Monday 30 November 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 1st December

Instead of the usual annual round-up by way of my 'Twelve Birds of Christmas', this year I will do a Birding Advent Calendar - one bird each and every day from the 1st December right up to 25th December........there'll be no Robins but plenty of other good stuff from the year gone by.

So to kick it all off here's a nice one, the always popular and this year plentiful, Yellow-browed Warbler. During my week on Fair Isle there was an unprecedented arrival of these fine little birds, on one day conservatively I reckon I had twenty eight birds myself (I tried not to double count). At the log that night Dave Parnaby considered that the island count was fifty-three. The highest ever single day count for the species on Fair Isle.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Fair Isle, Shetland, September 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 2nd December - Citril Finch

I don't normally do the twitching thing but on 10th May I was watching a spring flock of Dotterel at nearby Choseley Barns when news broke of Britain's only second ever Citril Finch at Holkham Pines. It was a case of right place and right time.
I got there ahead of the serious crowds and after a nervy hour long wait I enjoyed excellent views of it as it fed on the short turf below a stunted pine tree.

Citril Finch, Holkham Pines, Norfolk - May 2015

Thursday 26 November 2015

Winter sea watch

Strong winds, wintery showers which included a fall of snow over Norwich meant that birding on Saturday would be challenging. However, signs from the coast were of good numbers of passing seabirds including quite decent numbers of Little Auks, Leach's Petrel's and scarce Skuas.
So on Sunday, Nick and I arrived at Cley beach car-park for 8am and set ourselves up on the shingle for a sea watch which was to feature eight Little Auks, one Great Northern Diver, several small parties of Common Scoter, Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers and Dark-bellied Brents. During all of this a lone Snow Bunting kept us company as it fed within a few feet of our tripods. Somewhere between 9am and 10am the flow of birds slowed to a trickle and the rain came in from the north west in sheets, we called time and headed back to the car to dry off and warm up.
From Cley we headed westwards to Titchwell stopping en route to check around Choseley Barns where we had a very sizable gathering of Pink-footed Geese as well as a flock of Fieldfares and Yellowhammers.
At Titchwell we walked north along the main path to the beach checking without success for Water Pipits along the way. At the beach there were huge numbers of gulls (mainly Black-headed, Common and Herring) feeding on the washed up bodies of many, many starfish.
A message on Birdguides reported three Shorelark at Thornham Point so we set off west along Titchwell Beach but failed to connect with these birds sadly. However, we did have four Snow Buntings which included a very smart male bird. We both tried to apply a little stealth by creeping up on the birds for a photo but they were surprisingly wary and fast moving so never really came that close for photos.

Male Snow Bunting, Titchwell Beach, Norfolk - 22 November 2015

Snow Bunting, Titchwell Beach, Norfolk - 22 November 2015

Me (looking tired or grumpy or both) waiting for the Snow Buntings to approach (photo by Nick Watmough)
By the time we arrived back to the car the evening had drawn in and the light was as good as gone - which was also true of the Little Auk which had been sitting on Salthouse duck pond - pity as I subsequently saw some excellent up close photos of this bird, never mind!

Monday 16 November 2015

The hieroglyphs

Wet and windy weather, dark mornings and even darker evenings. Hard to resist the lure of a local Hoopoe isn't it?
Add to fact that the bird was practically in Norwich too - well Crostwick to be precise but only a fifteen minute spin from home. I got there around 11am and the bird was feeding about thirty feet away from the fence, which incidentally was as close as it got. Photographing it was tricky though, the fence was high and those in the know had brought crates or wooden blocks to stand on. I had to stand on the tips of my toes and balance my lens precariously on the fence. And being November the light was pretty poor. But I managed some okayish shots in the end as it fed around the horse paddock. This was the first Hoopoe I've seen in the UK. I must have seen five or six in Ireland and all of those have been late March / early April overshoots.

At one stage the Hoopoe started to get a little grief from a local Magpie. But it was having none of that and put its crest up a couple of times to show he wasn't moving from his paddock.

After an hour or so of standing on toes and with the Hoopoe showing no signs of coming any closer, I took off towards Felbrigg Hall to look for the juvenile Glossy Ibis. A bit of hike over towards the lake (the last time I visited there was a for a Red-rumped Swallow in April 2014). The Ibis was in the paddock at the rear of the lake, feeding busily among the rushes and boggy ground.

Glossy Ibis, Felbrigg Hall NT, Norfolk
A brown bird against a brown background - not great shots but still another UK tick.
So, a Hoopoe and an Ibis together. Not Egyptian hieroglyphics but mid-November in Norfolk!

Monday 2 November 2015

A good Chat to round off the autumn

A little bit of a hiatus from birding following my Fair Isle trip, partly because I wanted to and partly because I had to. The break was good but it did mean missing out on a few good days of birding in Norfolk when Red-flanked Bluetail, Isabelline Shrike, Olive-backed Pipit and Hume's Warbler were all on offer. Anywho - the weekend before last I had a chance to steal away for a few hours so I decided to head over to Caister-on-Sea for a very fine male Siberian Stonechat. I had not seen Siberian Stonechat before, there are 8 Irish records and 370 British records to date. This particular bird was not assigned to either maurus or stejnegeri and it is presumably hard to assign it to either race as well. When I got there the bird was showing well but distantly. It had a favoured perch atop a gorse bush along the edge of one of the fairways at Caister golf course. It made frequent sallies from this perch to catch flying insects when it showed its nice dark underwing coverts. Sadly I didn't get any photos of that though. It looked like the bird wasn't going to come close but once or twice it was flushed by passing golfers and that seemed to push it back down the fairway and deeper into the gorse which meant it came closer to where birders were standing. I took up position and waited for the golfers to pass and managed to obtain some reasonable shots both of which showed its clean rump nicely.

Male Siberian Stonechat, Casiter-on-sea, Norfolk, 25th October 2015
Last weekend then I was out on Sunday for the day. The thick early morning mist had burned off by 11am and it turned into a exceptionally beautiful autumnal day. I birded around Happisburgh for the first hour or so but failed to see any migrants at all. I thought there was an outside chance of Pallid Swift or Desert Wheatear and a reasonable chance of Siberian Chiffchaff, Firecrest or Black Redstart. At Happisburgh I had none of those but did a little better later in the day at Horsey Gap where I had two female type Black Redstarts. One was hopping around the roofs of the buildings beside Waxham Sands caravan park (and was a little distant for any meaningful photos), the second bird was in the compound just past the car park (a spot I've always thought would hold a Black Redstart sometime). This bird was a lot more obliging.

Black Redstart, Horsey Gap, Norfolk - 1st November 2015
I have a feeling that's it for the autumn. The winds are southerly all week and then swing west before the weekend, not great for the east coast. Something might turn up but I won't hold my breathe. Having said that its not been that bad of an autumn. From mid-August to the first of November I've had many of the scarce migrants you would expect such as Lesser Whitethroats, Pied Flys, Common and Black Redstarts, Whinchats and whole bunch of Yellow-browed Warblers. I've also had two Bluethroats, a very fresh Icterine Warbler, at least two Barred Warblers and several Common Rosefinches. Throw in a Blyth's Reed Warbler that got me my first Birdguides Photo of the Week and my first UK Pallid Harrier and top it off with three lifers in Thick-billed Warbler, Western Bonelli's Warbler and Siberian Stonechat and it hasn't been all that bad really!