May is one of two (arguably three) months in the year when I really, really want to go birding. Spring passage offers great prospects of finding scarce birds - but this year the best I have found is a Norfolk Wood Warbler. May also offers the chance of a decent twitch or two... but this year's rares have been low-key and local, rather than long-wanted megas involving long-distance drives. Nevertheless, there have been some, and when strung together, the list is rather acceptable: White-tailed Eagle, 2+ Black-winged Stilts, Red-footed Falcon, Tawny Pipit, Great Reed Warbler, 2 Savi's Warblers and Iberian Chiffchaff plus back-up birds such as Dotterel, Spoonbills etc. Three of these were Norfolk county ticks; the list I appear most interested in nowadays (even I still can't get up the energy to twitch Hooded Crow here). The major downside is that I barely photographed any of them. Here are some mindbustingly awful record shots to confirm that I am not being modest.
I'm going to finish with another common but declining bird. It's not saying much, but this is my favourite bird image of the month. Lying in the leaf litter, waiting for the Song Thrush to poke its head out, muted colours, and stopping down to create nice bokeh, this photo pleases me. I hope you like it too.
Unimaginative title, I apologise. Sometimes that's how it is.
Given that these pics of rares are so goddamn awful, I'll share a few of commoner species encountered this month. The Bittern at the head of the post is a case in point. This appeared to be a female furrowing a standard flight path between feeding grounds and her nest, as seen from Island Mere Hide at RSPB Minsmere. The same place also enabled me to get a couple of acceptable images of a Hobby, a species I have seen at several locations this month, including over my garden (where I have now racked up 62 species this year, beating last year's entire tally: this week's star addition was Kingfisher!).
When Guy and I reached Minsmere that day, one of the avian treats that sparkled through our morning was the showiest Cetti's Warbler I have ever seen. It showed, pretty much immobile (and for at least a coupe of minutes, asleep!) at close range for about 20 minutes. It even let me walk underneath it, at 18 inches range. The word 'underneath' partly explains why the photos I got weren't killers: the bird tended to be a little high. It also never completely left cover: there was always an annoying leaf or branch in the way, coupled with a messy background. A photographic opportunity missed, sadly.
On my birthday, 1 May, family Lowen was pootling towards Minsmere when I spotted what was clearly a Black Kite circling above the car. Squealing brakes, get out, wow! Then I realised - deflated - that we were only a mile south of the village of Wrentham, which has hosted a ringed, escaped Black Kite for the past few years. Two weeks later, driving north of that village, Guy Dutson and I came across the same bird. This time it perched for photos - so it would be rude not to share one.
As we're talking Harriers, I'll throw in a couple of images of Marsh Harriers. A male at Minsmere, and a female at Hickling Broad. It still astonishes me how clearly part of the landscape this formerly rare species has become. I never tire of seeing them.
The only half-decent shots I got were of the Walsey Hills Iberian Chiffchaff, an irony given that I spent the least time there of any twitch - and it was pouring down throughout. This little Phyllosc was literally singin' in the rain, poor thing.
Minsmere is always good value for common birds, including waders. And some no-longer-so-common birds, such as Turtle Dove. Guy and I bumped into my first UK Turtle Dove since at least 2005. A sorry state of affairs that. even with this bird, I have still seen more Oriental Turtle Doves in the UK in the past 12+ years than I have Eurasian Turtles. Going, going...?
Continuing the raptor theme were two unseasonal female Hen Harriers. The second was a typical bird chanced early morning by the A146 at Stockton in south Norfolk. Big and bulky, this one didn't causes any intakes of breath... unlike the bird below which was TINY and flew over Dave Andrews and I as we wandered towards a pasty having twitch the Weybourne Tawny Pipit. On size and ay first glance, we expected it to be Pallid or Montagu's, but five-fingered primaries swiftly ruled those out. Thoughts turned to Northern, but streaked vent etc ruled that out too. Hen it was.