Monday 15 April 2024


An impromptu blog post, while the 'Grantchester Meadows - My Cambs Patch' post is slowly being written...

It's been one of the busiest springs of my life yet, with a dissertation and two courseworks to finish before exam finals can be thought too much about. It's also, funnily enough, meant that I've been able to spend more time outside than usual. Less procrastination and time on my phone, more time with a fixed routine of wake up, work 10-4ish, walk/go birding, work from 6:30ish until I finish etc. This has helped stay on top of things mentally, as well as cash in on most classic spring migrants already. The only thing that was missing was that early spring scarcity. 

After a few weeks away from Cambridge, I got back on Thursday the 11th April, which meant that of course - as always happens - a male Woodchat Shrike was found the following day at Beddington. This does genuinely always happen, and so once again, I just assumed that that was the scarcity I'd miss. A morning at Fen Drayton Lakes RSPB on Saturday morning with Joe and Dan Livermore produced a pretty exceptional 85 species including 5 Grasshopper Warblers, but was also just missing that sort of bird to top it off. Of the many lovely birders met over the course of the morning, Alan Hitchings kindly predicted a rarity for Grantchester - we need more of these predictions. 

So Sunday 14th April, having seen the weather, I had a lie in [hayfever+cold=supercold] to rest a bit before heading out late morning. Joe was initially planning to twitch the same Whinchat we'd dipped the day before at Fen Drayton, last minute cancelling and deciding to join me to dig around at the Grantchester Meadows patch. This is a patch I've put a lot of effort into since starting uni in autumn 2021, with 107 species seen over a little over 200 visits. Habitat wise it's quite simple - with the Cam running through, one side is [sometimes water] meadowland, the other grassland, shrubs, hedgerows and rape fields. When we met up, Redstart and Ring Ouzel was the target, but for once we were both optimistic for what more might have come in. Reaching the first fields of the patch, a possible Redstart call from the rape fields running parallel west of the site made us switch from doing the meadows first to instead going along a different route. Briefly splitting to no avail, we rejoined where two paths met near Grantchester Road and dense, low hedgerows enclosed the road. Here a Swallow flew over and a Lesser Whitethroat was rattling its song away. A few steps later, a Whitethroat flew along the road, which we thought to double check. 

As we tracked the Whitethroat, a bird was noted sat at the top of the hedge further along, flicking its tail enthusiastically. We assumed that this would be the/a Redstart, until we got bins onto the bird. Perched ahead of us was a male Bluethroat, it's bright blue chest the first thing we noticed. I think we both did a double take, as it wasn't till I blinked and processed that I noticed more than the blue - the white supercilium, orange breast and thin long legs creating a slim-shaped impression. We both just stood in stunned silence for the 7-10 seconds or so until an irritated Dunnock caused it to dip down low across the road into another hedge. Finally Joe spoke some English to make me realise I wasn't going insane, and we had just seen a Bluethroat, which he thought was White-spotted. I didn't notice a spot, but since it can be conspicuous, that isn't too much of a surprise.

For the next half an hour once locals were alerted, we desperately looked along every field edge and hedge, hoping to see the blue-breasted bandit bobbing around. Even with the help of others, two hours of searching revealed nothing but a likely brief glimpse, with nothing again later on in the evening when we returned with reinforcements. Somewhat expected I guess, but a shame nonetheless for those who came looking. 

Either way, a superb bird to see and one that myself and Joe will long remember. It may have taken 208 trips but it's eventually paid off and as ever, enjoyed in company in lovely weather. It's only mid April so fingers crossed spring continues to produce! 

The rape field running alongside the Bluethroat hedge

The celebratory cake gifted with love by Louis Driver - enjoyed with a pint after!

Tuesday 5 December 2023

East Yorkshire, 10th-12th June 2023

Day 1:

    On Friday 9th June, I finished my final exam of my second year at Cambridge, which led to me to celebrate with friends for much of the rest of the day. Celebrations were to continue on for several days afterwards, as myself and a few of the guys at university had planned a little weekend away up on the Yorkshire coast. Although specifically focused on seabirds at Bempton, the prospect of North Sea air and Fish and Chips was altogether all very enticing. So at 7am the following day, I left college and myself and Joe got a train up to Doncaster, where Alain and Joash picked us up. By this point already, the trip list included Turtle Dove, Marsh Harrier and Barn Owl added from the train, and a Cuckoo [the only one of the weekend] from the car. 
So as to allow Alain a break from driving in the 30C heat, we dropped in at a nature reserve en route which sounded half decent, this being Hatfield Moors SSSI near Doncaster. It's fair to say the trip started as nothing short of a disaster, as for an hour we wandered around confused at the reserve, failing to not just see birds but figure out where the reported birds were even being seen from. Joe's description of this as forgetful was pretty dead on - in spite of Garden Warblers and Oystercatchers, as well as a few dragonflies, we saw very little, and so our decision to move on as quickly as possible was to save ourselves any more embarrassment. 

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head




Once obstacles such as [Greggs] a painfully slow cyclist and terrifyingly narrow roads were overcome, we reached the RSPB reserve at a little after 2pm. It really was a gorgeous first day - the sun was beating down, there was a light E/SE wind, and we were at one of the UK's finest nature reserves. From the moment we got out the car, Tree Sparrows were chuckling and Gannets were cacking. Alain was already on the brink of running off, his camera locked and ready to photograph seabirds for as many consecutive hours as possible. 

Tree Sparrow youngsters were everywhere

I think that might have been one of my favourite evenings of wildlife-watching I've had in the UK. The best cure for the severe hungover I'd unsurprisingly woken up with seemed to be doing nothing but soaking up the sights and sounds of seabirds from the safety of the clifftop benches. Fulmar, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Gannets, Guillemots and Razorbills were all plentiful, whilst Stonechats, Corn Buntings and Meadow Pipits sang enthusiastically from the edge of the fields behind. The Barn Owl was also busy hunting nearby throughout the afternoon, already the third I'd found that day, and a spot I was far too proud of. In addition to a few offshore Sandwich Tern, a clear highlight for the afternoon was Joash spotting his first Shag and the first of the trip. Equipped with my spare, broken binoculars, and being entirely new to birding, he put us all to shame, showing us just how easy it all is. After a wander along the coastline towards the later afternoon, where this bridled Guillemot showed superbly, we set off to Bridlington to crash. An excellent recommendation meant we found ourselves scranning a top tier Fish and Chips for dinner, this after a walk through Bridlington where screaming Swifts topped off the evening. The Champions League final we watched may have been terrible, but we were all happy enough after a relaxed, successful and ultimately thoroughly enjoyable first day. 

Fish and Chips - many thanks to Sian for the excellent recommendation

Guillemot (the poser of a bridled)

Day 2:

    We started the day far too early at about 05:30, attempting to hear Marsh Warbler singing at Flamborough's Thornwick Pools, where it had been for several days. It took a while to find Thornwick Pools, with different thoughts about where the pools actually were, but when we did we quickly did find the Marsh Warbler, albeit sadly not singing. Either way, it was good to compare the bird with Sedge and Reed Warblers as they fed along the reeds, as well as a Hobby (fairly scarce there.) 


Marsh Warbler - this taken at dusk, as it continued to stay schtup

We then made our second visit of the weekend to Bempton. Aside from a few new additions, such as Eider, Common Scoter flocks out at sea and a couple of Manx Shearwaters, we spent the morning once again watching and photographing seabirds. For me, Fulmar and Razorbills were just that much better than the rest - a bit underrated too, and so though I did take photos (far fewer than Alain) it was especially nice to just watch the birds doing their thing for a few hours. 


With two locations already clocked in the day and plenty seen, after a bit of indecisiveness we eventually concluded a trip to the North York Moors was the best way for us to spend our early afternoon. An hour later, we pulled into the car park at Wykeham Raptor Viewpoint, where Tree Pipits, Crossbill and Siskin all made themselves heard. Over the course of our lunch, an infinite number more Honey Buzzards were strung around us than seen, which was a slight shame. Nonetheless, a brute of a female Goshawk was a welcome sighting, alongside the dozen or so Raven and Swifts. Before we left, time spent with Tree Pipits and Stonechat proved fruitful, with a Peregrine added to the trip list in addition to me getting lucky. It may have been for a few seconds, but failed attempts to improve my Tree Pipit sound recording collection resulted in a mid-day churring Nightjar, always a treat. 


The fourth part of our day [man I want these long days back] was spent at Flamborough Head, a site I'd long wanted to visit and so being able to sit at the furthest point and seawatch for an hour or so was ideal. We nearly didn't bother going, but it funnily enough ended up being our collective favourite section of the trip. Manx Shearwaters, Eider and Common Scoter may have been seen out to sea, as well as the hundreds of auks and a few Turnstone, but Alain and Joash got their dream Puffin views. Not Skokholm/Skomer levels, but at least a dozen Puffin were crammed into the cliffs beside us, providing some dreamy views of the birds for not just us, but the many visiting tourists/walkers there that evening. A bit chilly by the end, but an evening well spent, despite failing to hear the Marsh Warbler again just before leaving - a smart moulting summer Sanderling was some consolation, as was another Barn Owl, a bird that I simply could not stop finding. A dinner of pizzas, garlic bread, salads and chips rounded off the day once back, before we crashed after a good 15 hours in the field. 



Day 3:

   The car had to be back in Cambridge by about 3:30pm, and so we were to leave the area at the latest by 930/10. Driven by blind optimism, we thought we'd be able to replicate the events of the evening prior at Flamborough and get our best views of seabirds yet. No birds were present upon arrival, and so we made the decision within minutes to head to Bempton one last time. A distant, muffled Quail greeted us, its distinctive song occasionally whipping through the wind from nearby fields, only audible at certain rare points. Joe noticed it first, but credit to Joash who also did, 2 days into his birding career once again, as usual, showing myself and Alain up. 

Fulmar - my personal favourite, closely followed by Razorbill, of the common seabirds

Tearing ourselves away from Bempton was near impossible, but after 90 minutes longer, we eventually contributed to the cafe's income one final time before heading back. Still with a strange amount of optimism, we dropped in at Fen Drayton at around 13:45 to try and twitch the Blue-winged Teal found there the day we'd left Cambridgeshire. It was not to be, heat haze making it impossible to see anything too far away with any detail. Little Egrets were sound recorded however, and Turtle Doves heard well in their usual spots, bringing to an end another excellent birding trip in the UK. An enormous thanks to Alain for the driving, and to Joe and Joash for the company - here's hoping similar can be done this summer. A day or two every summer at Bempton is something I could never tire of...

m Stonechat


Joash perfecting the art of the phonescope

Alain reviewing his art



Group selfie

Alain togging

Gannet - three of Alain's photos, which are a heck of a lot better than mine