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REVIEW OF THE BIRDS IN THE LOWESTOFT AREA
by Richard Smith
DESPITE THE LINGERING PRESENCE OF the Oulton/Blundeston Bohemian Waxwing, Bombycilla garrulus, flock early in the month bird highlights in JANUARY 1991 largely revolved around more unseasonal visitors, with a Firecrest, Regulus ignicapillus, at Oulton Broad and a Blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla, in South Lowestoft together with an unprecedented number of wintering Chiffchaffs, Phylloscopus collybita. Single birds of this species were at Fisher Row, Kirkley Fen Park and Waveney Drive whilst, incredibly five were present at Kessingland Sewage Works, including two birds showing characteristics of the Siberian race, P.c. tristris.
GLAUCOUS GULLS, Larus hyperboreus, have become increasingly scarce in the Lowestoft area in recent winters and a first-winter bird at Ness Point in mid-month did not linger long enough to alter this new found status. A Great Skua, Stercorarius skua, was also reported around this time.
The highlight of the month was the discovery of an ARCTIC REDPOLL, Carduelis hornemanni, at Bradwell on the 27th, which remained until March the 3rd.
FEBRUARY saw the first significant spell of cold weather since 1987, together with some associated wildfowl. Predictably in such circumstances, the largely unfrozen waters of Lake Lothing and Lowestoft Harbour attracted a number of displaced birds including a confiding Black-necked Grebe, Podiceps nigricollis, (photos to the left) from the 10-24th, single redhead Smew, Mergus albellus, two Red-breasted Mergansers, M. serrator, 17 Scaup, Aythya marila, 20 Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula, around 100 Tufted Duck, A. fuligula, 100 Pochard, A. ferina and up to 12 Shags, Phalacrocorax aristotelis. Despite these attractions, the ice and snow, as always, proved something of a mixed blessing with few of the wintering warblers not being seen subsequently.
The paucity of RING-BILLED GULLS, L. delawarensis, in the county has always been something of an enigma. A second-winter bird at Ness Point, on the 24th, was a long overdue addition to the local list - unfortunately its stay was brief.
Other birds noted this month included a Common Buzzard, Buteo buteo, at Mutford, two Jack Snipe, Lymnocryptes minimus, at Kessingland Sewage Works, on the 3rd, 20 Waxwings, at Carlton Colville, three Mediterranean Gulls, L. melanocephalus, in Lowestoft Harbour and at Ness Point Purple Sandpipers, Calidris maritima, peaked at 39.
MARCH was a very quiet month for migrants. Although a heavy passage of thrushes was evident over the town in mid-month, early summer visitors were almost non-existent.
Following hot on the heals of last month's record, another RING-BILLED GULL, this time a first-year bird (the left hand bird in photo to the right), was discovered on Leathes Ham on the 25th: perhaps the species' status is beginning to change?
Despite fears to the contrary, it is most encouraging to note that not all local Cetti's Warblers, Cettia cetti, had succumbed to the cold weather to which they are so susceptible. Two or three singing birds at Oulton Broad should ensure that their numbers continue to build.
A pair of GARGANEY, Anas querquedula, at Leathes Ham on APRIL 1 started the month in fine style, they stayed close to the main island and are pictured to the left. Then a succession of north to north-easterly winds resulted in a largely unproductive month as common migrants were not only late in arriving but also slow in building up to respectable numbers. The only unusual birds noted were a HOOPOE, Upupa epops, at Kessingland Denes on the 11th, and two COMMON CRANES, Grus grus, which flew over Carlton Marshes late in the month.
Both temperatures and migratory activity remained on the low side in MAY. The highlights of the first week were a WRYNECK, Jynx torquilla, at Kessingland Sewage Works and a Common Buzzard over Oulton Broad, on the 5th. A singing Wood Warbler, P. sibilatrix, was in Flycatcher Lane at Lowestoft on the 11th, whilst several Ring Ouzels, Turdus torquatus, were noted particularly at Lound where a flock of Crossbills, Loxia curvirostra, was also in evidence. Many Fieldfares, T. pilaris, were late in departing and a single Redwing, T. iliacus, was still present at Lound on the 11th. An OSPREY, Pandion haliaetus, flew north at Ness Point on the 3rd. A GREAT GREY SHRIKE, Lanius excubitor, was found on a Mutford farm on the 18th and remained into July.
In JUNE, as in 1990, large numbers of Crossbills have been appearing away from their more traditional localities: birds this month were noted at Northfields St. Nicholas Primary School in Lowestoft.
The undoubted highlight of the month for those that were fortunate to hear about it was a stunning adult FRANKLIN'S GULL, L. pipixcan, at Burgh Castle on the 30th. The bird was in full summer plumage and was initially found on Breydon Water, Norfolk. This is the second record for the area after the much-celebrated overwintering bird at Lowestoft in 1977/78.
Quails, Coturnix coturnix, were heard calling in the area this month but sadly it seems that they did not remain for long - perhaps a fitting tribute to this unproductive spring?
The long-staying Great Grey Shrike remained in the Mutford area until JULY 8th. A second unseasonal occurrence came in the form of a Shore Lark, Eremophila alpestris, on Lowestoft North Denes on 18-19th. More typical, but nonetheless very welcome were a number of records of Hobbies, Falco subbuteo, in the area this month and a small number of Crossbills were again noted.
The first Purple Sandpipers of the autumn had returned to Ness Point by AUGUST 21. Oversummering Eiders, Somateria mollissima, used to be a feature of the Lowestoft Harbour area but in recent years they had abandoned this site. As such, the presence of up to five birds around the harbour this summer was interesting. From the same area, the late Brian Brown reported a very successful breeding season for the Kittiwakes, Rissa tridactyla, with approximately 198 young fledged from about 157 nests. Of these nests, 53 were on the artificial wall whilst a further 47 used S.L.P's rig accommodation module, which helped to contribute to a record year for these gulls.
Another interesting breeding record came from Lound where Grey Wagtails, Motacilla cinerea, were successful, an unusual event locally.
Despite the prevalence of easterly winds in SEPTEMBER, clear night skies ensured that most migrants were not grounded on the coast. Rarities were few and many commoner migrants such as Redstarts, Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Pied Flycatchers, Ficedula hypoleuca and Ring Ouzels were difficult to find. The only WRYNECK reported was found dead. Heavy rain towards the end of the month did produce changes, both in the weather pattern and the quality of birdwatching. Highlights were an ICTERINE WARBLER, Hippolais icterina, in Warren House Wood on the 29-30th and a juvenile SABINE'S GULL, L. sabini, off Ness Point on the 29th. A HONEY BUZZARD, Pernis apivorus, drifted south over the Sparrow's Nest Gardens on the 2nd.
At Corton Cliffs two immature LONG-TAILED SKUAS, S. longicaudus, flew south early morning on the 7th, whilst four Sooty Shearwaters, Puffinus griseus, passed in the opposite direction.
A RICHARD'S PIPIT, Anthus richardii, was on Cobholm Island, Breydon briefly on the 13th. The LITTLE EGRET, Egretta garzetta, which was first found on Breydon, was recorded on the mudflats at Burgh Castle from the 10th -Oct 13 at least.
OCTOBER was a sensational month in the Lowestoft area, with a succession of quality birds, illustrating the enormous potential of the area when both conditions and observer coverage are favourable. The star bird must have been the town's second RED-EYED VIREO, Vireo olivaceus, in Sparrow's Nest Gardens and Arnold's Walk on the 6th. Like the 1988 individual, this bird stayed only one day, but at least it chose a Sunday, allowing many birders an undreamt-of second chance to add this species to their County lists. If the Vireo was the star turn, then the supporting cast was hardly second rate with YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS, P. inornatus, present at Corton on the 6th, Sparrow's Nest Garden's on the 10-11th and Warren House Wood on the 23rd; an ICTERINE WARBLER at the latter site on the 5-6th, a PALLAS'S WARBLER, P. proregulus, in Flycatcher Lane on 26th, a DESERT WHEATEAR, Oenanthe deserti, on the North Denes on the 12th and two SIBERIAN STONECHATS, Saxicola (torquata) maura, also on the Denes on the 5th and 21-26th.
Added to this impressive list were some good seabird movements, a wandering juvenile SABINE'S GULL during the first week, a first-year GLAUCOUS GULL at Ness Point on 19-21st, GREY PHALAROPES, Phalaropus fulicarius, at Kessingland on the 26th and Ness Point on the 31st, 72 Little Auks, Alle alle, north at Ness Point on the 20th making this a memorable month in the area. A migrant Barn Owl, Tyto alba, hunting around the Coastguard Station, Lowestoft on the 27th was very unusual.
Finally, there was an intriguing report of a White-tailed Eagle, Haliaeetus albicilla, coming in off the sea near the Bird's Eye Factory.
NOVEMBER was not surprisingly a quieter month but not without interest. A Turtle Dove, Streptopelia turtur, found roosting on Leathes Ham on 10th, stayed into the New Year, often consorting with the Collared Doves, S. decaocto, around the dock's grain silo. Also on Leathes Ham was an elusive male Mandarin, Aix galericulata.
Five Shore Larks were found on Kessingland Denes on the 8th before they moved to Benacre Pits, and once again we were graced with Waxwings, both at the traditional Bloodmoor Road site and in Kessingland.
At Ness Point two Pomarine Skuas, S. pomarinus, flew north on the 10th and a Long-tailed Duck, Clangula hyemalis, was on the sea on the 19th.
Two good birds appeared mid-month, both in Flycatcher Alley. The first was a White-eye, probably Grey-backed, Zosterops lateralis and as such an undoubted escape, whilst the second, a very late, somewhat sickly and incomplete MELODIOUS WARBLER, H. polyglotta, was a first for Lowestoft.
DECEMBER saw a small increase in Waxwing numbers, with nine over Kessingland Sewage Works on the 7th whilst the Pakefield flock reached 23 by the year's end. Also at Bloodmoor Road were up to eight Corn Buntings, Miliaria calandra.
Cold weather mid-month produced a Jack Snipe in Kirkley Fen Park and an iced-over Oulton Broad just provided enough open water to keep a female Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis, happy for a few days. A Black Redstart, P. ochruros, was at near-by Lake Lothing on the 15th and Kessingland Sewage Works was again playing host to at least four wintering Chiffchaffs by the year's end.
This period also saw the sad and untimely death of Peter Gill, one of the town's most active birders. Birding in north Lowestoft will never be quite the same again.