Friday, 28 October 2016

Quality abounds on the patch in October

It has been difficult to tear myself away from the coast this October, but with so many birds on the move at this time of year some consistent patching was bound to turn up some good birds.

Starting though with something much more local, the continued and indeed strengthening presence of Bearded Tit at Surlingham Church Marsh. Recalling the halcyon days of summer, I had seen a maximum of 3 birds together at any one time but was convinced there were more. On the 15th, I recorded a group of 7 erupting out of the reedbed, and could hear a further 2 individuals pinging from whence the small flock came. This count of 9 represents my record count on the reserve and indeed on the patch and will be looked back upon as a highlight of the year for sure. Elsewhere on the reserve, there has been an expected increase in numbers of Goldcrest and Thrushes, and on the 25th a visit with Ricky heralded the arrival of Autumn proper with a wheezing Brambling and the second Woodcock of the Winter period, hot on the heels of a bird at dusk on Claxton Marshes the previous evening. I record Woodcock annually at a part of Church Marsh not accessible to the public (volunteer warden privileges) but if you want to catch up with this bird, now is a good time and I would recommend Rockland Dyke which backs on to Wheatfen. As for Brambling, that delightful Autumnal Finch, I have now heard 4 in the last week having not recorded them at all in the first Winter period of this year. Like Shorelark on the coast, I hope they have a good Winter inland.

Not only the migrants are putting on a good show, but the patch regulars that can be evasive are doing their best to give themselves up at the moment. Marsh Tit are calling and being seen regularly at both Church Marsh and Rockland Broad, Water Rail are squealing from dykes (and even showing at Church Marsh, an incredible encounter where Ricky and I inadvertently flushed a pair and one landed on a perch briefly) and the now resident Chiffchaff are settling in for Winter, one in full song on the 15th. We have had to wave goodbye to the Swallows though, perhaps for the final time this year in the valley. 5 Were at Rockland Broad on the 15th.

Both male and ringtail Hen Harriers have been reported at Claxton Marshes over the last 10 days, the ringtail proving more reliable. I have been diligently watching most evenings from the footpath leading away from Claxton Mill, and whilst these evening sessions have not yielded the target bird I have enjoyed regular close encounters with Barn Owls, the burgeoning Corvid roost, grunting Snipe and an odd looking pale Buzzard. Today, determined to break my Hen Harrier duck for the year, I made an early start with the intention of catching the bird as it left the roost at Strumpshaw (assuming it commutes in the same area). It was to be a great morning for Raptors. In the dark, I could just make out 2 Barn Owl hunting almost side by side. As the light slowly developed and the marsh took on an olive tinge, Marsh Harriers and Buzzards were going about their business. At the river, I peered across to Buckenham and spotted a stunning Peregrine on a fence post, that sentinel of the marsh returning for Winter Wigeon. A Kestrel hovered no more than 15 metres from me. Best til last though- the ringtail Hen Harrier came through just before 8am. So stylish these birds, skimming the ground and seemingly more athletic than the local Marsh Harriers. I tracked it across the grazing field south of the pub, and eventually lost to view. I gave myself a moment for a fist pump, and headed towards Langley Marshes to see if the bird would stop to hunt. Viewing now from the sailing marsh, no sign of the Harrier but 2 Buzzards were giving another Raptor (with jessies) hell, possibly a Harris Hawk but difficult to be certain in the early morning light. I have seen a Harris Hawk at Coldham Hall marshes a couple of years ago, and a bird gets reported at Strumpshaw occasionally so this may be that bird living wild in the valley.

Eager to connect with the Harrier on its return journey, I tried Langley Marshes this afternoon. Carlton Marshes had 3 Short-eared Owl yesterday, perhaps they or others would work their way in this direction? Not as yet, but 4 Crane dropping onto Cantley Marsh were a pleasant surprise and my 3rd-6th records on patch after the pair over Claxton in the Spring.

Just to add, a splendid morning searching for Fungi at Wheatfen with the redoubtable James Emerson, documented here and with relatively warm temperatures, the Moth Trap has been on and Novemeber Moth Agg and Feathered Thorn have been added to the garden list. A few pics of both the foray and a Moth are on Twitter, as always.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Twitching versus finding

I had put aside Sunday for a full day in the field, so when news broke of an Isabelline Wheatear at Burnham Overy on Saturday morning I wasted little time in getting the usual bits together and made the trip up to the north coast. I join the crowds perhaps twice a year these days, but this was to be a lifer and with plenty of eyes, hopefully more decent stuff would be located near by. 

I've said enough about the parking elsewhere on social media, needless to say it was atrocious from some but no need to repeat myself here. The walk to Burnham dunes is always a long one, but with restless Brent and Pink-footed Geese feeding either side of the track, there was always something to look at. Finally arriving at the end of a long line of birders, the Isabelline Wheatear was easily picked up as it fed amongst the sparse vegetation. The black alula contrasted with a sandy wing and back, almost like the bird had been through a dust storm and never bothered to tidy up its appearance. Posture notably erect, even more so than other Wheatears I have watched. Whilst the group were watching the Wheatear/searching for a reported Pallas's Warbler, 2 Waxwing dropped in. My first of the season and a delight for the assembled masses. In addition, a Shorelark had pitched down just east of where we were, so before trudging back I spent some time watching this bird. Not been a great past couple of Winters for Shorelark, hopefully they will be making a strong comeback this year (28 reported from Holkham today, a real throwback). The twitch had paid off- lifer, and jammed in on a couple of scarce bits as I had hoped I might. It looks like a Desert Wheatear was nearby too, and today a Radde's Warbler. I wonder if you took that crowd, and plonked them at Wells, or even Waxham. Would the same quality of birds be discovered?

With that thought very much in the forefront of my mind, I made the short journey to Wareham Greens and parked along Garden Drove. Initially, I had the place to myself but other birders did start to trickle in with the same idea. The Pit was quiet save a few Redwing and Fieldfare passing through, and the hedgerows held plenty of Goldcrest but nothing beyond that. A female Blackcap was the source of some takking, and as the light began to fade I headed home. Bird finding hadn't gone quite as well as the twitching, today anyway.

Yesterday, I made an early start and walked the new coastal path between Waxham and Horsey. Little point in giving a blow-by-blow account here, suffice to say I did not see much! Lesser Redpoll were undoubtedly the bird of the day, with flocks numbering from 10-30 moving overhead and never settling. Siskin were not far behind, and other birds of note included 2 Chiffchaff, 1 Swallow and a Blackcap. Happisburgh was similarly quiet, and the holy site of Whimpwell Green was hiding a few Goldcrest but nothing to set the pulse racing. Again, bird finding not proving massively successful, but you can't beat being out on the coast in October, easterly winds afoot, not knowing what is round the other side of the next bush. 




Monday, 10 October 2016

Siberian Sprite turns up at end of rainbow in Waxham

Having had a good afternoon on the Saturday in the tranquil surrounds of Great Yarmouth Cemetery (2/3 Yellow-browed, Brambling, Ouzel over), and spurred on by news that a Radde's had been found out east, I elected to go for an old school weekend, retracing my steps that led to the Bluetail a few years ago. Ironically, I could even follow a new route, with the opening up of a new coastal footpath that links Sea Palling with Waxham and I believe extends further. I have never been more excited to see a hedge freshly trimmed (!). The track now means one can walk in amongst the coastal scrub, without looking down upon it in frustration thinking, how the hell do I get in there? It didn't take long for it to feel very birdy indeed, Joe and I picking up at least 1 Lapland Bunting in-off soon after 8am. Meadow Pipits seemed constantly on the move all day, and every step revealed a wary Thrush or Robin darting out of cover and away from us. Surprised not to pick up a Yellow-brow, for now we had to settle for Brambling and Siskin moving overhead. It was on, and we knew we were in with a real chance of finding something. If conversation dipped, Joe was quick to remind me "it will be in that next bush Jim!". 
Arriving at Horsey, some people were ringing/trapping rare birds and the tapes were playing loudly. It was difficult to tell whether we were hearing Yellow-brows for real, until one chap kindly informed us that we probably were, for their recording was of a YBW quickly followed by a Goldcrest. With that eliminated, we heard at least 2 birds here and saw one. Please note at this time, YBWs were regarded by RBA as 'scarce', so we were rightly/wrongly pleased with our work. 4 Lesser Redpoll chattered loudly as they came in, perhaps interested in the tapes, refusing to alight anywhere in view. 
The pipe dump was not especially exciting, a few Reed Bunting the only migrants of note bar the now expected Crests and Thrushes that accompanied us on our walk. Another shower, and another rainbow- heralding more arrivals? Pressing on back to Waxham, we stopped at a Sycamore south of Shangri La cottage (now a Passivhaus, why can't all houses be made to this design?). The tree was dripping with Goldcrest, and I recall Joe asking after 5 minutes can we be sure they are all Goldcrest? I was quick to say no, this deserved our time. Within minutes, Joe dropped the Pallas's Warbler bomb, was it one? I managed to get onto the bird in question, and without question we were looking at a splendid Pallas's Leaf Warbler, probably fresh in from Russia. Fist pumping and much adulation ensued, and after a brief gap we located the bird again. We contacted Tim Allwood, who thankfully was nearby with Andy and both came down to enjoy the bird with us. A couple of twitchers arrived, one who had been in the area anyway and was thankful to be given the heads up. Once another chap arrived, we moved on, still buzzing as we would be for the rest of the day (even work felt manageable today!) Regarding the bird itself, even without a decent view of the lateral crown stripe the identity was assured. The thick, custard coloured supercilium and dark eye stripe stood out, and the bird spent more time hovering for flies compared to the nearby crests. It called only 3 times whilst we were there, a much cuter squeak than a Yellow-browed, of which there was also one in the sycamore but briefly. 
We had a look round some suitable habitat in Happisburgh, but in truth the prize was in the bag already. Surprisngly, another Pallas's was at the dung heap by the coast watch point, and we had checked there so perhaps another new arrival. A further bird was found down in Suffolk at Bawdsey, and today another in Great Yarmouth cemetery. Smashing birds, great to locate one and share it with others. Finding himself a lifer, that's the way to do it Joe! 


 Pallas's Warbler, photo by Tim Allwood
Me pausing to take photo of exciting habitat

Sunday, 18 September 2016

From Caister to Corton

With a northerly blow forecast, I was keen to get out on Saturday and do some seawatching. I was busy Saturday morning, but soon regretted not being busy Saturday afternoon instead as 2 hours from Scratby were not very productive, although it was good to finally meet Stratton Birder Steve. We gave it a couple of hours, the best bird was probably a Grey Plover going north. Brents, Gannets and Wigeon were the most numerous migrants of 8 species not including the resident Med Gulls. Steve and I then went separate ways to hunt some Passerines, although Steve did return later and score a juvenile Long-tailed Skua! I went to Caister and did the usual loop, saw absolutely zilch. With still an hour to spare I went to Yarmouth Cemetery, and bar a Chiffchaff there was nothing in here either (I'll refrain from saying it was 'dead') although 2 Firecrest had been reported earlier in the day. Unusually I didn't see any other birders, although it was by now around dinner time and I too was getting hungry so called it a day.

Reading the bird news from the day, I felt like I had missed out on some good seabirds. The north coast was always going to score, but there had been a few Shearwaters and a couple of Leaches out east in the afternoon. Not to be defeated, I was keen to try again Sunday morning and James Brown suggested North Suffolk might be decent. I has birded Gunton in the past but never Corton, and having been committed to the East Norfolk coast up until now I had never really given this area much thought. A quick look at Google maps revealed from where I live now, Corton is just 30 minutes away compared with 45 minutes to Caister. Gunton was basically the same, and with time as always at a premium I was already looking at a change.

I met James at 7.45 this morning, and he had already put in over an hour and seen a Puffin, a good record. In the hour and a half I watched, we had a Balearic type come through north (rarely banked or cruised, appeared in a rush with lots of flapping) and a Sooty Shearwater (much longer winged and spent time cruising over the surf). I haven't seen a Sooty for a couple of years so this was already 200% better than yesterday! Brents, Gannets, Wigeon and Teal were numerous, and we also had a few Auk Sp and a Grey Wagtail over.

I then went to have a look for yesterday's Wryneck at the old sewage works. What a smashing area this is. There was lots of activity in the surrounding hedges with Chiffchaff flycatching and getting bother from the local Finches. There was no Wryneck, but a female-type Redstart showed briefly on the sewage works fence. Slightly further inland, a boggy area held another Chiffchaff. I had a quick walk round the old railway site, Siskin and Grey Wagtail overhead making the occasion seem that bit more Autumnal. More Chiffchaff were here, and again I was taken aback at the quality of habitat here within easy reach. Without even checking the well known Radar Lodge area or Corton Woods, I was sold. If the locals don't mind, my Autumn birding is sorted!


Sunday, 11 September 2016

Slowly does it

With summer continuing to outstay her welcome, birding has been slow of late. Having been over at Strumpshaw Fen to look through some Moths with Ben on the 31st, and feeling like I hadn't seen anything 'good' for ages, I strung out the morning with a walk round to Tower Hide. The immature Glossy Ibis was showing well in front of the hide, and continues to be present at time of typing. This bird constitutes my 5th Yare Valley record after 4 birds at Reedham/Cantley Marshes in 2012. A target bird south of the river for sure.

Frosted Orange, my first, from Strumpshaw Fen
 The Glossy Ibis, a mid-stayer 

Having been round Church Marsh and Rockland Broad this weekend, along with regular walks down to the river, I can safely say there is not much around at the moment. Still, the weather is glorious and I never tire of getting out and exploring the valley. Church Marsh had a juvenile male Marsh Harrier, a pinging Bearded Tit and a few returning Teal and Shovelor. Chiffchaff are everywhere, their 'hweet' call giving them away. I wonder how many will stay for the Winter. Rockland was dead this afternoon, although a Small Copper was a new one for the site. 

On Butterflies, my garden has really delivered this Summer. Along with the expected common species, we have had Small Copper, Painted Lady, Wall Brown, Speckled Wood and Brown Argus! The beds we have been digging and tending to already paying off. 

Being back at work means the Moth trap only gets set at the weekend, which is hurting. A few new ones of note: Engrailed, Marbled Beauty, Pale Water Veneer, Common Purple and Gold, Rush Veneer and Rusty Dot Pearl. I am still letting many micros go without ID, but hopefully The book will turn up on my birthday later this month. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Snettisham- Wader Spectacular

I have had my eyes on the tide times that could produce a 'Wader Spectacular' this year at Snettisham, and whilst many have been and gone that coincided with me being at work/asleep, I was pleased to finally connect with this experience on Tuesday morning, arriving at Snettisham around 8am. The times provided by the RSPB helpfully allow for a moderate walk to the estuary, nonetheless I got there in plenty of time and watched the tide gently encroach on the mudflats, eventually forcing the 10s of 1000s of Waders off the estuary, many alighting on the small pools behind the rotary hide. The decision making process that the birds must go through fascinates me. I had only been watching for half an hour, and the first of the flocks got up and began swirling against the blue, before coming down behind me. There was still plenty of mud spare at this point, but an active decision had been made- enough is enough chaps, we're moving now. And so this dynamic continued, groups of 10s 100s and 1000s departing The Wash and cramming onto the pools and spits behind where I stood. Knot were clearly the most numerous species here, but there were 1000s of Golden Plover and Oystercatcher. Dunlin, Blackwit and Barwit must have been in there 100s, perhaps more. 

Having watched the spectacular come to an end, I observed the jostling for position of 1000s of Knot on the small pools and islands. One tiny island housed only Turnstone, a strict policy from the shorebird community here. Again though, decisions being made. Some small groups quickly gave up on the pools and flew out over the estuary, presumably waiting for the mud to become re-exposed. I also left at this point and began the walk back along the shoreline. Here, Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail (2) were migrants just passing through. I came across a small flock of Peeps on the shoreline, the Sanderling amongst them picked at insects amongst the spray, the Dunlin and Ringed Plover though just appeared to be waiting it out. I then got lucky, for a Little Stint and 2 Curlew Sandpiper were a part of the group. I managed a couple of photos of the Sandpiper, see below. Spotted Redshank was another 'decent' Wader on the day list. 

With fine warm weather set in for the day, I nipped up the coast to Titchwell. In Truth, I scored pretty much the same Wader species as Titchwell, just in smaller numbers. One addition was a Whimbrel flying north. A female Common Scoter was a little unseasonal offshore, but a Whinchat in the scrub certainly was not. Now to find one of these in Claxton, must be about time. A walk down to the river this afternoon drew a blank, but a Greenshank flew over calling. 





Friday, 19 August 2016

Update 3/3- Minsmere.

Driving along the track to Minsmere, I was reminded of how much excellent and often impenetrable habitat there is here. Upon arrival, hearing a Bee Eater had been seen on the reserve, I remarked to mum that it would most likely have worked its way inland by now. Thankfully, I was wrong. The bird remains present today, and we both managed distant views of this most exotically dressed of migrants as it hunted for bugs over the woods. Within minutes of seeing this bird from East Hide, I picked up an interesting looking Buzzard over Westleton. A prolonged look and this turned out to be one of the Honey Buzzards in the area, drooping wings and more pronounced tail giving it away. With 2 excellent birds in the bag, a look over the scrape revealed a Little Gull and a few Ruff.

Minsmere being what it is, more was in store. A female Adder almost crossed our path as we walked amongst the dunes, the first time I have seen one of these for at least 2 years. A couple of Wheatear whizzed about in the dunes, photographers desperately trying to get that shot. The sluice bushes were quiet, so we walked up to the chapel ruins. Chapel Pool was excellent for Waders, although in almost blinding light it was difficult to pin down all of them. Curlew Sandpiper, Redshank, Dunlin and a probable Little Stint were on the pool, and the latter had been reported from there so this was likely to have been the tiny scampering silhouette we saw. Elsewhere, a couple of Knot were seen from South Hide.

After a traditional for Minsmere jacket potato lunch, we headed to Sizewell. Perhaps something regarding the warm outflow here has changed, for there were no Terns hunting around the platforms. Over the power station, a juvenile Peregrine was flexing its muscles. An excellent day out.