Saturday 31 December 2016

Two helpings of Christmas Goose

I'm not usually a Goose person - not even sure I like the taste of them ;-). However, two "goosey" ticks were up for grabs in north Norfolk this holiday season. Despite once unsuccessfully searching through the Barnacle flocks in Lissadell, Co. Sligo, I have never seen a bona fide wild Canada Goose. So the Todd's Canada Goose at Docking would be a lifer as would the Red-breasted Goose. In fact whatever chance I ever had of seeing a wild Canada Goose back in Ireland, Red-breasted Goose is not even on the Irish list (Correction - there is one category A record of an individual that was present from 26th October 1997 to 16th March 1998 on the North Slob, Co. Wexford).
It took two attempts to see them both. On the 27th December I managed to see the Todd's Canada Goose. It was distant though as this heavily cropped shot bears testimony to.

Todd's Canada Goose, Docking, Norfolk
To my surprise, I actually enjoyed scanning through the thousands of Pinks, picking out a few Tundra Beans, a juvenile White-fronted Goose and a Barnacle Goose. But the Red-breasted was nowhere to be seen and hadn't been reported since Christmas Day. I finished the day off with a quick jaunt over to Titchwell where I headed straight for beach and enjoyed views of Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Scaup and a few Velvet Scoters mixed in.

Velvet Scoters on the wing at Titchwell beach, 27 December 2016
On the 29th December, I toyed with the idea of driving to Derbyshire for the Dusky Thrush, but the A17 with a heavy frost didn't appeal. Plus would I rather spend seven hours driving and three hours birding or six hours birding and only two hours driving? Easy answer there! The Red-breasted Goose had been seen briefly on the evening of the 27th December so I thought, if I give it time and patience, I'll see it. And so that's what happened.
It took maybe two hours of scanning before it was pinned down. As far as geese go its a stunner, in fact as far as any bird species goes its a stunner. Beautiful brick red chest and overall very dapper looking in the winter sunshine. Well worth the effort and I even got a flight view as it commuted from one field to another.

Red-breasted Goose, Docking, Norfolk - 29th December 2016
Once the goose was in the bag - so to speak. I had a little fun photographing the Pinks. The sheer numbers are amazing. At one stage, courtesy of some gun totting, pheasant shooting numbskull - the whole lot got up. They settled in the next field on but the noise and numbers were impressive.

Pinks in flight

Then the whole lot got up!
Once again, I finished off the afternoon at Titchwell scanning the rafts of Scoters on the incoming tide.

Sunday 27 November 2016

Garden Waxwings

Saturday morning and out I went to fill up the feeders in the back garden. Perched on top of the trees overlooking the garden was a flock of Starlings......or so I thought. I did a retake though when I heard the sound of 'trilling' bells and then realised that the Starlings were in fact Waxwings. One of those birding dreams you have as a have a flock of Waxwings in your own back garden. I put a plate of apples out but couldn't tempt them down. Following what was a cold frosty night they spent the next couple of hours just sitting in those trees enjoying the sunshine. By 10.30am they vanished, appearing later in the afternoon as the light was dimming.
Sunday morning and they were back again and this time the flock had swelled to over thirty birds. They were dropping occassionally onto to a couple of rowan trees further up the road but spent more time flycatching from the tree-tops.

Waxwings (plus lone Starling) - taken from the bedroom window :-)

Monday 21 November 2016

Local Wax

Work and studying and ever shortening amounts of daylight are collectively curtailing my birding activities.
I got back late Friday night after a week spent in York where I had been receiving a crash course on Physiology, Pharmacology and Immunology. Between work, studying for an exam and winter's ever tightening grip, the birding has been few and far between.
All is not lost though. A flock of Waxwings has taken up residence locally, so I popped out last Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday morning for a quick look.
They are rapidly munching their way through the Rowans on Charles Watling Way near Bowthorpe and also on Chapel Break Road. The flock was approximately twenty-five birds though some reports say fifty plus so I suspect they are being joined from time to time by a second flock. The flock is a bit skittish and light was bad so not great photos - but still, as always, great birds!

Waxwing, Bowthorpe, Norwich

Sunday 30 October 2016

Winter is coming

I always tend to think of the last weekend of October as being the end of the autumn season. Some years, particularily in Cork, if the winds stayed east November could produce some stragglers, but typically it seems to bring the curtain down on the best time of the year for birding.
Between one thing and another I didn't have much time available to get out this weekend. I suppose if there had been a Norfolk Pied Wheatear or Eastern Black Redstart - I might have made the time then.
As it happened I made it to Happisburgh late on Sunday afternoon for one final walk about. I birded around the cricket club, church yard and up as far as the coast watch buildings. A really beautiful warm, still and misty Autumn evening. The best I could muster up was a Black Redstart on the dung heaps up by the coast watch buildings.

Black Redstart, Happisburgh, Norfolk - 30th October 2016
So that is kind of it for Autumn. I'm back studying part-time too so there will probably be even less birding this winter than usual. Its been an OKish Autumn overall, not vintage for me. It started in mid-August with a nice smattering of Pied Flycatchers and Whinchats (Signs of Autumn), followed by a duo of Wrynecks (Double Jynx and Corton's Jynx), a Red-backed Shrike at Winterton (Slimish-pickings), my week off spent around Happisburgh was enjoyable though I failed to find anything other than Firecrests, Black and Common Redstarts and YBW. Siberian Accentor (The Russian Dunnock) and Isabelline Wheatear (Two good 'ears) were the highlights, I particularily enjoyed the latter especially with the bonus female Desert Wheatear thrown in.
Now its time for the Geese and Gulls though possibly the Waxwings and Shorelarks will keep us interested for the next few months.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Two good 'ears

Though pleased to have connected with the Easington Siberian Accentor, I was still a little disappointed not to have been able to pop back across from York during the week to see the Isabelline Wheatear. Alas the training course was full on and there was no opportunity to duck out. However, all was not lost. Hot on the heals of finding a Red-flanked Bluetail, Dave Andrews scored again with a very fine Isabelline Wheatear at Burnham Overy Dunes on Friday 21st October (see James Lowens superbly titled account on his blog - Isabella's knickers).
Tiredness, a head cold, anticipation of crowds (it was after all the first twitchable Norfolk bird in 39 years) and 'stuff' to do at home all added together and meant I didn't venture up there until Sunday morning to see the bird. That was taking a bit of a chance but I was lucky and the bird had stayed.
Numbers were not as small as expected on Sunday either. A female Desert Wheatear and a Pallas's Warbler were also drawing the crowds. When we arrived the Isabelline Wheatear was showing to about 20-30 gathered birders. The bird was distant though and mobile.
I moved up to the brow of the dune ridge and sat down. The bird was probably a good 500 yards away at this point and I felt my best chance would be if it moved closer in its own time. Which it did, though not that close.

Isabelline Wheatear, Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk - 23rd October 2016
With the crowds increasing and the bird being ever mobile, I felt the next option was to head further west and look for the female Desert Wheatear. Thankfully this bird was a lot more obliging.

Female Desert Wheatear, Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk - 23rd October 2016

And even sat still long enough for an obligatory video!

I have edited out the sound because the background noise of the wind is pretty annoying - which is a pity because there is also the background noise of an arguement between a birder and a photographer that was quite entertaining!
We should have finished the day at that point but instead drove to Brancaster Staithe and yomped out along the beach to where a Black-throated Thrush had been seen earlier that morning consorting with a Redwing flock (maybe the recent Scolt Head bird?). Anywho - there was no sign sadly and the walk nearly killed me - I arrived back in a total sweat to the car and have been laid up with a head cold since! The price you pay I guess.

Saturday 22 October 2016

The Russian Dunnock

I was in London when news broke of the Siberian Accentor at Easington in Yorkshire. The soonest opportunity I would have to see it would be Sunday 16th October. However when I saw photos of the twitch from Yoav's tweet and later on his blog (Sib Accentor), well I didn't feel too bad to have missed the initial rush. An estimated total of 1,400 birders saw it on that first day alone. It seems though the staff from Spurn Bird Obs and others did an excellent job of marshalling the crowds and all who travelled that day saw the bird.
I returned from London to Norwich on Saturday evening but as it happened I was scheduled to travel to York on Sunday evening for a training course starting Monday morning. Checking Rare Bird Alert first thing Sunday morning showed positive news so I cancelled plans to bird the east Norfolk coast and headed north early. I arrived in Easington at 3pm, parked the car and headed down Vicars Lane. Gone were the frightening crowds of the first day with no more than twenty birders there.

No need for a queue!

The bird was showing to within a few feet of the fence when I got there.

Siberian Accentor, Easington, Yorkshire - 16th October 2016
The light was directly against me so I needed to fiddle with the camera settings to capture any sort of an image. But at least the bird was close, sometimes too close even. Despite numerous photos on social media of this bird (and the others) - it didn't fail to impress. A really smart bird, very obliging and in excellent condition.
Here's a short and not so good movie clip of the bird. Turn the sound down a bit and forgive the poor quality.

I wasn't able to stay for too long, but I didn't need to either. The bird had put on a great show.

Job done and Sib Accentor seen well!
A quick donation to the collection bucket and I was back in the car and safely on my way to York. The only downside was missing the Isabelline Wheatear that turned up at Easington the next morning. Can't have it all.
So, hard to believe that within a few days of the first UK record of Siberian Accentor on Shetland, a further four birds turn up in Yorkshire, Durham, Cleveland and Holy Island. All north of the Humber. So far there has been unprecedented numbers in Europe with birds being found in Sweden, Finland, Poland, Lithuania, Denmark, Estonia and Latvia to name just a few.

Breeding Grounds (yellow), wintering area (blue) and red spots indicate occurences this autumn 2016 (map lifted from a tweet by James Gilroy)

Hopefully Norfolk will get in on the act and maybe one will reach the east coast of Ireland in the next week or so.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

One last shot

OK - one day left to turn it into something special. Still a final chance to dig out a decent bird. I had a mental image of an Isabelline Shrike spiking a freshly killed Robin on a hawthorn - that never happened of course!
As it had been for most of the last few days, Happisburgh continued to feel 'rare'. Strong east wind, intermittent showers and dark skies!!!
I was watching a group of six Reed Buntings up at the coast watch. They were joined by a very smart Mealy Redpoll. Just then a small form flitted past and dived into the nearest nettle bed. Did that Goldcrest have a pale rump? A Goldcrest called from the same spot.....darn! But that was a pale rump, right? A quick scan with the bins and there was this striking gold supercilium peeping out at me. James Gilroy's Pallas's was still here! Almost like finding one for myself - almost!
I tried for photos but the bird was really mobile. I re-found it twice but it was very good at ditching me each time and if only this blade of grass wasn't there!

Pallas's Warbler, Happisburgh, Norfolk - 12th October 2016
I had spent so much time with the Pallas's that I was running things very tightly if I was to check anywhere else in Happisburgh. I walked the trees along the edge of the cricket club but could only find two Goldcrests. However, at the church yard a female type Black Redstart was present, posing nicely on the headstones.

Black Redstart, St. Mary's Church, Happisburgh, Norfolk
At 5.30pm, I called time and headed home.
So overall, it's not been a vintage autumn for me. A chance to go to Fair Isle went a begging because I couldn't get a flight off in time. So, instead I picked a spot in east Norfolk and birded that each day for five days. I saw stacks of Goldcrests, Thrushes, Robins and Finches. Managed to pick out a couple of Firecrests, two Yellow-browed Warblers, a Common Redstart, a Black Redstart and a few Brambling. I had a two Pallas's day, re-found one of those Pallas's and added Dusky Warbler to my British list. Not vintage - but I've had worse.

Tuesday 11 October 2016

A quick round-up

Saturday 8th October
Birded Happisburgh all afternoon. Lots of birds around in a cold easterly blow with a leaden sky. Tonnes of Goldcrests, Robins and Thrushes (incl. Redwing and Fieldfare). Felt 'rare' but best I could dig out were two Brambling within a small Chaffinch flock. Still felt like a proper autumn day on the east coast. Great day to be out.

Happisburgh, Norfolk

Sunday 9th October
Birded Happisburgh from 9am onwards. Better conditions (less cloudy, less windy and sunnier - so no good for migrants). Clear-out of Goldcrests - still some but less than yesterday. Heard a Brambling, saw a single Tree Sparrow (a good bird for Happisburgh apparently) and found two Firecrests in the willows opposite the paddocks.

Firecrest in Sycamores, Happisburgh, Norfolk

Bumped into Richard Moores and chatted with him for a while. Headed over to Eccles and found a Yellow-browed Warbler in the sycamores at the entrance to Eccles Beach Caravan Park. My first mainland UK Yellow-browed Warbler.

Yellow-browed in Sycamores

Heard later that James Gilroy found a Pallas's Warbler on the dungheap at the coast-watch.....ouch!! Great find but just hope I didn't miss it earlier in the day.

Monday 10th October
Happisburgh again. Met Richard Moores at 8.30am. We re-found the Pallas's in the nettle beds around the coast watch buildings. I left to fetch my heavy lens from the car and when I returned the bird had vamooshed!!
I headed over to Horsey Gap. Walked to the pipe-dump and found a female Common Redstart at the cattle pens. Nothing else of note.

Common Redstart, Horsey Gap, Norfolk

Stopped off at Great Yarmouth Cemetery en route home and twitched Tommy Corcoran's excellent Pallas's Warbler - my second in one day and a well deserved find for Tommy. Goldcrests galore, Firecrest and Yellow-browed in there also. Many Chiffchaffs too.

Pallas's Warbler, Great Yarmouth Cemetery, Norfolk

Tuesday 11th October
Happisburgh from 8.30am but very quiet save for a male Yellowhammer near the coastwatch and a Merlin buzzing through. Decided not too waste any more time searching in vain for migrants so did what I said I would avoid doing this week and chased other people's birds.
Had brief yet tickable views of the Dusky Warbler at Cromer lighthouse. A UK tick and only my third ever Dusky.
Quickly pushed on to Well's Wood for Olive-backed Pipit. Spent four hours in vain, flushed what was probably it but for a lifer I need better views. Arctic Warbler also present (didn't see this) but a second Yellow-browed there too.
Only one day left to dig something out. There's always a chance but this is not turning out to be a vintage birding year for me so hopes are not high!!

Tuesday 20 September 2016


Options on Sunday morning were go north Norfolk and see someone else's bird (i.e. RB Fly at Salthouse) or strike out east and look for my own. I chose the latter.
I started at GY cemetery. I was trying my hardest to manage my expectations, no point in arriving full of optimisim only to lose heart an hour later when you realise that the place is devoid of birds. I told myself not to expect much but there's always a little voice telling you the big one is out there just waiting to be found.
Anyway, my low expectations were fully dampened within minutes of arrival. I met Justin Lansdell just as I arrived who told me it was bleak - no birds at all. Just a Garden Warbler, Grey Wagtail over and several Song Thrushes. Well bugger! I was here now so I had a poke around the north section knowing Justin would be right. All I could find was a female Blackcap and a Robin.
In the south section it was marginally better. I trying to see a calling Chiffchaff when a female Redstart made a very brief appearance. Not long after Tommy Corcoran found a Yellow-browed Warbler (although I didn't manage to see it myself) and soon after that we pinned down one if not two Firecrests.
Post lunch I drove to Happisburgh. Things got off to a good start (excuse the pun) with a female type Common Redstart in the horse paddocks near the pillboxes.

Redstart, Happisburgh, Norfolk

Further along the path I enjoyed a spectacle of two Hobbys being chased (in vain) by the local corvids. The Hobbys looked like they were having fun. At the cliff-edge I had two Wheatears and several Chiffers in the garden of the house opposite the paddocks.
I checked the church yard and around the cricket club but twas in vain. Before close of play I did a quick round of the area near the caravan park but could only dig out a Common Whitethroat there.
Its early yet but Happisburgh will deliver before the autumn is out.....I can feel it in me bones!
I should add though that bird of day was in fact seen long before I even arrived at Great Yarmouth - a Raven from the car near the Harford Park and Ride off the A47. Not so Normal for Norfolk!

Monday 12 September 2016

Slim(ish) pickings!

This week has mostly been about large Shearwaters off Ireland's west coast and decent numbers of Pectoral and Buff-breasted Sandpipers on the Scillies and Western Isles. If I was still in Cork I'd be in heaven but here in Norfolk its slim pickings. I'll admit to being under-whelmed by wader watching at places like Cley, Titchwell and Hickling. Some smart birds but way too distant. How I now appreciate being able to crawl on my belly on the Ballycotton mud to snap a Semi-P Sandpiper or AGP from twenty feet!
Rain all day Saturday put paid to any birding. Clear skies Saturday night and a light southerly air flow didn't set my pulse racing either. But an early bank of fog gave rise to a little glimmer of hope as I drove to the east Norfolk coast early Sunday morning.
Two Chiffchaffs, a chacking Lesser Whitethroat and a juvenile Common Whitethroat at Happisburgh had me hoping but that was all I could I dig out there. I decided to walk the Nelson's Head track seeing what I could pick up en route and then finish with the 1st winter Red-backed Shrike at Winterton north dunes - assuming it had braved the rain and stayed put.
Nelson's Head track was actually quite good. At least there were birds. There and back I had three Wheatears, nine Whinchats, two Willow Warblers, a Blackcap and a probable Reed Warbler.

Wheatear, Nelson's Head track, Norfolk

Four of the nine Whinchats present along the track
Past the concrete blocks a small group of birders had gathered and the RB Shrike was still on show. A little too distant for photos and the sun was very strong by now. But still always a good bird to see. It had a series of look-out perches and was using them to good effect to pounce on unsuspecting beetles.

Red-backed Shrike, Winterton North Dunes, Norfolk
A Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart and several Hobbys were reportedly in the same area but I didn't see them. The fog was long gone and the day had really heated up. I watched the shrike for about half an hour before turning for home.
More hot weather this week and no sign of any east winds means we will have to do with the same meagre ration we have had so far. But as today showed, there is always something to see and maybe the east winds are waiting for my week off mid-October. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Cantley's Tringas and Corton's Jynx

On Saturday morning I took to the east coast for some bush-whacking. A light easterly air flow had me hoping but clear skies overnight and blue skies that morning dampened my enthuasiasm. I birded around Happisburgh, Cart Gap and Winterton but couldn't produce a single migrant. "Bird of the Day" was not even a bird.....a fresh-looking Painted Lady butterfly at Happisburgh was the best of the lot. At lunch-time I threw in the towel and opted to take Polina shopping in Norwich (that's how bad it was.....actually the shopping trip was quite enjoyable as it happens).
I skipped Sunday and instead went with Nick to Cantley Beet Factory to look for waders. That was not a bad option as it turned out and before lunch-time we had enjoyed smart views of some very handsome looking juvenile Tringas. I think the tally was five Green Sandpiper, two Wood Sandpiper, three Common Sands, three Greenshank and also about ten Ruff. Views were distant and heat haze would have been an issue for photography (didn't bother to bring my heavy lens). There was one delightful scope view of a Green and Wood Sandpiper alongside each other, if approaching without flushing them was possible then it would have made an excellent portrait. I had to settle for a very 'iffy' phonescoped effort instead.

Green and Wood Sandpiper, Cantley BF, Norfolk
After lunch we drove down to Corton in Suffolk to check out the Wryneck that had been frequenting the old sewage works compound. The bird was quite obliging but harsh light and a wire mesh fence put paid to decent shots.

Wryneck, Corton, Suffolk - 29th August 2016
So quality Wryneck shots continue to elude me.
A juvenile Whinchat kept it company but it kept its distance. At around 4pm we called it a day. Not a bank holiday to compare with previous years (see 2013, 2014) but a second Wryneck in a week, some tidy looking juvenile Waders and a Clouded Yellow at Cantley BF was quite acceptable.

Sunday 21 August 2016

Double Jynx

After a Saturday afternoon slogging around Great Yarmouth Cemetery and Winterton South Dunes, I came home and saw a report on RBA of a Wryneck in the northern section of the cemetery - drat and double drat! I had walked that area an all!
Anyway, it was still present on Sunday at midday so I made my way back over there hoping for some decent Wryneck shots. I figured if the location of the bird could be pinned down I would have several hours to get a good shot, all I needed was patience. However, I always under-estimate just how much cover there is there and this turned out to be a very tricky bird.
It buried itself within a Holm Oak and later a Holly tree. It was quite content in the latter, sitting against the truck just visible but with a twig or foliage always blocking a clear shot. So record shots only but I certainly enjoyed watching it feed with darts of its long lizard -like tongue.

Such a smashing bird. My second GY cemetery Wryneck (double jynx!) - not as showey as the first one from August 2014 though slightly less soggy!

Wryneck, GY Cemetery - 28th August 2014

Signs of autumn

A short little run of easterlies in the second half of the week and a few drift migrants started appearing. I managed to finish work a bit early on Friday evening and got to the east Norfolk coast as the rain began to fall. I had high hopes for a Wryneck or Greenish and wild dreams of a Booted or even Syke's Warbler (well we can at least dream). In the end a tally of four Pied Flys, two Whinchats and six Wheatears was not bad for an afternoon punt-about.
I started out at Happisburgh, parked up at the cricket club and walked towards the cliff edge. Around the pillboxes and dung piles I had two juvenile Wheatears and one adult male Wheatear. Also a single juvenile Whinchat.

A juvenile Wheatear keeps ahead of me on the path

Juvenile Whinchat
I was on my way back to the cricket club when something flew from the willows on the edge of the garden of the very last house before the cliff - Pied Flycatcher. Didn't give great views but it put a smile on my face at least.

Pied Flycatcher, Happisburgh, Norfolk
I did a quick check of the trees alongside the cricket club and a lap around the cemetery but it was quiet there. After that I parked up near the lighthouse and checked the general area there. I was just thinking that the overgrown meadow with all the Ragwort and Angelicas looked quite 'Whinchatty' - when a second juvenile Whinchat popped up. It was joined by another Wheatear and they even obliged for a photo together on nearby fence.

Having a bit of a 'chat' (groan!)
The rest of the area was quiet so I headed over towards Cart Gap and walked down Doggett Lane where I came across three Pied Flycatchers. I fared a little better this time with the camera. One bird at least played ball.

Happisburgh Lighthouse and Church from Cart Gap, Norfolk

The next day I birded Great Yarmouth cemetery and Winterton South Dunes in the late afternoon but there seemed to have been a clear-out and I didn't have a single migrant at all.