Friday, 18 October 2013

Classic East Coast Fall - The Perfect Storm?

These days it's easy to think all the best birds turn up up north. The Northern Isles get the Lion's Share and the NE coast fromYorksire up seems to run away with most of the mainland birds. Yet if the conditions are right East Anglia and the South-East can still get in on the action. The classic 'fall' conditions everyone awaits in the Autumn is an area of High Pressure over Scandanavia and a Low moving into the Southern North Sea/ low countries bringing east and north-east winds and plenty of rain. The Scandanavian high encourages mass migration south and as the migrants meet poor weather over the North Sea they are driven across it where disorientated they make landfall on our east coast. The position of the jet stream usually ensures these lows pass too far to the north but last week one came right across East Anglia and the South-east, delivering several days of optimal weather and great birds! For once the forecast was right and I eagerly anticipated my day in Norfolk which materialised on the sunday (I only wish it could have been longer).

Mark and I started at Holme, a location which had been kind to us last year when I discovered a rose-coloured starling on Lavender Marsh. We concentrated on the area around the start of the track and Redwell Marsh. Singer and birder David Gray has a home here and I've seen some good birds at this spot, including collared flycatcher.

It was a wet and windy start which made for challenging conditions to search in. The previous day had seen many great grey shrikes and Pallas's warblers turn up and the first parrot crossbills had made an appearance too. It took some hours of searching but eventually a Pallas's piped up close by but it called just once and never revealed itself, leaving us wondering if we really had just heard one. I even wondered if we had heard a freak squeaking branch! But later on one was found just 100m from where we'd heard ours and the following day it was at the very same spot we had been at, so it now seems unlikely our bird could have been anything else.

News of a bluethroat on the reserve sent us off down the track but the bird was highly elusive. In 2 hours I managed only a brief view of it through the chicken wire of a Heligoland trap (it was on the wrong side but was trapped the following day). A great grey shrike showed distantly on the grazing marsh and another flew over, looking like it had just arrived 'in off'. A few mealy redpolls and wheezing brambling were in evidence and robins and thrushes were present in high numbers.

We headed off about 4 as the weather was deteriorating. With hindsight a slightly earlier departure and trip to Wells would have been a good bet to finish on but we did OK. Just a shame that Pallas's didn't show!

Three days later and the fall was still in evidence from my home in South Cambs. Redwings passed over and a woodcock flitted across the end of my road and sought refuge in the back yard of a car dealership. I followed it in the car and snuck into the yard not knowing what to say if I was challenged, but it had disappeared, perhaps hiding underneath one of the cars. A decent woodcock photo will just have to wait.

Yesterday I found myself 10 minutes away from Grafham so called in to see the juv bonxie present. It showed well at the same spot the sooty shearewater was previously and a juv long-tailed duck was easily located off Mander Car Park at the other end of the reservoir.

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