Sunday 31 August 2014

Winterton and Nelson's Head Track

Not the day I was hoping for. It began full of promise but ended with a whimper.
I was up at 5am, had the dog walked and had arrived at Winterton for 6.30am. With a little hlep from Nick Watmough, I located the site for the Greenish Warbler, but it had gone. A relatively clear night and a suitable airstream meant there appeared to have been  a clear-out. Greenish would have been a UK tick, I've seen two in Ireland and several in Latvia. This photo of one taken in the back garden of my late mum in law's house is my only ever shot of one.

Greenish Warbler, Jurmula, Latvia - June 2012
Back at Winterton, there were decent numbers of Common Whitethroat, Blackcaps and Phylloscs knocking around, a fly-over Hobby chasing hirundines was highlight of the morning.
I tried for the Wryneck on the north dunes by the totem pole but didn't locate it. It was picked up later in the morning near the fence on the western edge of the north dunes. Had I known this I may have tried for a photo, but the 3G coverage is so utterly hopeless in Norfolk that I could not open the RBA app on my iphone to see what was about. Effectively, once I'm out in the field, I have no way of knowing what else is about unless I text someone with internet access or ask other birders. The network coverage is really appalling and needs to be improved pronto!
With little else around I decided to walk the Nelson's Head track and see if I could manage some better RB Shrike shots. I had two Whinchats and two Wheatears along the track near the metal container, when I arrived at the RB Shrike site there were about fifteen birders already present. The light was harsher and the bird more mobile than last Thursday when I was there. Today, I stuck to the path hoping for it to come into some close by brambles but that never materialised. I did enjoy a great view of it catching and holding a lizard in its bill though. Having been around since last June, the bird does seem to be used to people at this stage, but nonetheless I was disappointed to see both photographers and birders pursuing the bird for a photo into the dunes rather than waiting in the one spot patiently for it to pose. That's not good fieldcraft as far as I'm concerned and even if the bird was not perturbed by this behaviour, I can understand why photographers get a bad press. With all that going on I didn't stay long and made my way back along the Nelson's Head track to the car, stopping briefly to try (unsuccessfully) for some Whinchat shots.
En route home I stopped at Great Yarmouth Cemetery where the migrant clear-out was very evident, not a dickie-bird to be seen.
Easterly winds are forecast from next Tuesday for at least a week, not much rain accompanying them but could still bring a fresh wave of migrants hopefully. We'll see!

Thursday 28 August 2014

Just glad to be birding

It would be an understatement to say the last few weeks have been difficult. On Sunday night, Polina's dear Mum finally succumbed to the cancer which she had been fighting so bravely for the past six months. We're both heartbroken and will miss Nina terribly. Having a dying person at home is both frightening and inspiring, in almost equal measure. To see the person suffer is heart-breaking, but to see their bravery, spirit and dignity in all of this was profound. To receive such kindness and support from friends, neighbours and carers was overwhelming and humbling.
I write this because I want to put today's birding into context. I had a very enjoyable day out. By any standards it was a great day. Great views of some very nice autumn migrants and some decent photos to boot. It lifted my spirits after all the events of the past few days. It doesn't fix things but as I sat in the rain, soaked right through watching a smart Red-back Shrike, I felt extremely lucky and thankful for being alive and being healthy. I have Nina to thank for that, amongst many other things.
So what of the birding then!!
Up early and walked the Nelson's Head track from 8am. I had two Whinchats and two Common Whitethroats with about five Wheatears near the container. I turned right and headed towards Winterton North Dunes to try for the long-staying male Red-backed Shrike. Past the pine plantation, he was easy to locate. I enjoyed decent and close views for fifteen minutes before heavy rain meant a disappearing trick. I sat and waited for his return as the the water slowly soaked through my light water-proofs and wet me right through. In truth, I had forgotten a rain cover for my lens so needed to use my jacket to keep it and my camera dry - hence the thorough wetting.

Red-backed Shrike, Winterton North Dunes, Norfolk - 28th August 2014
As I waited for the shrike to reappear, I was briefly entertained by a female Common Redstart, several Whinchats and two Common Whitethroats.

Whinchat - decent numbers of these around today.
After an hour and a half, I decided to go and look for theshrike. I relocated it about three hundred yards further on. I tried for a few more shots but by now I was starting to feel chilled and what is more my gear was getting wet. I got one more photo of the shrike (who himself was looking a bit soggy) and headed back along the track to the car for coffee and a chicken sambo.

Shrike in the rain - Winterton, Norfolk
En route back, the rain stopped and the sun began to shine. Nick Watmough texted to say that a Wryneck was being reported from the SE corner of the southern section of GY cemetery. With no report of the bird seen yesterday near the totem pole at Winterton north dunes, I decided to head to Great Yarmouth.
At the cemetery I met a couple more birders and with five pairs of eyes, we relocated the bird feeding on a flat stone slab. Initial pictures were sketchy but I did manage a couple of decent shots when it landed on a path in front of me as I turned to leave.....lucky!

Wryneck, Great Yarmouth Cemetery, Norfolk - 28th August 2014
I tried the north section for ten minutes to try and locate a Pied Flycatcher but by now I was a little tired and felt it would be better to call it a day and be happy with what I had seen.

Saturday 2 August 2014

Titchwell's Swamp Chicken

Ten weeks is almost the longest time I've had away from birding but work had quietened down a little and Nina was home from hospital so after a long hiatus I took Friday off and decided to head up to Titchwell for the Spotted Crake. Sadly the Long-tailed Skua seemed to have departed the area a few days previously so I wasn't going to catch up with that but the Crake would be more than enough.
Dog walking duties taken care of, I reached Titchwell at 8.30am. A bit later than I would have liked. I arrived at the spot for Crake and was told that "you should have bin 'ere five minutes ago"......never mind, I had all day, at least it was still present. I need not have worried though, ten minutes later it made a brief appearance, I had enough time to see the short stubby bill and buff / orange undertail coverts. That was Spotted Crake ticked. From then until midday I remained at the spot, the bird often showed well out in the open but spent most of the time at the far corner. From time to time it spread its wings and 'danced' around. I'm not sure if it was chasing away the juvenile Reed and Sedge Warblers or the juvenile Bearded Reedlings or simply fly-catching, whatever it was doing, it looked interesting. Anyway, all I managed were record shots, but clear enough to see the main features of the bird.

Spotted Crake, RSPB Titchwell, Norfolk - 1st August 2014
Figuring I wasn't going to get better shots, I headed along the main path towards the beach. Stopping along the way to watch this handsome Wood Sandpiper.

Wood Sandpiper, RSPB Titchwell, Norfolk - 1st August 2014
The light wasn't great so the background looks a little dull, I'd love to photograph this species well (should probably head to Finland in the spring so). Present in the same area were several juvenile LRPs, a summer plumaged Spotted Redshank (well ok - it was a little tatty), plenty of Ruff (amazing variation in plumages and sizes here - suppose it depends on age, sex, stage of moult etc.). I had three juvenile Spoonbills in flight with the Little Egrets but I believe the count was higher (I heard more than ten). I heard a report of a Curlew Sandpiper, I scanned the Dunlin but saw none (apart from a couple of large Dunlin). At the beach I had a flock of about ten very tatty looking Common Eider, two Bar 'wits and a very distant Skua (Arctic possibly).
I headed back for lunch and decided at the car to try for the Purple Heron at Cley. When I arrived though it had last been seen dropping down into a dyke east of the East Bank. There was nowhere to park other than at Walsey Hills NOA and walk. I hadn't time, so I dropped two other birders at the site for the heron and headed home to Norwich.
I wasn't complaining, Spotted Crake was a lifer and Wood Sand was a UK tick - so a good day all in all and great to get out after such a long break.