Sunday 26 April 2015

Keeping it local

I used the longer day light hours to check a few places after work each evening last week. Truth be told though I was a little disappointed with the seemingly low number of migrants so far on breeding territory.
I checked East Wretham Heath three times last week and up to Friday evening there were no Common Redstarts present (from what I could see / hear). Marston Marshes also seemed dead with the odd Blackcap and Chiffchaff being all there was to liven things up. Colney GP / Bawburgh Fisheries was about the same although a single Common Swift consorting with a mixed hirundine flock was my earliest record yet of this species in either Ireland or the UK.

Common Swift - Colney GP, Norwich - 21 April 2015
Not far from Colney, a Nightingale continues to sing but as usual evades all attempts to be photographed or even seen. I had a brief glimpse one evening but no more. At times it sang within ten feet but I couldn't see it - frustrating but remarkable all the same. I took the following movie clip (click on the link) with my iphone - not exactly a state-of-art microphone but you get the picture (or sound in this case)!

The unseen songster

Resisting all offers to travel over-night to the Scilly Isles for a certain Great Blue Heron, I awoke fresh and rested on Saturday morning and set-out for Colney GP to search for more Nightingales and other arrivals. Things seemed to have picked up with a Garden Warbler singing from a Whitethorn bush just as I entered through the steel gates. I spent the next five hours in the area and had two more Garden Warblers, at least one Common Whitethroat, numerous Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs and three Reed Warblers. Mid-afternoon produced bird of the day with this fly-over Hobby.

Hobby, Colney GP, Norwich, 25th April 2015
En route home I checked the Nightingale spot where the bird remains..........singing from deepest cover, of course!
Sunday was definitely cooler but a walk around Marston Marshes and Eaton Common showed that migrant numbers were up. In total I had five Sedge Warblers, two Grasshopper Warblers, one Common Whitethroat, one Willow Warbler and numerous Blackcaps. Last Thursday I had a brief snatch of Garden Warbler song so I suspect they may be in too. I didn't have much time for photos but managed a reasonable shot of one of the five Sedgies.

Sedge Warbler, Marston Marshes, Norwich - 26th April 2015
While I watching this chap a Grasshopper Warbler began reeling behind me, against the light and slightly obscured by a frond of grass, I managed a quick shot for the record. If time permits I may give these birds a little more time and go for a better shot than this.

Grasshopper Warbler, Marston Marshes, Norwich, 26th April 2015
This coming week is a busy one, but hopefully I'll find time to continue checking the local spots. I would expect the Common Redstarts to finally arrive at East Wretham (fingers crossed) and will continue to check Colney for Nightingales and see what more arrivals reach Marston Marshes. Stay posted!

Monday 6 April 2015

The Easter Weekend

Yesterday (Sunday), I decided to try one last time to see the Santon Downham Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. I must have tried seven or eight times this winter without success, its been a boogey bird for me in every sense of the word and up to now still missing from my life list. If I didn't get it today then the chances of connecting at all would be slim, I would be distracted by arriving summer migrants, the birds would start to become less vocal and the canopy would begin to leaf up! So it was now or never!
I arrived at what I considered to be the usual spot at around 11.30am, a bit late to be fair and becoming a bit gloomy too! Which after twenty minutes of nothing was a fair reflection of my mood! However, I met another birder who said that recently the bird had been reported from a spot about ten minutes walk further downstream (near to the tree marked '80' in luminescent green paint). That perked me up a bit so I picked up my stuff and walked on. I reached the marked tree and sat down to wait and listen, however after thirty minutes.....not a sausage!
As I was thinking of giving up a GSW started to drum and call. As I located it, a second bird began drumming further off in the distance. That drumming sounded different though, higher pitched maybe! I wondered if it might be an effect of distance and distortion of the sound as it traveled but it did sound different. I walked further along the river bank for maybe 500 yards and reached a large dead tree on the right hand side. Just as I was scanning the top branches of this tree, a small woodpecker flew in calling, landed on a branch near the top and began to drum. Up to now I had never seen or heard Lesser Spotted Woodpecker but there was no doubt that this was one. The bird spent two or three minutes drumming busily in the same spot before taking leave, flying over my head to the opposite bank of the river and stopping briefly to allow me take a few record shots. Only one shot came out but one was all I wanted - Lesser Spotted Woodpecker sorted finally!

Female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - Santon Downham, Suffolk - 5th April 2015
I watched it for about a minute as it fed around the branches before moving deeper into the woods, where it continued to drum on and off for another five minutes or so. Even though it was now only 1pm, a Tawny Owl hooted away in the background.
Lunchtime beckoned, so I headed back along the path to the car stopping only to watch three Mandarin ducks that dropped in briefly before setting off again up the river. A bit 'plasticy' but it'll do for my UK list - two birds added within twenty minutes is not bad!

Male Mandarin Duck, Santon Downham, Suffolk - 5th April 2015
After lunch I still felt I had an hours birding left in me. I popped over to Lynford Arboretum where three Hawfinches (two males and one female) gave decent enough views in the company of some very smart male Bramblings.

Male Hawfinch, Lynford Arboretum, Norfolk - 5th April 2015

Female Hawfinch, Lynford Arboretum, Norfolk - 5th April 2015
Today (Monday) I took a different tack and went with Nick Watmough to Happisburgh to start looking for arriving migrants. The morning started off sunny but by 9am a thick fog had rolled in. First bird as we left the car-park at Happisburgh was a rather dull male Northern Wheatear, first one of the year for me (and Nick too I think). We did a circuit of the area but couldn't dig out anything else of note. From there we decided to head towards Weybourne and look for the Lapland Buntings which appeared to be moulting quite nicely into breeding plumage if photos on the web were anything to go by.
Two birds had been reported but we only managed to see one, still a smart individual nonetheless and only my second ever Lapland Bunting (a very scarce migrant and rare winter visitor in County Cork).

Lapland Bunting, Weybourne, Norfolk - 6th April 2015
By now the fog had burned off and the sun was out, it had turned into a very fine day. Having enjoyed decent views of the bird we decided to take lunch and headed back along the cliffs, past the coastguard cottage to the carpark, taking in the fine view as we walked.

Looking west along the north Norfolk coast - 6th April 2015
So all in all a good weekend and some good birds, three UK ticks, one of which was a lifer, its not often you can have that. Next week the winds veer south for a few days, hopefully we'll finally shake this long winter and see a decent arrival at last of our much loved summer migrants. Roll on!!

Saturday 4 April 2015

Easter Saturday stroll

Started the day off early with a very nice walk around Eaton Common. The morning was overcast and damp but a brief spell of sunshine brought some birds out. I reckon there's at least five Chiffchaffs now singing in various spots around Eaton Common / Marston Marshes, however for the moment that's it for summer visitors. The winds turn southerly late next week and across next weekend, so expect to see a few arrivals then!
A male Reed Bunting was calling from Hawthorns along the track from the level crossing to Keswick Mill. At the mill itself a Kingfisher sat still on low branch, it took flight just as the sun began to shine, flashing its vivid cobalt blue plumage as it sped off downstream. Meanwhile a pair a Grey Wagtails chased each other around below the bridge.
I returned back along the path to the level crossing, just as I was thinking to myself that I hadn't heard a Cetti's Warbler there for a while, that familiar scolding verse blasted out. I didn't see the bird (as usual) but good to know there is one still around.
As I crossed the railway track a fox watched me warily from several hundred feet away before exiting stage left. From the path on the opposite side of the track leading to Marston Marshes I had three Bullfinches (two males and a female). I called it a day at that and headed home for coffee.