The unsound approach

23rd February

Derbyshire Moors (AL, IS)

A couple of hours in the afternoon on the moors above Beeley and in the Goyt valley produced a drake Hen Harrier, tiercel Goshawk and 2 Common Buzzards near the former and Peregrine, Raven and lashings of Red Grouse at the latter.


The Peak District, Britain's first National Park and an area of outstanding natural beauty (AL)


21st February

Hickling (AL, IS)

With the appearance of snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils triggering an endorphin release of levels not seen since early November, it was time for a wander in search of some pager-worthy news. A circular walk from the church through Rush Hill failed to produce Typha let alone Remiz, but 12 Marsh Harriers calling and skydancing over my first bit of Bittern action of the year was semi-euphoric. Drove around a bit afterwards and had a brief chat with Father Allwood but reality quickly set in; spring doesn't start in Norfolk until late April......    

Jan-Feb 2009

The Far East (SM, SB)

2008 ended with a wet, foggy and ultimately unsuccessful trip up to Lo Xo pass, with only White-cheeked laugher as some very minimal consolation. 2009 began with a weekend at Xuan Thuy, obstensiously to survey Black-faced Spoonbills (63, if you care). It was like Japan all over again with Saunders's Gull (still a great gull) and a drake Falcated Duck. Continuing the eastern theme, a Pleske's Warbler did a good impression of a vole and some Aythas refused to do anything except fly around distantly in the dark.

A continuing lack of Spoon drew us to Thailand where we hired a suitable vehicle (for once) and spent a few days at Kaeng Krachan. White-fronted Scops managed to stay heard but not seen throughout, but we hit a rich vein of Galli-form which included a pair of Long-billed Partridge, Grey Peacock Pheasant and a crawfordii Kalij Pheasant, the latter often lumped with Silver despite genetic evidence to the contrary. Tickell's Brown Horn, gibbons, Stump-tailed Macaque and some big fat porcupines did their stuff. Then we headed for Khao Sam Roi Yot, stopping on the way near the big Spoon-billed Sandpiper sign to see two Spoon-billed Sandpipers, which took a whole thirty minutes of searching to find (20 minutes to find the sign, I had failed to print out any gen, er, in an attempt to make it more challenging, then another 10 to find the birds). It's hard to explain how good these birds really were - so much better than a just a small winter plumaged wader with some cutlery stuck to its face, they displayed massive charisma (once they woke up) as they chased insects around the pans. Then we went and looked at a couple of Nord's. Over the next couple of days we made diversions for Manc Reed, Malaysian and White-faced Plovers. On the last evening a female White-faced Plover chased crabs along the beach in front of us as we drank cool beers at a cafe. You've really gotta wonder how many cryptics are out there, hiding out in more challenging environments.

Back in Vietnam, reality hit: I have a job and the birding is really slow. On Ba Vi Rufous-eared Laugher evaded me again, but with great views of Long-tailed Broadbill it was hard to complain.

18th February 

Not-so-Great Yarmouth (AL, IS)

Quick look in the Denes produced chavs and dogshit and no Caspian Plovers.

Seafront clichés (AL)


Some time ago

Yare Valley (JG)

Everyone knows winter birding in Norfolk is the best in Britain. Every other county is bottle green with envy from November til March. Where else could you get nine Taiga Beans and two Peregrines in the same scope view? A full day out in Norfolk in winter is the very definition of birding magic. So why can't I stay out for longer than thirty minutes without getting suicidally bored, cold and overcome with the desire to go home and watch Hollyoaks? 


A classic Norfolk image. Incidentally, this picture was taken just two hours after I didn't find Penduline Tit in a neighbouring marsh. One of several marshes I've not found Penduline Tits in this winter. 

3rd February

Blakeney Point (AL, JG)

Just what are birders supposed to do in February? Try and find Lesser Scaup? Go on holiday? Skor brownie points with the boss, wife, mistresses? They probably aren’t supposed to go down Blakeney Point. We did, and that was against the advice of ‘only travel if essential’, well, it was essential that we find a rare thrush or bunting frozen out of Scandinavia. Moreover, for some reason Norfolk, at least our part had no snow. We had high expectations, well we always have high expectations and at least you can’t feel too bad in February when failure is actually inevitable. Anyway, there were grounded migrants.... 4 Robins, 10 Blackbirds, 2 Redwings and 6 Fieldfares, plus the to-be-expected Lapland Bunting, Short-eared Owl, Merlin, Stonechat etc. Billions of Reed Buntings were sifted through. The sea was surprisingly quiet save for a GND. And it was sunny, but it was still a long way, in February, and no naumanni or Syrrhaptes. Still, nothing ventured nothing gained.

Duneslack Kramsvogel. Sometimes, late at night, we envy our American comrades, because when they see this thrush they appreciate it.... (AL)

1st Feb

Whitlingham CP (RDM)

In 4 seconds birding before a massive snow flurry reduced visibility to 1/2 an inch I fluked a redhead Smew.


29th Jan

Belvedere (RDM)

8 Waxwings in some trees by a road somewhere in Belvedere briefly.

Norwich (RDM)

Pinkfeet struggling in the fog, going around in circles over the house.


Post-script (AL) - RLB was around at least on Saturday morning - images here.


Cornwall (RDM)

Some late news of no interest. Snowy Owl in Cornwall.

24th January

Cambs (AL)

Recent days, nay weeks, just seem to blur together, no-one is really going birding unless they get paid. I've been visiting a couple of sites in Cambs which has led to the occasional side-trip to some 'hotspots' during breaks. Like rubbish tips and endless fields, not unlike the one I have to stand in all day. Today that meant taking in a juv Iceland Gull known to be present at the longest Drove, and en route over the A10, 10 seconds of a flyover adult WWG - in with a GB & HG massive, which was presumably a small female Glauc* (but confidence limits circa p =0.05, so no egg in my face if someone refinds it and its an adult Iceland). On a tip-off that the Rough-leg was showing I cruised up to Coveney to find a sizeable crowd. Ok, so maybe twitching a Rough-leg is a little hypocritical (not to mention looking at gulls - I only went to pin the Glauc - honest) but it was only costing me an extra pound or so in petrol and RLBs are worth seeing. Anyway I digress, I rock up to the mass (6 car loads - 12 birders) busy rolling off photos and stare in the direction of the twitch where an obvious Common Buzzard is sitting about 300m away in a tree facing the twitch. Not even a vaguely lagopus-esque one - like the individual below**. Experimenting with tact, I asked where the RLB was in relation to the CB. Blink, blink. After pointing out to the good folk that they were supposed to be twitching a juv. Rough-leg and that their candidate bird was a population-level median phenotype Common Buzzard, the cookie did crumble, but everyone was gracious and blamed the people who were there before them, who had stated that the bird 'had a white rump'.....

*same bird later roosted at Grafham 20miles west?

Nice ice baby (AL)

**Clean-shaven Buzzard, private site, Cambs, November (AL)

Now birding is a hobby and I shouldn't be judgemental but if people are prepared to drive hundreds of miles to see a rare bird then that is fine, but they ought to dutifully look in a book and decipher the salient features of the bird in question. In this case, never mind the subtleties, a buzzard with a white breast and belly is a non-starter for juv. lagopus. Never mind the unfeathered tarsi, brown head etc etc. One should also never trust group opinion, one punter did venture 'It wasn't doing much for me'. Everyone there seemed to have a pager, whereupon with the discovery that their bird wasn't the target, they all drove en masse 100m down the road and parked where the bird had been reported earlier. Critically assess the bird for yourselves, everyone has fallen foul of this before, its an easy trap. Now most folk in the UK should be familiar with Common Buzzard, indeed, I wonder if we overlook Rough-legs now that Commons are so ubiquitous and aren't worth binzing***.

***never mind the fact that one was on East Hills in Oct 2007 for ten days without any of the west bank Great Egret twitchers noticing.

It was reported again back in the same spot 20 minutes after I left. Some bad luck there. The General Lee appears to be calling for a public inquiry. I'd certainly like to see photos from today (or recent weeks) just to restore my faith in British ornithology. I hope I was just unlucky and that those hardy soles who gave it more than my 20 minutes connected. Anyway-post Coveney, I pottered off to try my luck with the Killdeer, drove across lots of fens and got really excited, expecting to find a wintering flock of Sociable Lapwings at any minute. In the end I struggled for Pewit.

The Fens though, how good are they!? At one of my sites, which is basically a field with some grass in it, I've had 7 species of raptor, 6 sp of wader and flyover Snow Bunting, Tundra Goose and Glauc all since October, nearly 80 sp. If everyone did the fens properly we'd be choosing which Pine Bunting to twitch, rather than (myself included) finding ourselves down in the dump, as it were.

Fenland gallery (all AL):

18th January

Berney Marshes

A walk out to crow country to clear my head was unrewarding for noteworthy taxa but even a jaded individual like myself was able to appreciate the spectacle afforded by tens of thousands of Lapwing, Golden Plover and Blackwit wheeling around over grey geese and some amazing semi-cooperative hunting forays by Marsh Harriers with a juv. Peregrine. Tried to French a rare pipit but had to settle for Water.

4th-11th January

Sinai (RDM, AR)

A week in Sharm offered a few opportunities for birding. Highlights being Lichenstein's and Crowned Sandgrouse, Imperial Eagle, Kurdistan Wheatear, Sinai Rosefinch, Brown Booby, Crested Terns, and Greater Sand Plovers. Also Sooty and White-eyed Gulls. Two crap photos....

Crowned and Kurd (RDM)

3rd January 2009

Marston STW (ACL, A. Ball and G. Priestley)

A quick sesh in the Phrag netted the Cetti's plus standard dross. The former was a first winter female as initially suspected. 

Ruiseñor Bastardo (A. Lees)

23rd-25th December

Grantham & environs (ACL & AJL)

Red Kite over Stamford on the way back from Norwich was semi-notable, Cetti's was still being a be-atch at Marston on the 24th and a drive-round the hinterlands between Grantham and Bourne on Xmas day failed to produce any Red Kites, Rough-legs or Golden Eagles but I at least managed a Peregrine in Grantham Town Centre. Christmas, what's it all about?

4th December

Whitlingham CP (RDM)

Stacks of birds including the female Scaup, 2 Goosander, Goldeneye, 16 Wigeon, and loadsa Pochard and Tufted Ducks.

11th December

the Fens (AL)

Videoed some obliging SEOs out in the Cambs wilderness, managed to pish one into the car. No sh*t - check it out.

9th December

Norwich environs (JG)

Despite over 50 hours of day-and-night surveillance since Sunday, the magic tree outside my house has failed to produce any more sibes, although singles of goldfinch and blue tit were notable. On an unrelated note: since Mr Allwood and The McKinney have bowed out of web-o-land, we’ve been looking for some replacement websites to keep us occupied during the vacuous winter months. Paydirt was finally hit with the discovery of  Definitely worthy of regular visitation - it features brains, humour and heavy Welsh skor, plus bonuses like self-found westpal White-eyed Vireos, malcom the magic chicken (putting the late rareometer utterly to shame), alliteration, the flying spaghetti monster, flight of the conchords references – could you want for any more? Have a check back through older posts and you’ll realise what you’ve been missing.

**Afternoon update:

Loads of Aythya at Whitlingham today, including this Scaup in the nature reserve bit. First one for several years at the Lane. Hoping for a smaller, pointier version at some stage this winter...

7th December

Norwich (JG)

Discovered a new local patch today: the tree outside my house. We don't have a garden, but we do have a single silver birch poking out of the concrete wasteland outside. Previous tree highlights include blackbird, several starling and last week a pigeon. But today, whilst getting the shopping out of the car, I jammed in with a Goldcrest gleaning from the catkins just above my head. Skor! Not only that, but whilst I was lapping up the 'crest I heard an interesting monosyllabic "heeep" call emanating from the canopy - a "Siberian-type" Chiffchaff!

We're not huge fans of this form - seen too many confusing birds in Shetland, and never quite got our heads round the Svensson & Dean stuff. But this one seems to tick a fair few boxes for 'proper' tristis, if such a thing exists. The calls were spot on - high pitched and indrawn (predictably the Remembird battery was flat), the plumage tones were ok - no yellow anywhere, just a bit of greenish fringing on the rems/rects, buff tones to most of the underparts (white only on the centre of the breast and belly), rusty brownish auriculars. It moved in and out of the shadow, demonstrating how variable the plumage tones can appear depending on light. For any Chiffophiles out there, I've posted a load more pictures and notes here.

6th December

East Norfolk (JG, DS, DE, TA)

Some mainstream weekend birding with an oldskool team of Showler, Dawes and the badass himself. We stuck to the east norfolk protocol, casting backwards glances at cranes, geese (including a little white one) and dudes, before eventually buckling and doing some proper birding. Expectations were exceeded along the minor road from Hickling to Sea Palling, where we came across a Roughleg - evidently the one that has been reported a couple of times around Horsey / Hickling over the last few weeks. Nice views until the cameras came out, at which point it bombed off to the furthest trees possible, and then disappeared over the horizon.


1st December face=arial>>

Cotham, Notts (AL)

Repeat-offending at the tip: a quick dump sesh produced a juv. Iceland Gull, a 1st winter Med, a prob 3rd cal Crapsian type (which disappeared too quickly) and lots of minging variations on a theme. No sign of the Glauc, but things looking up for a proper gull: Bona or some such like.

Iceland and Med Gull, note, may not be to scale (AL)