Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Why Cudmore Grove? Why not The Naze?

As Autumn is drawing to a close and winter looms we decided to head for Mersea Island for some relaxed birding. We pitched up firstly at Victoria Esplanade and had a look through the forest of beach huts for our intended quarry, and sure enough Mike found what we were looking for; a Black Redstart. In drab female colours but possibly juvenile male due to some paleness in the wing. We spent a while watching it flycatch from a range of available perches. This stretch of shoreline, backed by pleasant West Mersea houses, has a year list for me that apart from the above has Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe, and Mediterranean Gull. Better than my list for our next destination at the other end of the island, Cudmore Grove Country Park!

We arrived, paid the parking fee, and headed to the sea where we found a flock of Wigeon with a female Pintail, and a few Common Scoter close enough to see the pale head and stiff tail. A Red Throated Diver was close in still with a hint of a red throat, a couple of Diver sp few distantly, and as we headed off the path towards Stone Point there was a pair of Stonechat, Rock Pipit, and at the end a Sanderling in sparkling winter plumage.

It was high tide now and on the estuary-side of the park was a total of 54 Little Egrets, and plenty of Brent Goose, Curlew, Redshank, Grey Plover, Black-Tailed Godwit, and Dunlin. Shoveler and Teal were in every marshy pond, and today there were constant Skylarks in flight around the area.

Back toward the Strood to head off to Abberton. In my simple mind a high-tide at mid-day is always a high one (as the moon and sun are aligned), and we queued for a while to get off. It was entertaining working out who was going to try and get across first, and see the lorries coming over with water spraying over the cab., and we saw more of the same waders and geese plus a few flocks of Golden Plover flying around. For future reference, I reckon the causeway is closed an hour each side of high tide, possibly more.

Then Abberton Reservoir. And a lifer for me - the end of a rainbow. As we stood on Layer De La Hay Causeway we could clearly see both ends in the water just beyond the tideline. Birds were a bit less forthcoming, as the wind appeared to have pushed every diving duck into the inter-causeway area against the light. We had a Great White Egret on the shore line, and as we were about to go Mike called out 'Long-Tailed Duck' and a female flew around the bay and then over the Causeway into the mass of ducks. A nice way to end a relaxing day and a tidy list.

I'm not sure why I keep coming back to Cudmore Grove. My last decent bird there was a pair of Velvet Scoter a couple of winters back. The Naze is another thirty minutes away and gets far better birds, but it is hard work, and unless you get there at dawn then its hours spent waiting for small birds to flit in front of you. Today there was Little Auk and Pallas's Warbler there, but I know from my twitter feed that many birders go and miss everything, not just me. Perhaps it is best to view the Naze's rarities as prizes for those few intrepid individuals who regularly patrol the place and spend the hours searching through sycamores and hawthorn.

So that's half the answer, but the other half is that these days I trust my instincts. Like when my children ask why we don't take a particular short-cut and cut through that estate rather than queue on the main road, its because life is often best when you go with the flow and aren't fighting it. Cudmore Grove has a mix of waders and wildfowl, it has beach, sea, river, and trees. It has a good selection of waders and wildfowl in easy reach, it's always a relaxing and bird-filled trip. Perhaps it is ,as Van Morrison says, to "smell the sea and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly."

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Back in the homeland for a family visit, and a chance to get a truly rare bird on the list!

A stop at Fairburn Ings on the way back south, and a walk down Lin Dyke at the western edge. There was a Great White Egret but that was not the target. A Sparrowhawk shot through the bushes much to the consternation of several Blue Tits and some Redwings that erupted from nowhere, and then there it was, that harsh call I hadn't heard for years. Two of them, one each side of the path. I eventually got some great views of one of them, my first Willow Tit this century!

Here in East Herts the Willow Tit's close cousin the Marsh Tit is something of a speciality, so I've had a good look at them over the years, and the immediate things that struck me abut Willow Tit was all the things the books say; the bib was more diffuse over the lower region, that pale wing panel was clear, the cap was noticeably matt, and the cheeks seems higher and paler, the black cap more of a wide black line when seen from above. But the call is the clear and obvious thing.

Other than that, a Curlew, then off to St Aidans's and Marsh Harrier, Pintail, Stonechat.

I got to asking myself when the last time I saw a Willow Tit was, and its hard because I have not been the most assiduous record keeper in my birdwatching career, I tend to make a note of the main birds as I see them at the time, and given my travels round the country and the decline of this species it was not obvious the last time I saw them that I wasn't going to see another one for ages. I certainly haven't seen one this century. Trawling through my notes I used to keep reasonable year-lists with dates,  and I suspect it was 20th June 1987 at a local North West Leeds site. I was just finishing up at Uni and the following month would catch the train south to start my career, and in a few months would be seeing Sabine's Gulls in strange corners of South West London, but not Willow Tits.

Rarity chasing in Cambridgeshire part 2.

Last post left you on the edge of your seats as your intrepid birders ticked off the first of three potential rarities and headed off in sea...