The year began, as it did for many others, with the wintering Northern Harrier proving to be one of the most popular attractions of early 2011. Remaining faithful to its chosen area of saltmarsh, between Thornham Harbour and Titchwell RSPB reserve, its daily hunting routine, feeding over the marshes during the morning, before moving further east along the coast and then returning in the afternoon to roost, allowed it to be enjoyed by many. The two Rough-legged Buzzards showed well at Burnham Overy, whilst a seawatch off of Holme (Jan 9th) produced wonderfully close views of a fly past Black-throated Diver, as well as three Great Northern Divers, and both Red-necked and Slavonian Grebes. An excellent total of 74 Woodcock were observed at Snettisham (Jan 7th) flying out at dusk from behind Ken Hill marsh to feed on the grazing fields, with up to 40 seen to do the same at Holme. Doubtless just a fraction of a much larger total, one can only imagine the true numbers that must be out there feeding at night!
A maximum of 13 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at Holme, were part of a significant influx into the county, whilst a juvenile White-fronted Goose, mixed in with the Greylags and Canadas, at Priory Country Park, filled another gap in my (pitifully low) Bedfordshire list. The harsh weather conditions created further local exitement with a wintering Bittern offering excellent views at Priory, and a showy Coue's Arctic Redpoll just outside the boundaries of the park, feeding in the Silver Birches around the football pitch on Meadow Lane. My 1st since the Titchwell bird of 2001. Prized tick went to a local Tundra Bean Goose seen in the arable fields at the back of Ken Hill marsh with a small group of Pink feet. A long awaited patch tick that had to fall sooner or later.
Having missed it first time around, a return visit to Chipping Norton was rewarded with prolonged, if a little distant, views of the Oriental Turtle Dove, whilst back up in Norfolk, a flock of 40 Scaup together on the sea off of Holme, made for a personal Norfolk record, easily surpassing the group of about 15 birds, that I first saw on Snettisham pits back in the late 90s. Now a very rare sight in the county, a Willow Tit was watched singing in the Norfolk Brecks (also seen to excavate dead wood from the top of a standing Poplar tree) with the ever reliable Goshawks also putting on a fine display.
Visible migration at the end of March/beginning of April produced high numbers of Redpoll and Siskin with several small groups of Blue and Great Tits, two Lapland Buntings and a bonus Corn Bunting (only my 3rd Snettisham record) also passing through the Coastal Park. With higher than everage numbers of Hooded Crows present around the county (a return to winters of the 1980s) it came as little surprise to find two birds at Snettisham, flying south through the Coastal Park, with further individuals seen at Holme and Burnham Ovary dunes. A very early Grasshopper Warbler was singing in the Coastal Park on April 3rd, whilst a return visit to the Brecks produced excellent views of both Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Goshawk, along with Redstart, Crossbills and a chorus of singing Bramblings. A good passage of Wheatear mid month, began with 32 birds present within the Holme Observatory recording area on April 15th, followed by 59 birds between Old Hunstanton and Thornham channel on the 17th, and 52 present within the same area the folowing day. 29 birds were also recorded from Snettisham Coastal Park on the 19th.
A return vsit to Dungeness (April 21st-27th) proved dissapointingly quiet, thanks to strong N/NE winds bringing all migration to a virtual standstill, with two Pomarine Skuas, and the now resident Glaucous Gull being the pick of the highlights. A day trip accross the channel to the Somme Estuary (April 24th) produced Great White and Cattle Egrets, Black winged Stilts, Stone Curlews, Quail and Bluethroat, though there was no sign of any Savis Warbler, Montagu's Harriers or Golden Oriole, with several common summer migrants still present in very low numbers. Having missed out on Black Kite, Bee Eater and Vagrant Emperors, I managed to top of the week by leaving just days before the sea came alive, with a record breaking movement of Bar tailed Godwits, (a minimum of 7300 birds) high numbers of Pomarine Skuas, and an excellent support cast of other waders, terns and wildfowl. For full day totals see http://www.dungenessbirdobs.org.uk/