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Birding London trip report, 28 September

Westleton and Dunwich Heaths, Minsmere RSPB Reserve, Suffolk with Mike Cussen (Oakland CA), Craig and Barbara Thayer (Chicago IL) — led by Jack Fearnside


Itinerary/weather

Jack picked up Mike from his hotel in St James's and Craig and Barb from theirs in Knightsbridge at 6.30am before heading out through east London and driving up the A12 to Suffolk. We stopped for breakfast on Westleton Heath where we saw our first birds of the day. We moved on to Dunwich Heath, by the coastguard cottages where we birded a section of the beautiful heather and gorse heathland. We drove round to Minsmere, a flagship reserve of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, where we signed in at the reserve centre. We took two walks round the area, covering the main habitat types. The first concentrated on the woodland and freshmarsh. Birds at the Canopy Hide were obliging with good views of four species of titmouse and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. After a picnic lunch back at the car, we took our second walk along the beach and dunes, around the saline lagoons (the ‘Scrape’) and back through the reedbed. A short diversion at the end, back towards the Island Mere Hide to look for Cetti's Warbler, failed to find the Cetti's but provided the rarest bird of the day, a juvenile Red-backed Shrike feeding from a bramble hedge — a fitting end for the day. Our drive back to London was uneventful, if slow, and the day ended at about 8.30pm.

71 species were seen during the trip.

The weather was beautiful. There was a little mist and some cloud cover on our journey, but most of the day was spent in warm autumnal sunshine with a light southerly breeze.


Species list

Little Grebe — Three birds were seen on the Island Mere.

Northern Gannet — An immature bird (second year) flew south along the shore quite close in (for a Gannet!) and was later scoped sitting on the sea beyond the sluice outfall.

Great Cormorant — Good numbers were resting on the islands at Island Mere and the Scrape.

Great Bittern — Reasonable, if distant, views of one in flight from the Island Mere Hide. This is one of Britain’s rarest breeding birds and a great deal of effort is going into habitat management to increase the small population (just 11 individuals in the whole of Britain in 1997).

Grey Heron — Our first was a flyover in suburban east London at dawn. We later had flight views at the Island Mere and excellent looks at a resting bird on the Scrape.

Little Egret — One in flight, seen from the Island Mere Hide.

Mute Swan — We noted a small flock in flight as we passed Chelmsford, Essex on our outward journey. Other birds were present on the Island Mere.

Greylag Goose — Large numbers were on the Island Mere and a distant flock was noted from the sluice, on the fields towards Sizewell.

Canada Goose — Only noted in flight on the outward journey.

Eurasian Wigeon — Present in reasonable numbers on the Scrape, but males were still in eclipse plumage.

Gadwall — Distant views on Island Mere were bettered when a flock flew close in front of the Bittern Hide. Also seen on the Scrape.

Common Teal — Good numbers on Island Mere and the Scrape.

Mallard — Common at Minsmere.

Northern Shoveler — Plenty of birds were resting on the Scrape.

Tufted Duck — A few eclipse birds were diving at Island Mere.

Red-breasted Merganser — A single female/immature/eclipse male flew south off the beach.

Western Marsh Harrier — Two unusually high flying birds were spotted by sharp-eyed Barbara as we approached the Island Mere Hide. Closer views were obtained as they flew over the reedbed.

Common Kestrel — A distant bird flew over the marsh and woodland, to end up hovering over the car park. Seen from the Shore Hide.

Common Pheasant — Seen on the journey and on the Scrape at Minsmere.

Common Moorhen — Good numbers at the Scrape.

Eurasian Coot — A few at Island Mere.

Pied Avocet — A single bird had not flown south and fed on the Scrape.

Grey (Black-bellied) Plover — A single bird in winter plumage fed on the Scrape.

Northern Lapwing — A flock of c100 flew near the car as we passed Chelmsford, Essex on both journeys. From the West Hide we had excellent views of resting birds on the Scrape where their green backs were iridescent in the afternoon sun.

Curlew Sandpiper — A single juvenile was actively feeding on a lagoon at the Scrape.

Dunlin — Two birds were found on the Scrape.

Common Snipe — The first was a well-camouflaged bird sleeping in front of the South Hide, but many more were feeding at the West Hide. Now separated from the North American Wilson's Snipe.

Spotted Redshank — About eight birds were feeding on the Scrape.

Common Redshank — Small numbers were present on the Scrape, picked out in flight by their white secondaries.

Black-headed Gull — Common throughout the day.

Common (Mew) Gull — One flew south along the beach and other moulting adults were resting in front of the West Hide.

Lesser Black-backed Gull — Common, particularly resting birds on Island Mere.

Herring Gull — A number of moulting adults and immatures were seen from the West Hide.

Great Black-backed Gull — A massive adult sat on the outfall groin near the sluice. An immature was also seen on the Scrape.

Sandwich Tern — Three or four birds were fishing along the shore and were later seen over the Scrape, with one giving excellent views in front of the West Hide.

Feral Pigeon — Common in London.

Stock Dove — Surprisingly scarce, a close flyover at the end of the day was our only record.

Woodpigeon — Common at all sites.

Eurasian Collared Dove — Noted on the journey and sitting on telegraph poles in the village of Westleton.

Green Woodpecker — The laughing calls did not provide views until we saw a distant bird searching for ants on one of the Scrape islands. However, almost the last bird of the day was a brilliant view of one, which almost glowed, in the evening sun!

Great Spotted Woodpecker — Superb close views of birds visiting the feeders at the Canopy Hide.

Barn Swallow — Birds were flying over the car park at Minsmere.

House Martin — One flew over the woodland near the Bittern Hide and others were seen over the car park.

Meadow Pipit —Small groups chased each other over the heather on Dunwich Heath.

Pied Wagtail — Good views of birds on the roofs of the coastguard cottages and the reserve centre at Minsmere.

Eurasian Wren — Commonly heard, and sometimes seen, in most habitats.

Dunnock — Good views of birds in the gorse bushes near the coastguard cottages.

European Robin — Their melancholy autumn song punctuated the day. We had good views on a number of occasions.

Common Stonechat — Although the males were not in their striking nuptial plumage, these attractive birds were seen at a number of sites, even the large reedbed near the Island Mere Hide.

Common Blackbird — Remarkably scarce. Two flew into the woodland near the Bittern Hide late in the day.

Cetti’s Warbler — Heard very well but not seen! This ultimate skulking warbler just would not co-operate.

Reed Warbler — Brief views of a single bird, picked out by Barbara, near our reedbed Stonechat at Island Mere.

Dartford Warbler — We saw good numbers of this rare breeding warbler in its heathland habitat.

Chiffchaff — Fleeting glimpses (and a snatch of song) were finally capped with good views of a bird accompanying a flock of tits in scrub near the Bittern Hide.

Goldcrest — A few birds were squeaking from cover and one provided decent views near the reserve centre at the end of the day.

Bearded Tit — Small, skulking birds in huge areas of reeds! The 'fairy cash register' calls were often heard but views were hard to come by and finally we had to be satisfied with less than ideal flight views.

Long-tailed Tit — We had good views of roving parties in the scrub around the reeds.

Marsh Tit — Excellent views of this declining species at the Canopy Hide feeders.

Coal Tit — Craig found the first in pines near the Dunwich Heath restrooms, and later we enjoyed close views from the Canopy Hide at Minsmere.

Blue Tit — Common.

Great Tit — Common.

Eurasian Jay — A number of birds were seen flying around the area.

Common Magpie — Seen throughout the day.

Western Jackdaw — Frequently heard, and seen in flight, none provided really close views.

Rook — A few birds were seen beside the A12 on our outward journey.

Carrion Crow — Common.

Common Starling — Seen on our journey.

Red-backed Shrike — A juvenile gave good views as it fed from a bramble hedge near the Island Mere. The other birders present enjoyed it too!

House Sparrow — We were careful to tick this one for the day before leaving London’s suburbs.

Common Chaffinch — Common in areas such as the restroom pines at Dunwich.

European Greenfinch — Our first were in the gardens of the coastguard cottages at Dunwich, followed by plenty on the feeders at the reserve centre, Minsmere.

European Goldfinch — We only had poor views of birds in flight at a number of sites.

Common Linnet — Best views were of birds in a pine near the Dartford Warblers on Dunwich Heath. Others were seen in flight at the sluice at Minsmere.

Reed Bunting — A couple of birds in winter plumage gave distant views on Westleton Heath at breakfast.


Other species

Grey Squirrel — Seen in the woodland areas, such as hanging from the feeders at the Canopy Hide. OK, so we gave you Starling…

Common Rabbit — Common.

Reeve’s Muntjac — We had close views of these curious little deer in the woodland at Minsmere.

Red Deer — A family party of our only native deer were seen from the trail between the Bittern and Island Mere Hides.

Butterflies seen during the day included Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood; dragonflies were very common and included Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters.