Wednesday 1 January 2014

Footing it

The first post of 2014 - Happy New Year to one and all. I hope 2014 will be at least as good as 2013 was. Having gotten the first year in Norfolk under my belt, I intend this year to be a bit more targeted about the birds I want to see. 2013 was great, but a bit random, as I was getting to know the places and the scene. This year I'm starting with the foot-it challenge for January and as the year moves along I'll be aiming for some species like Woodlark, Bittern, Jack Snipe, Dartford Warbler and so on. In May I have a week long trip to Magee Marsh in Ohio and may get another week mid-summer in Latvia. As for the autumn, I'd love to go back to Cape Clear once more or perhaps even Fair Isle, I'll see how the finances are looking and if I can negotiate a few days with my better half of course.

Anyway, back to more immediate matters. On 31st December I decided to sign up for the foot-it challenge. (see Foot it 2014 Blog for more details). I've never done this before but thought it might be interesting for a change. I set a 2 mile radius from where I live and have given myself a target of 70 species. That may be a bit kind but other more experienced observers in the same west Norwich area are targeting 75.

On my list I have broken it up into several groups (based on my experience of the general area in 2013, although I have to say I did very little birding around the neighbourhood last January). I have four groups, Probable, Possible, Slight Chance and Outside Chance. The total adds up to 110 species. In the Probable group its the obvious stuff like Robin, Blackbird, Great Tit etc., Possible has things like Water Rail, Kingfisher, Snipe and Skylark, in the 'Slight Chance' group I have birds like Goosander, Little Owl and Woodcock and 'Outside Chance' (i.e. unlikely but who knows!), I have things like a flyover Hawfinch, wintering Yellow-browed or Firecrest or perhaps a Smew on UEA broad.

I was all set last night to kick-off the challenge early but then I saw a report of a Red-necked Grebe at Whitlingham CP (which is outside of my patch). I couldn't resist the temptation and went for that first. There's nothing nicer than close up views of wintering diving ducks, grebes or divers on an inland patch of water. Somtimes you can be really lucky and get them close in to the shore and have some amazing photos. Not this time though, I arrived at 9am, the bird had been looked for but not seen. A bit surprising but nothing I could do. I drove back home, parked up and started the foot it challenge.
And I was glad I did. First of all the walk did me good, and all the time you're birding! Not driving from A to B, parking, walking to a spot, seeing or not seeing a bird, walking back again, more driving and more driving. This was back to basics birding and a lot of fun. A bit like doing a mini bird race. It reminded me of my days doing the bird races around Cobh, County Cork (see The Great Island Bird Race).

In a short time I had female Blackcap, plenty of Redwings and a finally some birds starting to use the feeders I have hung out in the front garden (Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit and Goldcrest). I made my way over to Eaton Common which frankly was a bit disappointing. I had hopes for Kingfisher at Keswick Mill or maybe Grey Wagtail but best I had was Little Egret. The weather started to close in with persistent rain and wind. This seemed to lessen the amount of birds I was seeing. I stopped to eat lunch in Eaton village (last night's left-over take-away - surprisingly tasty when you're ravenous), this picked me up a little and I headed up towards UEA where, despite the nasty weather, I managed to score a few more species. Jay, Lesser Redpoll, Coot, Great Crested Grebe and on the broad a single male Gadwall (rare for the area I believe). By now I was starting to get a bit soaked. I was enjoying the birding but the rain was seeping in and I didn't expect too much more. I walked the board-walk in hope of Cetti's Warbler but called it a day without that species.
So, I finished the day with a modest 38 species, others working the same area hit 48. But for me it's more about knowing what's on my doorstep. Its what birding is about and hopefully by the end of January I will have a far better idea of the habitats and species that are on my local patch. I'm exciting about doing the same exercise come April and May as the summer migrants arrive and of course in autumn as stuff moves through again.

UEA broad - 1st January 2014


  1. Will be following your blog G. Good walks on May 1st Eaton to UEA mostly circa 30\40. My garden total (from and over!) for 11 Bluebell Rd was 101 (but it took me 30 yrs and included White Stork and G G Shrike, a rejected May overshoot Black Kite (on the same day as one turned up in UK) and birds now sadly rare. Often saw winter Goosander Kingfisher and Water Rail along the river near Harmers Wood. Waders were heard more before the noisy A11 Happy Footing! Tom

    1. Hi Tom, 101 for a garden total, even if over 30 years, is amazing. Especially so close to a city. Really enjoying 'Echoes from Cape Clear' by the way. Happy New Year to you.