It has not been a typical birding year for me. The on-foot crossing of Spain that was Dove Step 3 was disruptive beyond the actual walking days. It took literally months to recover and settle back into a civilian routine. By the time some semblance of order was restored, it was mid-summer! Luckily, bird survey commitments meant I was out and about during Spring and caught up with most local breeders and some excellent migrants.
Oddly, despite a good year locally with some cracking West Suffolk birds, Spotted Flycatcher have totally evaded me! They breed within the Bury St Edmunds city limits and I have visited known sites - but to no avail. I have of course missed other, typically passage birds, but not any other known breeders of which I can think. My January efforts yielded a respectable 106 species; Spain then kept me entertained until the first days of March. The remainder of March played out in a very typical fashion. My first Chiffchaff, Oystercatcher and Red Kite of the year were back at Lackford Lakes on the 09th. Waders continued to trickle in throughout the month with Redshank at Micklemere by the 15th, followed by Little Ringed Plover at the same site on the 24th, then both the curlew, Eurasian and Stone back on Cavenham Heath by the 26th. The 26th also saw the first Tree Pipit back in the Kings Forest, really characterful birds and always a pleasure to encounter the first of the year, this one whilst surveying Woodlark. Other March specials were Garganey and Goshawk by the middle of the month and the second warbler of the year, Blackcap, just making it within March on the 31st. Looking back, I am amazed and delighted I managed to fit all that in within the fall-out of Dove Step 3, especially as lots of birding was done by bike - allowing the legs some recovery time from the repetition of walking!
April brought all the glory of migration! The floodgates definitely opened in West Suffolk during April! Looking back on my BirdTrack, I am also impressed with the sheer volume of birding I was able to indulge: Lakenheath appears as my second home! Wader passage continued unabated with Black-tailed Godwit at Lakenheath on the 04th, followed by Avocet the next day, Ruff were in at Micklemere by 07th and finally a Dunlin was on the Slough at Lackford on the 27th. Other water birds included Glossy Ibis at Lakenheath on 08th and my first views of the Cranes on the 29th. Rather like Great White Egret, Glossy Ibis are almost an expected and annual sight in West Suffolk now. I can still recall finding a Great White Egret at Micklemere back in 2009, when it was still a British Birds rarity and full description species! Glossy Ibis are now nigh-on annual also. I look forward to more of the herons joining them; Cattle Egret and Night Heron would be particularly welcome locally.
Warblers also continued to arrive, right on cue within April; Sedge Warbler at Lakenheath on the 05th, Whitethroat at Livermere on 09th and Willow Warbler back in the Kings Forest the same day. Another bird back in the Kings Forest on the 09th was Redstart. I am used to picking them up on song and call during survey visits, but little prepared me for binocular-filling views of a perched male in full breeding finery. They are astonishingly awesome birds. The 09th was equally productive for passage birds at Livermere, with the first Common Tern of the year in the company of some stunning Little Gulls. They are something of an expected passage bird at Livermere but easily missed as they do not always stick around. Also, at Livermere, on the 09th, was my first hirundine of the year; House Martin! Definitely the first time House Martin have pipped Sand Martin or indeed Swallow locally for me. Sand Martin and Swallow were in at Cavenham by the 17th – and - more importantly - so was a male Ring Ouzel looking resplendent on the heath. Ring Ouzel are generally annual and some years recorded in both Spring and Autumn passage - but easily missed if you are not in the right place at the right time. Another April addition for me was Water Pipit. Water Pipit are increasingly common during winter along the Little Ouse, and as such I am not sure why it took until April to connect with one - but I am glad I did.
More expected April arrivals swept in across the last 10 days of the month: Cuckoo, Wheatear, Reed Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler were all at Lakenheath, whilst Lesser Whitethroat, Nightingale, Garden Warbler, Swift and Hobby all arrived back at Lackford. April end saw me poised on 145 species for the year and eagerly awaiting all the promise of May - a month which has held some local mega rarities.
The month started well with my favourite bird, Turtle Dove, back on territory near Lackford. It is always an absolute thrill to see this species locally and all the more so when you get to watch a courting pair. The potential for breeding with a species in free-fall decline is a most welcome sign.
The wader invasion, or, more appropriately passage, continued with Common Sandpiper at Lackford on the 01st and Bar-tailed Godwit and Greenshank at Lakenheath on the same date. The 05th saw both Whimbrel and Spotted Redshank at Lakenheath too. Oddly, May provided further wildfowl additions to the list with a Barnacle Goose at Livermere and a Red-crested Pochard at Lackford. Goodness knows where the Barnacle Goose came from! The Red-crested Pochard had been present off and on for some months, it just efficiently evaded me during my visits! Finally, a lunchtime cycle-sprint safely secured views of a breeding plumaged Black-necked Grebe at Livermere and an unofficial work to Livermere land speed record!
Perhaps the biggest bird of the month and potentially the year, was a Great Reed Warbler which pitched up on the 10th at the BTO, Nunnery Lakes reserve. Nunnery Lakes straddles the Norfolk / Suffolk county boundary - or specifically the Watsonian county boundary, formed by the Little Ouse river, for biological recording purposes. I could have achieved heard-only Great Reed Warbler had I waded to the middle of the channel and carefully listened. This, however, seems a little desperate and not in the spirit off my gentlemanly bird watching - so I refrained. As such, Great Reed Warbler does not make it onto the list but remains a mega ‘could have been’ and ‘oh so close’!
Further to the wildfowl added earlier in the month, another May ‘oddity’ and somewhat unseasonal, was a Short-eared Owl hunting along the river at Lakenheath on the evening of the 20th May. This was followed with a chaser of Woodcock and Nightjar in the Kings Forest on our way to the pub. ‘Nightjarring’ is one of the absolute highlights of a West Suffolk birding year and despite the belated pub arrival time a must do!
Two very welcome additions, both warblers, came late in the month of May, with a singing Marsh Warbler at Lakenheath on the 23rd and a singing Wood Wood Warbler in Brandon on the 26th. Whilst I have seen two Marsh Warblers in West Suffolk previously, the Wood Warbler was a long overdue and hoped-for addition. The final new bird for May was Corn Bunting on the 31st in the hinterland Suffolk Fens - way, way out west in West Row.
June was the first blank month of the year for me - with no new birds added to the tally, July was marginally better with a Yellow Wagtail on my local patch, comprised of farmland adjacent to Bury St Edmunds itself. August was marginally better with a Little Stint at Livermere on the 10th - only my second ever recorded in West Suffolk.
I type this poised on 162 species for the year, with the remainder of September and the last quarter of the year to play with. In particular, the mighty month of October offers hope. Previously, October has delivered such diverse birds as Black Redstart and Curlew Sandpiper; seemingly anything is possible and I hope to connect when it is!
Thereafter, the second winter period also provides the opportunity for more ‘grey geese’ with Pink-footed and Bean both on the cards; rare ducks are similarly possible and there remains the chance to tidy up omissions such as; Jack Snipe, Goosander, Long-eared Owl and Crossbill from the first winter period. 38 species in the remaining three months of the year is at most optimistic and at best exciting! I look forward to seeing how much I can narrow the gap.
All images © Jonny Rankin. Take the #My200BirdYear Challenge; www.birdwatching.co.uk/my200/