Thursday 16 November 2023

Local Wildlife Sightings November 2023

 The weather remained unsettled in the first half of November, with a mixture of wind and rain but with a few brighter, sunny days. Royston missed the worst effects of a couple of named storms. Temperatures dropped to just above freezing on a couple of nights, with a slight frost. Insect activity predictably dropped away, with just Winter Gnats, Bluebottles, Common Wasps and Eristalis hoverflies showing in sheltered, sunny areas by the middle of the month, although a single Red Admiral briefly fluttered into life on a cold but very sunny morning on the 11th.

Red Admiral on Ivy, Royston, 11 November

I had expected to see lots of autumn fungi appearing, with the combination of large amounts of rain, relatively mild temperatures and some sunny days, but this has certainly not been a vintage year for toadstools. However, I was able to find and photograph a variety of fungi growing on dead wood in Fox Covert.

Fungi Growing on a Log, Fox Covert, 6 November

The first Fieldfares of autumn arrived early in the month. At first they appeared, along with Redwings, in ones and twos, but by the middle of the month larger flocks were seen. Numbers of Goldcrests and Chaffinches, virtually absent from the area during the summer months, were present in greater numbers - doubtless swollen by arrivals from the Continent. Ravens were seen and/or heard in a number of places. I paid a visit to Phillup's Lake on the 9th. I hadn't expected to see the putative Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid again but there it was, although the accompanying Tufted Ducks had gone. I took some more photos of the bird, both on the lake and when it flew from one end to the other, and have convinced myself that the bird is indeed a (female) hybrid - see the image below.

Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid (note the lack of a tuft on the head, white feathering at the base of the bill but large dark area at the tip of the bill and dark back) with Coot at Phillup's Lake, Reed End, 9 November

Most of my local walks (I try to walk for at least an hour every day, unless I'm on the road) provide little of interest, but a walk up to Hatchpen on the afternoon of the 14th was more stimulating. There was rain as I walked up the hill towards Reed village, although with the weather clearing from the west. I had a surprise at Hatchpen Pond, where two Barnacle Geese were swimming about. However, before getting excited about a 'first' for my local patch and a rare (admittedly feral) bird for Hertfordshire I noticed some new 'Farmyard Geese' elsewhere on the pond. Every few years Mr Rand buys and releases some pinioned geese here and presumably these are intended as companions for the solitary farmyard goose that is the sole survivor from the last batch (and was ignoring the new birds). Of course, if the Barnacle Geese are seen to fly or disappear I will eat my words!

Barnacle Goose (presumed captive bird), Hatchpen Farm, 14 November

Further up the hill, the sun came out and birds started emerging. These included a flock of over 100 linnets, feeding in game cover and frequently flying from spot to spot, and our four commonest raptors (Common Buzzard, Red Kite, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk). The last was taking an interest in the Linnets, which may have explained why they were so active. A single Corn Bunting, several Yellowhammers and a flock of 30 Fieldfares were also seen. I built up a list of over 30 species recorded, quite a lot for a relatively short walk.

A few of 100+ Linnets seen at Hatchpen Farm, 14 November

Red Kite, Hatchpen Farm, 14 November

Sparrowhawk, Hatchpen Farm, 14 November

Moving further afield, a Short-eared Owl was regularly reported hunting along the Baldock to Wallington road in the early part of the month. When I visited on the 6th I was lucky to see two: one hunting and the other sitting in a field. This appears to have been the only day when two owls were seen. One other report of interest was a sighting of two Ring-necked Parakeets on a garden feeder in Therfield village. I wonder how long it will be before I add this species to my local patch list.

UK Wildlife Sightings November 2023

 I was back at RSPB Titchwell Marsh on the 3rd, looking for photos of birds in flight. A Velvet Scoter was seen on the sea, accompanying a large flock of Common Scoters and several dragonflies were still on the wing (mating pairs were seen!), on a generally quiet visit.

Black-tailed Godwit in Flight (and about to land), RSPB Titchwell Marsh, 3 November

Brent Geese in Flight, RSPB Titchwell Marsh, 3 November

I was back on the Norfolk Coast the following week, looking for a juvenile Red-breasted Goose that had been reported at Warham Greens on the previous couple of days. I hadn't seen one of these increasingly rare geese in the UK for several years and was keen to connect with it. I spent 90 minutes with other bird watchers at the northern end of Garden Drove, looking for the bird but there was no sign, although a Pallid Harrier (presumed to be the same female bird that had wintered here in 2022-23) was spotted on the ground. I decided to explore further to the east and found the goose with Brent Geese on the saltmarsh, about half a mile away. It was very distant and kept disappearing from view: a poor 'record shot' is shown below. I passed on information about where to see the goose to the other bird watchers, but they didn't seem very interested, having just seem an immature White-tailed Eagle (one of the Isle of Wight releases)!

Poor 'Record Shot' of a distant juvenile Red-breasted Goose (Head down, 3rd from right), with Brent Geese between Warham Greens and Stiffkey, 7 November

The following week I chased after two rare American ducks. The first, a male Green-winged Teal, was quickly located at the south end of the dam at Grafham Water and showed well: I even managed some half-decent photos! I had hoped to get some 'side by side' photos of the bird with a male Eurasian Teal, but it didn't quite happen.

Male Green-winged Teal (note the vertical white stripe on its side), Grafham Water, 13 November

Male Green-winged Teal (right) with male Eurasian Teal, Grafham Water, 13 November. The Eurasian Teal has a horizontal white stripe (partially visible) along its side and no vertical white stripe.

A couple of days later I was on the road again, this time to Abberton Reservoir (Essex) to look for a male Canvasback. Just as the Green-winged Teal closely resembles our Eurasian Teal, so the male Canvasback closely resembles our male Common Pochard. However the Canvasback, which is a much less common vagrant to the UK (I have had one sighting in the past), was buried in amongst several hundred Pochards. When I arrived at Abberton I was told that it was in a distant flock of Pochards, roughly equidistant between the Layer de al Haye and Layer Breton causeways. I spent maybe 40 minutes scanning the flock, alongside many others, but if it was there it was too distant to identify. I gave up and decided to go to the Abberton Visitor Centre and have a wander around the reserve. The third hide that I went to, 'Gwen's Hide', was packed and, when I managed to squeeze in, I found out that the Canvasback was in amongst a flock of around 250 tightly packed Pochards that were in a line, diving to feed on what must have been some particularly juicy under water vegetation. Despite being told that the Canvasback was towards the right hand end of the flock, it was several minutes before I got a clear sight of the bird. After that I had four or five brief, clear sightings of the Canvasback as the flock moved around, often hidden from view behind bushes. I took quite a few photos, but was unable to get an identifiable image of my target bird. Eventually something spooked the ducks and the whole lot took off, together with other species, flew around, briefly landed and then took off again, flying towards the causeways. I took photos of the birds in flight and, after poring over them, found one with the probable Canvasback amongst the Pochards. Unfortunately, the tip of its bill is obscured by another bird, so I can't be certain. For the record, a male Canvasback is slightly bigger than a male Pochard and has a darker face with a straighter, all dark bill. The 'probable' in the image is roughly a third of the way in from the left and from the bottom of the image below - good luck in finding it!

Probable male Canvasback with (mainly) Common Pochards, 15 November

Sunday 12 November 2023

Valencia Wildlife Sightings, October 2023

 Towards the end of October my partner and I spent a few days in Valencia in south-east Spain. This was not only a holiday break, but a chance for us both to do some (particularly architectural) photography in Spain's third city, which is situated on the Mediterranean coast. The weather was very warm (mid-20s Celsius during the day) and dry, very different to the weather that I had been subjected to back home. In addition to some spectacular architecture (foremost being that of the City of Arts and Sciences), Valencia is situated very close to the Albufera National Park, which we visited for a few hours on one day.

Our hotel was near the beach and a very short distance from the harbour and docks. Every morning I went on pre-breakfast walks in various directions, always close to the sea. Familiar gulls seen were Black-headed, Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed, but I was also pleased to see a number of Audouin's Gulls, always singly. This is a comparatively rare gull, that nests nearby and over-winters here. Valencia has several parks and green spaces and I read somewhere that three species of parakeet can be found here. However, the only parakeets that I came across were Monk Parakeets, an introduced species (as all Europe's parakeets are), which is becoming common and widespread in many parts of Spain. Crag Martins were seen hawking insects around the coastal hotels, but small passerines other than House Sparrows and Robins were thin on the ground. The commonest species of bird appeared to be Collared Doves (seen practically everywhere) and the ubiquitous Feral Pigeons.

Audouin's Gull, Valencia, October

Monk Parakeet, Valencia, October

Our visit to Albufera produced several species not seen elsewhere on the trip, including Greater Flamingo, Black-winged Stilt, Ruff, Common Redshank, Common Sandpiper and some warblers, tentatively assigned as Common (not Iberian) Chiffchaffs, although my photographs - one seen below- are not conclusive.

Greater Flamingo near the Visitor Centre, Albufera National Park, October

Chiffchaff (?), Albufera NP, October

We saw several raptors in Albufera, including an Osprey that was carrying a rather peculiarly-shaped fish (I thought at first that it must have got its talons stuck in a branch), Black Kites and several Marsh Harriers. Spotless Starlings were present in their thousands, and one huge ball was attacked by a Peregrine (or was it just toying with them - it certainly didn't catch any). Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk were also seen. Water birds included Mallard, Shelduck and a flock of 100+ Red-crested Pochard.

Spotless Starling 'Ball', Albufera NP, October

Osprey with (I presume) a Fish, Albufera NP, October

Invertebrates seen included several unidentified Dragonflies and a few common butterflies. The best sighting was of a Plain Tiger butterfly, a new species for me, which looks similar to the Monarch butterfly. Its stronghold appears to be in North Africa, but presumably it is spreading northwards due to climate change.

Plain Tiger Butterfly, Albufera NP, October

Thursday 12 October 2023

Local Wildlife Sightings October 2023

 After some rain early in the month, which prompted the appearance of some autumnal fungi, we had several days of very warm weather, with afternoon temperatures of 20-25C. This latest 'Indian Summer' broke on the 11th, with a deluge of rain followed by much cooler weather. Bird-wise, the first half of the month was very quiet. Apart from a handful of Chiffchaffs, the only summer visitor that I recorded was a late Swallow, seen heading south over Hatchpen Farm on the 2nd. A flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, seen at both ends of The Heath early in the month, contained a single adult Herring Gull. With the exception of Meadow Pipits (short distance migrants), no passage migrants were seen locally in the first twelve days, although there were reports from other parts of the county of Redwings flying over and a Ring Ouzel was recorded in Stevenage.

Fungus Growing on a dead Tree, Therfield Heath, 4 October

Despite the very warm weather butterfly activity had, with the notable exceptions of Red Admiral (which has had an excellent summer) and 'cabbage' whites, ceased. Grasshoppers, which are usually active until well into October, were hard to find, as were bush crickets. A few bumble bees (particularly Common Carder) and Ivy Bees were still active as they chased what little remaining pollen was to be found. On The Heath, a large area of the Old Rifle Range was covered with old and new Ivy Bee tunnels (see image below). Devil's Coach-horse Beetles (the largest member of the Rove Beetle family) were seen in several locations, usually on the ground. When threatened, this distinctive beetle raises its abdomen, much like a Scorpion, in a threat pose, as shown in the image below.

Just a few of the Ivy Bee Tunnels, Therfield Heath, 6 October

Devil's Coach-horse Beetle, Therfield Heath, 4 October

Harlequin Ladybirds were emerging and appearing on Sycamore and other leaves on trees close to the house. In common with other insects, they pass through several larval stages before their emergence as an 'adult', and I captured one such emergence on camera as a sub-adult (still not in its final body) emerged from a larva. It could not free one of its wings, so I gave it a little help. The adult Harlequin Ladybirds exist in four different colour forms, two of which are shown below.

Harlequin Ladybird (commonest form), Royston, 6 October

Harlequin Ladybird, Second (of four) Form, Royston, 7 October

More heavy rain fell in the middle of the month. After a particularly soggy period on the 12th I went on a walk round the villages, getting extremely wet feet in the process. The only insect sighting of note was of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth, seen close to the house. Over 40 bird species were recorded, including four species of gull. Several Chiffchaffs were seen, as well as being heard, but this was the only summer visitor recorded. Surely it won't be too long before this tiny warbler becomes a resident in the UK? A Golden Plover was heard but not seen. Five Stonechats were seen at Thrift Farm on the 14th and a single bird was seen much closer to the house on the 16th. I saw my first Redwing of the autumn along the Icknield Way on the 18th and, a couple of days later, at least one adult Yellow-legged Gull was spotted amongst a huge flock (400+) of mainly Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Hatchpen Farm.

Stonechat, Royston, 16 October

According to rainfall statistics collated from the garden rain gauges over 33 years, October is easily the wettest month of the year and so it proved in 2023, with a further two inches falling between the 19th and the 22nd (I hope that November or December don't prove me to be wrong!). I managed to escape the rain for several days to much warmer, sunnier climes (Valencia - see separate post), but was back in time to go for another 8-9 mile walk around the villages on the 31st. Little had changed from the walk on the 12th, except that all the Chiffchaffs had gone. Again I heard one or more Golden Plovers as I walked along the Icknield Way, but could not see whether they were (an) individual(s) or part of a flock. Coot appear to have taken over Phillup's Lake now and are driving other birds off. However, I did notice three Tufted Ducks there, which were ignoring the Coot. I photographed the ducks and, when I examined the images more closely, I noticed that one female duck appeared to have no tuft but had some white feathering at the base of the bill. Both these features can occur in Tufted Ducks, but the overall lighter appearance of this bird made me wonder whether it could be a Tufted Duck x Scaup hybrid. Judge for yourselves from the images below. I will consult the experts. Incidentally, one of the other ducks in the first image appears to have a piece of vegetation stuck to its face....

Three Tufted Ducks (?), Phillup's Lake, Reed End, 31 October

Possible Female Scaup x Tufted Duck Hybrid (LHS Bird, above), Reed End, 31 October

Wednesday 11 October 2023

UK Wildlife Sightings, October 2023

 The theme of American waders (or 'shorebirds', as they are known in the USA) continued into October, starting with a visit to North Point Pools (east of Wells on the North Norfolk coast) on the 3rd, where I saw my second UK Wilson's Phalarope (distant views only - no images). Afterwards I walked along the coastal path to Wells Harbour (Razorbill, Greenshank and Red-throated Diver) and along the beach to Holkham Gap, coming back to Wells along the path that skirts Wells Woods - a total of around eight miles in very warm, sunny weather.

Juvenile Greenshank, Wells Harbour, 3 October

Razorbill (Moulting into Winter Plumage), Wells Harbour, 3 October

Red-throated Diver, Wells Harbour, 3 October

A Semi-palmated Sandpiper, yet another American wader (and quite a rare one in the UK) prompted me to return to Frampton Marsh on the 5th. This tiny little 'peep' is very similar in size and appearance to the Little Stint, and both species were at Frampton, making identification very tricky. I had arrived a few minutes after the Semi-palmated Sandpiper, having shown well during the morning, had flown off. After a futile wait for it to return I decided to look for the bird from the East Hide. Shortly after I arrived there, a tiny wader appeared and came quite close to the four of us in the hide, allowing us to get some decent photos. Shortly after the bird left, an expert joined us in the hide. I showed him my images and he confidently (and correctly) identified the bird as a juvenile Little Stint. I was a little disappointed, but within a couple of minutes he had found the Semi-palmated Sandpiper, lying on the edge of the scrape about 100 metres away. The bird moved into the water and I got some much more distant photos of it, accompanied by a Dunlin, before it flew off. The main distinguishing features for the Little Stint are that it has a relatively sharp, pointy bill (the S-p S has a blunter bill) and its white supercilium is split into two in front of the eye (not split in the S-p S). Both features are visible in the Stint image below. However, at distance it is very difficult to make out these differences - see the second image!

Juvenile Little Stint, RSPB Frampton Marsh, 5 October

Semi-palmated Sandpiper (right-hand bird) with Dunlin, RSPB Frampton Marsh, 5 October

Away from birds, a Wall Butterfly was a surprise find at Hyde Hall RHS gardens in Essex, which I visited with my partner on another very warm, sunny day on the 8th. This must have been a third generation butterfly, on the edge of its range (nowadays they are rarely seen away from the coast in the UK, having previously been much more common inland. The Wall butterfly does not occur in Hertfordshire). I made two visits to Dungeness (Kent) in the middle of the month. The first (on the 17th) was a reconnaissance trip for an RSPB Local Group coach trip that I was leading on the 22nd. I was incredibly lucky with having fine, sunny weather on both dates, because the days in between were horrible, wet and windy. The RSPB reserve's three Glossy Ibises were seen on both days and, whilst the two Whooper Swans that I saw on the 17th had gone by the day of the coach trip, there was ample compensation in the form of Bittern, Spoonbill, Cattle Egrets and Bearded Tits on the latter date, whilst a Black Redstart was seen on the National Nature Reserve. Small Copper butterflies were seen on both days and a very tatty Common Blue seen on the 17th proved to be the last 'blue' butterfly that I would see in 2023. Some images from the trips are shown below.

Bearded Tits on Grit Tray, RSPB Dungeness, 22 October

Golden Plovers in Flight, RSPB Dungeness, 22 October

Small Copper Butterfly, Dungeness NNR, 17 October

Spoonbill in Flight, RSPB Dungeness, 22 October

Reports of a female Ring-necked Duck at Titchmarsh LNR (Northamptonshire) on the 19th encouraged me to go to a reserve that I hadn't visited for at least 20 years. Finding the reserve (it is nowhere near Titchmarsh village and is not signposted at all) proved problematical. My initial perception on reaching the visitor car park was that nothing had changed since I had last visited: it looked very run-down. However, I was amazed to find a brand new hide overlooking the area of the main lake where the bird had been reported and I was pleased to see my target from the hide. The following day saw me driving the 20 miles or so down the A10 to see a Glossy Ibis at Stanstead Abbotts - a 'first' for me in Hertfordshire.

'Record Shot' of the Female Ring-necked Duck, Titchmarsh LNR, 19 October

Glossy Ibis, Stanstead Abbotts, 20 October

After time away lapping up the sunshine in Spain (separate blog post tbd) my final 'twitch' of the month was to see a juvenile Great Northern Diver, off the dam at Grafham Water, on the 30th. The bird was initially accompanied by a juvenile Shag (a rare bird to be seen inland), but the Shag flew off as I got closer. The diver performed well, coming quite close to me at times, but photographing it was not easy because I was having to shoot into the sun and the dark bird was often just a silhouette in the much lighter water. Below are a couple of images of the bird, which have had quite a lot of work done to them!

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Grafham Water, 30 October

Juvenile Great Northern Diver, Grafham Water, 30 October

Friday 8 September 2023

Local Wildlife Sightings September 2023

 Apologies once again for the sporadic nature of my updates. This is due to a combination of a particularly busy period and the fact that I use my own edited images, and image editing, labelling and indexing sometimes lags weeks behind the current date. Things should become somewhat easier (and the blogs shorter) as we leave the invertebrate-filled summer behind.

Having abandoned July and August, summer finally returned with a bang from the beginning of September, as we entered a ten day heatwave. The highest temperature of the year in the UK came on the 7th, a particularly unusual statistic. My walks in the local area became more sporadic and less interesting, as most insect life declined. On The Heath, few butterflies remained by the end of the first week, but some (mainly female) Adonis Blues were still present on the Old Rifle Range. A Painted Lady was seen near Royston Hospital on the 5th and one or two pristine Comma butterflies suggested a small second generation. The expected passage of song birds never really took off during the heatwave - presumably the fine, dry weather encouraged them to fly straight through. My 2023 'bogey bird' became the Whinchat, as visits to sites (some local) where they had been reported failed to produce any, although I did find a couple of Stonechats on my travels. House Martins (up to 20) were seen feeding over the local fields on a few occasions and three were seen at dusk, feeding over Royston town centre on the 7th.

During late August and early September I made three visits to Clothall Common, near Baldock. A colony of Chalkhill Blue butterflies has been established for a few years in an area close to the A505 bypass, and good numbers of both males and females were seen on each visit. Small Blue butterflies and, from 2022, Adonis Blue butterflies have also been seen there but I could not get good evidence for either species being present on my visits. I did take some photos of the under-wings of (presumably) female Chalkhill Blues there and will, when time permits, compare them with those of female Adonis Blues, as part of a project to look for differences between the very similar females of the two species.

Migrant Hawker Dragonfly, Reed End, 13 September

The summery weather held on during the second week of September, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures in the low to mid-20s. There was a noticeable passage of Meadow Pipits, with many birds either being seen in flight or heard in the fields surrounding Royston. On a walk in the Church Hill area on the 9th I came across an astonishing number of female Wasp Spiders, around 20 in all, including eleven having formed their webs across a short (around 100M) section of a rough path. I also recorded at least six Adonis Blues here, including two males - easily the highest total of the year in this location! Another walk around the villages on the 13th produced another Marsh Harrier sighting, possibly of the same bird, in fields to the south of the Hospital. Summer visitors appeared to have largely departed, with just Chiffchaffs and one or two Blackcaps hanging on. I came back to photograph the Wasp spiders on Church Hill on the 14th (a couple of images below) but could only find four. However, on my way there I found a migrating Wheatear on the golf course, my first local sighting of the year!

Female Wasp Spider, Church Hill, 14 September

Female Wasp Spider about to catch and eat a Fly, Church Hill, 14 September

Ivy bees appeared in the middle of the month and, for a while, were present in their thousands on The Heath and wherever Ivy bushes were in flower. However, the weather changed dramatically from the 17th, with thunderstorms followed by strong winds and heavy rain. I didn't get out much during the following week, but I did notice a strong passage of hirundines (Swallows and House Martins), with the swallows flying purposefully south, whilst the House Martins took their time, feeding over the fields to the south of Royston. A short visit to Church Hill on the 20th failed to produce any Wasp spiders. Small numbers of Large White, Small White, Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Red Admiral butterflies were seen and a single male Adonis Blue was fluttering about at the bottom of the hill. I suspect that I will have little more to say about butterflies this year.

Ivy Bee, Royston, 15 September

Due to the poor weather and a holiday from the 23rd (see 'UK sightings'), the only other September sightings of note were on the 22nd, when a party of six Ravens (a record count for me) flew over Royston Hospital, heading north, and another fresh Comma butterfly was seen on the same day.

Comma Butterfly, Royston, 22 September

Wednesday 6 September 2023

UK Wildlife Sightings, September 2023

 When it comes to looking for wild birds, I'm a real sucker for punishment. On the 6th I decided to return to RSPB Titchwell Marsh, where the American Golden Plover that I had missed on 25 August had been seen on every subsequent day. Of course, the bird didn't appear. A report was put out later, saying that the bird had been seen from the Parrinder Hide at a time when I was there, but this must have been erroneous. In the midst of a heatwave, Titchwell was misty throughout my visit. The best bird seen was a Wood Sandpiper, whilst a few Spoonbills (83 seen here on the 5th) were still on the Freshmarsh. Other interesting sightings included Slender Groundhopper (my first), Wasp Spiders and a family of Wood Mice.

Spoonbill in Flight, RSPB Titchwell Marsh, 6 September

Juvenile and Adult Common Terns, Titchwell Beach, 6 September

On the 7th I visited RSPB Lakenheath Fen on a Royal Photographic Society Nature Group outing, organised by Ann Miles. The extremely hot weather (the hottest day of the year so far) precluded any serious walking, although I did eventually manage to go right around the reserve. This was, of course, a photographic trip, with an emphasis on invertebrates (mainly dragonflies, damselflies and spiders), although we did see Hobby and lots of Great White Egrets. The participants had found a shady area close to the car park where, at around 10.00am, darter dragonflies and Willow Emerald damselflies were warming up and allowed a close approach for photographs against a dark (and therefore uncluttered) background - see below for examples. This type of image appeals to me, although many photographers would prefer a paler background. Later in the day, spiders became the main focus of interest. Some members saw a female spider kill the much smaller male as he attempted to mate with her: this is far from unknown in the 'spider kingdom'!

Common Darter, RSPB Lakenheath Fen, 7 September

Willow Emerald Damselfly, RSPB Lakenheath Fen, 7 September

Great White Egret in Flight, RSPB Lakenheath Fen, 7 September

A pair of vagrant American waders (neither being an American Golden Plover!) starred on my bird watching trips over the next couple of weeks. News of a Buff-breasted Sandpiper at RSPB Minsmere prompted an excursion there on the 14th. The bird was found, after some searching, and viewed from the south hide. This was the first Buff-breasted Sandpiper recorded at Minsmere since 1961 (!) and my first since 2011. Stonechats and a male Kingfisher also showed well during my visit. The sandpiper was not seen again after the 14th. Pectoral Sandpiper is the commonest American vagrant wader to reach our shores and, despite a dire weather forecast, I decided to 'twitch' a bird at Stanwick Country Park in Northamptonshire, an hour's drive away, on the 20th. Never having been there before (my excuse), it took me over an hour to find the right part of the right lake where the bird had been seen, by which time the wind was driving heavy rain straight into my face. Nevertheless I was lucky to see the bird, accompanied by a Common Sandpiper, on a narrow spit of land. The key identification features were confirmed through my telescope (absolutely necessary) before it scuttled out of view.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, RSPB Minsmere, 14 September

Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Flight, RSPB Minsmere, 14 September

Male Kingfisher, RSPB Minsmere, 14 September

I drove my partner down to Whitstable (Kent) on the 16th, in order for her to join an RPS walk there. Given free time, I decided to walk along the coastal path from Tankerton towards Herne Bay and came upon a high tide roost of waders (Ringed Plover, Turnstone and a single Dunlin). I took a few photos of the birds (below).

Ringed Plover, Tankerton, 16 September

Turnstone, Tankerton, 16 September

The first RSPB Local Group coach trip of the 2023-24 season took us to Cley NWT on the 17th. Most of our party wanted to see the long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher (another American vagrant wader) and the bird duly obliged, spending much of its time commuting between Pat's Pool and Simmonds' Scrape. A strong south-easterly wind offered a frisson of excitement to sea watching, but I was unable to come up with anything more than a handful of juvenile Gannets (no adults) and lots of Razorbills, Guillemots and terns.

Long-billed Dowitcher (distant bird) and Black-tailed Godwit, Cley NWT, 17 September

The theme of American waders continued, as I visited RSPB Frampton Marsh again on the 21st to see a recently arrived Lesser Yellowlegs (the second commonest US wader to reach our shores after Pectoral Sandpiper). The bird showed well from the East Hide, allowing me to get some photos.

Lesser Yellowlegs, RSPB Frampton Marsh, 21 September

Lesser Yellowlegs (left) and Juvenile Ruff, RSPB Frampton Marsh, 21 September

Cornwall, 23-30 September

Together with my partner and her brother (over from Australia) I spent the last week of September at Falmouth, on the south-west Cornwall coast. I had booked to go on a pelagic boat trip out from Falmouth harbour on the Sunday (24th) some time ago, and it seemed sensible to arrange a holiday around this event. Sadly and very disappointingly, the trip was cancelled a few days before we left due to predicted bad weather ('Storm Agnes'), so I missed the opportunity to add seabirds such as Great and Cory's Shearwaters, as well as (potentially) a variety of whales, dolphins and possibly Sunfish, to my UK lists. However, I did at least get the opportunity to 'twitch' the Hoopoe and juvenile Woodchat Shrike that were in adjacent fields at Marazion on what was an unpleasant and very windy day on the 24th. I also put in an hour sea watching at Porthgwarra later in the week when another storm ('Storm Nigel') was passing by, but was only able to identify a single Sooty Shearwater that passed close inshore, whilst further out to sea Gannets could be seen through my binoculars, soaring over the rough seas, whilst any accompanying shearwaters could not be seen clearly enough to identify, even when a few images that I took were blown up (see below). I doubt whether a telescope, if it had been available, would have helped.

Poor 'Record Shot' of the Hoopoe, Marazion, 24 September

Gannets (and other seabirds??) over a Stormy Sea, Porthgwarra, 27 September

During the course of the week I did see Cornish Choughs on three consecutive days, with the best sightings being near Lizard Point. Of course, this was not a bird watching holiday - we did do lots of other things!

Chough in Flight, near Lizard Point, 26 September

Cornish Chough, near Lizard Point, 26 September

Dipper near Newlyn Harbour, 27 September