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Small Copper, Rutland

During the past month or so we have spent time with family, mostly for happy reasons but also because my father suffered an unexpected stroke. Fortunately it was at the mild end of the scale and he is recovering, but these things always cause concern.

Avian and other highlights have included Purple Emperors in north Northants and Rutland (where they are now established and quite easily seen), a series of Yellow-legged Gulls at Eyebrook Reservoir, regular encounters with Osprey and Hobby, and the Little Bustard at Methley which for various reasons was my first in Britain. Two nocturnal recordings made in early August captured just Pied Wagtail, Jackdaw and Magpie (the first nocturnal corvids I’ve recorded, possibly disturbed by human activity).

Now the time has come to look back north to Shetland where we shall be returning soon. What will the autumn bring, and will nocturnal recording prove more productive than it did in spring?

Little Bustard, Yorkshire

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Woodlark, near Santon Downham

On Saturday I attended the BTO workshop on sound recording, which was a good opportunity to share ideas and experiences and in particular to pick people’s brains about ‘nocmig’ before I try it in Shetland. Thanks to all involved with the organisation of this event.

Before breakfast this morning I spent some time with Woodlarks – the views were quite pleasing but vocalisations were few. Another highlight of the early morning was provided by large (and vocal) flocks of Bramblings.

After breakfast we moved on to Weeting, where we were rewarded with good views of the Rough-legged Buzzard (close enough to see the pale yellow iris) and Stone-curlews. The rest of our day was spent at Lakenheath Fen, where highlights included Garganey, Bittern, Crane and Kingfisher.

Garganey, Lakenheath – a favoured site for this species

Displaying Gadwall, Rutland

Double-figure temperatures have persisted through December, with the result that our lawn (which was parched in midsummer) is still growing – unprecedented.

Notable birds this month have included American Wigeon, escaped Bufflehead, four Shags, Little Gull and two Snow Buntings at Rutland Water; Bewick’s Swan, up to nine Smew, and an interesting ‘dark-breasted’ variant Canada Goose at Eyebrook Reservoir; and a few wintering Chiffchaffs (all resembling collybita).

Teal, Rutland

Goshawk, Berlin

My three chosen highlights from this year are:

A juvenile Goshawk in Berlin in June – looking wild Goshawks in the eye is a rare and elemental experience

A Purple Emperor on my car in Rutland in July – they have spread locally in the last three years, but this is the first time it has felt like the Fermyn experience

A Booted Warbler on Out Skerries in August – the only rarity I found on Skerries during my regular spring and autumn visits, and in the good company of Pete Ellis and Glen Tyler

Purple Emperor, Rutland

Booted Warbler, Shetland

Jay, Norfolk – with so much going on, how often have you noticed the small dark ‘eyebrow’?

The last two weeks of November have brought the escaped female Bufflehead to Rutland Water, a flock of seven Bewick’s Swans to Eyebrook Reservoir, and the regular Long-eared Owl roost to Deeping Lakes.

We spent the last two days of the month in north Norfolk, where highlights included Hen Harrier, a small flock of Twite, Pallas’s Warbler, and a small flock of redpolls which included both ‘Lesser’ and ‘Mealy’. On the way back we called in at Eldernell where a pair of Cranes were displaying in the sun.

Twite, Norfolk – numbers wintering in England have declined tenfold in my lifetime

Rough-legged Buzzard, Holme Fen

Since returning south it has been good to catch up with Great White Egrets and impressive flocks of wildfowl at Rutland Water, a returning wintering Whimbrel and Corn Bunting (rare nowadays) on the Wash, and Red Admirals still flying in mid-November.

Two visits to Holme Fen in Cambridgeshire have been rewarded with prolonged views of Rough-legged Buzzard, as well as Raven (which I have not seen previously in the fens), Short-eared Owl and Marsh Harrier. The Great Fen project is a refreshing example of what can be achieved for wildlife if we have the collective will.

Teal, Norfolk – always worth studying the tertial patterns of female Teal

Fallow Deer tempted from the woods by spring shoots; note the attendant Magpie

Nothing quite matches those days in early spring when the sun warms the soil and the first hibernators emerge. In comparison with recent years this spring has been slow, but today I saw both Brimstone (in just ten degrees – cooler than normal for this species) and Small Tortoiseshell. Mammals were also in evidence: Fallow and Muntjac Deer, and a Red Fox taking a break from its den.

In recent days the most obvious migrant has been Osprey (a series of birds at RW and EBR, probably all from translocation projects). To date I have seen just one presumed migrant Chiffchaff, but the birds are moving north and soon I must follow.

Vixen Red Fox, Rutland