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REVIEW OF THE BIRDS IN THE LOWESTOFT AREA
JULY - DECEMBER 2001
by Robert Wilton, James Brown and James Wright
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus and Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea on Breydon South Flats July 2001
THERE'S NOWHERE TO HIDE from the elements at Ness Point and anyone wanting to see seabirds has to tolerate a certain amount of discomfort at Britain's most easterly point. Those that did noted the first Sooty Shearwaters Puffinus griseus of the year on JULY 17 and a credible total of 61 Manx Shearwaters on the 18th. Other pelagics logged that day included c.1,800 Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, 357 Northern Gannet and 15 Arctic Skua. An adult Pomarine Skua south on the 25th proved that not all good seabirds pass during a gusty ol' blow, just the majority.
Of the nauticals noted pride of place went to two Storm Petrels Hydrobates pelagicus on the 18th and 21st. These little characters remain something of an enigma to many Suffolk birders. Most previous records of this species have been in September, probably due to the lack of suitable seawatching weather during the mid-summer months.
Most summers Little Gulls join the various terns that occupy the groynes along Lowestoft North Beach. Many of these lovely birds present were adults, complete with a pink suffusion to the underparts. The individual to the left is a stunning adult in full breeding attire. Two Little Egrets Egretta garzetta flew south past the gulls during the month.
A Common Sandpiper was slightly out of place when foraging amongst the fuscias in a central Lowestoft garden on the 7th. Three Curlew Sandpipers were more at home on Breydon South Flats on the 22nd.
Not many people would have predicted one of the years highlights would be in suburban Carlton Colville. On the 30th a stunning Rose-coloured Starling Sturnus roseus came as a complete surprise having been found by a resident. Its erratic behaviour over its two-day stay left many locals frustrated though. To read an account of this bird click here.
Finally, the Lockhead F117A Nighthawk stealth fighter was the highlight for many on the first day of the Lowestoft Air Festival; its early arrival on the 26th caught most of the crowd by surprise. A Caspian Tern S. caspia reported by the pagers flying south at Ness Point the same day proved to be even stealthier, eluding one or two birders present in the estimated 160,000 crowd.
On the shearwater front Sooties totalled twelve and Manxies nine during AUGUST. And there was also the one that got away...... what was almost certainly a Balearic passed north on the 18th, but was simply too distant to be sure. All four skuas were logged, the pick of which was a juvenile Long-tailed that flew south on the 8th. And of the 153 Little Gulls that drifted south past Ness Point on the 22nd only five were juveniles. Numbers remained high around this period but by the months end had tailed off. Where a Common Coot Fulica atra that drifted south past Ness Point on the 8th came from is anyone's guess. Could it have been a genuine migrant having a rest or maybe a bird overwhelmed by the tide flowing out of Breydon Water?
Passage waders were on the move all month offshore, many no doubt departing ahead of rising tides at Breydon Water. Grey Plovers were plentiful as were Oystercatchers and Common Sandpipers. Counts of the later species, the highest being 15 on the 19th, rivalled that of their purple counterparts present during the winter. Green Sandpipers are tricky to see locally so one at Lound water works on three dates saw a couple of local lists rise.
On Breydon Water six juvenile Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia took up residence from the 5th until September 1st. Commuting between Breydon Water and Burgh Castle they spent most of their time roosting on the river banks opposite Burgh Castle paying occasional visits into Suffolk. On one occasion while roosting in the tidal inlet the blue leg rings on one bird could be read. The inscription proved this bird, and probably the other five, was of Dutch descent. Burgh Castle Flats also hosted 29 Ruff Philomachus pugnax on the 17th and an adult White-fronted Goose A. albifrons of suspect origin.
Swifts Apus apus were moving mid-month and a Hobby Falco subbuteo attempted to snatch one from the large numbers feeding offshore at Ness Point on the 15th. It was unsuccessful and headed off inland in pursuit or more. Shortly after it was seen flying south over Battery Green roundabout feeding in flight.
Passerines were passing through suburban Lowestoft early on. There was a brief Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix on the 7th and an adult Sedge Warbler met an untimely end after flying into a window on the 1st. There was a flurry of passerine activity during the second half of the month that produced two juvenile Red-backed Shrikes Lanius collurio. The first was an incredibly elusive individual at Kessingland Sluice from the 20th-24th. One at Gunton was slightly more obliging. The first Wrynecks Jynx torquilla for three years locally were at Gunton Warren on the 26th. Other early autumn highlights included good numbers of Whinchats, several Pied Flycatchers and lots of Wheatears.
SEPTEMBER was a classic. There was a bit of everything, two additions to the Lowestoft list, a fall of passerines, a sprinkling of semi-rarities and good seabirds. The stubble fields at Radar Lodge (former MoD), Corton are excellent. Stubble in its own right is a bit of rarity in an age where intensive farming prevails. Grey Partridge Perdix perdix is the speciality for the area and 24 the on the 26th was one of the highest totals recorded. The second Richard's Pipit A. richardii for Corton from the 19th-20th was joined by a Lapland Bunting Calcarius lapponicus on the later date. Corton scored a screamer on the 30th in the shape of Suffolk's second Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni. Initially flushed from the clifftop footpath it was identified as a Tree Pipit on call, oooppps!!! Luckily it reappeared in a hedge and gave crippling views shortly afterwards. This field has an impressive track record that includes Pine Bunting and Buff-breasted Sandpiper. No wonder it's been labelled the 'field of dreams'!
The weather on the 19th was quite awful, howling easterlies and driving rain - ideal fall conditions. The resulting counts were impressive on the 20th between Hopton and Lowestoft 7 Pied Flycatcher, 23 Spotted Flycatcher, 51 Whinchat, 57 Redstart and 93 Wheatear were noted. There were also influxes of commoner species around the same time, notably Dunnock Prunella modularis and Robin Erithacus rubecula. Other species noted during this period included 10 Stonechats S. torquata, 15 Tree Pipits A. trivialis and 7 Reed Warblers Acrocephalus scirpaceus. Migration was in full swing all month. House Martins Delichon urbica drifted south in good numbers during the first two weeks and Siskins Carduelis spinus started to appear in large numbers in the third week. Between the 20th-25th over 1,471 northbound birds moved along the coast in small groups.
With high numbers of commoner migrants around several rarities were discovered. In a record breaking year for the species six Barred Warblers S. nisoria were found; Gunton disused railway line 19th-20th; Gorleston golf course 20th; Lowestoft North Denes 21st-22nd; Gunton Warren 21st; Denes Oval 22nd; and Lowestoft North Denes 25th, four Yellow-browed Warblers Phylloscopus inornatus: Warren House Wood 20th; Denes Oval 22nd-23rd; Lowestoft Cemetery 25th; and Kirkley Cemetery 26th, the autumn's third Red-backed Shrike at Gorleston golf course 25th/9-1st/10 and there was an inland record of Wryneck from St. Olaves on the 25th.
Ring Ouzels Turdus torquatus were at Hopton on the 20th and Lowestoft North Denes on the 27th and the autumn's first Fieldfare T. pilaris appeared at Gunton on the 19th. Two Little Stints C. minuta stayed on Lowestoft North Denes from the 25th-28th, pictured to the left. The first returning Purple Sandpiper arrived back at Ness Point on the 4th. A Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus arrived in off the sea at Lowestoft North Denes on the 30th and good numbers of Grey Wagtails Motacilla cinerea became evident towards the months end.
There was a crop of good local records during the month that included Osprey Pandion haliaetus Lowestoft North Denes on the 24th, Jack Snipe Lymmocryptes minimus Corton on the 30th, Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea Lowestoft North Beach on the 28th and best of all Quail Coturnix coturnix at Gunton Warren on the 24th. A Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia on Lowestoft North Denes on the 25th gave two birders palpitations with visions of Norfolk's Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler L. certhiola fresh in mind!!!
There was a good selection of seabirds headlined by Lowestoft's first Balearic Shearwater passed Ness Point on the 10th. It was just reward for countless hours of seawatching notched up this year by two observers. Arctic Skuas were once again seen in abundance. One disorientated individual flew west over Oulton Broad on the 10th. Other goodies recorded at Ness Point included a Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis on the 1st, adult Pomarine Skua on the 9th, two Long-tailed Skuas on the 4th with another at Gorleston the same day and a juvenile Sabine's Gull L. sabini on the 17th just 300yrds offshore. What a month!
Twenty-three Ring Ouzels in OCTOBER certainly made up for the species absence in the spring. Their arrival coincided with huge numbers of thrushes that poured in from the continent at night. Diurnal migration was also evident around this time. Species noted included Whooper Cygnus cygnus and Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus, Pink-footed Goose Anser brachyrhynchus, three Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus and good numbers of Woodcock Scolopax rusticola.
The unfortunate Water Rail Rallus aquaticus pictured was picked up dead at Ness Point on the 25th. Having probably just crossed the North Sea, it managed to fly into the sea wall. Corton was generally quiet but did produce Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus, Lapland Bunting Calcarius lapponicus and Tree Sparrow Passer montanus.
The pick of the passerines was an exceptionally late Wood Warbler in Warren House Wood on the 22nd, which turned out to be Suffolk's latest. Other late records included Wryneck at Gorleston on the 25th and a Swift at Hopton on the 18th. The Red-backed Shrike that was found in September remained at Gorleston golf course until the 3rd. In Lowestoft two elusive Yellow-browed Warblers were found in Belle vue Park and Warren House Wood.
The autumn's second Osprey was dive bombed by several gulls as it drifted along Lake Lothing on the 4th. Bird of the month was a Long-eared Owl A. otus on the 21st. This fantastic bird spent the day roosting in a group of Sycamores on Lowestoft North Denes. Brent Geese Branta bernicla peaked on the 21st when 900 passed south. The same day a Ruddy Shelduck of unknown origin accompanied a small flock of southbound Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna. It seems likely that it was the same bird that was noted on September 28th remaining on Breydon Water between these dates. Spotted Flycatchers were seen in good numbers on autumn passage with Normanston Park producing the final record on the 4th. The last Pied Fly' of the year was seen in Lowestoft Cemetery on the 3rd.
NOVEMBER was excellent for divers. Numbers of Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata remained average until the 27th when 1,051 were noted flying north in an hour-and-a-half. Just one Black-throated Diver G. arctica was seen on the 9th. The upsurge in Great Northern Divers G. immer is mainly due to an increase in seawatching activity at Ness Point. There were seven records during the month, but there may be some duplication. The Lake Lothing individual made a welcome return 25th. The first returning Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis were noted on the 12th in Lowestoft Harbour. On the 28th seven flew in to roost on the end of Lowestoft South Pier.
The first Glaucous Gull for a few years spent the last few days of the month in Hamilton Dock. Unfortunately it wasn't in the best of health. On one or two occasions it was watched preening in the water where its underparts became saturated, so presumably it didn't have much waterproofing. Not a good thing if you're a gull. Two adult Caspian Gulls returned to the well-watched gull roost field at Carlton Colville and a 2nd-winter roosted in Lowestoft Harbour on the 28th. The former site also hosted a distinctive Jackdaw probably of an eastern race.
The best seawatch took place on the 9th, when an incredible 447 Eider flew past Ness Point along with a Black-necked Grebe, several Little Auks, two Velvet Scoter and best of all a Grey Phalarope, which settled on the sea off the harbour. The phalarope was subsequently seen off Kessingland Sluice. The 27th was also excellent, 2,632 auk species passed north in an hour and a half. The spectacle of groups of divers and auks continuously moving through was impressive to say the least. It would have been nice to have spent longer looking but the Glaucous Gull in Hamilton Dock warranted more attention!!! A Black Brant that passed Ness Point on the 5th was a Lowestoft first.
Little Auks put on a very good showing in the strong northerlies with a maximum count of 117 off Ness Point on 14th. On the 2nd one was taken into care after colliding with a lady hanging her washing out in Gorleston. It was fed overnight and released at Lowestoft the following day in front of a crowd of admirers. Another confused individual joined a flock of incoming Starlings at Ness Point and was last seen heading west over the town centre!
The returning Rough-legged Buzzard was noted from the 18th onwards at Haddiscoe Marshes roosting in woods near Herringfleet in Suffolk. Snow Buntings were frequently noted especially along Pakefield Beach and at Corton M.o.D field where a Lapland Bunting was also noted. A Firecrest was noted in Corton Woods and a couple of Jack Snipe resided in fields at Mutford.
Autumn passerine migration finished with the species that started it all off - Red-backed Shrike. An extremely late individual discovered on the 25th along Lake Lothing remained until December 1st. It constituted Suffolk's latest record and equalled Norfolk's latest. It was a great bird ending a great month.
The Great Northern Diver stayed on Lake Lothing until DECEMBER 10. Around the same time Red Throated Diver reports started coming in with at least 100 off Lowestoft North Beach on the 19th and 22nd with some close inshore and one in Hamilton Dock on Christmas Day. Shags peaked at 7 on the 2nd at their Lowestoft South Pier roost. Their antics included long circuits of the entire harbour complex apparently to pluck up the courage to attempt a landing, aborting their attempts at the last moment, the slide down the wall into the sea when they failed, and being pushed off the ledge if they land too close to another bird. They were present in and around the Harbour and Lake Lothing throughout the month. 22 Whooper Swans flew over Oulton Broad on the 30th. A flock of 40 Common Scoter was off Pakefield on the 22nd and a female Goldeneye was in Hamilton Dock on Christmas Day. Two "Tundra" Bean geese were at Flixton Marshes on the 27th, Somerleyton Marshes on the 28th, and Blundeston Marshes on the 29th.
On the Raptor front, the Rough legged Buzzard was present all month at Haddiscoe along with two Peregrines and a female Hen Harrier on the 6th and 8th. Egyptian Geese peaked at 20 on the 22nd at Burnt Hill Gull roost but highlight of the day was a snowball fight!!! Purple Sandpipers were present at Ness Point throughout with a peak of 9 on the 16th. A Green Sandpiper was at Haddiscoe on the 23rd and 25th with a Common Sandpiper frequenting the western end of Lake Lothing all month. The later was probably a returning bird for it's third consecutive winter. Golden Plovers wintered in local fields with around 300, and a single Grey Plover near Gisleham on the 16th. A Glaucous Gull was at Benacre Broad on the 2nd and was presumed to be the same bird at Breydon Water on the 8th. The same day Caspian and Yellow legged Gulls were at Burnt Hill. Several thousand gulls were on the sea between Ness Point and Gorleston mid-month. The majority were Black-headed and Common Gulls, but there were also a few Kittiwakes and the odd Mediterranean and Little Gull to be found. A Short-eared Owl was quartering marshes on Breydon South Shore late afternoon on the 9th. And a Barn Owl was perched on a road sign on the Rackham's Corner roundabout on the 17th.
Six Bohemian Waxwings made a welcome return on the 2nd to Bloodmoor Road and were seen throughout the month between here and Kessingland. A Jackdaw showing characteristics of an eastern race was again in the gull roost field at Burnt Hill Lane, Carlton Colville on the 3rd. Two Mealy Redpolls, were at Carton Marshes on the 9th and 10th with six Lesser Redpolls. There were also a couple of wintering Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs in the area. Twelve Snow Buntings were at Pakefield Beach on the 30th. Five Corn Buntings were on overhead wires at Carlton Marshes on the 31st. ironically 2001 started and finished with a Willow Tit at Carlton Marshes. One was seen and heard at on the 31st. This species is a notable absentee from many local lists so lets hope it will be filled in during 2002!