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 ( 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 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:   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.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Raptor's steal the headlines in May

Red Kites continue to make their push eastwards, and the bird below was photographed (badly) today on Claxton Marshes, coming out of an aerial duel with a Marsh Harrier and continuing to search for food. Another, perhaps the same, was seen on the 13th in the same location. On the 16th I observed one passing the window, from the couch!

Huge excitement ensued on the 3rd. when a juvenile White-tailed Eagle made landfall at Buckenham that evening. This individual, assuming it is one and the same, has been touring Norfolk and Suffolk for a few weeks now and this was a rare opportunity to add it to the 'seen from patch' patch list. In brisk chilly weather, I parked at the Beauchamp Arms and walked east to a small hut presumably used for monitoring sailing or fishing competitions. This gave me an elevated view over Buckenham Marshes, and the Eagle was easily picked out on a gate post. Needless to say this was a giant of a bird, and the Oystercatchers were very brave indeed to want to harass it. I watched as the bird left for roost around half 7, trailed across the marsh by the local Waders, Geese spooked by the predator making a racket. Quite a scene so close to home. Avocet on the pools were also NFY.

The Swifts arrived back en mass over the 5th and 6th, and already seem to be getting on with nest building in the local houses. An evening walk to Rockland on the 6th was still wooly hat weather, but Common Sandpiper and Garden Warbler (3 territories now) were welcome year ticks. A Cuckoo was heard, and these would remain in short supply until later in the month.

The annual dawn chorus walk with SYWG at Church Marsh was a little disappointing this year in terms of species, but the attendees received good renditions of a variety of songs, including Grasshopper Warbler, and I was most pleased to see Nuthatch in the wet carr woodland. A week later, and although the wildfowl and waders survey was equally dull, I was thrilled to see a pair of Marsh Harrier prospecting on site. 

The first Hobby was recorded on the 13th, and and another bird was seen at dusk over the Beauchamp arms on Friday night. 

Mothing is slowly improving, and I have had a few first over the last few weeks: May Highflyer, Rustic Shoulder Knot, Least Black Arches and Cloud Bordered Brindle. None especially rare, but I didn't trap a lot this time last year so I am still getting to grips with even the common Spring species. Eyed and Poplar Hawk Moth have graced the trap, and this morning I awoke to a decent haul finally, (at second count) 13 species of 25 Moths.

Debs, Rose and I had a walk at Strumpshaw this afternoon in the hope of catching up with an early Swallowtail. No luck there, but Damsels were out and about- Azure, Variable and Blue-tailed. I also came across a couple of Hairy Dragonflies on my village run this morning. 

A year all about Raptors so far, with an over-wintering Hen Harrier, the arrival of the Kites and a patch addition in the shape of a Sea Eagle. Still time for a May mega to see out the month, and with half term a week away I am hopeful of adding to the list.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Winds hit their mark in the Yare Valley

Although the end of April and early May has been chilly enough to warrant a woolly hat and jacket, the winds from the east and north have bought with them some decent birds on the patch. Having been laid up for a spell after Scotland with an infection, I was finally getting better on the 23rd and headed to Church Marsh to conduct a Wildfowl and Waders survey, whilst at the same time noting any Bearded Tit or Marsh Harrier behaviour. Shelduck, Gadwall and Teal were paired up on the lagoon, and a single Snipe landed out of view. A male Marsh Harrier was circling over the western corner of the marsh but no sign of a female with him. I heard a couple of pings from the resident Beardies but nothing conclusive. Reed Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler although late were new for the year. The following evening I enjoyed decent views of the latter on Claxton Marsh, exciting to find new territories of this elusive Locustella.

A walk round the patch on the 29th threw up a beautiful Wheatear on Rockland Marshes behind the broad, not an annual bird for me and one often encountered close to the river on migration. 2 Common Tern on the broad were also new for the year, if expected. On the 30th, bird of the month bombed up river and onto the marsh- a Whimbrel! With the nights pulling out I hope to be able to add a few more migrants in the coming month before birds settle down to breed. Finally, as we entered May, Debs and I heard our first Cuckoo of the year singing near Coldham Hall.

If you are local, I am leading the South Yare Wildlife Group walk round Church Marsh on Sunday morning. Meet at the Surlingham Ferry Inn at 5.30am. Hopefully we get some nice birds to kick start the Sunday  .

I had to share some awesome sky shots of Claxton, and of course a record shot of my Wheatear.