Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Superb day in Norfolk

 Following last week's Easterlies, birding looked good for Monday so I was off to Norfolk at 5.30am for a day along the coast, mainly around Wells Next the Sea but with a chance to pop along to Cley also.

I arrived at Garden Drove, east of Wells and walked to the coastal footpath and headed west. Here, there had been sightings of a rare Brown shrike, just the 2nd ever record for Norfolk. As I wandered along the track, many of the trees were dripping with birds including an elusive Yellow browed warbler and several brambling. These were mobile and high in the oaks and with poor light, not worth getting photos of. I arrived at the brown shrike site where there were 10 - 15 birders. The shrike had been seen feeding on the nearby marsh before returning to its favoured hawthorn. In the distance, 3 wheatear sat atop a hedge. After half an hour of nothing, I decided to cut my losses and move on. I stopped by a small hollow surrounded by hawthorns and brambles. Perfect spot for a shrike as it uses thorns to impale its prey such as lizards, occasional small birds and beetles. I spent a good 15 minutes checking but just a redstart, Pied flyctacher and plenty of reed buntings along with a wren and a robin.

Male reed bunting

Female reed bunting

Robin in full voice

I headed back to the car thinking that if I had time, I would return late in the afternoon for another check. A meadow pipit posed nicely as I re checked the trees along Garden Drove, much as before.

Meadow pipit

Next stop was Wells Woods near the Beach Road carpark. Usually a good site in mid September and I was not disappointed. Plenty of birders about, many showing no awareness of social distancing at all. I wasn't comfortable and moved off. Red kites over Holkham Marsh, curlews, cetti's warbler, blackcap all made the day list before I came across a group studying a line of birch trees. Here, 2 more Yellow browed warblers but, keeping my distance meant I was too far for any photos. Good views through the binoculars. A huge skein of Pink footed geese came in, all very noisy, having flown from Siberia and the Arctic Circle. In another birch, a pair of willow warblers and a chiffchaff.


Over 75 geese just in this cropped shot
Holkham Red kites

I turned to wander back to the car park when I encountered another group, again, all close together. I stood back just as a Red breasted flycatcher popped up on to a rosehip laden branch. Much too fast for the camera before it disappeared into a leafy silver birch. Most of the birders then circled the tree and cameras shot endless photos. This tiny bird, a first year bird will have fledged somewhere in North Eastern Europe or Siberia and has either been blown off course or, more likely headed west rather than instead of South East to Western Asia. They usually stay for a few days before continuing their journey but it is not known if they carry on in the wrong direction and perish or recalculate and make the journey back to where they should have been. Alternatively, they stay around and usually perish through the insectless winter. This splendid bird turns up in very small numbers in North Norfolk most autumns. Another Pied flyctacher was noted and yet another Yellow browed warbler, another bird from Siberia and found annually in Wells Woods and Holkham pines, often associating with the smaller goldcrests.

Pied Flyctacher

I returned to the car with just a few minutes remaining on my ticket and headed off to check the East Bank at Cley. Upon arrival, I checked Snipe's Marsh, just a teal so off the the East Bank. Redshank, meadow pipits and curlew on The Serpentine along with mallards and gadwall, little egrets and black tailed godwits mixing with curlew. A distant Marsh harrier rose from the reed bed as I arrived at the Richie Richardson hide, an open construction so permissive entrance. From here: avocet, ruff, grey plover, redshank, solitary greenshank, numerous cormorant and shelduck. In the far distance, a large female peregrine sat upon a fence, a photo impossible due to so much heat haze, but a great sight, nevertheless. A quick check on the sea, a few far off gannets and a variety of gulls only, so I returned to the car in 20+C temps. 

Little egret


Spot the peregrine falcon
Too much heat haze


By now it was mid afternoon so I thought a return to Garden Drove and a few hours searching for the elusive shrike. Once parked by the pig farm I checked the trees as I headed back to the coastal path. More of the same and the light was still bright and harsh so I thought I would try upon my return. I arrived to find a group of birders next to the hollow I had checked in the morning. The shrike had been seen in another hawthorn hedge at the back of the site. I raised my binoculars and there it was, in the bush, not great for photography. This is another bird from Siberia and should have migrated to East Asia, perhaps Thailand or Sri Lanka. This is known as reverse migration where a bird basically goes 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Again, the outcome for the bird is not known. This was, as most incorrect migrants are, a first year bird showing barring on the breast and the beginnings of the black mask that most shrike species show. This was a new UK bird for me, having seen plenty in Sri Lanka over the years. It moved several times but never offered itself for a good photo, a few of my efforts here.

I left and I as I wandered to the car there were still plenty of birders heading along the path to see it, relieved to hear that it was still present. Along Garden Drove Long tailed tits and chaffinches lent themselves nicely to some photos in the orange light of early dusk. A large flock of Golden plovers came in to roost on the marsh before I was back at the car and ready to head home. Been a long but fruitful day. A small copper butterfly alighted just as I got back to the car, a pleasing conclusion to the day!

Golden Plover

Long Tailed tit


Small copper

Species list, which is certainly quality over quantity for a Norfolk Day and with most of the hides on the very busy reserves closed, I will have missed out on probably 30 - 40 definite species. Pleasing list, though.

  1. Little grebe
  2. Gannet
  3. Cormorant
  4. Little egret
  5.  Grey heron
  6.  Mute swan
  7.  Pink footed geese
  8.  Greylag geese
  9.  Canada goose
  10.  Brent geese
  11.  Shelduck
  12.  Egyptian geese
  13.  Mallard
  14.  Gadwall
  15.  Wigeon 
  16.  Teal
  17.  Red kite
  18.  Common buzzard
  19.  Kestrel
  20.  Peregrine falcon
  21.  Marsh harrier
  22.  Red legged partridge
  23.  Grey partridge
  24.  Pheasant
  25.  Coot
  26.  Moorhen
  27.  Oystercatcher
  28.  Avocet
  29.  Grey plover
  30.  Golden plover
  31.  Lapwing 
  32.  Dunlin
  33.  Redshank
  34.  Greenshank
  35.  Black tailed godwit
  36.  Curlew
  37.  Snipe
  38.  Ruff
  39.  Black Headed gull
  40.  Herring gull
  41.  Lesser black backed gull
  42.  Wood pigeon
  43.  Collared dove
  44.  Green woodpecker
  45.  Great spotted woodpecker
  46.  Skylark
  47.  Meadow  pipit
  48.  Pied wagtail
  49.  Wren
  50.  Dunnock
  51.  Robin
  52.  Redstart
  53.  Wheatear
  54.  Song thrush
  55.  Blackbird
  56.  Blackcap
  57.  Cetti's warbler
  58.  Willow warbler
  59.  Chiffchaff
  60.  Yellow browed warbler
  61.  Goldcrest
  62.  Red breasted flyctacher
  63.  Pied flycatcher
  64.  Great tit
  65.  Blue tit
  66.  Long Tailed tit
  67.  Nuthatch
  68.  Brown shrike
  69.  Magpie
  70.  Jay
  71.  Jackdaw
  72.  Carrion crow
  73.  Rook
  74.  Starling
  75.  House sparrow
  76.  Chaffinch
  77.  Goldfinch
  78.  Linnet
  79.  Bullfinch (heard)
  80.  Brambling
  81.  Reed bunting
  82.  Yellowhammer

Friday, 4 September 2020

Couple of hours at Amwell

 Poor light and few birds meant I spent time chatting with others at the Viewing Point at Amwell Nature Reserve near Ware. With all the hides still closed the birds are, consequently rather distant so all photos are hugely cropped and shot at high ISO numbers to keep shutter speed adequate. Hobby fly pasts were the highlight but these, sadly, were far off, hence the poor detail in the following shots.

Just finished eating some unidentified prey, dragonfly perhaps?

Gulls were checked but just the usual selection of Lesser Black backed, Black headed and Herring in various stages of moult and of different year groups.
Juvenile black headed gull

juvenile black headed gull

Lesser black backed gull, adult

Pair of adult Lesser black backed gulls

Adult Herring gull

Moulting herring gull going into non breeding winter plumage

Wildfowl were in low numbers. A solitary wigeon along with gadwall, mallard and pochard.
Pair of female pochard

First year male pochard entering into adult plumage

Female pochard having a chuckle about something

Flyby mallard

Cormoarnts and grey herons were in good numbers whilst overhead a lone Common buzzard circled on the horizon.

On the island, lapwing and greylag geese were in strong numbers as were starlings, mainly juveniles just coming into pre adult plumage and therefore covered with white spots and showing a dark bill ready for the winter.

The Island in front of the Viewing Point

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Butterfly Guide. An illustrated look at the resident butterflies found around Bishop's Stortford

These are the main butterfly species likely to be found in gardens, fields and local woodland. If you come across any other species, Shout!! I've put a few comments by each one as to where you may find it. No comments means it is fairly ubiquitous.
Happy to see any photos for id purposes and to hear records of White letter hairstreak, Purple Hairstreak and Painted Lady.


Large white

Found just about everywhere. Note yellow/cream underwing and extensive black, jet black when fresh, around wing tips.  Male has small black mark on hindwing whilst females have 2 large black dots on forewing. 

Small white

Again, everywhere. Usually smaller than large white, much less black on wing tips, frequently grey and worn and just one dot on upper forewing.  Often this and above species are found together so a little looking helps distinguish them.

Green Veined white
Again, a common species found in many habitats. Look for the dark veins when the wings are closed as shown above. Similar size to average Small white. Shows two indistinct spots on upper forewing.

Marbled white

Unmistakable insect. Slow flapping flight often alighting on knapweeds, thistles and other flowerheads. Usually only found in grassland areas.

Orange tip.

Very unlikely to now see this species now as it is a spring flyer, but just for reference, note underwing pattern shown here to id female which looks similar to other whites. Male unmistakable.


Common Blue

Males unmistakable, a darker blue than similar Holly blue but the underwing pattern is completely different. Females are brown with blue hairs on thorax and abdomen and very similar to Brown Argus, see below. Gardens and open ground where there are an abundance of flowers to nectar upon. Territorial chasing off of other blues but usually returns to same area to nectar.

Brown Argus.

As stated, similar to female Common blue. Need to see the underwing where there is more orange on the border and the black dots have larger white around them. Tricky. Also, the black streak on the upper forewing is usually more prominent on Brown argus than female Common blue.  Similar habitats to Common blue, rarely seen in gardens whereas Common blue may well be present.

Holly Blue

Invariably a lighter blue than Common but easy to identify once the wings are closed as there will just be black dots and streaks. Found in gardens, normally not far from ivy or holly


Meadow Brown

The most common butterfly around here. Grasslands, and woodlands and larger gardens will all have these insects. Variable markings with colours ranging from orange to brown. Diagnostic is the single white dot in the eye ring. Found on male and female. If you find one, there will be many other present.

Invariably perceptively smaller than Meadow brown and usually shows darker oranges and browns. 2 white dots in the eye ring on upper and lower forewings nails the identification. Loves bramble flowers and can be quite approachable. Hedgerows, floral areas of woodland best for this smart butterfly.


Much more of a chocolate brown, this is a butterfly of woodland rides and woodland borders where there are grasses. Eyerings on underside of wings very noticeable, less so on upper wing. Associates with Gatekeepers and Meadow browns so possible to get an identification on all three in the same habitat

Speckled Wood

A common butterfly of woodlands and woodland rides. Usually rest with wings open making identification easy. Look for the pale yellow spots that help camouflage it in dappled woodland sunlight.

Small Heath
Underwings similar to Meadow brown but look for grey hairy thorax and head and much smaller size. A butterfly that likes grasslands and often roosts almost on its side.  Lands regularly and can be approachable


Large skipper
Considerably larger than the two other species mentioned below. Has very prominent black stripes on the upperwing and shows lighter, rectangular blotches on underwing as shown above. Often rests and feeds with wings half closed. Wider border around wings than other 2 sp.

Small skipper
Moth-like butterfly. Narrow darker border around wings and usually plain orange wing colouring. Diagnostic feature is that there will be orange as well as black on the clubs of the antennae as shown here.

Essex Skipper

Very similar to Small skipper, sometimes showing a few black streaks on wings but just need to check colour of clubs on antennae. All black makes it Essex skipper. All 3 skipper species will be present in grasslands with plants such as Knapweeds, Wild carrot, thistles etc. Again, find one and there will be many others, often all 3 species together.


Ragged look to the wings is a giveaway for Comma. No other butterfly here shows this feature. If wings are closed a brown patterning is apparent with a small white "comma" mark fairly central. Gardens on buddleia, hedgerows etc.

Silver Washed Fritillary

A distinctive butterfly, that often glides on large, flat wings. Pattern on upperwing separates this from any other species. Much larger than the Comma. Will be found in floral woodland rides and on the borders of well established woodland. Uses old oaks to lay its eggs so the older the wood the more likely this will be present. 

Small Copper
A small butterfly and basically unmistakable. Seems to be increasing in number in East Herts. Often seen resting on warm, dry soil and will fly forward when disturbed. With a little stealth it is possible to get close enough for a decent phone photo. Note dark hindwings. Similar size to the blues.


White letter hairstreak

Almost exclusively a woodland species and then, only where elms are present. In July, find an elm and this butterfly will be present. Side Hill Wood near Much Hadham good for these and a resident population in Stocking Wood as well, near Bury Green. Look for the distinctive white line when wings are closed along with the orange border and, when fresh, the small tail as shown here. Be pleased to hear of all sightings locally of this species.

Purple hairstreak

A grey/purple butterfly of oak woods. Usually spends its time in the canopy but will come down to nectar, often in the afternoon and after a morning rain shower. Single eye dot shows on the underwing. There are plenty of these butterflies about but due to their residence in the canopy are usually under recorded. Be pleased to hear of records of these locally.

Assorted others.
Red admiral
Familiar garden butterfly that feeds upon buddleia but also found along hedgerows. The orange band across the upperwings distinguishes this common species. 


Unmistakable butterfly with its blue and red eye spots. Gardens, woodland borders and floral grasslands. Can look jet black when wings are closed but in fact this is a very intricate pattern of dark browns and blacks. as shown above.

Small tortoiseshell
Another common garden butterfly also found in fields and hedgerows. A very much orange butterfly with super blue edging when fresh. 

Unmistakable. Leaf shaped wings. Male yellow, female green. Flies in spring and then next generation emerge in July/August. Always close to good stands of flowers.

Painted Lady
Migratory butterfly and very few around this year, but can turn up in huge numbers. Can be confused with Red admiral but upon closer inspection there is no orange band, less black and main colour is a salmon pinky orange. Be pleased to hear of any sightings. Often found in early autumn on buddleia bushes but also found in floral grasslands. 

Other possibility

6 spot Burnet moth
Can only be confused with the similar Narrow bordered 5 spot burnet moth, but a quick check on the spots solves the id issue. Found in grasslands where there is bird's foot trefoil, so often found with Marbled whites. Loves feeding on knapweed

Good local sites

The following are some of the best sites around Bishop's Stortford for butterflies. 

Hatfield Forest 
Probably the premier site with just about all of the species shown here being present and in good numbers. At the moment, car park space has to be book in advance.

Wall Wood
Other side of the road from Hatfield Forest in Woodside Green. Good selection of woodland species along the paths here.

Southern Country Park
Several entrances, Thorley Lane and St Michaels Mead. Good selection of species here. Head for the unmown, dog free area in the middle of the park where there will be a good variety. Plenty of Marbled whites at present but they will be finished soon.

Stocking Wood
Half hour walk from Tescos or 15 minutes from Bury Green. Along the footpath, about halfway into the wood from either side is an overgrown ride full of knapweed and lady's bed straw along with bramble. Good variety of expected species here.

M11 footpath north to Burton End
Open and untouched pasture here holds many species, 17 alone on Monday 20th July. Park in Birchanger village and take footpath from near the pub over the M11 and turn left. Path runs parallel to motorway all the way to Forest Hall/Burton End. Grassland species a plenty.

Birchanger to old A120 and Flitch Way
Same start as last route but turn right after the bridge, under a tunnel, over another footbridge brings you to untouched pastures.

Stansted Airport Lagoons
Park near Green Man pub near the turn to Hatfield Forest. Pick up footpath next to last building on left (Primo tiles) and cross the footbridge up to the lagoons. Good stand of bird's foot trefoil and knapweed in the far right hand corner, through a mesh gate but butterflies all over here.

Westland Green
Turn left into Chapel Lane, Little Hadham just before the Nags Head pub when coming from Much Hadham (due to road closures at present). Go past the travellers' site, through a spinney and the green is on the left. Small muddy layby here. Open grassland recently mown (Grrr) but butterflies are still present.

Do take binoculars with you for butterfly watching so if they fly up into the trees you can still id them. If photographing them make sure you don't cast your shadow over them. They'll fly off. Check where the sun is and approach accordingly, bearing in mind many butterflies open their wings in full sun so frequently your approach will be wrong for photos so track around the side. A zoom lens certainly helps.

Check Butterfly Conservations Big Butterfly count, now up and running. Download the app and off you go. So easy. It'll ask a few details and will even place you on the map so no need for map references. Then has a list of common species mentioned here. Click on correct number for each species and submit. Only keep a count of how many you saw for each species in 15 minutes. Very straightforward.

This is me

This is me
At the end of another Norfolk Coastal footpath walk. 47 miles, 3 days 99 species of bird

Caley Wood view

Caley Wood view
sunshine through the canopy 29.05.08

A walk along the Warta Valley, Poznan, Poland. Feb 2007

A walk along the Warta Valley, Poznan, Poland. Feb 2007
Best birds on this walk: black and middle spotted woodpecker and short toed treecreeper

About Me

My photo
A primary school teacher for 30 years, I retired from teaching in July 2009 to set up my own science enhancement and communication company. The Primary Works offers science clubs, workshops and staged science shows nationwide. I have always been interested in bird watching since my early years. Apparently my first tick was after inquiring about a chaffinch and then receiving the Observer book of birds. By the age of 9 I had moved on to Tory Peterson's collins guide and was now involved on YOC birding holidays to Northumbria, Essex coast, Slimbridge and Yorkshire. My twitching rule is that I will willingly travel 1km for each gram the bird weighs. However, I have had many rarities just by being in the right place. I have travelled widely throughout Europe and also visited Australia and Sri Lanka. In 2016 I spent time at Portland Bird Obs and two trips to Aviero, Portugal. 2017 found me back in Sri Lanka in Feb/March, then July and back for New Year's Eve celebrations in December. Also returned to The Camargue in May for a 4 day trip. Few plans for 2018, but nothing yet booked apart from a trip to the IOW.

Grey heron

Grey heron
Over the allotment 28.09.08

Southern Hawker

Southern Hawker
Ridge footpath 27.08.08

Juvenile green woodpecker (17.08.08)

Juvenile green woodpecker (17.08.08)
Note the stripes, denoting a bird fledged this year.

common blue

common blue
Ash Valley G.C. 15.08.08

Indian balsam (impatiens glandulifera)

Indian balsam (impatiens glandulifera)
River Ash

azure damselfly

azure damselfly
River Ash 28.07.08

marbled white

marbled white
Discovered at Westland Green 22.07.08

ruddy darter

ruddy darter
Bush Wood 21.07.08

honeysuckle 19.07.08

honeysuckle 19.07.08
growing in hedgerow in Chapel Lane

cinnabar moth caterpillar

cinnabar moth caterpillar
Photographed on ragwort 19.07.08


Study of petals 11.06.08

male yellowhammer

male yellowhammer

common blue butterfly

common blue butterfly

River Ash

River Ash
looking south from the bridge at Hadham Ford

Common poppy (papaver rhoeas)

Common poppy (papaver rhoeas)
in rape field 29.05.08

Caley Wood sunshine

Caley Wood sunshine

Millenium Wood fox

Millenium Wood fox

common comfrey (symphytum officinale)

common comfrey (symphytum officinale)
06.05.08 banks of the River Ash

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge,(Alliara petiolata)

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge,(Alliara petiolata)
flowers, leaves and fruit edible . Good in salad and pesto

April showers

April showers
Double rainbow 30.04.08

Caley Wood bluebells

Caley Wood bluebells

Yellow Archangel

Yellow Archangel
Chapel Lane (20.04.08)

sunlight 16.04.08

sunlight 16.04.08
looking south west from Bush Wood

snowy buds

snowy buds
06.04.08 in Bush Wood

Looking north west

Looking north west
05.04.08 evening shower approaching

Back Garden

Back Garden
Easter Sunday (23.03.08)

Brick Kiln Hill

Brick Kiln Hill
Looking east (23.03.08)

No play today

No play today
The 2nd hole at Ash Valley golf course

Teasel head

Teasel head
Bush Wood (21.03.08)


daffodils at Bush Wood pond (21.03.08)

Swollen River Ash

Swollen River Ash
The river at the bottom of Winding Hill 16.03.08

Daybreak over the chapel

Daybreak over the chapel
Thursday 13th March

Wild daffodils (narcissus pseudonarcissus)

Wild daffodils (narcissus pseudonarcissus)
growing in Bush Wood

January snowdrops

January snowdrops
Banks of River Ash, north of Much Hadham

Good Moon

Good Moon
From garden 24.01.08

Village Green

Village Green
Looking east towards Acremore Street

Looking south before Hadham Ford

Looking south before Hadham Ford
rare January blue sky

Useful sites

The following are some useful websites that may interest readers of this blog.
Firstly, Bishop's Stortford Natural History Society http://bsnhs.webplus.net/

Fellow birder, Gary Whelan's blog. Gives reports from our trips out together plus reports from his trips abroad. http://hairybirders.blogspot.co.uk
http://www.hertsbirdclub.org.uk/ The official herts bird club website. Frequently updated, listing bird sightings around the county. Offers links to many other websites. Both of these sites also offer links to yahoo discussion groups.
http://www.birdforum.net/ An international site. You can enter as a guest but become a member( free) to post comments, bird sightings and just about anything to do with wild birds. Good news updates, classified section for binoculars, cameras etc.
http://www.guidedbirdwatching.com/ A new site set up where you can contact people worldwide who will help you find good birds in their country. UK section being set up presently.
Fellow birders blog. Strtford resident, Graeme Smith regulary birds the area south of Stortford as well as around Spellbrook and the River Stort from Spellbrook to Twyford Locks. Some superb bird photography: Graeme uses a digital camera attached to his powerful telescope to get detailled images of the birds he sees. Well worth a browse.
Two local sites that may be of interest can be found at
http://www.thehadhams.com/ www.thepelhams.net/content/section/12/139/

South Easterly walk

South Easterly walk
black, normal, red extended walk

South Westerly route.

South Westerly route.
Black usual, red extended

North Easterly walk

North Easterly walk
black short, walk. Red, extended

North West Patch

North West Patch
black route regular. Red route the extended wander