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.

A scattering of migrants heralds the start of the birder's Autumn.

Although we are still enjoying some excellent summer weather in East Anglia, a run of easterly winds and a few migrants making landfall signals that Autumn is underway for the birder. On the 17th I headed to Caister early morning for my now usual circuit at this time of year. Beginning at the golf course, I picked up 2 Whinchat and 5 Wheatear. This boded well, but was infact the best of the migrants today. Caister north dunes gave up a single Whinchat and Wheatear, and many Common Blue Butterflies, which seem to be having a good time of it. With time in the bank, I headed to Winterton South dunes but could only pick up a Chiffchaff here, the Grayling and Small Heath Butterflies stealing the show. Summer hanging on, but Autumn more than knocking.

That evening, I took the usual route down to Claxton Marshes and my good (ish) fortune continued- at least 2 Purple Hairstreak were in the Oaks, a very good local tick. Out on the marshes, Marsh Harrier and Kestrel were hunting, and a Reed Warbler was still feeding a late brood. Corvids have begun to group together, forming smaller satellite roosts around the parish. A Hobby flew over on my way back to the house.

Perhaps of most interest was this photo snapped of a pair of Emerald Damselfly species. I thought the pairing looked interesting, but genuinely wasn't sure exactly what specie/s I had seen. On Twitter, folk have gone from Common Emerald pair, mixed Pair of Willow and Common, and most recently 2 males! Not being the most experienced with either, I intend to email the photo to BDS and perhaps in due course Atropos? Thanks to all for their input with this, and if anyone reading the blog wishes to have a say, please feel free.

Summer Moth highlights so far

I've owned a Moth Trap for a few years, but having moved a few times (the trap likely to cause disturbance in a couple of locations) coupled with some shocking summers, only now have I been making a constant effort to trap, almost nightly. Truly bitten by the bug now. The excellent Norfolk Moths website has been a real help, as has a chap on Twitter who goes by the moniker @mothiduk ! I have also attended a Moth morning at Strumpshaw and one here in Claxton, hosted by the SYWG. Both of these mornings amassed some impressive totals, over 100 species at Strumpshaw (a few micros pending) and 39 at Claxton (excluding micros). I particularly enjoyed the Wainscots at Strumpshaw, and of course a migrant Tree Lichen Beauty was an obvious highlight. In the village, a Reed Dagger was probably the scarcest Moth trapped. 

At home, species counts have varied from 10-40, many micros on top of that not yet being identified. The Micro fieldguide is on the birthday list. Highlights have included my first Antler Moth, Webb's Wainscot, Fen Wainscot, Balsam Carpet and The Tissue. The Tissue is a rare Moth in Norfolk, and looking at previous records on the aforementioned website, the last record for TG30 was 1938! This was in the Rockland area. There appears to have been a peak of 3 records in 2013, otherwise this species is encountered intermittently. Balsam Carpet is another decent record, around 10 recorded each year locally in The Broads. Not every night has delivered something of such interest; last night for example was pants, just 10 species recorded after a clear moon-lit night. Still, we go again, trap out tonight providing the rain holds off. 

Tissue, this individual showing a pink-ish tinge, which threw myself and a few others initially. 

 Antler Moth. 
 Pebble and Swallow Prominent
Balsam Carpet, confirmed by the field-guide!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Northumberland- Coast and Castles

I almost couldn't believe the Bonapartes Gull on the Wansbest Estuary was still present come the start of summer, and ever since June I have been crossing my fingers that this bird would stick so I could get a look on the way up to our holiday cottage in Northumberland. I surely deserved some luc, having left East Anglia just as a first for Britain shows up. And so it was , on Saturday July 30th Debs and I descended the concrete bank of a fly-over (cue various remarks about the places we end up) to view the Wansbeck Estuary near Ashington. It did not take long to pick up the Bonapartes, a smaller Gull than the Black-headed species with which it was associating. Paler, and with an all-black bill, this was a learning curve for 2 Gull amateurs and a great start to the break. Also on the mud here were Whimbrel, Dunlin and a few Sandwich Tern more distantly.

We stayed near Bamburgh, and the rolling countryside around our cottage was home to plenty of House Sparrow, Yellowhammer, Hare and best of all a few Tree Sparrow. We were a short drive from Seahouses, the gateway to The Farne Islands and although we had been across before, our visit this year was timed a little earlier and we were treated to fantastic views of breeding Puffin, Razorbill, Shag, Kittiwake and the 3 'Common' Tern species. Many of these were viewed from the boat, and whilst docking at Inner Farne an Arctic Skua caused havoc amongst the Tern colony on Brownsman Island. This piratical bird was chased off by a swell of Terns, and will have to wait until they disperse before considering another attack. Fulmar and Gannet were regular over our boat, and a few Knot grazed amongst the Grey Seals and Seaweed.

Other than The Farnes, the trip was light on real birding. Some new contacts on Twitter had kindly given me details of both Golden-ringed Dragonfly and Black Darter sites, but the 2 days we headed into the uplands were windy and punctuated by showers, so we spent more time exploring ruined castles which was great fun! Budle Bay must get a mention though, right on our doorstep and a couple of trips here when the tide was right yielded close views of Curlew, Whimbrel, Red-breasted Merganser and young, Greenshank and Oystercatcher. Similar tidal habitat on Holy Island added Bar-tailed Godwit to the holiday list. We decided against a Heleborine search when once again rain stopped play.

So, another lovely visit to this county which for me says two things- Seabirds and Castles!

Bonapartes Gull, Wansbeck estuary with larger Black-headed for comparison
King of the cliff
 Edlingham Castle. Middle of nowhere, proper wild ruin. 
Dunstanburgh Castle. A fair walk, well worth it.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Garden Moths and local Willow Emerald

Cracking few days of trapping in the garden. On returning from Northumberland, I plan to catalogue my finds but until then have been uploading onto the excellent Norfolk Moths website. Many highlights to speak of, and lists longer than I care to type, but here are a few of the crowd pleasers. Many of these were trapped and then visited by Joe and James, so I was pleased with such variety.

 Garden Tiger, 2 of these rested outside the trap until early morning. 

Wow. Antler Moth. Exquisite and amongst my favourites.  

A great double act, Pebble and Swallow Prominent.

This got us searching for an ID. Balsam Carpet. Not so common.

I am thrilled to have confirmed Willow Emerald at a local private site, Ducan's Marsh. Other cool stuff here included Brown and Migrant Hawkers, Long winged Coneheads and a Hornet-mimic Hoverfly, the same species I have had outside my house in the last week. Thanks to James and Joe for helping me confirm these species.

Willow Emerald Damselfly. Note the pale Pterostigma.

Long-winged Conehead. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Butterfly Extravaganza

With a continued spell of warm and sunny weather, I have been launching operation Butterfly over the last 4 days, with splendid results. Spurred on by Matthew Oates' book and a belief that this is something I 'can' do (peak birding time often held up by work, but long halcyon days in the summer allow for extra time in the field) I began with a visit to Bonny Wood in Barking, near the family home in Suffolk. In fact, many of the family turned out for the walk including Moysiebirder and dad. The 23rd was a hot day, the wood itself quiet save for the buzz of insects. We were onto our first Silver-washed Fritillaries before long, at least 6 individuals dashed past us on the woodlands rides, rarely stopping to feed and not allowing any photos. A few of us got onto Purple Hairstreak high up in the Oaks, and on the way back we found a much more confiding and more easily observed colony. The target- Purple Emperor- did fly through high and strong, but sadly only myself and Ben got onto this beast of the canopy. Walking back to the village, Ben was quick to spot a White Admiral, completing a good haul although views were a challenge. Really exciting to think that the neighbouring parish to home has Purple Emperor- and now I have the evidence to prove it to myself! I wonder what their status is in Suffolk? The Theberton colony are apparently introduced, but with others popping up at Bradwell and Monk's Wood, perhaps this enigmatic species is on the rise and has naturally expanded its range in my home county. 

With Emperor season at its peak, I was keen to try Fermyn Woods for the first time, tying in a visit to a friend and a beer festival/village fete. Arriving midday on the 25th, the bright sunshine had been replaced by cloud and locals were reporting hard work inside the Fermyn complex. I spent an hour on the first ride, craning my neck in an attempt to identify a small Hairstreak colony. There were a few Elms around, so probably White-letter, but not confirmed. Then, a larger Butterfly caught my eye- a Purple Emperor high above the canopy. Jackpot. Walking on to a small clearing, I observed Silver-washed Fritillary engaging in what can only be described as harassment by male on female, and another Emperor perched high up just out of good view. With the day fast disappearing, I retraced my steps and eventually achieved good views of a perched Emperor, too high to even dare photograph. I was desperate for one to come to ground, but on this occasion my experience of this species in Hertfordshire a few years ago was not to be eclipsed. (See here:

Onwards then to Bedford Purlieus, absolutely no sign posting for this area of Rockingham Forest but when I pulled over to consult the map and a Fritillary flew past, I decided I was in the right place. With only half an hour until I was due to meet my friend for the first pint, I spoke to a couple of guys searching for the target species here- White-letter Hairstreak. One chap had been looking for 3 hours and was then headed home. Even if I could have caught up with him, not sure I would have dared show him the image I captured below. Very lucky. Easily my best views of this species.  

 White-letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus, Northants. 

We made a surprisingly early start this morning despite the late night at Thurning Fest, during which I won a bottle of QE2 Whiskey, unopened in decanter. (Whiskey auction sites have this going for around 100 quid! One to hide in the cupboard and forget about). Although I knew it was too late in the season to look for Black Hairstreak, I wanted to check out their stronghold, Glapthorn Cow Pastures. An enchanting little reserve, and hopefully a return visit here next June will deliver. Today, we contented ourselves with commoner species and the contsant mournful call of the Bullfinch. Goes without saying almost, but Red Kites were everywhere.

 Inside the reserve- no cows or horses in sight, just a lot of Blackthorn. 

I then headed home, via Devil's Dyke on the Cambs/Suffolk border. I have been meaning to visit here for years, and what a treat this was. 100s of Chalkhill Blues fluttering over the chalky hillsides here, a new species for me. It was not long until I added another first, Marbled White. I only counted 5 of these which were subsequently harder to pin down and photograph.

So, an excellent few days and thanks to James Emerson for site details. I snapped a few wildflowers pictures which I am hoping he will be able to id when I see him Thursday! Cheers James.

 Chalkhill Blue, Devil's Dyke

 View from the Dyke- keep walking for Reach Fen! 

 6-spot Burnet Moth

Marbled White