My UK Year List - 2014

  • 117-118) GREAT WHITE EGRET and LONG-TAILED DUCKS at Mary's Lake, Earls Barton GP, 9 January
  • 116) Barnacle Goose, Emberton Park, 9 January
  • 114-115) SMEW and Cetti's Warbler at Great Hardmead Lake, Amwell, 7 January
  • 113) Reed Bunting, Tyttenhanger, 7 January
  • 112) Tree Sparrow (32 birds), Tyttenhanger, 7 January
  • 111) Sparrowhawk, West Hyde, 7 January
  • 110) Mandarin Duck, Burnham Beeches NNR, 7 January
  • 100-109) Curlew, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Common Shelduck, Kittiwake and Mediterranean Gull at Church Norton, 6 January
  • 99) RUDDY SHELDUCK, Sidlesham Ferry, 6 January
  • 96-98) Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone and Rock Pipit in Shoreham Harbour
  • 95) Red-breasted Merganser, Widewater, 6 January
  • 94) GREY PHALAROPE, Hove Lagoon, 6 January
  • 93) Grey Partridge, Broom, 5 January
  • 92) Goosander, Woburn Lakes, 5 January
  • 91) Skylark, Totternhoe, 5 January
  • 90) Yellowhammer, Totternhoe, 5 January
  • 89) Corn Bunting, Totternhoe, 5 January
  • 88) Water Pipit, Wilstone, 5 January
  • 87) SABINE'S GULL, Weston Turville, 5 January
  • 86) Common Scoter, Brogborough, 4 January
  • 85) GREAT NORTHERN DIVER, Stewartby Lake, 4 January
  • 84) Red-legged Partridge, Hatch, 4 January
  • 83) Common Kestrel, Langford, 4 January
  • 82) GLOSSY IBIS, Frensham, 4 January
  • 81) Goldcrest, Frensham, 4 January
  • 80) Green Sandpiper, Lynsters, 3 January
  • 79) Stock Dove, Lynster's, 3 January
  • 78) Egyptian Goose, Lynsters Farm, 3 January
  • 77) Common Chiffchaff, Stockers Lake
  • 76) SIBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF, Stockers Lake
  • 75) Siskin, Stockers Lake
  • 74) Dunnock, Stockers Lake
  • 73) Ring-necked Parakeet, Stockers Lake
  • 72) Lesser Redpoll, Stockers Lake
  • 71) Coal Tit, Chaffinch House
  • 40-70: Nuthatch, Greylag Goose, Pied Wagtail, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Common Redshank, Common Snipe, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, LITTLE STINT, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey Wagtail, Goldeneye, Meadow Pipit, Greenfinch, Marsh Tit, Dunnock, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit, Bullfinch, Jay, Red-crested Pochard, Wren, Collared Dove (all at Tring Reservoirs), Brambling (Ivinghoe), Herring & Great Black-backed Gull, CATTLE EGRET (Briarhill Farm, Calvert) & Green Woodpecker
  • 1-39 all local, Chess River Valley & Shardeloes Estate: 1 January 2014: Chaffinch, Common Starling, Woodpigeon, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Common Magpie, Mute Swan, Mallard, Moorhen, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Rook, Common Buzzard, Canada Goose, Coot, Black-headed Gull, Tufted Duck, Pochard, House Sparrow, Common Blackbird, Woodpigeon, Pheasant, Gadwall, Kingfisher, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Little Grebe, Common Gull, Red Kite, Redwing, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Goldfinch, Mistle Thrush, WOODCOCK, Treecreeper, Greenfinch and Water Rail

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Year Listing in the UK

Lee Evans has been Year-listing in the UK since 1977 and has achieved annual totals of over 300 species ever since. Although he has recorded in excess of 360 species on some nine occasions, his record stands at 386 species - achieved in 1996. Adrian Webb in Year 2000 recorded at least 378 species, making him by far the highest-listing individual to compare with Lee. In terms of Life Listing, Lee has recorded 577 species in Britain and Ireland and 853 species in the wider Western Palearctic region.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Phew - What a Day ! TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL, 4 ALPINE SWIFTS, a PALLID SWIFT and an awesome adult male LESSER KESTREL

The stunning adult male LESSER KESTREL at Minsmere (Alan Shearman)

And those taken by Dave Horton

Jan Hein Steenis' images of the LK

A uique opportunity and image - both Kessingland ALPINE and PALLID SWIFTS together (Rebecca Nason)

My first-ever Bedfordshire TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL (Mike Lawrence)


Having had to work all night (at a 50th birthday party in Chesham), I snatched two hours of sleep before rising at 0800 hours. Meanwhile, British Summertime had kicked in and I had already lost an hour. The day had dawned quite overcast, and a fresh wind had set in - temperatures were hovering around 13 degrees C.

Today was actually one of those days you dream about, being an avid birder. I had initially set forth for Bedfordshire, where I was to get a fine new county bird, and ended up in Suffolk, where all expectations were surpassed........

(0900-1230 hours)

Whilst waiting for the Penduline Tits to appear at Dungeness ARC on Saturday afternoon, I received several calls and texts from Bedfordshire, where Alan Crofts and Mike Lawrence had seen and photographed a female TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL at the reserve main pond between 1215 and 1445 hours. This was an astounding record, particularly with the lack of any individuals of this species in Britain all winter, and knowing the variability and extent of wing-barred crossbills, I made further enquiries as to the bird's appearance. Meanwhile, local birders such as Steve Blain and Jim Gurney rushed down to the hide, and at 1545 hours, the bird flew in again to drink and others witnessed it too. There seemed absolutely no doubt about the identification and as I drove home, three of Mike's images were texted to my phone and I was well and truly gripped.

Bleary-eyed and knackered, I staggered out of bed and made my way over to The Lodge, turning up in the entrance car park just after 0900 hours. Darren Oakley-Martin, Mike Ilett and a hideful of others had already had excellent views of the bird from 0630 hours and had left. As I approached the hide, Bob Chalkley, Roy Nye, Peter Smith and Lol Carman were just leaving and exclaimed that the bird had not been seen for several hours and the flock were not coming in to drink because of all of the noise and movement around the hide. After a short while of waiting and a view of 30+ distant Crossbill flying around, I too realised it was very unlikely.

I spoke to both Paul Wright and Steve Blain who had both had success in viewing the flock on the main heath, east of the Fort, so I decided to explore. No sooner had we walked in the direction of the shop than the entire flock of Crossbills landed in a nearby stand of conifers and after quickly setting up the 'scope, Dave Holman and I quickly latched on to our quarry. The female TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL was in amongst a flock of 34 COMMON CROSSBILLS and was feeding fairly close to the top of the tree. Despite being so well-marked, it was difficult to keep on, as it kept dropping down and out of view, and was lost for long periods. Thankfully, the flock remained in the area for a good half-hour and after a lot of effort, I and others managed to get a large proportion of the 90-strong crowd on to it.

The flock then flew to some deciduous trees nearby, where the TBC sat out in full view at the very top of the tree for a few seconds. This was a great view but frustratingly brief. They also very briefly flew down to the ground (presumably where there was lying water) and for another brief period, I obtained some superb views of the TBC as it perched on the bracken. I was also pleased to be able to follow it in flight for some time, as the flock wheeled around for several minutes.

There was remarkable frenzy in cone-feeding, with the majority of the crossbills actively taking pine cones from the branches and extracting the seeds. Cones were dropping everywhere. Quite what the TBC was doing I do not know, as their much smaller and slimmer bill is better designed for Larches.

The flock then flew to a further stand of trees further back, much better viewed from the Perimeter Trail north from the shop. By this time, the crowd had swelled to at least 100, and over the next hour, many more views were obtained of the bird as it moved within the flock. My best count was of 34 COMMON CROSSBILLS, whilst others reported 43.

The TWO-BARRED CROSSBILL was a classic, being structurally different from the Common Crossbills in its noticeably smaller size and slimmer body and smaller bill with a marked cross-over at the tip. On both wings, it had a double white wing-bar and very obvious white tips to the tertials - importantly, the feathers were all PURE WHITE and not buff-toned or greyish-white as in wing-barred crossbills. The tips of the greater coverts were extensive, suggesting an adult, whilst other significant features included the grey cast to the hindcrown and nape and the very dark centres (almost blackish) to the upperpart feathers, particularly those on the mantle and scapulars.

This was a very unexpected addition to my Bedfordshire List and represented my 255th county species - it was also my first of the year - 231. Being such a rare bird, particularly in an inland county, it was hugely popular, with some 470 or so visitors during the day and another sizeable number the next day (Monday). I was pleased to see most of the county regulars at the site, including those aforementioned plus Keith Owen, Andy Plumb, MJP, Dave Ball and Tim Robson, along with many birders from neighbouring counties, including Jake & Ruth Ward, Barry Reed and Bill Last.

Two-barred Crossbill is a species which has only been reported in the county on one previous occasion, during an apparent crossbill irruption year in 1890. Steele-Elliott in 1904 listed a flock that was found in one of the fir plantations at Ampthill on 3 January 1890 by three Bedford schoolboys. Five were apparently 'secured' by catapult but one of these escaped and H.W.Finlayson had considered that the flock had initially contained at least 20 birds. In support of this claim, it must be stressed that Autumn 1889 did see a huge influx of Common Crossbills and four Two-barred Crossbills had been recorded with them (proven specimens).

Alan Crofts and Mike Lawrence obtained an absolutely staggering selection of stunning images of the bird and several are reproduced here. An awesome record.

Other birds noted at the reserve included my first Beds LESSER REDPOLL and EUROPEAN BARN SWALLOW of the year, and 50+ FIELDFARES, whilst a male Northern Goshawk was present for its 5th day and a singing male Firecrest was discovered (per MJP).


Whilst watching the TBC, I was repeatedly reminded that a PALLID SWIFT was on view in Suffolk. Matt Deans was there, watching it and providing me with frequent updates. As Alan Stewart had not seen this species, we agreed to rendezvous in Baldock town, and after driving the 124 miles in under two hours, arrived in Kessingland at 1445 hours.

The PALLID SWIFT and its companion ALPINE SWIFT were wheeling low over the caravan park and eastern part of the town and showing very well. The PALLID was obviously very smaller and much like a Common Swift in general view. On closer inspection with the 'scope, it could clearly be seen to be much paler, with an almost milky-tea complexion to the upperparts in bright sunlight, a prominent white throat, a striking 'beady eye' contrast with the head and a two-toned underwing. The tail fork was typically shallow and its undercarriage paler barred, with quite rounded wing-tips in profile. Occasionally, the paler greater covert area could be noted, contrasting with the much darker outer hand of the wing. Rebecca Nason managed to obtain an image depicting both birds together and that I have published above.

After half an hour of almost constant observation, we decided to move on. Whilst scanning skyward, a presumably passage sub-adult NORTHERN GOSHAWK drifted high overhead, slowly migrating south along the coast. With such a double-bill, birders were everywhere, including numerous faces seen earlier at Sandy, including DJH and Christine Stean, Stuart Elsom & Jill, Barry Reed, Bill Last and others, and a great number of local Suffolk and Norfolk birders.

Matt Deans very kindly escorted Alan and I to the Sewage Works where we were delighted to see 4 WHITE WAGTAILS (3 adult male and a first-summer male) in with the 30 or so Pied Wagtails feeding on the pans, 1-2 Grey Wagtails, several Common Chiffchaffs and a stunning male FIRECREST in song.


Being the greedy birder that I am, I could not resist the two ALPINE SWIFTS that had been present along the main promenade over recent days. They had been flying up and down the main promenade between the CEFAS Laboratories complex and the Claremont Pier and were both still present when we arrived at 1600 hours. As shoppers and walkers were going about their usual Saturday business, two Alpine Swifts were flying overhead at just literally a few yards range, perhaps catching insects disturbed by the activity. They were absolutely awesome and like all larger swifts, highly entertaining to watch and follow and unpredictable in their actions.

As we were about to try and photograph them, Andy Clifton and Matt Mulvey suddenly came dashing towards us shouting ''Have you looked at your pager?'' - ''LESSER KESTREL at Minsmere''. I could not believe our luck - just 12 miles from a mega-rarity. Wasting no time at all, we raced back to the CEFAS building where our car was parked and retrieving my mobile, realised I had three missed calls, two from Alan Davies. I phoned him back and he informed me that he was watching a male LESSER KESTREL at just 65-100 yards just 200 yards from the main Minsmere car park. Gripping or what!

We were in a dilemma as we were almost completely out of fuel but there was simply no time to waste. We risked it and at Blythburgh, turned SW towards Westleton.........


Taking a short cut, to save both fuel and time, we approached Minsmere reserve from the north along the access track just after 1640. Passing the famous Great Bustard field on our right, I noticed a Kestrel out of the corner of my eye and seeing two cars and standing birders on the right, I shouted for Alan to stop. I jumped out of the car and the two guys exclaimed that the Lesser Kestrel had been inadvertently flushed and was flying our way. I latched on to the bird immediately and realised it was a stunning adult male. It was flying slowly and attempting to land on a fencepost so I dashed back to the car and grabbed my 'scope. It was simply crippling and as I followed it, a female Common Kestrel came in to view and started chasing it. The two birds started altercating and clearly the female won out, forcing the LK to continue flying and eventually, after several unsuccessful attempts at landing, forced it over the trees and out across Westleton Walks. It had been on view for just three minutes (1643-1646).

We raced over to where it had flown but there was nothing and real pandemonium ensued. The access road very quickly jammed up with the vast hordes of arriving twitchers and after the initial panic and realisation that it had been lost, birders started spreading out and searching.

Whilst scanning the horizons, yet another ALPINE SWIFT was located - by Craig Fulcher - our fourth individual of the afternoon - the bird flying very distantly over the reserve.

Some time went by before suddenly a shout went up that the bird had been relocated at Scott's Hall Covert, and as nobody other than reserve residents knew where that was, it was Wacky Races all over again. Eventually, I worked out where that was, and dumping the car at the side of the road, ran quickly down the footpath out on to Westleton Heath. In fact, as it turned out, it was a long run - 600 yards in total - and already some 170 birders were in position.

The adult male LESSER KESTREL was feeding at the edge of the Covert at approximately TM 463 685, and was flying short distances between gorse clumps and the remains of a dead Elder. It was very distant but at least perching - and was an incredibly beautiful bird to boot. Whilst it was still sunny, it was still feeding but as the light faded, it became more inactive and went through into the slight valley and started searching for food (by hovering!) behind a tall Oak tree. It then became much more difficult to see and showed only tantalizingly briefly. Many newcomers struggled to get on to it. It then dropped on to the ground and disappeared. At 1845 hours, it reappeared in flight, and flew directly into a dark, dense Holm Oak and roosted. By dusk, over 330 birders had connected, but 100 or more had to leave disappointed.

This had been the climax of an unprecedented March day's birding in Britain. My second ever authenticated LESSER KESTREL on home soil, following the 2002 Scilly immature male. It was an adult male, with elongated central tail feathers, plain chestnut mantle and inner wing-coverts, dark outer wings and a narrow blue panel of upperwing feathers on the inner secondaries and median coverts. The head was powder-keg blue, with no dark moustachial stripe, with a rich buff wash to the underparts and light spotting on the breast and flanks. In flight, the underwing flashed gleaming white - this truly was an elegant raptor.

When with the female Common Kestrel, it was seen to be more sleek, with shorter wings and tail, and flew with much quicker wingbeats. The wings were quite pointed in shape.

There have been just a handful of records of this predominantly Mediterranean species since 1950, although 10 were collected between 1867 and 1926. Of those considered authenticated, a first-summer male was at St Ives Island, Cornwall, on 30 May 1968, at Fairburn Ings, West Yorkshire, briefly on 4 June 1979, a male on Fair Isle on 23 June 1987, a male found dead in a farm outbuilding near Dover, Kent, on 20 April 1989 and a male over Hampstead Heath, London, on 31 May 1992. Most recently, a first-summer male was on St Mary's, Scilly, from 13-21 May 2002.

Thanks to a massive nestbox scheme in southern France and Spain, this once endangered small falcon has now dramatically increased in numbers and between late February and early April, wintering birds return from wintering grounds in Senegal and The Gambia. This Suffolk occurrence fits neatly into this pattern and is presumably an overshooting male caught up in the same weather conditions that have misplaced the Pallid and Alpine Swifts. Now wouldn't another twitchable Crag Martin cap it all !

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