Sunday, 19 March 2017

Claxton- the Raptor capital of the South Yare

The month began with some chilly weather, soon turning mild by the 10th. On the 5th of March, a ringtail Hen Harrier was hunting Claxton Marshes, a welcome year tick and on the day nice to compare this bird with hunting Marsh Harrier. A single Barn Owl was also out and about as the days began to lengthen.

I completed the WeBs counts on the weekend of the 11th, and the headlines here were the distinct lack of wildfowl. Teal were down to 10 at Church Marsh, and the only bird on the rise on the water was the Great-crested Grebe at Rockland Broad, at least 4 pairs here. The 11th was a red-letter day for me, as I recorded my first Butterfly of the year: a Small Tortoiseshell in the garden sunning itself. This was followed by  Brimstone, another Small Tort and my wife saw at least 3 Peacock in the village. I really should have put out the Moth trap over this weekend, since then the weather has been wet during the nights of Friday and Saturday, limiting any opportunity.

Having already bagged Short-eared Owl for the year, it was a nice surprise to see another one hunting on Claxton/Rockland Marshes on the 14th of March. There were also 3 Stonechat (2 males) close to the track, and I often find they will do this in Spring before disappearing into the marsh to breed. One male was doing a solid impersonation of both Oystercatcher and Green Sandpiper. I had no idea they mimic. Bird/s of the day though were 2 Grey Partridge, rooting around in some dust and grit near the road in Claxton village. I have never recorded the English Partridge in Claxton, and without checking my records it must be 4 years since the last patch birds in Surlingham.

In February, Debs and I saw a brief ringtail Hen Harrier over paddocks in Ashby St.Mary, and what must be the same bird has no turned up in fields around Ducan's Marsh twice in the last 10 days, although it seems I am not meant to see this bird again! I can rely on Debs to keep me updated though, and one of her views was on the ground down to 10 metres! I went out today with a view to catching up with this seemingly tolerant individual, but instead saw another Raptor species I had been half expecting: finally, a patch Red Kite! With birds on the move over the weekend, I had dared dream of finally catching up with this obvious gap on the patch list. Over Ducan's Marsh, the resident Buzzards were both up high, seemingly marshalling the Kite through at around 11am this morning.

2 Bullfinch and 3 Chiffchaff are now singing in the village.  Hare, Lesser Celandine, Coltsfoot and the evening song of the Blackbird and Mistle Thrush are all making themselves known. Hopefully by my next update, I will have a Willow Warbler to talk about.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Patch it- I'm back

Funny thing, I don't seem to have the time these days. Not that I haven't been out this year, I have, but it was only today that I felt compelled to post. Hopefully this will kick-start the blog again for the year which, even if nobody reads it(!) I do find it useful to look back and use it as a retrospective diary.

Numerous trips with the pushchair down to the marsh in January got the year list ticking over, without anything in particular to raise the pulse. Infact, bar the usual Barn Owl, Claxton remained quiet until mid February. Bird of the month was most certainly the Woodcock, with birds at Wheatfen on the 7th (2) and Claxton on the 21st. Patch scarce in the form of Bearded Tit were heard pinging at Church Marsh on the 14th, and a foray away from home at Herringfleet Marshes on the 22nd had 9 Reedlings at dusk together.

Into February, and the WeBs count was a record breaker at Rockland Broad with highest ever counts of Tufted Duck (26), Coot (13) and interestingly Gadwall (11) and Teal (2), the latter pair not recorded on the broad before. This was no doubt off the back of some tough weather which resulted in snow flurries and icy conditions. A nice surprise on the 13th, when Debs and I were driving back from Norwich I spotted a Ringtail Hen Harrier quartering fields between Ashby and Hellington. Not quite on patch, but a notable record and a reminder that continental birds are not nearly as fussy when it comes to habitat out of the breeding season. Horse paddocks are quite a step from Warham Greens!

I managed to fit in an evening at Haddiscoe Marsh, twice actually, and the walk around the island on the 14th was the more productive visit. 3 Short-eared Owl, 2 Barn Owl, 5 Bearded Tit and over 20 Chinese Water Deer the highlights of a crisp Norfolk evening. the 100s of Geese seemed on constant alert, and with the presence 2 idiots driving onto the Marsh and wandering up to their quarry with big lenses, it was no wonder. I am pleased to have finally caught up with 'this end' of the island, as I always find views from the mound distant. You do at least get the bonus of walking through Fritton Forest if you look from the mound, though.

This morning I woke before my alarm and was at Church Marsh just after 7.30. I instantly heard the distinctive, but distant, call of a wild Swan, which I initially tweeted as a Whooper. I later had to blame my tiredness, for a quite remarkable sight unfolded soon afterwards- around 100 Bewick's Swans flew in a near-perfect V over my head, going South-East. I was completely in awe of this spectacle. Finally moving on after I lost the birds into the murky horizon, it dawned on me that I had not heard a Whooper earlier!
The rest of the reserve was finally coming to life. A Marsh Tit sang right in front of me, 2 Bullfinch barrelled overhead and landed out of sight. A Great-spotted Woodpecker was drumming, and its larger cousin the Green was calling. These were all year-ticks. They were here on January 1st, but only now as the sun warmed the earth did they reveal themselves. Yet another Woodcock was flushed from behind the hide, and Wildfowl were represented on the lagoon by just 3 Teal. The Swans have gone, nice to hang onto these guys for a little longer. On the river, I had one of those Sinensis Cormorants, I think. Head very white and grizzled looking. I do have a photo, will get that uploaded for some input soon.

This afternoon, Debs and I made the usual walk down to the river. Both Peregrine and Golden Plover have been ticked recently by looking across to Buckenham, but today the action was all on our side of the river. A Short-eared Owl drifted into view, high, for it was being harassed by a Crow. I really felt for the Owl, for it was pinned in the sky for at least 15 minutes and was clearly shattered by the time the Corvid finally let it land. Like buses- 2 super year ticks come at once! Last year, I did not record neither Bewick nor Shortie. I will undoubtedly be birding even more locally than usual this year, and if today is anything to go by, I am thrilled at the prospect.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

2 Patch Lifers- and one is here to stay

With Rose Ava Bradley finally making her arrival into the world on November 20th, time further away from home has been been hard to come by but infact, her coming has made me appreciate what is on my doorstep even more.

The original due date was the 5th, and a few folk were justifiably surprised to see me at the Minsmere Cliff Swallow twitch that day. This American vagrant had made landfall near the visitor centre with 3 Barn Swallow, and I managed to convince Debs that should anything happen, I would be back in 2 hours. I was, but need not have worried.

Having lost a week in hospital with initially poorly mum and baby, work kindly offered me another week's paternity leave which I gladly snapped up. This eased the pressure, and I have been able to grab the odd hour here and there on the patch, sometimes with baby. On the 4th of December, I elected to leave Rose with mum and headed down to The Covey at Wheatfen to watch an obliging Cattle Egret devouring worms around the feet of the mandatory cattle. This was indeed a patch lifer for me, and with 3 birds recently at Gapton this was very much on the cards. No idea who found it, but thanks! Later that day we received a visit from Moysiebirder and family, so after the expected ogling over Rose, Ben dad and I nipped out for another look at the Egret and then a dusk vigil at Langley Marshes. This was a superb evening- Hen Harrier, Grey Wagtail (2), Curlew (13; lovely to hear the true call of the wild back on the patch) Barn Owl (3) and a single White-fronted Goose over. Back at the house, at least 2 Woodcock flew by the light of the moon. Top patching!

This morning, Debs and I made use of the accessible track down to Rockland Broad (really need to think about how much of the patch is pushchair friendly now) and spent an hour walking and surveying the Wildfowl out on the broad. Best of all were 2 Goldeneye, making up records 5 and 6 on the patch after 2 early on in the year. Not far off annual, and I expect they arrived during the cold weather and have elected to stay.

I am sat on 120 for the year, 2 off equalling the record of last year. A flyover wild Swan and Short-eared Owl would do it; a Water Pipit would break it! Back to the coal face tomorrow, but with only a week until Christmas holidays, it is on.

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!