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Autumn Diary 2008

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One of the wettest Augusts on record was followed by an equally soggy first half of September.

Wheat in the Rain

Expectations for the cereal harvest were very high indeed; with yields expected to be 15% higher than usual due to the grains being swollen by the summer rains. However, conditions for our harvest could not have been much worse. Here in the eastern counties of England perhaps eighty percent of wheat had been combined by the middle of the month, but further north and west that percentage was much higher. In Scotland the situation is even worse with tales of spring barley sprouting in the ears and many farmers who have invested heavily in growing their crops are now facing the prospect of ploughing them in.

The Harvest

By mid September the weather did improve but by then milling wheat had lost its quality and would have to be sold in to an already over supplied animal feed market, in which prices were tumbling. Scotland remains a disaster zone with more than 50% of crops still in the fields.

September 5th

For those brave enough to venture out in the rain rewards can be found in the form of grounded migrants. The last few days have produced good inland records of Wheatears, Whinchats and Yellow Wagtails. An observer at RAF Waddington recorded more than 20 Wheatears together with a few Whinchats and Wagtails on the rough grassland there but almost anywhere is worth checking.

September 23rd

A good north east blow produced some excellent seabird passage down Lincolnshire's coast. Manx and Sooty Shearwaters were noted along with Pomarine and Arctic Skuas and one lucky observer even spotted a rare Sabine's Gull. Unfortunately I was grounded in the office, but I eagerly booked the following morning off.

September 24th

The wind had dropped to a moderate breeze but was still coming from the north east, so I arrived at Lincolnshire's Gibraltar Point nature reserve at the extreme north end of the Wash before eight o'clock in optimistic mood. As soon as I arrived I realised the winds had brought in continental migrants and the low cloud and generally murky conditions that greeted me had effectively grounded the birds. Scores of Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Goldfinches were flitting about near the car park as I made my way beyond the visitor centre to the scrubby bushes overlooking the Wash. Here I found a Tree Pipit and a beautiful Firecrest in the same bush, as well as Reed Buntings and more Linnets and Meadow Pipits. If such a small area of bushes held such good birds what would be in store for me in the more extensive east dunes?

The first decent bird on the dunes was a Whinchat, but very soon there were birds in abundance wherever I looked. The majority were probably of Scandinavian provenance flying south and blown on to our shores by the north east winds. My first Redwings and Bramblings of the autumn were joined by smaller finches; Siskins and Lesser Redpolls. All true autumn birds, but outgoing summer migrants were in evidence too. Masked Lesser Whitethroats always remind me of The Lone Ranger flitted about in the scrub where Chiffchaffs and Willow warblers could only be separated by their calls. A real treat was the first of three Pied Flycatchers, more usually associated with Sessile oak woods of the western parts of the UK and the closely related, but more familiar; Spotted Flycatcher also put in an appearance.


Having exhausted the dunes I joined a couple of fellow birders on a sea watch, but unlike one chap who had been in place for over two hours, my patience soon ran out.

Juvenile Gannet
However even in the 20 minutes that I strained my eyes through the telescope in what was still fairly poor visibility I watched Arctic Skuas harassing Sandwich Terns for their catches of fish and further out numerous Gannets wheeling and diving spectacularly.

Migrant Hawker

By the time I left with one fellow birder for the western end of the reserve the sun had come out and most of the birds had left to carry on their journey south. A few Comma, Speckled Wood and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were on the wing and the last Darters and Migrant Hawker Dragonflies patrolled the dunes.


Fortunately not all the birds had left the reserve completely but some had just moved inland a little, to the wooded area near the farm. Many Goldcrests called thinly amongst the leaves and Blackcaps tacked their disapproval as we wound our way along the path. A further two Pied Flycatchers graced us with their presence and four Redpolls gave particularly close views. Unseen Redwings called from the leafy canopy where our attempts to get a view of them were destined to failure. We finally emerged to enter the hide overlooking the recently created Tennyson's Sands to be told we had just missed a Little Stint and some Curlew Sandpipers. However a flock of graceful Black-tailed Godwits and a handful of the ever enchanting Avocets was recompense enough. I looked at my watch and sure enough it was time to leave and put in an afternoon's work.

Ian Misselbrook
September 2008.


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