Friday 29 March 2013

Great Grey Shrike - Egmere

Plan A was to head back to Strumpshaw Fen this afternoon and try for some better Brambling shots but a report of a Great Grey Shrike at Egmere was tempting. I didn't feel like driving very far but at the last minute I relented. Having dipped at Wrentham, Suffolk several weeks ago I knew seeing one this time wouldn't be guaranteed. But its too good a bird to ignore so off I went.
I had a bit of trouble finding the exact spot and ended up driving into Wells-next-the-Sea first. Knowing I had gone wrong I turned back along the Fakenham road and eventually came upon four cars pulled up along a ditch about one mile past the old church in Egmere. About five birders were present and already peering through scopes so things were looking good. I wound the car window down and asked the nearest birder if this was the right place for the Shrike, 'Yes', they replied. And the bird was showing well perched atop a Hawthorn bush about three hundred yards further up a private road. I enjoyed good views of it as it scanned the hedgerow for a hapless Wren or Goldcrest. My only previous encounter with this species was in Latvia two years ago so this was a British tick for me. I gave it two hours but the bird never came much closer than one hundred yards. I got some reasonable record shots but when I got home it seemed like many of the files on my memory card were corrupted and I couldn't process those images. In fact I only had one shot that I could view and edit. Its pretty crappy really but better than nothing. Still an absolute beauty of a bird.

Great Grey Shrike - Egmere, Norfolk - 29th March 2013

I shared views with several other birders throughout my time with the shrike. All good folk, none more so than Paul, who is the first wheelchair birder I have met. He told me being divorced and disabled is great because of all the time you have to go birding. Paul, I salute you sir...........and wish we could all have an attitude as good as yours!
A Barn Owl flew over our heads checking us out at one stage and I also caught a brief glimpse of a Red Kite before it disappeared behind the horizon. A Buzzard was calling from a sycamore tree in a nearby field and female type Marsh Harrier put in a brief cameo.
With the bird keeping its distance and not wanting to venture down the private road for closer views I decided to head home. It was bitterly cold too. Just before I turned onto the Fakenham road I stopped to check-out some Red-legged Partridge in a stubble field when two Grey Partridge flew out from the ditch into the same field. I thought about it for a second or two before realising that Grey Partridge is a lifer. That makes me sound like a total novice but up until recently there was only one site in Ireland where they could be seen (Boora Bog in Co. Offaly) and I had never been there. I had never seen Grey Partridge anywhere else so these two were my first (I haven't seen too many Red-legged Partridge for that matter either).

Grey Partridge, near Egmere, Norfolk - 29th March 2013
Time was pushing on so I turned for home. Four or five miles later a small brownish raptor flew out of a wood and across the road in front of me. For a second or two it had me puzzled, it didn't look familiar...........because it wasn't! Tawny Owl........another lifer!

I think the word you're looking for is 'dude' ;-)

Sunday 24 March 2013

Where's spring?

I remember this weekend last year was warm and sunny, a Baillon's Crake had turned up on Great Saltee followed two days later by a spring Red-flanked Bluetail on Galley Head. However this year is altogether different, I reckon there's been snow every week since moving to Norwich in January and this morning it was brass monkeys although the snow had stopped at least.
With no significant movement of spring migrants just yet I decided to go local and headed for Strumpshaw Fen.
I started off at the feeders near reception. The sun was shining but the wind was really raw. No sign of any Bramblings but a couple of Marsh Tits were present including this one who posed briefly while the sun shone.

Marsh Tit - Strumpshaw Fen RSPB - 24th March 2013
After thirty minutes the cold was starting to bite, I headed into the first hide to warm up. Out on the pool I could see good numbers of Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Shoveller, Mallard, a distant Black Swan and a smart male Marsh Harrier.
From there I took the woodland trail, halfway along the path I came across what is probably the tamest Pheasant I ever saw. I got down to take a few shots at eye level and it strolled up to me for a close look. In fact so close I couldn't focus the lens.

Very tame Pheasant
As I continued along the path the Pheasant followed me for about one hundred meters before deciding I had nothing of interest for him.
Heading towards the Fen hide the wind was really cutting. I had many layers on but I was glad when I reached the hide and got in out of that east wind. These Highland Cattle looked like it was no trouble to them.

Highland Cattle - Strumpshaw Fen
I'm a little surprised to see these sort of cattle in Norfolk, I associate them with  Scotland but I guess they could be anywhere. Great looking beasts all the same!
At the Fen hide it was quiet save for two Redshanks, some courting Coot and three distant Marsh Harriers (two female types and a male). I had missed an Otter by two minutes (seems to happen to me a lot). I spent an hour there hoping to see a Bittern but left empty-handed.
I took my lunch back in the hide at reception, having warmed up I decided to check the feeders once more. This time I had two female and one male Brambling. I tried for an hour to get some decent shots but failed to improve on those I got in early February. The light was just to weak.

Female Brambling - Strumpshaw Fen - 24th March 2013.
A female Siskin and a Nuthatch put in brief appearances. After an hour I was frozen solid. I headed back to the car and off home.
Next weekend the clocks go forward and the weather looks like warming up a little, its also Easter so that means a four day weekend (huzzah!). The plan is to hit the east coast with Nick to search for migrants. Hopefully my next blog update will look a little bit more spring-like!
Until then!

Sunday 17 March 2013

No luck on St. Patrick's Day

I hadn't been birding for almost four weeks, an unprecedented hiatus for me but there was other 'stuff' to do on the weekends and the weather had been pretty grim.
But the break had done me good and I was very eager to get out today one way or another. I had first thought of going to Strumpshaw Fen but having seen a report of the Great Grey Shrike at Wrentham this morning on Birdguides I decided to go 'off piste', leave Norfolk altogether and venture into Suffolk.
I set off just after noon, I had the right general area (Guildhall Lane) but not the precise location. Fortunately there were other birders present otherwise I may have missed it. As it happened they were just leaving as I arrived having failed to connect with the bird. In fact the last time it was seen had been several hours earlier as it flew high towards the fields on the opposite side of the road and away out of sight.
Never mind, at least I was in the right area, just a matter of time. Great Grey Shrike is a good bird, I've only seen one before and that was in Latvia. I'd never seen one in the UK before and certainly not in Ireland where they're much rarer.
A couple more birders arrived in due course, this was their second time there today and they had dipped first time around. We chatted for a while before they decided to move on. After that it was just me. I gave it four hours but no shrike.
But it wasn't all birdless, far from it in fact. At one stage the sun broke through and a stunning Barn Owl drifted past on the meadow in front of me. I'm seeing a lot more Barn Owls in the UK than I ever saw in Ireland. When the BTO atlas comes out later this year it'll be interesting to compare their status.
I made a brief movie clip of the bird as it hunted although it was naturally reluctant to come too close.

Youtube clip of Barn Owl hunting

Sorry for the shaky footage by the way.

At the same a Green Woodpecker put in a brief appearance along the edge of the left hand side hedgerow.
I guess its always like this, if you give a place enough time you'll see birds. While the shrike was nowhere to be seen, I had nice views of Kestrel, Yellowhammer, Bullfinch, Long-tailed Tit and a distant male Marsh Harrier.
I decided to stroll around a bit and in the next field along the edge of a small plantation I caught up again with the Barn Owl. I was busy taking shots of it when a second bird drifted past within twenty feet, but I was too slow with my lens, it caught sight of me and turned giving me a view of its arse only - not a great shot.
The first Owl obviously had a little scheme going and was cleverly perched on a post right along the edge of a plantation watching for voles and mice. I tried creeping towards it but you don't really creep up on Barn Owls without them noticing you very quickly.

Rumbled - spotted by the Barn Owl as I crept towards it.
I elected to see if I could approach from the lane on the opposite side of the plantation and get a few shots from within my car. I got a little closer this time but was also spotted before too long.

Barn Owl, Wrentham, Suffolk - 17th March 2013
I took one more short movie clip before leaving the bird to his hunting.

Barn Owl perched movie clip

I returned to the shrike site for one last look, still no sign but I did flush a Woodcock and the male Marshie came a little closer.

Male Marsh Harrier, Wrentham, Suffolk - 17th March 2013

So, all in all, not a bad day out. Alas no shrike but plenty else to see on what was my first St. Patrick's day outside of Ireland.

Shona La Feile Padraig!

Sunday 10 March 2013

Early birds and real ale

Its been brass monkeys here in Norfolk for the last few days. I'm watching the snow flakes fall outside as I write and while its exciting to see some of the early migrants on the south coast, you'd have to wonder how many will survive the cold conditions. Speaking of early arrivals Dublin birder Niall Keogh had an excellent record of two Firecrests yesterday in the garden on Great Saltee in Wexford. I would have thought it'd be too early to hit Great Saltee but I was wrong.......good call Niall!
There's been no birding for me of late but we did take a spin over to Bury St. Edmunds yesterday where we took part in an excellent tour of the Greene King brewery. I bought a few samples in the brewery shop and am currently working my way through them with Polina's help. Old Golden Hen is still my favorite although Greene King IPA is a close second. Going back to my student days I worked in a bar but never used one of those pump type taps, it was good to have a go from the other side of the counter once more. Here's me helping myself to some Abbot Ale Reserve.

Working the pumps at Greene King Brewery

Polina had a go as well!

P pulls a half of Greene King IPA
A good day out but hopefully some birding to report next weekend.........assuming it stops snowing!

Thursday 7 March 2013

Russell Slack

Beautiful tribute here to birder and writer Russell Slack, who very sadly passed away on 26th February 2013.

birdguides obituary to the late Russell Slack

I've read and enjoyed his excellent book, 'Rare Birds: Where and When, Volume 1' many times and was very sad to hear of his untimely passing.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam!

Monday 4 March 2013

Early arrivals

Starting to feel a little bit like spring at last. Birdguides has reported Sand Martins in Suffolk and London in the last few days plus an early Hoopoe at Poole in Dorset.