Wednesday 31 December 2008


Year 2008 saw a new record of 445 species recorded in Britain and Ireland, plus two further species still under consideration - Hooded Merganser and Canvasback.

A total of just 11 observers recorded more than 300 species during the year, with LGRE recording his lowest annual total in at least 20 years. The Top 10 finishers were as follows, with details of all 50 finalists published on the British Birding Associations website at



PENDULINE TIT IMAGES (top two by Jeff Delve, then all others and two of adult CASPIAN GULL today taken by Woodford birder Sue Cowie)

Spent an extremely enjoyable day at the reserve on this last day of the year, finally securing PENDULINE TIT for the year (UK334). It was great to see so many of you out today and once again, I must commend Howard Vaughan for his commitment and the immense effort he has placed in the reserve throughout 2008 - it is first-rate - and I congratulate him on recording 184 bird species at the site in 2008, making Rainham RSPB by far the premier birding site in the so-called 'London Recording Area'.

So for today...........

I arrived just before 0900 hours to find much of the reserve a frozen wilderness. A sharp overnight frost was still apparent and small birds were slow to make an appearance

Wildfowl included 263 Eurasian Wigeon, 9 Common Teal, 11 NORTHERN PINTAIL, 98 Gadwall and 3 COMMON SHELDUCKS, whilst a scan through the roosting gulls standing on the ice of the Aveley Pools revealed the presence of a superb adult CASPIAN GULL (LGRE, Les Harrison), 46 Scandinavian Herring Gulls, 23 Great Black-backed Gulls and a scattering of other commoner species.


The Caspian Gull was roosting on the front edge of the group, often alongside a metal-ringed Argentatus, and was showing exceptionally well. After initially identifying it at 0925 hours, it remained on view until at least midday, allowing Howard and his large group to connect and some 25 others. Some excellent photographs were obtained. The bird was a 'classic' individual, with a clean white head (apart from a dark smudge in front of the right eye and a light rusty stain on the 'right' neckside) contrasting with the small, 'dark' eye. On closer study, the eye (with a dark brown tint to it) was encircled by a rich red orbital ring. The head shape was distinctive, with an aggressive feel to it characterised by the long-sloping forehead (giving a somewhat snouty appearance). The thick bill was very pale yellow-green in colouration with an obvious thin black bill-band and an orange-red gonys spot on the lower mandible. Both the bill and the size of the bird were comparable with the numerous Argentatus surrounding it, and the mantle colour too was the same shade of pearly-grey. What set it apart from the flock was its long legs, particularly that visible above the tibia, making it appear much longer-legged than all of the Herring Gulls in the flock. The leg colour too was very different - a sort of pale sepia-green or grey-green - and not obvious pink as in the assorted Herrings or yellow as in Lesser Black-backed Gull. In certain lights, Les and I noted a distinct greyer tone to the upper tibia, grading paler on the lower section of the leg and paling further on the feet. Otherwise, its plumage resembled Herring Gull, although there was an obvious white 'mirror' on p10.

Despite being present for so long, it was surprisingly active, often preening for long periods and swimming in the unfrozen section of the pool on several occasions.

From Aveley Lagoon, I pushed on to search for the Penduline Tits in the westernmost section of the main reedbed but they were not to be found. After 140 minutes, it was looking fairly bleak and several hardy souls decided to walk back to the centre to warm up! Compensation came in the form of two BEARDED TITS - showing well on occasions but only locatable when calling - up to 6 CETTI'S WARBLERS, a single COMMON CHIFFCHAFF, 3 COMMON STONECHATS (1 male), a Grey Wagtail and the odd Reed Bunting.

At 1125, Dave Smith and Mick Frosdick heard the PENDULINE TITS calling and watched them flight in with a Blue Tit from the north end of the reedbed. All three birds landed in the large crop of Reedmace just east of the first 'new' boardwalk Aveley Pool observation platform and endeavoured to feed on the bullrush heads. Within minutes I had been alerted and was shortly watching the birds. They showed absolutely fantastically, feeding at the tops of the bulrushes and vigorously eeking out seeds, with wispy pieces of the mace being pulled out and blowing away, often revealing their presence. Once on view, news was quickly disseminated around the reserve and within a very short time indeed, the tiny crowd swelled to at least 45. The birds were unaffected by the gathering and continued to show down to just 30 yards for the next two hours or so. In fact, they were still being seen when I departed the reserve at 1400 hours. It seemed like all and sundry were getting great images, even those with mobile phones.

In recent years, Aveley Reedbed has been THE site to see Penduline Tit in Britain and it looks as though 2009 will start with these two delightful birds in residence. Once again, thankyou RSPB, the Rainham staff and Howard especially for running and maintaining such a flagship reserve - truly magic

Tuesday 30 December 2008


Hampshire Images by Joe Stockwell (JSL Photography)
The long-staying GREAT WHITE EGRET remains at Blashford Lakes HWT, ranging between Rockford Lake and Mockbeggar Lake. A EURASIAN BITTERN is on Ivy Lake, with 2 FIRECRESTS in the vicinity of the hide there.
Up to 4 BLACK-NECKED GREBES are wintering on Ibsley Water, with 3 BEWICK'S SWANS either on here or at nearby Ibsley Water Meadows.
In the New Forest, up to 12 HAWFINCHES are roosting in the tall evergreen trees at Blackwater Arboretum, Rhinefield, with 1 NORTHERN GREY SHRIKE still to be found at Burley (SU 201 012).
The adult RED-BREASTED GOOSE continues at Keyhaven Marshes, where also an adult BLACK BRANT has joined the Dark-bellied Brent Goose throng. The first-winter drake RING-NECKED DUCK remains at Frith End Sand Pit, with the adult RING-BILLED GULL on Walpole Park Sailing Lake, Gosport.


I went over to Cannock Chase (Staffordshire) today to photograph the birds at Freda's Grave feeders. From Cannock A34 to Brocton, turn right into Sawpits Lane; turn right at village green, keep straight on as the road bears right, carry on up in to the chase, then turn left to the main car park and there is a mini car park on left 50 yards before main car park and the HAWFINCH has been feeding here for the last three days. There are a few trees where the locals drop feed all winter. The bird was coming down for the feed every hour and a half. There were about 15 people viewing the bird from about 10 – 20 feet away. And a few cars 6ft away from where the bird has been feeding. Light today was bad for photos but managed to get this reasonable image (Phil Satch)

Monday 29 December 2008


A CATTLE EGRET was found in Selborne late yesterday afternoon. It is in a small field with a few horses and sheep on the left hand side at the end of a narrow road at SU755344. There is only parking for two cars at most. You will probably need to park and walk down the footpath to the left (west) towards Selborne for 100 yards and look in over the gate into the field on the left, although it may also be viewable over the gate just to the left of the cottage where you park. The farmer has said there is a second bird with cattle at SU771350 but that was not located today.

Another item of news is that a PALLAS'S LEAF WARBLER was trapped and photographed in a garden in the north of the county today. It was only seen by the ringer and his neighbour and is not available for twitching (John Clark)

Saturday 27 December 2008

Orkney Birding Today

A good day today largely due to the calm conditions. NORTH AMERICAN GREEN-WINGED TEAL and SURF SCOTER in Tankerness (at the Loch, and Inganess Bay, respectively). Also 9 Velvet Scoters, 7 Common Scoters and 20 Slavonian Grebes at the latter site.

Two RED-NECKED GREBES together, with 9 Slavonian Grebes and an Iceland Gull in the Bay of Sandoyne, Holm. The Goosander was also on the Loch of Ayre (Keith Hague)

Drake KING EIDER in Fife

This drake KING EIDER, photographed by Jonathan Dean today (above) is present for a third day in the bay to the east of Kincraig Point in FIFE and can be viewed from Earl's Ferry.


As for NORTHERN GREY SHRIKE - there are FIVE birds wintering in the New Forest but ALL are typically wide-ranging and VERY DIFFICULT to pin down and do not get seen every day.

1) OCKNELL PLAIN: very wide-ranging but generally just north of the main Slufter's Inclosure Plantation or on the isolated Birches and small trees on the open heath and viewed from the various footpaths that lead out from the designated car park

2) PIG BUSH/BISHOPS DYKE/DENNY WOOD: another very wide-ranging regular wintering bird often favouring the Gorse bushes 500m SW of Pig Bush car park or the Birches by Rowbarrow Pond or in the trees the south side of the railway line at Beaulieu Road Station.

3) BROOMY PLAIN: regularly encountered in Birches at Broomy Bottom at SU 215 109.

4) BLACK GUTTER BOTTOM: very difficult to locate and very wide-ranging adult; often favours the Ashley Hole area at SU 205 155

5) BURLEY BEACON: probably the most reliable individual, favouring wires on which to perch just south of the beacon at SU 197 022. Park at SU 192 039 and walk.

Monday 22 December 2008

SNOWY OWL remains on Cornish Moor

The juvenile SNOWY OWL (depicted here by Steve Rogers and A.McKechnie) remains in West Cornwall 3 miles WSW of St Ives and ESE of Zennor and south of the B3306 between Zennor Quoit and Sperris Quoit east of the derelict cottage.
Park at SW 468 387 and walk 400 yards south before forking left past the engine house to view


This superb adult drake RED-BREASTED MERGANSER has been gracing Willen Lake South Basin since 16 December (images by Tim Watts) whilst the juvenile COMMON SCOTER below has been present on the return lake at Dorney Rowing Lakes since 29 November, one of the longest stays by this species in the county ever (photographed by Dave Cleal)


This GREENLAND REDPOLL was photographed on Shetland in September 2008 (John Carter). Superficially, they are like a larger and longer-winged version of Lesser Redpoll


An array of HORNEMANN'S ARCTIC REDPOLL images from the Northern Isles in September-October 2008
From top to bottom - at Norwick, Unst (Shetland), in late September (Chris Bell), at Culivoe on Yell in September (Dougie Preston, plates 2-3), the Unst bird again (Bob Duckhouse), a bird on Fair Isle in October (plates 5-6; Mark Breaks) and a first-winter on North Uist in October (Steve Duffield)
HORNEMANN'S ARCTIC REDPOLL is a large and very white redpoll with a short but strong bill. It is strikingly bull-necked in appearance with heavy feathering on the nape and hindneck and noticeably feathered tarsi. It is predominantly white, with the breast and flanks only lightly streaked (although some first-winters are quite noticeably streaked) and has a striking, unstreaked white rump and gleaming white and unstreaked undertail-coverts. More often than not there is a distinct buffish wash to the head and face, with white feathers around the bill.


I present here (by kind courtesy of Josh Jones the photographer) a selection of images depicting what I consider to be a relatively standard first-winter SCANDINAVIAN ARCTIC REDPOLL Carduelis exilipes. Such birds have heavily cloaked feathers on the nape and tarsi, predominantly pure gleaming white undertail-coverts (apart from the odd long dark shaft-streak), very white underparts (first-winters are much more noticeably streaked) and extensive, unstreaked, pure white rumps. Essentially, the ground colour is white (with occasionally buffish infiltration) with distinct white 'tramlining' on the mantle and a pale head (with contrasting ear-coverts). The bill is proportionately short, with a straight culmen. The wing-bars and fringing are pure white.


Greenland Redpoll, Bryher, Isles of Scilly, October 2006 (Jim Lawrence)
This is a fairly typical example of a GREENLAND REDPOLL (rostrata). It is a large redpoll, with longer wings and much more heavy and extensive streaking than the 'Arctic' redpolls. In some ways its plumage closely resembles that of cabaret but this bleaches to more grey and white in spring. The bill is heavy, and the culmen is often slightly convex. There is cloaked feathering on the nape and tarsi and broad white in the greater covert bar (often suffused with buff).
ICELANDIC REDPOLLS are very slightly smaller with a finer and shorter bill. However, the plumage is highly variable, from rather heavily streaked and dark individuals to much paler (greyer) and less streaked individuals and can often resemble Arctic-type redpolls. They often have very whitish rumps (lightly streaked) and gleaming white undertail-coverts.