Posts Tagged ‘Birding


A little history and a bird and site revisited.

It’s been a long, long time since I was at Blacktoft Sands on the Humber; perhaps thirty years or more. A visit to Leeds to see Holly graduate was an opportunity to call at this RSPB reserve I once so frequently visited.

Blacktoft is an hours drive from Darrington on the A1, where I used to live. Fairburn Ings, Potteric Carr Blacktoft and Spurn were regular haunts.

The White-tailed Lapwing that had been seen briefly at Stodmarsh, Kent in June this year had made its way to Blacktoft on the 26th August. It more or less took up residence but was no longer being reported however I guessed it may still be in the area. So, a visit was planned to break up the journey North last week.

This is a species that has only ever occurred in the UK a handful of times, but I had seen one that previously turned up at Leighton Moss in Lancashire during June 2007 after I had missed it at Caerlaverock in Dumfries and Galloway the previous week. However, it would be a new bird for Tania.

Visiting the reserve brought back a lot of memories. The hides and layout of the place hadn’t changed much. It didn’t take long to find the Lapwing feeding and sleeping in front of Xerox hide. I saw it much closer that I’d seen one previously, so managed to get a few acceptable photos. We concluded that it was one of the best birds we had seen for a while and spent a couple of hours in its company before heading off West.

We also took in a little bit of history by calling in at nearby Whitgift to see the Church. Lord how we laughed … Ha Ha.


2020 – my best year yet.

I’ve been receiving cards over Christmas from family, friends, neighbours and customers and they all have had something in common. The wording has been different in each, but the sentiment has been the same … ‘better year in 2021’ … ‘hopeful for change’ … ‘can’t wait until restrictions eased’. You get the drift.

Well, Tania and I must have been on a different planet. We’ve had a great year.

We went on holiday to Florida, we got married, we’ve had the longest honeymoon in history and Tania got a visa to stay and work in the UK and got a Job in the middle of a pandemic. What’s to hate?

Sure, to be wrapped up in ourselves and completely insulated to the misery that is cruelly thwarting the world would be wrong. However, we have managed by careful and thoughtful practice to avoid crowds, be mindful of others and from day one wore gloves and masks when shopping and stayed at home when appropriate. These are OUR rules, not those of some twat in Westminster that can’t even comb his hair. We haven’t extended our liabilities up to the limits of recommendations. We’ve always worked within them. Long before Christmas restrictions my daughter and I decided that she wouldn’t join us this year. Because it was the sensible thing to do. Distance. Distance. Distance. If anyone decided otherwise then they are doomed to disappointment.

So, the best moment of 2020? There have been a few. I’ll cover some in a future post but one moment springs to mind where we shared an evening with a calling Barred Owl. Disappointingly it never did emerge from its hole in a large tree. We were within Mahogany Hammock in the Everglades. As darkness crept through the trees and shapes turned into imaginations a lightshow emerged. A million diamonds flashing in the dark. Fireflies, here there and everywhere. It was like being in a scene from Avatar. I was spellbound.

In reality, the best part of the year has to be spending so much time with Tani. I would guess you would think I have to say that, but to be honest who could not think the world of someone who takes with her a bit of grated cheese or muesli every morning. Just to feed the Robin that greets her in the dark on the platform of West Runton Station. A little Antipodean with a big heart.

Merry Christmas to one and all.


All coloured-up

Excellent numbers of Linnet this year. Some of them are now coloured up and looking good in their Sunday best.



If you’re a Twite you have to find somewhere to drink as well as eat. This guttering was just the ticket for a small flock of Twite we saw on the Norfolk Speciality Birds Long Weekend.


In flight

A good number of eclipse duck at Cley marshes the other week. Their true identity a pitfall for those new to birding, as new feathers, with their brown tips, mask the full colours beneath. The full splendour of our ducks doesn’t come to light until the brown tips wear away revealing fresh new colours. In flight however the speculum colours within the wing are bright and diagnostic. This Shoveler and accompanying smaller Teal were just two among many.


Just like a Boomerang

Look who’s back! Seen last Thursday at Falcon Cottage. Actually he’s probably the son of Italian Sparrow? History tells us those grey pins in the crown will disappear as the breeding plumage becomes established and the gorget will develop chestnut sides. … no? … let’s wait and see. Well, we’ll only see if the little fella has the courtesy to hang around a while.

Punative Italian Sparrow Northrepps Norfolk_Z5A6568


In the open

We were surprised to see a Water Rail on a tour last week. Seeing a Water Rail is not that unusual. We see them from time to time on our outings around Norfolk despite them sometimes being hideously elusive and they often only play ball at dusk. They are marvellously adapted birds; superbly designed for their reed bed environment.

We were surprised on two counts. The first … it was in the middle of the day and second … it was out in the open!

Water Rail


Photo diva

It’s unusual to see Shags in Norfolk but we do get a few each winter. They come down the coast from places like the Farnes to spend the colder months with us. It’s even more unusual to get one in Norfolk. that’s approachable Normally they don’t like the company of anyone let alone someone poking a camera in its face. This one was lounging in the harbour at Wells and was doing a bit of a diva.and coming close to me.




A Day on St Martins

I’d been promising the group a day on St Martins since the beginning of the week. St Martins for me is probably the best of the islands within the Scilly archipelago. There’s just something parochial but wild about it. Something familiar but foreboding. I just love the mixture of dunes, small fields, swaths of bracken and wild blue surrounding ocean. It is always on the agenda during our tour to Scillies.

An early boat had left St Mary’s Quay earlier that morning and I knew there had been some good birders on board. Maybe by taking a later boat we could ride on their shirt-tails and pick off what they had found or maybe even find one or two bits ourselves.

As we disembarked at the quay I began familiarising myself with the layout of the island once again. Familiar wonderful hedgerows and tiny charming cottages. Walking from Lowertown eastward and up the island we soon encountered the call of a Firecrest; seeing it however was a different matter. Calling distantly in the thicket above the Seven Stones pub it never did show.

As we walked on a call from the opposite side of a Pittosporum hedge made me jump it was that loud. The caller however once again remained hidden. I heard it fly off as it flew back the way we had come. I commented to my guests “That sounded like a Common Rosefinch”. This sparked a discussion. “What’s a Common Rosefinch look like?” “Where’s it from?” … everyone was keen to learn. A good team this.

I guess we’d walked another 400m when I could see finches flying in one of the tiny roadside fields. It was a marrow field. Some good ones in there too; big and long. The mild climate and rich soil is obviously good for vegetables. I suggested we would perhaps stand a while and go through the finches to see what we could find.

I raised my bins and the first bird I looked at was a Rosefinch. The ‘guide’ tripped in as I ensured everyone got onto the bird. I could then relax and enjoy the bird myself. The more I looked at it the more I started to talk myself out of the identification. A nagging doubt set in. I took some photos. The bird disappeared. I looked at the photos…   The bird was brighter than any Rosefinch I’d seen before. Ever. Not grey but tan. No drab non-descript plumage this. This thing was an avian zebra. I texted an iphone shot of the image displayed on the back of the camera to friend Andrew on St Agnes. He had Brian Bland with him. Between them they would allay my doubts.

I waited for a response. Surely it had to be a Common Rosefinch. I’d heard one call 20 minutes beforehand. It had that beady isolated eye… but it was oh so streaky … and brown. This is Scillies for Christ sake. Had I eliminated all the American Sparrows?

Andrew phoned. “Brian says if it had been greyer he would have no hesitation in saying it was a Rosefinch” – Mmmmmm. Yep, that more or less summed up what was running through my mind.

Other birders trickled by. I showed them the back of the camera too. These were experienced birders too. Lots of scratching of heads and rubbing of chins. It wasn’t until Dick Philby saw the screen that he confidently cast his knowledge … “It’s a Common Rosefinch!” he said. No doubt drawing on vast experiences of seeing variously aged birds abroad. Apparently very young birds can be a little more ’interesting’ than the drab adults.

Every days a school day… and I’m certainly not above learning. I guess looking at the photo below you may be thinking ‘what the hell is he thinking – it’s a Common Rosefinch!’ – Well maybe, but this is Scillies. Anything can pop up on Scillies.

A couple of Lapwings and Skylarks later we called at the bakery and celebrated with cakes and coffee.

I was keen to make the most of our time on the island and wanted to move on towards the ‘Day-mark’; a large landmark on the east of the island. It was here while searching for Lapland Buntings I took a chance peep at the sea. Maybe a whale would pass by?

Bang! – Minke in the scope.

It rose again and at least one other member of the team was on it. Cetaceans are always hard to share with others. Distance is difficult at sea and landmarks (or should it be seamarks) are few but the trailing fin and the arched grey body with the lack of a blow were immediately distinctive and familiar. This was to be the first of two we had this tour.

The day had been a good one. We sailed back to St Mary’s having seen perhaps the best of St Martins. However there was a Short eared Owl and a Blyth’s Pipit to greet us. Only on Scillies … remarkable Scillies.

2015 10 13 Common Rosefinch St Martins Isles of Scilly_Z5A1200 ..



Shrike one!

Sat inside a hedgerow the Red Backed Shrike at Salthouse last week was showing quite well. I wonder where it originated.

Red backed Shrike

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Mar 2023


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