Santon Downham again, 9 December 2017

Despite the sub-zero temperatures we headed to Santon Downham for a walk today. The main aim was to try for Otter but despite much searching we failed with that. The whole area was pretty quiet as the Brecks so often is in the winter. Eventually I did manage to see c10 Parrot Crossbills at distance from the road near the level crossing carpark but was glad I'd seem them well before! A walk along the river yielded 3 Grey Wagtails, Little Egret, Redwings, 2-3 Little Grebes, 2 Nuthatches and c20 Siskins but that really was it.

 Grey Wagtail


September 2018 - South Africa here we come!

We booked flights for our next adventure a couple of days ago. After much deliberation we've opted for a 4 week trip to South Africa which seems to tick loads of our boxes!
For me the birding should be excellent and Belinda has long wanted to do the safari thing.
We'll be flying in and out of Cape Town spending roughly half the trip in the Western Cape/Garden Route and the other half in Kruger/Limpopo with a couple of internal flights.
So far things look very reasonably priced in terms of flights, car hire and accommodation which should mean we can splash out a bit more on safari!
The map below shows our very rough plan

Arctic Redpoll, Hazelwood Common, Suffolk, 2 December 2017

I decided to give this elusive bird a go today and elusive it was indeed! In 3 hours on site I managed just 3 views in bushes beside the track just down from the small carpark. It was with a loose flock of c20 Lesser Redpolls and 2-3 Mealy Redpolls feeding in a weedy set-aside field and popping up into bushes very occasionally. A classic 'exilipes' Coues Arctic Redpoll, very pale with white rump, frosty upperparts, a straw-tinged head/upper breast and very faint diffuse flank streaks. The light was pretty dreadful for photography but latterly the sun came out and I managed one shot in good light! There was also a large and very dark Redpoll present which I managed a shot of. It looks promising for a possible Greenland Redpoll
Also there were a fly-over Little Egret, Curlew, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Redwings.

Arctic Redpoll

    Arctic Redpoll (right) with 2 Lesser Redpolls  

putative Greenland Redpoll

Wot no Horned Lark? Staines, 29 November 2017

Jus and I headed off to Staines yesterday. The original plan had been to wait on news of the American Horned Lark while enjoying the Parrot Crossbills at Santon Downham. The first part of the plan worked nicely with 32 Parrot Crossbills counted around the carpark and even seen coming down to drink in a puddle by the toilet block. News from Staines didn't come through so with time getting on we decided to go anyway.

After the drive we got there at lunchtime. Walking up the slope onto the causeway, dodging the dog shit, past the dog poo bags hanging on the pallisade fence and turning right at the abandoned supermarket trolley (you get the picture!) we were greeted by negative news from those on site. Under leaden skies and with darkening moods we gave it about an hour and a half until we almost froze to death and gave up. At least the view was nice, oh wait, it wasn't! Joking aside we did get some nice views of a Black-necked Grebe on the south basin plus a Peregrine, 5 Pintail, Goldeneye and c60 Pochard but were glad to leave in the end.

With a bit of time left before dark we called in at Stockers Lake, Rickmansworth on the way back round the M25. After a long walk all round the lake we eventually found 8 Red-crested Pochards plus a handful of Ring-necked Parakeets, 2+ Kingfishers, 3 Goldeneye and 8 Siskins. Around the M11 and M25 while driving we also clocked up 7 Red Kites and 3 Common Buzzards.

Red-crested Pochards


Parrot Crossbills etc, Santon Downham, 28 November 2017

A little short day trip to the Brecks that I'd put off from the previous day because of the weather.
If only all birding could be as easy  - I pulled up on the St Helen's Well carpark at Santon Downham and walked just a few yards to watch c30 Parrot Crossbills in the sun! And very entertaining they were too with their feeding antics involving ripping pine cones off branches whole and holding them in their feet to extract the kernels. Some even flew carrying cones in their bills! The flock consisted of about 70% males. A couple of Nuthatches were calling, a Grey Wagtail and a Stock Dove flew over and on a short walk I found a flock of c45 Siskins in alders by the river.

Parrot Crossbills

I moved on to Grimes Graves next but a cold walk later only yielded Sparrowhawk so I cut my losses and headed for Lynford. The reported Scaup on Lynford Water turned out to be a Tufted Duck (!) but a walk down to the paddocks and around was much nicer. I eventually found 2 Hawfinches in the NW corner of the paddocks and also had a Kingfisher by the bridge, c25 Siskins, 3 Marsh Tits, Coal Tits, 2 Nuthatches, Treecreeper and Little Grebe.    

Marsh Tit



Gadwall pair

Sotterley, Suffolk, 23 November 2017

I spent a very pleasant hour wandering around Sotterley Park this morning. Despite it being a bit blustery I was able to find 2 Hawfinches without too much difficulty. They both allowed close approach as I just stood still and watched them feeding in a Hornbeam at the far end of the Dell. While there I also had Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Marsh Tit, Coal Tit and Mistle Thrush, all nice woodland species which reminded me of my childhood days watching these.
Later on near Thwaite (near Ditchingham) 2 Sparrowhawks were sparring c5 Fieldfares flushed from the hedge and there was an even later Red Admiral.

 The Dell, Sotterley Park

North Warren area, 19 November 2017

Really not too much to write home about but a very pleasant walk around Thorpeness, Sizewell, Aldringham Walks and North Warren in the sun yesterday.
Wildlife was restricted to some late insects in the form of c6 Red Admirals and 2 Common Darters plus a fly-over Grey Wagtail at North Warren. Despite a paucity of winter thrushes there were a few Fieldfares at Leiston Abbey and then an albino Common Pheasant near Metfield on the way home.

  Lengthening shadows at Leiston Abbey

Dodgy Pheasants, Hemblington, 27 October 2017

With the absence of any real birds to look at I took a detour to Hemblington on my way into Norwich this afternoon to look for some plastic pheasants!

They were rather skittish but I managed some decent shots of Reeve's Pheasant out of the 6 or so I saw but even though they were more numerous the 'Green' Pheasants (actually 'tenebrosus' ssp) were even more nervous so I need to return to get better shots of those!

There were loads of Red-legged Partridges with the pheasants, a female Marsh Harrier circled overhead and Long-tailed Tits were remarkably numerous with c50 seen. A Sparrowhawk, several Redwings and 2 Fieldfares were also recorded.

Reeves Pheasants

 'Green' Pheasants

London, 21 & 22 October 2017

A weekend in London to celebrate Belinda's 50th so no birding as such.

However, in Richmond there were no shortage of Ring-necked Parakeets about when I did an impromptu explore near Richmond Hill. A Grey Wagtail flew over Brick Lane on the Sunday and over the M11 in Cambs on the way home were a Red Kite and 3 Common Buzzards.

A week off work now so I'm betting nothing turns up... 

What a boring autumn on the East Coast!

What to say? My first blog entry for 3 weeks and still there's bugger all to get excited about.
The east coast has had very little this autumn so far although we continue to live in hope that a mega is just around the corner. Well, there's a Mugimaki Flycatcher in Norway!
A year ago tomorrow we were getting het up about the Easington Siberian Accentor, that seems along while ago now.
This week I've been working locally in Pulham Market. On Wednesday c45 Redwings and 2 Song Thrushes moved west over the village and on Thursday a Grey Wagtail was circling calling and a Brimstone was also seen.

Thank goodness for my foreign trips because without those I'd be desperate by now.
We're currently investigating Cambodia and South Africa!  

Keeping it loocal - White Stork, Stratton St Michael, 22 Sept 2017

A glorious sunny afternoon and I finished work at lunchtime.What a great time for a White Stork to turn up just down the road!
I found the bird straight away while still driving but managed to park and walk out towards it along a footpath. With a bit of fieldcraft I managed to get within about 30 yards of it as it fed completely oblivious to my presence. It was unringed and seemingly in good condition but with White Storks these days know knows! A Stock Dove was also in the field and on the walk back a gorgeous male Yellowhammer sat in a hedge while a late Small Copper flitted along the field edge.
Earlier I'd had a garden first in the form of a Willow Emerald that sat all too briefly on our statue before disappearing high into the blue sky. There have also been several Large Whites in the garden and a single Common Darter.

White Stork


Yorkshire Dales, 15-17 Sept 2017

A weekend of hill walking from our base at the Moorcock Inn at Garsdale Head.

Not a huge amount of nature action to report. Birdwise a couple of Red Grouse above Keld where there was also a single Raven plus a Bank Vole scuttling under a wall on the edge of Muker. Apart from 2 or 3 scattered Grey Wagtails, Sparrowhawk, Nuthatch and plenty of Mistle Thrushes the best sighting by far was a lovely Red Squirrel which showed very well on grass and then on a dry stone wall in Widdale just SW of Hawes. There were also plenty of hirundines still about plus Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshell and a late Green-veined White.     

Citrine Wagtail and other weekend bits. 9 & 10 Sept 2017

The weekend started off with a frustratingly long drive to North Norfolk on Saturday where Belinda and I did a long 14km walk from East Runton. Birdwise it was quiet with just a noisy pair of Nuthatches in East Runton village and a mixed flock of House Martins, Sand Martins and Swallows along the clifftop at West Runton followed by a single Swift just west of Cromer Pier at dusk. As we'd started late we ended up having a night out in cromer too.

Fast forward to Sunday. After a morning of doing chores (opticians etc) in Norwich I grabbed a quick lunch and headed to Minsmere for the afternoon. Meeting Matthew Deans and Adrian Kettle by the centre we headed to West Hide where luckily I was able to pick up the 1w Citrine Wagtail within a pleasantly short space of time! It had been ranging all over the scrapes and seen from various hides so it was nice to connect so quickly. I was particularly keen to see it as it was my first one in the UK for 22 years - I suddenly feel old! I didn't stay long at Minsmere but added Green Sandpiper, Little Egret and Cetti's Warbler before departing for Kessingland. Parking at a new spot which cut the walk down to a couple of hundred yards (!) the Wryneck of the last couple of days was showing nicely on arrival near the sluice and went on to provide some memorable views. Pity I'd not brought my camera out! I went on a wander down as far as Beach Farm, Benacre after that but things were quiet. I did however clock up another late Swift, 3 Wheatears, loads of House Martins moving south, 2 Little Grebes on the pits, Stock Dove, 2 Stonechats and Green Woodpecker.

 Wryneck (courtesy of Matthew Deans)

          Cromer Pier was looking rather nice!  

The 'Heberton Honeyeater' Conundrum

On my recent trip to North Queensland I was lucky enough to find some of the so-called 'Heberton Honeyeaters' at Springvale Road, about 10km SSE of the town of Heberton.

These honeyeaters have been discussed at length for some time, most publicly by Lloyd Nielsen in his excellent book Birds of the Wet Tropics of Queensland and Great Barrier Reef and How to Find Them (there's a long book title!). They seem to fit into neither Yellow-tinted Honeyeater or Fuscous Honeyeater for the reasons Lloyd describes. I had literally no experience of any species of honeyeater before my trip but I was able to watch c18 of these interesting birds in the mixed (but predominantly pine) forest along Springvale Road and even get a few pictures. To me they look like dull Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters although I realise that voice, behavoir, nesting, habitat etc all need to be taken into consideration alongside just physical appearance. Several of the birds I saw were fully-grown juveniles which interestingly had distinct two-tone bills which according to my field guides is only shown in Fuscous Honeyeater. They also seemed to spend most of their time in pine trees, often clinging to the trunks and large limbs, something I didn't see any other species of honeyeater do.

Extract from his book (copyright Lloyd Neilsen)

Springvale Road showing typical habitat



Adult and juvenile in typical 'pine trunk' pose

They have gone on my list as Yellow-tinted as I really can't see them being Fuscous but I stand to be corrected by anyone who knows better. I can't quite understand why a simple DNA test couldn't resolve the puzzle. A job for an enterprising Aussie birder maybe...?


North Queensland, Day 16, 4 August 2017. Cairns Esplanade, Redden Island and Cattana Wetlands

My final day.
Due to the campervan rental office closing at 15.30 it was sadly not even a whole day but I was determined to make the most of it.

Cairns Esplanade was once again my site of choice. Mainly because Alex Jones had tipped me off about a couple of potential lifers which would round my trip off nicely! I began at my Mangrove Robin spot and had one almost straight away again and then just a few yards away taget number one fell - Varied Honeyeater. I went on to see several along the length of the esplanade but this one showed the best in low bushes. Exploring the trees around the northernmost carpark I had Spangled Drongo, plenty of tame Peaceful Doves, Magpie Larks and a Double-eyed Fig Parrot. After a while I then got onto my second target and another lifer - a stunning Rose-crowned Fruit Dove feeding on fruit and allowing a few photos before it flew off towards the mangroves. On the adjacent beach was the last trip tick in the form of 2 Collared Kingfishers plus 5 Grey-tailed Tattlers. I set off to walk the length of the esplanade in a rather good mood! There wasn't much to add birdwise with just Common Mynas, House Sparrows, Metallic Starlings, Rainbow Lorikeets and a couple of White-breasted Woodswallows. I had a relaxed coffee and walked back considering my next move with Brahminy Kite and Eastern Osprey both livening up the walk.   

Mangrove Robin

Varied Honeyeater

Peaceful Dove

Rose-crowned Fruit Dove

Brahminy Kite

Magpie Lark

I decided to give nearby Redden Island a look next. This patch of dry woodland on the north side of the Barron River mouth was plagued with mozzies but I stuck with it and despite a few bites ended up with some nice birds - Northern Fantail, Dusky Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater, Brown-backed Honeyeater, Varied Triller, Rainbow Bee-eater and Scaly-breasted Munias. Down at the river mouth itself a Gull-billed Tern was flying up and down asking to be photographed and Crested Tern and Agile Wallaby were also seen. 

Northern Fantail

Agile Wallaby

Gull-billed Tern

With time beginning to run out I drove the short distance north and back to Cattana Wetlands for one last hurrah. Birdwise it yielded nothing new but a showy Leaden Flycatcher, Green Pygmy Geese, Pacific Black Ducks, Comb-crested Jacanas, Black Butcherbird, Brown Gerygone and Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike followed up by an Azure Kingfisher along the boardwalk are not to be sneezed at.

Leaden Flycatcher

Black Butcherbird

Green Pygmy Goose

Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike

Azure Kingfisher

A 'Hungry Jacks' burger, a petrol stop and then a campervan drop off later and the trip was over.

The total tally was 231 species seen with 192 of those being lifers. Not bad for an Australian rookie!