of the ‘Biggest Twitch’ duo, Alan Davies and Ruth Miller, who have twice been to talk to the club.

The BOC group was small enough to play to a tight team plan, and Marcus I’Anson led the game with ease and style. Bill and I had travelled up with him on Friday morning to meet the two Johns and Andy at midday at Wells.

We headed first for Cley, where a Grey Phalarope was a possibility. Naturally it had hardly been reported all day, so we shrugged our shoulders and got on with watching from the hides, where an assortment of waders included three elusive Curlew Sandpipers and a dozen Little Stints, as well as surprisingly large numbers of Ruff. The sound of a flock of about 100 Pink-footed Geese pitching down within a few yards of the hide was a highlight and presaged several subsequent sightings of some massive flocks: they seemed to be telling us that winter was just around the corner. Two Marsh Harriers quartered the area and caused flurries of gorgeous Golden Plovers and Lapwings. A sea-watch followed, with some frustratingly distant skuas (Great Skua confirmed), the odd juvenile Gannet, Red-throated Diver, Guillemot etc. The biggest surprise came as we walked back, when the Grey Phalarope suddenly appeared on a large pool to settle within yards of the only Pintails of the weekend. This autumn, Grey Phalaropes seem to have been unusually frequent, though widely scattered, and I had almost doubled a lifetime’s worth of sightings within the past month, but it was still a thrill to see another of these tiny maritime waders.

However, the day had still one more trick up its sleeve, because there were now reports of a Red-necked Phalarope at nearby Kelling. I had recently missed one at Farmoor and still badly wanted to see my first one, so I trod the lane leading to the water meadows with much trepidation. But it was there, and we saw it very well. If my satisfaction was great, for Andy it was a birder’s wildest dream: having logged an even rarer Wilson’s Phalarope in mid-week, he had now seen all three species in three days. Not many can claim that record, I am sure. A couple of Spotted Redshanks in the same pool looked gigantic alongside our Greenfinch-sized treasure.

Having spruced up a bit at the Burleigh, our regular Hunstanton base, we were joined at the Thornham ‘Lifeboat’ by Nicky and Jamie, who had travelled up after work. Unfortunately the subject of phalaropes did creep into the conversation. On the other hand, Saturday and Sunday still had plenty in store…

We did dawn watches from Hunstanton Cliffs on both days, the Sunday morning producing several spectacular flocks of geese and waders over the Wash as high tide took effect. Much of Saturday morning was spent at Titchwell, where there were plenty of waders once again, this time including Avocets and both godwit species, plus the odd Bearded Tit and Water Rail sightings, with Andy getting a short view of a Great Egret. In some ways the sea-watch was most memorable, this time with acceptable sightings of a couple of Great Skuas and a flock of five Pomarine Skuas of both morphs.

We had earlier made an abortive visit to the Snettisham area to chase reports of a Rose-coloured Starling, but the Starling flock had been elsewhere. Grey Partridges were some consolation. At about 2 p.m. the flock was reported from Heacham Beach, so off we went in hot pursuit. This time there were hundreds on the wires and on pasture near the car park. It took a long while to spot the slightly smaller, pale one, but we all had good views – except for John and Andy who arrived just after they had all flown off! (We tried again on Sunday morning and by amazing chance the little stranger flew in with just two others. It’s hard to write this, but Andy was still getting his bins out of the car and – guess what? – the birds flew off towards Snettisham before he had seen them!)

Saturday afternoon turned to heavy rain at 4 p.m., so Marcus led a small convoy all the way over to Stiffkey, where we could cruise slowly round a tricky section of road to see a Cattle Egret feeding among a herd of Red Poll cattle. We completed the circuit back to Hunstanton as the rain stopped. Unfortunately our attempt to find hunting Barn Owls at Thornham before dinner was frustrated this year by a stiff wind.

On the way home on Sunday, we made a short stop at Flitcham, which is normally good for Tree Sparrows, but needn’t have worried. As we walked up to the visitor centre at Welney we were almost mobbed by House Sparrows and Tree Sparrows together. Later they all vanished in an instant from the feeders as their nemesis, the Sparrowhawk, made a sneaky fly-through. The Ouse Washes were already alive with ducks and waders – so many Ruffs here too! – but a flock of some 31 Cranes and several groups of Whooper Swans tended to draw our attention more than a little: even the Marsh Harrier was an incidental. Bill was disciplined enough to check the pools properly and found the weekend’s one Green Sandpiper. Two hours at that wonderful site was barely enough, but there were still some miles to cover and the party broke up.

For most of us the highlight of the weekend was the Red-necked Phalarope. The supporting cast was pretty pleasing too: Grey Phalarope; Rose-coloured Starling; Cattle Egret; huge flocks of Pink-footed Geese; sheets of waders over the Wash; a few Pomarine and Great Skuas; Whoopers and Cranes; and a trip-list of 105 species in just over two days of actual birding. We felt that we had enjoyed an exceptional weekend.

It was a very pleasant social weekend too: the evening meals were full of laughter and banter, so our days finished in some style. Our grateful thanks go to Marcus for organising the whole shindig. He has already booked us the same weekend next year and I can’t wait for the next leg.

Ray Reedman, October 2017

BOC Coach Trip to Dungeness, 22nd October 2017

Sandwiched between a major storm and very changeable wet weather, this was a most fortuitous day: it started a bit grey, but brightened as it went on. In some ways, the birding followed that pattern too.

At Dungeness in October, one might reasonably hope for some late migratory movement, but in the event a few late Swallows were the best evidence of this. The scrub areas and shingle of the main reserve yielded a couple of Green Woodpeckers, the odd Stonechat and a few common tits and finches. Some Tree Sparrows obliged in the garden near the entrance.

A notable flock of roosting gulls was worth checking out, since a couple of rarer forms had been reported. We had no luck with those, or with the Cattle Egret that had earlier been among the grazing animals: a number of distant Swans, white posts, plastic buckets, white hocks and Black-headed Gulls raised our hopes, but we had to make do with Lapwings and Rooks in the end.

However, there were two Marsh Harriers and a Kestrel on display, and a great deal to check out on the various pools, including the ARC pit to the north of the main road. The dozen or so species of wildfowl included several Pintails and a few Shelduck. Waders were not numerous, but we notched up a healthy assortment of Golden Plovers, Grey Plovers, Black-tailed Godwits, Little Stints and a solitary Dunlin. There were one or two Little Egrets and Herons, but someone spotted early on a Great Egret. Later we all saw several, since a flock of about a dozen flew through the main pool. These birds have featured in my three previous reports, but this was proof indeed that the species has now gained a real foothold in Britain and will become even more familiar.

Even these beauties were rivalled by the Red-necked Grebe that showed on the ARC pool and by the Black Redstarts that appeared at the Power Station later. The sea watch was fun too, with plenty of gulls, including a few Kittiwakes, the odd-Red-breasted Merganser, and about twenty Gannets fishing quite close in-shore. The wind and light were ideal, but mid-afternoon failed to produce any other movement.

But such is the nature of bird watching that the biggest surprise occurred as we drove out from the lighthouses, when someone spotted a Short-eared Owl on the wing over the gravel ‘desert’  between the cottages. Our obliging driver pulled up to let us all see it well.

It had not been a massive turn-out, particularly as three people had to pull out at the last minute with seasonal ‘bugs’, but we were again well-supported by members of the RSPB groups. For the 21 people who did go, it had certainly been a day well-worth the effort. The species count had been fewer than 60 (thanks to Ralph Watts for his check-list) but the quality had been extremely high.

Ray Reedman

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.