Friday, 19 January 2018

Tawny in the hedge

For the last few days, arriving home in the dark via Carleton St. Peter I have been treated to splendid views of a Tawny Owl. If anyone reading knows where Pond Farm is, drive past there around 5-6pm and you have a bloody good chance of seeing this bird sat atop a hedge. One night, I pulled up alongside it and we just stared at each other for around half a minute until it grew a little more anxious and flew. I have watched it hover by a verge and drop into the undergrowth, and tonight I had a nice flight view over the road and beyond into the field by headlight. The local Tawnies are getting ready to raise a family once again, and are fairly vocal. Perhaps this bird is a youngster, as the territory does not seem ideal for breeding, but then one cannot tell how far they wander in a night.

Before the New Year we made a family visit to Santon Downham in the hope of connecting with the Parrot Crossbills. I did not let on about the tolerant Otter family on the river, but need not have worried for one individual performed superbly in front of a small gathering on the river bank, close enough for even Rose to see. Although tough to beat the wilderness that accompanies a sighting on a Scottish loch or coast, this was certainly my best sighting in terms of views. No Crossbill sadly.


The following day, we blanked with Hawfinch at Sotterley Park but an evening stroll down the marsh allowed for a close encounter with both Barn Owl and Woodcock. I managed to time it right so that I was on the track to the Beauchamp Arms just before darkness, with the Corvid roost erupting above me. A sight and sound I never tire of.

The New Year crept in and so did the birds. A drake Goldeneye on Rockland Broad remained from at least the 5th of December, and at the staithe a Grey Wagtail is again over-wintering. The common Raptors have all been recorded, including a male and female Marsh Harrier at Surlingham which bodes well. 

A Hume's Leaf Warbler had been present at Waxham for over a week, so on Sunday the 14th I caved and went for a look. I had not added a bird to my British list since the Cliff Swallow at Minsmere (probably due to the fact I rarely choose to make those longer journeys) and this was a species I had wanted to observe for some time. On arrival I was the first birder on site, and walking past the impressive new Shangri La Passivhaus I instantly heard the vocal Hume's calling. The first couple of notes were similar to a Coal Tit, but then the classic call I had been listening to on my Aves Vox app kicked in. The call began to drift beyond the cottage, so I followed north past Bide a Wee cottage and managed a glimpse of the elusive Phyllosc as it dived into a bramble. I did wonder whether that would be it, and although other birders had turned up not all knew the call so I felt a little isolated with this one. Thankfully, as I was creeping through some low scrub south of Shangri La, the Hume's decided to make an appearance right in front of me. I whistled and got others onto the bird, which again called and moved within 2 inches of the ground gleaning whatever insects it could find from the foilage. It was pale, with grey tones especially around the mantle. The supercilium was there but not bright, it didn't jump off the bird. What was most striking was the behaviour, reminiscent of a Cetti's Warbler. I didn't even bother with a photo, and just counted myself lucky that I had observed the bird so closely as it went about its business. 

WeBs count tomorrow, so back to the patch. A few targets for the year ahead- Merlin (always), Med Gull (hoping for a bird in the Rockland pre-roost), Firecrest (migrant, has been recorded but not by me), Long-eared Owl (have been recorded relatively locally in recent years), Marsh Warbler (the ultimate) and finally Glossy Ibis (maybe the likeliest of the lot?). 

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Midwinter Solstice seems like a good time to reflect

After a quiet November, I had to wait until the 20th of December for one of the patch days of the year. I began with a casual pre-lunch stroll down to Claxton Marshes, hoping for the first Short-eared Owl of the Winter. The marshes themselves were quiet, save for the small gathering of Mute Swan and 2 hunting Marsh Harriers, both female. The dyke alongside the footpath caught my attention however, with the pings of Bearded Tit emanating from the lower stems. There were at least 3 birds here, at least 1 a male, and these birds constituted my 3rd, 4th and 5th records in Claxton. Much closer to home than the last; a garden bird next?! I watched them feed for a while, then lost sight and turned my attention to the wet flashes across the grazing meadow, which had caught the interest of a group of Lapwing and Starling. One of the Harriers flushed a Snipe, and walking back I looked up to hear the monosyllabic call of a Pipit, and one I had been after for a while- this one was a Water Pipit, my first on the patch! I know that Ben gets them every year, often in off-piste locations, but this year he had seen flyover birds in Rockland and birds on the deck at Church Marsh, so I had felt like this Winter was a good chance to connect. And so it proves to be.

Later that afternoon, I met Ricky and James for a walk to Rockland Broad and back. Beguiled by the local Muscovy Ducks and slowed by Ricky's missing phone, we headed out as dusk approached. We had at least 2 Redpoll call overhead and briefly circle before being lost to view. Upon checking the water levels, I flushed a Woodcock from the damp carr woodland. The Broad at first appeared to hold very little bar a c300 strong Black-headed Gull roost. A flash of white of a diving Duck, and my hopes were raised. It was indeed a Goldeneye, a stunning male. This is not an easy species at Rockland, and I believe this is my 4th or 5th record. According to the sightings sheet, this bird has been here since the 9th and presumably arrived on the cold weather system that swept the UK in early to mid December. A nice addition this late in the year. At the back of the broad, mist made Raptor watching difficult. A large group of Bearded Tit went unseen, and singles of Marsh Harrier and Buzzard slipped through to roost.

Looking back over my notes for the past couple of months, a ringtail Hen Harrier was certainly the bird of November, at the back of Rockland Broad on the 4th. 8 Little Grebe on the 19th were a site record count, and 2 Woodcock over Claxton on the 18th of December flew in the absence of a traditional Woodcock moon. Away from the patch, I was lucky to catch up with one of my favourite species. Sotterley Park in Suffolk, along with neighbouring Henham, have historically been Hawfinch breeding and wintering sites but have been blank for at least 5 years. The nationwide invasion of this bullish Finch has bought birds back to Sotterley, and on the 3rd of December I connected with 2 (1 male) in the dell at Sotterley. I wonder how many birds are here altogether, and fingers crossed they hang around to breed. I need to spend more time here to find out what is going on. A roost count would perhaps be the best way of establishing numbers.

My year list on the patch looks like it is all done at 118, my lowest total since counting and 3 off last year's total. Water Pipit was bird 150 heard or seen on or from the patch, so a genuine landmark. Looking ahead to next year, Merlin still evades me as does Firecrest and these would be 2 likely additions one day. A singing Marsh Warbler is still the number 1 target! I can only put the lower than usual total, and lower number of blog posts down to family life, and I wouldn't change this for anything. I am still lucky enough to have the patch on my doorstep, and Rose's fledgling list already includes the likes of Barn Owl and Marsh Harrier. What a place to grow up.

Away from home, we have a family holiday in Spain to look forward to in April which although not for birding I hope to see a few Vultures, some continental Butterflies and enjoy nice wine amongst the mountains. Although a year with endless highlights, it has not always been a cake walk and the holiday is much deserved for Debs and her dad for reasons I won't go into here. UK-wise, I was talking with James about a trip to see the Marsh Fritillaries in Lincolnshire and we just need to pick a decent weekend nearer the time for this to come off. Black Hairstreak is another target, and I recall a weekend either side of Father's Day should work for this species and perhaps Wood White. Cirl Bunting? Maybe......patch? Without question. Seeing and understanding the wildlife in the South Yare Valley is what continues to drive me, and I look forward to the arrival of the first Willow Warbler back at Church Marsh just as much as the first Autumn foray to the coast.

Merry Christmas to all my readers, and I will endeavour to blog just a little more often in 2018.
 Church Marsh at its best

Hawfinch country.

Friday, 27 October 2017

The month of promise......and westerlies

Like a child in a sweet shop, I studied the charts for my two weeks off in October. However, the shelves appeared empty of treats, for westerlies were forecast to set in for the foreseeable future. But were they really empty, or is this just a Norfolk-biased perception? Understandably, there has been much lamenting on Twitter of 'the worst Autumn in Norfolk's history' and indeed I believe more Autumns like this will follow with climate change impacting on both the frequency and ferocity of Atlantic storms. Having said all this, migration across our isle has continued and the expected visual changes that glorious Autumn brings are all there to see.

On the 8th, I was at Church Marsh early doors and this was the day that the Redwing officially reached the arrivals lounge. Flocks of 52 went north, 165 South. Brambling and Redpoll also called and flew over the bus shelter hide. This was fantastic to observe and proof that migration doesn't have to be rare for it to be an enjoyable spectacle.

One thing with the mild days and nights has been a longer than expected Mothing season. Not that the seasons end of course (I intend to trap throughout winter weekends when cloud persists overnight) but the middle of Autumn has proven to be fruitful. Merveille Du Jours are regular, and classic October Moths like Feathered Thorn, Blair's Shoulder Knot, Green-brindled Crescent and November Moth are all often on the other side of an egg box. Moth of the Month and probably the year was a migrant, Norfolk's 9th L-album Wainscot. A flurry of records over the last few weeks meant that this was one I was ready for, if not expecting. I was absolutely thrilled to find it sat on the conifer above the trap, and tentatively added a photo to Twitter to have it quickly confirmed as an L-album. The wonder of social media, and mild nights in October. Doubt I would have caught that in premium east coast birding conditions.

Continuing my exploration of the Covehithe-Benacre area, I was back on the 18th and flushed 8-10 Twite from the cliff face. There were a good range of Waders on Benacre Broad, including Knot, Dunlin and Sanderling. There were 10+ Goldcrest amongst coastal scrub, a single Chiffchaff and a few Thrushes had come in on the North Easterly Winds. Redpoll and Siskin moved overhead, and Gannets ploughed a course at sea. It finally felt like Autumn. As it turned out, the next day saw a few rares filter through off the back of the short window of easterly winds including a Radde's Warbler in Suffolk and a small fall of Yellow-browed Warblers.

It was great to meet up with birding pal Paul Newport (http://brecklandbirder.blogspot.co.uk) on the 25th, and after a quiet Moth trap we headed to my new hunting ground of Benacre, a site Paul was familiar with, albeit as a young lad. Glorious sunshine accompanied us throughout the day, perfect conditions for birds wishing to move. Upon arrival at the ruined Covehithe Church, Paul picked up a Brambling overhead flying north. Walking along the cliff edge, again a group of 5 Twite were flushed, followed by a further 2 hanging on the coattails of a charm of Goldfinch. Small numbers of Meadow Pipit and Skylark moved overhead throughout the day, but it was the Redpoll migration that really caught our attention. A steady trickle of these attractive winter visitors moved through all day. The broad was looking interesting, Grey Plover and 50+ Black-tailed Godwit in with the more common Waders. A pair of Kingfisher were perched on a fence as we arrived, and when panic set in amongst the mud and reeds the culprit became obvious- a juvenile Peregrine was circling above us. I remarked to Paul that whilst the Norwich Peregrines were always nice to see, you can't beat a true estuarine Peregrine at one with its surroundings.

As if to underline this fact, another juvenile Peregrine showed itself to us at Hen Reedbeds, engaging in what turned out to be a failed hunt and strike on a pigeon. Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank and Ringed Plover probed the mud just ahead of the rising tide. What a superb day for Bearded Tit this was turning out to be, with sightings at Covehithe Broad and now again at Hen Reedbeds. The best record of all though came at Claxton Marshes, new for here and suggesting Beardies have had a good breeding season. Finally, we observed 5 Hornet feeding on the late-flowering Ivy on Mill Lane Claxton, and hopefully Paul got some decent pictures of these impressive beasts in the tired afternoon sun.

I am yet to encounter any winter Raptors on the marsh, but signs that things are moving are there. A Nuthatch on the edge of Claxton Marshes was a second record for the parish (much suitable woodland is private) and one bush held 5 Goldcrest on the 24th, and a pair of Bullfinch uttered their sombre call as I was walking home.


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

A patch lifer, forays into Suffolk and of course some Moths

On the 25th August I attended the Norfolk Moth Group meet at Brickyard Farm Surlingham. By midnight the temperature had dipped to 9 degrees celsius and the mist was settled over the reeds, which put pay to the session but nonetheless a few interesting species were trapped. Oblique Carpet was a new Moth for me, as was Round-winged Muslin. We also trapped Latticed Heath, Webb's Wainscot, Currant Pug, Pinion-streaked Snout and Bulrush Wainscot. Dave Appleton took a few micros away with him, and came back to us with some good news: Gynnidomorpha permixtana, was new for Norfolk and we think East Anglia. I look forward to coming back to Brickyard in the future, hopefully when the temperatures hold at 15+ and we catch more Moths than Hornets!

Returning to work after a long hot summer is always tough, so when news broke of a White-winged Black Tern at Rockland Broad on the 4th of September I felt properly summer-sick. Thankfully, I was able to get to the broad straight from work. The heavily moulting Tern was seen hawking for insects over the broad with a small crowd of enthusiastic twitchers. My first views of this species in a few years, and crucially my first on patch! Marsh Terns really are a joy to watch, but with dinner and baby duties calling I was not able to stop for long on this occasion. Rockland had been delivering of late- I had an Osprey on the 28th August too.

We the Autumn equinox under our belts, that time of year is here where I turn my attention firmly to the coast. With a whopping 2 week half term to play with in October, I cannot wait to get to Waxham at first light with Pink-footed Geese commuting overhead and the calls of Redpoll and Siskin punctuating the air. Until then, and with the weather still fine, I have been exploring some of the not so well trodden areas of Suffolk. I had assumed Corton was the closest location from house-coast, but it actually looks to be Benacre/Covehithe. For a few weekends now, I have been checking out Benacre Broad, Beach Farm, Covehithe Church and Kessingland/Benacre sluice. I twitched a Wryneck at the latter site with the girls in tow, more to get a feel for the area but never a bad day when you get to watch this odd-looking Woodpecker feed at close range. Beach Farm looks promising, on fine days I have had Whinchat, Wheatear and Lesser Whitethroat.....so far. It has been years since I have been to the broad, and how erosion and time has changed this site. I must remember to bring a scope though, that much hasn't changed!

I felt an instant connection to this part of the coast, probably due to the nostalgia of visits 10 years ago with mum before and after uni, when I seemed to have so much time on my hands. I recall seeing my first Honey Buzzard at Covehithe Church, and first flock of Snow Bunting on the cliffs here. Wherever you turn, you are birding in beautiful surrounds with a stunning backdrop. The permissive paths and byways that cut through the Benacre estate look promising for passing migrants, and surely Yellow-brows filter through these hollows. So, whilst the October image for me is still very much Waxham north to Happisburgh, I do want to see the seasons through here and with a 33 minute drive from door to coast, it would be silly not to do so. I've worked Caister, Corton (a bit) and enjoyed both, but neither 'felt' like Benacre. Had to quantify or define, but that matters to me when I'm out birding.

Back home, a Grey Wagtail down river at Surlingham was typical for the time of year on the 1st of October. My first pinks have been heard over the village, and I uncovered a Merveille du Jour in the Moth Trap at the weekend, all signs that Autumn is here now. However, on the final day of September a Wall Brown was in the garden, and another was at Rockland Broad along with a Small Copper and Large White. Looking out of the window this evening, I wonder if we have seen the last of the Butterflies on the wing this year.

I was pleased to receive an email from birding friend Paul Newport who had found a Yellow-browed Warbler on his patch over in The Brecks. Paul is a passionate patcher, and I know he will have been thrilled to find this Siberian sprite close to home. You can read an account of that here: http://brecklandbirder.blogspot.co.uk/   With the wind in the west, and barring a Tanager at Wells, I need to get off the sofa and find my own this weekend.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

A hot streak

The title cannot of course refer to the relatively mild mid-summer weather, but instead subtly alludes to a summer that has seen me connect with a number of new species of Butterfly in a short space of time (one of those of course a Hairstreak).

Early August, the now Bradley clan descended on the peaceful Cotswolds, first for a 10-mile pub crawl consisting of 8 pubs and at least as much local ale (Rose and Debs bit-part players in this quest it has to be said) but secondly for relaxation and some Blue Butterflies. The weather made seeking out the specialist species difficult, but I was thrilled to find 2/3 Adonis Blue on the chalky hillsides of Rodborough Common. Chalkhil Blue was very much the default Butterfly of these parts, so when I finally stumbled across a flash of electric blue, I knew instantly I was dealing with my target. Fantastic.

Whilst the same wow factor did not follow when I found a single male Small Blue, I will at least remember traversing the slopes of Selsley Common, stepping over many a Brown Argus, and finally giving up and ascending the common, only to stop in my tracks as my second of 2 targets flitted away from a patch of scorched grass. Taking all things into consideration, this was Butterflying to a new level. Small Heath, Small Copper, Silver-washed Fritillary, Brown Argus, Common and Chalkhill Blue were 'easy'. Throw in the real specialists, and the fact that I was outside peak season, and the southwest with its calcareous soils really does merit another visit.

I was priviliged to meet up with local Lepidoptera aficionado Peter Hugo, who invited me to go through his Moth trap one morning. His house overlooks the town of Stroud, and the garden list boasts Duke or Burgundy, Silver-washed Fritillary and White-letter Hairstreak. Although the previous night had been chilly, there was still a decent haul to go through which included a Beech Green Carpet and Nut Tree Tussock, both new for me.

Back home, numbers of Moths have been up and down due to the clear nights. However, I was lucky to come across a Sharp-angled Peacock, a coastal species with very few inland records attached.


A couple of day trips have yielded success on the Butterfly front. on Tuesday, James Emerson and I headed to Chambers Farm Wood in Lincolnshire as planned to hopefully see Brown Hairstreak. We spent as much of the day there as time would allow, enjoying crippling views of Purple Hairstreak on the ground in front of us, but only flight views of Brown. The mix of Ash, Blackthorn and a variety of plants to nectar on made this wood an ideal spot for this elusive Hairstreak, and as we began a slow trudge back to the car we both I think felt a little frustrated that the crippling views others had enjoyed were not to be permitted to us. Finally though, a female stopped James in his tracks a few feet from us. She then flew into an Ash, wings open, allowing us to see the large Orange blotches at an albeit acute angle. I then picked up a male nearby, and the set was complete. Job done, and a return visit in May is already being discussed for Marsh Fritillary.


Yesterday, I was very privileged to join Mr. Bird Therapy for a look at a small colony of Clouded Yellow. The site is private, and sadly may soon be up for sale and who knows what. I saw around 10 Clouded, including a Helice female. These Butterflies rarely come to rest, and are a speedy proposition to photograph over the trefoil. I am sure you have seen Joe's excellent photographs on Twitter though, wings open, so it does happen! Very lucky to be at the heart of this species' attempts to colonise the county. I wonder what will be next?

Looking back with anger, I noticed that Sally, one of the Norfolk Montagu's Harriers, has died under suspicious circumstances. I was privileged to see the family late in July, but the news was a stark reminder of how fragile their existence is here in Britain.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The dulcet tones of summer, and a guided tour

Inland migration has slowed right down, and the soft tones of Summer have set in, albeit with oppressive levels of heat during the last 30 days. Today the garden has finally had a good dump of rain which the flowers we have been planting will enjoy.

With avian interest naturally dipping,  Lepidoptera are keeping me busy. Some nice firsts in the garden trap, including Scorched Wing, Figure Eighty, Cream-bordered Green Pea, Small Angle Shades, Puss Moth and a garden record count of 174 Moths of 64 species on the night of the 24/25 June.

The Swallowtail was always high on the agenda in June, as I had been asked to privately tour a small group with this target species in mind. I had been successful at Wheatfen (4) and Strumpshaw (3) during June, but with poor weather seeing out the month I had to move the tour to early July. Thankfully, the group were not disappointed and we achieved views of 2/3 Swallowtail at Strumpshaw Fen. I think though that they were won over by the White Admirals and the sheer volume of Comma we saw on the day. I have decided I need to formally advertise these guided tours, as I have completed a few over the last few years and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have added a tab on the homepage with testimony. Hopefully more to come. Being keenly aware of my own knowledge base and skill set, the private tours would suit folk who are perhaps visiting the area or who are unaware of what is local to them. If you know of anyone at a loose end who ticks those boxes, send them my way! Ultimately, I enjoy sharing what I know and helping people connect with nature. The teacher bit does at least come in handy.

The evening dance of the Purple Hairstreak is something Matthew Oates has written about. A colony was present on Oaks in Claxton last year, but my max count was only around 5. However, on a humid but grey evening last week I counted at least 15 so I am pleased to report the colony has expanded. I have been re-visiting, but have drawn a blank in less favourable conditions so far. Down on the marsh, a Barn Owl has been seen carrying food, 3 juvenile Kestrel were brief sentinels atop a wooden gate, and a Hobby can occasionally be seen commuting over the house.

News from Wheatfen- Silver-washed Fritillary are back for the first time since 2014, and have been seen egg laying. I managed 2 on a quick visit with Rose in the beech woodland 2 weeks ago. Smashing orange tanks these things, real purpose to their movements. A great addition to the patch.

Arse end of a Frit

Friday, 7 July 2017

That night in King's Forest

I have put a fair few hours in over the years in the Thetford Forest complex, searching for Long-eared Owl. My best views of this crepuscular species have always been on migration, but that all changed when Ricky and I descended into the forest in early June following a tip-off and a from Shaky which suggested I might finally achieve the views I had craved. Locations will not be given out for obvious reasons.

Arriving at the site around 9pm, we inadvertantly flushed 3 young birds which had been roosting on the ground, a slightly different spot to a day or so ago. Stepping back, we listened as the Owls began to squeak. Naturally curious, it did not take long for the young to begin a few practise flights, one particular bird confident enough to fly past us as we stood flabbergasted in the ride. I knew as I watched this unfold, this was a wildlife highlight I would look back on with fondness for the rest of my days. Feeling as if we had taken up enough of their time, and to allow the adults to arrive with food, we left just after 9.30 and headed back. On route, we had a Nightjar veer overhead against an almost purple-tinged sky and at least 5 were heard churring that evening. At the clearing where we started, I commented that it was really too dark to pick out an adult hunting on the far side. I need not have worried, for right on cue an adult passed a metre or so above us and proceeded to hunt a margin in front of us! The perfect evening had just got better. What was most intriguing, was trying to pin this adult down to a nest. For, after another short walk, we picked up another 2 young at a different nest. A lack of Tawny Owls in the area was a good sign that quietly, these birds have established themselves here over many years and are doing OK. Throw in the Tree Pipits, Viper's Bugloss and a moon that ate up the sky, and I had finally nailed Long-eared Owl in The Brecks in the best possible manner with an accompanying cast of thousands.

Photo courtesy of a West Ham fan.