Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Weir Wood Reservoir

 Tuesday 31st January 2023

  • Saw my first marsh tit and nuthatch of 2023, at the feeders today at Weir Wood Reservoir

2023 species count = 111

  • I got to see my first green woodpecker of 2023 today as I walked my dog Odin on the land behind our house, having  previously heard several.

Monday, 30 January 2023

Rye Twitch

Thursday 26th January 2023

With the good weather holding on, I took the chance to go down to the Rye area for a twitch.  On my shopping list were 4 birds:-

  • A scaup which had been present at Camber since 15th January.
  • A spoonbill which was on the Rye Harbour NNR
  • 2 Slavonian grebes that were also on Rye Harbour NNR
  • The long-staying black-necked grebe that was on also on the nature reserve but at the Castle Water end.

I managed to see the scaup and the black-necked grebe but the spoonbill wasn't there when I arrived and the Slavonian grebes were too far away for me to be sure of the ID even with my scope.

2023 species count = 109

Sunday, 29 January 2023

Twitching in East Anglia with Alison

Monday 23rd January 2023

The annual Ashdown Bird Group trip to East Anglia started today and finishes on Thursday.  Although Alison and I couldn't make the full trip we agreed to spend the first day with them as they birded in St Ives, Cambridgeshire and then in Norfolk at WWT Welney. The weather was clear and dry but it was very cold and did not get above freezing until after lunch.

A= St Ives
B= Eldernell
C=Welney WWT

St Ives, Cambridgeshire

After a hearty Wetherspoons breakfast at the Swan & Angel in St Ives we made the short journey to Meadow Lake, parking at the entrance to Hunts Sailing Club.
  • Immediately, we could see a fabulous drake smew, swimming in the only section of water, not frozen over, by the sailing club.  

The photographers followed the path towards the clubhouse, hoping to get a closer view.  I joined them but quickly decided I was better off where I was previously so I left them there and went back.
  • Incredibly 3 drake goldeneye had joined the group of birds in the water and after a while they produced their delightful courting routine in which they thrust their heads back quickly so that their faces point upwards to the sky.  I have never seen anything like this before so I was literally gobsmacked. 

  • The others had seen 2 drake smew and a redhead.  They too had witnessed a courtship routine for these birds so they were very excited.

What a great start to the day!

The main group were running late so they decided against going on to Eldernell and headed off to WWT Welney en route to the Caley Hotel near Hunstanton.

RSPB Nene Washes, Eldernell
 We arrived just after lunch to find lots of birders on the raised bank adjacent to the car park - a healthy sign.
  • It was healthy indeed - in no time at all we were looking at a short-eared owl roosting in a bush less than 20 metres away.

  • The long-eared owl was present, some 20 metres further west but it was extremely hard to pick out.  Eventually we did and we enjoyed reasonable scope views.  Apparently there were 3 birds earlier in the day.

  • Another 75 metres away to the west, a tawny owl was showing well from a hole in one of the trees in a small wood.

  • We weren't finished there - on the way back to the car our attention was drawn to a male hen harrier flying low over the fields close to the reedbed.  What a majestic bird.

Our detour to this site was fully justified with 3 species of owl on show and a hen harrier as a bonus. ....and we still had time to rejoin the others at WWT Welney.

WWT Welney

We arrived back at Welney just after 3 p.m., in good time to meet the rest of the group and have some lunch before the close of play for the day. 
  • Within seconds we were looking at tree sparrows - a Welney speciality.  There were loads of them at the feeders.

  • Then it was a barn owl that caught our attention as it flew by us along Lady Fen as we viewed from the centre.

  • Bob J pointed out a cattle egret in the distance - my first one in 2023.

 I jokingly said to John E " Can you conjure up a crane to complete my bucket list for the day?"
  • Lo and behold he spotted a flock of 12 flying towards us before they turned and went off into the distance!

We left around 4.30 pm after a most fulfilling day.  It was one of those days when everything went according to plan and more.  I hope this continues for the group when they get to thier destination on the north Norfolk coast.

A brilliant twitch!

2023 species count = 107

All photos courtesy of Alison Playle,  except the one showing the courting goldeneye which was taken from Twitter.

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

With Mark and Elizabeth at Pagham Harbour North Wall a.m. and Arundel WWT p.m.

Sunday 22nd January 2023

The original plan was to walk from Pagham North Wall along White's Creek, past Pagham Lagoon to the spit where a snow bunting had been seen  several times recently.  Then we would return along the same path to watch the wader movement on the incoming tide.

After lunch we planned to head up to the Burgh to catch up with the short-eared owls at dusk.  As you will read later, this plan was changed and we finished up at the WWT reserve at Arundel. 

                         Pagham Harbour North Wall

There was a good selection of waders on show, the pick of which are listed below.

  • My own particular favourite were the knot which we saw huddled together on the mud of White's Creek and making a very impressive show.
  • There were so many pintail ducks swimming around including numerous drakes - another brilliant show this year. 
  • I saw my first yellowhammers of the year in the trees by the track.
  • On Pagham Lagoon there were at least 12 Mediterranean gulls and a rather splendid   drake goldeneye.

We met up with Gareth and Paul James at the lagoon and they advised us that parking at the Burgh would be a problem this afternoon.  The short-eared owl sightings recently had drawn large numbers of birders to the area with the attendant parking issues.  On the strength of this discussion we decided to go back to the North Wall, move to the nearby  Pagham Beach cafĂ© (at the start of Sandy Road (PO21 4SP)) for lunch and then head out to the spit to look for the snow bunting.  If we had time we would visit the WWT reserve at Arundel.

  • Mark flushed the bird and it flew into the adjacent hollow and out of sight.  Unfortunately neither Elizabeth or I managed to see it as it did this. 

WWT Arundel
We spent just over an hour here.  Most of the pools were frozen over completely so there was not much going on.

  • Two very close snipe were seen from the Ramsar hide.
  • Star birds however were the 2 firecrests and the single goldcrest that we encountered as we walked by the Wildlife garden.

2023 species count = 102

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Very productive dog walk

Thursday 19th January 2023

Uckfield, Sussex

While walking Odin around the estate this morning I heard my first coal tit of the year, calling from the top of the high trees in the wooded area.

On the return leg, less than 15 minutes later, I heard a siskin calling from the same area.

2023 species count = 99

Short-eared Owl at last

Wednesday 18th January 2023

Rodmell near Lewes, Sussex

After 2 recent trips to the Isle of Sheppey where we missed out on short-eared owls, Alison and I made the short trip to the Lewes Brooks, near Rodmell, where one had been seen earlier in the week.  The weather conditions were almost perfect, with bright sunshine and very little wind, as we arrived around 3 pm.  

After parking up at the National Trust car park near Monk Cottage, former home of Virginia Woolf, we headed out across the flooded fields to the west bank of the River Ouse.  On the way we met Simon Linington, one of our finest local birders and we enjoyed his company and expertise from then on.

  • The first species of interest was corn bunting.  We saw several flocks during our stay with numbers exceeding 50.
Courtesy of Alison Playle

Courtesy of Alison Playle

Courtesy of Alison Playle

  • Simon spotted our first barn owl of the evening, way off to the west, not far from where we had parked the car.  A second one appeared on the east side of the river and for a while we enjoyed watching these birds - sometimes flying around, often perched on a fence post but always looking magnificent.  Alas they were too distant to warrant a photograph.
  • There were at least 5 other birders stretched out along the riverbank to the south of us.  One of them had already seen a short-eared owl on the west side of the river but it had gone down and out of sight.
  • A marsh harrier appeared and moved gracefully over the brooks.  it was probably the one Simon had seen earlier, just as Alison and I arrived.
  • Just as we were getting worried that the short-eared owl would not appear we caught sight of it - flying over the reeds on the west side of the river.  It disappeared again but soon came back up, allowing everyone present to get a good look.
  • By way of a bonus, we saw a cracking ring-tailed hen harrier flying low over the brooks to the north of us.  it stayed around for quite some time - much to the enjoyment of all present.
  • A sparrowhawk joined in the fun briefly before flying away.

What a lovely evening out - good company and plenty of raptors.

 I returned on Friday 21st January with Martin, Ian and John S but we did not see the short-eared owl or the hen harrier.  
  • By way of consolation we saw a chiffchaff by the water treatment plant.

2023 species count = 97

Monday, 16 January 2023

Sunday 15th January 2023 Elmley NR on Isle of Sheppey


Sunday 15th January 2023

Elmley Nature Reserve, Isle of Sheppey

Ashdown Bird Group

(8 members present)

Trip Report

Our first outing of 2023 took us to Elmley Nature Reserve on the windswept Isle of Sheppey.  Thankfully, the rain held off. 

Last year we had exceptional views of short-eared owls here but this year they are hardly showing at all.  They are present, in good numbers, but choosing to hunt nocturnally, well after the reserve has closed its doors for the day.  The long-eared owl is also on site but it has rarely been seen during the day.

Our route today took in a couple of extra paths.  We started by heading west down to the Swale estuary to Clay Reach before heading north along the riverbank for a while.  After lunch back at the centre, we followed our usual path, easterly to the Well Marsh Hide.  As dusk approached we decided against relocating to the raptor viewing point at Capel Fleet, choosing instead to stay at Elmley and visit the South Fleet Hide.


Courtesy of Martin Jeffrey

 A very helpful volunteer engaged with us as we assembled in the car park and pointed out what we might expect to see today.  One of the things she mentioned was little owl.  Earlier, she had been watching 2 of them in a bush, behind the oak trees, just a few metres north of where we were standing.  When she offered to show me the exact location I jumped at the chance.  When we got there, only one was showing and that one was very well camouflaged.

  •      When the group joined us we were all able to get a good look at the owl – some like me needing more help than others to pick out the bird.

There’s a little owl in there somewhere – courtesy of Alison Playle

That’s better! – courtesy of Alison Playle

  • ·         As we walked down to the Swale estuary, John and Mark caught sight of a hen harrier just before it flew over the top of the hillside and out of view.  That was our only sighting of this species today.
  • ·         The rest of us were busy watching the first of the many marsh harriers that we would see today.
  • ·         On the Swale the black-tailed godwits were feeding on the mud. 

Black-tailed godwits - courtesy of Martin Jeffree

  • ·         Also present were curlew, redshank, lapwing, dunlin, shelduck, grey plover, oystercatcher, a couple of little grebes and a solitary avocet.
  • ·         On the return leg to the car park a meadow pipit, a couple of pied wagtails, a couple of skylarks and several reed buntings caught the eye, but the stand out bird was a kingfisher that shone magnificently in the bright sunshine as it flew around the reedbed.


Meadow pipit - courtesy of Alison Playle


Pied wagtail - courtesy of Alison Playle


After lunch at the Visitor Centre we enjoyed watching loads of birds from the viewing wall adjacent to the toilet block.

  • ·         Huge numbers of teal and wigeon provided the wallpaper for the other species enjoying the glorious weather today.

Teal – courtesy of Alison Playle


Geese were in short supply today and those that were there didn’t come to the show until quite late in the day.

  • ·         As well as the Canada geese and the greylags, there were decent numbers of Brent geese but we did not find any white-fronts or barnacle geese – surprising really, considering the large numbers present at nearby RSPB Shellness.


The decision to finish the day at the South Fleet hide proved a wise one as we added a few interesting species to our day list.

  • ·         Kevin spotted a barn owl in the distance and quite soon afterwards another one was spotted.
  • ·         A flock of golden plover flew high over the fields in front of us.


On the way back to the car park we added further birds of interest.

  • ·         The highlights included shoveler, turnstone and a cracking drake pintail, all on the river on the incoming tide.
  • ·         Mark finally got to hear the water rail he had promised everyone as we walked past the reedbed.
  • ·         A couple of redwing flew by as we walked along the final stretch of the track back to the car park.
  • ·         Sadly we didn’t see any short-eared owls but we did see a third barn owl which flew very close to us.

Barn Owl – courtesy of Alison Playle


  • ·         Some of us were lucky to see a fourth barn owl as we exited the site.

What a lovely day out – nothing rare or special turned up but with a species count of over 60 there was something for everyone.  Thankfully the wind abated as the day went on, making it a very pleasant situation all round. 


Thanks Martin for another top-drawer birding trip!

Bob Hastings

Today’s species list







Little Egret


Barn Owl


Little Grebe


Black-headed Gull


Little Owl


Black-tailed Godwit






Marsh Harrier


Blue Tit


Meadow Pipit


Brent Goose




Canada Goose


Mute Swan


Carrion Crow




Cetti's Warbler






Pied Wagtail


Common Gull






Red-legged Partridge












Reed Bunting






Golden Plover


Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon


Great Black-backed Gull




Great Crested Grebe




Grey Heron




Grey Plover




Greylag Goose




Hen Harrier




Herring Gull




House Sparrow






Water Rail














Lesser Black-backed Gull



Species count = 61  including 3 new ones today - little owl, golden plover and pied wagtail.

Also added to the year list was the tawny owls that I heard last nihght as I walked my dog Odin round the housing estate where I live.

2023 species count = 95