Monday, 31 December 1979

The 1970s: Thailand, Israel, Canaries, Scillies and Nepal in 1979

Another dive into the distant past, more unreliable memories, particularly as to who I went where with, backed up (or not) by notes pretty much restricted to species lists. Worst of all I can’t now remember who some of the day or weekend trips were with. Andrew Moon, Pete Naylor and increasingly Rupert Hastings were the mainstays of more distant trips and Richard Kelly, Martyn Kenefick and Brian Short the more local ones. I was still some years away from learning to drive so was very much reliant on the above and others for lifts which were greatly appreciated. The option was British Rail with my Student Railcard or hitching. Neither were ideal.

I started the year on Doi Inthanon, half way through a Thai trip with Andrew Moon, Pete Walton and Steve Whitehouse (see https://birdingneversleeps.blogspot.com/1979/01/). Back in Sussex better birds seen were 2 Smew in the Cuckmere on 14th, 60 White-fronted Geese, 100 Bewick’s Swans and a Hen Harrier on Amberley Wildbrooks and a Black Redstart, 2 Tree Sparrows and 10 Bramblings in Shoreham on 20th, a Barn Owl at Pagham on 27th and 3 Goosanders at Arlington on 28th.
Andrew Moon on the Blue Pitta trail at Khao Yai, it took four days for us all to see one (and contrary to this photo most of the time we were looking on the ground)
A trip to Cliffe, Allhallows and Sheppey in North Kent on 3 February produced a Great Northern Diver, 500+ Red-throated Divers, 2 Red-necked Grebes, 4 Pink-footed and 300 White-fronted Geese, Scaup, Smew, a Marsh and 6 Hen Harriers (at least one of the latter at each site), Merlin, Little and Tawny Owls, 2 Twite and 20 Lapland Buntings. The next day I saw 8 Eider and 28 Purple Sandpipers at Newhaven. On 10th on a return visit to Kent I saw a Black-necked Grebe and 7 Scaup at Merston, a Bean, 10 Pink-footed and 200 White-fronted Geese, 2 Hen Harriers, a Quail (flushed from the sea wall) and 4 Shore Larks at Sheppey and 7 Bean and 7 Pink-footed Geese, Glossy Ibis and 7 Hen Harriers at Stodmarsh. We also saw 3 Hen Harriers at Sandwich taking the day’s total to 12. On 17th I saw a Great Grey Shrike on Hooe Level, Pevensey and 25 Hawfinches at Bedgebury. Highlights of a long day trip to Dungeness on 25th were 20 Barnacle and 200 White-fronted Geese at Pett, 9 Snow Buntings at Camber, a Red-necked Grebe, 6 Barnacle, 20 Bean, 10 Pink-footed and 500 White-fronted Geese, 97 Bewick’s and 2 Whooper Swans and 19 Goosander in the Dungeness area and 59 Barncale, 22 Bean, 5 Pink-footed and 760 White-fronted Geese, 27 Bewick’s Swans and a Woodcock on Pevensey Levels.

On 3 March on trip to West London I saw Black-throated Diver, 3 Red-necked Grebes, a male Red-crested and 1000 Common Pochard at Staines, 5 Goosander and 4 Smew at Wraysbury, 2 Short-eared Owls at Poyle, a Smew and 2 20 Bean, 10 Pink-footed and 500 White-fronted Geese, 97 Bewick’s and 2 Whooper Swans and at Cheshunt Lock, a male Lady Amherst’s Pheasant at Little Brickhill and another Red-necked Grebe at Blenhiem Palace. The following day we went to see a presumed escape White-headed Duck at Bough Beach (it was never accepted) where there were also 11 Goosanders with a Red-necked Grebe at Weir Wood Reservoir on the way home. On 9th what looked like an adult blue morph Snow Goose flew West over our house in central Hove with a Tawny Owl seen in the park opposite early the following morning. Later that day a trip to the Arun produced single White-fronted Goose, Water Rail and Little Owl. A Common Crane at Scotter near Scunthorpe on 18th was a lifer and my first new bird in Britain since December. We returned via Walberswick seeing a Marsh and 2 Hen Harriers and our second Short-eared Owl of the day. A mid-morning seawatch off Hove on 20th produced a Great Northern Diver, 63 Brent Geese, 7 Eider and 65 Common Scoter. I’d yet to learn that it was usually worth starting a lot earlier. On 24th Rupert Hastings, Andrew Moon, Pete Naylor and Tim Norris and I flew to Israel for two weeks (see https://birdingneversleeps.blogspot.com/1979/03/).

me at the Dead Sea, Close to the Edge? Yes
part of a flock of 77 Caspian Plovers in the Negev
We returned from Israel on 7 April and North of Wivelsfield I saw a Little Owl from the train. A visit to the Cuckmere on 11th produced 9 Eider and 75 Common Scoter flying East and a Short-eared Owl. During strong SSE winds the following day I saw single Cory’s and Manx Shearwaters flying West and 2 Red-throated and a Black-throated Diver, 29 Eider and single Great and Arctic Skuas flying East off Hove. The Cory’s was a real surprise and it was reassuring that a little before me Colin Winyard saw what he thought was one flying West off Brighton. On a trip to Wales over Easter I saw 10 lekking Black Grouse, a Red Grouse and a male Hen Harrier at Glyndwfrdwy, Dipper at Llangollen Bridge, female Hen Harrier, Peregrine, 4 Ring Ouzels and 2 Chough at Horseshoe Pass, Goshawk and Pied Flycatcher at Aber and 6 Little Gulls at Seaforth on 13th. We headed back through mid-Wales on 14th seeing single Red Kites at three locations before crossing back into England and seeing a Smew at Chew Valley Lake, Cetti’s Warbler at Radipole and 5 Manx Shearwaters, 16 Purple Sandpipers and a blue-headed Yellow Wagtail at Portland. We stayed overnight at Portland and the following morning saw 2 Great Northern Divers, a Velvet Scoter, 2 Puffins and a male Redstart there, 2 Bearded Tits at Radipole and a Little Gull at Lodmor. We called in at the New Forest on the way home seeing 2 Dartford Warblers at Hampton Ridge and 2 Wood Lark at Beaulieu Road. On 16th it took me 45 minutes to obtain a brief view of a reeling Grasshopper Warbler at Lullington Heath. A Red-necked Grebe, 2 Little Ringed Plovers and 2 Mediterranean Gulls were the best sightings on a trip to Rye and Dungeness on 21st while on 29th I saw a Short-eared Owl at Pagham and 3 Garganey and 2 Greenshank at Rackham.

May started with a Willow Tit behind the University campus at Falmer on a lunch-time walk. On 4th I saw 5 Spoonbills in the Cuckmere and that evening a Tawny Owl in the park opposite our house. I saw the 5 Spoonbills in the Cuckmere again the next morning with 2 Spotted Redshanks, a Greenshank and a Grasshopper Warbler there and 2 Redstarts at Beachy. A trip East on 6th produced a Whinchat at Pett, Cuckoo and Turtle Dove at Rye and Black Tern, Ring Ousel and male Pied Flycatcher at Dungeness. East again on 7th with a Tawny Owl near Eastbourne, 8 Bearded Tits and heard Savi's Warbler at Stodmarsh and Blue-headed Wagtail, Black Redstart, 2 Whincats and a Wood Warbler at Dungeness. I saw Cuckoo and Wood Warbler at Falmer on another lunchtime walk on 8th and 5 Turtle Doves, 2 Nightingales and a Grasshopper Warbler at Lullington Heath on 9th. Thick early morning mist on 13th cleared at Farlington to reveal 6 Black Terns, Short-eared Owl and 4 Blue-headed and 5 Yellow Wagtails with a further 24 Black Terns on Chichester Gravel Pits on the way home. Lunchtime walks and visits to Lullington, Beachy and Pagham were quiet with 3 Black Terns at Beachy on 19th and a Little Stint on Sidlesham Ferry on 20th the highlights. A Bank Holiday trip to East Anglia brought home how disappointing Sussex often was, at least in terms what was in the public domain. We started at Fairburn on 26th where we had good views of a twitchable Alpine Swift, not the most direct route to Cley but a worthwhile detour. At Cley we saw 2 Bitterns, a full ruffed Ruff, Short-eared Owl and a near adult Rose-coloured Starling. We saw one Bittern, a Bearded Tit and the Rose-coloured Starling the following morning before driving down to Minsmere. There I saw 4 Spoonbills (a 5th bird was hiding), 3 Marsh and a male Montagu’s Harrier and 10 Avocets. A pair of Red-backed Shrikes showed well at Walberswick, 4 Stone-curlew with 2 chicks at Weeting and 2 Woodcock, a Long-eared Owl and 3 Nightjars near Brandon. The following morning in the Brecks we saw Cuckoo and 4 Golden Orioles at Lakenheath, 2 Marsh Tits at Brandon Sawmills and 4 Turtle Doves, male Red-backed Shrike and a Crossbill at Santon Downham.

A trip to the New Forest on 2 June produced Hobby, 2 Wood Lark, 2 Redstarts and a Wood Warbler. Highlights of a day in West Sussex on 10th were 40 Little Terns at Pagham, 3 Little Gulls on Chichester Gravel Pits, Tree Pipit and Marsh Tit at Coates Common and 2 Marsh Tits at Rackham. On 16th I saw a Roseate Tern at Dungeness and 3 Knot at Rye with Grey Partridge and 3 Turtle Doves during a Downland walk to Lewes on 23rd. On 26th I flew to Tenerife, fitting what I needed for two weeks sleeping out in the Canaries into a shoulder bag (see https://birdingneversleeps.blogspot.com/1979/07/).
me camping out on Tenerife
I returned from the Canaries on 9 July and continued with my MSc dissertation. Locally on 14th I heard a Quail and saw 8 Turtle Doves at Cissbury and Ruddy Shelduck, Little Ringed Plover and Wood Sandpiper at Sidlesham Ferry. I caught a train to Lincoln on 16th seeing 30 Turtle Doves on the way. From there I walked about an hour to Burton Pits to see a Great Reed Warbler. While there an Osprey flew over. On 22nd I saw 4 Green Sandpipers at Chichester Gravel Pits and 3 Eider, an Avocet with 2 immatures and a Little Ringed Plover at Pagham. On a day trip to Norfolk on 28th I saw a Barn Owl near Newmarket, a female Lesser Grey Shrike on Ringstead Heath near Hunstanton, Wood Sandpiper and Bearded Tit at Cley and 2 Wheatears at Weeting.

Pagham was quiet on 4 August with 8 Eider and 2 Little Ringed Plovers best. On 8th I went to Messingham in Lincolnshire to look for a Great White Egret but it had flown off that morning before I arrived, 4 Little Ringed Plovers being little compensation. I had excellent views of a Roseate Tern at Rye Harbour on 11th also seeing 2 Garganey and a Wood Warbler there and a Black Tern at Pett. On 13th I went to Hickling by train and foot chasing what was assumed to be the same Great White Egret (only the 20th British record). I can’t remember where I caught a train to but it was a long walk although I might have hitched a bit. I arrived just after the egret had flown off and set off walking along the footpath around the Broad in the direction it had flown. After an hour I returned to the original spot to find the bird had flown behind me as I was walking away (too distant to hear a shout). Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long for it to reappear. Also at Hickling I saw 5 Turtle Doves and a Bearded Tit and heard a Savi’s and 2 Grasshopper Warblers. Dave Holman kindly gave me a lift back to Norwich and I stayed with him a couple of hours before it was time for my train home. The following weekend I was back in Norfolk starting at Cley on 18th where I saw Bittern, Garganey, Little Stint, 2 Curlew Sandpipers, a Marsh and 7 Wood Sandpipers and 2 Bearded Tits. A walk out to Blakeney Point was fairly quiet although we did see7 Arctic Skuas and 3 Pied Flycatchers. Holkham and Cley were very quiet the following day with a Golden Oriole heard at Lakenheath on the way home. On 25th I saw 2 Marsh Harriers, 20 Ruff and a Short-eared Owl at Cliff, 4 Little Gulls, 100 Black and a White-winged Black Tern at Dungeness and 2 Curlew Sandpipers at Pett. A Little Stint and 20 Curlew Sandpipers were seen on Sidlesham Ferry on 30th.

September was spent putting the finishing touches to my Masters dissertation and birding. Decent numbers of migrants at Beachy on 1st included 2 Tree Pipits, 3 Redstarts, 20 Whinchats, Grasshopper Warbler (in the hand), 4 Garden and 15 Willow Warblers and 40 Spotted Flycatchers. The next day highlights at Pagham were a Red-necked Grebe, Little Stint, 17 Curlew Sandpipers, 2 Black Terns and 11 Spotted Flycatchers. A return to Pagham on 7th produced 10 Eider, 11 Curlew Sandpipers, 4 Greenshank and 2 Spotted and a Pied Flycatcher. On 13th I went to Cornwall with Tony Pym to see a Solitary Sandpiper at Drift. It was brilliant but back-up species somewhat lacking with Merlin at Nanquidno, 3 Greenshank at Drift and 10 Manx Shearwaters and an Arctic Skua at St. Ives the best we managed. A Little Stint on Chichester Gravel Pits on 17th was to be the last time Sussex featured in my notebook for four months. Seawatching from St. Ives in a strong NW wind on 21st produced Great Northern Diver, 50 Manx Shearwaters, a superb adult Pomarine and 6 Arctic Skuas and a Little Gull but it was disappointed not to see anything better. I remained in West Cornwall for three days, primarily looking for a reported Lesser Kestrel at Blackrock. I saw a Curlew Sandpiper at Stithians on 21st, a distant Sooty and 15 Manx Shearwaters from St. Ives on 22nd, spent all day at Blackrock in pretty much zero visibility on 23rd seeing just a Buzzard and finally saw the supposed Lesser Kestrel on 24th. It was a very bright bird but to me had small black tips to the mantle feathers which seemed wrong. I headed for Penzance and caught a helicopter to St. Marys, arriving at 17:00, put up my tent, saw a Pied Flycatcher, was violently sick several times and spent the night in hospital. I’d run out of water while camping at Blackrock and rather foolishly sipped what looked like clear water from a trough, I guess it hadn’t been. I was discharged from hospital the next day seeing 3 Turtle Doves and a juvenile Woodchat Shrike on St. Marys but too late to visit St. Agnes for an American Golden Plover, a new bird. Fortunately it stayed and I saw it on the Gugh Bar the next morning. St. Agnes was quiet with single Pied and Spotted Flycatchers best. Back on St. Marys I saw a Richard’s Pipit near the campsite on the Garrison. On 27th I saw both the Richard’s Pipit and Woodchat Shrike as well as a Melodious Warbler (at Salakee) and 5 Spotted and 2 Pied Flycatchers. Also staying on the campsite at this time were Frank Lambert and Richard Grimmett who I knew from Sussex and Nick Preston from Crosby whom I immediately connected with, not realising how much travelling I was to do with him. On 28th the four of us were walking down the Rocky Hills track to Holy Vale when Richard saw a dull looking Nightingale dive into the hedge in front of us. It only gave glimpses as we followed it down the hedge and into another. It definitely seemed worth following up and realising the hedge backed onto the ‘maize field’ we approached it from the other side. Sitting in the hedge for several hours gave us reasonable views of the bird and a conviction that it was a Thrush Nightingale. Well satisfied we emerged, just as Mike Rogers was walking down the footpath bordering the ‘maize field’. Our telling off for trespassing soon turned into him doing likewise and he and a few others did see the bird. A literature check that evening confirmed our suspicions and the bird was accepted as Scilly’s first Thrush Nightingale (and my 350th species in Britain). Otherwise best that day were a Pied Flycatcher and a Hooded Crow and a hybrid. The 29th was also quiet with 3 Firecrests and the Woodchat Shrike while on 30th I saw 18 Firecrests, 5 Redstarts, single Sedge, Reed, Garden and Wood Warblers and a Pied and 6 Spotted Flycatchers.

I stayed on Scilly for much of October, initially camping and then moving into flats with friends. It wasn’t a classic autumn but I saw some good birds and enjoyed finding some remote spots on St Marys, rarely travelling off-island unless there was a good reason to.
On 1st on St. Marys I saw single Pied, Spotted and Red-breasted Flycatchers, the latter on the Garrison where the Richard’s Pipit was still present. A trip to Tresco produced the female Black Duck (and a hybrid) on the Abbey Pool, Spotted Sandpiper on the Great Pool, Hobby, 2 Pied Flycatchers and a Continental Coal Tit. A Purple Heron was on Lower Moors on 2nd, Marsh Warbler at Newford Duck Pond on 3rd/4th, Aquatic Warbler on Lower Moors, Red-backed Shrike at Porth Hellick and a/the Woodchat Shrike at Salakee on 4th. Birds improved on 5th with Barred Warbler and Ortolan Bunting on Peninnis, a Spotted Crake in Holy Vale, Short-toed Lark, Tawny Pipit and 2 Lapland Buntings on the Golf Course and an Icterine Warbler nearby. More birds were around on 6th with 500+ Meadow Pipits seen, the Short-toed Lark, 2 Tawny and a Red-throated Pipit and 6 Lapland Buntings on the Golf Course, the Icterine Warbler nearby, juvenile Rose-coloured Starling at Lower Moors, Wood Warbler at Watermill and a Wryneck at Content. I returned to St. Agnes on 7th for a Bobolink near the pool, also seeing a Yellow-browed Warbler in the Parsonage, the American Golden Plover and back on St. Marys Short-toed Lark and Spotted Crake. On 8th I saw 3 Tawny Pipits on the Golf Course and one on the Airfield, 2 Short-toed Larks, the Marsh Warbler and a Melodious Warbler at Porth Hellick. I saw 2 Richard’s Pipits on the Airfield on 9th then went to Tresco seeing 3 Bobwhites, a Red Kite, the Spotted Sandpiper and 2 Pied Flycatchers. Nothing new was on St Marys on 10th and I saw the 2 Short-toed Larks, 2 Tawny Pipits, Marsh and Wood Warblers before going over to St Agnes to see a Rustic Bunting by the Post Office. On St Agnes on 11th I saw the long staying American Golden Plover again, Tawny Pipit and Red-breasted Flycatcher with another in Holy Vale when back on St Marys. The Holy Vale Red-breasted Flycatcher was present the next day with a Spotted and 3 Pieds and the juvenile Rose-coloured Starling. The 13th was a better day with an elusive immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak which I caught up with by the Rubbish Dump, Melodious Warbler at Salakee, male Subalpine Warbler at Porth Hellick and Rustic Bunting at Trewince and a Tawny Pipit on Bryher. Superb views of a Jack Snipe, outside the Lower Moors hide was the highlight of 14th when I also saw a Short-toed Lark, Yellow-browed Warbler and poor views of a Rustic Bunting at Trewince. That evening there was news of a possible Blyth’s Reed Warbler on St Agnes. I was on one of the early boats going over the next morning and saw it fairly well. In some ways it recalled the Marsh Warbler at Newford Duck Pond although like many was unsure about it (and was hoping it was a Blyth’s Reed). I spent most of the day on St Agnes seeing a Yellow-browed Warbler and Red-breasted Flycatcher. Back on St Marys that evening we head that the warbler had been trapped and identified in the hand as a Marsh Warbler. On 16th I was with Andrew Moon and Rupert Hastings when the former found a Little Bunting at Salakee, a nice double with a nearby Rustic Bunting (possibly the Trewince bird having relocated). Also new in were a Barred Warbler at Telegraph, and Siberian Stonechat on Lower Moors (found by John Cooper) while I saw again the Spotted Crake, Short-toed Lark and Rose-coloured Starling. The 17th was much quieter with my best sightings the Rose-coloured Starling and Rustic Bunting. Brian Short had better luck finding a Ring-necked Duck on Tresco which with some bad grace on my part we went over for on 18th, also seeing an Ortolan Bunting and the resident Black Duck. Back on St Marys the Rose-breasted Grosbeak had been relocated at Holy Vale and I had better views of it there. The 19th was quiet with the Rustic Bunting and Rose-coloured Starling at Salakee and 3 Lapland Buntings on the Airport. Slogging around St. Marys on 20th seeing little was interrupted with news of a Radde’s Warbler on St Agnes. It was one of my most wanted birds and I was first off the boat. It was in a garden before the Post Office and gave good views from time to time. Otherwise Redwings were the most noticeable birds about. On 21st a Swainson’s Thrush was found in hedge on the edge of the Golf Course where it periodically gave good views. On what felt very much like a late autumn day I also saw a Woodcock, 2 Richard’s Pipits on the Airfield, 100+ Redwings and 50+ Chaffinches. The weather on 22nd was abysmal with heavy rain and strong winds all day. I was soon drenched, as were John and David Cooper, the only birders I encountered all day, at the Swainson’s Thrush which was the only bird to make it into my notebook. After seeing several on the Garrison it was soon apparent that there had been a fall of Black Redstarts on 23rd. I decided to walk around the coast of St Marys and counted 72, found a Red-breasted Flycatcher on the rocks at Porth Hellick Down and saw a Richard’s Pipit and 2 Ring Ouzels at the Golf Course, 11 Wheatears, 2 Lapland and a Snow Bunting and at dusk with Andrew Moon and Rupert Hastings a Tawny Owl near Carn Friars Lane. We went to St Agnes on 24th on news of a Dusky Warbler at the Parsonage, it was a very rough crossing and we didn’t see it, 2 Sooty Shearwaters and 250 Gannets off Horse Point being the best we could manage in the strong winds. Back on St Marys in the relative shelter of Holy Vale I saw the Rose-breasted Grosbeak again and a Pied Flycatcher. On 25th I saw the Rose-breasted Grosbeak again, Richard’s Pipit on Lower Moors, 5 Firecrests and a Red-backed Shrike but only 6 Black Redstarts. It was beginning to feel all over on Scilly and news that an Isabelline Wheatear was sticking around at Aberdeen focused the mind. Andrew was ready to drive and he, Rupert and I decided to leave Scilly, a day early in heir cases although I could have stayed longer.

Andrew, Rupert and I left Scilly on 26 October seeing a Great Skua from the Scillonian and a Red-necked Grebe in Penzance Harbour. It was a long drive up to Aberdeen, enlivened by a Barn Owl from the A9 south of Perth although I’d been asleep in the back for much of it. We arrived at Girdle Ness soon after dawn on 27th and before long were with a small crowd watching the Isabelline Wheatear. We continued north to Cruden Bay where an adult white-morph Snow Goose was very obvious amongst 1000 Pink-footed and 50 Greylag Geese. A Scaup, 400 Eider and 12 Long-tailed Duck were at the mouth of the Ythan then it was back south. On 28th we diverted to Rimac where we had excellent views of a Pallas’s Warbler, Andrew dropped me off in London and I was back home that night, not realising that all the time we’d been driving away from a Pied Wheatear in Northumberland. Too wrecked to head straight back I visited Brighton Station the following morning and made plans to go up on an overnight train. News of a Desert Warbler on the Wirral nearly changed my mind but I felt committed to the wheatear and arrived at Alnmouth Station soon after dawn the following morning, the 30th. It was a 4 mile walk to the site but a couple of cars coming away gave me the thumbs down as I was approaching. The bird had clearly gone and the small crowd was breaking up. Nobody was going on to the Wirral although Doug Page kindly gave me a lift south to the M62 and I hitched across from there, catching a train for the last part. I arrived after dark, found a chip shop and slept in a seafront shelter. The first person I met the following morning was Nick Preston, he’d been rather more successful than me by seeing both wheatears on the same trip. We watched the Desert Warbler for several hours, a superb bird to finish my UK year with.

On 4 November I left home to catch an Ariana Afghan flight to Delhi via Kabul, the first stage of a two month trip to Nepal. It didn’t start too well with my flight being delayed by 24hrs but that is another story (see https://birdingneversleeps.blogspot.com/1979/11/)
me leaving home 4 November
crossing Thorong La (17,800 ft) in adverse weather felt like stepping into the unknown
[blogged June 2020]

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