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.
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.
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!
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.
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- Finnish Lapland and the Varanger June 2016
- BOC Trip to WWT Slimbridge (January 2015)
- BOC Weekend on Isle of Portland (April 2014)
- BOC Norfolk Weekend (February 2014)
- BOC Trip to Suffolk & Norfolk (February 2013)
- BOC Trip to Lakenheath Fen (June 2011)
- A trip to Northern Greece (May 2011)
- Raptormania in Andalucia (April 2011)
- Portland Bill, Dorset (April 2011)
- France on a shoestring (March 2011)
- Pennington Marshes (October 2010)
- Northumberland (June 2007)
- Extremadura (May 2006)
- Estonia (April 2005)
- St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly (Oct/Nov 2004)
- Canada (June 2004)
- An Arctic trip: Lapland and the Varanger (June 2004)
- Sardinia (May 2004)
- Lesvos (May 2004)
- Danube Delta (May 2004)