A REVIEW OF THE BIRDING YEAR
JULY - DECEMBER 2002
By James Wright
Arctic Tern - Lowestoft North Beach - ©Andrew Easton
Attention turned to the North Sea but despite our best efforts didn't live up to the previous July. Ness Point did provide one memorable seawatch in which thirteen MANX SHEARWATERS passed by on the 3rd. Highlights from Kessingland, which is watched daily, produced a few more MANXIES plus 37 ARCTIC, 3 GREAT and 2 POMARINE SKUAS. The 5th saw a large southerly movement of CURLEW with 382 noted in 7.5 hrs. The monthly total was 682 involving presumably failed breeders. A GREEN SANDPIPER at the all new (just as smelly) Corton Sewage works was a good record of this scarce species in Lizard Land.
Lowestoft North Beach saw the return of an ol' favourite on the 8th in the shape of the adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL returning for its sixth successive summer. Numerous LITTLE GULLS lined the groynes all month peaking at 17 on the on the 31st. Close scrutiny of the COMMON TERNS produced ARCTIC'S on the 24th, 25th, 26th and 30th.
Traditionally July is the month to hang up the bins and wait for the autumn. Not any more as attention turned to dragonflies. SMALL-RED-EYED DAMSELFLIES were added to the British list as recently as 1999 when they arrived along the east coast in large numbers. Since then their expansion has been rapid. Locally they were first discovered at Lound in 2001 when three were present. Regular visits in 2002 produced a peak count of 120 including many egg-laying females. How many will be there in 2003? Elsewhere five male and one lucky female RED-VEINED DARTER were discovered at Corton sewage works and remained all month giving crippling views and allowing some of the Lizards a chance to practice using their newly acquired digital cameras.
Red-veined Darter - Corton - ©Robert Wilton
Both avian highlights were frustratingly brief. A BEE-EATER flew north along the cliffs at Kessingland on the 4th. Later in the day what was presumably the same bird was seen at Winterton, Norfolk. Then there was the inconsiderate adult ROSE-COLOURED STARLING which decided to stay for less than a minute at Benacre Sluice on the 28th. It was watched flying north into Kessingland Village and was never seen again. Five YELLOW WAGTAILS noted at the all new (just as smelly) Corton sewage works included a stunning male BLUE-HEADED WAGTAIL on the 7th, 10th and 13th. Once a common breeder the demise of the SPOTTED FLYCATHCER is sad. However, the discovery of one pair at Rookery Park golf course and three family parties in the Waveney Forest indicate the species still clinging on in our area.
The arrival of a handsome male RED-BACKED SHRIKE at Gorleston golf course got AUGUST off to a cracking start on the 7th and 8th. The same species was kick started a purple patch at Gunton disused railtrack from the 23rd-24th. This time a juvenile which performed well on the first day becoming more elusive on the second. Two COMMON CRANES were a pleasant surprise at Ashby on the 17th as they flew in from the north drifting towards Lound. COMMON CROSSBILLS were noted over Corton, Gunton and Lound.
The undisputed insect highlight of the month, and probably year, was the appearance of a CAMBERWELL BEAUTY along Gunton disused railtrack on the 7th. It was watched for around 40 minutes leisurely gliding around and sunning itself after its discovery at 9:40.
Camberwell Beauty - Gunton - ©Peter Wright
A healthy total of 25 WHEATEAR were recorded from the 5th onwards with other early autumn migrants including a PIED FLYCATCHER on the 6th at Gunton Drive and a TREE PIPIT was at the Corton disused Railway line on the 25th. WHINCHATS were conspicuous from the 18th onwards with the monthly total reaching the dizzy heights of 34, an excellent showing for this sometimes scarce migrant. The peak count involved ten at Dip Farm playing field on the 27th. A Wood Warbler in Sparrows Nest Gardens on the 19th was soon lost in the dense foliage. COMMON SWIFT numbers dropped dramatically mid-month just as HOUSE MARTINS started to appear in large flocks.
The pools at Corton sewage works proved their worth when a WOOD SANDPIPER appeared along side a GREEN SANDPIPER on the 4th. Elsewhere GOLDEN PLOVER, GREY PLOVER, KNOT and DUNLIN were noted on migration over the sea and TURNSTONES started to reappear at Ness Point from the 4th onwards.
Good numbers of GANNET and FULMAR were noted throughout. One disorientated individual was seen over Norwich Road! Bird of the month past Kessingland was a BLACK-NECKED GREBE that drifted north on the sea just 10 metres offshore on the 9th. And four Sooty Shearwaters past there on the 27th gave no indication of what was to follow.
Red-backed Shrike - Gunton - ©Robert Wincup
SEPTEMBER 2002 will live long in the memory. Despite two blockbusting rarities for many the highlight was the exceptional movement of SOOTY SHEARWATERS on the 1st. The search for passerines was abandoned when news broke of 87 northbound Sooties past Southwold. Several Lizards made a beeline for Ness Point where they set up camp for the day. They were not disappointed either, notching up an incredible 253 between 09:00 and 19:45 - a new Suffolk record!!!!
With such a massive movement of shearwaters it was inevitable that the odd rarity was on the cards and so it proved. Close scrutiny of each passing flock of shearwaters produced nine BALEARIC SHEARWATERS - another Suffolk record!!!! The undisputed highlight involved a group of four at 18:12 following a tip-off from Kessinglands ever-watchful Paul Read - thanks Paul!!!!
Sooties were still pouring through on the 2nd and outnumbered Manxies by 91 to 1. Birders at Ness Point were put on red alert when notified of two northbound LEACH'S PETREL past Kessingland. Remarkably one was seen jinking through the swell at 11:15 - thanks again Paul!!!! The shearwater passage slowed by the 3rd but the excitement hadn't. Another LEACH'S PETREL was on its way to Ness Point until deciding to settle on the sea and drift back south. Following a tip-off from Southwold that two CORY'S SHEARWATER were heading north at Southwold two lucky observers managed to catch up with them at Pakefield. What a start to the month!!!
It wasn't long before the first quality passerines were being found, involving RED-BACKED SHRIKE at Pakefield on the 1st, BARRED WARBLER at Gorleston Golf course on the 4th and a WRYNECK found crouching on the roof of the pillbox along Gunton disused railtrack on the 4th. The autumn's fourth Red-backed Shrike at Corton on the 9th coincided with a fall of PIED FLYCATCHERS. On the 10th between Lowestoft and Corton 76 were counted but many more must have lurked in coastal gardens. A HOOPOE was found in a coastal garden on the 8th being seen on the 9th and 17th. Word has it that it had been present since August 31 roaming the area.
Seawatching turned up trumps on 9th this time in the shape of a EUROPEAN STORM PETREL south past Kessingland.
If you could choose a date to find an addition to the Lounge Lizard List the chances are it wouldn’t be Friday 13th!!!! That's the position one lucky observer found himself in when walking a clifftop field at Corton. Only hours before three birders had done a recce for a forthcoming SOG fieldtrip walking down the other (the wrong!) side of the hedge to where a GREAT SNIPE was lurking. So close yet so far. It's all about choices and we are grateful that James Brown opted to choose to walk around the field instead of dashing off home to watch Neighbours!!!! The snipe was twitched by several locals many of who dashed to Corton at break-neck speeds as the light was fading. Two fortunate observers arrived just in time to see it fly west, uttering one quiet 'croak'.
Great Snipe - Corton - ©Andrew Easton
You'd had been forgiven for thinking that the month had reached it's peak with the snipe. September’s rarity show just kept on going in spectacular style. The next day a thorough search for the snipe proved fruitless but birders who chose to stay in Lowestoft were rewarded with a RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER in Belle vue Park. Typically elusive it was lost in the canopy where it was briefly joined by both PIED and SPOTTED FLYCATCHER'S. While trying to relocate the bird an ICTERINE WARBLER popped up only a few yards away near the footbridge over the Ravine! It showed intermittently during the afternoon before giving excellent views in the evening. The 'Icky' was seen early the next morning but alas the RB Fly was long gone. Lowestoft's earliest YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER joined a roving tit flock along Hubbards Loke on the 16th beating the previous record holder by a day. A more obliging individual was found at Corton on the 21st along with two WOOD WARBLERS one of which stayed until the 25th. A LAPLAND BUNTING was at Corton on the 21st.
The second blockbuster popped up on the 24th a Gunton in the form of a sensational BLACK-HEADED BUNTING. Caution is always called with this tricky species and once the two observers agreed on the identification the news was phoned out. Superb pictures were obtained aiding identification immensely. The bird was a juvenile moulting into first winter plumage. In good close views the mantle streaks themselves were chestnut, leaving observers in no doubt that this bird would not be relegated to the indeterminate Red-headed/Black-headed bin. Hundreds of birders enjoyed Suffolk's third record of this east European bunting during its 2-day stay. The resulting coverage led to the discovery a JACK SNIPE and the autumn's third YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER on the 25th. On the 29th a SPOONBILL accompanying two GREY HERONS was tracked north past Kessingland, Pakefield and Corton. During the month nine LONG-TAILED SKUAS were seen along with two OSPREY. We eventually ran out of days in September but there was still enough time for Lowestoft's first DARTFORD WARBLER since 1884 to turn up at Gunton where another JACK SNIPE was seen. Many local birders said this was the best months birding in Lowestoft ever. Glancing at the September newspage they are probably right!!!
Black-headed Bunting and Yellowhammer - Gunton - ©Robert Wincup
OCTOBER had a lot to live up to and with good reason. More easterly winds were forecast and enthusiasm sky high. LAPLAND BUNTINGS were seen at Corton on the 3rd and Gunton Beach on the 13th and the final YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER of the year was at Gunton on the 7th. The undoubted highlight of the month was a GREAT GREY SHRIKE along the Gunton disused railway (that place again!) on the 12th. This was in line with the national influx and was the first in the area for several years. It was highly mobile and was last seen on the Gunton Cliffs near Warrenhouse Wood in the evening. On that same drizzly day in a clifftop field at the Corton old sewage works, a Short-eared Owl flew up from the cliff face, after 3 observers followed a silent pipit, which flew to the same area. What was possibly the same bird was seen very well at Radar Lodge the following day. Amazingly another DARTFORD WARBLER had been found here earlier and was different to the Gunton bird, which remained all month. Two other SHORT-EARED OWLS were seen on the 20th at Corton and Carlton Marshes.
The first PURPLE SANDPIPER arrived back at Ness Point on the 6th. It was an excellent autumn for both JACK SNIPE (4) and WOODCOCK (11) with most records coming from Gunton and Corton. Raptors were on the move during the month headlined by a HONEY BUZZARD over Gunton on the 13th. Two MERLIN were noted and a ringtail HEN HARRIER off the sea at Ness Point.
Once again the sea was jumping. LONG-TAILED SKUAS continued their excellent run being noted past Kessingland on the 5th and 7th. Between Corton and Kessingland 8 GREAT, 33 ARCTIC and 8 POM SKUAS were recorded. Good number of LITTLE GULLS were off Kessingland throughout and a couple of RAZORBILLS were noted. A LEACH’S PETREL flew north and on the 9th and a large shearwater that flew north past Corton was almost certainly the Great Shearwater seen from Southwold 45 minutes earlier. Several Sooty Shearwaters passed north throughout the month. Divers started to appear towards the months end with six BLACK-THROATED and two GREAT NORTHERN recorded from Kessingland. Seaduck were represented by VELVET SCOTER (23), RED-BREASTED MEGANSER, COMMON EIDER, and GOLDENEYE (10). On the 10th a RED-NECKED GREBE flew north pat Kessingland.
Lowestoft cashed in on the national influx of FIRECRESTS. One Holly tree looked like a flashing Christmas Tree as seven of these delightful birds buzzed around on the 15th. In all 49 were noted.
Gunton was the place to be for RING OUZELS where large numbers of BLACKBIRD, REDWING and FIELDFARE arrived throughout feasting on the bumper crop of berries. BRAMBLING passed through in good numbers with 100+ in tree at Gunton Woods on the 13th. Sparrows Nest Gardens hosted a LONG-EARED OWL on the 18th. A solitary SNOW BUNTING on Lowestoft North Denes on the 19th was joined by a second on the 20th. Pride of place late on went to 4 SHORE LARK on Lowestoft North Denes from the 21st – 23rd. Sadly for the second year running, no Pallas's Warblers were seen.
NOVEMBER turned out to be a quiet month but wasn't without its surprises. Suffolk's latest ever WILLOW WARBLER was found in Lowestoft Cemetery on the 4th and a CHIFFCHAFF in Flycatcher Lane on the 5th was one of the probably one of the eastern races. A surprise find t Gunton on the 2nd involved a migrant TREE SPARROW which briefly joined the resident YELLOWHAMMERS. The Gunton DARTFORD WARBLER was last seen on the 9th disappointing those who had hoped it might overwinter. On the 5th a SHORT-EARED OWL flew along Kessingland Beach and a confiding LITTLE OWL was at Corton from the 2nd onwards.
Little Owl - Corton - ©Robert Wilton
As hoped for at this time of the year LITTLE AUKS started to appear, in all 6 were seen. The sea off Kessingland was once again productive. Numerous RED-THROATED DIVERS were joined offshore by 5 BLACK-THROATED. Single GREAT, ARCTIC and POMARINE SKUAS were seen and ducks were well represented including a total of 16 VELVET SCOTER . There was a good passage of RED-BREASTED MERGANSER on the 20th when 50 passed south. One was subsequently found along Lake Lothing on the 22nd the same day the returning COMMON SANDPIPER was seen. By the 24th two were present. Lowestoft North Denes hosted a TWITE briefly on the 23rd and four ROCK PIPITS had returned to Ness Point.
That scourge of the sea was back with us once again - OIL. The crew of one irresponsible ship decided to wreak havoc amongst Suffolk's wintering seabirds with casualties including many GUILLEMOT, GULLS and RED-THROATED DIVERS watched dying a slow and surely painful death offshore. The adult YELLOW-LEGGED GULL managed to avoid the slick and remained along Lowestoft North Beach all month.
DECEMBER was so quiet you could hear a pin drop so when news broke of a DUSKY WARBLER at Kessingland sewage works on the 30th it was deafening. The area had been checked on three consecutive days before so it may have been a new arrival coinciding with cold snap on the continent. Kessingland Sewage Works. It remained into the New Year where it was a welcome New Years Day bonus. Other birds present included four SCAUP and a couple of CHIFFCHAFFS.
Three unexpectedly late northbound SOOTY SHEARWATERS were off Kessingland on the 11th (2) and 13th where 7 BLACK-THROATED DIVERS, 2 GREAT NORTHERN DIVER, 2 POMARINE and one ARCTIC SKUA, 5 LITTLE AUK, 3 PUFFIN and a GLAUCOUS GULL capped an excellent year for seawatching. SNOW BUNTINGS were present throughout the month at Kessingland Beach peaking 29 on the 13th.
A lone WHITE FRONTED GOOSE flew over Lake Lothing on the 7th. On the 8th 60 GOLDEN PLOVER past Ness Point whilst 200 were at Mutford on the 13th. A GREY PLOVER was on the shore of Lake Lothing on the 17th. GOOSANDER put in a rare appearance at Ness Point on the 8th (2 S) and 11th (3 S) where just 2 PURPLE SANDPIPERS were present - a disappointing total. Carlton Marshes was the best of our winter haunts with regular HEN HARRIERS (2), BARN OWL (3), SHORT-EARED OWL (2) and a pair of hunting PEREGRINES on the afternoon of the 28th. It was also encouraging to see CORN BUNTINGS. Five were seen at Carlton Marshes on the 28th with a further five at Lower Farm Drive, Carlton Colville towards the end of the month. Ending on that positive note we can only dream what 2003 may bring......... a Pallas’s Warbler wouldn’t go a miss we're getting withdrawal symptoms!!!!
Grey Plover - Lake Lothing - ©Andrew Easton
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