Sunday 17 February 2013

Up North!

Took a bit of spin up to the north Norfolk coast today with Nick. Foggy at first but by 11am it had burned off and what a fine day it was.
We stopped first near Burnham Overy to search for the Rough-legged Buzzard but to no avail. The sound of Skylarks filled the air though. The best here was a 1st cy Marsh Harrier and one very smart looking male. I had a brief glimpse of a Green Woodpecker skimming along the tops of the hedgerows (of little interest to anyone else) but it and the Pink-foots are still a relative novelty for me coming from Ireland. A good size flock of Brents came in, again a wee novelty as they're all dark-bellied here rather than our light-bellied race over in Ireland.
Having dipped on the RL Buzzard we headed over to Salthouse for Snow Buntings and Shore Larks. No problem with the Buntings but we dipped on the Lark which hadn't been seen today at all (or at least was not reported).
Wonderful to see places like Cley, Blakeney Point, Holkam Pines and Salthouse for the first time. Places synonymous with rare birds but I have to admit a little concerned by the sheer numbers of birders. I'm told by Nick that this is nothing and I should go to Titchwell if I really want to understand what crowds are........I don't!

Eagle's DNA

This is me enjoying a pint of Eagle's DNA ale yesterday at the The Eagle Pub, Bene't Street, Cambridge. In this pub on 28th February 1953 Francis Crick announced that he and James Watson had "discovered the secret of life" after finding the double-helical structure of DNA.
The birding connection to this is that James Watson was, as a young man, a keen birdwatcher and had strongly considered going to Cornell to study ornithology before reading Erwin Schroedinger's famous book 'What is Life?'. He then decided to pursue a career in genetics instead, I think his decision served mankind quite well. Cheers.

A toast to Watson and Crick!

Sunday 10 February 2013


Sunday morning was dull, wet and cold but having been indoors all week at work I really wanted to head out. It was midday before I got going and with a 3pm kick-off for Ireland versus England I didn't have time to go too far.
Strumpshaw Fen is only fifteen minutes away so I decided to spend a few hours there.
I made my way to the first hide stopping briefly at the feeders opposite reception. There was certainly plenty of action there. Numerous Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Chaffinches crowded around the feeders. A Marsh Tit would drop in from time to time, darting in quickly to pick off a sunflower seed before dashing away again. Once or twice a fine Nuthatch stopped by for a quick snack.
I spoke to another birder who said that Brambling had been seen a week ago but none as far as he knew today. With plenty of Chaffinch around I felt there must be one somewhere.
I spent a little time in the first hide, where good numbers of Gadwall, Teal, Mallard and Coot were feeding in front of the hide. A fine ring-tail Hen Harrier was the first bird of prey I saw, followed soon after by a first calendar year Marsh Harrier and shortly after that by a male Sparrowhawk dashing past right in front of hide. A Bittern had been reported from earlier from the fen hide so I took off over there. But before I left I had brief views of a female Brambling in the region of first hide.
Over at the fen hide however it was pretty quiet save for a few Teal and two Mute Swans. If I wanted to get home in time for kick-off it meant I only had forty minutes to spare and I was starting to think about trying to get better views of the Brambling.
So, I turned on my heels and headed back. And I was glad I did, back at the feeders there was now one female Brambling knocking around. The light was pretty poor but within thirty minutes I managed to get decent views of at least one female (possibly two) and one male Brambling. They were a little hesitant to come to the feeders and they never joined the Chaffinches on the deck but I did manage one or two decent shots in that time.

Female Brambling, Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk - 10th February 2013

Male Brambling, Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk - 10th February 2013

Female Brambling, Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk - 10th February 2013
Time was running out for me though, I made it back home just as Owen Farrell kicked off proceedings at the Aviva stadium. In hindsight I should have stayed at Strumpshaw. England deserved their first win in Dublin since 2003 and look likely now to take the Grand Slam.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Sony World Photography Awards 2013

Polina Kasapova, owner and director of Temple Photography (and of course my better half) has been commended by the World Photography Organisation in the Sony World Photography Awards 2013 (Nature and Wildlife section) for her excellent photograph of two Northern Gannets. The photograph was taken by Polina during a visit to the Great Saltee Island, Wexford, Ireland.

(Northern) Gannets - Polina Kasapova - Commended - Sony World Photography Awards 2013

Congratulations Polina on this richly deserved recognition!!

Monday 4 February 2013

I think I might like it here!

Local birder Nick Watmough had very kindly offered to take me around a few of his local spots in Norwich and perhaps a little further afield depending on the weather and the birds.
I picked Nick up in nearby Eaton village on Sunday morning at 8.30am and first stop was the University of East Anglia (UEA) campus for a walk around the broad. We searched the playing fields briefly for an adult Caspian Gull that had been reported the previous day but the only large gulls present were Herrings. There was no sign of any Bramblings at the feeding stations but a nice Mealy Redpoll did make a quick appearance.
From there it was on to the Bawburgh area to check for American Wigeon and Great White Egret, here too we lucked out but consoled ourselves with a coffee break at The King's Head.
At this point Nick suggested we head east towards the coast stopping off en route at Ormesby's Little Broad where Smew could be possible. At Ormesby we met a local birder returning to his car who advised us that we were wasting our time, all that was out there was a male Goldeneye, a few Tufties and not much else. However he did give us some directions for a flock of Waxwings in Great Yarmouth. After a brief check of the broad we decided to go for the Waxwings.
The flock had been up to sixty-six strong in recent days but when we arrived it was down to just six. Its been a good Waxwing winter for me but I still haven't tired of them. We spent twenty minutes or so watching the small flock feeding on berries before we headed on to Great Yarmouth sea-front.

Waxwing, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk - 3rd February 2013

At the sea-front we had come to specifically check out a flock of local Med Gulls. It was great having Nick with us as he directed us to precisely the correct car-park along the promenade. We roughly counted between twenty and thirty birds resting on the beach when we arrived.

Med Gulls squabble over the best perch at Great Yarmouth

We watched them for fifteen minutes or so while out at sea I picked up a small group of about twenty Common Scoter winging it across the surf.
The next spot was only a short distance up the coast. At Caister-on-sea a flock of Snow Buntings can regularly be found feeding on the beach. Again, with Nick's local expertise, we found the flock straight away. Approaching them was a little tricky and I preferred to let them be, the flock was flighty, mobile and restless so I took a few pictures at 700mm from a distance and let them go about their way. Nick counted forty-two birds which is twenty-one times more Snow Buntings than I've ever seen (work it out but its not a bird I've seen often).

Snow Bunting flock - Caister-on-sea, Norfolk

Nick and I watch the Snow Buntings at Caister beach

It may not look it in this next photo but P was fading fast so finding a cafe of some sort was becoming a priority.

Feed me now!

In the end, we stopped at McDonalds and while it mightn't have been P's first choice it filled the gap and kept us all going.
We decided to head back in the direction of Norwich and timed our return so we might see some owls hunting in the late afternoon gloom.
Somewhere on the way back out of Great Yarmouth Nick spotted a Barn Owl hunting on the edge of a field. We continued back towards Norwich before turning left off the A147 into Brundall, past the entrance to Strumpshaw fen RSPB and continued on in the direction of Buckenham marshes. I've forgotten the precise name of the place but at some stage we pulled up alongside a raised bank where several other birders had assembled to watch the owls hunt in the fields on the opposite side of the river. The light had gone as far a photos were concerned but we all had nice views of two Barn Owls and one Short-eared Owl hunting in gathering twilight.

Me happily watching some Barn Owls

It was now about five o'clock, we decided it was time to head home. We packed our gear away and headed back.
My sincere thanks to Nick for giving me a wonderful introduction to Norfolk and my immediate surrounds within Norwich. I'm looking forward to having him show me the migrant hot-spots come spring and autumn.