Sunday 27 January 2013

A welcome thaw

Its been sub-zero temperatures and snow for almost two weeks now so last nights thaw was very welcome. This morning it was bright, breezy and about 10 degrees.
I decided to explore a couple of local spots and first up was Whitlingham Country Park, south-east of Norwich and only ten minutes from home. Both Slavonian Grebe and Bittern had been reported from there for a while now. Bittern might be hit and miss but I was reasonably confident I could catch up with the grebe.
I arrived at the car park and followed the track along the southern part of the large lake heading east. To be honest I hadn't really any gen on the bird's whereabouts and just started to follow my nose. There was still a lot of frozen snow on the path so it was pretty slippy, I stopped every so often to scan the lake but couldn't see the grebe. Nonetheless there were good numbers of Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Pochard, several Shoveller, a couple of Goldeneye and plenty of Moorhen and Coot. I kept walking with my camera gear feeling heavier and heavier. I had almost reached the furthest end of the path without picking up the bird when I met another birder who had just gotten on to it. The bird was about 30 meters away swimming and diving. As I got my gear set-up it took flight and flew past us along the edge of the shore before settling down some 30 meters away. I moved back down the path and got some reasonable shots of the bird. But I had only paid for one hour of parking so needed to get back to the car. So I packed up again and headed back. I felt I could get some better shots so paid for another hour of parking and set off again back along the path. I caught up with the bird quite quickly this time and watched it for almost forty minutes as it swam and dived in the same spot about twenty feet from the shore. I've never seen a Slavonian Grebe so close, so this was a real treat. I don't think I've ever seen one on fresh water before, usually out at sea in Cork Harbour or Dublin Bay.

Slavonian Grebe, Whitlingham CP, Norfolk - 27th January 2013
As my hour ran out I headed back to the car for coffee and sambos.
It was still early enough though and rather than head for home I decided to venture a little further afield to Strumpshaw fen RSPB.  I parked up, crossed over the railway track and went towards the first hide. I stopped to see if anything was on the feeders by the reception area and was delighted to see a Marsh Tit drop in a couple of times to grab some peanuts. Maybe these are everyday birds in the UK but imagine the fun if one turned up in Ireland. I didn't get any shots but I'll be back, smashing birds Marsh Tits. The lake in front of the hide was frozen over so it was a little birdless, but over the reedbeds at the far end I could see two Marsh Harriers. I decided to take the trail towards the fen hide stopping briefly to look for Barn Owls hunting over the meadow, sadly none but at least I know where to look. A flock of five Fieldfares flew over before alighting briefly in a tree. At the fen hide I had just missed an Otter (bugger!), I waited for a short while before heading back to see if the Owls were luck there. I had a quick scan over the reedbeds before reaching the carpark and at one stage I had five Marsh Harriers in my bins!! It was getting dark now so time to pack up.
Whitlingham CP is only ten minutes from home and Strumpshaw fen RSPB about fifteen minutes but what a place to have on your doorstep, Bittern, Barn Owls, Marsh Harriers and Hobby in the summer. I'll have a path worn to the place.

Sunday 20 January 2013

The Black-bellied Dipper and the return of P

I struggled to give this blog entry a title. There's a lot of significance to it. Its my first bit of proper birding this year so far and more significantly my first time birding since we moved to the UK, its also the first time I've twitched something in the UK, the first Black-bellied Dipper I've seen and the first time in a long time that Polina has joined me for some birding. I think that last part is the best bit!
Anyway, I got directions from a colleague in work for Thetford's Black-bellied Dipper. So shortly after lunchtime on Sunday, Polina and I headed down the A11 for our first UK twitch!
We pulled into the small car park at The Nun's Bridge and gathered our gear together.

The Nuns bridge - a snowy scene in Thetford - 20th January 2013
This was were the directions became a little sketchy. We wandered up along the stream in what turned out to be the wrong direction until we met a kind dog-walker who pointed us the right way....."my dear boy, you're in the completely the wrong place!". Anyway, within a few minutes we found the spot. Three other birders were already present and the bird was showing very well. We watched it bobbing up and down on its perch, jumping off occasionally to go for a quick swim. It seemed utterly impervious to the presence of people and was at times too close to even focus on. That said the light was poor and even at ISO800 I was only getting shutter speeds of 1/50s at best.
The other two birders switched over to the other side of the river bank while I found a nice tree to lean against.

Taking it easy as I twitch the Black-bellied Dipper
Polina showed greater dedication though and got down on her belly in the snow to get level with the bird.

Tougher than the rest........P roughs it in the snow!
Eventually the bird settled in an area that gave all of us equally good views.

Me, Polina and two others watch the Black-bellied Dipper at Thetford.
Here's a couple of movie clips taken from just in front of where we were in the above photo.

Youtube clip number one of Black-bellied Dipper

and here's one of it taking a little swim (sorry a little out of focus at times!)

 Youtube clip number two - swimming Dipper

 The light was poor as I said so these were the best shots I could manage.

Black-bellied Dipper, Thetford, Norfolk - 20th January 2013
As the light faded and the snow started again we both decided to call it a day. It was great to kick off my UK birding with such an obliging subject and great to have Polina out birding with me once again.....its been a while.
We've had a week of snow in Norwich and its pelting down outside once more as I write, hope the roads stay clear!

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Still snowing

The snow continues here in Norfolk. My car did its MOT this morning and passed with flying colours.........well done Bessie! Just as I was leaving Norwich then to head to Thetford via the A11 the snow started again and it quickly became very heavy. Traffic crawled along and after an hour and fifteen minutes I had only gone eight miles. There were already several crashes in both directions and it was getting pretty hairy. I turned back somewhere near Wymondham. It then took almost two hours to go back into Norwich. I thought Ireland was the only country that grinds to a halt when its snows, seems I wrong about that. By the time I got home I felt like kissing the driveway.....such was my relief.
On the plus side while I was stuck waiting at the Thickthorn roundabout a Green Woodpecker flew for the year list and if I want, one for my 'Irish and British' list (although I haven't decided whether to start a 'British' list or a 'British and Irish' list or even an 'Irish and British' list yet).
After several hours in the car I took a brief walk up to Eaton Park before it got dark. A couple of flyover Goldfinches were the best there.

Judge's Walk, Norwich this evening

Its stopped snowing for the moment but there's more forecast for later this week!

Monday 14 January 2013

The Marsh Harrier

A very tasty mixed grill and a pint of Adnams Lighthouse ale at The Marsh Harrier this evening (on the Ipswich Road just outside Norwich). Just the job with all this snow around!

A wintry scene by The Marsh Harrier

Monday 7 January 2013


Well, I've finally reached Norfolk! We arrived to our new home in Norwich last Saturday morning. A long drive from Cork via the HSS ferry from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead, stopping in Rugby before the final stretch into Norwich. I picked up a couple of year ticks en route (Jay, Buzzard, Carrion Crow etc.) but otherwise have had little time to even think about birding.
My blog may be a bit quiet for the next few weeks as Polina and I get settled in. Then hopefully I'll make it out to Titchwell or Strumpshaw fen RSPB.....that's the plan anyway.