Swurple Pomphen


Western Purple Swamphen, Minsmere, Suffolk

Nearly twenty years ago there was a report of a Purple Swamphen – or Gallinule as they used to be called, somewhere on the River Ouse, near Ely. Excitedly, we dashed off after work to twitch it –  after all, even in those days, this was a very scarce bird in southern Europe and an unthinkable addition to the British list. We needn’t have bothered as it turned out to be an escape, of the Asian race I think – still, a nice bird all the same!

It was with some scepticism then that I read the first pager message at the weekend of another Purple Swamphen – this time at Minsmere. However, with a recent bird in Brittany and other sightings in eastern France, momentum for this bird being accepted as a ‘first for Britain’ began to build. Monday we were tied up  at Cley NWT and yesterday morning I was doing some planned conservation work on our local village pond. We set off for Minsmere after lunch, arriving there amidst sunshine and showers. The bird was being reported on a regular basis on RBA and our confidence levels were high. The usual gleeful tales of ‘it’s still there’ and ‘showing well if you hurry’ greeted us along the path to South Hide – from where, incidentally, I saw my first Stilt Sandpiper. We got to the spot and indeed it was still there and showing well! Well briefly in the reeds before going missing for ten minutes at a time, that is, only to reappear further along the reed bed. We watched it in the late afternoon sunshine for a hour or so before heading home and fish’n chips. A very nice bird and, hopefully, a British ‘tick’ in the making.

A few more record shots of this rather smart bird




Post Script

For a slightly better photo of Western Purple Swamphen, go to my blog ‘First foot in the Algarve’ – featuring some of the better birds seen on a recent trip to Portugal.

Caspian Tern – Breydon Water


Caspian Tern, Breydon Water

Having been present for several days already, this morning, I decided to go and have a look for the Caspian Tern, at Breydon Water. As is the norm for this site, the bird was distant on arrival and heat-haze had already begun to effect visibility. I had to walk a considerable way along the north wall before getting acceptable views and a couple of grab shots. It’s been nearly thirty years since I last saw this species in Norfolk.

A couple more shots of this relatively scarce bird in Norfolk



Great Knot undone


Great Knot, adult in summer plumage, Titchwell

Having ignored the news of the Great Knot ‘showing well’ at Titchwell for 24 hours, I finally decided, given that the weather was not conducive to ‘dragon hunting’, to have a go. When I got to Titchwell, there was a dense sea fret hanging over the fresh marsh, the last reported location, making viewing near-impossible. Apparently the bird had just flown off towards the beach anyway! As I was on a tight time-table I decide to try my luck on the shore. Thankfully, the adult, summer plumage, Great Knot was in the flock of several hundred ordinary Knot, roosting on the tide-line. I managed brief and distant glimpses, through dripping optics before, eventually, the flock returned to the fresh marsh and I could watch it, albeit at some distance and still in the mist, from Parrinder hide. Altogether though, much better views than the Breydon bird of a couple of years ago.

A couple more shots of this lovely bird – shame about the weather!



And now in Black & White

We saw seven species of woodpecker on our recent trip to Hungary. Black, Green and Wryneck were pretty easy to sort out – the other four black and white ones needed a bit more care and attention.

Unlike in Britain, Great Spotted Woodpecker in Hungary is generally a species confined to mature woodlands. Similar to Syrian, with reasonable views, the plain breast, bright red under-tail coverts and the black chin-stripe continuing back through to the nape, create sufficient difference to allow identification.


Syrian Woodpecker are predominantly birds of parks and gardens. The broad white cheek-patch with an absence of a black line running across it, pinker under-tail coverts, slightly longer bill and pale nostril feathering (yeah right!) making identification possible, with reasonable views.


Smallest – but not by much, is Middle Spotted Woodpecker. Largely confined to mature woodland, identified by scarlet crown, an ‘open-faced’ appearance – resulting from only a faint moustachial stripe and pinkish streaked flanks and belly.


Last of this ‘B&W quartet’ is White-backed Woodpecker. Restricted to mature forests with plenty of dead and decaying timber – this is a tricky species to find, let alone see well. Whilst only slightly longer than Great Spotted, it’s a chunkier, more powerful, bird altogether. Long bill, pinkish streaked belly and white cheek-patch interrupted by partial black ear-covert bar stopping short of the crown, all aid identification. Side views of perched birds (see below) reveal broad white horizontal covert-bars.


Ural unblocked


Ural Owl – Hungary

We spent yesterday in the company of Zoltán, top Saker Tours guide, on a day trip to the hills across the Tisza river, north of the Hortobagy. We clocked-up over a hundred species, the undisputed star of which was Ural Owl – a Western Palearctic tick for me and a bird we missed on the GPOG trip to the Czech Republic. We also saw three other owl species – Eagle, Long-eared and Tawny. The latter being a ‘grey phase’, and a possible trap for the unwary Ural hunter.

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Other highlights included three species of eagle – Short-toed, Eastern Imperial and Lesser Spotted, and six woodpeckers – Syrian, Green, Great & Middle Spotted, White-backed and Black. A pretty good day by anyone’s standards I’d say!

More photos to follow.


Halasto Fish Ponds


Syrian Woodpecker – nesting in a tree at the end of our road

Today we’ve mostly concentrated on the Halasto Fish Ponds, with a productive visit to a wader spot first thing. There were loads of birds about and we managed to add a dozen or so new species to our growing trip list. Here are some photos of a few of them.

A visit to another of the Red-footed Falcon breeding colonies produced about a dozen pairs



At the  central fish ponds there were plenty of heron sp. including Great & Little Egret, Bittern, Squacco, Purple, Night & Grey Heron, Glossy Ibis, White & Black Stork, Spoonbill and Crane. This particular Purple Heron was unusually approachable 



Bluethroat are a common if somewhat elusive species – this one reminded us of last week at Flamborough


It’s not always the scarce or rare that grab the attention – this Swallow was particularly approachable


What a Bustard


Great Bustard, south of the National Park

We spent most of yesterday south of the National Park, following up on a report of Pratincole species in the area. Most of the grassland is already knee hight, making some birds impossible to see. Unfortunately we didn’t connect on this occasion but we did manage to find a lone Great Bustard – standing out like a sore thumb, on a newly ploughed field. In the late afternoon we watched raptors from a local ‘watch-point’, clocking-up Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Red-footed Falcon, Kestrel, Peregrine and, best of all, Eastern Imperial Eagle. We saw plenty of other good birds during the course of the day – making for our biggest day list of the trip so far, with 82.

Great Reed Warbler, plentiful, but tricky to photograph


Red-footed Falcon, female – returning to the breeding colony


Finally, a grab shot of the ‘bird of the day’ – Eastern Imperial Eagle