Thursday, September 24, 2020

Responsible Birding Diary, Thursday 24.9.20


I recorded about 30 species this morning at my Ferry Meadows CP watchpoint, including the first Chaffinch I have had apparently migrating, this autumn. Other ‘highlights’ included a steady if trickle of small groups of Meadow Pipits (at least reaching double figures in total, but hardly spectacular… ) plus a distant fly-by Little Egret. Next week is when vis mig will really kick off, I think.

Responsible Birding Diary, Wednesday 23.9.20


This morning when I woke up I found a tweet telling me that my friend David Chambers had found a couple of juvenile Little Stints at what we call Tanholt Pits, south of the village of Eye, just east of Peterborough. So, instead of vis migging this morning, I went there. After a bit of a search, I found the two stints (one greyish, the other more rufous) as well as a single Green Sandpiper and a single Common Sandpiper. A couple of Lesser Redpolls was the best I could do, vis mig-wise…

Responsible Birding Diary, Tuesday 22.9.20

The action was quiet again at Ferry Meadows this morning. I think the first notable bouts of migration will start in a week or two. In the afternoon, my dear wife Jo and I went for a walk along the River Welland at Deeping St James (south Lincolnshire). It has become renowned for Otters, often visible during the day, and we had heard of a family of three seen earlier. We were lucky enough to eventually connect with them, but they can be very sneaky and disappeared. Luckily, we got a call from a friend saying they had been refound half a mile or so further upstream.

And we were just in time to see them fishing and moving with pace further upstream. We had some superb views, although photo opportunities were brief!

Responsible Birding Diary, Monday 21.9.20

Today’s Ferry Meadows CP, ‘vis mig’ session brought an indication of things to come with two flocks of Sky Larks, passing over, numbering 10 and 8 individuals. Other than the usual trickle of Meadow Pipits in ones and twos, though, it was a quiet session. So, after breakfast I went for a bit more fossil hunting in southern Peterborough. I found a few more little ammonites, the odd piece of crinoid stem and what I think is a ‘toadstone’, which is a round, tooth-like structure from the palate of a Jurassic bony fish called Lepidotes.

In the photo below there are the following Jurassic fossils, which haven’t been noticed for 160 million years. Top left: what I believe is a ‘toadstone and something which probably isn’t a Lepidotes scale; middle top: star shaped ossicles from crinoids (which are like stemmed feather stars); top right: a tiny bivalve above what appears to be a rounded crinoid ossicle; lower half is all bits of various types of ammonite (coiled-shelled relatives of squid and nautiloids).

Responsible Birding Diary, Sunday 20.9.20

Easily the most interesting bird of the morning session at Ferry Meadows CP, was a Common Tern. It is reasonably late for a Common Tern, anyhow, with the adults and juveniles largely having gone south. This bird, however, landed on a nearby buoy and revealed itself to be a first-summer bird. By that I mean it is about a year old, hatched in 2019, and it is a relatively unusual age grouping in the country, with most birds of that age staying in the wintering grounds (eg along the coast of subsaharan Africa). The reason I think it is a first-summer is a combination of the blackish bill, whitish forehead and the pattern of the wing. The very worn wing has the dark panel in the coverts of the forewing, but also a trace of the dark panel in the secondaries (ie near the trailing edge of the inner wing), retained from the juvenile plumage. It was an interesting bird, anyhow…

Later in the day, I took a cycle down the Nene Washes, looking for three Cattle Egrets which had been seen there. I eventually found them, as well as three feeding Hobbies (including the juvenile below) and a Great White Egret.

Cattle Egrets, Nene Washes, Cambs, 20.9.20

Responsible Birding Diary, Saturday 19.9.20

For just the second time since spring’s ‘lockdown’, I left the Peterborough area, for a spot of out of area birdwatching. I went with my friend Will to north Norfolk, and we tried what I call the ‘Mark Ward method’ (after former BW contributor and Birds editor, Mark Ward). The idea is to ‘do your bit’ by trying to find rare birds in the morning, then enjoy other birders’ finds later on. We did our bit flogging the Burnham Overy Dunes. We turned up a single Spotted Flycatcher and a single female Redstart.

Spotted Flycatcher, Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk, 19.9.20

So, we went twitching a Brown Shrike which had been found the previous day, at Warham Greens, a bit further along the coast. It ‘showed well’ to use the cliché, although the well behaved crowd stayed behind a fence, so we could never get very close for photos (nor could we disturb the bird as it fed on many bees, in the company of a Redstart and a Robin. The shrike was superb, and a UK lifer for me!

On the way back, we called in at the Sensory Park in Hunstanton, to see the Pied Flycatcher which had been there all day. What a lovely bird.

Responsible Birding Diary, Friday 18.9.20

I have taken a few days holiday, but started as is my new habit with a cycle to Ferry Meadows CP. It was another excellent morning, with a Pintail flying over with a small group of Wigeon, a couple of Mistle Thrushes heading south; but best of all was an Osprey, at the eastern end of Gunwade Lake, seen carrying a fish, off into the distance, while half-heartedly mobbed by a Buzzard. This is my first at FMCP this year, and only my second in the Peterborough area.

Later, despite the windy conditions, I took advantage of the warmth of mid-morning to head down to the Hamptons area of south-west Peterborough, where at a site now called Beeby’s West, lots of Clouded Yellows had been reported. In less than an hour there, I saw 15-20 of these lovely butterflies! Clouded Yellows are migrant butterflies, which come up from Africa and southern Europe. But perhaps they bred at the site this year, judging by such concentrations. Mostly they were flying up and dow, looking for food plants, mates or somewhere to lay eggs, perhaps, but the odd one stopped to feed on the abundant yellow Compositae flowers, there.

Clouded Yellow, Beeby's West, Peterborough, 18.9.20

A little later I visited a place I used to go to with my children when they were small, to look for fossils, weathered out of the Jurassic clay. I found a few little fossils, including a couple of tiny ammonites, some crinoid ossicles and the like. Despite having a previous life, prior to journalism, as a palaeontologist, I was never a great fossil collector, but I find it fascinating to see and hold in my hand the remains of creature that no living thing has looked at (probably) in 160 million years!

Jurassic ammonite, south Peterborough

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Responsible Birding Diary, Thursday 17.9.20


There was further good progress with my early morning Ferry Meadows CP sessions, today, with three particular highlights. Firstly, a Raven flew north over Gunwade Lake, then drifted toward the nearby Milton Estate (probably the first place Ravens bred around Peterborough). It was an odd-looking individual, as its tail was not fully grown, so it looked like the tail of a Carrion Crow (and made the large head and bill look even larger!). Luckily, my friend Andy was able to get some record shots which confirmed its identity.

Next a Dunlin came whizzing low over the water of the lake, banked, and whizzed off into the distance. This is only the second Dunlin I have seen at FMCP, this year.

The final highlight was what I believe was a 3rd-summer Yellow-legged Gull (though the age may be wrong). I was a bit sluggish getting my camera out, and by the time I could get any shots it was already a long way away, unlike when I first saw it bathing and being hassled by a Black-headed Gull. This is a fully fledged Peterborough area year year tick for me (I am now up to 174 species).

Responsible Birding Diary, Wednesday 16.9.20

The wind had moved round to the east slightly, this morning, and there were more birds at Ferry Meadows CP. Lots of Chiffchaffs were out and about and calling., and there was an increasing in Meadow Pipit numbers going over (still small numbers, though). Probably the highlight, though, was the fact that there were two juvenile Grey Wagtails on the shore of Gunwade Lake. As we near the equinox, there is a feel of autumn in the air, and I expect things will pick up more than somewhat, birdwise, around these parts…

Responsible Birding Diary, Tuesday 15.9.20


It was a quiet pre-work morning at Ferry Meadows CP, with no Otters or exciting birds to report. Oh well, at least I am getting some daily exercise again… In our back garden, the highlights were the growing number of singing Starlings and a visiting Brown Hawker dragonfly, the first I have seen here, this year.!

Responsible Birding Diary, Monday 14.9.20

I have been getting extra fat, since reducing the amount of cycling I have been doing. So, I decided it was time to start cycling again, and where better to go than good old Ferry Meadows CP (a round trip of 8-10 miles). This morning, I was rewarded by seeing a lovely Otter fishing on Gunwade Lake (too distant for photos). A juvenile Grey Wagtail came and perched on some nearby railings, and a flotilla of fishing Cormorants came close by to the platform I was watching from. Meanwhile, a very persistent juvenile Herring Gull was demanding food from its parent!

Grey Wagtail, Ferry Meadows CP, Peterborough, 13.9.20
Cormorant, Ferry Meadows CP, Peterborough, 13.9.20

Herring Gull juvenile begging from its parent, Ferry Meadows CP, Peterborough, 13.9.20

Responsible Birding Diary, Sunday 13.9.20

I started the day working the hedge at Eldernell, once again. Easily the highlight were the several Small Copper butterflies basking in the sun on the short-cropped ‘turf’. These are real beauties of the butterfly world!

Small Coppers, Eldernell, Cambridgeshire, 13.9.20

Later I was back at Woodwalton Fen NNR, where I noticed Willow Emerald Damselflies on the Great Raveley Drain (which marks the western edge of the rectangular reserve). In the wadery bit, it was a case of the usual suspects, with 3 juvenile Ruffs and 3 Green Sandpipers. Lots of Red Kites were workign the Great Fen fields nearby, as was the odd Hobby and Marsh Harrier.o there, were a new Ringed Plover, 4 Little Ringed Plovers, Green Sandpiper and a couple of Common Sandpipers.

Responsible Birding Diary, Saturday 12.9.20


It was windy (with a strong blast coming from the west) and the best action at Baston Fen NR (south Lincolnshire) was on the sheltered east side of the small wood by the car park, which was also catching the morning sun. Here were dozens of Willow Emerald Damselflies, with the vast majority paired up ‘in cop’ or ‘in heart’ if you prefer. This is a species which has only colonised around here in the last few years, and is now abundant at suitable sites in autumn (when other damselfies are no longer on the wing). The relatively chunky females lay their eggs on the thin twigs of willows overhanging water. When the nymphs hatch, they then drop into the water below. I got a few shots…

Willow Emerald Damselflies, Baston Fen, Lincolnshire, 12.9.20 

Later, I went to Deeping lakes LWT, where three Goosanders had been reported on the east pit. And they were still there. On Friday, one of my colleagues from another magazine in our company (Louise from Trail), sent me some photos of three Goosanders on the Nene at Elton, Cambs. I wonder if these were the same three…

Responsible Birding Diary, Friday 11.9.20


This morning I duly assembled myself early at Deeping Lakes in anticipation of a filming session with our video genius, Jake Kindred. After yesterday evening’s slim pickings, it was encouraging to see evidence of a bit of ‘movement’ with a new-in eclipse drake Pintail, a few eclipse Wigeon and a surge of new Shovelers, all on the east pit. Also there, were a new Ringed Plover, 4 Little Ringed Plovers, Green Sandpiper and a couple of Common Sandpipers.

There were also still 8 Swifts flying around. Later a Peregrine came buzzing through. In all, I recorded 63 species, which is not bad for this small site!

Responsible Birding Diary, Thursday 10.9.20

I am due to do a bit of filming at Deeping Laeks LWT tomorrow morning (short clips of birding advice for the BW website). So, I did a recce this evening. It was very disappointing how few birds were around, however, with a single Common Sandpiper being the highlight at the east pit. So, I whizzed off to Baston and Langtoft pits. And it was even worse! I have never seen the pits there looking so ‘birdless’ and grim!

Responsible Birding Diary, Wednesday 9.9.20


This evening I followed a tip-off and went to check out the wader habitat near Woodwalton Fen NNR, in the very south of the Peterborough area. It was a very pleasant evening and there is plenty of habitat which is potential wader paradise. This evening there were 3 juvenile Ruffs (2 were females aka ‘reeves’), 5 Green Sandpipers and a dozen or so Snipe. Also, there was a Wheatear next to the wader pools and a Hobby and Marsh Harrier added an extra bit of spice to the occasion.

Responsible Birding Diary, Tuesday 8.9.20

I popped up to the River Welland in search of ‘Sharky’ the Great White Egret and perhaps some Whinchats again, this evening. Sadly, the Whinchats were not to be found and neither was the GWE, until, I spotted him/her rising (in flight) briefly above the high bank of the Welland (viewed from where the road had already dropped off the bank). I parked up on the bend of the road where it drops off and could see it fishing in the river to the north and occasionally coming up onto the bank with assorted corvids, sheep and cattle.

Great White Egret, Deeping High Bank, south Lincs, 8.9.20

Responsible Birding Diary, Monday 7.9.20


This evening I followed a tip-off and went to check out the wader habitat near Woodwalton Fen NNR, in the very south of the Peterborough area. It was a very pleasant evening and there is plenty of habitat which is potential wader paradise. This evening there were 3 juvenile Ruffs (2 were females aka ‘reeves’), 5 Green Sandpipers and a dozen or so Snipe. Also, there was a Wheatear next to the wader pools and a Hobby and Marsh Harrier added an extra bit of spice to the occasion.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Responsible Birding Diary: Sunday 6.9.20


This morning, I decided to once again explore the hedge west of the car park along the ‘counter drain’ at Eldernell, Cambs (part of the Nene Washes complex). I encountered 50 species, including 1 Spotted Flycatcher, 4 Cetti’s Warblers, 13 Chiffchaffs, 5 Blackcaps, 6 Whitethroats, 2 Whitethroats, 2 Willow Warblers, fly-over Siskin and Marsh Harrier. There was a steady stream of migrating Meadow Pipits, heading south and Brown Argus and Small Heath butterflies were on the Rabbit-grazed areas.

Juvenile Green Woodpecker, Eldernell, 6.9.20
Whitethroat, Eldernell, 6.9.20

Responsible Birding Diary: Saturday 5.9.20

Today was a great day for nice, scarce, photogenic birds! I started the day by checking to see if a reported Whinchat was still present a bit south of Spalding (but still in the Peterborough area part of south Lincolnshire). I saw two lovely Whinchats in the thistly field [later there was a third reported].

Whinchats, south of Spalding, Lincs, 5.9.20

Later, I bumped into the Great White Egret reported previously, which was fishing along the Welland. Never have we had such a bold and photogenic Great White Egret in these ‘ere parts!

Great White Egret, River Welland, between Spalding and Crowland, Lincs, 5.9.20

And finally, I went to ‘twitch’ a first-winter male Redstart which had been found just north of the village of Etton (north Cambs). It turned out to be a most obliging and vocal bird, offering really good scope views. A drain, two barbed wire fences and narrow field probably helped it from being disturbed! It was doin gthe classic thing of coming out to the fence beside row of hedge-trees and feeding on the sheep-cropped ground beside the the fence, before whizzing back up, shimmering its tail and repeating! The call is a very Willow Warbler-like ‘hooeet’, arguably purer in tone than the warbler.

First-winter male Redstart, Etton, Cambs, 5.9.20

Responsible Birding Diary: Friday 4.9.20


I didn’t get out until quite late, today, and headed down to Tanholt Pits in search of waders etc. The best I got was close by from a male Marsh Harrier and a couple of juvenile Little Ringed Plovers. So, I abandoned the pits and went north to Deeping Lakes. I went via the Deeping High Bank (road alongside the River Welland), in the hope of seeing a Great White Egret reported there, earlier. No luck.

A quick scan of the east pit at DLLWT revealed the ‘usual suspects’. But as I reached the central ‘Rock Island’, there was a Cattle Egret standing there doing nothing in particular! Alas, as I reached for my phone to put the news out, it disappeared! Twenty minutes later, I explored the raised grassy banks of the nearby Welland to see if it had joined any sheep, cattle or horses there. No sign.

But as I drove back along the track to the east screen I noted an egret flying west. It was the Cattle, and it was heading towards The Lake. The first birders to come to see the egret (my friends Bob and Sue) were a few minutes too late, but as I went off home, the continued west and later reported the Cattle Egret in a pre-roost gathering with Little Egrets, beside The Lake. I wonder if it will reappear for a longer stay as previous CEs have.

This was the third Cattle Egret I have ‘found’ in the Peterborough area and the third I have seen at Deeping Lakes.

Responsible Birding Diary: Wednesday 2.9.20

It wasn’t a great day for getting out and about birdwatching, today. After all, my son Eddie finally flew the nest today (or rather he has gone down south to London to college). So, it was a morning of packing the car rather than watching wildlife. That said, I did slip out to the garden for a cup of tea at one stage. Once again, there was a juvenile Blackcap sneaking around the apple trees and Ivy near our overgrown (almost invisible) shed. A family of Goldfinches came down to bathe. And there was a decent ‘family’ flock of Starlings mainly feeding on the Dogwood berries. In 2001 I planted more than 100 ‘whips’ of native trees around the garden as a hedge. So, in addition to the figs, apples, blackberries and plums our garden produces, there are plenty of berries, hips and haws.

Starling, our garden, 2.9.20

Responsible Birding Diary: Thursday 3.9.20


After work I cycled down to Ferry Meadows to search for a male Redstart which had been reported there in the same spot where I watched a female not so many days ago… Alas, there was no sign of the Redstart, and the whole area (a scrubby Hawthorn rich patch called Coney Meadow)was a bit quiet. So, I cycled along the Nene Valley Railway in search of chats and flycatchers, and headed down to the old water Mill called Castor Mill.

There was very little action to report there, wither, just a single Red Kite drifting around. So, I cycled back through Ferry Meadows and past the Peterborough rowing lake, in the hope that there may be an off-track Shag. But all there were were loads of rowers, burning up and down the Km+ course. I did hear a couple of Ring-necked Parakeets, which are a couple of miles or so from the ‘main’ flock at Ferry Meadows. I wonder how many there are around Peterborough, now…

Responsible Birding Diary: Tuesday 1.9.20


I started off today’s birding by visiting Castor Hanglands NNR at c6.30am. It was a case of the usual stuff, with plentiful Marsh Tits, Nuthatches and lots of woodpeckers (of both common species) all over the place. Sadly, no tree Pipits, or Redstarts, but I did see a couple of Ravens. This is fast becoming one of the most reliable sites for these scarce corvids in these here parts.

Record shot of Ravens, just west of Castor Hanglands NNR, Cambs, 1.9.20

Responsible Birding Diary: Monday 31.8.20


I was inspired by yesterday’s Redstart to have an early-ish start at Eldernell. Once more I walked the hedge, but it was so much less windy, sunnier and warmer that birds were dripping out of the bushes. There were families of Reed Warblers, Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats in the Hawthorn hedge, as well as the usual Greenfinches and Goldfinches. In a few hours I recored 54 bird species (some heard only, like Greenshank and Crane), including my first fly-over redpoll of the autumn and a few Siskins, plus Hobby.

The best action though came with the same male Redstart as yesterday, plus a couple of Spotted Flycatchers. I wasted a bit of time chasing after a reported Pied Flycatcher very close to where I had been searching all morning! Never mind…

Male Redstart, Eldernell, Cambs, 31.8.20
Spotted Flycatcher, Eldernell, Cambs, 31.8.20
Migrant Hawker, Eldernell, Cambs, 31.8.20

Responsible Birding Diary: Sunday 30.8.20


Having seen not much on a tour of a few sites, I found myself working the hedge, to the west of the car-park at Eldernell, which is a viewpoint over the Nene Washes. This particular hedge has a reputation for turning up good birds, the best of which was a Wryneck a few years ago. But its main reputation is founded upon Redstarts, and along with Ferry meadows CP, it is one of the most reliable sites in the county (Cambs) for these lovely birds.

Having walked the length of the main part of the hedge, I saw plenty of Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats, but not a hint of Redstart. So, I was heading back, when a pure ‘hooeet’ call caught my ear. It sounded just like a Willow Warbler call, but rapidly repeated and steady, without any ‘broken’ notes. Surely, it was a Redstart! A couple of minutes later, out popped a gorgeous male Redstart, looking almost as pretty as a spring individual (when they tend to look at their best).

This is the first Redstart I have found anywhere this year, and the third I have seen locally, after the singing male in spring and last week’s female at FMCP. What a lovely bird!

Male Redstart (and partially hidden Lesser Whitethroat), Eldernell, Cambs, 30.8.20