Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Bowthorpe and Colney GP

I'm having a quiet time birding-wise this month, nothing really new as far as Januarys go. This time a very busy project in work and lots of other busy projects at home with our new house.
I would love to have been able to travel with Nick and Yoav to Holland but instead had to settle for Yoav's superb photos on his excellent blog - see rubythroat twitch.
I had intended to go for the Serin at Downham Market but a combination of negative news and limited time meant I stayed local instead. I checked Bowthorpe for the Great White Egret on Sunday afternoon but there was no sign. If it wasn't there, I rather fancied it may have headed up river towards Colney Gravel Pits. I still have my birdwatching permit, so I spent an hour or so punting around there but there was no sign of it.
However, a single female type Goosander was compensation at least. I had heard that a pair of Goosanders were there but I just had this singleton. It was extremely wary so I could only manage this heavily cropped shot as it fished from the far bank of one of the gravel pits.

Female Goosander, Colney GP, Norwich

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Twites and Larks in North Norfolk

The weather was so grim this morning I almost didn't bother to go birding. But like many, I'll be back at work on Monday and I'll be sorry then I didn't use every available opportunity to get outside.
I decided to try for the Choseley Barns Rough-legged Buzzards, but by the time I got up there they had disappeared into a pine plantation as the sheets of misty rain descended (how could you blame them). I waited for around thirty minutes but they failed to emerge and so for the sake of seeing some birds I decided to head for the Thornham Harbour Shorelarks. Time was pushing on by now, the light was poor (and getting poorer) and they were likely to be popular birds - I hadn't high expectations for any photos.
I parked up at Thornham Harbour and got some helpful directions from several other birders returning along the sea wall. It was going to take around twenty five minutes to reach the spot so I stopped to watch the small Twite flock before setting off.

Twite, Thornham Harbour, Norfolk
Eventually I reached the place at the mouth of the harbour, the three birds were feeding along the side of small shingle ridge. They were a little distant for photos and I was careful not to disturb them for the sake of the birds and other birders. I sat about fifty feet back hoping that as they fed, they might come closer.  They did come a little nearer but not that much, these ones were tricky - I've had better luck with Shorelarks previously (see Covehithe's Shorelark Trio and Third time lucky with GY Shorelarks).
We're past the shortest day of the year but by 3pm the light was gone and the birds weren't getting any closer. I gathered up my stuff and started back to the car. So no RL Buzzards but Twite and Shorelarks more than make up for that plus on the way back, a Peregrine dashing along the beach, three Barn Owls and four Marsh Harriers certainly brightened up the return leg.

Shorelarks, Thornham Harbour, Norfolk - 2nd January 2016

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Christmas Birding at Dun Laoghaire East Pier

Christmas this year was spent in Ireland. On the 23rd December, we drove from Norwich to Dublin which wasn't so bad seeing as Polina shared the driving duties. At Holyhead a Hooded Crow in the Asda / McDonald's carpark was a pleasant surprise.
Spending time with my parents was first and foremost for Polina and I, but I did manage a couple of hours birding along Dun Laoghaire's east pier on 26th December. In the past it has always been a favourite place of mine for some local birding. It was here I saw my first ever Black Redstart way back in 2005 and other birds I've seen here have included Great Northern Diver, Red-throated Diver, Red-necked Grebe, Little Gull and close up views of Purple Sandpiper.

Red-necked Grebe, Dun Laoghaire East Pier - January 2011
Dun Laoghaire from the east pier including the RNLI Lifeboat and the town hall

As is often the case there was at least one first winter / female type Black Redstart at the base of the pier near the old swimming baths. Since my first bird here eleven years ago, I've seen many more each winter but I've never photographed one at this spot. I have a great fondness for Black Redstarts (well, all Redstarts and all Chats if I'm honest). Eleven years ago, as I was new to birding, I didn't realise that Black Redstarts were regular if not scarce wintering birds along the east and south coasts of Ireland. On 9th January 2005, I checked Eric Dempsey's now sadly defunct BINs line and heard that a Black Redstart was present at the base of the east pier in Dun Laoghaire. I drove down, parked and walked to the spot and within two minutes was watching a female type Black Redstart fly-catching within a few yards of where I sat - I was at the time elated! The same day I ticked Glaucous Gull and Iceland Gull at nearby Bullock Harbour. They were exciting times and while I might not manage the same reaction now each time I see a Black Redstart, I still always enjoy coming across them. Anyway, half an hour sat still in the rain and I managed a reasonable shot even though the light was dreadful.

Female type Black Redstart, East Pier, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
I hadn't much time, so I walked up the pier to the band-stand and scanned for divers between the east and west piers. There were at least two Great Northern Divers but they were very distant and a mixture of Shags and Cormorants with them also. I peered over the pier wall to the seaward side but couldn't see any Purple Sandpipers. Six years ago I  almost froze to death and fell heavily trying to photograph these birds on the pier, this year even if some had been visible, the swell was too big and the waves that were crashing up against the pier wall suggested it would have been foolhardy to go anywhere close. So instead, here's some file shots from that previous time.

Purple Sandpiper, Dun Laoghaire East Pier - December 2009
By now the rain was starting to get heavier and my gear was starting to get a little too wet for my liking. I called it a day but took a quick detour via Bullock Harbour in Dalkey on the way home.

Bullock Harbour, Dalkey, Co. Dublin

There were no white-wingers here this time but a good gathering of Great Blacked-backed Gulls including this one bearing a blue ring on its left leg with white text 1KH. I think it is an Irish ringed bird but am not certain (possibly from a scheme in Louth?).

GBB Gull with colour ring - Bullock Harbour, Dalkey, Co. Dublin
The bouquet of flowers on the bench in the back ground are a poignant reminder that Christmas is not a joyous time for everyone!

Friday, 25 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - Christmas Day

Back at the end of 2014 I made a list of goals for myself. Not something I normally do but maybe that is part of reaching middle age? A time when you begin to take stock perhaps?
Anyway, amongst many personal goals around losing weight, getting fitter (non of which permanently happened), visiting family more and enjoying more what I do for a living - I had a small little goal of photographing a Nightingale in song. They're a somewhat iconic bird for me, not completely sure why - perhaps their absence from Ireland as a breeding bird and scarcity even as a vagrant and then the shear difficulty in seeing one due to their skulking habits, never mind even photographing one.
So when John Geeson contacted me to say he had come across a little spot of suitable habitat in Suffolk where he reckoned there was up to eight singing birds some showing in the open, well there was no time to be lost. A dash out from work one Friday evening and I managed shots of this bird as it sat out its favourite bramble perch singing gloriously. I get great personal enjoyment when I look at this shot - it didn't get POTW or any other such accolades but to me its represents personal achievement and my best birding memory of 2015 - Happy Christmas!

Nightingale, Suffolk - May 2015

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 24th December

My second day on Fair Isle and this Blyth's Reed Warbler was found at Upper Stoneybrek in a croft garden. Initially it stayed buried in a clump of Rosehip and Michaelmas Daisy but on the second day of its stay it become much more active, feeding on bluebottles beneath the Angelicas. Which is where it sat out in this classic 'banana' pose - the shot gave me my first BirdGuides POTW - much to my surprise and delight.

Blyth's Reed Warbler - Fair Isle, Shetland

Birding Advent Calendar - catch-up!

Ok, had a bit of a glitch on the interweb front as we moved house so the birding advent calendar from 17th - 23rd December kinda didn't happen.
So here's what you might have won and then I'll add the today's Christmas Eve bird and finish with a flourish tomorrow.

17th December

Glossy Ibis

A nice approachable bird which fed around the channels and ditches behind the lake at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk last November.

Juvenile Glossy Ibis, Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk
18th December


On the same day in November this late Hoopoe was present at Crostwick, Norfolk. I say late but there's still a Hoopoe around the West Midlands and several Swallows in Norfolk including a Red-rumped at Blakeney - all a bit weird!!

Hoopoe, Crostwick, Norfolk
19th December

Siberian Stonechat

A very smart bird indeed, and a lifer for me also. I managed one decent shot courtesy of some passing golfers who flushed the bird towards me.

Siberian Stonechat, Caister on Sea, Norfolk
20th December

Thick-billed Warbler

Sorry no picture of this one but well worth covering in my birds of the year round-up. Like the Citril Finch, it was right place and right time. Thanks to a tip off by James Lowen followed by a mad dash from Sumburgh to Quendale, I managed to get several flight views of the bird as it dashed from one clump of nettles to the next. Not how you would want to see it but better than missing it altogether.

21st December 

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

It took eight attempts, which reflects the scarcity of the species now sadly, but in the end perseverance won out and I managed good views of this female drumming at Santon Downham, Suffolk (in fact it flew across the Little Ouse so that gave me both Norfolk and Suffolk views also).

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Santon Downham, Suffolk
22nd December

Western Bonelli's Warbler

An unexpected bonus en route to Fair Isle last September. I had gotten a taxi from Sumburgh Airport to the Sumburgh Hotel, dropped off my gear and got the driver to bring me up to Sumburgh Lighthouse. I told him to come back in two hours and pick me up. The light was running out and I had to meet the taxi at 6.30pm, chances of a photograph were looking slimmer and slimmer until with about two minutes left before I needed to go, the bird popped up briefly for a look about before dropping down and out of sight. The trip was off to a great start with a lifer.

Western Bonelli's Warbler, Sumburgh Head, Shetland
 23rd December


A small crowd of seven or so birders had assembled to watch this Bluethroat at Winterton dunes last September, once they'd had their fill they all trooped off to try for a nearby Wryneck. So I was left on my own with the bird as it continued to feed around the bottom of the gorse. This is where it got good. At one point a Redstart dashed in and seemed to chase it away. The Bluethroat held its ground and then perched up on a low stump a short distance off the ground and began excitedly fanning its tail. I was trying to figure out why it was doing this when an Adder slithered past below the bird. Marvellous to see such behaviour up close.

Bluethroat, Winterton dunes, Norfolk

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 16th December

This very fresh looking and showy Icterine Warbler was present at Burnham Overy Dunes last August. Easily the best views I've had of one. I remember ticking Icterine Warbler for my Irish list on Cape Clear during the spring of 2009 and that was elusive to say the least. Even though they're plentiful during the summer in Latvia, I've never captured a decent photo of one. Until this bird!

Icterine Warbler - Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk - August 2015