Monday 19 March 2018

London buses at Dungeness!

Last night I decided to head off early to Dungeness, so, having left the house at 5.20a.m. I was in the sea watch hide before 7.30, next to the power station looking out over the English channel. A trickle of red throated divers, few razorbills and guillemots and distant gannets but the most common sighting, apart from cormorants, were harbour porpoises heading up channel into the North Sea. Here, I chatted to Jack, the new assistant warden at the Bird Observatory. After a while he casually said there were two bluethroats at Dengemarsh Gully.
Every birder has a bird that is elusive to them. For me, it's bluethroat. They are regular in The Camargue, Southern Portugal, Poland etc but on all my trips there I have never encountered one. A male turned up at Amwell NR several years ago, but had flown by the time I got there and on numerous occasions, I have failed to find one on the North Norfolk coast. I just put it down as "the bird I'll never see"
After an hour on the beach in -3C and very windy conditions, I thought I may have a look for these bluethroats, pointing out to Jack that I really ought to ring folk before I head to Dunge as I miss so much.
I arrived at the gully and immediately, a bluethroat popped up in front of me. The sky was dark, snow swirling and the bird was on mud: tricky light conditions for photos. These were the best I could manage. The bird showing a full blue bib, bordered by a hint of black and then red.

Pleased with this sighting, I set off for the RSPB reserve in increasingly freezing conditions. I treated myself to a proper thermal hat, donned my thick gloves and set off. A peregrine chased wigeon, a marsh harrier quartered the reedbeds, and a slavonian grebe slept on the water at Dengemarsh hide. Superb birds. A coffee warmed me up back at the Visitors' Centre before a wander to the ARC pit. More wildfowl, another marsh harrier before I checked willows for small migrants. A chiffchaff was my reward for standing in a gale that meant it felt like -6C.
Back to the car and off to Scotney Pits where oystercatchers and curlew got on to the day list. At this point the sun emerged so, instead of heading off to Oare Marshes near Faversham, I decided to head back to see if I could improve on the bluethroat shots. I returned to find a second bird, sporting a white dot on the blue bib. Two in one day and none for 59 years and 11 months!! Typical.
Firecrests flitted through the gorse and a caspian gull was noted roosting with 100's of great black backs, lesser black backed and herring gulls.
I managed a few photos of the 2nd bluethroat before heading home, getting through the Dartford tunnel just before 5.15 without any delay.
A truly memorable birding day for me. I am still trying to remember what was the last bird I saw in the UK that was new to me from anywhere in the world. Think it may have been Leach's storm petrel on a visit to Wallasey to see relatives before a Liverpool football game. That must have been in the early to mid 1990's!!
Edit: It was the western sandpiper at Cley when Wendy and I were staying at The George for a few nights. Must be several years ago now 2010/11/12 ish?
Great crested grebe in full plumage

Slavonian grebe in winter plumage, but calling for a mate.

Due to lack of mate, he went to sleep

female Marsh harrier

Male marsh harrier being mobbed by a carrion crow

2nd bluethroat with white dot

Species list for the Day:

  1. red throated diver
  2. slavonian grebe
  3. little grebe
  4. great crested grebe
  5. gannet
  6. cormorant
  7. little egret
  8. grey heron
  9. mute swan
  10. greylag goose
  11. canada goose
  12. barnacle goose
  13. egyptian goose
  14. mallard
  15. gadwall
  16. shoveler
  17. wigeon
  18. teal
  19. pochard
  20. tufted duck
  21. common scoter
  22. goldeneye
  23. marsh harrier
  24. common buzzard
  25. kestrel
  26. peregrine falcon
  27. pheasant
  28. moorhen
  29. coot
  30. oystercatcher
  31. ringed plover
  32. lapwing
  33. dunlin
  34. curlew
  35. black headed gull
  36. common gull
  37. herring gull
  38. lesser black backed gull
  39. greater black backed gull
  40. caspian gull
  41. guillemot
  42. razorbill
  43. stock dove
  44. wood pigeon
  45. collared dove
  46. green woodpecker
  47. skylark
  48. meadow pipit
  49. pied wagtial
  50. wren 
  51. dunnock
  52. robin
  53. bluethroat
  54. mistle thrush
  55. fieldfare
  56. redwing
  57. song thrush
  58. blackbird
  59. firecrest
  60. chiffchaff
  61. great tit
  62. blue tit
  63. marsh tit
  64. magpie
  65. carrion crow
  66. jackdaw
  67. rook
  68. starling
  69. house sparrow
  70. tree sparrow
  71. chaffinch
  72. linnet
  73. goldfinch
  74. greenfinch
  75. reed bunting.
8 new birds for the year list and one never seen before. Excellent day, finishing off with this superb firecrest.

Sunday 18 March 2018

Round up of recent sightings

Had a few wanders over the last week. On Monday took a walk from Birchanger to Turners Spring Reserve, a new site for me. Not too much on show here but I was greeted by a pair of Marsh tits which were new for the year. Treecreeper and coal tits shown here.
This coal tit appears to be on a collision course

Coal tit


Treecreeper at Turner's Spring

Moth wise, the cold weather has returned so little chance of trapping much at present but last Sunday I ran the trap at a new site, Harvey's Wood. This wood, planted some 30 years ago gave up a pleasing 30 moths of 13 species with Twin spot quaker, clouded drab, Small quaker, Dotted chestnut and Hebrew character all being new for the year.
oak beauty

Twin spot quaker

March moth

Small quaker
With the temperatures hovering around 12 - 13C i checked Millennium Wood for any early flying butterflies or singing chiffchaff. None were noted but a large flock of 100+ common gulls were seen heading east from horse fields in Millfield Lane. Part of a large movement of this species in the south east over the last few days. May have been displaced by the previous cold snap and moved inland in search of land that was not frozen solid.
sky full of Common gulls

Common gull

Thursday 8 March 2018

A few moths!

After the coldest snap for quite a while when even turning the garden trap on was a waste of time and energy, we seem to have turned the corner and are now heading towards Spring. Temperatures are still lower than average but at least the temps are encouraging a few moths to fly.
Between 20th Feb and 3rd March I took no moths, my longest barren spell since 2011. This was eventually broken on the 4th when there was a marked increase in the evening temperature, so I set the actinic heath 15watt trap up in Millennium Wood. 6 species were taken, including a new for year Shoulder stripe, along with a Small Brindled beauty, a new site record and only my 3rd record for the parish.
Small Brindled Beauty

On the 5th a Common quaker was at the garden 125watt skinner trap and the following evening I set the trap along a green lane in Pig's Green and then visited several local woods with headtorch and net. All I got were 2 Agonopterix heracliana whilst back at the trap: March moth (2), Satellite (2) and a Dotted border. The home trap gave up 2 Common quaker.
Agonopterix heracliana

Spring usher

Common quaker

Last night I just ran the garden trap and was rewarded with another Common quaker and my 13th macro for the year, a magnificent Oak beauty.
This takes my total to 161 moths of 15 species for the year. Even after the long cold snap, slightly up on 2017.
Oak beauty

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Patch work

The main joy of being a birder that regularly checks an area, (patch working) is when you come across birds that, in the UK are common but on the patch are not often observed. Obviously the bronze standard is to find a new bird for the patch records whilst silver standard is to find a Herts rare on your patch. The gold standard is to find a UK rare or mega on patch. Clearly, these only come along once or twice a year in the case of a new record for the patch whilst a mega for Herts or UK is probably a once in a lifetime occurence. My hoopoe in Bishop's Stortford was one such example of an uncommon bird turning up in a strange place.
Today, I did my once fortnightly check around Hadham Hall and the irrigation lagoon towards Bloodhounds Wood. From a distance, I could see movement near the lagoon and a quick binocular check revealed 6 greylag geese. Only my 3rd parish record stretching back over 10 years. Good to see.

6 greylags heading south from the lagoon

 Upon the lagoon, 2 tufted duck, which are not common in the parish whilst in a tree, a reed bunting. Again, not an everyday bird for the village.
pair of distant tufted duck
Reed bunting

A red kite rose from trees next to Hadham Hall, an everyday sight these days! Upon the lawn at the Hall, a dead lapwing. This casualty of the cold weather is again, a bird I rarely see in the parish. Other species: great tits, mallards, blue tits, chaffinch, yellowhammer, corvid sp etc.

Who remembers Hilda Ogden's decorations in her house in Coronation Street. A pair of mallards head for Hadham Hall
Dead lapwing

Monday 5 March 2018

Rainham Marsh Visit

reed bunting
Set off this morning for Rainham Marsh RSPB Reserve, my first visit here this year. Having negotiated the M11 and the M25 I arrived just as the reserve and visitors' centre was opening at 9.30. Off on a clockwise wander around the reserve, a walk of around 3 miles.
I was surprised to see ice upon the open water as the temperature was rising as the day progressed. Coots and mallards walked across this as a large flock of wigeon and lapwings rose from the fields. Into the Purfleet Hide, but little of note, a distant pintail pair so I moved on. Outside, a male stonechat in brambles and the familiar pinging call as a solitary bearded reedling flew over, heading towards the targets and down into the reeds.
greylag geese


Meadow pipit

same meadow pipit


The Marshland hide didn't give up too much either so I continued. On the Target Pools plenty of shoveler, teal, more pintail and numerous wigeon. Several curlews called, as did a pair of redshanks. Into the main hide where the water and marsh in front gave up more views of the same. Several casualties of the extreme weather: A coot in one of the drains near the Marshland hide and what looked like a canada goose in the middle of the reserve. Gulls, mainly black headed and common were on the list as I headed towards the Ken Barrett hide, where just a few wildfowl were seen. A water rail squealed from reeds as I approached the Cordite where great, blue and long tailed tits were seen. A great spotted woodpecker drummed as a green woodpecker called. A male linnet sang from a bramble before I found myself back at the centre. In total, not too much seen but a wonderful walk, with the bearded reedling being a year lister.
Looking north east from the Shooting butts hide. Mainly wigeon

drake wigeon

More wigeon

male linnet

drake teal from Ken Barrett hide

Species list:

  1. mute swan
  2. greylag goose
  3. canada goose
  4. shelduck
  5. mallard
  6. pintail
  7. shoveler
  8. wigeon
  9. teal
  10. tufted duck
  11. pheasant
  12. water rail (heard)
  13. moorhen
  14. coot
  15. lapwing
  16. dunlin
  17. redshank
  18. curlew
  19. black headed gull
  20. common gull
  21. herring gull
  22. lesser black backed gull
  23. wood pigeon
  24. collared dove
  25. green woodpecker
  26. great spotted woodpecker
  27. skylark
  28. meadow pipit
  29. wren
  30. dunnock
  31. robin
  32. stonechat
  33. redwing
  34. fieldfare
  35. blackbird
  36. cetti's warbler
  37. great tit
  38. blue tit
  39. long tailed tit
  40. bearded reedling
  41. magpie
  42. jackdaw
  43. carrion crow
  44. starling
  45. house sparrow
  46. chaffinch
  47. linnet
  48. goldfinch
  49. reed bunting
Pair of shoveler

Distant drake pintail

This is me

This is me
At the end of another Norfolk Coastal footpath walk. 47 miles, 3 days 99 species of bird. September 2009

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

Fellow birder, Gary Whelan's blog. Gives reports from our trips out together plus reports from his trips abroad. 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. 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. 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

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