Before I post about our Norfolk trip, I’ll give a brief account of what we’ve been up to over the last couple of months.
The first visit was to Rainham. This time we did the opposite route to normal: getting the train to Purfleet and going straight to the reserve, and then doing the long walk to Rainham Station afterwards. We started with a brief Kingfisher and some Redshanks where the Mar Dyke comes off the Thames. The reserve was fairly quiet, although the high tide meant there were a few interesting waders, notably a Black-tailed Godwit on the pools in front of the visitor centre. There was also a good Common Buzzard which had come down low in front of the woodland, and a love Stonechat perched on a tall stalk. On the way back we stopped on the Serin Mound to scan the marshes and watched more Stonechats, plus a nice Kestrel perched surprisingly close to a Grey Heron. A Marsh Harrier was also quartering just to the east of the silt lagoons.
Saturday morning took us over to Wanstead Flats as there had been a very showy Lapland Bunting close to the path by the pond at the eastern end for two days. Sadly for us, it had gone by the Saturday. It was also a very dull grey day and birds were at a premium. We had a look for possible Ring Ouzels while we were there, with no luck. In the end the most interesting sight was a hovering Kestrel.
The following weekend was a bit better weather-wise, and it gave us a perfect opportunity to go out and find something that was on my list of five for the year: Ring Ouzel. Having monitored the situation in Twitter all week, it became apparent that Dagenham Chase would be the best bet. I liaised with the gentleman who runs their Twitter account and he told us where to look. Another local saw us as we neared, knowing straight away what we’d come for, and helped too. After a while we met various local birders and waited to see if the birds were about. A Black-tailed Godwit was on the pool, along with a Common Sandpiper, and a Sparrowhawk flew through, scaring pretty much everything away for a while. Eventually we were in luck as an Ouzel briefly hopped out of the bushes to feed before hopping straight back in again. We waited a while longer for another look, but with the Sparrowhawk still around most of the guys headed off around the reserve. Jem and I decided to give it a few more minutes before heading home for lunch, and it proved a good move as presumably the same Ouzel came out to the top of the bush for a few minutes. This was #407 on my lifelist.
Seeing as I hadn’t seen a Short-eared Owl in the UK for nearly two years, and also seeing as we’d never visited there before, the next trip was down to Pagham Harbour where there had been a regular SEO out hunting during the previous afternoons. We got down as early as we could via train to Brighton and then on to Chichester, and we were lucky that the morning rain had cleared by the time we got to the reserve. Straight away we had a couple of Kestrels just across the main road, and then a Curlew and a Little Egret just inside the reserve. We planned to take the perimeter path towards the sea first and then come back round to the northern side for the afternoon as that was where I assumed the owl had been seen. Common Buzzards, a Peregrine, a flock of Dunlin, a Grey Plover, lots of Curlew, and a good number of Brent Geese were all seen as we made our way to the the beach and then back. We questioned a local birder regarding the owls and he told us to stay by the fields on the south-western edge, and he also mentioned that there had been a Spoonbill but he hadn’t seen it himself. As the afternoon wore on we settled on the bank and watched more Buzzards, the Brent Geese, and some Red-legged Partridges, and we eve saw the Spoonbill too, but as the light faded there was no sign of the owl, so we headed off to get our bus back to Chichester. On the way we got a brief look at a Kingfisher doing a mid-air u-turn. It hadn’t escaped my attention that in the distance there were a number of birders stood at the North Wall of the reserve – and Twitter told me later as we got home that that was in fact where the owl was. Typical.
The next day out was another visit to somewhere new – both new for us and new in its own existence – the Thurrock Thameside reserve at Mucking. I hoped to have better luck with the Short-eared Owls here, but the weather was against us. We also had to deal with lots of kiddies who were there to meet Santa and ride in a tractor that had been bizarrely made up with reindeer-based accessories. The tide was out but we could see large flocks of small waders on the distant mud, several Little Egrets, a few Avocets, and a Green Woodpecker that swooped across in front of the hide. In better weather I’m pretty sure that this is going to be a very good reserve, but the rains and cold made it a difficult visit on this occasion.
I had the following week off work, so on the Tuesday I decided to make some use of it by spending the afternoon down at Staines Moor. I’d heard that there had been a Dartford Warbler there, so I decided that if the light was good might give some decent photo opportunities. As it was I got there a bit later than I’d planned and the sun was already dropping. There were at least three Kestrels and I saw two Buzzards as well. A Little Egret was seen in the Colne and a Green Woodpecker yaffled as it moved between the tree tops along the eastern edge of the moor. I soon located a number of Stonechats and a Meadow Pipit, but I couldn’t find any warblers. I eventually saw someone mention on Twitter that it was still around in the south-east corner, but I then made the mistake of crossing to the wrong side of the Colne. When I got to the corner I realised that the Stonechats – and probably the Dartford Warbler – were most likely on the opposite side. I saw Stonechats again, but no warbler. It was getting gloomy by this time and cloud cover had blocked out much of the remaining sunlight, so I decided to call it a day and head home.