A REVIEW OF THE BIRDING YEAR
JANUARY - JUNE 2003
By James Wright
Waxwing - Beccles - ©Robert Wincup
Anyone mad enough undertake a JANUARY 1st bird count won't need reminding that it was cold, wet and extremely windy!!! The best tonic for such conditions is a good bird. News that the DUSKY WARBLER at Kessingland sewage works was present and showing well was just what the doctor ordered to revive flagging spirits!!!
The Kessingland area is always good during the winter especially the sewage works. The supporting cast for the DUSKY WARBLER, which remained until the 6th, included four SCAUP until the 16th, a FIRECREST briefly on the 1st, CHIFFCHAFF and GREY WAGTAIL throughout. Nearby the roving SNOW BUNTING flock peaked at 25 at Kessingland Beach.
WAXWINGS were abundant but frustratingly mobile due to a low yield of berries. The largest flock comprised 25 at Gunton Drive on the 19th and Oulton Road on the 24th with lesser numbers noted at many other sites around town.
As usual winter afternoons at Carlton Marshes were productive. Both SHORT-EARED and BARN OWLS gave stunning views throughout, HEN HARRIERS patrolled the marshes on a regular basis and two PEREGRINE were hunting there on the 4th. Heavy rain in the first couple of days of the year led to extensive flooding of Peto's Marsh which attracted a BLACK-TAILED GODWIT, 18 DUNLIN, 2 CURLEW, REDSHANK, COMMON SNIPE and JACK SNIPE. Best of all were two BEAN GEESE which almost settled before continuing south. As the water disappeared so did the birds leaving many of us wondering what some permanent pools would produce?
As in 2002 a first-winter GLAUCOUS GULL proved a popular attraction in the Lowestoft Harbour area. What was almost certainly the same bird was seen on the 15th passing Kessingland and at Ness Point from the 19th-21st feeding on discarded fish heads. PURPLE SANDPIPERS peaked at 9 on the 29th and ROCK PIPIT at 2 on the 25th in Hamilton Dock.
Winter thrushes were around with a regular flocks of REDWING and FIELDFARE at the Dip Farm golf course. The largest gathering was of 200 FIELDFARE at Mutford on the 16th. Late on two RED KITES arrived off the sea at Pakefield and Hopton on the 28th and five SCAUP flew north past Kessingland on the 31st.
Barn Owl - Carlton Marshes - ©Robert Wincup
A cold snap at the start of FEBRUARY produced a brief GREAT NORTHERN DIVER along Lake Lothing on the 5th. Given the extreme rarity of this species on Lake Lothing it seems highly likely that this was the same individual seen in the previous two winters. Three RED-BREASTED MERGANSER were there from the 7th-10th and a COMMON SANDPIPER remained throughout. TURNSTONES hit a high of 18 on the 16th in Lowestoft Harbour.
The GLAUCOUS GULL continued its stay in Lowestoft Harbour all month taking advantage of the freshly landed Sprat's. One or two MEDITERRANEAN GULLS included the returning ringed adult "21N". Unseasonal LITTLE AUK were noted past Kessingland on the 4th and 5th where RED-THROATED DIVERS were recorded daily 'up until the 28th with a peak of 110 north on the 6th. WAXWINGS were less numerous than January and were noted at Lorne Park Road on the 3rd (15), Breydon Way from the 5th-6th, Holly Road on the 22nd (1) and Hopton on the 27th (1).
Spring was in the air on the 27th with glorious sunshine tempting a male BLACKCAP into song in Gunton Woods and a LESSER-SPOTTED WOODPECKER was heard near Gunton Hall. The first signs of migration involved FIRECREST in Corton woods on the 24th and BLACK REDSTART at Kessingland seawall on the 14th and 27th.
Glaucous Gull - Ness Point - ©Robert Wincup
The first day MARCH heralded the start of a raptor movement with a RED KITE over Mutford. Another was seen early on the 12th over the A12 just north of Lowestoft. The first COMMON BUZZARD was over Oulton Broad on the 13th with a further 5 there on the 15th. The largest total came from Ashby where an impressive 16 flew north in two flocks of 5 and 11 on the 22nd. Male and female HEN HARRIER were seen at Carlton Marshes where a much rarer MERLIN appeared mid-month. One of the highlights of the month was a COMMON CRANE over Oulton Broad on the 16th, which was latter seen over Covehithe and Minsmere.
The GLAUCOUS GULL returned to the Harbour after a brief absence from the 23rd onwards when a LITTLE GULL was also present. An unseasonal SOOTY SHEARWATER flew north close inshore past Kessingland on the 22nd where a BLACK-THROATED DIVER passed by on the 18th. PURPLE SANDPIPERS increased to 12 on the 8th and 24 BLACK-TAILED GODWITS that flew over Ashby on the 2nd were a rare sight away from Breydon Water.Passerine migration was disappointing with just one WHEATEAR seen at the bottom of Links Road Lowestoft on the 31st; saving what would have been a blank month for the species. Surely unthinkable!!! BLACK REDSTARTS appeared towards the end of the month with 10 recorded and SNOW BUNTINGS were last seen at Kessingland on the 5th.
Another LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER was seen; this time at Lound-Ashby turnoff on the 9th proving they are still around!!! The first WILLOW WARBLER was heard at Kessingland sewage works on the 29th, by which time CHIFFCHAFFS had already made themselves at home. Kessingland produced an early TREE PIPIT at the sewage works and a SANDWICH TERN offshore on the 29th.
WOODCOCKS were on the move with a few being flushed in the area. They were presumably wintering birds returning to the continent. THRUSHES were pouring over most nights, their calls filling the quietest of nights.
Siberian Chiffchaff - Leathes Ham - ©Robert Wincup
APRIL'S star bird, the SIBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF, sang its heart out in at Leathes Ham from the 4th-21st. It gave many people a great opportunity to hear its distinct song for the first time. The same locality produced female GOLDENEYE, two roosting SHAGS and a drake MANDARIN of suspicious origin!!!
Raptors were on the move. At Haddiscoe a ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD flew north on the 28th and a PEREGRINE was surprise over Lowestoft Cemetery on the 20th. Two GREEN SANDPIPER were at Lound water works late on and PURPLE SANDPIPERS were last seen at Ness Point on the 14th. The GLAUCOUS GULL remained in Lowestoft Harbour throughout and an ARCTIC TERN flew north past Ness Point mid-month.
Summer migrants were noted throughout. SAND MARTINS were first seen on the 5th. Thereafter typical migrants included HOUSE MARTINS, SWALLOWS, WILLOW WARBLERS and BLACKCAP with the first SWIFTS arriving on the 25th. Twenty WHEATEARS were seen, the largest gathering being 7 on Lowestoft North Denes on the 26th in the company of a stunning male WHINCHAT. The only flycatcher was a SPOTTED at Corton on the 30th. The first TURTLE DOVE flew in off the sea at Lowestoft on the 27th and 14 CROSSBILL flew over Dip Farm on the 15th. Six RING OUZELS arrived as the last of the FIELDFARES and REDWINGS were making their way back eastwards.
Seawatching highlights past Kessingland included 8 VELVET SCOTER, 3 ARCTIC, 3 GREAT and a single POMARINE SKUA plus two SHORT-EARED OWLS north over the beach. Ongoing construction work meant the sewage works was much quieter than normal with just one BLUE-HEADED WAGTAIL noted as well as a smart male BRAMBLING on the 20th.
Spoonbill - Gunton Beach - ©Robert Wincup
MAY turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax. With that said there was an addition to the Lounge Lizard list - NIGHT HERON. An immature flew north following the river at St. Olaves on the 11th. Aside from this excellent bird migrants were thin on the ground.
The first of nine HOBBIES seen during the month flew over Gunton Beach on the 1st where three SPOONBILL flew south on the 9th. It was passerines, which caused the biggest disappointment with just 2 YELLOW WAGTAIL and 10 WHEATEAR seen. On a positive note half-a-dozen SPOTTED FLYCATCHER were recorded, which was an above average showing. Seabirds were represented by BLACK-THROATED and GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS as well as ARCTIC, POMARINE and GREAT SKUAS past Kessingland. And then on the last day of the month Lowestoft's most widely twitched bird ever appeared - SABINE'S GULL in Lowestoft Harbour. And what a performer!!!
Sabine's Gull - Lowestoft Harbour - ©Robert Wincup
JUNE started where May finished off with the superb SABINE'S GULL. Although the passerine situation didn't improve. Highlights included REED and GARDEN WARBLER on Lowestoft North Denes on the 7th and two TURTLE DOVES (but no partridge in a Pear Tree) were seen along Jay Lane, Hopton.
Seawatching at Kessingland proved more interesting with BLACK-THROATED DIVER on the 3rd, RAZORBILLS on the 4th and 22nd, MANX SHEARWATERS on the 19th and 21st, three RED-BREASTED MERGANSER on the 14th and two ARCTIC SKUA in addition to regular sightings of MEDITERRANEAN and LITTLE GULL, FULMAR, GANNET and COMMON SCOTER.
The SABINE'S GULL was reported daily with many birders taking the opportunity to see a summer plumaged individual at close quarters. It favoured the corner by the Lifeboat Station, and the rocks extending south from the pier roosting at night on the roof of the South Pier entertainment complex. Initially it didn't recognise that bread and chips were potential food, but with time it cottoned on and tucked in. Although this species usually acquires breeding plumage during a complete moult between December - April this individual failed to replace any of its flight feathers before making the long trek north the Arctic breeding grounds. Its preening efforts appeared to be somewhat heavy handed reducing the secondaries to quills - and so it acquired the nickname 'Stumpy'.
'Stumpy' - Lowestoft Harbour - ©Andrew Easton
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