Thursday 18 May 2023


Largo Bay is one of my favourite spots in Fife, possibly anywhere. Whenever I visit my family I am sure to visit one end or the other. Ruddon's Point at the east, Levenshore at the west, and Lower Largo itself somewhere towards the middle. It has been on fire of late - stuffed with vast quantities of duck, wader and diver. It is also 450 miles away. A few weeks back a Stejneger's Scoter was found by one of the local birders within the Velvet flock. This is a special achievement, and if you read his write up it was something like the tenth bird he scanned that morning. As is often the way with these things, as more birders arrived and started looking for it - for this is a very rare bird indeed, the second for the UK (or perhaps the first turning up again from Lothian last year - which incidentally I dipped whilst visiting my parents) - they found other birds. I am a little unsure of the final count and probably so are most people, but in addition to the Stejneger's there were up to four White-winged Scoters, themselves spectacularly rare, and possibly also four Surf Scoters as well. And to add to the fun all these birds were bracketed, quite literally and in terms of timing, by a King Eider to the east and a Pacific Diver to the west. Incredible stuff. Well, if you could get to Fife...

Whilst I sat gnawing my fingers to the bone here in London, incapable of action despite several long weekends, a Grey-headed Lapwing appeared in Northumberland. This is scarcely believable really, another first for the UK following on the heels of a bird in Holland. Northumberland is not as far away as Fife, but neither is it a casual journey. More gnawing, but you can probably see where this is heading.

As I vacillitated other people made plans. I stayed silent, annoyed at myself for being both rational and pathetic. I very nearly bit the bullet on the Coronation weekend, but by the time I was half committed the departing cars were full. Back to Wanstead then, birding without fingers is quite hard. 

Saturday was spent at home in a state of high anxiety - this is absurd. These are just birds after all and by seeing them or by not seeing them nothing changes. We vaguely watched the Coronation, it was on in the background as we were doing other things. Mainly this was scoffing at the silly fawning and orgasmic descriptions of men marching around in fancy clothes, but I have to say that the spectacle as a whole was actually rather splendid, if totally out of place in 2023. But the music...... when Zadok the Priest started up it sent a tingle down my spine. What a piece that is, and in that setting it was spectacular. Anyway, all that finished, a bunch of helicopters and the Red Arrows flew over our house, and we thought little more of it.

Come Sunday morning and I head out to Wanstead as usual. Both the Grey-headed Lapwing and Stejneger's Scoter are continuing to be soaked up by birders from across the land. I am about halfway through Wanstead Park having seen very little when I crack. Screw it. I am going. By myself. It is 9.30am, I can get to Northumberland by 3pm and Fife by the evening. Monday is a Bank Holiday again, and although I do unfortunately have work meetings these are not until the afternoon. I have not seen my parents since February, it is a great time of year to be birding in Fife, I can possibly go see my colleagues in Glasgow too. Yes. I can make this happen. I strode home, picked up my laptop and scope, and got in the car.

The next part is very boring and involves sitting in a car on the A1 for an eternity, but by 4pm I am watching the Lapwing and by 9pm I am on the Scoter. Hard work finding it amongst the thousands of birds there, but I was confident I could do it and I did. Job done. The longer I bird the more I hate twitching, but there is no denying that this was very exciting and extremely satisfying. There was joy actually, I am not ashamed to say it. I am not a get in the car and go immediately person, I am far more considered than that, and I spend a long time weighing up my options whilst secretly hoping that the bird will do a runner and make the decision for me. I think I hate the thought of twitching more than twitching itself, and combined with the fear of dipping this means I hardly ever bother. But in reality it is just a day, usually, and the next day you wake up just the same as you did before and it is all behind you. 500 miles and eight hours of driving fade very quickly I find, and a new day dawns with new possibilities. For me that meant birding my way around my favourite spots in Fife for the morning - Wood Sandpiper, Jack Snipe, Ring-necked Duck, American Wigeon, seconds of the Scoters and various other things. A bit of family time (I even got to mow part of the lawn for the old man!), a bit of work, a day in Glasgow with the team and then a very long commute home. And the next morning I woke up and went to work in London and it was as if nothing had happened at all. But that faint glow still remains. I did it, I got off my backside, I made a decision, and somehow it all worked out. It is very odd, at work I make decisions all day long, often very material ones, yet outside of that environment I can be decidedly useless. I am not a better birder for having seen a two firsts for the UK in a single day, but I am pleased that I did.

Tuesday 2 May 2023

A big weekend on the patch

Well, that was Greece, only a few months late. This is how much enthusiasm I have had for the dying art of writing sentences longer than seven words. I did not go see a bird. Much as I would have liked to have been in Fife for a weekend of Scoter mayhem, this was a family weekend at home. Birding locally is of course allowed during family weekends, especially as some members of the family are unlikely to have even managed to get out of bed by the time I get back.

I started this year in a "don't care" frame of mind. Winter birding barely took place, and all sorts of things that I really ought to have seen by now have passed me by - Woodcock, Snipe, Treecreeper and so on. The advent of Spring, slow though it has undoubtedly been, has seen a gradual return of my local birding mojo, to the extenf that my total for the year is now above average, whereas about a month it was about as poor for that point as it had ever been. After adding nine species last weekend, I surprised myself by adding another nine this weekend just gone and now find myself in the low 90s, possibly leapfrogging a few of my fellow patch birders along the way who may have thought I was down and out.

An early start on Saturday had me strolling across the football pitches well before 6am, early enough to coincide with a couple of Mistle Thrushes - these have been in very short supply on the patch this year, as evidenced by these being my first of the year. A timely message from Tony saw me quicken my pace, a female Goosander on Alex. What on earth is that doing there at the very end of April? This is a bird I have only ever seen here in December, January or February, and always coinciding with cold weather. As I clapped eyes on it it clapped eyes on me, and immediately took flight, circling the pond once in the low mist before disappearing. Timing. After some sustenance at Greggs my first Swift flew over, and whilst checking Jubilee Pond Tony took a photo of a ringed bird that we blithely put down as Herring Gull on the day only for the ringing recovery to come back from France as Yellow-legged. Weak but I'll take it.

James messaged to say he had a Sedge Warbler in the Park, and once there we managed to turn it into two Sedge Warblers, one of those bizarre birding moments that actually happen quite frequently, where two people thinking they are listening to or looking at the same bird are actually hearing or seeing different ones. A lovely Willow Warbler sang in the corner near the Tea Hut, and as we walked around the south side of Heronry Pond a Common Sandpiper dropped in. The water levels are currently so high that we could not locate it viewing south from the north side, but the unmistakeable call came twice from the other side. This is a little odd as in my experience they tend only to call whilst in flight, but perhaps there were clear areas of bank behind the overhanging vegetation that we could not see and the bird was moving between them. No doubt there will be more. Back on the Flats Tony picked out a female Redstart in the large Skylark pen, but the bird of the morning award went to a stonking - and I mean that in the stonkiest sense of the word - male Whinchat. Good grief it was sensational beyond belief, such as shame that it remained so distant but perhaps for the best as I might never have recovered had it come any closer.

The magic tree

That more or less concluded the Saturday but I was out again on Sunday checking the Park for any recent arrivals. I was a day too early for the Reed Warbler's arrival back on Shoulder of Mutton Pond, but in an odd twist whilst checking the exact clump that the Sedge Warblers had been in the previous day, what should pop out but a Garden Warbler. It is a just a small nondescript tree overhanging the water surrounded by a clump of gorse but clearly it holds some kind of irresistible lure for migrants. I've been stopping at any slightly odd Blackcap but so far they have all been just Blackcaps but this was subtly different, more of a prolonged burbling quality. It is always nice when you are provde right, and when I did finally get a view of it I gave myself a little pat on the back. This bird was singing quite quietly, perhaps just getting started after a long trip, and it stayed long enough for Richard and Marco to hear and see it, but by the time a few others arrived perhaps 30 minutes later it had disappeared (or shut up). Richard and I then wandered over to the Old Sewage Works which was stuffed full of singing birds - two different Cetti's were singing 300 yards apart, surely breeding is on the cards this year? Back on the Flats for a final stint I put in a bit of time near Vizmig, with nearly double figures of Swifts, a handful of Swallows, and finally a Sand Martin - a bird I feared might have passed me by this Spring. 

So that was my weekend. 71 species in walking distance from home. It might not have the cachet of, say, Grey-headed Lapwing, but I am pretty pleased with that. In total the collective managed 82 species across the Park and the Flats. Sure, you could go to Rainham and see that in a morning probably, but we take what we can get. I didn't do a great deal on the Bank Holiday Monday, I had had my fill. I did briefly consider Northumberland, but really? No, better to get into the garden and do a bit of work there. It will pay dividends later.

Monday 1 May 2023

The Gulf of Corinth - Part 2

I headed east early doors, studying the map the previous evening I had noticed that Delphi was between me and Athens. A further dose of ancient culture would surely do me no harm would it? Site of the famous Oracle, occupied since about 3000 BC if not significantly before. The Oracle was a person, a priestess (or rather lots of priestesses over the centuries) rather than an object, who medidated over some kind of chasm in the rock that spewed halucinogenic if not outright toxic gases. Thus originated various prophecies, and whilst I had no pressing questions I thought I ought to have a look seeing as I was almost passing.

I took the coast road as far as Panormos and then cut inland into the hills, a road that rose and rose via a series of switch-backs. The view was magnificent, the Gulf of Corinth spread beneath me. The birding where I chose to stop and admire the landscape was pretty damn good too.
Rock Nuthatches played up the slope, chasing each other around, and a call I could not place turned out to be a pair of Sombre Tits. Both of these species had been specific targets on birding trips not that long ago, to get them both at a random roadside stop in Greece was brilliant. Forget planning, just go birding. 

I was not alone at Delphi..... The word has spread, and many people were seeking enlightenment. With the numbers present I decided not to go in the site itself, but a little further down the road is the Tholos of Athena Pronaia which seemed as if could be highly photogenic. Indeed it was, and although it took a short while for a group of tourists to move out of the way, a familiar process could be enacted. It was also quite birdy, the clear highlight being a massive flock of about 250 Alpine Chough high above the site on Mount Parnassus.

Is Snuffi the one?


My next destination was the vast Kopaida Plain, a flat land of agriculture stuffed with birds of prey. I had two Hen Harrier, a Marsh Harrier, probably around 40 Buzzards, and lots of Kestrel. Corn Buntings were everywhere. You could easily spend a full day here criss-crossing the site in splendid isolation, but I had to get t0 Athens and had to get going. In the spring it would be likely be immense.

I managed to spend about half an hour at the Yliki Floodplain where I added a White Stork and Pintail to my weekend list. Before heading to the airport I visited the Vravona Wetland which seriously underwhelmed - per eBird it is one of the most productive sites in the area but possibly 5pm isn't the time to go and in any event I was up against the clock. I came to close to 100 species in my two days, and more importantly had a great time exploring.