Monday 22 January 2018

The Black Rodney

Being cooped up in a hotel on a training course all week had me ready for a little bit of birding on the weekend. I had to decline the kind offer from James Lowen to join him on Saturday to see the Black Redstart at Sheringham but I was able to make it up there with Nick on Sunday morning and despite the biting cold the conditions were otherwise not too bad at all. The bird was favouring an area of open lawns that are part of an apartment complex on the sea-front just beside the RNLI carpark (which may have  been something to do with the supply of mealworms it was getting).
Normally a wintering Black Redstart wouldn't tempt me out like this but this bird was a cracking male. For all the female type birds I've seen wintering in coastal locations like this one, I have only ever seen one other male Black Redstart.

Male Black Redstart, Sheringham, Norfolk - 21 January 2018
By the way the name Black Rodney is a county Cork thing (specifically a Tony Nagle thing), how Tony came up with the name I don't know and there's no logic to it because Common Redstarts are not Rodneys either. In any case, the name has stuck!
After an hour of lying on the hard ground of the carpark in order to get eye-level shots, I decided I'd had enough. The temperature was still only 1oC and lying on the hard, cold ground was a really fast way to loose body-heat, despite the many layers I had.

Almost frozen!
We replenished our energy levels with a fine full English breakfast in nearby Cromer and from there went on to Letheringsett to search for the Coues's Arctic Redpoll(s). The Redpoll flock was flightly to say the least, added to the fact that there was a mobile flock of Goldfinches, another flock of Linnets, some random Bullfinches thrown in, plus the light was dire and the cold was numbing. All in all the whole thing was a bit of a mess. We had brief views of a possible Coues's Arctic as it perched above our heads, the bill looks good but I couldn't see the rump and the undertail coverts were obscured by a stray twig - still, make your own mind up.

Possible Arctic Redpoll - Letheringsett, Norfolk - 21 January 2018

Sunday 7 January 2018

A visitor to Shangri-La

Well I didn't expect to find myself peering into the garden of the Shangri-la cottage at Waxham in early January - I usually reserve this particular activity for Spring or Autumn. However, a report yesterday of a Hume's Warbler was too good to miss. I haven't seen Hume's up to now - dipped on a few alright - so I had to make the effort.
However, I wasn't too optimistic after seeing the words..... 'tho elusive', 'very mobile' and 'heard calling'. What's more I expected a bit of crowd too.
Yet, when I arrived there were maybe ten birders on site and most had already seen the bird with the last sighting only ten minutes before I arrived. I found a sheltered spot in the sun on the edge of the garden and waited. After twenty minutes or so a small bird flew into the hawthorn above me and gave a call that to me sounded like a disyllabic version of Yellow-browed Warbler - that must be it. However, it didn't hang around and immediately bombed off into the thick trees at the rear of the garden.
Anyway to cut along story short, it was calling from time to time and that was the best way to locate it. Eventually we pinned it down to a favourite area (basically at the back of the garden viewed with your back to the sea looking in from the narrow path). It mostly fed down low or amongst the Celandines (I think that's what they are) and occasionally popped up onto a low branch. It is exactly as described in the literature - like a dull Yellow-browed Warbler, the call is similar to YBW but to me appears to lack the second, middle syllable.
The bird was very active and difficult to photograph but I did manage a couple of shots - backlit and high ISO but still happy enough with them.

Hume's Warbler, Waxham, Norfolk

Monday 1 January 2018

The final fling

2017 had not been a vintage year for birding as far as I was concerned. But with one day left there was still a chance to salvage something.
Myself and Nick Watmough headed down to Suffolk on the morning of the 31st December. The Coues's Arctic Redpoll was still present at Hazelwood Common near Aldeburgh and I had never seen Arctic Redpoll (seeing as I would be losing Lessser Redpoll as a species from midnight I might as well cancel out the loss by adding another Redpoll species!).
Anyway, when we arrived the weather conditions weren't great (wind and rain), the Redpoll flock was skittish but we managed to get views of the bird as it perched in the trees belonging to the garden of the white cottage.

Coues's Arctic Redpoll, Hazelwood Common, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
We didn't really improve on those initial views, the flock was very mobile and when perched in the tress there was usually some twiggery blocking the shot. We decided to come back later when the weather was set to clear a little and meantime we would head towards the Martello tower at Aldeburgh and look for some Snow Buntings.
We parked near Slaughden Sailing Club and walked along the sea wall towards the Martello Tower all the while scanning for Snow Buntings. We got nicely distracted along the way by two Purple Sandpipers. They weren't too perturbed by our presence and we managed some nice close-up shots as they dozed on the rocks just yards from the crashing surf.

Purple Sandpipers, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
While we watched, a flock of 5-8 Snow Buntings flew over our heads and pitched down somewhere near the Martello Tower. They were a little difficult to relocate at first but eventually we found them feeding behind the shingle ridge at the back of the tower. They too were skittish (there were lots of walkers by now), so we figured the best option for photos was to retrieve the car from the car park and use it as a hide. This worked out very nicely and the birds fed within a few feet of us as we snapped away from the warmth and comfort.

Snow Buntings, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
After a coffee break we headed back to Hazelwood Common for another go at the Arctic Redpoll. The skies had cleared and the wind had dropped but the flock remained mobile. I managed one shot of the bird as it sat out in the open for a few minutes, sadly a little too distant but you can't always have it everyway.

Coues's Arctic Redpoll, Hazelwood Common, Suffolk

Showing its white bits nicely!
And then it was time to head home and call in the new year.
So, despite it being a relatively poor year for birding, this last day out was one of the best. Thoroughly enjoyable, good company (thanks Nick), good birds (including a lifer) and obliging subjects. Feeling a bit more optimistic about birding now too!!