Sunday, 26 April 2015

Keeping it local

I used the longer day light hours to check a few places after work each evening last week. Truth be told though I was a little disappointed with the seemingly low number of migrants so far on breeding territory.
I checked East Wretham Heath three times last week and up to Friday evening there were no Common Redstarts present (from what I could see / hear). Marston Marshes also seemed dead with the odd Blackcap and Chiffchaff being all there was to liven things up. Colney GP / Bawburgh Fisheries was about the same although a single Common Swift consorting with a mixed hirundine flock was my earliest record yet of this species in either Ireland or the UK.

Common Swift - Colney GP, Norwich - 21 April 2015
Not far from Colney, a Nightingale continues to sing but as usual evades all attempts to be photographed or even seen. I had a brief glimpse one evening but no more. At times it sang within ten feet but I couldn't see it - frustrating but remarkable all the same. I took the following movie clip (click on the link) with my iphone - not exactly a state-of-art microphone but you get the picture (or sound in this case)!

The unseen songster

Resisting all offers to travel over-night to the Scilly Isles for a certain Great Blue Heron, I awoke fresh and rested on Saturday morning and set-out for Colney GP to search for more Nightingales and other arrivals. Things seemed to have picked up with a Garden Warbler singing from a Whitethorn bush just as I entered through the steel gates. I spent the next five hours in the area and had two more Garden Warblers, at least one Common Whitethroat, numerous Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs and three Reed Warblers. Mid-afternoon produced bird of the day with this fly-over Hobby.

Hobby, Colney GP, Norwich, 25th April 2015
En route home I checked the Nightingale spot where the bird remains..........singing from deepest cover, of course!
Sunday was definitely cooler but a walk around Marston Marshes and Eaton Common showed that migrant numbers were up. In total I had five Sedge Warblers, two Grasshopper Warblers, one Common Whitethroat, one Willow Warbler and numerous Blackcaps. Last Thursday I had a brief snatch of Garden Warbler song so I suspect they may be in too. I didn't have much time for photos but managed a reasonable shot of one of the five Sedgies.

Sedge Warbler, Marston Marshes, Norwich - 26th April 2015
While I watching this chap a Grasshopper Warbler began reeling behind me, against the light and slightly obscured by a frond of grass, I managed a quick shot for the record. If time permits I may give these birds a little more time and go for a better shot than this.

Grasshopper Warbler, Marston Marshes, Norwich, 26th April 2015
This coming week is a busy one, but hopefully I'll find time to continue checking the local spots. I would expect the Common Redstarts to finally arrive at East Wretham (fingers crossed) and will continue to check Colney for Nightingales and see what more arrivals reach Marston Marshes. Stay posted!

Monday, 6 April 2015

The Easter Weekend

Yesterday (Sunday), I decided to try one last time to see the Santon Downham Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. I must have tried seven or eight times this winter without success, its been a boogey bird for me in every sense of the word and up to now still missing from my life list. If I didn't get it today then the chances of connecting at all would be slim, I would be distracted by arriving summer migrants, the birds would start to become less vocal and the canopy would begin to leaf up! So it was now or never!
I arrived at what I considered to be the usual spot at around 11.30am, a bit late to be fair and becoming a bit gloomy too! Which after twenty minutes of nothing was a fair reflection of my mood! However, I met another birder who said that recently the bird had been reported from a spot about ten minutes walk further downstream (near to the tree marked '80' in luminescent green paint). That perked me up a bit so I picked up my stuff and walked on. I reached the marked tree and sat down to wait and listen, however after thirty minutes.....not a sausage!
As I was thinking of giving up a GSW started to drum and call. As I located it, a second bird began drumming further off in the distance. That drumming sounded different though, higher pitched maybe! I wondered if it might be an effect of distance and distortion of the sound as it traveled but it did sound different. I walked further along the river bank for maybe 500 yards and reached a large dead tree on the right hand side. Just as I was scanning the top branches of this tree, a small woodpecker flew in calling, landed on a branch near the top and began to drum. Up to now I had never seen or heard Lesser Spotted Woodpecker but there was no doubt that this was one. The bird spent two or three minutes drumming busily in the same spot before taking leave, flying over my head to the opposite bank of the river and stopping briefly to allow me take a few record shots. Only one shot came out but one was all I wanted - Lesser Spotted Woodpecker sorted finally!

Female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - Santon Downham, Suffolk - 5th April 2015
I watched it for about a minute as it fed around the branches before moving deeper into the woods, where it continued to drum on and off for another five minutes or so. Even though it was now only 1pm, a Tawny Owl hooted away in the background.
Lunchtime beckoned, so I headed back along the path to the car stopping only to watch three Mandarin ducks that dropped in briefly before setting off again up the river. A bit 'plasticy' but it'll do for my UK list - two birds added within twenty minutes is not bad!

Male Mandarin Duck, Santon Downham, Suffolk - 5th April 2015
After lunch I still felt I had an hours birding left in me. I popped over to Lynford Arboretum where three Hawfinches (two males and one female) gave decent enough views in the company of some very smart male Bramblings.

Male Hawfinch, Lynford Arboretum, Norfolk - 5th April 2015

Female Hawfinch, Lynford Arboretum, Norfolk - 5th April 2015
Today (Monday) I took a different tack and went with Nick Watmough to Happisburgh to start looking for arriving migrants. The morning started off sunny but by 9am a thick fog had rolled in. First bird as we left the car-park at Happisburgh was a rather dull male Northern Wheatear, first one of the year for me (and Nick too I think). We did a circuit of the area but couldn't dig out anything else of note. From there we decided to head towards Weybourne and look for the Lapland Buntings which appeared to be moulting quite nicely into breeding plumage if photos on the web were anything to go by.
Two birds had been reported but we only managed to see one, still a smart individual nonetheless and only my second ever Lapland Bunting (a very scarce migrant and rare winter visitor in County Cork).

Lapland Bunting, Weybourne, Norfolk - 6th April 2015
By now the fog had burned off and the sun was out, it had turned into a very fine day. Having enjoyed decent views of the bird we decided to take lunch and headed back along the cliffs, past the coastguard cottage to the carpark, taking in the fine view as we walked.

Looking west along the north Norfolk coast - 6th April 2015
So all in all a good weekend and some good birds, three UK ticks, one of which was a lifer, its not often you can have that. Next week the winds veer south for a few days, hopefully we'll finally shake this long winter and see a decent arrival at last of our much loved summer migrants. Roll on!!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Easter Saturday stroll

Started the day off early with a very nice walk around Eaton Common. The morning was overcast and damp but a brief spell of sunshine brought some birds out. I reckon there's at least five Chiffchaffs now singing in various spots around Eaton Common / Marston Marshes, however for the moment that's it for summer visitors. The winds turn southerly late next week and across next weekend, so expect to see a few arrivals then!
A male Reed Bunting was calling from Hawthorns along the track from the level crossing to Keswick Mill. At the mill itself a Kingfisher sat still on low branch, it took flight just as the sun began to shine, flashing its vivid cobalt blue plumage as it sped off downstream. Meanwhile a pair a Grey Wagtails chased each other around below the bridge.
I returned back along the path to the level crossing, just as I was thinking to myself that I hadn't heard a Cetti's Warbler there for a while, that familiar scolding verse blasted out. I didn't see the bird (as usual) but good to know there is one still around.
As I crossed the railway track a fox watched me warily from several hundred feet away before exiting stage left. From the path on the opposite side of the track leading to Marston Marshes I had three Bullfinches (two males and a female). I called it a day at that and headed home for coffee.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Marston Marshes and Eaton Common

With no rugby this weekend to distract me and the clocks finally moving forward, I thought it was just the right time to kick off the spring season with a walk around my local patch of Eaton Common and Marston Marshes. In 2014 I birded this area three or four times a week from mid-April to the end of May and was delighted to see and hear nine different species of warbler (including Grasshopper and Garden Warblers) as well as seeing Cuckoo and a hunting Barn Owl.
The season is still early and the weather hasn't brought a significant arrival of summer migrants just yet. The photo I took of Eaton Common yesterday evening would make you think it was still mid-January, but resident birds like Dunnock, Greenfinch, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit and Great Tit were all busy singing and in some cases carrying nest material. A pair of displaying Buzzards over Keswick was a fine sight to behold.

Eaton Common, Norwich - 29th March 2015
A flock of forty plus Fieldfares certainly put a wintery feel to things but just beyond Keswick mill, high up in bare sycamore was a single Chiffchaff, belting out his onomatopoeic song. Hard to believe that such a simple and repetitive verse could sound so sweet, spring at last. A second bird was also singing in the woods between Eaton golf course and Marston Marshes. Chiffchaffs, along with Wheatears and Sand Martins are the first summer migrants to arrive. The males come in first followed a few weeks later by the females. The majority of British breeding Chiffchaffs winter in the Mediterranean basin but some also winter south of the Sahara with ring recoveries indicating that Senegal on the west African coast holds most of the sub-Saharan wintering British Chiffchaffs. So where-ever these two small warblers have traveled from its wonderful to welcome them back. In the next few weeks I expect them to be joined by Willow Warblers, Common Whitethroats, Blackcaps and hopefully Garden, Reed, Sedge and Grasshopper Warblers. I'll keep you posted and hopefully some good images to add also.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Otters, Hawfinches and Shrikes

With no Six Nations to distract me and Polina still away, I managed to get out twice this weekend. I visited Santon Downham, Suffolk both today and yesterday with the sole objective being to see Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - I failed on that score yet again. Today I also took a few hours in at Lynford Arboretum hoping to see and even photograph Hawfinch. I managed great scope views but only distant cropped images.
Still, at Santon Downham yesterday I was fortunate to see this very handsome and relatively confiding Otter along the river Little Ouse.

Otter, Little Ouse, Santon Downham, Suffolk

He was quite happily catching small fish on the opposite side of the river from where I was, each time I pressed the shutter he (or she?) would stop and quizzically stare over at me before returning to munch on his fish supper. Very cute, only my third ever Otter and first one in Britain.
I checked also for the Great Grey Shrike without success, which seemed odd as up until now it had been fairly straight-forward to locate. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker(s) had been reported earlier in the week but they've become like hen's teeth now and the species continues to elude me.
Today (Sunday), I spent several hours at the feeders at Lynford Arboretum where two Hawfinches had been showing well on and off during the week. A single male gave great scope views but was too distant for decent photos. Still my best views of what is a truly stunning finch. I spent several hours there until the cold really got too much.

Male Hawfinch, Lynford Arboretum, Norfolk
I headed back to Santon Downham, once more in pursuit of the diminutive woodpecker but as usual I was out of luck. The weather didn't help though, the rain had begun and the wind was picking up. I couldn't even see the Shrike. However, as I reached the very far end of the reedbed I turned right off the bridle path and walked towards the railway line. Just then the Shrike broke cover from one of the pine trees and flew to the top of another tree, where I watched it rip the head off a poor unfortunate Blue Tit that it had caught. Nature really is brutal but what a simply superb bird Great Grey Shrike is!
At this point the weather was really turning foul. I decided enough was enough and set forth for home.

Monday, 5 January 2015

The final fling

First post of 2015 and the last bit of festive birding before reality took a grip! On New Year's Day I walked Eaton Common and Marston Marshes. Little Egret, Common Snipe and Stock Dove were the highlights. There's no Foot-it challenge this year for some reason but a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was found in Cringleford which we tried for unsuccessfully yesterday morning. Still, I now know the area to look so will check again in the coming months - thanks to Nick Robinson for the finding it and for the 'gen'.
After that Nick Watmough and I checked a landfill site at Aldeby near Beccles for gulls, nothing of note really, mainly Black-headed, Herring and a few GBB Gulls. From there we scanned Haddiscoe marshes for Rough-legged Buzzard but the only raptor was a Kestrel. Birdguides reported that a RLBuzzard was being seen from the Halvergate side so we drove that direction via Great Yarmouth and enjoyed nice scope views of the bird hunting and perched on a distant fence post. Unfortunately the strong light and distance meant that all I could do was phone-scope it - hence the crappiness of the shot!

Rough-legged Buzzard, Halvergate Marshes, Norfolk
After that we stopped off between Ludham and Catfield for Bewick's Swan en route to the raptor roost spot at Stubb Mill. A beautifully crisp Norfolk evening with calling Cranes and at least twenty Marsh Harriers plus one Common Buzzard rounded off the final day of the holidays before returning to the real world of work this Monday morning!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Blyth's Pipit and Thayer's Gull twitch

The idea had been to arrive before 9am just as the Pipit would be warming up, get that one in the bag then head to the landfill site over at Ravensthorpe to clinch the Thayer's Gull and be sitting down to slap-up celebratory fry at some greasy spoon cafe by 10am!
The reality was a lot different! Leaving Norwich at 5am and picking up Nick Watmough, James Lowen and Yoav Perlman en route, we drove up north via the scary A17 (a narrow, dark and very icy road) and had reached Wakefield in West Yorkshire before 9am.
At the Blyth's Pipit site in Calder Business Park we were met by other birders who advised that the bird had been spooked by a Sparrowhawk and had left the site. After a twenty minute search of an adjacent area by James and Yoav we made an executive decision to go for the Thayer's Gull and come back to the Pipit when hopefully it would have returned.

Blyth's Pipit site, Calder BP, Wakefield - frozen solid at 9am!
Over at Ravensthorpe things weren't much better. Views into the Biffa recycling plant were against the sun and limited. Birders milled around but no-one seemed sure what was going on. Yoav spotted an Iceland Gull flying over which was a new bird for him and a British tick for me so all was not lost.
Then the news popped up that the Pipit was back. We checked some local playing fields for loafing gulls without success before heading back to Calder BP.
Sure enough the Pipit was there moving in and out of sight as it fed busily amongst the long grass. Distant and difficult to photograph, I took scope views first before doing anything else. For me, it appears much like a mix between Richard's Pipit and Tree Pipit. Visibly larger than Meadow Pipit (we got a good comparison when it took flight with two Mipits) and we heard the call once which was a bonus.

Blyth's Pipit, Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Any photos I got are record shots at best, finding a good position to shoot from without blocking anyone else was a challenge.
Anyway, at around 2.30pm we decided to head back to Pugney CP where we had parked, to grab a coffee before the gulls began to assemble to roost on the lake. This was where the Thayer's had been picked up previously.
There was already a row of birders scanning the lake while we fueled up from the local cafe. At 3pm we joined the line and began to scope the gulls.

Thayer's twitch, Pugney CP, Wakefield
A Thayer's Gull was bound to stimulate interest for several reasons, Not currently treated as a seperate species by BOURC though other authorities do view it as such. Identification in the field is a challenge. There are no accepted records in the UK as yet though several pending (I'm told) that have strong credentials. May also interbreed with Kumlien's Gull in certain locations just to add a further wrinkle to the whole thing!
Anyway we scanned until after 4pm, as the light faded a first winter Iceland Gull came in but that was the best we could produce. In any case following an early start, a long drive, a busy day of birding and the cold temperatures, I was starting to fade. We left after 4pm and made our way back to Norwich.
While disappointing for James, Nick and Yoav who all had previously seen Blyth's Pipit and really wanted the Thayer's Gull, at least Yoav got two British ticks (Iceland Gull and Blyth's) and I got a lifer (Blyth's) and a British Tick (Iceland) plus the craic and the company throughout made for a very enjoyable day out!