Monday 30 October 2023


Just got back from another trip, and although I had grand plans to blog about trips earlier this year, for now here are a smattering of photographs from Buenos Aires, one of the world's great cities. A non-birding holiday for once, with Mrs L and sans enfants. In short (maybe there will be a long) brilliant fun.

Saturday 21 October 2023

We only love Nadine

You can see how it happened. That singular clarity of thought, that incisive mind, that charm and wit. When that was no longer on offer as your democratic representative, well, what's the point? Might as well stay home. No Nadine, I'd rather not even vote. We love Nadine. Only Nadine. It is remarkable that she was ever elected, let alone that she became a Secretary of State, but that is where UK politics is at. Sycophants, charlatans and liars.

If the two by-election voter swings this week are mirrored across all constituencies in the next general election then political oblivion for the Tories beckons, at least for a while. I think that's a good thing and am very much looking forward to it becoming reality. Equally I am not saying that the Labour Party will do any better, but it is time for a change and they deserve their chance. It may all continue to go horribly wrong, but at least you know their intentions are likely honorable. Whereas with the current lot you feel that they'd auction you for medical research if it meant they could make a few quid. A few more quid. As and for the other guy, Pincher, why do these people go into public life?

Angel has some water in it for the first time in a long while. Now it just needs some Snipe in it.

I've been out on Wanstead Flats every day this week, dodging the showers. Sometimes for an hour, sometimes for longer. It has been moderately successful, but no more than that given the time of year. On one day I scored a Brambling, very clear calls somewhere over Long Wood. A couple of days later, perhaps even the next day, a very early Woodcock scooted over the brooms and plopped down right in front of me. Brambling I knew I was going to get, it was only a matter of time. Woodcock would likely have required some effort, some standing around in the cold at dusk waiting it for fly out to feed. I declined that opportunity earlier in the year even though it was pretty close to my house, it didn't really appeal for obvious reasons. Far easier to just jam one whilst standing around, I've done it before and will likely do so again. 

These two additions mean I am fractionally ahead of my average for the time of year, somewhat against the odds you would have to say, but I have been putting in the hours lately so perhaps it is no more than I deserve? I've actually been so keen that on some days I've arrived at the VizMig Point in the dark. I've no idea why, it hasn't helped in the slightest, but my October Redwing count is up to 1496, Fieldfare a distant second with 103. Grim determination is probably as good a summary as any.

Sunday 15 October 2023


We are beseiged by Short-eared Owls from all sides. Single birds Monday and Tuesday, a bird early morning yesterday, and then what is likely two birds this morning and could have even been three. It's all getting a bit silly. I missed yesterday's, a slower start meant I didn't get out until the show was over. I nearly missed out today as well - a late night on Saturday drinking Barolo and Barbaresco meant I was still stumbling about indoors when the first bird was seen at 7.30am. Bins ever at the ready I poked my head out of one of the skylights and caught it flying west with an entourage of Crows, my fourth for the garden. It departed high south-east a short while later.

Once out on the Flats it was mainly to do with Finches, with Chaffinch and Siskin the most numerous, but at 8.13am I was with Simon when I picked up a Short-eared Owl south of the patch flying west. The same bird as earlier? Possibly. This bird then veered north, crossed over the patch and disappeared to the north - tracked by James from his house. Only six minutes later I spotted another Owl, or at least what I assume had to have been another one, coming in low from the south. This also could have been the same one that had left at 7.30am, but surely can't have been the same one that had gone north. We will never know, but whilst birds 1 & 2 could have been the same, or indeed birds 1 & 3 could have been the same, I find it very unlikely that birds 2 & 3 were the same given the timing. I could claim three I suppose, but I think the safest thing to do is to put down two. Regardless, there are enough about that we've had to change the signage.

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Asio karmatus

Another sunrise

I couldn't wait to get out this morning, totally raring to go, and I left in the half light. It was eerily quiet, I couldn't hear a single Redwing as I crossed onto the Flats whereas the previous day it had been instant. The first seeps came from Long Wood but there was no overhead passage. I had assumed that the huge influx of Thrushes and their subsequent move westwards would continue today, but it seemed not. It was cold in the mist and I resorted to counting Parakeets - close to 650 flew east on their morning commute in around 90 minutes. A few Redwing came over, but I didn't break a hundred and was glad I had been out yesterday and had not missed out.

Bob joined me once the sun came up, also hoping for a continuation of yesterday's passage, but probably keener to regale me about the Short-eared Owl he had seen with Simon and Marco shortly after I'd left. I checked for signs of red eyes from constant weeping but they looked fine. In fact I'd go so far as to say he looked pretty chipper, the high-fives, cartwheels and backflips from yesterday seemingly having done him no harm. We'd been together on Centre Path for about ten minutes when the greatly hoped-for but hugely unlikely grip-back occurred. I could scarcely believe it, but managed to retain my composure and gently tap Bob on the shoulder to point out the karmic Owl coming in high from the northwest. He who laughs last and so on. If I don't say so myself this was thoroughly deserved, and was my 12th SEO for the patch after drawing a blank last year. Two days on the trot? Really? Yes really. I was of course delighted that Bob was present for this seismic event, it just wouldn't have been the same without him. Not only was he able to confirm I wasn't engaging in some kind of nefarious entitled string, but I could also relive how happy he was for me having missed out on his celebrations yesterday. 


Monday 9 October 2023

Out of the dawn

 It's vizmig season, finally. Despite the crazily nice weather, for the birds it is verging on winter. The first reports of large numbers of Thrushes came from further north last week, as well as the first Short-eared Owls coming off the North Sea. Winter. There was a smattering on Sunday which I missed, this morning the taps were properly turned on.

I managed to get out by about 7.15am. Would that I had managed to get my arse in gear a little earlier as from almost my very first pace it was clear that there was a lot of movement. I'd passed 150 Redwing within minutes, and once stationed at the Vizmig Point the counting began in earnest. I won't bore you with a blow by blow account, suffice it to say that the action was more or less non-stop until I left. In fact, even after I left...

I tallied 820 Redwing, 19 Fieldfare, 5 Mistle Thrush, 3 Song Thrush and a Ring Ouzel, almost all west. The largest flock of Redwing was in the mid-eighties, and I hadn't recorded a single Fieldfare until I'd got to over 400 Redwing. I'd seen Ring Ouzel in the spring, but it was still a special moment when it flew past on an off-kilter northerly heading before veering east and disappearing behind the trees of Coronation Copse. Maybe it landed, maybe it didn't. There were also the first decent numbers of Chaffinch and my first Siskin of the autumn.

Further quality came in the shape of a distant Great White Egret flopping slowly east at quite some height. Initially just an Egret, it took a little while to work out that something wasn't right,  piece together what those things were and happy conclude this was the better of the two; Remarkably this is my sixth on the patch, unthinkable only a few years ago. Everyone there was able to just about get on it as well which was rather good, particularly as it was so high; there were no landmarks and directions other than in most general sense were impossible.

I left the patch highly satisfied with my morning's work. Shortly afterwards Simon picked up a Short-eared Owl, a bird that I've been hoping for for a few weeks now. I thought about dashing back to try and get its rear end but I was late as it was, hopefully there will be another - I just looked up my patch records and I've seen 11, so they're not especially rare but neither are they annual. One thing is for certain, I will be back out tomorrow.

Sunday 8 October 2023


This weekend was a tale of two halves and I lost them both. Yesterday on the patch with recalcitrant Stonechats and nothing new. Today nine hours at Wallasea Island dipping a Pallid Harrier whilst Thrushes including Ring Ouzel piled into Wanstead. You can't win them all, but at least I've seen several Pallid Harrier before and it was my first visit to the reserve (and it was brilliant). Marsh Harriers everywhere, a Hen Harrier, millions of Skylark, Reed Bunting, and probably more Little Egret in one place than I've ever seen anywhere. I had a lovely day out on the coast in unseasonal October sunshine, a far cry from where I shall be tomorrow... No doubt the Pallid Harrier will show all day.

Early on a couple of Short-eared Owls were flying around the reserve, always keeping their distance. Later on everyone in Essex who owns a camera turned up to try and photograph them, as is the norm. There is something about SEOs that is impossibly attractive for the no-bins togger brigade. I'd attemped a few shots in the morning before reluctantly concluding I was wasting my time. I need to get back into the swing of things and it would be helpful if the birds played ball, this weekend has been a good reminder of how difficult it actually is and how there is simply no substitute for being really close. And of how heavy my camera is!

Saturday 7 October 2023

A brief flirtation

The Stonechats are still here, although we are down to four. They've mostly been showing really well as I've walked past during the week, and earlier this morning I discovered why. Because during the week I've not had a camera.

Last night I retrieved the camera from a dark, forgotten corner and dusted it down. I charged the battery up, put on the converter, attached the strap and put it by the front door with my binoculars. Tomorrow those Stonechats were going to get papped.

To cut a long story short, this morning the Stonechats cottoned onto my camera before I'd even switched it on and morphed from the incredibly showy birds they had been last week into contrarian little bastards. There is no other explanation for this morning's behaviour, I couldn't get anywhere near them whereas on Tuesday I'd almost had to back away from them. And then just to really rub it in they vanished for almost the entire period of nice light, reappearing just as it became a little harsh. I reverted to birding, it's easier.

Here are the best I got from a total of perhaps ten images, and they are substantial crops as you can probably tell. All I can say is that last week I would have had the best photos of local Stonechats I'd ever taken. I plodded off to one of the ponds instead but my heart wasn't in it and I came home shortly afterwards. Bird photography eh?

Monday 2 October 2023

Variety is the spice of life

This Saturday just gone I abandoned the patch again. It is an interesting time of year, or could be at any rate, and so I've been getting out of the house early on weekdays and birding before going to work, so missing a weekend wasn't really a problem. So far weekday birding has not been a great success. I'd go so far as to say that it has actually been extremely boring. It has been nice to be out early and have the patch more or less to myself, but I'm just seeing the same birds again and again to the point I feel we're on first name terms. 

"Morning Bill!" (Bill is the dull male Stonechat)

"Morning unusually large long Redpoll!" (that's me)

So on Saturday it was time to get out of Dodge. Again. No gigantic twitch though despite the quality on offer, but there was nonetheless an American bias. Some research on Friday establised that there were some Yank waders at Frampton, with more just around the corner in Norfolk. Seeing these along with a veritable boatload of regular waders would surely make a grand day out. James agreed, and so at 5.30am he was outside my house in his car we were on our way. 

In short, and barring dipping Lesser Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpiper, and missing a Black Stork by about a quarter of an hour (doh!), it was all it promised. Frampton is sensational, the water levels magnificently managed. The reserve is carpeted in birds, thousands of them, and with paths going all around the edge as well as straight through the middle there is good viewing at any time of day. On arrival it was clear and bright, and our pitiful wader knowledge was stretched to breaking point instantly. Dunlin and Curlew Sandpiper eh? I'd confidently ID the latter and move to the next bird along which was clearly a Dunlin and then be cursed with self doubt about the Curlew Sand. I just don't see enough of them in Wanstead. In fact the number I've seen in Wanstead is zero, and which is why going birding in other places is just a really good idea. Out of your comfort zone, back to the basics of birding, bring it on. We ended up seeing 20 species of wader during the day. The total number of waders I've seen in Wanstead is 16, some of those extremely fleetingly. We left Frampton with close to 70 species on the list, although to my chagrin Great Tit was not one of them and remains my most wanted Lincolnshire tick.

Curlew Dunlinpiper

The journey around that 'corner', the Wash, is horrible. Slow and horrible. The A148 is worse. We encountered two accidents serious enough to shut the road and were diverted down country lanes, at one point behind a caravan. Wouldn't it be a bummer if we met a caravan diverted the other way I quipped? 30 seconds later the first caravan met that second caravan, and rather than one of them reverse (which was quite possible as it happened) the first caravan chose to just give it a go and predictably wedged itself against the other one. Excellent. Amazingly once unhitched caravan #2 proved extremely light and manoeuverable and a bit of wiggling managed to get them separated, but it still took 15 minutes to sort out. I fail to see the point of caravans, why not just stay at home and watch TV rather than tow a large tupperware box on wheels to a field in order to sit in it and watch a smaller TV in a less comfortable chair?

We eventually made it to Stiffkey where a Wilson's Phalarope was showing superbly. Both previous experiences with this species had been extremely distant so this was a real treat despite not being able to find the Pec. No matter, we were still winning, and later at Cley we got equally good views of a Long-billed Dowitcher with bonus Spoonbills and a Little Gull. We rounded the day off with a short sea-watch on a flat calm sea. I was expecting this to result in precisely zero birds, but there were Razorbill everywhere, fly-by Red-throated Divers and Common Scoters, Gannets, a few Terns

95 species in the day, and the two vagrant waders in Norfolk were county ticks no less. In addition to the lack of Lincs Great Tit we didn't even see a Coot, so much for planning. Regrettably I forgot to take any photos at all, so I have raided the archives for an old one instead. It is always a bit of gamble leaving the patch at this time of year, anything could happen, but we got away with it. A most enjoyable day. Variety is the spice of life, especially when landlubbers like us get to see expanses of water bigger than puddles.

Sunday 1 October 2023


I had a very long drive the Saturday before last. To keep myself amused I tried to think of all the American birds I'd seen in the UK, a game which lasted, oooh, all of about five minutes as I kept on losing count. Long after this had ceased to be interesting things like "Baird's Sandpiper" would pop into my head but then I couldn't remember what number I had got to. I resolved to instead work it out when I got home, and concentrated on the road ahead.

Turns out it is quite difficult as a lot of species have a broad distribution at the top of the Northern Hemisphere, and could as easily have come from Iceland or Svalbard as from Alaska or Canada so I decided to include them but separately. Then there are subspecies which I've also put to one side, and some taxonomies then also lump birds like Green-winged Teal with their Eurasian counterparts....I was keen not to lose them so I've added them on the basis that the BOU at least still counts them even if others don't.

So how many have I seen? 56, of which 16 are passerines and the rest are (broadly) Ducks, Waders and Gulls. Yank waders and Ducks are two a penny, I think I ticked Pectoral Sandpiper before Purple Sandpiper (which can also be found in America but I am not so desperate as to include them). It is clearly passerines that are the big prize with the colourful Wood Warblers taking pole position. On my first count in the car I think I managed to get to six songbirds. A little bit later I remembered that Flycatchers also existed, and that I'd somehow seen two of them. Then I realised I'd missed off American excuse is that it is all a long time ago, my twitching glory days peaked in about 2012 and by 2015 I was mostly out. And I don't think I ever got to to Swainson's Thrush until I phoned a friend and I'm still convinced I've forgotten something - I was sure that I had got to 15 in the car and that was before I arrived in Wales and had clapped eyes on either of the Warblers. Somebody will let me know I'm sure, but it doesn't really matter. What I was quite surprised by is that I had seen as many as I have, I didn't think I was that keen, or at least not in the sense than some people are. I was always very cautious, I never just dropped everything and went on the offchance. Clearly I've made some long journeys over the years but my life and existence has never been dominated by the singularity of the chase. But look, Northern Waterthrush! How good is that!? That is one I actually do remember quite clearly. A weekend on Scilly, I think based around this bird, and culminating in having it almost to myself one evening in near darkness. I can still hear it calling, a kind of short metallic zing.

Anyway, after last weekend I find my appetite for American songbirds rekindled. Not enough to take time off I don't have and head up to Shetland for Veery or across to Scilly for Bobolink, but enough to keep an eye on what is happening which for most of the last few years I have not. After all, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that instead of continuing their migration that some of these birds decide to winter here. It has happened before and it could happen again - the Common Yellowthroat and Yellow-rumped Warbler in the table above were both found in February. And it's the first of October today and it's due to get to 23 degrees celcius in London...  So fingers crossed, though even if I see nothing else that Magnolia Warbler in Wales the other day is indelibly etched in my mind and I can just relive that over and over.