April saw the first real wave of quality birding, providing an excellent kick start to what would be a fantastic rest of the year. In fact, it was one of the best months of year. Due to its quality, there is lots to say so apologies for the long post in advance.
2nd: A fantastic start to the month with several birds adding flavour to the spring beginnings. At the Ythan in an unsuccessful look for the recently found King Eider, the first 15 Sandwich Terns were seen of the year. It was quiet until we reached to Strathbeg. Also immediate entertainment were 3 Garganey from the Visitor Centre, a female and two stunning drakes, my first of this species for the year and always a joy to see. Whilst looking in the general area where the Garganey were, a Spoonbill was found by one of the Strathbeg regulars. It showed well throughout the rest of the day, with great views had from Tower Pool Hide. Amongst the two stand out species were my first Black-tailed Godwits and Sand Martins of the year.
8th: A check of the Ythan Estuary the day before a trip to East Anglia was much better than expected. We tried once more for the King Eider but to no avail, although the first Swallows of the year were nice. Popping over to Sand Loch at the nearby Sands of Forvie saw us connect with a female Scaup (yeartick). We hadn’t watched this for long when we found ourselves zooming back to the Ythan with news of a Bonaparte’s Gull (same bird as seen on one occasion by others in March) from the Snub car park. We soon connected with the first winter Bonaparte’s Gull, and a mini twitch amassed. A total bonus bird that left me feeling absolutely delighted.
9th: A drastic change of scene saw me down in Wivenhoe, Essex, staying with family friends. A walk along the Colne Estuary was productive, with my first Chiffchaff and Common Tern of the year present amongst other species such as many Black-tailed Godwits and Bar-tailed Godwits. The main source of interest was a singing Nightingale. Very frustratingly it wasn’t seen, but I managed to capture footage of it singing. Nightingale is a real rarity up this way so its always exciting to hear or see them when down south. This record concerned one of the first wave of birds arriving in the county and country.
10th: A visit to Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk was as expected of great quality. Easy birds there that are scarce or uncommon up our way that were seen for the first time in the year included Little Egret, Green Woodpecker, and Avocet, and excluding such species my first Marsh Harriers and Wheatear of the year. Brief views of a Cetti’s Warbler was of more interest and one of few that I managed to see throughout the year. The undoubted highlight was staggering views of a Bittern out in the open from Island Mere Hide for some 30 minutes. The idyllic photographic conditions saw me capture the below images. Once we left Minsmere we popped into the nearby Dunwich Heath, where the icing on the cake was a single showy Dartford Warbler, a species that has had much success here and the only one I saw that year. A worthwile visit to Suffolk.
11th: I travelled up to Norfolk, where I’d spend the next couple of days. Stops at Kessingland in Suffolk, Horsey Mere (which was closed off) and Waxham, proved largely unsuccessful, although the first Whitethroats and Willow Warblers of the year were seen at the former and Red-legged Partridge at the latter. The best birding was had when we arrived on the North Norfolk Coast, where we stayed at Wells. A check of Holkham Freshmarsh was immensely enjoyable. The highlight were two self-found Spoonbills seen flying east over the Freshmarsh. A fantastic array of back up species were seen including my first White-fronted Goose of the year, a Grasshopper Warbler, a ringtailed Hen Harrier and a Peregrine, the latter which flushed the former! A Little Egret roost involving 17 birds was another highlight; other birds included my first Egyptian Geese and Sedge Warbler of the year.
12th: A day’s birding with Simeon Grundy on both the coast and the Thetford area. Starting at Titchwell was a good move, with a flavissma Yellow Wagtail, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, and Bearded Tit present around the brackish marsh and a nice array of waders elsewhere on the reserve. An odd sounding Chiffchaff along the Meadow Trail was disregarded as a normal one; just imagine how we felt when an Iberian Chiffchaff was seen there the next day! A Red Kite (yeartick) was seen at Burnham Norton on the way to Stiffkey. Stiffkey itself held my first Green Sandpiper and Little Gull of the year and another Little Ringed Plover. Cley was quiet so we headed down to the Thetford area. Checking an undisclosed site saw me finally catch up with my first Goshawks (bogey), with 2 Goshawks seen as well as another Red Kite and 3 Bramblings (my first of the year). Lynford Arboretum did not provide any of the specialities, but did hold my first Marsh Tits and Nuthatch of the year. Undoubted highlight was a Barn Owl hunting at close quarters. A brilliantly varied day.
13th: A check of an undisclosed site in Thetford Forest was successful in providing me with a target species, 2 Woodlarks. The pair displayed and sang their hearts out, which was unforgettable (see pics and video footage). 7 Bramblings were present and a Treecreeper amongst others were also here. Finally, a check of Weeting Heath saw me connect with the famed Stone Curlews, with 3 present.
17th: Back in Aberdeenshire, I finally caught up with the drake King Eider at the mouth of the Ythan Estuary, the 4th King Eider I had seen in the UK and an absolute stunner. There were plenty of good back up species including a Little Gull and Osprey at Meikle Loch, and a Little Egret feeding from the Snub car park, a bit of scarcity up here.
23rd: A check of the usual sites started off well with 32 Long-tailed Ducks at Girdle Ness. Strathbeg was productive, holding a self-found exceptionally early 2 Wood Sandpipers, as well as a smart sumplum Spotted Redshank amongst numerous Greenshank and Ruff. A check from Waulkmill Hide at the Ythan resulted in fantastic views of the long-staying Bonaparte’s Gull down to 30ft at its closest, although it unfortunately started raining. This was the second time I had seen it and was even more delightful than the first time, below are pics.
29th/30th: After 5 White-billed Divers being seen earlier that week off Portsoy, north Aberdeenshire, I was up there for the Royal Wedding. I managed one absolutely stunning summer plumage White-billed Diver (!) here, although only seen once for no more than a minute; still a belter of a bird and a dream to have seen. To round it off here, a 1st winter Iceland Gull was an enjoyable self-find heading eastwards overhead. Strathbeg was quiet but did hold a few commoner passage waders including a Whimbrel. A Corn Bunting at the north end of the reserve was also unbelievably confiding. On 30th it got better, starting with a successful twitch of 11 Dotterels at Collieston crossroads near the Ythan, scuttling around in a field by the road. As if this wasn’t good enough, we stopped off at Blackdog where we were treated to views of a previously reported drake Surf Scoter down to 50ft in idyllic weather. A truly fantastic last two days to end the month.
Thanks for reading,