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Lemsford Spring, Sunday, February 21st, 2016
Lemsford Spring is a tiny reserve beside the river Lee and between Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City. It’s a disused watercress bed fed by natural springs and so it never freezes up in winter.
Richard collected the key from the warden, who lives next door, and we began. If you weren’t birdwatching it would only take 15 minutes to do the circular walk but we spent 2 wonderful hours spotting about 32 familiar and less familiar species.
In the horse field to our left a pair of Little Egrets and a pair of Mistle Thrushes were feeding. Lemsford Church bells rang out and, at 10.30, a football match played out in the far distance.
All 11 of us squashed into the main hide and slowly birds revealed themselves. A Green Sandpiper with its white rump, at least 10 Moorhens and a Grey Wagtail were feeding in the shallow pools. A Goldcrest flitted quickly in a large bush where Lesley spotted a Treecreeper. A pair of Buzzards, a Kestrel, a Red Kite and a male and female Sparrowhawk were all hunting whist several Stock Doves sped through.
Our star bird was the Water Rail sneaking in and out of the reeds between the Moorhens; first spotted by Beryl.
On leaving the hides Stuart had found us Jackdaws, Goldfinches and a large flock of about 4 dozen Redwings feeding at the far end of the horse field. Long-tailed Tits were with other small birds feeding in a large hawthorn bush seen from the bridge and there were at least 4 Siskins above the feeders in the warden’s garden.
How lucky the people of Lemsford are to have this reserve on their doorstep.
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Residential Trip to Suffolk Monday 25th – Thursday 28th April 2016
Monday 25th – Fingringhoe Wick
We began our 3 day birdwatching break at Fingringhoe Wick which is in Essex south of Colchester and has views over marshland and the river Colne.
As each of us arrived in the car park that morning we were greeted by the sound of a singing nightingale and all afternoon we were never far from this beautiful bird song. Richard, Alistair and Andrew actually saw one! Full frontal!
A blackcap was singing well at the side of a pool opposite the visitor centre and wrens sang from just about every corner. Swallows and house martins darted madly overhead whilst chiffchaffs and willow warblers were seen and heard. David and Linda spotted a pair of linnets and Jeremy found a weasel.
From the hides overlooking the marshes little egret, curlew, buzzard, oystercatcher shelduck and a grey plover in his smart summer plumage were all spotted. Joan picked out a redshank in the scrape. It was excellently camouflaged in front of various shades of mud.
Back at the visitor centre we took a late lunch and enjoyed watching house sparrows on the feeders hung on a derelict plough. A moorhen emerged from the back of the field with just 1 chick. I’m sure she will have more later in the season.
The shop / café is excellent with lots of space to view the marshes and warm up in front of a wood burning stove. It is at this point that I must say that we were 20 people on this trip and some may have seen lots of other species and none of those recorded here!
Tuesday 26th – Landgard Nature Reserve, Hollesley Marshes and Boyton Marshes
Today we went to Felixstowe and our guide, John Grant (Granty) was joining us there. Another very important point was the wintry, cold weather so we got extra excited at just spotting a common bird. As we struggled down through the nature reserve to the Observatory we saw hundreds (slight exaggeration) of linnets, greenfinch, song thrush, ringed plover and wheatear.
The port was always nearby with huge ships stacked with Maersk containers being guided in by pilot boats. Cranes and gantries dominated our views and up near the top of a huge high floodlight was a peregrine falcon nesting platform.
Because the weather was so foul Granty had arranged a special visit to inside the Observatory and it was very special.
The Observatory is based at the old fort and it was here that we were shown round by Steve, the top ringer. He pointed out the Heligoland traps and the ringing techniques. Then he read from his special book which recorded all the rarities they had seen or trapped over the last 30 odd years. We all had tea and coffee.
Jeremy and Stuart spotted a peregrine overhead as we returned to the car park.
Lunch was taken at the Hollesley Prison Café. This is a new venture for the young offenders who were thrilled to have their café full and they managed to distribute toasties and baguettes to all 20 of us. A very rewarding experience!
Hollesley Marshes is very close to the prison. There’s a good track down to the “open hide” which overlooks a large pool. It’s quite small but there was a good mix of water and marshland birds to see; marsh harrier, common gull, avocet, turnstone and egret. A busy yellow wagtail was feeding under the far bank; swifts were flying in from the east to join the swallows and house martins and a sedge warbler sang very close to the left of the hide. We had lovely views of a greenshank enjoying his own quiet damp place.
Boyton Marshes is a little further north and we parked at a farm called Banter’s Barn. Hereford cattle were in a small enclosure by the road. A small flock of yellowhammers was flitting between the hedgerow and the metal fence of the enclosure. Granty and Andrew picked out stock doves overhead and a few paces down to the marshes several yellow wagtails were feeding with meadow pipits.
After a short walk to the estuary wall Alistair spotted a curlew which the rest of us had difficulty seeing. Eventually it turned out to be a whimbrel. In fact seven whimbrel flew upstream as we discussed the differences between curlew and whimbrel.
Tired but happy we returned to the hotel. Jeremy and Eileen were delayed as they helped at a car crash; no-one injured thankfully. Other car events included sightings of a cuckoo and a small herd of fallow deer. All from Andrew’s car.
Throughout our trip we had several sightings of Orford Ness. This is a National Trust reserve but it was a former secret military test site used by the MOD during both World Wars and the Cold War. Radar was first developed here.
Wednesday 27th April Minsmere
Our first stop on the road to Minsmere was at Westleton Heath. It was perfect heathland but with a cold wind blowing the Dartford warblers were hiding down in the warm thick shrubs and so not spotted today. The stonechats were of a hardier nature and gave us some excellent sightings.
We moved on to the outskirts of Minsmere and quietly made our way up a bridleway to a viewpoint overlooking a field of rabbits. There, at the top of the slope, was a female stone curlew nestled down in the stony sand. Behind her, on guard, standing under a large shrub in the hedge was her mate. If this wasn’t enough excitement a female ring ouzel popped down out of the hedge close by. The stone curlew is quite rare and so this nest site is in a secret location.
Granty moved us on to Minsmere as there was so much more to see. The morning walk to the coast took us past a man-made sand martin nesting bank with many sand martins excitedly milling around overhead. As soon as we began the walk to the beach stone curlew and wheatear were spotted in the scrubland field to our left. To our right a pair of greylag geese were showing off their clutch of 16 goslings. A great photo moment! Bearded tits rushed backwards and forwards across the raised path with absolutely no time for a photo call.
At the beach Di wished for a gannet and one magically appeared. It flew low over the waves against the wind in and out of view. Granty was very keen to show us the concrete blocks which had been placed along the coast at the beginning of the 2nd World War. One of them had been personally engraved with: Wimpy Defense Line 1940 This was the year Holland fell to Germany and Holland is only 90 miles away.
Red deer hid in the tall rushes and noisy sandwich terns flew in off the sea in ones and twos probably returning to their nest sites on the East Scrape. At least 70 came in during our visit. From the East hide, amid the commoner species, we could pick out 4 common terns, a pair of Mediterranean gulls, common gulls, 4 turnstones and kittiwakes collecting nesting material for their breeding colony at Sizewell nuclear power station nearby to the south.
As we turned the corner at the Sluice a sedge warbler sang out in full view quite close to us. As we rounded the scrape to return to the centre we found a bar-tailed godwit feeding close to a black-tailed godwit. Granty helped us distinguish between them and pointed out dunlins with summer plumage black bellies. He and Carly caught the brief sound of a booming bittern.
After lunch we took the Woodland Walk. This took us past the adder corner where volunteers were helping us to spot a black and grey one. At the next bend a redstart was hiding in a large shrub. Most of us saw him but Linda and David went back the next morning to get excellent photos of him.
We settled down in the Island Mere hide and were rewarded with several views of marsh harriers, little grebes and a wonderful long flight of a bittern. From the Bittern hide another bittern flew up and moved westwards. A water rail showed well in the scrape below us and a party of 9 red deer made their way westwards through the reed beds.
That evening we thanked Andrew for organising the trip. We all agreed it had been brilliant and Jeremy kindly added up all our bird numbers. We were just short of 100 but we still had Thursday morning to get the count over 100!
Thursday 28th - Lackford Lakes
This last reserve is situated just north east of Bury St Edmunds and is run by Suffolk Wildlife Trust.
We benefitted hugely from the temporary signs put up along the pathways, ie WREN and lo and behold a wren sang and perched close by for us to see him. Di and I took the Kingfisher Trail which skirted the sailing lake, the Slough scrape and on to the kingfisher corner through to a hide over Long Reach pool.
The weather was warming up and the short walks were magical. We heard nightingale song at the first corner, looked at the scrape where Jeremy saw a little ringed plover and then settled down with others from our group to wait in front of the kingfisher nest hole. Unfortunately this was a “no show” for all the usual reasons – eaten earlier, female on eggs, too cold to warm up in the sun, etc.
On the contrary we had great views of a common sandpiper on Long Reach.
Taking a slightly different route back to the visitor centre Andrew and Joan found a blackcap singing and showing well with a sign – BLACKCAP underneath.
Lunch was taken at the top of the centre with great views over feeders by a pond surrounded by reeds. Marsh tits fed in front of us and a sedge warbler flitted through the reeds, singing well from time to time.
Lesley and Stuart had one last attempt to see the turtle dove which had been seen the day before. They were lucky enough to hear one of the first garden warblers to return to Lackford Lakes in 2016!
So our bird count ended at about 104 and every one returned home safely.
Once again many thanks to Andrew for organising the trip.
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Snipe and Chiffchaffs at the Jubilee River Wednesday 28th December 2016
We were really lucky with the weather for this end of year outing. It was a frosty, sunny morning in a week of fog and cold.
Richard had organised coffee and hot chocolate at the Palmer’s Arms in Dorney at 10 am after which we took a public footpath behind the pub towards the Jubilee River. Winter Thrushes were feeding in the trees as we neared the bridge. The first views over the river were of gulls, ducks, swans and geese and we crossed south to have a long-distance look at the sewage works of Slough. Unfortunately the water down there was frozen over so we lingered on the bridge. A Water Rail was heard then seen and we had great sightings of Snipe flying around and feeding at the water’s edge. A Muntjac deer was threading its way through the reeds and a Cetti’s warbler was heard.
We continued along the path on the south bank, collecting species at regular moments. Eileen’s Goldcrest was one of these! Just before the weir, we turned right to inspect a small stream running between a meadow and the common. There is a sheltered bend at the beginning and this is where we found several Chiffchaffs which were feeding in the overgrown hedge along with Reed Buntings. Pied and grey wagtails were dashing backwards and forwards along the stream whilst Meadow Pipits fed in the common itself. We trudged back over the common into Dorney village for lunch at the pub with Deirdre and Pat.
The number of species seen was 47 and each sighting of a common bird was as exciting as the snipe and chiffchaffs had been.
Many thanks to Richard for organising this excellent trip and lunch.
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Friday 16th 'Working at Waddesdon Aviaries- The Bali Starling Project'
Speaker: Ian Edmans
Sunday 18th Field trip to Wilstone Reservoir (am) Leader: Richard Tomlin
Friday 21st **'The Fantastic Farnes' Note This talk has been moved from its original date of May 2017
Speaker: Chris Ward
Saturday 22nd Field trip to Ivinghoe Beacon (am) Leader: Richard Tomlin
Sunday 30th Residential Trip to Norfolk
3 nights at the Titchwell Manor Hotel Leader: Stuart Wilson
Friday 18th 'Mongolia, Mountains, Steppe and Desert'
Speaker: Ann Farrer
Sunday 20th Field Trip to Otmoor (pm) Starling show Leader David Witton
Friday 16th Christmas Quiz Bring food or a Raffle prize
Tuesday 29th Field Trip to Jubilee River Leader: Richard Tomlin
Friday 20th 'Wildlife of Madagascar,a genetic melting pot'
Speaker: Dr Graham Lenton
Saturday 21st Roosting Rooks and Jackdaws (pm) Venue to be arranged Leader: Richard Tomlin
Friday 17th 'The Shearwater's World'
Speaker Prof. Tim Guildford, Oxford University
** Change from Printed programme