The unsound approach

30th December
Whitlingham Lane & Holkam (RM, AS, SM, SB, DE, AL)
With Si and Sarah back from the Orient a hastily arranged trip to the North Coast to bag year-ticks like, well, everything. RM and AS nipped out early doors to switch the GND at Whitlingham and found a BNG in the process. The rest of the team was assembled after midday and after waiting for Si not to have a shower we headed up to Holkam where we walked around a very cold beach, looked at some Snow Buntings, geese, Woodcock and generally threw wrecked starfish at each other. It was nice in a 'good job we don't do this too often' sort of way. 
20th December
East Norfolk (AL, G. Powell)
A mid winter clean-up sesh for WWF's finest had us braving the periglacial conditions; pingoes in the central res of the A47.... The Taigas were easy at Cantley, more unusual was a hrota with the Pinks there, unbelievably someone else independently found it later in the afternoon, such is Norfolk coverage. A look at Rollesby/Ormesby drew a blank but Horsey was jumping with Cranes 'every which way but loose' and the harrier roost was genuinely spectacular, a proper 'kettle of broadwings'.
winter goose love-in (AL)
10th December
Cotswold Water Park (RDM)
Up at 2.30am to go and count some ducks. A GND was enjoyed on pit 125, plus Green Sand and several Chiffs basking in the December sun.
1st December
East Norfolk (RDM)
.......drat, a further work assignment/jolly had me again heading east for the day. More action at sea today as a brief watch at Caister yielded a Purple Sandpiper heading north over the breakers, several groups of Eider and Scoter, plus a single adult Med as well as 50 Snow Buntings on the beach. Martham held the hybrid Fudge x Pochard and a few Goldeneye. Next stop Waxham where a group of 20 or so redpolls disembarked northwards as I exited the car. A couple of Snow Buntings were the best during a brief foray around at Sea Palling, whilst Happisburgh delivered a group of 19 Whooper Swan flying in from the Continent as well as more scoter and Eider.
Sea beast                                                                                                    "Yes! Some Cranes!"
27th December
East Norfolk (RDM)
Harriers, Cranes, Snow Buntings, massive flocks of geese, loadsa ducks, seals, porpoises, divers. It turns out Norfolk in winter is still quite good, though it's best not to do it too often.......
24th November
Tranent, somewhere near Edinburgh (DB)
Having spent 32 seconds not seeing the RR Swallow in Eyemouth, a location that appeared to be only marginally nicer than a primordial soup - I made a hasty get-a-way. Whilst cruising back along the A1 from a job in Northumberland I noted a large white goose in a stubble field. Neither able to focus in the road or establish the bird's ID  I missed the appropriately placed emergency layby and had to continue on to the next exit. After navigating my way through the back roads of some random scottish county and I found myself peering through a hedge at a smart adult Snow Goose with several thousand Pinks. Presumably the Aberlady bird which had first arrived on the 29th September and remained until 17th October whence it departed south along the Northumbrian coast. There have been at least five Snow Geese in Scotland so far this winter (3 whites and 2 blue's) and possible more. Anyway a nice surprise and brightened up an other wise hideously dull day.
goose (DB) [ED: anyone else noticed how when you buy a DSLR you become sh*t at digi-scoping?]


20th November

Wraysbury (RoMa)

More counting ducks, this time spectacularly interrupted when a mighty Great Northern Diver hurtled through the sky, dodging jumbos before crashing towards one of the pits on my route. Eventually managed to refind it, a juvenile urgently feeding with a couple of GG's, only spending a couple of seconds on the surface between two-minute dives.

19th November (RDM + AEL)

Team day out to east Norfolk. Naturally, most time was spent in the Nelson Head. However, we did manage a bit of seal watching,  quick perusal of some plovers and a session getting bloody cold with a bunch of like-minded idiots at the roost. Highlights included single Merlin, 50+ Marsh and a few CWD. A ghostly EGP at Waxham got me going briefly...


Classic images of the British countryside

16th November

Isle of Grain (RoMa, N. Gates)

Still one of the Black Redstarts hanging around Jetty 7 as we counted the ducks. Minor surprise in the Foreshore Park as at least three Firecrest appeared with the Long-tailed Tit and Chiffchaff flock, though only 2 of the latter present today. No Goldcrests.



9th November

Isle of Grain (RoMa)

Yep, still hitting the Grain and today two first year type Black Redstarts were hanging around old Jetty 7. 6 Chiffchaff around the foreshore park. Somewhere there has to be a couple of bonus balls knocking around...


Blakeney Point (AL, JG)

A switch to easterlies precipitated a last foray into the dying embers of autumn. With neither of us having seen a BBRC rarity all autumn, we felt that maybe we should ride our bad luck and hope for the best. Plunging into chest-high Sueada we unearthed a scattering of Turdus - mostly merula but also a few iliaris and pilaris and about a dozen Robins. A Lap and 3 Snows rippled overhead, as did a constant stream of Starlings but the only variation was provided by a fine drake Black Redstart around the Plantation and Chalets. The far recurves were ornithologically quiet, although the Greys were pupping and a not unexpected highlight came in the form of at least a dozen Shorelarks on Great Sandy Low. The walk back was enlivened by a brace of Woodcock and a Water Rail booted from the Shrubby Seablite, maybe new in. On your marks, get set..... geese and gulls.... 



8 Horny Larks (AL)

pilotless Woodcock (AL)


Waterworks Road, Norwich (JG)

Most birders get autumn all wrong. It’s really not about finding amazing exotic gemlike vagrants in coastal bushes. And it’s definitely not about driving across half the country just to pay homage to some random warbler that happens to be a first for Britain (however mindfreakingly awesome it might be). It’s not even about getting amongst spectacular pulse-raising arrivals of common migrants. Frankly, it’s not about going outside at all - it's all about keeping it indoors. Why bother going to the coast when the joys of avian life can be experienced from the comfort of your own home? Forget sueda-thrashing, it’s all about peering out of your rain-spattered window for five seconds in the hope that there might being something exciting out there. That was my big strategy for autumn 09, and here are the results...

Yes, after having read about the wobbly economy (not to mention Alfrey’s constant predictions of the downfall of society), I decided it was a sensible time to exchange my imaginary bank statement numbers for some real-life bricks and mortar. Hence my birding weekends are now replaced with eternal grouting and B&Q. Still, all is not lost - it just so happens that the top floor of our new home overlooks Norwich’s finest half-acre of concrete vertical-sided standing water – the Waterworks! With a track record featuring the likes of Ring-billed Gull, Glauc, and Shag, it’s got a lot more promise than your standard urban garden (unless you live at Canary Wharf obviously). Bring on the winter! Can’t wait for the first freeze-up. The possibilities are endless... The bias towards gulls is rather worrying though, especially as I still can’t identify any of them. I’m hating the thought, but this year I might finally have to succumb to getting myself a present from Santa Klaus...

25th-31st October

West Penwith, Cornwall (RDM, AR)

In the words of Cheryl Cole “Too much of anything can make you sick”, and quite frankly, I’m sick of not finding any rares. This Cornish mish was mainly all about my annual visit to the parents, however, I did manage to squeeze in a total of five half-day sessions. The weather was shitulous and the entire week was beyond foggy. Returns were weak, in the words of the Cornish bird recorder “worst autumn ever!” However, people still pulled a Radde’s and a Greeny Warbler out of the peasouper, so I can’t really use the weather as too much of an excuse. My trips never took me to the Lizard, indeed I never moved out of the Land’s End area (Porthcurno around to Kenidjack). As is typical for West Cornwall at this time of year you couldn’t move for Black Reds, Firecrests, Chiffs and Blackcaps. I had a probable flyover Serin at Brew Pool, Sennen on 28th, and I also managed to dig out a solitary Yellow-brow, heard only at Nanjizal (I also heard the one at Nanquidno). I cannot believe I am going to go through an autumn without seeing one of these boys. “Worst autumn ever”? I’m inclined to agree...


Typical bullshit (RDM)


29th October

Staines Moor and Wraysbury (RoMa)


Zoothera is possibly the most exciting genus for the British birder. A group of ultra-skulking, mega-crippling awesome beasts of the gloomy understorey of the pristine furthest eastern forests of the paleartic. Finding one in Britain would induce coronary threatening levels of adrenaline and endorphin release. For almost two whole seconds I felt that rush today. At Wraysbury 2. Counting ducks. Having earlier taken the opportunity to take a look at the Staines Moor Brüne Shrike that was conveniently within my survey area of concern I was considering the history of random megas in the middle of the country. Walking around the northern perimeter of the big gravel pit that is Wraysbury 2, just into the village at the point at which the path to the church splits off to the right a bird lifted off the path ahead and headed low into the ivy-clad base of a sycamore. And it was a Zoothera. A shockwave travelled up my body as a flash of that unmistakable underwing registered. Then, the shockwave dissapated. It wasn't Sibe Thrush, it was one of the far south east Asian members of the family, probably not even a migrant. Clearly an escape. It shifted on the branch and revealed an aviary style small unmarked red plastic ring on its left leg. It was still amazing, moving in slow-motion mechanical twitches. It bounced between successful bouts of leaf-tossing in the gloom, perfectly still inbetween every deliberate action. I didn't know the bird's actual identity at this time, it didn't really matter. It appeared to be a first year bird. I have since discovered that it is a Red-backed Thrush, Zoothera erythronatawhich seems to be kept by a few people in the UK. Well, it is a stunner. There are a lot more captive Sibe Thrushes in the UK though. 

Earlier on at Staines Res. with comrade Mr Bull a Lapland Bunting rippled over and a Black-necked Grebe swam about a bit. The Shrike? Fabulous, waving that tail around like it can't believe how lucky it is to have such a great one. On several occasions the tail actually appeared to be trying to detach itself and lead a new life on it's own.



28th October


Ok, so none of us are actually there, but we thought it was worth mentioning that today the island (which is about the size of the Blakeney plantation) hosted the following:


Blauschwanz (Tarsiger cyanurus) Red-flanked Bluetail, 1 Schwimmbad/Kurgelände, 7. Nachweis für Helgoland
Wüstensteinschmätzer (Oenanthe deserti) Desert Wheatear, 1 ad m Oberland Ort
Nonnensteinschmätzer (Oenanthe pleschanka) Pied Wheatear, 1 Düne Nordstrand
Dunkellaubsänger (Phylloscopus fuscatus) Dusky Warbler, 1 Nordost-Strand
Goldhähnchen-Laubsänger (Phylloscopus proregulus) Pallas's Warbler, 1 Düne Nordstrand, 1 NE-Strand
Gelbbrauen-Laubsänger (Phylloscopus inornatus) Yellow-browed Warbler, 2 Insel, 1 Düne


For the unaware, Helgoland is here:


Anyone planning on going to the coast tomorrow?...


For future reference/grippage, get your Helgoland gen here.



27th October

Hunstanton, Brancaster, Burnham Overy (RoMa)

Abandoning a planned survey out on the wash due to the absence of any visibility when the dawn start came round, so took some time owing and birded the way back round the coast. Thrushes, finches and starlings were pushing through the rain as I arrived at Hunstanton. 11 Brambling over here and Blackbirds stuffed into anything that looked remotely like cover. Fieldfares and Redwings eased over in discrete clouds with a few Song Thrushes mixed in while Blackbirds bumped along grass high, grateful to have made solid ground. A Ring Ouzel passed through in Old Hunstanton, with a few redpolls and Siskins heading onwards inland. One Goldcrest in the village. Further east I tried the likely looking venue of Brancaster dunes. Periodic thrush lumps hurtled over as earlier and again Blackbirds in every bush. A Woodcock shuffled towards me along the top of the dunes, at least for the sixth of a second inbetween either of us noticing the other. Unsurprisingly it considered a quick exit was the best option, though only made it a couple of hundred metres further along the dune ridge before collapsing back down into marram. 12 Snow Bunting and 28 Twite were about the place as well and 4 Goosander headed out past Scolt's protective arc.

Burnham Overy continued the theme: Blackbirds continuing to arrive, knackered, while Fieldfares and Redwings sailed over into the Norfolk interior. Into the pines and a few Goldcrest presented themselves. As dusk approached a Lesser 'throat type 'tac' emanated from dense bramble and roses but I had to make tracks back to Norwich, so couldn't track it down.  


North Norfolk (AL)

Eyeing up the charts over the previous couple of days, the switch from NW to SE overnight on the 26th/27th seemed to be the most interesting-looking day available, so I worked all w/e and then set off in earnest pre-dawn on the Tuesday. Light rain on the journey north portended a fall, but on reaching the Greens there certainly didn't seem to be a spectacular arrival. But, as I crossed the marsh a huge flock of Fieldfare came in-off straight from the north and headed on inland, shortly followed by another, then another, then... Flocks of Fieldfares 50-700 strong were arriving in off the sea every few minutes from 08.00-10.30 with the bulk of the birds around 10.00 when over 3000 crossed the marsh in just 20 minutes. Interspersed were smaller numbers of Blackbirds and Redwings and a single Mistle Thrush and at least two Ring Ouzels were heard calling as they passed over with the 'fares. After 10.30 Redwing numbers picked up and Fieldfares dropped off, flocks of both settled in the pines but never stayed more than a few minutes before continuing on over the marsh towards Wells. A brief search of the trees produced 15 Goldcrest, 2 Chiffchaffs, 15 Brambling and a Redpoll sp. and one grounded Ring Ouzel, but no stripey sprites. Feeling that Point might deliver I legged it back to the Greens, not wanting to waste precious daylight, and then headed off to the Coastguards (probably driving under MG's RLB en route). Walking up the Point, thrushes were still piling over, with a few on the deck but despite some ankle-destroying walking I couldn't do better than 4 Ring Ouzels. Indeed thrushes were about the sum of the action' not a single Goldcrest or Robin for me in 4hrs there. Just a couple of Lapland Buntings over and the usual saltmarsh fayre. The thrushes continued moving all day, groups were still going south an hour after sunset, when I finally got back to the beach carpark 15 miles later.... An event worthy of its own page of photos!


Fieldfares, East Hills (AL)


Ring Ouzel, Blakeney Point (AL)



26th October

East Hills (RoMa)

1st yr Black Redstart, 2-3 Chiff, a millisecond view of a Lesser Whitethroat, Lapland Bunting again on the saltings and now the really good stuff: 1 Mistle Thrush (Hills tick!), 3 Whoop Swan and 8 Egyptian Geese all passed over the arc during my 6 hours out on the marsh. I admit I also saw a Black Brant, and a Pb Brent in with the DBs. Cracking.  


25th October

Cart Gap/Happisburgh (RoMa)

Casual saunter along the beach with the missus to inspect the disappearance of a pleasant east Norfolk village was punctuated by the appearance of a Purple Sand on one of the crumbly groynes that decorate the shoreline around that part of the world.


23rd October

East Hills (AL, JG)

With Tyneside news reaching us just before bedtime (where was the text Cherryl?), the chances of missing the alarm set for 0420 were minimal. As we were reminded, the chart for the Wells Two-barred was very similar to the current one... Blasting up to the north coast we crossed the marsh, the creeks and the quicksand in the dark and caught the napping Pinks unaware. With the sun came the vizmig passerines: chiefly finches, with lots of Chaf, Green and Linnets on the move, loads of Starlings (particularly later in the day) and some quality in the form of 5 solitary Lapland Buntings. Into the trees we had eastern Phylloscs in mind but had to settle for 1-2 Fir(e)crests, keeping company with a minimal Goldcrest flock. Other bits and bobs included a few thrushes, 4 Chiffchaffs and a few Redpoll sp over. The Brents harboured a Brant and a Common Buzzard was forced to the ground over the marsh by a couple of Marsh Harriers. The best was saved for last with a fly-through flock of 4 Shorelark west over the saltings, a Hills tick for both protagonists.

roosting and flighting Pinks, no sign of the Snow, guess its on Scolt? (AL)


pre-dawn Kingfisher wondering whether it can find some fresh water... (AL)


Black Brant, Wells Channel (AL)


Fire-crested Wren, its from the east, has a median crown stripe and is closely-related to Phylloscopus but well, er... (AL) 


17th October

Blakeney Point (JG, RMa, AL)

Another White's Thrush or bust day got off to a flying (Black Red-)start in Beach Carpark but was all downhill from there. Semi-notable only for buntings: 18 Snows enlivened the journey up there with 1 Lap overhead at Yankee Ridge and then a flock of four north over at Near Point. Best was a Yellowhammer that dropped out of the sky with Mipits at the plantation: circa 15 Point records since the mid '80s of which the majority were also in the middle two weeks of October (Stoddart and Joyner 2005). Very few thrushes around - just 3 Redwings, 1 Fieldfare and 3 Blackbirds and not a Robin all day. A Chiffchaff kept company with the hammer and we eventually managed to tally just 14 Goldcrest. When are the little buggers going to arrive? Other oddments included a Bonxie in the harbour and the usual raptor action; dreading finding a pair of geocyclic underwings on the shingle....

in really bad light it looks exciting, well a bit.... er, ok, actually no. (AL)




This Whimbrel was also present on Weds, appears to be in bad shape... one for the year listers in Jan probably, if it lasts that long. (AL)


lover's tiff. This pair of swans were busy trying to sort out their differences in a brief trip to Stiffkey Fen afterwards. They eventually looked quite cosy and headed off together onto the harbour, albeit with some initial problems of prezygotic isolating mechanisms: after a series of provocative neck bobs the Whoop looked really confused. Look forward to the hybrid progeny, which will presumably attempt to migrate to Queensland via Iceland.  (AL)


14th October

East Hills (RoMa)

OK, no big white blobs here but still a great day to be out and in amongst it. After last year's birthday water vole induced depression this day's been booked off work for months. And the Hills delivered a self-found tick. One Hawfinch, over to west in amongst all the 'bling, chaff, 'poll, 'skin, s'larks, star's and Meadow Pipits. And a smart male Lapland Bunting and 2 Snow Buntings also piled over. On the deck things were a bit minimal: 12 Goldcrest, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Blackcap and 4 Chiffs. Thrushes kept piling through, mostly Blackbirds and Song Thrush with about 70 Redwing during the time spent on the arc. A dozen Robin flicking under the sycamores had me imagining blue flashes but the RfB remained an East Hill fantasy. At least for today.



L: still seeking the lens to match the skills             R: East Hills, or Island of Death in the local tongue. (l-r Greenshank and Sparrowhawk) 



Blakeney Point (AL)

 Autumn 2009 is one of those weird autumns, good on paper but get in the thick of it and it laughs in your face. I had planned to see in an early morning (pre-commitments) on the East Norfolk coast on the 13th but fatigue put paid to that. Chastised myself later though when Jono Leadley’s news of population-level displacement of Redwings came back to haunt me. Thus I made it out for a whole day on the 14th; out of the house in Norwich at 0730, Redwings were streaming across Dereham Road, clearly the movement was still on. I made the coastguards for 0815 and after some procrastination in the carpark instantly became aware of the apocalyptic nature of the vizmig around me. It was like every bird in Western Europe was high on zugunruhe and intent on getting somewhere. Starlings were passing at tens of thousands an hour, a passage the like of which I’ve never seen before (Hunstanton logged nearly 41,000 in two hours) interspersed with far fewer Redwings. Above them Lapwings were on the move in force and Skylarks were piling along the ridge with parties of up to 30 coming in-off.  Wildfowl appeared to be caught up in the movement too (although the turn of the tide no doubt had an effect) with ducks in the air in all directions and Pink-feet streaming east in the distance. Prising myself from staring inland (and resisting the urge to move closer to where all the action was happening) I managed to take about 100 faltering steps along the point before a nice photo combo of geese and starlings presented itself over the Cley windmill. Before I could press the trigger I became aware of some white shapes approaching from inland to the south west. What followed was over in a second but my initial search image with the naked eye for ‘eight large white birds over Blakeney Harbour’ settled on Spoonbills, I swung the camera round to greet them, (without bothering to lift my bins first) 1/10th of a second later they were in sharp focus. No spoons, just daggers...  My retinas were relaying information that my cerebral cortex couldn’t process, triggering an ‘error message’ – “exceeds known parameters: Ardea alba don’t come in groups of eight, three max. count available = consider other identification”. Fortuitously my finger depressed the trigger as the shoal of Great Whites passed over my head and out to sea before turning east 300m offshore. Through the view finder I tried counting them but was hit again by brain failure. In the end I had to count the birds on the camera to check I wasn’t having a stroke or something before phoning Stu. Eight Great Egrets had really just appeared out of nowhere and flown out to sea over my head! 

Great White Egrets (AL)

Rarely has the first 100m of Blakeney Point been so exciting, an immediate Woodcock hinted at better to come, but aside from vizmig Snow Buntings, Grey Wagtails, Skylarks, thrushes etc all was pretty quiet till the Watch House where 3 Goldcrests occupied the Sueada along with a few grounded thrushes. Reinforcements arrived, first in the form of JM and then CM but despite big efforts, passerines on the ground were few and far between. A Lesser Whitethroat at the Lupins, Black Redstart on Middle Point and a few more token thrushes and Goldcrests. Overhead finches continued on their way, accompanied by a couple of Lapland Buntings and we unblocked Point Barn Owl but otherwise the mega Locust or eastern Bunting was stubbornly elusive. Failure was compounded by a text from Inishboffin... cruel fate (c’mon Dermot, get back out to Inis Less). Coming off after dark we were all in need of hip/knee/leg replacements. Still there’s always the weekend....

One of only 4 Goldcrest all day, is this really October? (AL)

Point chat (AL)

'bling in the near dark, camera practice for Rufous-tailed Robin (AL) 

[more on egrets – the group went over my head at 0829, passed Sheringham at 0845, then Beeston Bump at 0853, east at Mundesley at 0932 and were apparently last seen well offshore at Walcott. Elsewhere they had also evidently been on the move, a group of 8 flew SE on Jersey the same day and in recent days there have been some remarkable counts from the low countries.]     

11th October

Scilly (RA + AH & VT)

After a tough week on Fair Isle and an inability to get to Inishmore, Rick is doing the business on Scilly where he finds a Red-throated Pipit on Martins... 


5-11th October

Inishmore (DB, JG, AL, RMa, RMo with D. Breen, T. Chadwick, D. Charles, H. Delaney)

What a week, what did we see? Well, what didn't we see! Actually we didn't see anything. Full trip report, Lesser Whitethroat by Lesser Whitethroat with full post hoc tests to try and justify failure available soon. Time to cut the fringe?  


4th October

Slyne Head (AL, JG)

After a day driving through Galway traffic and a day not seeing anything, the scout party managed to find another RBF on Slyne Head, Garden Warbler, 2 Blackcaps and 2 Wilows kept company with it in the sycamores.

yawn (AL)