Our second outdoor meeting of the year was met with an excellent morning of harsh frost coupled with bright sunshine and clear skies. With a temperature of -0.5 degrees a certain amount of layering was required to ensure we kept warm.
20 of us joined Jeff on this popular walk, but with a bit of a twist this time. Earlier in the month Malcolm, Sally, Irene and I had tried a new walk towards fields which the RSPB now own, and where lapland buntings had been reported. We therefore decided to try this walk – bearing in mind the tide was as far out as it was possible to be, this seemed a good option, and it proved well worthwhile. The usual wood pigeons sat in the trees with the sun on them bringing out different colours in their plumage and also distorting their size. A pair of pied wagtail fed along the sea wall.
As we approached the farm track a female marsh harrier appeared in the distance, hunting over the ditch at the far side of the field in front of us. Reed buntings gave short contact “cheeps” in a nearby bush and house sparrows flitted ahead of us. Mike spotted a little egret flying away from us across the field, several curlew and herring gull were also joined by lapwings feeding in the field.
A large flock of brent geese were in the same field as on the earlier visit and we checked them for the pale-bellied which was found quickly, as we now know what we are looking for! Everyone managed good views in the end with a large array of telescopes available. Further along a large mixed group of starling, golden plover and lapwing flew up in great excitement as first we disturbed them, then a kestrel and a further marsh harrier. A further harrier had a white patch on the upper tail – a ring-tail hen harrier. When we had finally arrived in the right area for the lapland buntings it was easy to see lots of birds on the ground feeding but not quite so easy to identify the buntings in with linnet and meadow pipit. A couple of males were found in the group with the beginnings of their black face markings and chestnut nape, and as we watched the group we realised that more of them were buntings than originally thought. The majority being females with the distintive face patterns but little else to aid identification. At least 50 were found in the end.
We retraced our steps as lunch was starting to call us as the main group moved on four of us lagged behind, watching a kestrel on a nearby gate (and in my case taking rather bad photographs of the same). As we stood a water rail walked out from one of the ditches, across the entrance to the field and into a second ditch – a quick but delightful sight.
Back at the sea wall, the tide had come in some way and there were oystercatcher, more curlew, a huge flock of brent geese (who eventually joined those in the field as the tide rose), a couple of sanderling, turnstone, black-headed gull and herring gull. Someone spotted a red-throated diver far out to sea, and as we all tried to get onto it with telescopes, a second was found. A dozen great-crested grebe were swimming along in front of the wind turbines, barely visible as they bobbed with the swell of the tide.
A picnic lunch by the seawall for some and the call of cafes and toilets for others – we were to meet at Capel Fleet Raptor Viewpoint at 2.00 pm.
For those by the sea, great views of the gulls close up, including an old friend of ours T697 a polish black-headed gull which we first saw as a first winter bird in January 2009. The project team had recently asked if we had any photographs of the bird so it was good to see it and get some reasonable shots for them. Alan spotted a common gull perched on a nearby groyne.
All too soon it was time to tear ourselves away and move on to Capel Fleet. The viewpoint was busy with not only our group but one from Hertfordshire, and local birders who were probably a bit put out that we were taking over. However we all found a spot to watch and the excitement began immediately with one, two then three short-eared owls hunting over the long grass in the fields, another ring-tail, at least three marsh harriers, kestrel, merlin, peregrine and a barn owl in a nest box completed our raptor list. A great white egret flew in, a pair of green sandpipers moved from ditch to ditch with their call giving them away. Pheasants, red-legged partridge, chaffinch and lesser black-backed gull completed our day’s list.
Thanks to all those who took part in this great day out, and for Jeff and Malcolm for their joint leading skills.