The last two months of 2018 were fairly quiet on the UK birding front due to holidays and work trips, so I’ve combined November and December into one short blog post. November got off to a reasonable start with a brief early morning visit to Connaught Water in Epping Forest. I do a WeBS count at Connaught Water, although this was just a general birding visit en route to an OSME Council meeting in Tring. I always aim to get to Connaught at first light as it is incredibly popular with dog-walkers and many of the waterbirds soon go into hiding. Duck numbers appeared to be well down compared to recent visits with only Mallard, Teal and Shovelor getting into double figures, and for the first time I can remember not a single Gadwall. There were only 2 Mandarin Duck too, which is an unusually low count. I pondered if the recent mild weather conditions were affecting the build-up of wintering duck? However, a fly over Ring Ouzel was a very welcome sighting. After my Tring meeting I managed a couple of hours at Wilstone Reservoir, where waterbird numbers also seemed low. On the 4th I decided to visit Holkham Gap on the Norfolk coast to try and track down the Shore Lark flock that had been there for a few weeks. It was my first visit there for a few years and I was surprised to see a new visitor centre! I’m not really sure why another visitor centre is required along the Norfolk coast, although as buildings go, I’ve seen worse. Why do those charged with protecting special places insist on building on them? Can we not love and appreciate wild places without constructing unnecessary tea-rooms? My bad mood was made worse by not seeing Shore Larks – no doubt disturbed by the hordes of dogs running through across their typical habitat. A roped area has subsequently been established to reduce the impact and the Shore Larks are seen most days – I must return soon. The Snow Buntings were nice to see, and a rather impressive 400+ Common Scoter were off-shore in several groups. After a couple of hours I left Holkham, £6 less well-off due to the rather excessive car parking fee, dismayed by the development of a once special place and feeling like the odd one out without a dog in tow. I fear that we love some places to death.
My day dramatically improved at RSPB Titchwell, the freshwater water marsh was full of birds, and the fen/scrub areas had plenty of passerine activity to keep me busy – nothing out of the ordinary but lots of common birds just going about the daily lives. The sea-watching was unusually quiet with just a handful of Common Scoter, a few Great-crested Grebe, and a very distant Diver species. But the day ended on a high as the Harriers came into roost – in the twilight I saw about 10 Marsh and a single ring-tail Hen Harrier drop down into the reeds – very impressive. I wandered back along the embankment and stopped to chat to a guy who I recognised (but didn’t know his name). He’d been specifically counting the Harriers coming into roost, I rather proudly told him about my 10 Marsh and single Hen Harrier. Thirty five Marsh Harriers was his count so far (although he’d missed the Hen Harrier), and he told me the highest roost count last winter was 40 something (I can’t remember the exact figure)! The Marsh Harrier – what a wonderful bird and a fabulous conservation success story.
The rest of my November birdwatching was focussed on the local patch of Wanstead Flats and Park. A first-winter Caspian Gull had been found by one of the patch regulars, so I made a quick visit to catch up with this species for the first time on the patch. But the remaining visits were a bit of a slog with just the usual species located and migration well and truly over. I made several visits to Bush Wood to try and catch up with a Treecreeper, a bird that for some reason I can’t seem to track down on the patch – but failed on each attempt!
My December birding got underway with a WeBS count at Connaught Water and the bird numbers seem to have picked up with 139 Mallard and more Tufted Duck, Coot, Canada Geese and Teal than on the previous few visits. Mandarin were back up to 12 and six Goosander put in a welcome appearance. There were no dog-walkers at first light, but three had turned up by the end of the count, all with dogs off the lead – they were joined by someone flying a drone.
After a work trip to Sudan (blogs to follow shortly) the rest of the birding for 2018 was rather uneventful, although my parents have moved to a new house in Leintwardine and the first visit there resulted in a nice new location for some future regular birdwatching.
So in November and December just 110 species were recorded from 20 complete BirdTrack lists. I missed out on my target bird of Shore Lark and I fell short of my 2018 target of 250 complete BirdTrack lists by six – there’s always next year.