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REVIEW OF THE BIRDS IN THE LOWESTOFT AREA
by James Brown
IT WASN'T A CASE OF, 'out with the old and in with the new', as many of December's highlights made the transition into the New Year. However, there was one notable absentee, the Aldeburgh IVORY GULL. It was believed the gull was disturbed by a 'Millennium' fireworks display. Whatever the reason many were left disappointed at first light on JANUARY 1, 2000. Fortunately, the first winter WHITE-TAILED EAGLE present in the area around Benacre was more tolerant of the festivities and continued to delight allcomers (pictured left).
At Lowestoft the Great Northern and Black-throated Divers remained on Lake Lothing and a few Pomarine Skuas, were noted offshore, a feature of the winter that continued into early spring.
A RED-BREASTED GOOSE, Branta ruficollis, joined the Barnacle Goose, B. leucopsis, flock at Lound Water Works, before relocating to Southwold Town Marshes. It was hastily dismissed as a likely escape although its authenticity will never truly be known. It was a stunning bird non the less.
An adult LAUGHING GULL, Larus atricilla, flying south past Benacre Broad on the 30th and a BLACK GUILLEMOT, Cepphus grylle, in Hamilton Dock mid-month remain unconfirmed.
Once again a wintering ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD, Buteo lagopus, was found on Haddiscoe Marshes and Bohemian Waxwings, Bombycilla garrulus, were present at Beccles and Shadingfield.
FEBRUARY was very quiet with few new arrivals noted. A HUME'S LEAF WARBLER, Phylloscopus humei, at Somerleyton on the 16th joined the 'reported only club'. It would have been Suffolk's first but could not be found subsequently. Those who looked noted a Common Buzzard, Buteo buteo, the next day.
The highlight of MARCH was the northward passage of 16 Pomarine Skuas off Ness Point late afternoon on the 15th. The following morning an exhausted bird was noted on the North Denes Caravan Park. This count in any other year would have been a big surprise but, with so many off Sizewell in January, maybe not this year.
Two Peregrines, Falco peregrinus, remained on Haddiscoe Marshes as did the 'ROUGH-LEG'. A small passage of Common Buzzards occurred on the 25th-26th with 3 over Ashby and 2 at Benacre. Two Crossbills, Loxia curvirostra, were noted at Ashby on the 25th, whilst 3 Shags, Phalacrocorax aristotelis, continued to roost on the Kittiwake wall in the harbour at Lowestoft.
With the weather becoming milder, APRIL saw the first summer migrants arriving. Hopton/Corton recorded 3 Sand Martins, Riparia riparia, Swallow, Hirundo rustica, and 3 Wheatears, Oenanthe oenanthe, on the 1st, Hobby, F. subbuteo, Tree Pipit, Anthus trivialis, Lesser Whitethroat, Sylvia curruca, on the 19th, Common Swift, Apus apus, on the 22nd and Garden Warbler, S. borin, on the 23rd. The years only WRYNECK, Jynx torquilla, spent two days in a garden at Burgh Castle on the 23rd-24th.
Bird of the month was a HOOPOE, Upupa epops, seen by residents, in coastal gardens, Lowestoft, on the 12th-13th. Several Firecrests, Regulus ignicapillus, and Black Redstarts, Phoenicurus ochruros, were noted along the coast between Kessingland and Corton in the first two weeks. Three White Wagtails, Motacilla alba, and a Yellow Wagtail, M. (flava) flavissima, were at Kessingland on the 8th and a Blue-headed, M. flava, was at Corton on the 28th. Five Hooded Crows, Corvus cornix, flew south during a large Corvid passage on the 8th, delaying birders from their breakfasts outside the Lighthouse Café!
Incoming Long-eared Owls, Asio otus, were noted at Corton and Carlton Marshes while stunning male Redstart, P. phoenicurus and Whinchat, Saxicola rubetra, were at Corton on the 22nd and 28th respectively. Three outgoing Bramblings, Fringilla montifringilla, were in Arnold's Walk on the 22nd and a Merlin, F. columbarius, flew over Sparrow's Nest Gardens on the 9th.
An encouraging 14 singing Cetti's Warblers, Cettia cetti, were located in the Oulton/Carlton Marshes area. Nearby, Castle Marshes turned up trumps with GLAUCOUS GULL, L. hyperboreus, and a fly-over COMMON CRANE, Grus grus, on the 23rd.
Balmy weather brought balmy birding and MAY was truly exceptional. Star-billing went to the ALPINE ACCENTOR, Prunella collaris, at Corton on the 13th (pictured right). Amidst much panic it brought a team doing a local bird race to an abrupt halt. It led to the biggest twitch in Lowestoft's history causing dismay to the local police and bus companies alike (not to mention birders who were having a lie-in!). Initially in the clifftop field near the sewage works, it moved to the churchyard in the afternoon where it showed exceptionally well on the church walls. Unfortunately it departed overnight. This species can now unquestionably take its place on the Suffolk list. The only previous records are from Oulton in 1823 and Gorleston Pier in 1894, but both were considered doubtful by Ticehurst who included them in square brackets in his Handbook.
A fly-over Golden Oriole, Oriolus oriolus, was good but offered little consolation for those hoping for the accentor the following morning. Another Golden Oriole was singing in Lowestoft Cemetery at dawn on the 26th.
The first major panic attack of May had come courtesy of a quartet of BEE-EATERS, Merops apiaster (one of them pictured left), which roosted in a Poplar Tree in Back Lane, Burgh Castle, on the evening of the 10th. The following morning the first bird took to the air at 5:20am BST, about 15 minutes after sunrise. The other three soon followed suit. They spent about five minutes leisurely flying over a garden before heading off westwards, before being relocated by the recreation ground near the village hall where they stayed until 10:20. Those who missed them at Burgh Castle unexpectedly had a second bite at the cherry when they were found in Oulton Village at 12:15pm. They were in Union Lane from 16:30-17:40 before flying off high northwest never to be seen again.
Other notable birds included a COMMON CRANE over Lowestoft on the 7th, male Ring Ouzel, Turdus torquatus, at Hopton on the 1st and a late Merlin at Corton on the 14th.
A singing male RED-BACKED SHRIKE, Lanius collurio, at Corton on JUNE 15 was the pick of the month and served as a reminder of days gone by. Slightly rarer was a KENTISH PLOVER, Charadrius alexandrinus, on Breydon Water on the 17th, which was seen on the south shore in the evening, thus making it into Suffolk and our review.
Judging by the records of raptors over Oulton Broad in recent years it seems to be a regular migration route, a theory supported by a HONEY BUZZARD, Pernis apivorus, on the 24th, which drifted over. Nearby a MARSH WARBLER, Acrocephalus palustris, was at Fisher Row for two days.
Things quietened down in JULY after the hectic spring. However, an intriguing report concerned an 'enormous raptor' in off the sea at Ness Point on the 18th. A local gamekeeper subsequently reported an Eagle/Vulture sp. on various dates in the Barnby Broad area. Who knows what it may have been?
More reliable was a Pomarine Skua at Ness Point on the 20th. Benacre provided a touch of the exotic with Black Swan, Cygnus atratus, and Australian Shelduck, Tadorna tadornoides, no doubt they felt at home in the sunny weather!
AUGUST saw the first migrant passerines of the autumn. Pied Flycatchers, Ficedula hypoleuca, Whinchats, Redstarts and Wheatears all trickled through, but the hoped for surge never materialised. Instead, passerine numbers remained disappointingly low throughout the autumn.
The first Arctic Skuas, S. parasiticus, appeared on the 26th, with 4 off Corton; and Little Gulls, L. minutus, peaked at 35 at Ness Point sewage outfall.
Quality not quantity was the theme for SEPTEMBER. Considering common migrants were very thin on the ground there was a surprising number of good birds found. The MoD fields at Corton produced an impressive wader double with a very photogenic juvenile DOTTEREL, C. morinellus, on the 3rd and a screamer in the form of a BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER, Tryngites subruficollis, on the 20th (pictured right). This was one of the birds of the year but had unfortunately gone the next day. Lowestoft's first CASPIAN GULL, L. cachinnans, a first-winter, was in this 'field of dreams' on the 28th.
Offshore a MANX, Puffinus puffinus and 2 SOOTY SHEARWATERS, P. griseus, passed Corton on the 3rd. Three fly-over HONEY BUZZARDS at Corton, Oulton and Belton between the 20th-24th mirrored a national influx.
On the 7th a Roseate Tern, Sterna dougallii, was on the North Beach groynes while a Black Tern, Chlidonias niger, roosted on Link's Hill car park on the 22nd.
A very young RED-BACKED SHRIKE was on Lowestoft North Denes on the 21st-22nd. It may not have travelled far as its flight was rather laboured, as if it had only very recently fledged. The first YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER, P. inornatus, of the autumn was along Corton disused railtrack on the 30th.
A RICHARD'S PIPIT, A. richardi, (pictured left), was found opposite the Lighthouse Café on the 17th, and was probably the first of the autumn in the UK. The bird performed well for its crowd of admirers throughout the day, sometimes perching in full view on the sea wall. Its discovery delayed breakfast for several hours!
The non-avian highlight involved an influx of Clouded Yellow butterflies, Colias croceus, always nice to see.
OCTOBER was an eventful month. An Acrocephalus warbler found in Warrenhouse Wood on the 15th and which remained until the 18th caused controversy. Its finders identified it as BLYTH'S REED WARBLER, A. dumetorum, a decision with which the vast majority of observers agreed. Ultimately the decision lies with the British Birds Rarities Committee. A Lesser Whitethroat also present was probably just of the nominate race.
Typical late autumn migrants included Ring Ouzel, Firecrest, Brambling, Woodcock, Scolopax rusticola, and Black Redstarts. A YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER was near St. Margaret's Church, Lowestoft, on the 1st and another was at Corton on the 15th.
NOVEMBER was an exciting month and started with a substantial arrival of Goldcrests, R. regulus, on the 7th. The exact number can only be speculated upon but a few hundred were present in the Lowestoft Parks area alone late afternoon. Those sifting through the crests found 5 Firecrests, and both PALLAS'S, P. proregulus, (pictured above right) and YELLOW-BROWED WARBLERS (pictured below right). The later was joined by a second on the 18th-19th with the last sighting on the 21st. A second, much brighter, PALLAS'S WARBLER appeared in Flycatcher Lane on the 23rd-25th. Maybe they aren't the rarest birds nowadays, but they never fail to generate excitement!
Lowestoft Cemetery provided the surprise of the month. On the 26th a remarkably confiding BARRED WARBLER, S. nisoria, along the disused railway line led to speculation that it may overwinter. It didn't and was last seen on December 6, constituting Suffolk's latest. Ironically, the previous latest was a bird in exactly the same spot in November 1994.
Continuing the run of late summer departures a Reed Warbler, A. scirpaceus, spent three days in Sparrow's Nest Gardens from the 10th-12th and a Pied Flycatcher was at Ness Point on the later date. On the 27th, three House Martins, Delichon urbica, were over Corton Woods and the same day the last Swallow was at Gunton Dunes. An Osprey, Pandion haliaetus, flew southeast over Beccles mid-month. What was presumably the same bird was seen later at Dunwich. All should normally have been well on the way to their African wintering grounds by this time.
Up to three confiding Short-eared Owls, A. flammeus, were despatching mice and voles at Carlton Marshes. Two COMMON CRANES were also seen there on the 28th having apparently been flushed by a 'ringtail' Hen Harrier. The year's second GREAT NORTHERN DIVER spent two days in Hamilton Dock on the 27th-28th, before moving upriver to Lake Lothing where it replaced a Red-throated Diver, G. stellata, from earlier in the month.
Purple Sandpipers had arrived back at Ness Point where a Little Auk, Alle alle, (very scarce nationally in 2000) was close inshore on the 18th. An adult Pomarine Skua flew south past Pakefield mid-month and at least six Arctic Skuas were reported between Gorleston and Kessingland, with two immature birds loitering into December.
All eyes turned to the gull roost at Burnt Hill Lane, Carlton Marshes, in DECEMBER. Persistent efforts by one observer finally paid off, producing two cracking adult CASPIAN GULLS, 2 Yellow-legged, 3 adult Mediterranean Gulls and a presumed Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrid.
A very late Sandwich Tern, S. sandvicensis, on Lake Lothing on the 13th turned out to be Suffolk's first December record, and therefore the latest. Southbound House Martins at Ness Point and Pakefield on the 15th concluded the late run of departing migrants.
A very flighty LAPLAND BUNTING, Calcarius lapponicus, paid a brief visit to Pakefield Beach on the 2nd before heading inland. Other notable birds present at the end of the year included Short-eared Owl (pictured left), Black Redstart, Jack Snipe, Lymnocryptes minimus, GREAT NORTHERN DIVER and ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD. Small numbers of Bohemian Waxwings at Beccles, Lowestoft and Kessingland rounded off an excellent year. Will 2001 be as good?
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