The unsound approach


Hot action all round, teetering on the brink of the obscene. I can't look at surfbirds these days. Everything is infected, spreading oozing. HAVE YOU NOT SEEN THE NEWS? you are a vector, duped, used, moved. Move away, get back, all the way, keep going. I don't want my kids growing up in a world of Larid porn.  


11th June

Blakeney Point. Once more with feeling. Despite the overwheming statistical odds we didn't find the bird of the century, but maintained the run of great records of crap birds. A brief chat chatter from the middle of the whitebeam had JG giddy but I heard Black Redstart, crushing the boys dreams... When whooper swan breeding ground calls started up in the marram it was clear the searing heat had addled our brains, a terminal neural meltdown imminent. Minutes from death we were saved; JG found his iPod on random and a first summer male Black Redstart appeared out of the plantation. Nothing we could do, couldn't even string it as Eastern. Why not a singing Icky? a Grotfinch? White-throated Robin? The walks not the problem with Blakeney, it's the crushing mental blows meted out to the birder's fragile psyche. Anyone for butterflies?

22nd May

            Afternoon out after seeing too many webshots of Broad-billed Sand (Cambs bird was about half a mile from the office, when I was in Dorset). Excitement was quickly quashed with a dose of reality, as Breydon provided just 25 Dunlin, 2 Bar-wit, 6 Grey Plover and 3 Greenshank over a very high tide. Buckenham wasn't better, with 4 Marsh Harrier, a Little Egret, 8 Avocet and a group of 5 chasing Pochard. Wanted: motivation.

15th-19th May

            Back down to Dorset, more 4am coffee and wet CBC effort. A few singing Spotted Flycatcher were of more interest than other birds, in general few breeders in the hedegrows. Down on the Bill (pm on Tues and Thurs) watched the Woodchat at Cheyne, and hopeful but futile efforts to catch it by Cade and a team of Bombus. Filled boots with rain, not rare.   

13th May

            Feeling the breakdown in the weather a crack team was dragged out of bed at the reasonable hour of 0730. JG, GD, SM and myself eased our way to coastguards and began the ascent of the point. Kicking suaeda and a strandline football a Whitethroat and a couple of Willow Warbler were disturbed prior to halfway house. As we proceeded more Phylloscs popped up, another couple of Whitethroat and a Sedge Warbler from the Long Hills. More migrants than we’d possibly ever had on Blakeney in May. Usually it’s one bird or bust. Seeing the wardens in the lupins after doing Yankee Ridge we felt that something had been found. A Firecrest was all though, late it may be but the prize was surely still up for grabs? Interrogated the plantation for a bit. A Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Whitethroat, 6 Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff. It was clearly still happening though. Porter was still squinting into the lupins and revealed that a Wood Warbler had materialised. After a short wait it showed, hanging around long enough even for JG to capture the moment. The dunes beckoned but somehow no chunky lark flopped out in front of us. Guernsey kicked another Spot fly into the plantation and we resumed dune bashing. After another half hour of nothing it was fortunate that we spied Porter sacking it off and storming away back to Cley. Always do the opposite: going back to the plantation was the best course of action. Sat down, ate some food, no more birds. Then something flying by wasn’t normal, and a sudden yelp from Guernsey snapped us to attention. “Goouoldan oole” as a 1st summer male Golden Oriole flew by in front of us. It swung round, along the point towards Long Hills and vanished into dune.

            Later, after some searching around we returned to the plantation, with SM and GD ahead. Apparently it was feeding on the deck when they arrived; sadly the soundwave produced by one team member propelled the bird at velocity back into the dunes. Eventually we pinned it down back in the plantation, and all at the point got to see the bird well. Third for Blakeney. Shame we can only find Norfolk breeding species on the point, as so many other species are commoner on BP (at least 15 RtP since 1980, Subalp at least three times commoner). Still, Macca liked it. More Spotted Flycatchers appeared from nowhere and trawling the suaeda on the way back produced a Reed Warbler, another Lesser Whitethroat and more Whitethroat and Willow Warbler, leaving us still failing in our BBRC job creation efforts. Surely the members are getting bored with nothing to do but go birding...?


8th May

            High tide count at the River Nene mouth, but it’s not HT until 4pm so I went via Burnham Norton, predicting wader of the year. First patch of mud along the central track had 3 Wood Sandpiper sploshing around, so omens were good. Sadly, despite it feeling like a prat should be fired past by the furnace blast of a southeasterly straight outta Istanbul, nothing else appeared. One Common Sandpiper and 12 Whimbrel the only migrant waders, after I’d booted the Wood Sands to Filey Dams.

            Greenshank, more Whimbrel, a male Marsh Harrier and a Hobby livened up the HT.


Monday 1st to Sunday May 7th

            Down to deepest Dorset for a week of CBC along a proposed gas pipeline. Travelled down on the Bank Holiday, gorgeous weather, lounged in B&B on arrival.

            Survey finished by half eleven for the day on Tuesday (Lesser Whitethroat, lots of Blackcap & Chiffchaff), so I headed down to the Bill. Very few migrants around, 3 Wheatear, Chiffchaff at Pennsylvania castle and a 6 Manxie off the Bill with a feeding flock of Kittwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and gull. Wednesday’s survey produced my first Garden Warblers and Spotted Flycatcher of the year, and a Sedge Warbler singing in Rape, but I was too late getting down the point to find the goodies. I dipped the 3 Red-rumped Swallow, Ashy-headed Wagtail and Wryneck, and could only find 2 Whinchat, 2 Spotted Flycatcher, Garden Warblers, Blackcaps, Willows and Chiffs and about 70 Wheatear. Next day it was all over, virtually everything had cleared out and the best birds were a couple of Garden Warblers in the Obs Quarry and at Pennsylvania.

            Friday mornings survey was more interesting, with a migrant Tree Pipit and Reed Warbler in a hedge, but a brief check of the Top Fields at the Bill only produced Yellow Wagtail, a male Whinchat and Garden Warbler in the Quarry again. Back to NCH.

            Managed to persuade K that Blakeney Point was a great location for a walk, as she’d never done it before. Sadly the gods of birding fortune favoured it being a nice walk rather than rare capital of Norfolk today. Still some migrants though, a Garden Warbler, 6 Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler in the Plantation, a Blackcap in the Lupins and 5 Greenland Wheatear along the way.

            Still thinking that it’s the place to be, took the youth to the point on Sunday 7th. Guernsey and Mitchell were suitably impressed with our site #2, but getting Norfolk spring birding syndrome symptoms including apathy, desire to move to Spurn and above all frustration at lack of migrants in perfect weather. So we headed out from Coastguards about 11am, to be informed of Common Rosefinch at the Point. Well, we had the right idea. Slightly annoyed at not finding anything these days we kicked suaeda and just by the new excavations SM kicked a male Nightjar. Brilliant bird, it travelled 30yds back towards Cley then ditched back onto the shingle, part hidden next to the suaeda. 

We departed for new adventures. GD surprised a Wood Warbler near Halfway, which sadly was so surprised it pissed off before anyone else jumped on it. Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat Willow and Chiff were accumulated up to the plantation, where the 1st sum male Common Rosefinch showed delightfully. We were amazed to find out from Ashley Banwell that after we left the ‘jar someone had managed to flush it, despite it being in full view and perfectly happy with being viewed from where we’d been watching. Less than half a dozen point records btw. Return journey was uneventful, a female Merlin the highlight. Driving back we learnt we had gone under a Black Stork without noticing (thought that solar eclipse near Edgefield was odd), so at least the kids tasted disappointment, the true flavour of Norfolk.      


Monday 24th to Saturday 29th April

            Started the week on Phase 1 surveys at the pits just down the road from the office. 2 Nightingale fired off at each other, a distant Cuckoo, Lesser Whitethroat were all fresh for 06. A Wheatear peered at me from the top of a mound of bare sand and a Yellow Wag flew through. Still can’t id Red fescue on call though. Up to Scunthorpe in the afternoon for 6 hours of Keadby harrier surveys on Tuesday. Clearly one pair of Marsh Harrier breeding on site, could be 2 females. What was that about a wind farm?

            Wednesday: more Peterborough phase 1. Thursday: Extreme surveying. Low tide count at the Nene mouth, actually walking out to the trial banks from the sea wall. Beautiful day and it was great being out in the middle of a vast expanse of intertidal mud where the tide floods at 68km/hr. Hundreds of Grey Plover and Dunlin out there, with some Knot still around but no BB Sand action (either species would’ve been entertainment, especially putting out the message “bird present 3 miles north of the mouth of the River Nene...”). Got home and took K out round Whitlaneham, with the first Swifts I’ve picked up this year. Had bags of respect for the guy freaking out on the phone to Defra over a dead Black-headed Gull I poked near the watersports centre. Mass hysteria is my favourite kind of hysteria.

            Taking a day of TOIL on Friday allowed a rare outing with Dan Brown (plc) to materialise. BB Sand was still controlling my thoughts so we went to Breydon first off. Finding Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Whimbrel left little to do except attempting to add to my property portfolio. Rush Hills was mildly more entertaining with 4 Arctic Tern flying through then heading off high southeast. 3 soaring Cormorants weren’t Glossy Ibis though, and despite trying Horsey (coffee and bacon roll) and Whitlingham the Brown magic failed to strike. Saturday could have been big, with the profitable JG and myself moving out east again. Sadly in the event we largely failed by actually dipping proposed birding locations. Hardley Floods was off limits once again with stern warnings from the Head of Law. We figured you don’t want to mess with the Head of Law. In a dramatic departure from protocol we went to Fritton Lake on Black (stork) watch. As it had left Minsmere 2 days previously we figured that it might have flown over here yesterday. Scoring the lake from the car park it all looked too private (expensive) so hightailed it to Breydon, ‘cos nowhere’s cheaper than Breydon. Two sites tried, both failed. At least at Breydon we could watch a summer plumage Spotshank tarting about in front of the toilet block. Apart from that it was identical to yesterday. Desiring random wandering on a day for birds to be randomly wandering around the sky we drove to Reedham and walked down some tracks, hoping without reason or map that they might eventually lead us to Berney. They did not. However, great entertainment was found in the rarely observed performance art of weasel fighting. Having noted a weasel being tracked through undergrowth by a Pied Wag pair it nipped out and I failed to get a photo due to incompetence. So we waited, eventually it came out, we squeaked and it went a bit crazy looking for the dying rabbit. Unfortunately it ran into weasel #2, also looking for aforementioned lagomorph. The most violent tussle in British wildlife ensued, with simultaneous thrashing of opponent against the ground by the head. Best thing I’ve seen for months.

















Tuesday 18th April

            Out for the big one with Guernsey. Rush Hills threw 6 Cranes in our direction, and three Common Tern on the main broad were our first of 2006. Several Sedge Warblers were audible. On the scrape were 5 Avocet, an LRP, 3 Ringed Plover, 4 Dunlin, and 2 Ruff. A Peregrine passed through, attempted to take out 42 Blackwits over Swim Coots then cleared off through the troughs. Despite the westerly we were encouraged by a rare-ometer swing to the rare and laid into the dunes at Waxham. Actual migrants greeted us: a Tree Pipit sailed north amongst a handful of Yellow Wags and Linnets while two Whitethroat and Willow Warbler graced the scrub. This did little to prepare us for the caravan park. Just delivered was an exquisite Yellow Wagtail carpet to cover over the bare bits. At least 65 flavissima and 6 flava jostled a dozen or more White Wags, 80 Linnet and a couple of Wheatear. Another Tree Pipit flew north. Cranes were on flight training here as well, 8 birds going nowhere at 500m.The rain passed through us, then we went back to the car. Feeling flushed with spring we drove to Blakeney and hammered the point. Sadly the point was that the north coast remains in the grip of winter until May 27th, 1632hrs. A Short-eared Owl and 14 Northern Wheatear were the only birds of interest, the latter being swarthy Greenland types raping and pillaging their way across the frozen wastelands. Ultra pro to the death, we got soaked and still did North Scrape. Sadly no reward for effort round here.


9th April 06

            With Killdeer blocking up Blakeney with listers JG and I headed to Burnham Norton. 4 Water Pipit just coming into summer plumage were easy on the eye, but the biting northwester froze fingers and dampened hopes of spring rare. 1 Wheatear as well. Feeling the cold the only answer was Titchwell for a pasty and coffee. I must apologise to the twitcher in the toilet, for I fear I may have short circuited his brain when telling him I had no intention of seeing the Killdeer. He just went blank and extolled it’s virtues a bit more, in case I just misheard.

            An Egyptian Goose was the clear highlight on the scrapes.

            Fearing mental degeneration we left and did some proper man’s birding: Holme Golf Course, in the pissing rain and freezing wind complete with trespass and advanced golfer avoidance. 2 Wheatear were our reward, but at least it felt like something could happen.


7th April

            More fun with newts, then boating around a heronry in Stoke-on-Trent. Two Red Kites flew over the A14 near the Hunts/Northants border on the drive over. All three hirundines in good numbers at Trentham (heronry site).


6th April

            Fun with newts.


4th April

A Tree Pipit flew through during the first three hours at Moelgeila VP, with a Wheatear in the clearfell. The second VP produced 3 Goshawk, a displaying pair and an immature, and a Red Kite flew through for the final act. Back to Norwich.


3rd April

            Back to Wales, one night only special performance. My first Swallow of the year looked well settled already, in Llangwynwed on the way to the VPs at Cynhordy, Llynfi Valley.


2nd April

            Blakeney Point was the plan, roped in AL but JG said he’d make his own destiny today. Before the point the small matter of an Alpine Swift influx hadn’t escaped our attention. Alex suggested that Norwich was as good as anywhere in Norfolk, I told him to shut up and read the stats: Beeston Bump has more Alpine Swift records than Turkmenistan. So we went to Cromer, wandered around the cliffs for a bit with a singing Blackcap and Chiffchaff trying to persuade us it wasn’t freezing. A Willow Warbler started up, first of the year. Minimal passage though, and no Apus. Sheringham was also devoid of swifts, so we ate some chocolate megamuffins instead.

            With the works to make Blakeney Point Blakeney Island ongoing we dumped the vehicle on Beach Road and made our way along. The works have created a mud scraped rarity haven where the previous channel was, but despite close scrutiny we didn’t find any rare Charadrius. The first Yellow Wagtail of 2006 headed west past us, but migrants were hard to find. Dead birds kept us entertained as ever and the spring tides had provided immaculate specimens of Common Guillemot, Red-throated Diver, Common Gull, Black-headed Gull and Razorbill, among some less than immaculate Common Seal and Porpoise (yes, it’s still there). Many were in fresh breeding plumage, the first losers in the battle for sex 2006. Then the news came through, Rich phoned, about to go out to bat, teeth gritted “James has just found Alpine Swift at Whitlingham”. Maybe there were more expletives than that. Sly Gilroy had sacked off Blakeney in favour of staying in bed with his new girl, sloped off to Whitlingham at 10 and bagged the prize.

Desperate to outpoint JG we pushed on to the point. At the lupins Alex flushed a Short-eared Owl and one Wheatear hung around the dorms, but there was no saving Bimac. The swift had cleared off by the time we headed back to Norwich, so we just went home.


30th March

            First singing Chiffchaff of the year outside the B & B before breakfast. Random injury of the week occurred last night in the Pelican. Numerous heavy tomes perch precariously on narrow shelves high above the oblivious patrons. Mostly they keep themselves to themselves, but last night four decided the time was right. They leapt. Vladimir saved me (of course) because I was leaning forwards avidly consuming his tales of an interesting life. The books still hit my back, but I was appeased by the interest the episode caused behind the bar. “They’ve never done that before”.

Again largely failed to survey today, due to vis <50m. Found a Water Pipit along the Ogmore in the evening, nothing outrageous though.


29th March

            Actually managed some surveys yesterday (52 flights in 3 hours) but today the cloud is back, mostly sat in the hire car waiting for it to piss off. Black-tailed Godwit and 6 West European Red-throated Little Dabchick Grebe along the Ogmore this evening.


27th March

            Start of a week in Wales, doing VP counts. No vis today so no counts, checked out the River Ogmore and found a 1st summer Little Gull. Also Med Gull at the river mouth. 22 Sand Martin at Kenfig were great in the way that first of year hirundines always are. 4 Goosander as well.


26th March

            After lots of hardcore survey effort in the past month (and some tree climbing at Horsey roost) finally went out into the real world. Whitlingham New Workings with Rich. 2 LP, a GE, 13 GA, 2 SU and a GL were the headline acts, but clearly massive potential for something turning up to get Rich excited. Headed off towards Hickling, but only after raiding Sainsbury’s for hot chicken. At Rush Hills I got views of the three summer plumage Black-necked Grebe through expert balance, while Rich was thwarted in his plan of viewing from the hide by a swarm of birders. 50 BW, 38 DN, 20 AV and an RP probed the scrape. On the way back the grebes hid in the reeds to piss Rich off some more. Waxham was a delight. During a magical 40 minutes we were treated to an awesome arrival of 6 C., a WP, 1 L. a PE and our first Wheatear of the year, making landfall at 15:06. 3 Cranes flew around a bit. 

            Having decided that Breydon was the key site and accumulating JG en route we peered out over the shimmering flats, found a couple of Med Gulls and sacked it off in favour of Whitlingham. A seething mass of 25 large gulls concealed a Caspianish Gull, a 2nd cal year thing that left us unsatisfied. Needless to say, we went home and forgot about it. Best way with gulls.




           Inevitably I had a birding hangover from the overindulgent county yearlist of 2005. I figured the best to wean myself from the listing nonsense was to not go for the Ross’s Gull on January 1st, seeing as it had partly broken my car and myself the day before. Rich M*ores went and scored, phoning me mid-morning lie-in really excited (or still drunk). I stayed at home with Katherine.

            Back at work on the Tuesday with a trip to the rolling Leicestershire abandoned super pit at Asfordby. The stickiest substrate in the country provided an extra three inches elevation to see the few birds of the site. Apart from an abnormal density of Bullfinch and 5 Golden Plover this is a hole. No, really...

            In contrast on Thursday 5th it was tons of bird piling into my weather writer as I performed the first high tide count at the Lincolnshire site. A Merlin and a male Hen Harrier further enhanced the experience, good work when I get it.

            My wheels were finally mended on the 6th. Fortunately it wasn’t as bad as I feared. The coil pack had gone, it was replaced and the car is back to tear up the roads/hedges of Norfolk once again. Brakes still don't work though... 


14th January

            Most exciting ornithological event of 2006. JG found a Hawfinch on the way to campus on Tuesday, and I took the dangerous decision to go and see it. I disguised this blatant twitch by taking K for a driving lesson and aimlessly wandering around Eaton Park for a bit before seeing the brute finch looking shifty atop a youthful cherry. After satisfying myself that it hadn’t been tied down by the UEA yoofs of today we left. As I didn’t feel an uncontrollable desire to see everything in the county my rehab may be complete. We called in at Whitlingham and saw the Slavonian Grebe. Lovely. Honest, it’s just the pleasure from seeing the birds...


15th January

            Rich informed me of a Smew at Whitlingham, so I indulged in a bit more pleasure birding. The first Smew I’ve seen at Whitlingham, a redhead, dozed and preened with a few Pochard. Gary White turned up to twitch it and was obviously relieved when I reiterated my refusal to list 2006. He was off to Black-necked Grebe, and I felt absolutely no desire to race after him and run his car off the road. I’m cured.


After long survey hours during the week (Lincolnshire again) I did no birding the next weekend, and wasn’t tempted to twitch the dying northern bottle-fed wail. Rich did go, and it died. (Note: These events are not linked.) 


 25th January

            After a report of Yellow-brow at Horsey yesterday I took a brief trip up there with a view to correctly id the bird as a Hume’s. Unfortunately by the time I got there I’d been beaten to it and had to settle for cracking views of my second Hume’s Warbler ever. I would have given it even more love if it had turned up in December.


26th January

            Surveying Abberton today, thought I’d pulled out the first find of my year when a sleeping drake looked perfect for Ring-necked. After half-an hour of sleeping though it woke up and showed a floppy bit of crest and no white around the bill, which greatly reduced my enjoyment of this masterpiece of the English reservoir network. 5 Smew were pleasant though.


27th January

            Took a day of TOIL and headed for the coast. Unfortunately I decided to try and get good views of the bird that almost ruined my life last year. True to form this resulted in the day being sucked up into the sueda at Morston. The Little Bunting successfully eluded myself and the others shambling around in a Emberiza-fuelled malaise. In an effort to prevent misery reigning I went direct to Lady Anne’s. Immediately the day improved; not only was the leprechaun at the gate absent but he’d been replaced by a Black Brant and it’s bastard offspring for the day. They shuffled around as close to the Drive as they could get, allowing me to indulge in some rubbish photography.

Walked out into the gap. Offshore were about 400 Common Scoter, 40 Eider, 25 Red-breasted Merganser, a few Great Crested Grebe and a lumpy Great Northern Diver only just past the breakers. A few RtDs drifted around further out and a flurry of 70 Snow Bunting precipitated out of the dunes around my feet. After this I decided that it was time to go home, especially as it was dark.


Sunday 12th February

            Big day planned with Si, huge mistake. Started at dawn at Whitlingham, where we dipped the Slavic Grebe, got soaked and saw nothing. Then we moved it out to the coast to get a further soaking at Winterton. About 60 Red-throated Diver and 40 Common Scoter did little to distract us from the freezing water seeping through our unprofessional attire. 16 Snow Bunting didn’t care. Resolutely (idiotically) we persisted, hitting Horsey after being distracted briefly by an arable field heaving with 2 Water Pipits. Saw nothing at Horsey. Drove to Salthouse, and saw some Black-tailed Godwit, a Spotskank and Brent Geese. February is rubbish. Cley lined up a few Avocet and a Marsh Harrier, we knocked them down and drove on. Morston is still hiding its Little Bunting, but we gave up quickly this time to prevent suicidal tendencies. Still pissing it down. Finally Holkham again, with Barn Owl and less stuff than I saw on the sea last time. No Grt Nrthrn Dvr but the Cmmn Sctr, Rd-brstd Mrgnsr and dr were still dawdling on the sea. Look, I told you we need vowels. Little Grebe in the harbour at Wells made the final total a mere 89 species of wet birds.