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Autumn Diary 2021

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I have always maintained that for birds, autumn commences as early as July. As soon as the nesting season is over, particularly for birds breeding in the arctic, autumn migration commences. The late spring of 2021 complicated matters further with the very late arrival of some of the birds that nest here coinciding with the return migration of birds that failed to breed successfully further north.

For me, the late summer and autumn will be remembered for the rarities that turned up in my home county of Lincolnshire. Since retiring from full time employment in July 2020 (yes, right in the middle of the Corona virus pandemic!), I have been engaged in a number of wildlife surveys and voluntary wardening for both the RSPB, where I am a roving bird guide on their Frampton Marsh reserve, and The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust where I joined the crane watch team at Willow Tree Fen nature reserve. The term "Twitcher" applies to birdwatchers who want to see as many different species as possible and many will travel hundreds of miles to add a new species to their list. I have to admit to twitching a bit myself, but with the exception of a trip to see a European Roller at Icklingham in the Brecks, my twitching has been confined to Lincolnshire and mostly within 30 miles of home. Yet most of the rare birds that I have seen simply turned up on the reserves where I was working. The cranes that attempted to rear young, but failed this year, at Willow Tree Fen are a given, but Frampton Marsh really excelled with rare birds turning up almost every week!

Ruddy Shelduck

The role of a roving bird guide is to show visitors the birds that they want to see. The first of the autumn attractions was a Ruddy Shelduck. No, I am not using unnecessarily colourful language; this is a separate species of Shelduck. For the serious birder this is not really a "tickable" species, as the birds that turn up here are unlikely to be of genuine wild origin. However, this bird was free flying, wary and unringed; so you never really know. Apart from that, it is a large and very handsome bird in complete contrast to the LBJ's (little brown jobs) that many rarities turn out to be.

Pacific Golden Plover

The next rarity to turn up at Frampton Marsh needed no validation of origin. The Pacific Golden Plover in full summer plumage was undoubtably the real deal. What's more it was later joined by a second individual. Pacific Golden Plovers nest in Siberia and usually migrate south on the other side of the arctic circle passing through Asia and then some of them migrating as far south as Australasia. The only time I had come across one before was when birding in India.

Black Tern over Frampton
Early in September I found a Black Tern which is actually a member of the Marsh Tern family, hawking for insects over the North Scrape at Frampton Marsh. Unlike the sea terns that nest around our coasts and on gravel pits, which predominantly eat fish, Black Terns enjoy a more varied, albeit carnivorous diet. They will readily take flying insects and anything from the surface of the water as well as amphibians, snails and fish. Although they do not nest in Britain they are seen annually during both the spring and autumn migration seasons. In spring they really are black but this one photographed in the autumn is no longer in its smart breeding plumage

Black Stork over Freiston Shore

Another impressive rarity was a Black Stork; my second for Lincolnshire , but no less exciting for that. I first saw it at the RSPB's reserve at Freiston Shore and during the 10 days or so of it's stay it commuted between Freiston Shore and Frampton Marsh. I have watched Black Storks in Greece and Bulgaria where they nest and perhaps the only confusion species, especially when they are flying would be a pterodactyl!


No less weird looking but a more regular vagrant was the Wryneck that was feeding on the sea bank at Frampton Marsh. One was also found at the same time at Freiston Shore, but we are not sure whether this was the same bird or a second individual. Wrynecks are members of the woodpecker family but their ability to turn their heads almost all the way round give them their name and make them look rather snake like.

A few miles north of Freiston Shore is Wrangle saltmarsh and during September a Red-breasted Goose was found mingling with a flock of newly arrived Brent Geese.

Red-breasted Goose and Shelduck
I was lucky enough to see it fly from the marsh and drop into a nearby farm reservoir where it enjoyed a wash and brush up with some Shelduck before returning to the saltmarsh

Red-breasted Goose

Cattle Egret

Rarer members of the heron family made regular appearances. During the 1980's there were virtually no Little Egrets in the UK but now they are more plentiful than Grey Herons. Up to 30 Spoonbills spent the late summer at Frampton Marsh and there were several sightings of single Great White Egrets. A Cattle Egret commuted between a herd of cattle grazing the washes at Baston Fen nature reserve and the nearby gravel pits. In late September two Cattle Egrets arrived at Frampton Marsh right opposite the visitor centre and one cow looked positively startled by the egret picking at the flies near its nose!

It was a mixed year for butterflies with a cold, wet spring and dreadful August conspiring against them. However Speckled Wood butterflies seemed to thrive and even at the end of September a few Red Admirals, Commas and Small Tortoiseshells graced the remaining flowers on our buddleia bush.

Dragonflies too had mixed fortunes but some species such as the Norfolk Hawker Dragonfly and the Willow Emerald Damselfly continue to expand their ranges.

As I write in early October we await the arrival of winter visitors and l look forward to an exciting late autumn and winter.

Ian Misselbrook

September 2021

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