Tuesday 30 April 2013

A good 'start

My better half is in London for a few days so rather than head home to an empty house I decided to go birding for a few hours after work. I went to a spot in the Brecks where I had heard Tree Pipit, Woodlark and Common Redstart might be possible. While Woodlark or Tree Pipit would be nice it was really Common Redstart that I was after. However, what little information I had didn't suggest that they would be too common. Maybe a handful of birds if I was really lucky.
I had spent an hour and half walking around the location with nothing more to show than a couple of singing Blackcaps, a Green Woodpecker and a Willow Warbler. I had more or less given up when about one hundred yards down the path in front of me a bird flitted down onto a fence post and appeared for a moment to vibrate its tail. I got the bins onto it and could see it was a really handsome male Common Redstart. The light had faded by now (it was almost 8pm) and the bird preferred to keep some space between me and it. I didn't bother for shots and instead watched it for a while as it moved back and forth between the edge of the trees and the fence.
What a stunning bird and only fifteen minutes away from where I work.
I've purposefully kept the location very vague in case there's a female around and they decide to breed (hopefully).

Saturday 27 April 2013

Hobby and Turtle Dove keep things ticking over

Back out to the east coast this morning to check some migrant spots with Nick Watmough. At Horsey Gap we walked north from the car park passing two or three Common Whitethroats as they sang from the tops of various patches of briars and brambles. We stopped above the caravan park at Waxham Sands and scanned for Pipits and Wagtails. A ground feeding Common Whitethroat threw me for a second or two. In the background I could hear a distant purring sound, interesting and vaguely familiar too. Then the penny dropped, Turtle Dove. I scanned the trees on the opposite side of the caravan park and there it was sitting atop, singing away. Nice...............clearly his one had managed to dodge the hunters guns!
We continued to scan the short grass around the caravan park and picked up four handsome Yellow Wagtails, possibly the same group from last week. And before we moved on we noticed a nice alba Wagtail consorting with two Yarrelli's.
Along the southern path we came across a male Northern Wheatear. This was my first of the year, couldn't let the spring finish without one of these. Yesterday evening it seems that large numbers were grounded by rain on the east Norfolk coast but clearly they had moved on by first light? However, further up the path we came across a few more and at one stage we had up to eleven birds. One or two posed beautifully for photos, but I had been lazy and my camera was back in the car.......bugger!
From Horsey we moved on to allotments at Winterton, best there was a Common Whitethroat, several singing Blackcaps and two female Blackcaps. We checked the dunes very briefly at Winterton but decided fairly quickly, that it was dead.
For lunch we stopped at Ormsby broad, there had been no report this morning of the Purple Heron but maybe no one had checked? As we ate lunch a Cetti's gave a few bursts of song and a Blackcap sang from further down the path. We walked through the woods to the viewing platform, amongst the phragmites along the bank I could hear at least one Reed Warbler singing, a Sedge Warbler sang also but a little half-heartedly. Just before we reached the viewing platform we had views of a small falcon overhead, long wings, shortish tail........Hobby. Out on the broad though there was no sign of the Purple Heron but four Common Terns dropped in for a short spell and a Goldeneye was still present.
With time ticking on, we continued back towards Norwich, stopping at Buckenham Marshes where the best was three Wheatear, four Avocet and a Yellow Wagtail.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Where are the Shrikes - thousands of birds being slaughtered in North Africa

We're all aware of the mindless slaughter that goes on in Malta where thousands of illegal hunters exact a terrible toll on migrating passerines, birds of prey and a lot else. I refer you to this podcast on Charlie Moores 'Talking Naturally' website where filmmaker Ceri Levy discusses his experiences of this bird genocide.
Talking Naturally - Ceri Levy and Malta's illegal and shameful hunting

Photographer David Tipling has just spent a few days out in Malta highlighting this issue and even appeared in court while there, to testify against two hunters (see Times of Malta - birdwatcher testify against hunters).
David, if you are reading this Sir. I salute you, you deserve great credit for going out to Malta and working so hard to highlight this issue.

I thought Malta was bad enough but today on IBN (Irish Bird Network) this link was posted. It describes how fishing nets are being used in almost a 700 kilometer stretch along the North African coast to trap migrating songbirds. The commonest species being picked up are Shrikes. The birds are crammed into cages, sent to the local markets before being killed and sold. You will probably find the images in this link shocking and disturbing. I personally find this sort of thing very difficult to look at and very upsetting. But.....its very important that we do look at this, it can't be ignored and as birders we have a duty to do what we can to stop this slaughter. I would urge you to go to the link below and sign the e-petition.

stop fishing and shooting of european migratory birds

From hunting in Malta, trapping in Cyprus, netting in North Africa, drought in the Sahel, habitat loss and so many other hazards (all with one common thread - mankind!), its amazing any of these bird make it to their breeding grounds. Thank God some do.....just.
Please sign the e-petition and help them on their way!

Sunday 21 April 2013

Wagtails and Whitethroats

I had been laid up for two days with a nasty bug. Friday I stayed in bed for a full day, by Saturday I had migrated as far as the couch and on Sunday I felt considerably better. Having spent two days without even so much as leaving the house I wanted to do a few hours birding. I headed out towards Horsey Gap again (re-visiting the scene of the crime and all that!) where it seemed there had been a decent arrival of Common Whitethroat. I had two along the path that runs south from the car park along with a couple of Stonechats and at least five along the path north of the car park. There was probably more!
There were also several of Chiffers calling (though not singing - oddly), a single swallow and at Waxham caravan park, four smashing looking Yellow Wagtails (flavissima) with several Pied Wags, one of which looked like a possible alba but with the light being so strong I wouldn't like to say for certain, all the others were definitely yarrellii. I tried for some Yellow Wag shots but I was shooting through wire mesh, there was heat haze, the sun was side on......yaddy, yaddy yaddy!! Anyway, in the end all I got were record shots. Of all the Yellow Wag races I think flavissima is one of the nicest, although a male feldegg must look impressive!

Yellow Wagtail, Waxham caravan park, Norfolk - 21st April 2013
Still not feeling 100% after my bug, I returned back along the track to the car park and headed back to Norwich.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Ode to a Nightingale

What a difference a week can make. The winds finally turned around to the south and the migrants have been steadily arriving.
I'm still buzzing from my Red-flanked Bluetail find last Sunday but with spring finally here there was no time for laurel resting! With a report of a Nightingale singing at nearby Whitlingham broad, I contacted James Emerson who very kindly gave me precise directions to locate the bird.
I tried hard to get out of work early but was still there at 6pm, nonetheless I made it home by 6.30pm, scoffed half a pizza and was parking up at Whitlingham before 7pm.
I took the path along the north side of the great broad. A different place from my last visit in mid- January for Slavonian Grebe. Back then the paths were covered in frozen snow, the east wind was cruel and parts of the broad frozen. But this evening as I walked, the air was mild, people were jogging and the summer migrants were out in force. Chiffchaffs and Willows Warblers sang while Swallows hunted over the water.
I reached the site and noted three female Blackcaps and one male Blackcap in the pussy willows. I wondered if I was in the right place when after five minutes I got a brief snatch of Nightingale song. From then on it sang on and off until shortly before I left. But getting views of it was another thing. It stayed very well concealed (as they do) and the light had faded quite a bit before I finally caught a glimpse of it sitting on a low bramble chattering away to itself. The following shot is taken through stems of foliage, highly cropped and high ISO - hence the crappiness. But it is the first Nightingale I've seen in either Britain or Ireland so it'll do for starters!

Nightingale, Whitlingham CP, Norfolk - 16th April 2013
A Cetti's Warbler chipped in a few times with its explosive song but I never caught sight of it and I was sure I could hear a Sedge Warbler babbling away from time to time also, more of a plastic song than fully crystallized but again no sighting. Meanwhile the Nightingale continued to sing, occasionally adding in a series plaintive single note whistles........'lu, lu, lu, lu'.....as it went up the scale. Beautiful! I was joined briefly by two other local birders who sadly failed to see it. The bird fell silent for ten minutes and with the light now really gone, I called it a day.......but a good day at that!
My thanks again to James Emerson, please check his excellent blog on birding around Whitlingham CP, Beer and birds blog

Sunday 14 April 2013

Blue magic at Horsey Gap

I guess this will go down a 'red-letter' day, or better still 'red-flanked' day!

I already had the first two Swallows of the year at Holkam on Friday along with more Swallows, Sand and House Martins, the first Chiffers and a singing Willow Warbler at Strumpshaw Fen yesterday evening.
The east or north Norfolk coast would definitely be worth a look so I headed up and away before 9 o'clock this morning.
I'm still learning where each place is. I thought of going to Holme but it's an hour and a half from Norwich so I decided to go over towards Winterton and Horsey. I knew Horsey Gap from visiting it with Nick Watmough on Easter Monday so I was confident I could find my way back there. Based on recent reports a Common Redstart, Black Redstart or Ring Ouzel could be possible, I'd settle for any of them.
I pulled into the car park at Horsey Gap and was a little surprised to see no signs of any other birders. I expected places like this to be well covered.
I could hear a Willow Warbler in song over towards the south side of the carpark so decided to check there first. Apart from the Willow Warbler, I had a singing Chiffer and about four Swallows. I went about half a mile before deciding to go back and check the path that runs to north of the car park. I followed that for about one hundred meters before noticing a stand of trees with gorze just in off the path. They looked interesting, so I broke away from the path and headed towards them.
As I came around the side of the first few trees a small bird caught my eye but immediately dropped out of sight. I relocated it quickly and thought....'here we go female Common Redstart, that'll do!'. However once I got the bins onto it I could see very striking orange flanks, it was shouting Red-flanked Bluetail to me but I still couldn't believe that it was. Then it turned its back to me, flashed its blue tail and took off deeper into the trees. I suppressed a shout of delight and turned back to get my camera.
I had a mobile number for Birdguides so texted the news in before calling Nick Watmough to ask him if he could put it out also (even though I'm here a few months I still haven't set myself up on Rare Bird Alert etc.). I gave Nick details of the location before settling down to try for a few shots. For about an hour it was just me and the bird, shots were tricky but I did manage some.

Red-flanked Bluetail, Horsey gap, Norfolk - 14th April 2013
Plus a short movie clip as well.
Movie clip of Red-flanked Bluetail

Other birders arrived in due course and by the time I left a small sized twitch was underway (large by Irish standards but small enough for Norfolk I imagine).
Nick and I headed to Winterton to look for Black Redstarts (no joy) but did catch nice views of two roosting Long-eared Owls.

Roosting Long-eared Owl, Winterton, Norfolk - 14th April 2013
By now tiredness was kicking in and nothing was going to top the Bluetail. I packed up and headed for home.
After a crappy Autumn in 2012 and a very long winter, finding my own Red-flanked Bluetail in my first spring in Norfolk is a very good consolation.

Monday 1 April 2013

Some signs of spring on the east Norfolk coast

Its April already, the clocks have gone forward, Easter is all but finished and I still haven't seen a Wheatear or even any Hirundines. Hard to believe. But that's the sort of winter its been.
Not to be deterred though, myself and Nick Watmough met up at 8am this morning in Norwich and headed for the coast to look for migrants.
First stop was Bure Park in Great Yarmouth where a Garganey had been reported the previous day. British summer-time had officially started but it still felt Baltic as we got out of the car.
As is customary at this stage, a Barn Owl put in an appearance hunting along the ditch in front of the car park. Norfolk really seems to be a stronghold for this species. Within five minutes we had located a Garganey pair sleeping along the edge of a small pool along with some Pochard. A summer migrant at last. The bird got a little spooked as we approached, I got a few snaps before leaving it be. On the way out of Bure Park I noticed a row of Daffodils with their heads still closed, hard to believe on the 1st April.

Garganey, Bure Park, Great Yarmouth - 1st Aprl 2013
So we were off to a good start. Next stop was Winterton allotments, but sadly nothing of note there.
I stopped briefly along the road out of Winterton to snap this Red-legged Partridge in a ploughed field, Nick assures me I'll grow tired of them in time but for the moment they're nice to see.

Red-legged Partridge - near Winterton, Norfolk
We continued on towards Horsey, parked up and began checking the pathway around the dunes hoping for the first Wheatear but here too was quiet. At the caravan park we did dig out one and possibly two White Wagtails but that was it. We fantasized about Shrikes, Wrynecks and all sorts of other stuff but it was not to be.
We drove on to Sea Palling where a large gull flock in recent days had included Med, several Glaucous and Caspian Gull(s). When we got there the flock had spread out, many of them were loafing out on the water with some on the reefs. The best we could pick out was a 1st winter Kittiwake. Not a bad bird for the area I'm told, but Caspian would have been nicer.

1st winter Kittiwake, Sea Palling, Norfolk - 1st April 2013
We headed back to the car for our lunch and agreed that it may be better to give up on the migrant front and head to Buckenham to see if we could locate some Little Ringed Plover.
We parked at the train station and walked up to the hide, three Ruff, several Dunlin, two Redshank and two or three Ringed Plover were the best here. Sadly no sign of any LRPs. Wigeon numbers are still high in the fields either side of the road though.

Eurasian Wigeon - Buckenham Marshes RSPB - 1st April 2013
And the Lapwing are starting to get frisky.

Lapwing, Buckenham Marshes RSPB - 1st April 2013
Just as we were leaving another birder put us onto a Water Pipit, views were distant but always a good bird to see. With time wearing on we decided to call it a day and headed back to Norwich.
So that wraps up my Easter birding. The winter weather continues but I had two lifers (Grey Partridge and Tawny Owl) and several additions to my UK list (Great Grey Shrike, Red-legged Partridge, Garganey and Water Pipit). Hopefully the spring migs will start to trickle in soon!