Monday, 5 October 2099

WelcomeYou have found us. We are a secret group of crack birders who have turned our backs on the machismo, corruption, and backstabbing greed that constitute today's birding scene, and have united together to follow the True Path of non-competitive, collaborative and generally lovely birding-as-meditation-and-spiritual-growth. Consequently, we never see anything. Birds that land right in front of our noses, and which we can identify with our observer book, are written about here. Oh, and they have to be seen in - or from - the parish of Winterton-on-Sea, Norfolk, or on the walk round past East Somerton Church ruins and up the concrete track to Winterton Holmes (because it's a nice walk which we all do).

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

October 2021 Roundup

October. The month of dreams. The month where anything is possible. The adrenaline rush of stepping out of your door and walking into the patch expectantly, knowing that you might find a brilliant rarity, or be treated to a fantastic migration spectacle.  The reason we live here and the reason we do what we do.

Not this October though. With the exception of one or two brighter moments, this October was basically a depressing continuation of the Great Birdless Autumn of 2021, with the added downer of a huge auk die-off happening on our very shorestep, with a supporting cast of dying divers forlornly shaking their heads in the surf. But it wasn't all completely depressing, so please do read on!

We watched the sea at the start of the month as the bushes contained literally no birds, and flyover passerine migration consisted of the odd Swallow, Meadow Pipit or SiskinLittle Gulls were present in reasonable numbers on the 2nd, and there was a close-in Bonxie flypast.  On the 3rd on the south beach dozens of Swallows were sitting on the sand, flying short distances as dog-walkers pushed them on.  It was bizarre and a bit unsettling, and reminded Sean of seeing several Hobbies doing the same in the Spring, when he mused that they were having to resort to looking for insects on the beach.  The Swallows didn't seem to be feeding though.  Also that morning Mick had one of the star birds of the month - an immature Sabine's Gull going south at 9.30am.  We later found out that it (or another) had been seen going south at Sea Palling around 45 minutes earlier. Mick also saw a Pomarine Skua south on his seawatch that morning, and Colin, Peter and Sean noted several rather late Swifts on the patch. 

On the 4th Mick had a Goosander south and a Wheatear in the car park, and on the 5th after the rain had stopped Sean had Lesser WhitethroatHouse Martin and Willow Warbler, plus Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps in the valley - a notable increase in migrant passerine numbers, though still miniscule.  There was also a Red Kite in the north dunes, and a reasonable passage of Swallows through. 

On the 6th the wind was a fairly strong northwesterly, and there was a notable movement on the sea - lots of waders and wildfowl, plus Bonxies and Arctic Skuas, a Sooty Shearwater, Little Gulls and an excellent Great Northern Diver which landed close in off the car park. In the early afternoon, as seawatching continued, a bedraggled Redstart came in off and landed briefly at our feet! Lapwing also arrived in off.  Later in the afternoon, after the rest of us had gone home,  Barry arrived for another seawatch and a visiting birder told him he'd had a Red-necked Grebe. Scanning the sea for it Barry did indeed pick up a grebe, but it turned out to be a Black-necked Grebe! The visiting birder was a warden at Pagham Harbour so has had a lot of experience with grebes, and he was clear that this was not the bird he'd found earlier.  So that makes two rare grebes seen here on the 6th! Sean returned to look for either (unsuccessfully) and had a Manx Shearwater south in the later afternoon, and he and Pat also had an Arctic Tern, an Arctic Skua, Red-breasted Merganser and Pintail.  Meanwhile Maynard had a Red Kite over his garden. 

The early morning of the 7th saw an incredible spectacle of many hundreds of Little Gulls moving through close inshore. Barry and Sean believed the number involved was in total over a thousand, and yet by 8am it had completely stopped and there wasn't a single Little Gull remaining, but while it had lasted it was a truly extraordinary spectacle!  Later in the morning Mick had several Short-eared Owls, a Goldcrest and a Kestrel in off.  Incredibly, the Goldcrest was one of only a handful any of us had seen this Autumn.  Sean had another Kestrel out at sea, and also a Marsh Harrier heading south nearly a mile out!  Pete flushed a Jack Snipe in the North Dunes, and the Swift was still hanging around low over the village, quite often receiving a lot of hassle from the Jackdaws. Pat had Redwing in the valley and House Martins and a Swallow from his garden.  

The next morning (8th) Mick had a further 12 Little Gulls moving south, along with Kittiwakes, and a Great Crested Grebe going north, and in the valley Sean noted that there seemed to have been a small arrival of Song Thrushes alongside slightly improved visible passerine migration with Siskins, Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits all in better numbers.  At the south end of the valley a single Redstart was a further slight surprise for Sean and when, on his way home, he also found a Lesser Whitethroat and a Pied Flycatcher in a garden abutting the dunes just north of Beach Road, it seemed certain that for whatever reason there had been a little fall of migrants in the rather foggy conditions, with a slight southerly breeze.

The next sequence of events shows how often the finding of a decent bird is down to a lucky combination of factors.  As Sean was watching the Pied Flycatcher he could see Colin's hat bobbing about in his garden a short distance away.  He thought of calling out that he had got a Pied Flycatcher but thought it might disturb the bird, so he WhatsApped the local group instead and then headed off.  A few steps later Murray called him on the phone. Murray was actually in Colin's garden with him, and it transpired that Colin still needed the flycatcher for his patch year list. Sean agreed to walk back and meet Murray and Colin where he had seen it to show it to them. The three met up at the spot and Colin got onto the flycatcher very quickly, but Murray was having a bit more trouble (must be those rubbish NL binoculars he has recently bought 😁). As Sean was giving him directions, a movement in the bramble tangle growing against the garden's cobblestone wall immediately in front of them both caught Murray's eye instead - a flash of a greyish warbler disappearing into the bramble and momentarily revealing what he thought might have been a hint of a barred under-tail.  "Wait! I just had something else - it looked like it might have been a Barred Warbler!" Murray announced, and all thoughts of the flycatcher were put on hold. We all waited and watched, and Murray began to wonder whether his briefest of glimpses might just have been the Lesser Whitethroat... But no!  After a few minutes, just a bit further along the brambly wall, out popped a fine immature Barred Warbler, giving great views for us all. So a combination of chance factors which led us all to be in the right place at the right time, plus an excellent display of split-second identification skills from Murray, had resulted in the discovery of what was definitely one of the star passerines of the autumn!  It remained for the rest of the day; a tricky bird to get on to at times but most (though sadly not all) of our little band eventually caught up with it. 

Pat was one of those who couldn't get out for the warbler on the day it was found, so the 9th saw him and Sean looking for it in the morning. Alas there was no sign, but the Pied Flycatcher remained, and this Grey Wagtail put in a couple of appearances, which provided year tick relief for Sean!

There was also a Short-eared Owl in the North Dunes on the afternoon of the 9th, and a tantalising, seemingly rather short winged Acro, clearly just arrived as it was hiding in the marrams on the dune ridge nearest to the sea, which Sean chased around but was unable to pin down. 

On the 10th there was a small arrival of thrushes, a Red Kite, and a few more GoldcrestsPink-footed Geese were arriving too, and Barry had a Manx Shearwater feeding close in shore in the afternoon, along with a few more Little Gulls

A further couple of Manx Shearwaters were seen on the 11th, plus several Arctic Skuas, a Velvet Scoter, and about 50 more Little Gulls. An unknown visiting birder also had a female Hen Harrier in the North Dunes, according to Birdguides. 

On the morning of the 12th it was seawatching time again and the first Woodcock of the Autumn came in off.

In the early afternoon Sean went back for another seawatch. Four Brent Geese and a Pintail came past immediately and it was clear that there was some movement on the sea.  The Little Gulls had also returned, and up the coast a little way north of the concrete blocks Mick had a Grey Phalarope right over the dune ridge.  At 1.30pm a Short-eared Owl came in off, and just a few minutes later, just as Barry was arriving, Sean picked up a large diver going north not too far out.  He got his scope on it as it came right past him straight out and in the good light the most obvious thing about it was its huge yellowy-white bill!  Pandemonium ensued as he screamed White-billed Diver! and shouted incoherent directions to Barry, who managed to get on to it but only as it passed inside the Cockle Light to the north of where they were standing, so was unable to see the bill. In the panic and in his attempt to get Barry onto it Sean had not really studied its plumage, so didn't note the neck colouration or anything much else which might be useful for a description submission!  Apart from the humungous bill, the other most noticeable things about it were how much 'lankier' and less compact it had seemed compared to typical views of flying Great Northern Divers, and just how large its trailing feet were. Overall it had also seemed rather pale in general rather than dark. Dave R from Lincolnshire, one of our regular visiting birders, had just arrived and had been walking across the car park during the sighting, and casually asked if we'd seen anything...  He was somewhat gutted to learn what he had just missed!  Coincidently, the last White-billed Diver occurred here four years ago, almost to the day, and with a similarly huge passage of Little Gulls.  Also of note sitting on the sea that afternoon were four Velvet Scoter, and yet another Short-eared Owl in off. 

Sightings of the diver continued intermittently over the next couple of weeks, and it seemed to be on something of a routine, seen mainly going south around mid-morning and north in the early afternoon. Eventually most of us, plus a few visitors, got on to it.  But despite seeing quite a few Great Northern Divers over the coming days, Sean wasn't to see it again until the 21st October, when he, Barry, Neil M and Dave R had excellent views of it flying south close in, in the warm afternoon sunlight. In addition to the completely obvious bill, the dark/light/dark pattern of the neck with its smudgy pale collar was noted, and Barry also noted the pale face. Once again it looked very lanky with those great trailing feet and long neck, somehow more like a huge Red-throated Diver than the rather more bullet-like shape of a typical Great Northern in flight. We didn't notice any neck wobbles or anything like that as it flew. Dave R had the presence of mind to capture a stunning image of the bird which he later shared on Twitter here 😁.  

So after the 12th a lot of seawatching was done by our members, and in addition to the star bird a good range of species was seen including several Great Northern Divers, quite a number of ducks including Red-breasted Mergansers, Tufted Ducks, Eider, Goldeneye, Pintail, Teal, Wigeon etc. Great and Arctic Skuas came by regularly in small numbers, plus a few Manx Shearwaters and an excellent Sooty Shearwater on the 15th which drifted north almost in the surf. At least three of the four Velvet Scoter remained offshore and gave lovely views from time to time. More Short-eared Owls came in off and solo Little Auks went north on the 14th and the 22nd. Snow Buntings also began to appear, often noted initially by call as we were seawatching, and Rock Pipits also began to be noted. On the 17th Barry and Maynard had a Red-necked Grebe. Brent Geese were also beginning to appear in good numbers as the month progressed, and a first year Arctic Tern hung around for most of the month.  

Despite the range of good seabirds, it was at times hard to bear the sheer numbers of Guillemots that were dying out at sea, in the surf and on the beach. Razorbills were present in record numbers which was also a worry - were they going to go the same way?  The reasons for this huge die-off are not currently completely understood, although disrupted ecosystems and food chains due to global heating is the number one suspect, according to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.  

One ringed Guillemot found dead on Winterton beach didn't even make it through its first four months of life, poor thing:

Away from the sea, Mick had three Great White Egrets on the 17th. On the 19th there was a House Martin over the village, and small groups of Song Thrushes and Redwings were arriving in the valley. Redwings had been arriving in Norfolk for over a week but almost all of them had simply overflown us here and been noted inland. 

Sean took himself off to Scilly for half-term week so was away on the 24th when Mick found a first year Caspian Gull near Bramble Gap. On the same day a Ring Ouzel was reported in the South Dunes, though not seen by any of us.  

On his way home that day Mick heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call at the eastern end of the Holmes Road. It has been the worst year for a very long time for these autumn gems; apparently they are scarce right across Europe this autumn. 

On the 25th three Lapland Buntings were reported in the North Dunes, though again they were not seen by any of us, and on the 29th another visiting birder, Ed H, took this wonderful photo of a Long-eared Owl which came in off.  He also saw a Ring Ouzel and was probably the last observer of the White-billed Diver on the same date, as it has not been recorded since.

At the end of October we have collectively recorded 203 species on the patch and Mick is out ahead on the individual year lists with an excellent 180 species. It's been a truly terrible Autumn so far for passerine numbers, but perhaps November can give us some last gasp surprises?  We'll just have to wait and see.  Happy patch birding everyone!

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

September 2021 Roundup

September started with a bit of a bang. As most of us locals were pottering about seeing things like a Pied Flycatcher below the Hermanus, a Swift over the village, and brief views by Peter of a possible Wryneck near the Totem Pole Bushes, extraordinary news came out in the afternoon of a staggering haul by an unidentified birder:

Given that nobody seemed to know who the observer was, and the news was emerging over three hours after the observation, there was some degree of incredulity over these sightings, but nevertheless you never know unless you check, so several of us set off into the North Dunes to see for ourselves.  Despite the somewhat easterly winds there wasn't a lot of activity - a few Wheatears on the dunes, but the bushes largely empty, and so we began to conclude that whoever had claimed such a bounty had been either having a hallucination or a laugh. But just when we were all on the verge of giving up another visiting birder did indeed locate (or relocate) a Red-breasted Flycatcher in a clump of bushes south of the East Pool, and Sean, who was closest, was able to get there within a few minutes and send this record shot out:

After a bit of a scramble several more of us and other birders were able to reach the spot and enjoy fleeting views as the lovely little flycatcher moved around in the clump.  Tim came up with his big gun and got the best photo, as usual!

So one of the three species claimed by the mystery birder had proved to be true, but what of the other two? In the absence of more precise location details nobody was able to find a Barred Warbler, and a Pechora Pipit seemed just crazy!  It would have been considerably earlier than any previous British record, and, even more incredibly, not in Shetland!  It was just too much to believe.  And yet...

And yet it turned out that the observer was credible and experienced, just not someone who enjoys being 'on the scene', and he gave a convincing description of the bird to another birder who knows him well, which included the all-important feature of the primaries peeping out beyond the tertials, which rules out pretty much anything else! He watched the bird for 40 minutes in the late morning before he had to leave for work, and although he sent news to another birder immediately, a combination of factors meant it didn't reach the information services until three hours later.  We looked a lot that day and the next, but there was not a sign, and the solo observer didn't take any photos, and I'm not sure if the record will be submitted, but September had certainly started with a bang!

Alas the month did not continue in this vein.  Despite a decent easterly airstream in the following few days, it was such thin pickings. 

Mick found a Purple Sandpiper on the 2nd, and over the following days there were a few Whinchats, a few Redstarts, and double figures of Wheatears . Maynard did a seawatch on the 2nd and had Sooty Shearwater, Bonxie, Arctic Skua and Great Crested Grebe. A few Hobbies were around and a visiting birder had a Grey Partridge in the North Dunes, so presumably the estate had begun to release a few in readiness for the landed gentry to enjoy murdering them in the coming weeks. A few Swifts were still about too, but for the first week in September, with the wind in the east, it was, as one of our neighbouring birders just to the north of us put it, "desperate, desperate stuff".   

On the 5th Sean was tramping through long grass in the North Dunes looking for Pechora Pipits when he flushed up presumably the same Grey Partridge as a few days earlier. He brazenly claimed that it was "extremely wary and obviously wild", just so he could add it to his year list. There were public jibes from various quarters within the Collective, followed up by private messages asking for the exact location... 

Whinchat numbers in the North Dunes reached double figures on the 5th, and on the 6th there were around 200 Mediterranean Gulls over the village mid-morning. 

Into the second week commoner warblers passed through in small numbers, including a few Lesser Whitethroats and Garden Warblers, and one Sedge Warbler. On the 8th the resident Hybrid Hooded Crow was joined by another in the South Dunes, and, in a clear display of avian fascism, both were rounded upon viciously by a group of pure-bred Carrion Crows.  A Red Kite went south through the North Dunes.  

Mick had a Goldcrest at the Plantation on the 9th, and on the 10th Sean had a calling flyover Tree Pipit in the South Dunes, plus Siskin and Cuckoo. The regular Autumn movement of Great Spotted Woodpeckers also got underway, with two flyovers south.  On the 11th Pat had a flyover Grey Wagtail in the South Dunes, Sean a Spotted Flycatcher at the Oaks and Pete another flyover Red Kite circling low near the Totem Pole.  In the evening there were quite a few Sandwich Terns around, and a close Arctic Skua getting its supper from them.

Around this time in the month we began to notice Guillemots close to shore, like this one which was calling plaintively in the surf.

It quickly emerged that Guillemots were in trouble right up and down the east coast, and we saw increasing numbers along the shore, sadly including quite a few corpses on the beach. However lots of them seemed to be fishing successfully despite being so close in, so hopefully they’ll make it. 

On the evening of the 11th Sean flushed the Grey Partridge yet again and sent out highly detailed directions for the champing Collective yearlisters 😁.

As the middle of the month approach it was difficult to keep spirits up.  The patch was dead, despite some light easterly breezes. There was no vismig going on, and the Whinchats had departed.  Attention turned largely to the sea, where Sooty Shearwaters and Bonxies passed in tiny numbers. A fairly decent duck movement on the 15th included a few Pintails, and a Redstart and Cuckoo on the same date were new arrivals. 

On the 16th Sean went through the South Dunes in the morning and noticed a considerable increase in Phylloscs in the valley, which was encouraging. He messaged Barry and noted "Nothing rare but lots more birds". However, Barry was shortly going to tell him that he'd lied, because later in the morning Colin also took a walk through and found something he wasn't sure about... Mick arrived within a few minutes and was able to confirm that Colin had found himself a juvenile Common Rosefinch! For posterity, here is the first picture Mick sent out of it:

Luckily the bird stayed for everyone to catch up with it and more photos and even video were taken. Here is a selection:

A great find and a continuation of Colin's good year...

Hirundines started moving in numbers from around the middle of the month, with a very large flock of House Martins and some Swallows moving south on the 17th, and around this time the resident Tawny Owls on the western edge of the village were making themselves heard (and seen) more frequently.

Also around this time the first Autumn flocks of Meadow Pipits were beginning to appear, and more Siskins were moving too, albeit in very small numbers compared to this time last year.

On the 18th Tim had a Redstart at the Plantation, and 4 Hobbies were still around. On the 19th Barry had a Redstart and two Wheatears in the South Dunes. On the 20th Colin had a Great White Egret over his house, and double figures of Wheatears and a Whinchat remained in the North Dunes. 

On the 21st, after spending several preceding afternoons skywatching in the dunes in the hope of raptors, Sean had arranged to meet an old friend and do some birding at Rainham Marsh on the outskirts of London.  He had a worrying feeling about going away from the patch on such a good date for birding and his fears were confirmed when in the early afternoon Barry and Colin had an Osprey circling over the Hermanus. Oh well, Sean thought, there's always the next few days for another...  On the same date Mick had a Tufted Duck from Bramble Gap. 

The 22nd saw Sean return to skywatching and for a moment his heart nearly stopped when he thought last year's lightning had struck again! 

In other nature news, on the same date three Vagrant Emperor dragonflies were found by a visiting group near the car park, and this marked the beginning of an unprecedented influx of these rare beasts which are primarily found in Africa.  In the coming days there were over 10 seen and this is definitely a conservative estimate. Males were not as frequent as females but at least two copulating pairs were seen on the wing. 

The 24th saw the first sizeable arrival of Pink-footed Geese, with several large, high skeins coming in over the North Dunes.  

On the 25th there was a report of a Yellow-browed Warbler in the North Dunes but nobody who looked could find it and we are as yet unaware of the observer's identity. On the 26th Maynard messaged to say he had seen a Wryneck in the North Dunes, but sadly once again it proved very elusive to everyone else who looked for it, including Barry who was close by.  What a poor year it has been here for Wrynecks - apparently the weather conditions pushed the majority onto the south coast this year.  On the same date at about 11am Drew and his group of visiting birders, plus Tim and Ted had ANOTHER Osprey, this time over the North Dunes, just after Sean had returned home after several hours' birding. He immediately ran back out into the dunes, but missed it yet again. His skywatching plans had really paid off this year!

On the 26th the first Brent Geese of the Autumn were seen - Mick had 11 going north and later Sean had 9 going south, as well as the excellent sight of a flock of 6 Herons coming in off the sea (he was skywatching again but with a sea view this time). A bit later Mick had another 24 Brent Geese south. 

The next day Patrick had a close Manx Shearwater south (they've been extremely rare this year) and Sean had three Pintails going north.

The 28th saw a really substantial movement of Jays going south, with several flocks of above 20 and a total of around 75 birds in an hour. This must be related to the cold, wet spring which disrupted Oak tree flowering and has led to a really poor crop of acorns - there are hardly any on the trees in the valley.  There was also a Garden Warbler in the valley on the 28th, and 4 Great Spotted Woodpeckers moved through, including one which stopped over in Colin's garden. 

On the same date Mick saw a Balearic Shearwater and on the last day of the month Sean and Pat had a fairly close juvenile Pomarine Skua, to finish a basically disappointing month with a flourish. 

At the end of  September we have collectively recorded 197 bird species on the patch, compared to a total of 209 for the whole of last year.  Will we manage a higher score this year?  It seems unlikely but we'll continue to try.  

Happy patch birding everyone!

Saturday, 4 September 2021

August 2021 Roundup

First of all an apology and a correction for last month. On 22 July Peter, with huge excitement, informed us all that he had rediscovered a species he has only seen here a very few times since he first found it 15 years ago.  So huge apologies for missing it out to Peter, and here is his original finder's photo of Matt-grass, Nardus stricta, in all its glory, including the subliminal message which suggests Pete may well be a spy for the Chinese government...

The birding action for August began shortly after midnight on the 1st, when Pat popped out into his garden to check on his moth trap and heard a Little Ringed Plover calling as it flew over.

However for much of the month decent birding was in short supply, so for many of us attention turned to other taxa. In early August one particular patch of the dunes was still full of Six Spot Burnet moths. It was strange how concentrated they were in this patch, with few elsewhere. There were thistles in other places but way fewer moths. 

On the dragonfly front several of us saw Lesser Emperors in the North Dunes, and over the course of a few days in early August there were suddenly hundreds of Small Red-eyed Damselflies.  

On the butterfly front various species such as Grayling, Gatekeeper and a few Ringlets were putting on a good show, and there were reports of Purple Hairstreaks around some of the oak stands.  Later in the month Painted Ladies looked rather wonderful feeding on the Sea Holly. Sadly however it really doesn't seem a good year for Dark Green Fritillaries. 

This Essex Skipper in the North Dunes was impressively identified by Murray without him even looking through his binoculars! 

Back to the birds, on the 2nd Tim connected with a Marsh Tit in one of the places we regularly look for but rarely see this increasingly scarce species. I suspect quite a few of us will fail to get it onto our year lists this year, sadly. 

On the 3rd, shortly before their departure, a Swift finally went inside one of the nextboxes on Sean's house, hopefully prospecting for next season, which bodes well if it manages to survive its incredible migration and return to us in May 2022. 

On the 5th there was a steady passage of Swallows through the morning and Mick saw an immature Cuckoo by the North Pool. Pat had a Ruff fly over his garden.  We were still seeing quite a lot of Whimbrel at this stage in the month too.  

Pat's garden skywatching venue continued to produce the goods the next day too, when he had a Green Woodpecker fly over. 

With the birding rather quiet, insect watching remained enjoyable in the South Dunes, with Hornet Hoverflies, Spotted Longhorn Beetles, Giant Tachnid flies and other interesting species around. 

Seawatching started to pick up a little on the 7th, when Barry had 5 Arctic Skuas and 1 Great Skua and Sean had a moulting adult Black Tern fly south.  The next day there was another Black Tern on the beach at dawn, seen by Will the night warden, and later on Lottie, another of the tern wardens, found several more. 

To the tern wardens' concern, the local Hobby family had done well this year principally on a daily diet of young Little Terns, and the adult Hobbies and four young were seen regularly throughout the month. On the 9th Sean saw all six of them chase down and catch a single unfortunate Swift, all working in unison; presumably the adults teaching the young how to hunt in the air. Mick had several Arctic Terns go south on the same day.

On the 10th Murray had a Common Sandpiper on the beach, and another Black Tern was sitting on the beach on the morning of the 11th, when Colin also flushed another Common Sandpiper from the East Pool. That day was a flying ant day, which meant significant numbers of Mediterranean Gulls hawking above the village in the afternoon.

At around 4.30pm on the 11th a visitor asked Mick, who was wardening on the beach, about an unusual wader on the shoreline. On investigation Mick saw that it was a fine Curlew Sandpiper, a species which although very occasionally noted in flight here, has never been seen 'on the deck'.  It was a fantastic bird and we were all super pleased to get a chance to see it.  Lots of photos were taken and here are just a few. 

On the 13th Colin had a Cuckoo in the valley and Sean a Green Woodpecker in the North Dunes, whist in the evening Maynard had a Greenshank on the sand bank, plus another Arctic Skua and several Black Terns. Cuckoo and Green Woodpecker were both noted in the North Dunes on the 14th too, along with 5 Swifts (the majority have now departed). 

Green Woodpeckers continued to give fleeting views (mostly like this one) in the North Dunes until the month's end. 

On the 18th there was a steady passage of Swallows in the morning, all moving north! 

The first returning Wheatears of the autumn were on the 19th, when Barry had two in the South Dunes. 

On the 20th at 5.50am Pete saw a Common Sandpiper feeding in puddles along North Market Road in the village.

Apart from the odd Arctic Skua, seawatching was still uneventful around this time, although the occasional Red-throated Diver was noted, and Fulmars started to be seen, even flying over land up the valley. They seem to do this each autumn: are they looking out for nest sites for next year??

Passerine passage was very slow in mid August although on the  morning of the 22nd the valley held a Garden Warbler and a few more Lesser Whitethroats and Blackcaps, but still no Pied Flycatchers. Where were they?  The local hybrid Hooded Crow took up residence in the car-park/fishing huts area around this time, where it could be found until the end of the month.

In the afternoon of the 22nd Pete flushed a Wryneck in the North Dunes, which proved highly elusive for the rest of us. However whilst looking for it a number of us finally saw the first patch Pied Flycatcher of the autumn, in the clump that the Wryneck had disappeared into. Chris, one of our regular visitors, noted the first Whinchat of the Autumn on the same afternoon.

On the 23rd Murray saw the Whinchat near the East Pool, then later he and Sean had two more near the Birdless Bushes, where there was also a Pied Flycatcher, with another near the concrete blocks. As Sean and Murray walked back towards the village, Sean had a brief but clear view of Pete's Wryneck, which flushed up from exactly the same place as Pete saw it the previous day, and flew over the ridge into exactly the same clump of bushes too. And once again, despite several of us arriving and searching for it, again we couldn't relocate it. Sean and Murray also had a Redstart on their walk back to the village. Tim found another Whinchat near the cable station and also three Wheatears in the North Dunes, whilst later on in the evening Mick had 2 more Redstarts at the Plantation and 2 more Pied Flycatchers in the Totem Pole Bushes. Birds were obviously arriving, albeit slowly.

The excitement was short-lived however, and the next day the dunes were almost totally devoid of birds, although the 2 Redstarts remained at the plantation. And despite the excitement of Graham E's Greenish Warbler appearing tantalisingly close to our patch, the birding for passerines remained very hard going over the next few days. On the 25th 1 Redstart remained at the Plantation, and a single Swift had a flyround to look at Sean's nextboxes. 

There were potentially good seawatching conditions on the 26th, and in the morning the first 2 Sooty Shearwaters of the Autumn were seen by Mick, Tim and Murray, as well as 3 Pintail, 6 Arctic Skuas and a smattering of waders.  On land, Colin had a Whinchat just east of the village.  In the afternoon news came out of a (the) Black-browed Albatross flying east past Sheringham, so Sean, Mick and Barry headed down to the sheds for a just-in-case seawatch.  Several hours later, and with no Albatross seen, things nevertheless brightened up when Barry picked up a small distant skua near the Cockle. He lost it, but seconds later an Arctic Skua appeared a little to the south, so we all assumed it had been that.  However, in another moment there it was again, alongside several Arctics. Significantly smaller, less bulky and with a quite different flight style. Zoom in the Swarovski... and bam! The tail was visible! it was an adult Long-tailed Skua!  I'm extremely wary of claiming LTS at sea and know that Arctics can appear light, tern-like etc, but there was no doubting this one and we were all happy with the ID, Barry even doing a sort of brief Mo Farah dabbing celebration over it (not a sight I'd wish on anyone else). Interestingly, as we watched it move a long way south, it was joined by at least one other structurally very similar skua, but by then they were way too far away to make anything of it.  On the same seawatch were 9 Pintail, 1 Sooty Shearwater, 9 Arctic Skuas, 3 Great Skuas, Kittiwakes and a couple of Guillemots. Not a bad afternoon's work. 

Seawatching produced the only other highlights for the rest of the month too.  On the 27th there were 4 Arctic Skuas, 3 Red-throated Divers, and a Great Crested Grebe, and on the 28th 2 Sooty Shearwater, 2 Manx Shearwaters, 8 Arctic Skuas, 6 Great Skuas, 5 Kittiwakes and good numbers of Gannets

August ended with a couple more Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts, but very little else.  It is a sad truth that we are involved in a hobby which has the capacity to frequently remind us of the ongoing deterioration of our planet's natural resources, and this August, with so few migrants for most of it, was definitely one of those times.  Then on the 29th we learnt with huge sadness that Keith Dye, a stalwart of the local birding scene since forever, had passed away.  RIP Keith, and RIP the many avian migrants that no longer fly in our skies.