October in the UK can be the doldrums in terms of general birding but it is often a great time of the year for vagrants if the conditions allow. Timing is everything and connecting with vagrants requires being in the right place at the right time, that right place being the east coast of England between Scarborough and Great Yarmouth. For us, we were in some of the right places several times but, sadly, a week too early and the masses of rare and sub-rare east coast birds that were being seen last week were most likely ‘in-transit’ when we were around. I suppose it was not outside the bounds of possibility for us to travel across from Lancashire for the day but we were meant to be visiting relatives and not just seeking birds for a year list, so we didn’t.
What we did do was to get around a few Lancashire sites and see a few birds that took the trip list to 127, not terribly bad for about two full days of birding in terms of time spent. We looked at the sea on the high tide and the swaying reeds of Leighton Moss as cold northerlies buffeted the lightweight vegetation. In truth it was hard work at times and even common birds were not happy to show in the unappealing conditions. We did get a nice day on the penultimate one of our trip and had a couple of hours at Fairhaven Lake in Lytham St-Annes (apparently they have a golf course). Most of the birds we saw were common but a Lapland Longspur was less so, scarce enough for comments on eBird.
It would be fair to say that Lancashire in general is a birding backwater in the UK. There are lots of birds, especially shorebirds, but there are not that many places to go birding per se and, with a logic only a desk-bound RSPB manager could apply, their premier reserve did not stock the Helm guide ‘Where to Watch Birds in Lancashire’, although we could have got the one for Yorkshire there had we needed it – wars have been fought for less. While on the subject of those desk-bound managers, what idiot thought it was a good idea to make the reserve visitors’ wrist band bright yellow? And they sell coats in the shop that are so red that you risk being choked by someone trying to post a letter if you were to stand still for two minutes with your mouth open. Sober colours guys.
Just about our last bird of the trip was pretty much the same as our first, a Red Kite soaring over the Beaconsfield services on the M40. This trip, we concluded, was perhaps the best one we have had ‘home’ despite some challenging circumstances. We saw most (but not all) of the people we wanted to and even saw some we hadn’t expected to at all but were better for it. My Mother managed to stay the right side of the Daisies when it looked pretty iffy for her a couple of weeks ago and we didn’t put any (more) weight on despite the punishing refueling schedule. Now we are back. Everything is red, gold and brown and the winter is peeping over the horizon and planning to employ its own brand of mayhem. This morning I went to the pits for the first time in two weeks. Less water, still trucks everywhere and, on the main lake, four Ruddy Ducks and a Greater Scaup – patch year ticks for me # 178-179.
Below is a selection of common birds from the UK. If you are a UK based reader you will have seen all of these on January 1st for your year list (the old jokes are the best!), if you are a North American reader then there will be some residual interest, especially if you have never crossed the pond.
For those without a copy of the best bird field guide in the World (above) they are (not in order): Eurasian Magpie, Wood Pigeon, Rook, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Red Kite, Grey Heron and Great Tit.