Wednesday 30 September 2020

Autumnal and Winter birding around Bishop's Stortford: Part 4

 Final part of this brief guide to birdwatching around Stortford. Today, places further afield that offer a really good opportunity to build a good day list.

Amwell Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust Reserve:

This reserve is found between Stansted Abbots and Ware, old gravel pits adjacent to the River Lea. Presently the hides are closed but still a good viewing point to look out over the main lake with mud, reedbeds and islands.

Birds to be found through the winter: cormorant, mallard, shoveller, wigeon, tufted duck, gadwall, teal, coot, moorhen, lapwing, black headed gull, herring gull, lesser black backed gull, grey heron, little egret, reed bunting, finches and tit species including siskin and redpoll, Canada goose, Egyptian goose, greylag goose, shelduck, 

However, as winter temperatures become colder this reserve can pull in some good wintering wildfowl. Goldeneye are annual visitors, sometimes in reasonable numbers. Even more impressive is that most years, often after a really cold snap in The Netherlands, smew can be found, usually in the deeper water to the right of the viewing point and often in front of the Gladwin Hide, presently closed. Another good winter visitor will be goosander, often found on the lake further north. 

Birds of prey include Common buzzard, Red Kite and Peregrine throughout the winter along with resident kestrel and frequent sparrowhawk. From the viewing point, scan the wooded hills in the distance where also occasional ravens can be found.

The highlight bird of winter is the bittern. Rarely seen but its "booming" call can be heard in the reedbeds. If icy, it can be seen, along with the secretive water rail coming out to wander on the ice. 

Once finished at the viewing point carry on along the path left after the bridge. Siskins and redpolls feed in these trees. There is a fork in the track. Right takes you to another lake that can be viewed from the old Buntigford railway line where pochard feed along with other wildfowl. Then, head back to the river and turn right. After half a mile there is access to another worked out gravel pit near the lock gates and lock keepers cottage. This is where goosanders can be found, usually near the overhanging trees.. Retrace your steps and cross the river by the footbridge into a small wood. Alder trees here can be full of siskins and, as always, worth checking for the lighter and greyer Lesser redpoll.

Wrap up warm and take the binoculars as there is always plenty to find.


Female or first year smew at Amwell

Stunning male adult smew at Amwell several winters ago

Hanningfield Reservoir:

Found between Chelmsford and Wickford and about an hours drive. Visitors' Centre, good paths and plenty of winter wildfowl including goosander, pintail, shoveller etc as well as occasional smew.  Definitely a binocular day but there is a Causeway over the western corner of the reservoir and this is best place to encounter goosander. Used to be able to park on this road and watch from the comfort and warmth of the car. Not sure of that is still the case, but a pavement on both sides mean parking nearby and a wander back. Egrets and herons here, too. 

Very flat here and with a northerly breeze on a cold winter's day it can be nerve bitingly cold!! Wrap up warm.

Little egret

Stocker's Lake, near Rickmansworth:

A super place this, just off the M25. a well established path all the way around with hides (presumed closed.) Star birds here are wintering wildfowl such as goldeneye, goosander, red crested pochard as well as plenty of ring necked parakeets. 

The path here offers great views of the lake. At the wooded end near the swimming pool carpark there are trees growing from the water and it is usually here that the goosanders can be found. Also, regular sightings of Lesser spotted woodpecker.

Highly recommended for a half day trip.

A pair of male red crested pochard, not showing their bright red bill

Tyttenhanger, near St. Albans:

Accessed off the A414 between Hatfield and St. Albans. A large site with old gravel pits, reed beds, woodland and grassy areas. The last few Hertfordshire tree sparrows can be found here, where there is a specific feeding station to keep them local. Numbers monitored regularly. Some waders overwinter here along with occasional whooper and Bewick's swans . The woodland on the far side gives good, if distant views of the lakes and then there is a footpath causeway over towards the farm where golden plover usually roost in good numbers. This is a regularly watched site and for up to date information go to to see what is present. This page on the Herts Bird Club updates throughout the day. Here it is at 10.30am on Wednesday 30th Sept. There are several locals who bird this site daily, as there are at Amwell so information is usually very up to date

Bewick's swan (these from a long walk in Poland: cold and foggy!)
Note: Bewick's have much more black on the beak than the similar Whooper swan.

Pair of goosander, drake right. Another from Gdansk Bay, Poland

Therfield Heath near Royston:

Not only is this great for birding, it can be a wonderful walk, too. If parked in the car park next to Royston rugby club, walk up the incline into woods and head left. There is a footpath here that takes you out on to open fields where the farmer is extremely pro active in encouraging birds by planting huge areas of seed bearing crops of which he often leaves for the winter birds. Consequently, huge numbers of finches, particularly linnets and goldfinches. This attracts birds of prey and over the last few winters there have been reports of Hen Harrier over wintering along with the small Merlin, Sparrow hawk, Common buzzard, Red Kite, Peregrine and, a few years ago a very secretive Long eared owl. Short eared owls are more common and I shall flag this spectacular bird on the Stortford Nature FB pages if, or when, they appear.  Well worth a visit.
Short eared owl

SEO fly past. Superb bird

Rainham Marsh RSPB:

Just off the M25 before the bridge. A well planned reserve with, I believe, the visitor's Centre being closed at present. Do note, this reserve is only open as from 9am. A path takes the visitor all the way around with plenty of hides and viewing screens, the former, I presume, closed at present. Great for geese, wildfowl, birds of prey and over wintering waders. As with all the above, highly recommended.
Early morning redshank at Rainham Marsh

Other sites are, of course worth visiting and winter, for me, is not complete without several trips further afield to such places as North Norfolk, Dungeness, Frampton Marsh, Oare Marshes and Cliffe RSPB reserve just over the Queen Elizabeth M25 bridge. 
 If anyone requires further details on any of these sites, drop me a message. Happy to help. 

Sunday 27 September 2020

Autumnal and Winter Birding around Bishop's Stortford: Part 3

 Today's habitats are all a little further afield and may require either a long walk or a drive. 

Stansted Airport Lagoons:

Take the old road to Takeley from the M11 roundabout. After entering Takeley Street there is a layby on the right in front of a row of bungalows just before the turning to Hatfield Forest and the Green Man pub. Park here and walk past the pub until you reach the last building, Primo, a tile company. Right next to this is a footpath which takes you into a field. After 100 yards a footbridge over the stream into a small copse. The path forks, take the left hand one that emerges by a water treatment installation, up the slope and the 3 lagoons are in front of you. A tarmac track to the right, or a grass wander to the left. Signs state no walking along the path through the middle. I have wandered along here and normally no problem but occasionally a chap in a yellow airport Range Rover appears to tell you to go back. If there are plenty of Canada geese present he may be there already as he warns the flight controllers if the geese are flying off towards the runway. Worth asking for permission to use the centre track. However, with binoculars, all three lagoons can be viewed from the permissive areas.

Mainly a waterfowl site with Mallard, Coot, Little Grebe, Teal, occasional Wigeon and Shoveller, Gadwall pairs, Tufted duck and Mute swan. However, always worth checking the water's edge for small waders, particularly Snipe and Green sandpiper. Over the years, many good waders have been found here, only last year I encountered a Wood sandpiper during September migration. This is the best time for the lagoons but once winter has established itself, many other species are possibilities.

By the water treatment works there is often a Grey wagtail. This usually feeds on the muddy bank near the sluice at the end of the lagoon on the left. Approach quietly for good views. Gull species can also be present along with noisy Canada geese and Greylags. Magpies and Jays frequent the trees that encircle the site where there are also Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Reed buntings, Linnets and always a chance of an over wintering Chiffchaff or Blackcap.  

Two years ago a Greenshank overwintered on the back right hand side lagoon. Little egrets are regular visitors, as are Grey herons. If we get a really cold snap always worth checking the water as it can remain ice free. To keep the water well oxygenated there are pumps installed, rather like a huge jacuzzi. These come on at regular intervals and tend to stop the water icing over. Always possible that wildfowl from other sites that have iced over will drop in here such as Pochard, usually the well plumaged male. Female Pochard tend to migrate further south to The Camargue and the Iberian peninsula, males don't seem to go so far. The thinking behind this is that the males can return to the breeding grounds earlier and establish a territory before the arrivals of the female from their Winter sun holiday.

Pied wagtails and Meadow pipits can be watched on the stretches of mud at the far end of the two larger lagoons. Always worth a good scan across these areas as there maybe small waders present, too. 

A good site and one that can be covered fairly quickly. Early mornings are best but there will be birds present throughout the day.


Aubrey Buxton Essex Wildlife Reserve:

Accessed north of Stansted. At the roundabout for the new building site north of the village there is a turning on to a lane on the right. Alsa Lane, if I recall correctly. Drive up here for a few hundred yards until there is a track in front of you and a sharp left hand bend. Take the bumpy track, a permissible one and there is a small carpark for 4- 6 cars at the entrance to the reserve. 

Typical woodland birds will be present throughout winter: Great spotted woodpecker, Wren, finch flocks including linnets and, I suspect Redpolls and Siskins. There are a series of small ponds on which Moorhens and Mallards can be found but worth checking for anything else that might have dropped in. Numerous Jackdaws, Magpies and Jays and often a flock of House Sparrows by the hut near the largest pond. 

The path goes all the way around and at the far end there is a small exit on to a fallow field. Check the hedge here for Yellowhammers and tit flocks. Back in the reserve there are plenty of Great, Blue and Long Tailed tit and, occasionally a Marsh tit. Listen out for its distinctive "PerChoo Perchoo" call. Also, Coal tits and Goldcrests frequent the conifers whilst Nutchatches and Tree creepers can be found with a little patience. 

This wonderful site can easily be covered in an hour. A wealth of tree species as well as a few areas of grassland give the reserve good diversity of species. Sure there will be Little Owls and Tawny owls present, but I have yet to see them. Have heard tawny whilst running a moth trap there one evening. Pied and Grey wagtails by the lower pond, often found wandering along the tree trunk that lies across the water. Well worth a visit. 

Marsh tit, black cap with no white on it as in Coal tit

Coal tit, note white on the nape.

Hatfield Forest and Flitch Way:

A very well known site. To make this into a longer walk park under the old railway bridge on the lane to Hallingbury that is directly opposite the petrol station on the old road to Takeley. Once parked take the path on to the old railway line and turn right. Plenty of bird life in the dense vegetation all the way along the track until you reach a gate and the entrance to the forest. Tits and finches will be regular sightings and possibly Nuthatch and overwintering warblers such as Blackcap or Chiffchaff. Check some of the larger ivy clad trees for Tawny owls that use the ivy to hide during their day roost. A good sign that one is present is to hear and then observe small birds such as Tits and Blackbirds alarm calling around a tree. Often an indication of an owl being present although the small birds will do this if a Sparrowhawk, Common buzzard or even Red kite are present. 

Once into the forest there are plenty of opportunities to spot regular birds but the best area will be the lake with wildfowl such as Greylag geese, Canada geese, Great crested grebe, Little grebes, Mallards, Coots, Pochard and always a chance of other duck species cropping up. Little egrets occasionally along with gull species, mainly Black headed but always worth checking for a less common species. 

Near the car park, usually to the left there can be several overwintering hawfinches. These rare Hertfordshire visitors will certainly be flagged up on Stortford Nature FB if they appear, as will another couple of winter visitors that use the forest: Brambling and Waxwing.

Another good site for Hawfinch in Herts is Bramfield churchyard, just outside Hertford. Shall put out an alert if these turn up here.

Brambling, often associates with chaffinch flocks

There are plenty of other woodland sites around the town but searching deciduous woodland for birds can be hard work and frequently unrewarding, so I have left out many of our local woods. However, always worth a check.

Saturday 26 September 2020

Autumnal and Winter Birdwatching around Bishop's Stortford. Part 2

 This part will highlight areas slightly further afield from the town, south along the River Stort

River Stort South: Twyford Locks to Spellbrook Locks.

This bird walk begins and ends at Twyford Locks in Pig Lane, off the main Sawbridgeworth/Stortford Raod near The Boys' High School. Parking is available just before the river opposite the flats on the river bank.

Head south along the towpath. Cormorants can often be seen, both fishing in the river or resting at the top of two favoured trees. One of these is on the opposite bank, a tall dead tree, whilst the other is in the groumnds of Wallbury, just 50 yards before Spellbrook Locks. A good stretch of river for Kingfisher. Mallards and Moorhens all along this part and towards Spellbrook there are usually 6 - 8 Little grebe that overwinter on the river. In the alder trees near where the power lines cross the river Siskin and Redpoll are frequent sights. These can also be found in the trees on the far bank near the two small footbridges on the tow path. 

A thin metal bridge footbridge crosses the river after a few hundred metres from Twyford. Known as Roly Croak as from Victorian days it is worth using to access the open fields between the river and railway line. Both Great spotted woodpecker and green woodpecker are both resident here and a good sight for winter thrushes: Mistle thrush, Fieldfare and Redwing.

Bullfinches reside in the dense bramble bush by the bridge whilst overhead Kestrels are common. Back on the towpath by the two small footbridges it is worth checking the adjacent field for gulls and occasional parties of Lapwing. Take time to scan the whole area from the Red brick bridge that takes the walker on to Thorley Wash Reserve (mentioned later.)

From this bridge to the lockgates there is good birding to be had in the swampy area on the left. Here, Great tits, Blue tits, Long tailed tits, Robins and Wrens a plenty along with possible Coal tit and the rarer Marsh Tit.  Another bird here is more likely to be heard than seen. A sudden explosion of loud song will indicate a Cetti's warbler is present. A secretive bird  that keeps low and in heavy vegetation. Overhead, Common buzzards, Rooks, Crows and Jackdaws whilst actually in the swamp are several large oaks. These have in the past held a Lesser spotted woodpecker. Look for it walking along top boughs. often clinging on to the underside of these. A grey wagtail often frequent the area around the Lockgates.

Grey wagtail

Spellbrook Locks to Tednambury Locks: 

Car can either be parked before or after the lockgates, or possibly in the Three Horseshoes car park. Pick up the tow path heading south and check the cut opposite that flows near the house. Moorhen, Coot and Mallards here, whilst in the trees the expected tits, Robins and Wrens. At the first meander it is worth checking the opposite field, often holding cattle for crows etc as well as Wood pigeons and Magpies. As always, Red kites and Common buzzards soaring overhead. This is a field that one of the local Barn owl uses for hunting and as the nights get longer it can be possible to see the bird up to half an hour before dusk as well as at first light. 

The field on the left is owned by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and can get quite marshy. Very difficult to find but often good numbers of Snipe here and in the hawthorn scrub, plenty of Reed bunting. They use this area for winter roosting and in previous years up to 30 have been recorded coming in an hour or so before dusk A little further along there is the bridge over the cut into the marina. Use this height to scan the standing water in the far field of the HMWT site. Winter duck species such as Teal and Wigeon have been known to stop off here and usually Little egret and Grey heron can be observed fishing or just standing around. Long tailed tits on the opposite bank along with Chaffinches, Linnets and Goldfinches.

The walker can either continue along the towpath that enters wide open areas of fields to spot more of the same or return and head to Thorley Wash Reserve. 

Reed bunting male

Thorley Wash:

Several ways to getting on to this HMWT Reserve. Either by crossing the Red brick bridge some 400 yards from Spellbrook locks or by parking near Challenge gym just after the bypass roundabout on the road to Sawbridgeworth. Once parked here, track back 100 yards and there is a public footpath that crosses a field opposite Thorley Wash House and then over the railway line. Over the stile and on to a wooden bridge into the reserve. A circular path begins here, on the left. Check the river for grey wagtail before scanning the reserve for Reed bunting, often seen on top of the bushes. Linnets and Goldfinches frequent here, flying in numbers, their dipping flight a good indication of finch flight.

Great spotted woodpeckers in the large willows on the left by the wooden carvings that include an otter, dragonfly and owl. This is another site where the resident Barn owl can be found before dusk and at first light. Worth a visit on its own if wrapped up warm on a well lit evening.

Around a bend in the path and there is a copse of willow over the fence. Often water remains here and it therefore attracts Mallards, Moorhens and possibly a wader such as snipe. Tit species frequent the trees here. Kestrels are a common sight, often on the telegraph poles or overhead wires. 

The path wends around to the Stort Navigation where Little grebe can be seen. They will often dive just as you spot them and never appear again. They will have swum underwater to the reeds in the bank to hide. Crouch down and soon they will reappear for good views. The path takes the walker back to the Red brick bridge. Turn right back in to the reserve. In this dark area tree creepers can be found whilst on the other side of the river the alder trees may hold large flocks of Siskins, the adult male a splendid yellow and black bird, smaller than a chaffinch but the 1st year birds and females are much browner, showing slight hints of yellow in their streaked plumage. Check through these flocks as often there will be a greyer and lighter coloured bird with a red forehead, a Lesser redpoll. Listen out here for a sound likened to a squealing pig. This will be the call of the often present Water rail, a small brown bird with a bright red bill, a member of the same family as moorhens and coots. They rarely come out into the open apart from when it is very icy. Back in to the reserve and scan to the left where there has been a resident Fallow deer for a couple of years now before you arrive back at the footbridge by the railway line.

Water rail

Southern Country Park:

Either park in St Michael's Mead near the lake or use the car park found along Thorley Lane. The lake will be the main attraction here, with the reedbeds and open water. Wintering gulls can reach good numbers with most being Black headed gulls with their bright red beaks and legs, showing through winter a black spot on their head. Worth checking for other species of gull where the larger grey on will be Herring, any with darker wings and back will most likely be Lesser black backed gulls but also a Common gull may well be present: yellow bill, greeny/yellow legs and a much cleaner looking bird than the herrings. 

On the water, Mallards, Coots and Moorhens and always the chance find of other duck species. In the reedbeds by the boardwalk a good opportunity to see Reed bunting and, most likely, only hear Cetti's warbler and Water rail. Possibility of overwintering chiffchaff here, too, flitting through the young willows. On the far side of the lake and on the grassy areas, Magpies and Wood pigeons as well as flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing. In the trees, Wrens, Robins and tit species as well as Nuthatches and Tree creepers. Great spotted woodpeckers can be seen flying from tree to tree and always a chance of a Green woodpecker feeding on the ground, invariably looking for ants and buried acorns. Where there are berry trees, which grow in profusion here, wait a while for overwintering Blackcaps as well as more regular species. A good chance of Waxwings here if they arrive here this winter. Also, winter thrushes will be feeding upon the berries of hawthorn and Whitebeam as well as finishing off the windfall apples. A good wander around here will certainly give a good selection of the winter bird species present and will be especially good on a crisp, cold and frosty morning or if we get a good overnight fall of snow. 

Common gull, note leg and beak colour as well as the well rounded head.

Black headed gull in winter plumage

Herring gull
Spot the Common gull in this group. Photo from a long walk in Poland some years ago, this being a foggy morning with -8C temperatures

Friday 25 September 2020

Autumnal and Winter Bird Watching sites around Bishop's Stortford: Part 1

 Thought I would just put this out there for anyone thinking of doing a spot of autumn birding around the town. Plenty of places to visit.

Bishop's Stortford:

Castle Gardens:

A superb habitat, especially for those new to birding where they can get relatively close to the birds and develop binocular skills. Also, as there are plenty of common species, good for youngsters to begin learning their regular birds.

Resident species: Blue tit, Great tit, Long Tailed tit, Song thrush, Mistle thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Wood pigeon, Collared dove, occasional Kingfisher, Wren, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Moorhen, Mallard

Winter visitors: Fieldfare, Redwing, Lesser redpoll and Siskin. For the  first two, Sworder's Field is a regular haunt for them as from mid October whilst the two finch species can be found feeding in the trees overhanging the river, especially the alders with their small green cones upon which Siskins in particular feed.

Check also under the bridge by the entrance from the Causeway carpark for any overwintering Grey wagtail. These will also be present on the shingle/muddy banks and in the vegetation on the surface.

Redwing, a winter thrush with obvious white eye stripe

River Stort: Castle Gardens to Swimming Pool

As well as those mentioned above, always a chance to add some of the larger birds on this stretch of the Stort. Jays and Magpies in the trees as well as both Great spotted and Green woodpeckers whilst on the football fields there are usually plenty of Black headed gulls, which, at this time of year, DON'T have black heads. They will be the smallest gull present and can be found in their 100's sometimes. Larger grey gulls will most likely be Herring gulls whilst the ones with darker backs will be Lesser black backed gulls. Always the chance of a Common gull showing a bright yellow bill and yellow/green legs.

Nuthatches and tree creepers are also present as are goldcrests

Overhead, Red Kites, Common buzzards and kestrels with a chance of a flyby Sparrow hawk


Swimming Pool to Bat Willow Hurst Country Park:

Continue along the River Stort seeing more of what has already been mentioned, with certainly more gulls upon the fields, especially after a match when there will be mud and soil exposed. This is the best area for Kingfishers. Keep looking ahead on branches overhanging open water. All black bill is male, red on lower mandible will be female. Often seen as no more than a flash or electric blue and orange as they whizz by In the Red White and Blue field beyond Cannons Mill Lane railway crossing always a chance of pied wagtails feeding in the grass around cattle hooves. More birds of prey overhead along with plenty of Jackdaws, Carrion crows and rooks.

By the small car park by the railway line there is a copse of trees which regularly hold tree creepers. Both Grey and Pied wagtails can be found around the Balancing Pools in the country park with the possibility of an overwintering Chiffchaff which at this time of the year, frequently associate with water as there will still be insects for them to feed upon.


Registry Office to Twyford Lock including Rushy Mead Nature Reserve:

A good bird walk this one, offering much with plenty of mallards and a few mute swans upon the river. Tit species in the trees and bramble patches near the station and even more possible once over the road by Stanley Tees offices. Here, Magpies, Jays, corvids (crow species) and plenty of finches such as Chaffinches, Goldfinches, possible Greenfinches and the secretive Bullfinch. Linnets in their large winter flocks overhead. Coots and Moorhens especially around South Lock and the canoe club.

Rushy Mead Reserve well worth a wander around. Follow the path to a screen and viewing point which overlooks an area of cut reeds. Snipe can be seen here but will need a good eye for them as their camouflage is superb. Alder trees here hold redpolls and siskins annually, best for them on a really cold winter morning but present throughout. Listen for their thin wispy calls as they fly from tree to tree in large numbers. A good sign that they are these species is their preference for hanging from the cones and feeding upside down.

This is another good site for Goldcrests, tree creepers, nuthatches as well as the more common species associated with woodland such as woodpeckers. Every now and again there are sightings of Lesser spotted woodpecker along this stretch. These are tiny birds, no larger than a sparrow and show white and black barring on their backs as opposed to the patches upon the more common Great spotted woodpecker.

The walk concludes at the lock gates where there are often 5 - 6 Little grebe each winter, but a quick check in the adjacent car park can give great views of goldfinches feeding upon seed heads, particularly teasel if it is present. 

Lesser spotted woodpecker, Twyford Locks in 2014


Accessed either at the top of Thorley Lane next to the small Tesco or from Apton Road by the small roundabout on Scott Road. 

Super little site this, with a wide range of tree species offering different species food and roosting sites. The large conifers here are particularly worth checking. Stand next to a tree trunk to blend in and just wait as Coal tits and Goldcrests flick through the branches. Watch for any moving branches and with a little patience and luck, good views will be afforded. Plenty of wrens, robins, dunnocks, more common tit species as well as Collared doves and Wood pigeons will be present. In previous winters I have encountered Siskin and Redpolls here and if we get what is known as a "Waxwing Winter"  then they can often be found here. However, if this superb species does turn up in town they will certainly be mentioned on the Stortford Nature FB account very promptly, I am sure.  Over the years they invariably merit a mention in the local paper, too. Waxwings migrate to the UK in huge numbers every 5 - 7 years, usually either due to a population explosion in their breeding grounds of Scandinavia or due to a failure of beech mast and berry bearing trees. These mass migrations are known as irruptions. They will almost certainly be found on berry bearing plants in the cemetery such as yew, but also go for other berry types in such birding hotspots as Tesco carparks. We are due a Waxwing Winter.

Like Castle Gardens, the birds here are more used to humans and therefore become less wary, giving good opportunities for folk relatively new to bird watching the chance to observe at relatively close quarters. Also, good for enthusiastic youngsters, too. 

Waxwing, Bishop's Park, 30th October - 2nd November 2016

Same bird

Always a highlight to watch these superb birds.

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

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