Flock flock flock flock flock. Every January I try and make a winter visit to the Essex coast for some winter birding. Last year I went at the beginning of the month, where if you remember I knelt in a turd. No such poor luck today, but the birds were equally good. Once again Bradders took his rally car, and our chief scarecrow-spotter Hawky made up the team. Today was all about flocks.
Started on the Blackwater estuary, where we could find no interesting Grebes or Divers, but a flock of over two hundred Golden Plover were extremely nice, and the sound of their wings as they flew in tight formation was pretty damn cool. Heaps of Brents here too, and some flocks of Goldeneye in mid-channel.
A quick stop at Braxted Park where the regular flock of Hawfinches were seen, or at least some of them - we counted ten in the tall trees just within the golf course. A great bird to see, and an Essex tick for me, but a real shame they are so scarce. Our next flocks were near the Strood, at the causeway across [to] Mersea. Masses of Dunlin on the falling tide, but best of all a wintering flock of Lapland Buntings in a weedy field. We counted around 30 birds, and bins etc were unnecessary as the flock wheeled around overhead giving the classic "peew" and "brrrrrrrrr" calls. Easily the largest number I've ever seen together, including Shetland, and another Essex tick. I was on fire!
We tried the estuary from Mersea for Divers again, but all I could do was string a Cormorant until Bradders noticed. Boring! We gave up on the sea and headed to Abberton, where we encountered eight distant Smew, but much nearer six each of Tundra Bean and Pink-footed Geese. I can never recall either seeing birds this close, or seeing them swimming on the water, and I can only think of one time when I've seen them together, so this was very instructive. In a nutshell, Brown and Orange vs Silver and Pink. Goose identification, done.
A distant Ringtail Hen Harrier at the same site was a bonus Essex Tick, and we also twitched a burger van with notable success. Meanwhile I missed a Goosander on the Perch Pond back in Wanstead which was a bit gripping, but I did have an unlikely drake flying across the Flats a couple of years ago so I am not too gutted, and I can spend tomorrow looking for it.
A quick note on not year listing
Going really really well. I'm on 111, which I'd reached by 3rd of January in both 2009 and 2010. So far then, this is easily my worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) performance in recent years. I have not caved into adding it onto Bubo, which might induce competitive urges, and I only added it up for the purposes of this post (after having read the one I linked to above, and got curious). So far, so good.