The L.O.S. Winter Trip to Norfolk - 12th-15th February 2019

On Day 1 members of the group set off at various times and from various places but we all arrived safely at Frampton Marsh in Lincolnshire, an RSPB reserve that promised lots of birds which is exactly what we got. The most notable were the Golden Plover in huge flocks giving us an aerial view which could be likened to a Starling murmuration, glinting gold in the cold winter sun.  There were also plenty of Dark-bellied Brent Geese about.

Out on the saltmarsh there was a MerlinMarsh Harrier, Little Egrets and several Brent Geese flocks often flying past. We spent a few hours here and saw some good birds including Ruff, Wigeon, Pintail, Gadwall, Lapwing, Skylarks, Curlew and Shoveler - sadly the long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher evaded us but not from lack of trying on our part.

From Frampton Marsh we set off for Cromer, our destination and hotel for the next four days, birding as we went. The hotel was warm, comfortable and an excellent meal was enjoyed.  Cromer is a good base from which to do daily birding trips in Norfolk.

Day 2 saw us heading for Barton Broad one of the group's staple sites where a Great Crested Grebe swam unusually close in front of us on the viewing platform, obviously a people-watching Grebe! As it is part of the Norfolk Broads system boats sail through but they keep to their part of the waterway so the water birds such as Goldeneye, TealTufted Ducks and Greylag Geese could be left as undisturbed as possible.

A Kingfisher was seen flashing through the broad by some lucky members, a blur of turquoise over the still grey water and a Water Rail was first heard and then seen skulking in the reedbed behind the platform. There were also lots of small birds in the woodland areas including various Tits and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

We then went on to Winterton-on-Sea for a seawatch with plenty of Gulls, Cormorants and Scoters. Here a Firecrest had been reported in the sand-dunes, but one look at the vastness of these dunes and it quickly became obvious we would need the army to comb them for such a small bird. However, it didn’t stop some of us from looking and constantly listening for this elusive bird.  And all wasn’t silent as the Skylarks sang their hearts out - what a wonderful song to hear in the quiet and peacefulness of that vast ecosystem. Occasionally small flocks of waders would fly past, inlcuding Reshank and Sanderling.

Sadly the coastline has suffered there in the recent storms, the edge of the cliff being cordoned off as unsafe due to erosion and huge stretches of golden sand were visible which hadn’t been seen before by us. Some of the boat huts looked to be in danger of disappearing should there continue to be such storms and erosion. Out to sea Red-throated Divers were present in good numbers, and a Red-necked Grebe also gave some of us a good view now and then as it bobbed up and down on the swell.

From Winterton we set off for Hickling Broad and enjoyed a good cruise around the area as we headed to Stubbs Mill for the Harrier roost. The weather was lovely for February, blue skies and a bright, clear atmosphere which aided in our views of the old windmill which are for pumping water, their blades now redundant as the machinery is operated by either diesel or electricity. But they still stand sentinel over the dykes and fields.

After having a great view of a Muntjac Deer at the start of the path, we had a nice walk around and settled down at the Stubbs Mill raptor viewpoint to wait for dusk. Kestrels dropped in, a Jay flew across calling loudly, and the Marsh Harriers arrived distantly in good numbers to settle down for the night. To our disappointment, a huge mechanical digger was working on the ditches but as it did it disturbed a Great White Egret which then flew past and gave a wonderful show for the spectators. So it wasn't a bad thing in the end.

There were two distant Common Cranes on the ground which occasionally put their heads up giving us good scope views before they flew towards us being disturbed by the digger which had moved and was working further away.

A little while later a family group of four Cranes (two adults and two juveniles) flew past in a line and a further two were heard calling and then flying as we walked back to the car. We had hoped for a Barn Owl but none appeared and so as it grew dark we headed back to the hotel to review our list for the day and settle down for the evening.  But just before we left, the bushes behind us became alive with two or three tiny Goldcrests which flitted around in the dark.

Day 3 started at Salthouse with Ringed Plover, Turnstones on the shingle beach and a flock of Curlew and Black-tailed Godwits further inland.

From there we went to Holkham Gap for the Pink-footed GeeseSnow Buntings, Shore Larks and, as a bonus, a Dartford Warbler which had us searching the scrub of brambles and Sea Buckthorn, where we had several views of it as it perched albeit briefly on the vegetation before dropping down again to find food. There were also Stonechats and Chaffinches present to confuse the issue.

Then on to Choseley Barns for Yellowhammer, and the spot of the day, a Barn Owl quartering a field at the side of us, where most of the group got some brilliant sightings and wonderful photos of this bird. There were also Red-legged Partridges in the field and two Red Kites - what a place to stop!

After enjoying this bird for half an hour, and enjoying our chat with the group and other birders who were also enthralled with the closeness of the Barn Owl, we headed off to Titchwell RSPB, here we had both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Sanderling and Spotted Redshank close up, more Barn Owls, can you ever be fed up of watching Barn Owls – I think not! 

Waders and small birds aplenty and the sound of the Skylark filling the air with its wonderful song. Geese flew over and sailed on the ponds, Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Pink-footed and Greylag as well as Canada Geese. Another bonus was a group of six Red Crested Pochards in amongst the 'normal' Pochards. And as the sun went down in a fabulous sunset, the Marsh Harriers arrived at their reedbed roost in numbers - one person counted over twelve of them.  There was also a small but interesting Starling murmuration with some superb shapes being thrown. What a great end to a wonderful day.

Day 4 was the day to travel home and here we were given the choice of where to visit as we made our way back. Part of the group went to Thornham on the coast for Twite and was not disappointed, and some went to a newish reserve called Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve run by the Hawk and Owl Trust. Again we were not disappointed as it is a superb little place and definitely worth a visit. Some of the group even saw Otters here!

The reedbeds stretch for miles and strangely Bittern isn’t reported there, maybe one day soon it will. Brambling, Reed Buntings and Bullfinches were up close on the feeders, Buzzards were overhead and Red Kites were calling across the meadows and reedbeds.  

A different bird flew over and after great discussion, it was decided it was probably a Goshawk - a later discussion with one of the rangers confirmed they pass over the reserve and noted our record of it in his book. Lesser and Common Redpoll fed on the same feeder in the woods where we could compare them to see the differences.

SiskinMarsh Tit and Treecreeper were also seen and heard, Reed Buntings were there in good numbers and last but not least, Collared Dove looking so clean and bright in the clean air that they deserve a mention.

Some went to Flitcham Abbey and saw a Little Owl whereas others went to Snettisham RSPB where the wader roost over the high tide proved to be very underwhelming. However, there were a few oddities present including a Cape Shelduck (probably an escapee) and some odd hybrid Greylag Geese. Over the four days of the trip, 117 species were recorded - a good count aided by the great weather.

Thanks to Eddie King for organising the trip and to all who attended for your wonderful company on another great L.O.S. winter trip. Here's to the next one!

Report by Joan Disley (with additions by Martyn Jones)

Photos by Anne Johnson, David Shallcross, Paul Pennington, George Pike, Alan Wilcox and Martyn Jones

Blyth’s Reed Warbler – Hope Carr NR – January 2019

On Sunday 20th January 2019 at around 11am I got a phone call from my friend Phil Rhodes who informed me he had found a Reed Warbler or Blyth’s Reed Warbler at Hope Carr NR near Leigh. As I was doing my WeBS count in Bolton it wasn’t until nearly 1pm by the time I got to the site. Phil was still there watching the bird in a bramble patch by the perimeter fence adjacent to the filtration beds. Andy Makin had also arrived and the bird continued to show well on what was a very mild, calm day with sunny intervals. After a further hour or so watching the bird we had convinced ourselves that it was most likely a Reed Warbler, which in itself would be an amazing record for Greater Manchester in the middle of January!

We heard the bird call on several occasions and to the human ear it was difficult to say whether it was any different to a Reed Warbler. The colouration and behaviour / posture of the bird seemed to fit Reed Warbler even though the primaries did seem slightly short. Separation of Reed and Blyth’s Reed Warbler can be very difficult in the field and even the field guide features can be open to interpretation. 

Later that evening having posted photos of the bird on Twitter I was contacted by Chris Batty at Rare Bird Alert who felt confident from the photos that the bird was in fact a Blyth’s Reed Warbler! Luckily one of the photos showed a short P2 (primary tips number from 1-10), which could be seen to be much shorter than P3 and P4 (which form the wing tips). In Reed Warbler P2 should equal P4. An emargination on P4, which our bird had, is also a strong indicator of Blyth’s Reed Warbler as this is rare in Reed Warbler. 

In the field we noticed the bird had a pale wing panel and it is thought this is because the bird had not yet completed its first year moult and has yet to replace any of its secondary feathers.

Luckily Andy had captured the bird calling several times on video which Chris Batty converted to a .wav file. The call was compared with a random Blyth’s Reed Warbler cut and Reed Warbler from xeno-canto (an online bird call and song resource) and the differences were obvious. 

The sonogram above shows the Hope Carr warbler (top) a perfect match with Blyth’s Reed Warbler (middle) and whereas Reed Warbler (bottom) is a more drawn out “trrk” call. The Blyth’s call is slightly shorter “tic” type call similar to a Lesser Whitethroat. The call confirmed that the bird was no doubt a Blyth’s Reed Warbler which would be rare anywhere in Western Europe during winter never mind at an inland site near Leigh. The bird should be in India at this time of year.

Phil said he had heard briefly what he thought could have been a Lesser Whitethroat call in that area in December so it is likely the bird could have present over a month. Thankfully after a few days of cold and foggy weather, many birders were able to see the bird well and in fact on Monday 28th January it showed very well indeed when these photos were taken by Dave Shallcross, Gary Crowder and John Preston.  An amazing first ever record for Greater Manchester.

Simon Warford

Rare Warbler Turns Up In Leigh

A rare Blyth's Reed Warbler was found by Phil Rhodes at Hope Carr Nature Reserve / Sewage Works in Leigh last week (yes, birders really do get to some picturesque places don't they?).

I'm told that this is the first time ever that one has been seen in Greater Manchester and that less than 10 a year are seen in the UK as a whole.  I myself have been three times to find this bird and spent about nine hours of waiting with just a Chiffchaff, Wren and a few Linnets and  Pied Wagtails being seen.  The reason for the title is that the bird is a very active skulker in  the brambles and never appears out in the open for long.

The photo below shows the bird feeding on a spider's egg sacks and was taken by our chairman David Shallcross on one of its rare appearances. It was featured in this week's Rare Bird Alert weekly roundup.

I am trying to get the original finder to write a brief report on how he found it, how it was first thought to be a Reed Warbler and how the story progressed to its final determination of being a Blyth's Reed Warbler - so watch this space.

I've seen it now!  Photos and report on my own blog:

L.O.S. Annual Reports and Newsletters Updated

I have finally got round to updating the Society's bi-monthly and annual reports on our main website. These are in PDF format and are free for anyone to read, download and print with the exception that the latest newsletters are only available to members in the first instance. As a special 'one-time only' incentive to encourage readers, the January 2019 newsletter is available now.

In the fullness of time, they all eventually become available in the public domain. Click the link below to go to the page where they are linked and please let me know if you can't open them or if there are any other problems with the links.

L.O.S. Fieldtrip to Leighton Moss RSPB - Sunday 13th January 2019


This was our fifth trip of the season with a new twist as we made it a 'decide on the day' for where to take our adventure and, as I waited for our troops to gather, a song entered my head - this one from the 'Adventures of Winnie the Pooh':
Oh, the wind is lashing lustily
And the trees are thrashing thrustily
And the leaves are rustling gustily
So it's rather safe to say

That it seems that it may turn out to be
It feels that it will undoubtedly
It looks like a rather blustery day, today
It seems that it may turn out to be
Feels that it will undoubtedly
Looks like a rather blustery day, today. 

Watch it here on YouTube:

After a short discussion, the hardy souls decided that somewhere with some form of cover to protect us from the weather would be the safe option. So Leighton Moss RSPB seemed ideal.

Warton Crag would be our first stop with views of Raven and Peregrine Falcon hopefully.

On arrival not a bird to be seen. Fortunately we didn't have to wait to long as a flock of Jackdaws some 200 strong returned to the Crag to entertain us with wonderful aerial displays as we continued to search the rock face in search of our goal.

Then the eagle eyed Peter Hodson picked up a Peregrine and it's mate at the far left hand end of the Crag. Unfortunately no Ravens. But a little blip like this would not put our hardy birders off.
So feeling a little more upbeat, although a little windswept, off to Allen and Morecambe Hides just a short journey away.

The Allen Hide produced a strong gathering of 200 plus Black-tailed Godwits and similar numbers of Lapwings, a smattering of Dunlin, and a pair of Shelduck

So onward to the Morecambe Hide. Here we saw Wigeon, Redshank, Pintail, Greylag Geese, a single Kestrel, and two Knot plus many more Lapwings. There had been a Greenshank reported so we set about scouring the satellite islands. Then the rain and wind came with gusto. I'm sure I heard one of our troops singing 'Bring Me Sunshine', after all we were in the Morecambe Hide. Luckily for us, two Greylags forced the Greenshank from its shelter on the leeward side of one of the islands, which gave us good views.

The rain went as quickly as it came, so it was time to head for the main Leighton Moss reserve. After a short break, a bite to eat, and some warming expensive coffee, it was time to go in search of the Great Grey Shrike which had been reported earlier that day.

A quick visit to the Causeway Hide on our way to the Lower Hide. A single Dabchick, the usual Cormorants, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Teal and Pintail plus a few Mallards.

On the way to the Lower Hide a very tame group of Titmice greeted us in search of seed. Blue Tits, Great Tits, a couple of Coal Tits and a favourite of mine a single Marsh Tit. I even tricked a Great Tit to sit on my hand pretending to have a palm full of seed.

On reaching the Lower Hide area, we searched for a good 30 minutes for the Great Grey Shrike, but alas we dipped. But it was well worth a try. The hide itself produced two Great White Egrets, so all was not lost.

Last port of call would be Lillian Hide. At the entrance to the hide high up in the Alder trees were a handful of Siskin. From within the hide all the usual birds and 8 Snipe, one of which was out in the open right in front of the hide).

45 species were recorded from a big effort by everyone. The weather became kinder as the day wore on, so it was worth the effort.  Well done to all who attende
d and hope to see you all on the February Trip.

Thank you for you company, as usual a great day.
Paul Pennington
L.O.S. Fieldtrips Officer