A diary of my birding activity covering highlights and photos from my birding adventures. Mainly Norfolk (UK), occasionally beyond. I might mention the odd thing that isn't avian, but for moth and other insect news check out my mothing diary.

Wednesday 20 January 2021

Review of 2019 and 2020 - Birds

I haven't posted anything on this blog since 2018.  At the beginning of 2020 I planned to publish a review of the year for 2019 (covering all taxa, not just birds) but I didn't quite finish it before the 2020 season got busy, so in the end I decided to combine the two years.

I've been focusing much more on insects and other taxa than in the past, and my birding activity has been more limited as a consequence.  But just as big an impact on the variety of birds seen, if not the amount of time spent looking, is the fact that I've mostly stayed much more local - by choice in 2019 and more so by necesity during 2020 with its Covid-19 pandemic.  Even so, it really struck me in preparing this review how few birds I saw in 2019 and 2020 - birds that normally I would see on multiple occasions during a year I hardly saw at all, or in some cases didn't see at all.

For me staying local means North Elmham and as much as I enjoy walking round my local patch (the Cathedral Meadows), it really isn't a great location for birding when compared to many coastal locations or even a lot of inland sites, particularly those with more varied habitat.  I have a view over the Wensum Valley and in the winter when the leaves are off the trees if I stand in just the right place I can just see a little bit of the park lake, but my views of freshwater are mainly restricted to a small dyke that runs alongside the edge of the patch or occasional floodwaters in the surrounding land.

That said I did manage to pick up a few decent local birds, especially in the second half of  2020.  These included Quail in July 2019, Wryneck in September 2020, Jack Snipe in October 2020 and Great White Egret and Hen Harrier in November 2020.  Although arguably not countable, a rehabilitated White Stork was another notable patch bird in spring 2020.  Surely the most extraordinary local sighting was another bird that benefited from human assistance (if indirectly), the Lammergeier which I saw from Billingford and then nipped back home just in time to glimpse it from my study window.  I won't go into details, but a local find of Long-eared Owl was also a very unexpected surprise. 

I did twitch a few birds in Norfolk before the pandemic including Semipalmated Sandpiper, Grey-bellied Brant and Eastern Yellow Wagtail (a bit of a James McCallum theme there - he found them all!), Isabelline Wheatear and most excitingly the Kalij Pheasant.  Oh, and the Eagle Owl and, just across the Suffolk border, the fantastic Mallard x Rosybill hybrids.  Twitching was largely out of the question during the pandemic but thankfully restrictions had been lifted sufficiently at the time of the Rufous Bush Robin to make it possible to see that safely, and I managed to see the Brown Shrike too.

Other visits to the coast were few and far between but I only managed a handful of mediocre days hunting migrants or seawatching.

My first trip to Mull in June 2019 was great - the weather was amazing and there was plenty to look at.  Of the birds, the White-tailed Eagles were maybe top of the list although I really enjoyed the boat trip to Staffa to see the Puffins.

I timed a long weekend to Barcelona in February 2020 just right as Covid-19 hit Spain in a big way a week or two later and I wouldn't have been able to travel there then.  The clear highlight here was my first Wallcreeper. Iberian Green Woodpecker was also new for me here.

We were able to go to Cornwall in early October 2020 too, although it wasn't the best week for birding.  Having missed it at Pendeen it was nice of the American Golden Plover to follow me to Porthgwarra, but the Red-eyed Vireo at Kenidjack refused to show its face.

Two visits to the Lake District in 2019 to see family produced a few more birds - either there or on the journeyes to and from - including Black Grouse and a Gadwall x Shoveler hybrid.

Follow the links below to view details and photos of each group of birds, or just go to the first and then use the "Next page" links at the bottom to move on through.  Other non-avian parts of my review of the years will soon start being published on my Mothing Diary blog.  After that I shall need to re-think my online presence - my main website was suspended at the beginning of this year as a fall-out of Brexit - you have to be resident in the EU to retain registration of a .eu domain.  As much as I wish I was still resident in the EU, our inevitable re-entry to the EU is sadly not yet on the horizon.  The linked blogs remain live but as a platform Blogger is proving far from ideal and in any case the title of the blog linking to a now-defunct website no longer seems appropriate.  So watch this space, but don't expect anything new very imminently.

Kalij Pheasant

Grey-bellied Brant

Mallard x Rosybill hybrid

Turtle Dove

American Golden Plover

Audouin's Gull

White Stork in North Elmham

Cattle Egret, Brancaster, 1st June 2019

Lammergeier - shortly before I saw it from my study window

Wryneck at the North Elmham Cathedral Meadows

Brown Shrike

Wallcreeper in Spain

Isabelline Wheatear

Eastern Yellow Wagtail


Review of 2019 and 2020 - Birds: Finches and Buntings


Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs - Common at the meadows and at home.  I rarely see more than a few but on 26th February 2020 there was a flock of 50 in one of the fields neighbouring the meadows.

Chaffinch, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 29th March 2019

Chaffinch, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 19th April 2019

Chaffinch, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 11th March 2020

Brambling Fringilla montifringilla - Singles at the meadows on 4 dates up to 27th March 2019 when one in song, and another present there on 18th April.  None seen there the following winter (a poor season for most finches) but singles seen or heard on 4 dates between 12th October and 23rd November 2020.  One heard over the garden on 14th November 2020 and 120 at Lynford on 23rd Febuary 2019.  Otherwise smaller numbers recorded at Santon Downham, Burnham Overy, Brancaster, Titchwell and Bintree Wood.

Brambling, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 18th February 2019

Brambling, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 27th March 2019

Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes - 26 at Lynford on 23rd February 2019.

Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula - Common around the meadows and occasionally seen or heard at home.

Bullfinches, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 11th March 2019

Greenfinch Chloris chloris - Reasonably frequent at the meadows.

Greenfinch, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 6th February 2019

Greenfinch, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 27th November 2020

Spanish birds apparently belong to race chloratica, apparently covering most of the species' Mediterranean range (though some authorities subdivide this into a number of additional races).  Although variation between races of Greenfinch is described as slight I think if I saw this at the meadows it would give me quite a shock.

Greenfinch, Gava Mar (Spain), 22nd February 2020

Twite Linaria flavirostris - It's not just the Puffins that make Staffa a worthwhile trip when staying on Mull and a family of Twite nearly made me miss the boat back to Iona.

Twite, Staffa, 11th June 2019

Linnet Linaria cannabina - Common at the meadows although not always present.  Counts in 2020 included 47 on 25th March and 32 on 25th October.

Linnet, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 7th April 2020

Linnet, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 27th April 2020

Mealy Redpoll Acanthis flammea - At least one present with Lesser Redpolls at the meadows between 16th February and 1st March 2019.  The flock also frequented the garden feeders along Church Lane and was a bit easier to see here.  It is possible that more than one Mealy Redpoll was involved in all the sightings, however I couldn't convincingly establish the presence of more than one bird.  The subspecific identity of a well-streaked white-rumped Redpoll on 9th June 2019 at Druimsornaig Cemetery on Mull was unclear to me - presumably one of the north-western or hybrid (?) types that seem to breed in the NW isles.

Mealy Redpoll, Church Lane, North Elmham, 16th February 2019

Mealy Redpoll, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 20th February 2019

Lesser Redpoll Acanthis cabaret - Seen at the meadows between January and early April 2019 with a flock of up to 15 birds present between mid February and mid March.  They commuted between the meadows and the garden feeders along Church Lane, and probably also visited Millenium Wood.  Towards the end of their stay they also fed in the willows along the railway and beyond.  The 2019/20 winter was a complete void for redpolls at the meadows but there were a number of records later in the year starting with one heard on 22nd September and 30 Repdoll sp. and one confirmed Lesser Redpoll on 28th September.  There were also a few at home including 12 on 24th October and elsewhere I saw 60 at Bintree Wood on 11th November.

Lesser Redpoll, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 18th March 2019

Lesser Redpoll, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 12th October 2020

Common Crossbill Loxia curvirostris - One on the Cumbria/Durham border in December 2019 was my only record.

Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis - Common at the meadows and also reasonably frequent at home.

Goldfinch, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 5th July 2019

Goldfinch, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 19th April 2020

Goldfinch, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 27th April 2020

Serin Serinus serinus - Plenty of these in Spain.

Serins, Gava Mar, 22nd February 2020

Serins, Llobregat Delta, 22nd February 2020

Siskin Spinus spinus - Small numbers seen regularly at the meadows until late March 2019 then in autumn up to 10 recorded on two dates in October.  10 again on 28th February 2020 but it was a poor winter for this species and other finches.  A more unexpected summer record of a pair flying over on 20th July and then numerous records of up to 10 from mid September to the end of the year.  Occasionally seen at home and other reasonably local records included another summer record of 2 at Foxley Wood on 11th July 2020 and one at Bintree Wood.  Much larger numbers in the Brecks, the Lakes and on Mull.

Siskin, Strathcoil (Mull), 13th June 2019



Lapland Bunting Calcarius lapponicus - At least one at Brancaster on 14th October 2020 and one at Stiffkey on 17th October.



Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella - Common at the meadows though possibly declining even in the short time I've been watching there.  Not always easy to find there in the winter.

Yellowhammer, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 18th February 2019

Yellowhammer, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 13th November 2019

Yellowhammer, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 5th April 2020

Yellowhammer, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 19th April 2020

Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus - 2 near Emabalsa de Santa Ana (Spain) in February 2020.

Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus - Seen at the meadows reasonably frequently.

That's it for the birds - you can return to the Birds index or go over to my Mothing Diary for my review of 2019-20's non-avian wildlife (starting shortly...)