The unsound approach


Monday 31st
Got the yearlist underway at last, my Dad popping over to Norfolk for the festivities and deciding that some proper birding was called for. So we went to Salthouse and looked at the SnoBs and Laps for a bit, then kicked Gramborough Hill for no pipits and had a coffee at Cley. Hard. Core. In a brilliant move we used all our energies to stop off at Wells in the Quay, and I strained hard to examine the harbour by the boats (from the car) while my Dad got a sarnie from the Wel'li. The hard search paid off, with a Shag swimming around the boats. Mega. Rest of the day was spent in the Holkham area, including a mooch around the gap and interrogation of the sea. All of the North Sea's scoter were present, but only visible when the put their heads up above the horizon. The closest were probably about 8 miles away. A few Eider, RBMerg and passing RtD and Gannet were all that we observed. Final stop-off at Warham, with at least 3 Hen Harrier and a very close Barn Owl for our twilight company. I made a video, maybe I'll upload it.

Friday 14th
Christmas party day was a pleasing mix of alcohol, gambling and gaviidae. A survey of Abberton at it's best: a neglected silver'd mirror with corrosive blooms of Anatidae creeping across the smooth surface. As a result virtually every bird on the reservoir was visible from any given point. Some drop off of commoner stuff, but a good peppering of used entertainers kept interest up.
A pair of Smew were still hanging around in the central section. A fine Red-necked Grebe gave a close swim-by in Wigborough Bay, with a Black-throated Diver also close to shore there. The Red-breasted Merg was also still around, along with 3 Turnstone on the dam. Decamped to St. Ives and got stuck into the drink and cards. Ten minutes later my gambling was over, the £200 fake plastic money was gone on intoxicated ill-advised roulette madness and a could only console myself with drink. From innocent through addiction to ruin at record pace, even for me. If I ever suggest going to Vegas: forget my name and set my stupid corpse on fire.


Wednesday 21st
Abberton. Came close to being completely removed from the game on the A12 on the way down. On the wet and greasy road as I headed away from Ipswich a line of closely-spaced cars were pushing along in the outside lane, overtaking a few well-spaced lorries. I'd just passed a lorry and found myself at the back of this line, when somewhere up ahead a lorry pulled out causing mass braking. Two cars ahead of me a brand new mondeo emergency braked and stopped within centimetres, while the car ahead of me slammed on the brakes and began to slide into a spin. Having seen enough I squeezed my car into the inside lane ahead of the lorry and watched the spinning car pass by, slide across the lanes behind the lorry and get smashed by two cars at once. More probably crashed into
this unfortunate: it was later described as a 'multiple vehicle incident' on the travel website. 
The reservoir came to the rescue of my addled faculties with a steady drip-feed of pleasant sights through the day. A Garganey was slightly unseasonal in the central section with almost 2000 Teal, and waders included Spotshank, Black-wit and Greenshank.
Moving onto the main reservoir Wigborough Bay held 2 Slavonian Grebe and a hybrid Aythya, probably Pochard x Tuftie. Showed a good 'Lesser Scaup ' style wingbar: crisp white secondary bar contrasting strongly against the grey bar on the primaries.
Here's a picture. Unfortunately you can also see the big black Pochard-like tip to the bill and lack of any vermiculation on the mantle & scaps, so it just looked a bit ugly.
The Black-throated Diver was still out in the middle of the central section, convinced that it's in the middle of Europe somewhere. As we trawled around we eventually stumbled upon the Grey Phalarope that's been knocking around for a couple of days. It was feeding in the water adjacent to the concrete skirt, so we drove up to it and wandered down to say hello. Cracking beast. It was having no trouble at all pulling out all the zooplankton from the broken floating bits of macrophyte along the edge and was looking in good shape. Final good bird of the day was a redhead Rb Merg, near the dam end.
The journey home was uneventful, so I survived another day on the swinging tightrope that is professional birding.

Monday 19th
Mucking Flat out, low tide so no time to stop/eat/style hair or make idle chit-chat with the natives. Over 2000 Dunlin around most of the day, always fun to count. I did have long enough away from the number crunching to notice a first year Pomarine Skua nailing a succession of Common Gulls out in the Thames at around 13:00.

Tuesday 6th

Abberton was a darling today. Glorious sun and a biting northwester. A good chunk of bird was munching away on the weed again, though numbers appeared to have dropped slightly in the few days since I was last there. Certainly some Coot have been sucked out of the main reservoir. Highlight: a juv. Black-throated Diver near the pumping house, 13 Bewick's Swan still and as we were about to leave Darren noticed a Jack Snipe fly along the Layer-de-la-Haye causeway and land in the corner. Gave good views on the deck and then began making its wobbly way down to the edge to feed, bouncing all the way. Took some video against the harshest light possible. Great.

New boiler is installed and working excellently.

Friday 2nd
Back at Mucking, no good gulls today but as it was a low tide it was outrageously busy with upwards of 5 gigamegabunions of bird on mud that stretched further than the Sahara. Actually it ws about 8000 BH, 550 HG 800 BW, 515 AV and 2700 DN at max., with some other stuffing but no prize plums.
We're having this party. Please come. You're not punk and I'm telling everyone. Count backwards from ten. One, two, three, four. Who's punk? What's the score? Moving units and tracking charts. Will they ever learn? It isn't who you know, it's who you burn. It means nothing. Selling kids to other kids. If you think we changed our tune, I hope we did. (blake schwarzenbach 1994)

Wednesday 31st
Crazy Southend survey, private tram ride into position then witness to Coryton refinery going up in smoke, well, a bit of it anyway. Here's some video.I was about 10 miles away, so it is a bit crap, but it was a pretty massive fire beast when it was going. Great way to speed along a survey.

Monday 29th
Still can't get enough of Essex, still can't get enough of Abberton. A rather sickly looking Red-necked Grebe was the highlight of todays once round the res., but there were also 15 Bewick's Swan in the Visitor Centre bay and a mighty bunch of Wigeon and Gadwall in the central section. 2 Little Stint, 2 Greenshank and at least 15 Spotted Redshank hanging around on the mouldy seething algal mats.

Sunday 28th
Last night felt odd. Something in the stale used air farted our way from the tropics and refusing to give us our old-fashioned crisp autumnality. And a bunch of kids set of a firework in a bottle bank in front of us. Remarkably satisfying bang tinkle-crunch, followed by the gentle hiss of escaping smoke. I wish I'd done that. They then invited Alex and myself to a rave in Larkman. Getting away with our lives and phones we hit the bars and ended up at a medium-large party dj set in Henry's, but the aforementioned uneasiness was everywhere. A mildly confrontational evening passed. A considerable beer lake was reduced to a mere puddle for me to splash around in.
Back to this morning and I still feel odd. My car's dead, someone stopped it's heart for a bit with an internal light. I think it was me. Alex picked me up and I gazed at everything moving at half-speed and all the people morecconfusedthan  me.  As we serenely drifted past Horsford another surreal sight battered it's way past the beta blockers. The headline for the Norwich Evening News: Beer Festival Sparrowhawk is Dead. I'd been at the beer festival at lunch the previous day. I never noticed a thing. Honest. I did nothing. Painfully slow progress eventually deposited us at the launch pad for greatness. Greatness didn't come knocking, but after Great White Egret as a Hills tick and cracking views of the Roughleg playing with Peregrines my hemispheres slowly realigned and I got a handle on this situation. Some low-order hamcheesepickle didn't help, but I was soon back in the bramble kicking away at briefly calling Reed Warbler and sending a few late day thrushes scarpering from the trees. A couple of unidentifiable redpolls nipped past and I almost thought we were going to find something. As alluded to in the late sightings area we sighted a flycatcher as the latest sighting of a late day. It was super flighty and obviously keen to get to bed, a sentiment I would have shared with it for most of the day. We lost it.

Friday October 26th
I found a Laughing Gull today. I haven't done that on this continent before. It was a normal kind of day, up at 0600, tea for breakfast cos' I ran out of coffee yesterday, then hop in the hire car and drive 120 miles to Stanford-le-Hope.  High tide at 13:06, so first count was 09:06-10:06. Still some mud exposed so a whole bunch of AV and RK around, and a heap of larus. As the tide piled in these all gradually cleared off either towards the roost around the corner or Mucking tip, the all-pervasive influence on the local atmosphere. Having done everything else I got round to the Black-headed Gulls, at about 10:15, of which there were 108. Before I managed to get to this figure the scope threw up a spanner in the works, with an advanced 1st winter Laughing Gull plonked incongruously amongst them. Considering it's one of the rarest birds I've found I was a bit underwhelmed, as I've seen a few in Britain and loads in the states. I whacked it out via Stu Piner after getting the worst camera phone video of it, and sure enough it followed the rest of the gulls to the tip. Despite it surely being really rare in the Londonish area I saw exactly no birders in the rest of the time I was on site, though I only stayed for 6 hours 45 minutes afterwards. No sign afterwards, no gulls until the last hour, when c6400 BH reappeared and demanded counting. I didn't find it again.  


Long, wet and warm. With virtually no birding, just survey.


Tuesday 29th

Got up about half seven, had some breakfast, a large coffee, loaded up BBC weather and Birdguides and suddenly realised that something amazing was happening. Legged it out the house and as fast as possible to the Hills, only to find JG's car already there. Phone flashes, he's just found a female RBS. Bastard. Why did I not get my act together earlier?! I headed out and joined him, quickly scored my first EH shrike then we scrutinised the rest of the arc. A few Willow Warbler then JG heard something singing, almost chat-like. Getting closer we both heard it and realised it was actually a Hippo or an Acro. It was ultra-difficult, shutting up whenever we got within a hundred metres and we only ever saw it for milliseconds at a time. After scratching and sniffing the brambles to reveal a male Ring Ousel, Garden Warbler, a couple of Pied Flys and a few more Willows we returned and got some better noise, concluding it was almost certainly Marsh Warbler. JG later did some Remembird analysis to confirm it wasn't rarer. Most of the time it was singing very fast and chattering a lot, and giving sub-song. When it did do it properly however it was pretty classic Marsh, with lots of Willow Warbler, Blue Tit, Swallow and generally western species in the mimic mix. A genuinely exciting day, who would have thought this was Norfolk in Spring? Brilliant.

Sunday 27th

Familial perambulation along the Strid, Bolton Abbey. Seems like there are more nests in the north, with occupied Pied Fly, Blackcap, 2 Great Tit, Jackdaw and Blue Tit nests found in about quarter of a mile. Also ridiculously close Nuthatches and close Wood Warbler singing away.

Friday 25th

More extreme today, back up to the great expanses of sand, mud, muddy sand and pine around the Warham marshes. JG and AL were tardy so I left them to wander with the Sanderling while I investigated the pines. Little going on here, however a Spotted Flycatcher calling in the sycamores was at least a migrant, and two Wren broods had popped out of their nests. With a trip up to see K's family this weekend I had to curtail birding fun for the day at that point.

Wednesday 23rd

After extreme work CBC at Tilbury and Abberton (with singing Black Redstart at the former and over a thousand registrations in 2 days at the latter) my decision to take the last week and a bit of May as holiday proved to be an excellent one. Easing myself back into the idea of looking at birds for 'pleasure' I rolled down to Buckenham. A gentle stroll provided evidence that birds are nice, especially a sum plum Wood Sand and 2 drake Garganey. Numerous wader babies were also pleasing. Encouraged I decided to go to Rush Hill, forgetting momentarily that a certain youth from the Channel had found a Bonaparte's Gull there recently. Inevitably the hide was filled with a hopeful man with pager, Colin's and pocket detritus spread all around. "This is the sixth time I've tried for this. Can you have a look at this one?" A Black-head. Adult. Snoozing on the mud. The scrape only had 35 Ringos and half-a-dozen Dunlin for entertainment, though a Greenshank flew through on the way towards Coots. Fortuitously a 1st summer Bonaparte's Gull flew through as I was extracting myself from a conversation about having to try 35-40 times before seeing the 1st year American Wigeon at Buckenham earlier this year, so I made a break for it.

Sunday 13th

JG (walking boots, gore-tex jacket, lightweight ultimate survival trousers, camera bag on head)

AL, (walking boots, cream baseball cap, tight black jeans, freshly ironed white shirt, black tie and black dinner jacket) ,

RMa (all-leather loafers, Harris tweed country jacket, leather waistcoat, white shirt, paper trousers)

Despite an outrageous amount of effort no actual success that anyone can even pretend to have enjoyed. Notable was JG's Anthus sp. orbiting somewhere close to Venus, (call only) and a totally accurate Purple Heron prediction which was actually seen by AL through some mind-cracking spatio-temporal realignment from Cley Coastguards. I recall the events something like this:

JG (gazing lovingly over the beautiful soft colours of the teeming marshes at Cley, (AVOCET SOUND): "How long would we have to wait for a Purple Heron?"

RM (crouched, removing exhaust from motorbike): "22 minutes"

JG (Turning, then pushing the motorbike into a ditch): "Too long. Get down the point."

AL (looking intensely west from Coastguards, steely gaze, close up): "Did you see that? Big, thing flapping, miles away, must be over Kelling or something".


AL (smashes window of blue Fiat Punto) : “Nah, kinda looked greyish”

JG (punches AL in face): “No, text from Gholden, Purple Heron at Kelling.”

AL: “Cock”.

Then we embarked on the Point. At the same time as the new young hope of the era desperate to destroy our supremacy. Yes, Guernsey "Chiff-boner"Dave and cohort. Psychological warfare ensued, the point dripping with Wheatear and phyllosc., even a Whinchat.
AL: "Never seen the point so crap in May"
GD: "Really?"
AL: " Yeah, crap"
Then it pissed it down. Constant sledging ground down the youth as the birds dried up and their woeful attire filled with liquid. By the plantation we pulled the big manoeuvre. JG threw his toys and claimed he was going home. Alex got his phone out: "Hello, Taxi? Blakeney Point. Fifteen minutes, o.k."
When we headed to the lupins the new birding dawn was crushed. Hearts heavy they pounded the shingle back to the car park.
JG reappeared, unfortunately the script I wrote had been ripped apart by Hollywood and continued to piss down in an apocalyptic fashion and we failed to nail some crippling crippler and were forced to concede shortly after anyway. Rubbish, we said, as we hobbled close to death from hypothermia into the sheet water falling on our distinguished threads.

Thursday 10th - Friday 11th

CBC at Abberton Reservoir, 3 Black-necked Grebe still around, still the longest CBC transect possible. Only 890 registrations in the two days this time.

Wednesday 9th

Back to the River Nene mouth to survey breeding waders on the saltmarsh. We didn't get this part of the work last year, because some chumps reckoned they could do it on the cheap. They couldn't, and so I'm back clearing up the Redshanks. Nothing else doing however.

Monday 7th

BBS square somewhere in southeast mid-nowhere Norfolk. First visit, some arable and some woodland patches so obviously first bird on the recording sheet was Ruddy Shelduck. Stunna. Embarassingly a single singing Garden Warbler was my first this year. Right, now I can say I've contributed to the knowledge base that the bto say will save the world (or something, I never read the things that fall out of bto news, or bto news, or anything published about Britain since I was born...) so I'm off to join the big twitch at Horsey and have some fun. It can't be suppression if it's on the beeb.

Sunday 5th

Oystercatcher over the house while painting the back door some more. Door installation time so far: 32 days

Friday 4th

Back into the sueda/pine exchange zone without much joy. Additions to the site year to date were Common Sand, Swift, Sand Martin, Little and Sandwich Tern, all before I fell asleep with boredom.   

April 2007

Does anyone really know what happened in April? Coffee folowed by Chaffinch, then some R., LW, W., some more coffee, cake and Nightingales followed by coffee and steak. I love CBC. Ornithological highlight: absent.


March 2007

March 7th

Possibly as exciting as March in Norfolk can get. Early joy provided by the beautious form of a whole Canada Goose flying out over the marsh shortly after I entered the zone. No more than 10 minutes later a Red Kite appeared over the marsh passing fast through the site to the east, at 0814. The real excitement was saved for later, when wandering through the pines the over familiar sound of Great Tits drifted over. Unexpected, as this is also a site tick for me, with no resident tits at all out here. More unexpected when I tracked them down and found 5, all really cold greyish eastern looking birds. 3 piled off over the channel to take their chances with the 'grin and the sprawks. 2, a pair remained and hung around with 1 Chiffchaff, some Goldcrest and a steady stream of Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Linnet. The Red Kite reappeared at 1000, going west this time over the channel. 2 Red-breasted Geese were then reported at Wells, so I spent a while trying to look down the channel and only found an adult Brant. On the way back I finally picked up the Red-breasted Geese in flight. Back on the mainland I got some excellent views in stunning light.

Time for the resolution of the hardest id puzzle of 2007: despite giving me the run around the trees the bird eventually gave itself up on the beach... 



February 2007

What, it's over? You could have told me and then I'd have done something about it. Anyway, I'm in mourning. Surfbirds. All that time I trusted them with information I wouldn't tell my bank, and they held up for others to envy. My old friends, they are gone. Shot in the back by shady characters too cowardly to list. After all, you can't list without surfbirds, can you? Hold on, that's exactly what I wanted, the destruction of the listing game once I couldn't be bothered to do it. Nice work hacker chumps. Can't have it getting too popular now, can we?


February 26th

Arrived back at Portland by 0900, really can't stay away at the moment. Within a few minutes of being on site I heard a Woodlark, the closest thing to a migrant so far this year. I picked it up at a couple of hundred metres range perched on the security razor-wire fence at the top of the cliffs above. After about 10mins it got bored and cleared off west. The Peregrines were distracted from their carnal exploits today due to continual bombardment by four burly Raven, upholding the wholesome image of the area through violence.  

February 21st-23rd

Went to Portland and stayed with a nice man at Bill house he was called Martin and he said @*&(k($$ bird report, I'm off outside and why haven't you found a Wheatear yet? B)+^&5d*ng Guernsey, I hate Guernsey, stealing our Wheatears.

Well, he might have said that if he was some kind of crass foul-mouthed wierdo but he's actually really nice, despite still being a birder. Anyway, I didn't find anything amazing, did watch some Peregrines having sex and filmed them, and did see a couple of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps which weren't migrants. Portland Harbour had some winter type birds in it, including a Black-throated Diver, some GNDs, Slavs and the Velvet Scoter that's hanging around trying it on with some R & b Mergansers. 

January 2007

Holding on, just, as it all passes by faster than the shed roof. Time was never on our side. We could dance all night. Oh, sorry, that's not true, the plane's leaving and I need a new country. This one's gone mushy. Someone left the gas on. A short fuse and a broken lighter. Well, piss off then. I can't make it work for you, you're on your own along with 6x107 others. Can you get me some biscuits while your out?

Saturday 13th

The patch gets a bit bigger. Left the Unthank a bit after midnight when we realised that the nice people behind the bar weren't going to stop giving us alcohol and we badly needed some sleep. By 02:38 James, Rich and myself were collected once more in Alex's car, in various states of inebriation. 02:43: Stopped by the police before even getting past the ring road. It's o.k., Alex is sober, he just can't understand road markings (it's different in Brasil). We arrived at Stansted at some time with no further legal infringements recorded. Hopped on the nearest plane, turns out it was going to Finland. Fortunately that was where we wanted to go, deep down. I had some chicken cup-a-soup. It was clearly made of particularly high grade petroleum product with added carrot. They always add carrot. It was brilliant.

Tampere looked too exciting. Cold (ish, only actually zero C), white and various shades of grey and green with coniferous interspersed with barns. I was expected at least 3 Great Greys before we'd even landed. After some difficulty locating the budget chappie, during which time a Hooded Crow and some Magpies entertained us (poorly, I thought: no tricks, rope swinging or letting the tyres down on the tourist buses) our vehicle was revealed to us. Magnificent is a word. Yaris is not.

Rich took to the snowy roads with aplomb and we stormed off towards some part of Tampere. Having realised the Dusky Thrush was a no go (no chance) we'd fortuitously received gen that the Hawk Owl seen ages ago in Tampere was still there. James' immaculate directional sense landed us on top of the site. A swarthy Finn with the largest gun stock camera rest and camera thus far noted was strolling casually around as we jumped out , fresh-faced with excitement and eagerness. 'it's there, under the magpie nest' he said, and it was. It should have been great. Hawk Owl. It's just one of those species that you dream of finding perched up on the pine in the plantation on Blakeney Point, looking outrageously exciting. But it was too static, too fluffy, too sleepy, and actually a tad dull. Too easy.

Anyway, it's a big score and it was easy to appreciate as a very attractive and cute owl. I didn't think I'd say that about it. Cute. That's the problem. I wanted it to be a bit psycho, not a bit simple.

The rest of daylight reminded us that we should be grateful for all that we actually twitch. A search of the Ural Owl site revealed borealis Tit, nominate Treecreeper and nominate Bullfinch but no owl. Further attempts at owl score led to large amounts of driving with limited success with finding sites and no success with finding GGO. With just a couple of Raven added to the triplist by dusk Rich spun the car northwards at full speed. I took over just north of Tampere and we headed endlessly on along roads I couldn't see. 470Km, some fanni and a bottle of Morgan's Spiced Rum later we found our Eden, well Oulu. Parking the car outside a hotel we showed bare flesh to local girls in return for the best gen of the trip. 'Club Hot is just down there, but I don't think you want to go there. You want to go to Onnela.'

Consensus: amazing.

Two hundred and forty-seven approaches later, Rich's address book in meltdown and Alex already contacting estate agents we got back to the accomadation (again, for luxurious recall Yaris) at sometime after 4.

Sunday 14th

Half-nine interrupted my jarred vision, glowering at me from the LCD in the infinite depths of the Toyota's display. Struggling out of sleeping bags we got back into suitable clothes for the increasingly penetrating cold, and gently rolled the car to Jatari. Not actually sure how we found the twitch, just took some turns and found a steaming pile of snow-covered excrement, crawling with Finn-sticks and their owners.

Initial signs were poor. A Glaucous Gull flew by with some Herring and caused far too much excitement for my liking. Some billions of Waxwings swirled around, and a brief glance at the Redpoll flock behind us revealed at least one exilipes among a Mealy mass. But no sign of the main prize. Clearly if it was here these ultra-mega Finn-sticks would find it long before our rubbish hand-held techniques. Then, Alex exploded next to me: “It's there!”. And it was. Azure Tit, truly brilliant. A bird that actually exceeds any plate or photo that I've seen through some fabulous inner dynamism. The Finns threw down their sticks in amazement. Maybe in range you could take them for granted after a bit, but like a pro it left us wanting more. It left as it had appeared, suddenly and at distance.

Shortly after a group of caudatus appeared for a couple of minutes and we all mused on how great tits really are. Shortly afterwards we left the site and examined the suburbs nearby. Struggling to find even one Grosbeak after Piner had reported them in road-blocking numbers just a couple of weeks ago, but while wandering around a Nuthatch appeared on a lampost between Rich and myself. Big white super, with frosty whiteness under revealing it to be 'asiatica'. Unfortunately Rich was watching a feeder with his back to me and the 'tatch cleared off.

Guessing that there must be some beast-finch somewhere round Oulu we tried to find the uni but were stopped short by an outrageous shout from James of Pine Grosbeak in a rowan tucked down a side street by the river. Quick u-turning plonked us underneath them as they munched the gooey berries while pleasantly twittering away. Surprisingly good value.

James conceded that we had enough time to go and attempt Sibe Tit at Hietasaari although professed to have no idea of how to get there except that it was distance away. 2Km later we found it by just driving in a direction we hadn't gone yet and wandered around the site. James in his excited state slipped out of the reach of gravity and managed to land on his face from standing “I'm not doing any sliding, that's just asking for pain. Arrgh!” (thump). Heroically carrying on with 4 cracked ribs and no eyes it was only a short time before I picked out a fluffy Siberian Tit slowly working around a spruce. James located a second bird and later it appeared that three were in the immediate vicinity, unless one had moved really fast. Another species that was more entertaining than I expected, moving slowly and methodically through the trees. With darkness and another 480km approaching we bade farewell to the magical city of Oulu and made for the south. Feeling the effects of the driving I handed over to Alex for the long stretch and slept noisily in the back. Skilfully negotiating blizzard conditions he got us safely back to Tampere some time in the evening via a much appreciated Hesburger MegaburgerTM.

The flight back provided another opportunity for Alex to add to his overflowing contacts book, usefully adding an 18 year-old girl who lives in Kuusamo. Breeding RfB plus more Finn-sticking in spring? maybe...

AL's final act was the completion of the Stansted-Norwich run in less time than it really ought to take, and I gratefully accepted the extra 17 minutes of sleep before having to get up for work four hours later.