Monday, 24 February 2014

First lifer of 2014

Started early on Sunday morning, picking Nick up at 7am and then planning to reach Thornham harbour by 8am. The plan was to look for the small flock of Twite that had been reported there.
En route we came past Chosely Barns, before Christmas I had a thirty strong Brambling flock here. I slowed as finches flew along the hedgerow in front of me. Nick picked up a Corn Bunting sitting out on top of the right hand side hedge, my bins were in the boot (d'uh), by the time I had retrieved them it was gone. All I got was a silhouette and as it would be a British tick, I will have to leave it. I could take Nick's word but I need tickable views myself. We parked up and began to watch the sizable Yellowhammer flock feeding on grains on the concrete and drinking from the pools of water by the roadside. The Corn Bunting never re-appeared but when this very pale Yellowhammer turned up, Nick immediately asked me if I knew much about female Pine Buntings. The answer is no, but we scrutinized it for a bit. I took a few record shots and from the viewfinder you could just about make out some yellow-ish fringes to the primaries. These were more evident, along with some yellow on the belly, when I checked the shots at home on photoshop. It's still the palest and greyest 'hammer I have ever seen, almost like a washed out Meadow Pipit.

Very grey Yellowhammer - yellow fringes to primaries just visible
With no sign of the Corn Bunting, we decided to continue on for Thornham.....where the Twite awaited!!
I don't know the site itself, the reports said "seen on the old sea wall". When I got there, the sea wall was a lot longer and broader than expected, an hour of searching in a biting westerly wind failed to produce the goods. Twite remains elusive for me, I tried Raghly in Sligo twice, Titchwell twice and now Thornham and I still have yet to see this species. Some day, with luck, I'll stumble upon them unexpectedly.
A little disappointed, Nick suggested we head for Abbey farm near Flitcham. Abbey farm has a small hide from which its possible to see some farmland species such as Corn Bunting, Brambling and Little Owl. A flock of about fifteen Brambling flew over us as we got out of the car and landed in the treetops, but that's where they stayed, some feeders or some seed on the ground would be great for photos. From the hide it was possible to see a Little Owl perched on a distant tree stump. It remained stationary all the time we were there, good scope views but too distant for the lens. Even at 700mm, this was the best I could get.

Little Owl, Abbey farm, Flitcham, Norfolk - 23 February 2014

Cropped - for your viewing pleasure!
Word on the t'interweb was that the RL Buzzard at Ongar Hill had been showing well. Another bogey bird for me, I missed the Kilcoole, County Wicklow bird in 2012 and also those seen around Holkham Pines last year. So I was not optimistic. We reached the spot and marched out towards the sea wall. Fortunately two other birders returning to their car gave us 'gen' that they had seen the bird only ten minutes earlier heading west along the sea wall. We headed in that direction along the top of the same sea wall. The wind was howling at this stage, there was no shelter up there and I could barely hear anything over the roar of the gale. However, our luck was in. We had gone about half a mile when Nick spotted the bird hovering just slightly above the sea wall and into the wind.  We approached carefully and just as I got my camera set up the bird decided to do a fly past. The light was poor and the wind was brutal but I managed a few record shots as the bird moved past us and headed back down the sea wall.

Rough-legged Buzzard, Ongar Hill, Norfolk - 23 February 2014
I'm not much good at ageing and sexing raptors. But based on a quick look through Dick Forsman's 'The Raptors of Europe and Middle East', I'm going with 2cy juvenile. I'm basing this on the brown rather than black tail band (its also a little diffuse) and the dark secondaries versus primaries. Could be wrong though and I need to take longer to go through the literature. Still a life bird for me though!
From Ongar Hill, we stopped in Downham Market and enjoyed nice views of about seven Goosanders on the river Great Ouse (both males and redheads). Our route back to Norwich took us via Lynford Arboretum, neither of us bothered to check for Crossbills, I've been there and done that on several occasions and still think one of the male Two-barred Crossbills is a wing-barred Common Crossbill. As usual the Hawfinches remained out of sight in the paddocks, as did the Firecrests! By now it was after 3pm, we had both begun to fade. As Van Morrison sang "Out all day birdwatching and the craic was good", but now it was time to go home.
I may have missed Corn Bunting, Twite and Hawfinch but great views of my first Rough-legged Buzzard were more than good enough for me.

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