From mid August to the end of September 2011 I spent six weeks staying with my family in southeast England. Whilst many British people head to Thailand for some warmth it was nice for me to get out of the humidity and heat for a while and experience some cool weather; in fact apart from some very windy days, the weather was actually pretty good for most of my stay.
Catching Up With Common Birds
Every year, when I return to Britain, one of the first things I do is head down to my old local patch along the Darent Valley in Kent. It is a pleasant area, but in terms of birdlife it is not particularly special, although a good number of the commoner birds can always be found. It is always fun to catch up with species such as Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and other similar species. People who visit me in Thailand always comment on the colourful birds, but Britain has plenty of colourful ones of its own and for people, like me, who don’t see them all the time, the species just listed are great.
Finding Summer Visitors
I always seem to get back to Britain at the very end of summer/beginning of autumn and it is a very challenging time to find many of the summer visitors. Finding Reed Warbler is always a challenge at this time but I did manage to see a few of these. Chiffachaff, Blackcap and Whitethroat were easy enough but Willow Warbler, Garden warbler and Lesser Whitethroat were a bit of a challenge although I did find them. Birds I missed out on this year though included Sedge Warbler, Common Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Pied Flycatcher!
Uncommon Resident Species
Every year it seems that British birds that were formerly common get rarer and rarer. Much is said about conservation efforts in UK but it seems that it is only waterbirds and raptors that are doing okay; farmland and woodland species seem to be vanishing fast. With this in mind I was pleased to see my first Bullfinch for a few years, even if it was a juvenile. I also managed to find Black Redstart, Marsh Tit, Cetti’s Warbler (one that seems to get more common), Corn Bunting, Turtle Dove and Whinchat.
Some New Birds – Seabirds!
Spending most of my time in Thailand means that I hardly see any seabirds. So it is always interesting to look for these birds when I return and for this group I always end up in UK at a good time! At Dungeness I saw a wide variety of gulls including Yellow-legged, Little, Mediterranean and Glaucous Gull which was a long-awaited bogey bird for me. Also at Dungeness I saw my first Long-tailed Skua as well as great views of the commoner Arctic Skua plus Black, Arctic and Sandwich Terns.
Glaucous Gull approaching second winter plumage
Photo by Nick Upton
I also spent some time in East Yorkshire and at Flamborough I managed some more nice seabirds (at least for me as I rarely get the chance to find them); Kittiwake, Red-throated Diver, Manx Shearwater, Guillemot, Razorbill as well as hundreds of Gannets.
I am not normally one to go twitching but the chance to see two lifers in one go tempted me to make the drive to Graffham Water one morning. Whilst the result was nice; adult Sabine’s Gull and Grey Phalarope right next to each other; the feeling was one that was less than satisfying and it reminded me why I am not a fan of twitching – drive a few hours, spot the crowd of birders, there it is, watch for a while and leave.
Some More Good Birds
My trip also resulted in a number of other species that I was pleased with; Song Thrush – getting rare in my area; Yellowhammer – tough to find at the end of summer; Lapland Bunting – only the second time I have seen this one; Goosander – first one I have seen for 7 years!; Eider Duck – first for 4 years; Bearded Tit – a bird I see once per year and is always hard to see in the windy conditions of late summer/early autumn; Red Kite – first one for 4 years; Siskin – first for 4 years; Purple Sandpiper – a once a year bird; Rock Pipit – first one for 4 years; Raven – first for 5 years; Water Rail – a bird I see once a year.
A Finishing Flourish
At the end of my stay it was getting tough to see something new without travelling far away. However, a Pallid Harrier was reported at Cliffe. Not wanting to join the twitch I came up with a different strategy. The bird was roosting in some reeds and then heading out down the Thames. However, the news was getting out and I figured that a large group of birders would wait for the harrier on an observation mound which the bird would have to pass if it were to follow its morning routine. I also figured that the twitching crowd would make enough noise to make the bird turn around and head off towards Shorne marshes. With this theory I took a train to Gravesend, walked out onto Shorne marshes and got lucky. The juvenile Pallid Harrier actually flew within 30 feet of me at head height towards Gravesend, then turned around and came back, chasing a skylark but failing to catch it.
What a result!
I also saw some other nice birds on my 15 MILE WALK; Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat, Hobby, March Harrier and many Wheatears.
In total I saw 154 species in six weeks in England without travelling very much.