Mike Weedon, assistant editor,
finds that when the going gets tough for local birding, there are convenient options.
As regular readers will know only too well, I spend most of my birding life locked to the area around Peterborough. Just as a reminder, I will explain again. When we moved to Peterborough eons ago, our daughter Jasmine had just had her first birthday. Eddie was born about a year later; so we had two little tiddlers and it was not really a good idea for me to go off gallivanting all over the place in search of birds. The Peterborough area provided a very fine solution, removing to a decent extent the very real temptation of the delights of north Norfolk. You see, sites like Titchwell are less than 90 minutes from Peterborough; close-ish but hardly doorstep birding. Luckily, the Peterborough Bird Club (PBC) had already defined a chunky cross-shaped area around the city as the official PBC recording area. Our house is roughly in the city centre and is a maximum of 30 minutes from any birding site in the PBC area. If I was off on my own, I could (and can) be called back at a moment’s notice and come home in decent time. And, as luck (and the skill of the wise founders of the PBC area) would have it, the area is packed with wonderful sites. Consider the marvellous fen and carr site of Woodwalton Fen NNR in the south; the ultra-convenient river-bordered lakes, scrub and woodland of Ferry Meadows CP in the mid-west; the ever-evolving gravel pits of the Deepings area (in the north); or the jewel in the crown in the east, the extensive and fantastic Nene Washes, managed by the RSPB. Each has its glories, its brilliant habitats, its superb birds: resident, migrant and occasionally rare. And the action is close and convenient. Time has passed and the family has grown up: Jas is a student and Eddie is a sixth-former. And as they have grown, so has my PBC area list. It is now on 249 birds, including three added this year (American Wigeon, Montagu’s Harrier and Bluethroat). And my local (ie PBC area) 2018 list has been going well, and is on a very healthy 184. Yes, I am still (probably) on track to beat the 10-yearold, all-time year list record of 189. But I am currently stuck and have been stuck since the end of July. Sure, the summer is often a quiet time for birding and list building and the fact that I had already bagged so many birds means adding more in late summer is all the more difficult. But stuck I am. And when birders get to thinking this way, their eye starts to look further afield. Even this particular birder, who has moulded the last 18 years of his birding life around birding close to his family, has started to get the wandering eye. In the past, I may have felt (and resisted) those Norfolk sites gently beckoning me. But these days, there is a ‘new’ and dangerous place, much closer to home. To cut to the chase, Frampton Marsh RSPB is only 30 miles and three-quarters of an hour away from home. And what delights it holds, with its sneaky placement on the edge of The Wash near Boston, south Lincolnshire; such glories that we Peterborough-bound birdwatchers can only dream about. The place seems to get better and better (hence the brilliant BW reader days out there in recent years). And in late August, the exceptional goodies were coming aplenty. So it was that Jasmine (now 19 and back from ‘uni’) and I abandoned the good old Peterborough area and whizzed up the A16 to Frampton. We were there for a bird I’d never seen anywhere in my life: Stilt Sandpiper. And it was easy! We even had the bonus of watching the dainty little North American beauty sharing a shallow pool with a swimming juvenile Red-necked Phalarope. And a week later, Jas and I, together with my dear wife Jo (Eddie was away) were back at Frampton once more, for great dolloping eyefuls of the splendid Long-billed Dowitcher that was there then (as well as seconds of the Stilt Sandpiper). And there were thousands of Black-tailed Godwits, dozens of Spotted Redshanks, golden Ruff galore and so much more… But I must resist. I simply have to knuckle down and keep working the local gravel pits and hedgelines, fens and marshes near home. I must keep focused on getting that Little Stint, that Merlin, that Hen Harrier, that White-fronted Goose, Iceland Gull, Rock Pipit, Mealy Redpoll and Crossbill which will see me smash the all time PBC year list record. But maybe the odd sneak up to Frampton would be OK, wouldn’t it?
Frampton Marsh RSPB is only 30 miles and three-quarters of an hour from home
Stilt Sandpiper (left), dwarfed by a Black-tailed Godwit and a Mallard, Frampton Marsh RSPB, Lincolnshire, August 22