Monday, 3 May 2021

Earlham's Purple Patch

The unseasonably chilly weather hasn't stopped the migrants arriving at my local patch of Earlham Marsh / Bowthorpe and the place is having one of its best springs ever. A combination of good cover and the marsh being in decent nick. Its hard to believe that 4 months ago (on Christmas Day to be exact), heavy rain and big tides had turned the place into a lake.


West Earlham Marsh - 25th December 2020

The ink was barely dry on my last blog post when a pair of Greenshank showed up on Earlham Marsh. Perhaps not too big a deal on the face of it but they were my first ever Norwich Greenshanks and some seasoned observers hadn't seen any Greenshank in Norwich in over 25 years - so quite the bird!

The next day the keen eyes of Max Helicar picked up a Yellow Wagtail on Earlham Marsh. One bird became two, then three and by the end of the week there were four 'flavissima' Yellow Wagtails present. I'd never had even one before now. On a chilly Saturday morning, I popped down for a look and found a very smart male Blue-headed Wagtail which hung around until Sunday evening at least.

 



                                                Blue-headed Wagtail, Earlham Marsh, Norwich

With the Hirundines and Swifts buzzing overhead, Yellow Wagtails calling, Little Ringed Plovers bobbing around on the mud it's given the place such a great feel - its not always like that, but its a special place when it is.

As the week went past more migrants arrived. A Garden Warbler on Saturday, a singing Lesser Whitethroat on Sunday, at least seven Common Whitethroats, four Sedge Warblers and a Reed Warbler on Monday.

I tried but failed to record the Lesser Whitethroat singing. I managed to get it tacking at a Sedge Warbler which then burst into pretty impressive mimicry of Blue Tit. Take a listen!

 

 

On Monday morning I tried a second time to record the Lesser Whitethroat but it was silent. I bumped into Robin Chittenden who'd managed to find a cracking male Ring Ouzel on the slopes above Earlham Marsh. Its been a very decent spring for them.

I had just finished chatting to him when I checked my WhatsApp messages to see that Jack Morris had found a male Whinchat in the bushes behind the path that runs alongside the Bowthorpe side of Earlham Marsh - the gold streak continues.

 


Male Whinchat - Bowthorpe / Earlham, Norwich - 03 May 2021

Nocmigging has been a little quiet in the past week. Moorhen and Oystercatcher were the commonest birds. Two Common Sandpipers over on the 29th April were the first ones this year on nocmig and the accompanying Curlew was nice. I had a late Redwing on 30th April and close-by Water Rail on the 2nd May.

 

 

The weather looks like it will finally warm-up in the second half of the coming week. I'm still waiting for some local Cuckoos to arrive and hopefully I'll get a Hobby in the coming week. That will bring my past my 5kmsfromhome 2020 total of 114. 

If Earlham Marsh's purple patch continues who knows what else it could throw up - we'll see!

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Catch-up

Before the flood gates open and the summer migrants arrive in force (hopefully), it's just about time for a quick catch-up. 

5 kilometers from home

I am thoroughly enjoying the local patch birding. I'm on track to beat my 2020 total of 114 as I have already reached 106 before the end of April. The interesting thing is that of that 106 there are 14 species that I didn't have last year. Namely, Peregrine, Little Owl, Raven, Marsh Tit, Goosander, Grey Partridge, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Jack Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Scoter, Ring Ouzel and Common Redstart.

The undoubted highlights were searching Earlham Marsh one night with Stephen Vickers using thermal imaging equipment and finding a Jack Snipe. Stephen ringed the bird and I got to hold it before it flitted off into the night.

 



Jack Snipe, West Earlham Marsh, Norwich

 

A confiding Little Ringed Plover on Earlham Marsh earlier this month was a good bird and even better when it was joined by a second one a few days later.

Little Ringed Plover, Earlham Marsh, Norwich

Another highlight was a finding a fine female Ring Ouzel at Bowthorpe Southern Park, literally 5 minutes walk from my house. I was looking for a reported Yellow Wagtail without success when I found it amongst a flock of seven Fieldfare. The next day in almost the same spot someone found a smart looking female Common Redstart. I never thought I'd say this but I find myself preferring patch birding over searching the coast for migrants!! Who knew??

Nocmig

The first few months were quiet as you'd expect but I perserved. Redwing movement seemed to continue throughout the winter and was always pronounced ahead of and during icy weather and snow. It slowed to a trickle in April and by now they seem to be finally all gone. I look forward to the 'seep' calls again in October. In March I started to get Teal and Wigeon flocks once more. I waited and hoped for Common Scoter and got them four times between late March and early April.

 

 

I lived in hope rather than expectation for Ring Ouzel. However, to my surprise I had one night where I got two birds over. The NFC is a different from the hard chaking type calls they give during the day but there's an excellent article on The Sound Approach website that helped me confirm what I heard as being Ring Ouzel (and a bit of guidance from my fellow podcaster Sean Ronayne). 

 

 Other highlights included Little Ringed Plover (which I've had twice now this spring).

 

And a close calling Barn Owl (I live in a housing estate so this was a pleasant surprise).

 

Other sounds

When I bought the parabola last year I knew that come spring I wanted to record some of my favourite songsters. So far I've managed Grasshopper Warbler at nearby UEA and Common Nightingale at Maidscross Hill in Lakenheath, Suffolk.

 

 

 

Thursley Common

Its a bit like admitting a sordid secret. But when 'Colin the Cuckoo' turned up for at least his seventh year at Thursley Common in Surrey, I felt compelled to go and see him. Colin has been coming down to mealworms and perching tamely for photographers at the Parish Field in the beautiful Thursley Common reserve near Goldaming in Surrey for seven years now. To see a Common Cuckoo this well is difficult, I've certainly never done so. I got good photos, it'd be hard not to and some nice shots too of Common Redstart and Woodlark. I ran out of time to see the Little Buntings that wintered there but did have a little wander around what is a really beautiful spot.



'Colin' the Cuckoo, Thursley Common, Surrey

I'm glad I went in the end, despite the 4 hours on the M25 to get there. Naturally, if I got photos like this of a Cuckoo in normal circumstances I'd be thrilled, but it was like shooting fish in a barrell. Great to see a creature like that so well but I went away feeling strangely unfulfilled. 



Common Redstart, Thursley Common, Surrey


Woodlark, Thursley Common, Surrey




The Phil More's Corner Podcast - Series 2 Episode 4

We are joined on this episode by the long-serving warden of Cape Clear Bird Observatory, none other than Mr. Steve Wing. Steve regales us with stories of great days on Cape that included such birding gems as Blue-winged Warbler, Chimney Swift and the famous 2008 trio of Yellow Warbler, Solitary Sandpiper and Northern Waterthrush. We hear what its like to spend winter in the obs, we discuss the future of bird observatories and finally get to talk to Steve about his excellent book 'The Natural History of Cape Clear 1959 - 2019'.

 

The Phil More's Corner Podcast - Series 2 Episode 3

Spring is finally here and there's plenty to discuss on this episode of The Phil More's Corner Podcast. Sean shares his prize winning 'Cuckoo' recording with the group. We hear some odd Treecreeper calls and of course there's obligatory mystery bird.


Tuesday, 9 March 2021

The Phil More's Corner Podcast - Series 2 Episode 2

It may still feel like winter and we may still be in lockdown but spring is just around the corner. After a short break The Phil More's Corner team bring us up to date with their birding exploits. There's the first known Irish recording of Great White Egret, the sound of departing Whooper Swans and some memorable birding moments from times past.

Sunday, 24 January 2021

The Phil More's Corner - Series 2 Episode 1

 Welcome to Series 2 of The Phil More's Corner Podcast. It may be deep winter, we may still be in lockdown but there's always some birding to talk about. Sean has left sunny Spain and returned to damp old Ireland. We hear his remarkable recordings of Otter and Red Fox plus possibly one of the fewest recordings of singing Redwing in Ireland. We also veer hugely off topic and discuss the origins of the Banshee and the legend of the dreaded 'Three Knocks'!

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

2020 Review

So, we've reached the end of the year and its time to look back. On 31st December 2019, I was birding in the Botanic Gardens of Singapore. If you told me then that in 2020 I would need to cancel birding trips to Armenia, Cyprus and Cape Clear, that in the spring I couldn't go to the coast to look for migrants or some of my favourite spots in the Brecks to look for Redstarts, Nightingales and Cuckoos and that my birding would largely be confined to an area within 5 kilometers of home, then I'd have said that was going to be a very bad year for birding indeed! 

First of all, I don't wish to downplay how bad 2020 has been for so many people. Many have had to cope with bereavement, serious illness, loneliness, depression, anxiety, financial worries and losing their jobs or businesses. I was lucky, I wasn't affected by any of that - thankfully. Forced by Covid-19 to take a different approach to birding, 2020 was a year which rejuvenated my love for and interest in birds. I had struggled for the last 5 years or so with birding. Maybe it was the over-crowded scene in the UK, the nastiness on social media and perhaps a little over-familiarity with the birds I was seeing. But, forced by a whole new set of circumstances I found new ways to enjoy my birding. 

1. Local birding

Thanks to Brian Lynch, I got involved in a Whatsapp group called '5kmsfromhome'. The 5km limit came from the stricter restrictions that the Irish government placed on its citizens during the first lock-down. I started this in late March and am still going. I've reached 114 species, highlights included Common Cranes over the garden, a singing Quail on Bowthorpe Marsh, a noc-mig Ortolan Bunting and a Cuckoo heard from the garden. It got me out walking and cycling around my 5 km circle and savouring the delights of local-patch birding. 

2. 'Noc-migging'

'Noc-mig' is short for Noctural Migration, thanks to Sean Ronayne for pushing me to start this up. In the first lock-down I bought a small Olympus PCM recorder and later on a Dodotronic parabola. Spring was interesting as I travelled a steep learning curve on using the recorder and using the software. I clocked some of the commoner birds like Coot and Moorhen but was delighted to also record Golden Plover and Water Rail. But, it was the autumn when it really took off. A noc-mig Ortolan Bunting on the 1st September was really exciting. Waders included Green and Common Sands, Dunlin, Lapwing and a probable Spotted Redshank. A juvenile Sandwich Tern one night was a surprise and I never realised how much Tawny Owl activity goes on around our home until now. I discovered how little I knew and now I pay far more attention to what flys over my head calling whether by day or by night. Here are some picks!

The last piece, recorded one night last October during heavy Redwing passage over the city of Norwich. I think the sound of a local football match taking place as this mass movement of birds goes on over our heads is, to me at least, very evocative.


3. The Phil More's Corner Podcast

A Whatsapp group consisting of my old pals from my Cork birding days (Harry Hussey, Brian Lynch and Sean Ronayne) evolved into The Phil More's Corner Podcast. None of us had ever done a Podcast before so we learnt as we went and it was great fun. We've done 11 episodes now, it's hard to pick a favourite out but Sean's story as he tried to record Wallcreeper in the Pyrennees still makes me chuckle out loud.


4. Project Swift

In February I ordered a 4-apartment nest box from a company called Impeckable and managed to get it up in time for arrival of the Swifts in early May. I played Swift calls from May to August. There was no interest this year but there are birding nesting in the house next door so maybe I've stirred the interest of some younger birds for the 2021 season and beyond.

5. Autumn

Finally a decent autumn. It arrived at the tail end of the first wave and ended just as infection rates started to take off again. There were plenty of drift migrants in early autumn and our day on the coast on 1st October will go down as one of the finest birding days ever - culminating in co-finding Norfolk's 2nd only Stejneger's Stonechat. A day to remember and Stonechat confirmed as Stejenger's

My week off in mid-October was meant to be on Cape Clear but Covid took care of that. Still, a Radde's Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail and an Eastern Rufous Bushchat more than compensated.

Radde's Warbler

Red-flanked Bluetail

Eastern Rufous Bushchat

 6. Bird of the Year

And finally, before all of the craziness and disruption started  I was able to go birding beyond Norfolk. In January 2020 I travelled to Whipsnade Zoo and saw this beauty. A male Black-throated Thrush. I said back then that it would probably be my bird of the year 2020 - and I was right. What a stunner!

Black-throated Thrush

To all of you - thanks for reading and I wish you a Happy New Year and happier times in 2021!