With conditions looking promising for a decent bit of drift, I decided to head down to Dover for first thing. After missing Dante's Radde's Warbler a couple of weeks back, I've been particularly determined to get down to Langdon Cliffs as much as possible before the autumn is out in the hope of another good bird.
It felt promising around the car park early doors, with lots of birds overhead – predominately Chaffinches and Song Thrushes, but with the odd Redwing and Brambling mixed in. The bushes were alive with the sounds of Robins and Goldcrests, themselves two of the most numerous migrants of the morning (along with Song Thrush and Blackbird). The odd Chiffchaff was calling and occasional flocks of up to 20 Siskins were passing to the east.
Despite much promise there was a lack of genuine quality, with a fly-over Golden Plover the best in the car park area. Langdon Hole produced a similar array of migrants, the best of which was a Black Redstart on the undercliff. Further Bramblings, Siskins and Robins and a single Northern Wheatear enlivened the eastward climb out of 'The Hole', the former among many Skylarks and Meadow Pipits in the clifftop crop fields. Then, just a short way before Fan Bay, I scored the bird of the morning – recognising an unusual call to my right, I turned to see a male Snow Bunting flying from the clifftop with a small group of Meadow Pipits and off inland.
Fan Bay produced little more than a few Blackcaps and a couple of Stonechats and, with the weather becoming increasingly warm and sunny, I decided to call it a morning and head back to London for the Rustic Bunting at Wanstead Flats, present for its second day.
The bunting was showing well to a small crowd on arrival, generally among the burnt areas of scrub, but occasionally sitting up in trees, calling regularly. I stayed with it for a couple of hours, enjoying excellent 'scope views, although it was always that tiny bit too distant for genuinely good SLR shots. Nonetheless the beautiful autumn light ensured a few decent records could be obtained. After August's Red-backed Shrike, this was another cracking bird for Wanstead.
My old local patch of Baston & Langtoft Pits really is an excellent site these days. Over the weekend I visited the pits several times and was pleased to see that the elusive Black-necked Grebe was still around, in addition to Thursday's Wood Sandpiper success. However, bird of the weekend for me was an adult Cattle Egret, which I picked up by complete chance as it flew through my 'scope on the Friday evening.
My suspicion was that it had roosted on The Ocean (where herons breed/roost), in the private part of the complex. Returning early the next morning, I saw the bird again, flying purposefully north towards the River Glen. I guessed it might be visiting a nearby sheep field, but it continued beyond that and my next assumption was that it'd be along the banks of the river itself, where cattle are grazed. After an unsuccessful couple of hours' gulling at Tanholt with Mike Weedon, I returned to the area and walked along the Glen bank eastwards from Katesbridge. After a couple of miles and a few Little Egrets, I found the cows ... and, entirely predictably, the egret was with them. It was pretty wary but a bit of careful stalking eventually produced a few decent photos. OK, so Cattle Egret is hardly the discovery it was even a few years ago, but it's still relatively scarce in Lincolnshire and was a find tick for me and also a first site record, so I was fairly content – even if it's not the most inspiring of species.
Other than the egret again leaving its roost on the Sunday, I didn't see too much else of note, although there was a Green Sandpiper, a couple of Pintail and an influx of Wigeon and Shoveler. Red-crested Pochard numbers consistently hovered at around 100.
Then, on Sunday afternoon, news broke of a White-rumped Swift at Hornsea Mere. This first for Britain lingered until it was more or less dark, so I went up with Rich and Dante for first light. Of course, the swift didn't play ball and then Hugh Wright called with news of a stint species at BLGP. For the second time this year, he'd found a Temminck's Stint on the wader pit ... argh! Thankfully it lingered and all's well that ends well, for I saw the bird during the afternoon, on my way back to London. Also present was the Wood Sand, plus a couple of Whooper Swans for good measure. It really is a fantastic place for birding now – I just wish I could watch it more often!
The autumn is rapidly advancing, seemingly bypassing me in the process. Over the past week, east coast birders have finally enjoyed some decent action, while the odd Nearctic arrival has kept those out west in the game. Due to work and an untimely bout of flu, I missed out on getting to the coast last weekend, while Rich and Dante gripped me off by finding a Radde's Warbler at Dover. It was with relief, then, that I had a morning spare today, allowing me just enough time to check my favourite spots in Peterborough.
A couple of hours sifting through the gulls at Tanholt produced three Caspian Gulls – a fine adult (I never see many of these), a well-marked third-winter and a beautiful first-winter that bore a yellow ring. The latter read P:S09, unsurprisingly rendering it Polish rather from one on of the minefield colonies in Germany, where birds more often than not look underwhelming. The views at Tanholt are good if you have a 'scope, but generally the birds are well out of range for an SLR – thus I was quite satisfied with this record shot of P:S09 as it cruised by.
I always find it challenging to tear myself away from gulls, yet I eventually did so just before midday. After getting a bit of work done, I headed down to my old patch at Baston & Langtoft Pits to see if there was anything of interest. Interest there was, albeit not in the form I had anticipated ... when you see a small wader in October, slightly larger than a Dunlin yet noticeably pale below, you'd be forgiven for thinking it might be something quite good. Naturally I was excited, then, to see such a thing careering around the wader pit. Was it going to be a Pec...? Well, no ... a distinctive burst of calls quickly identified it as a Wood Sandpiper. This is by far and away my latest ever in the Peterborough area – in fact I think by over a month! To put it into context, a quick search of the BirdGuides.com sightings database reveals that six Wood Sandpipers have been seen across Britain and Ireland since 1 October (the BLGP bird included). Compare that to 18 Pectoral and eight Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Sometimes life just isn't fair ... but I can't complain too much. The bird was a little sketchy at first but soon became accustomed to me lying in the mud and tolerated my presence to under 10 metres. The sun eventually went in and I was able to get some pleasing shots in neutral light. Confiding waders ... you can't beat them!