Monday, 19 December 2011

Weekend drizzle and a hunt for some Ducks

Not the hoped for Raptor fest at Surlingham on Sunday, not a lot of anything infact. Wood's End is/was where it's at: 12 Mute Swans, the Lapwing flock, Common and Black-headed Gulls and the mixed feral Goose flock. 
The lagoon held a single Mute Swan, but Teal could be heard in the dykes. Awaiting Raptors on the hill, it began to rain, then snow. I headed back to the car, as the church bells tolled and families rushed to the service inside, snow falling harder now. A proper Christmas scene!
Today, temperatures still around 1 degrees celsius, I spent the morning searching for scarce Ducks in the Broads. Began at an icy Barton, where I enjoyed Goldeneye, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted and Mallard. Best of all, a Bittern flew low across the water. 
Driving back through Neatishead, I saw the white flash of Bullfinch backside. Slowing down, I watched a male feeding. What a cracking bird. 
I then tried Hoveton Little Broad. Less Ducks here, same species as Barton. A Marsh Tit was with its Blue and Great cousins. The icy ground and bare trees reminded me of Estonia, and it is nice to know that the solitude and wilderness of that country can be found closer to home.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Soggy Surlingham

Not a great deal to report, although a fine Winter's walk was had on the patch on Saturday. Still seems to be more Blackbirds about than usual, and I also heard a Song Thrush singing; beautiful, pangs of nostalgia. A Kingfisher perched was a highlight, looking brighter than ever in the bright sunshine. A male Marsh Harrier drifted through, no doubt unimpressed by the lack of prey on the lagoon. A Kestrel perched itself on one of those white pole things, preening and looking smart. I could hear Siskins in the scrub, but could only manage a brief flight view.
I have never seen the reserve quite so wet, paths on all sides flooded making Wellington boots essential.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

St Benet's, Ludham.

One of very few places I have visited that has a genuine ethereal aura to it, St.Benet's Abbey near Ludham has in the past been privy to a raptor roost of sorts.
Bit of history here, and I like the fact that the Abbey moreorless survived the dissolution under Henry VIII due to its near inaccessible location!
On arrival, Debs and I were greeted with a flock of Cormorants overhead (see above), and in our short time here many more would head west; must be a sizeable roost somewhere. Two Marsh Harriers drifted through, and distantly around 17 wild Swans were seen, probably Bewicks, which favour the marshy areas around Ludham during the winter.
The real star of the show was a Short-eared Owl, remarkably acrobatic in the wind, considering the bulk of the bird. A Barn Owl was seen briefly, and a Kestrel made up the remainder of our bird of prey species. Two more Marsh Harriers arrived as darkness fell over the ruins, and I would say that these birds did indeed roost in the small wood over the other side of the river.
Two distant shapes looked big, and I had my suspicions that they were not Geese. On arrival back home two Common Cranes had been reported to RBA.
Finally, more Cormorants overhead followed by Fieldfare and Redwing.
Driving back up the track, at least three Chinese Water Deer were seen, and interestingly two Skylark were flushed from the verge, in the darkness.

Saturday, 3 December 2011


Really very pleased to locate a flock of 12 White-fronted Geese on the marshes at Wood's End this afternoon, to make it 100 for the year on the patch. The resident Greylag flock were close, just over the river infact, so I had set about scanning through the noisy group when I came across a single White-front in with the Greylags. Perhaps this bird is feral, but the 11+ birds feeding away from the Greylags were much more likely to be migrants. A good bird away from Buckenham! Also of note was a White-front sized goose, dark almost black head, brown back with diffuse white feathers on primaries. Perhaps a Brent x Greylag?! Do they exist? It is certainly a Goose winter.
Not a great deal else to report around the reserve, a worrying lack of Barn Owls of late. Gull roost building on Wood's End, 30+ Common Gull and a few Herring. 5 Pied Wagtail over (off to Morrisons?) and 2 Meadow Pipit flushed from the flooded marsh. Single Teal on the lagoon, bit rubbish.

A final note on the Western Sandpiper. Moult patterns and the rufous on the scapulars seems to have clinched it, but something that really rang bells with me was a piece of behaviour described on Birdforum.Western Sandpipers feed in a methodical 'Sewing machine' style, probing back and forth in the mud. I observed the Cley bird do just this, so feel a little happier ticking a bird that at first I could not ID!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Striking Sandpiper

The Unions could not have timed that any better. Perhaps I should be shot, but a day on strike on the Wednesday of the week now almost past saw me take a trip to Cley NWT, in search of a new bird to add to my British (and Norfolk) list. Not only that, but but I am a huge Sandpiper/Shorebird fan, so a possible Semi-palmated/Western Sandpiper would be an education whatever the case.

At the time, I made the following notes:
Black Legs
Very short primary projection
Relatively long, pointed bill
Contrasting white underparts
Grey tones to feathers, but scapulars showing some rufous in better light
'Dumpy' appearance. 

Now, a key feature (concave or convex shape to marks on  feathers?) could not be seen in the field, and photos are proving ambiguous! I'll be honest, I was siding with Semi-P by the time I had left, yet today the bird is being pagered as Western, so I and others await instruction!
I did make a couple of notes regarding another small Wader. It was small, dumpy, similar plumage colouring to the grey Dunlin, couldn't make out a supercillium (although photos do show a hint). Could this be simply a small Dunlin, or something else? Looks to big for as Little Stint, bill also too long. Do we have a Semi P and Western  in Norfolk at the same time, on the same pool?! 

Also on site, a brief glimpse of a Water Rail, and a Peregrine sat on the bank opposite the hide. 

Cracking birding!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Surlingham again and life in perspective

Although Saturday morning was relatively quiet on the reserve, Surlingham has hit the headlines of late with the occurance of at least 3 Short-eared Owls. I was happy with 1, but this blog has some cracking shots of the birds, which according to the much abused sightings board in the hide, may still be present. What is interesting is that the birds are being reported roosting in scrub, which I thought was unusual for Shorties. 
Ben Lewis informed me of both flyover Pink-footed Geese and Lesser Redpoll in the scrub, neither of which I could locate on my visit, but sure signs that that elusive 100th species for the year is not far away. Good numbers of the beautiful Redwing and Fieldfare were present, and Wigeon have returned to graze on the banks of the Yare. What smart looking ducks these are, if a little cumbersome compared to the ever-present Teal. 
The Highland Cattle have been taken off grazing duty for the Winter, Matt and the team from Strumpshaw moving the animals to drier quarters until the Spring.
Ricky made a belated entrance (!) and we headed to Haddiscoe Marshes. Marsh Harrier and Kestrel were our only raptors, but an evening visit here later in the season would no doubt pay dividends.
The news today of the death of the Wales football team manager Gary Speed has left me both sad and frustrated. News such as this certainly puts things into perspective, and what a shame to lose a great man and legend in the game. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A break in the fog and a silent flap

A weekend of monotony and illness on the couch has crept into this very week dear reader, however I did sneak out to the patch on Monday night. A walk could lead to sickness and definitely sweat, but a short hike and a stand at the vis-mig hotspot of the ruins was manageable. 
As the light dimmed, a Kestrel flew through purposefully, hoping for a last minute snack. Watching a Little Egret fish, my attention turned to a silent flap of wings: a Short-eared Owl, briefly, spooked by a dog walker,  flapped over the hedge and was lost to view. But, what a few seconds! No doubt the bird heard me exclaim "yes!" and thought better of hanging around. 
As the mist began to settle over the marsh, Snipe began to grunt in the air, unseen. Wigeon and Teal arrived to roost on the lagoon, the Wigeon particularly audible as they arrived. In the distance, but growing ever closer, the Greylag flock. Numbering around 300, it seems the group are continuing the current trend of roosting on the lagoon. Their arrival set against the backdrop of moonlight and Water Rail calls made for a memorable end to a cracking hour on the reserve.
Walking back in the dark, a plop louder than a Water Vole could possibly make in the adjacent dyke. Surely an Otter, but this elusive mammal flatly refuses to give itself up here at Surlingham.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Weekend Post Two- Titchwell and Gypsy Lane

Got to say, wasn't massively keen on  joining the crowds at Titchwell today, but with relatives visiting it seemed only fair to visit a premier bird reserve, surely guaranteeing some decent birds for them. 
The search began not far from the car-park, and I picked up the calling Yellow-browed Warbler that has been present for over a month now. Avoiding the ridiculous scrum in the wood, we waited by the path and eventually were rewarded with neck-aching views of this always super migrant. 
A helpful member of staff alerted us to the presence of feeding Water Rail in the ditch near the centre, and we didn't have to wait long to hear the squealing call, and then this usually elusive bird fed no more than 2 metres away from us, probably my best ever views of this species. 
Walking to the beach, 2 Lesser Redpoll were in bushes feeding on catkins with Goldfinch. Barely out of the car-park, and some great birds already!
100s of Golden Plover were on the scrape, and opposite were many Curlew and a single Grey Plover on the marsh. Pintail were looking glamorous as ever. 
The sea was a little quiet, although at least one Little Gull passed in a short time, and a juvenile Gannet was loafing close to the shore. Knot, Sanderling and Turnstone all fed at the shoreline. 
Walking back to the centre, the Water Rail spot was again of interest, but this time a Woodcock sat silently in a sun spot. We all felt lucky to observe this species at such close range. 
A visit to Gypsy Lane away from the crowds proved rewarding; a single Tundra Bean Goose fed just across a channel in a meadow. Seems to have been an arrival of these Geese today, but I certainly had not expected to find my own! This was the icing on the cake of a super day on the north coast. Sure, give me the east coast, solitude and a bag of chips any day, but this ranks as one of my best day's birding this year no doubt. Crippling views of Water Rail and Woodcock, unforgettable stuff.

Weekend Post One- Hemsby and Caister

Began my search of 'new' habitat round Hemsby and Caister. I must have been searching in the wrong area, for I did not see the Waxwings that have since been reported. However, it was Thrush city in a small copse; c50 Blackbird and a smattering of Redwing. A Bullfinch was amongst Chaffinch feeding on berries. This apparently the wood that once held Dusky, Pallas's and YBW. I can see why, I need to be hitting this every day in half term! The dunes also look decent, large-ish areas of bramble and plenty of leafy gardens for birds to hide up in.

At Caister beach, and I quickly got onto a group of 19 Snow Bunting, several showing much of their striking summer plumage, fantastic! Despite the misty conditions at sea, Red-throated Divers came past and 2 Gannets fished more distantly. A probable Red-necked Grebe was seen briefly, but I made the mistake of moving my scope. That was that! A nice suprise were a flock of 21 Barnacle Geese heading south. I had a wander round the small patch of heathland north of the town, nothing doing here but again an area I clearly need to find the time for. I have since read the the other end of town, an area round the golf course, is decent for migrants too.

Popped into Filby Broad on the way home, 6 Goldeneye the highlight here. A backing track of howling apes from the wildlife gardens made for a surreal experience.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Patch, California, some Ducks.

Can't seem to magic a Short-eared Owl out of Surlingham at the moment, or much else for that matter. Teal are the sole representative from the Duck family on the lagoon at the moment, looking nice in their Winter plumage. 
A Kingfisher is often heard along the river, but rarely seen. A Tit flock near the church comprised Marsh, Coal, Great, Blue and many Long-tailed. 
A better evening was had last weekend, which included Barn Owl, Snipe and Greylag Geese at dusk arriving on the lagoon to roost. Close to 300 in number.

Went exploring today, first Scratby for some seawatching. Coming from Norwich, this is the nearest coastal spot for me along with Caister. I set myself up inbetween some chalets and watched the waves between 13.15 and 14.30. Here are my totals, in order of appearance:

Diver Sp. 3 North
Common Scoter 2 N
Dunlin 17N
Teal 36 N
Ringed Plover 3 N
Brent Geese 26 N
Shelduck 2 N
Med Gull 1 South
Curlew 2 N
Wigeon 20 N
Great-crested Grebe 1 N
Lapwing 1 N
Kittiwake 3 S
Red-Breasted Merganser 1 N

A dog put up a small flock of birds from the beach, a brief view suggested they were Snow Bunting.
Gutted not to pick up a Skua, but nonetheless an enjoyable afternoon. Forgot how much I enjoy seawatching! 
Popped to California out of curiosity, end of the world stuff there. Little cover for the birds, unless they like caravan parks. Caister next week, weather permitting!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Patch list creeps up, and a trip to the G Y.

Thursday morning, I snuck in a couple of hours on the patch before marking books loomed large.
Good bit of vis-mig taking place, including Greenfinch, Skylark and Pied Wagtail. On rounding the first bend, I heard the familiar mournful call of a Bullfinch- 2 birds flew from view. Siskin were here too, but then a less familiar call. Convinced this was not an odd Great Tit, I waited around and backed off a little. Sure enough, a Marsh Tit flew into view. Surprisingly, this is a new bird for my patch list, despite seemingly good habitat. Certainly never heard singing during the breeding season, so I wonder where this little chap has come from. My favourite tit on the patch!

Moving on, the ground muddy beneath my boots now, Geese and Corvids were busy overhead communicating in scattered groups. On the lagoon, another first: the only Duck species present were Teal, and 122 was a record count for the patch. Quite a day, then!

Yesterday (28th) I set off for Great Yarmouth cemetery for some sprite hunting. I began in the north section, but arrived back at the road a lot sooner than I had hoped to! Not a lot doing then. Sadly, the south section was even more quiet. In total, one Goldcrest, 2 Redwing, Linnet and Siskin in groups overhead and a couple of Fieldfare completed the below average haul considering time and place.
Breydon Water was at high tide, but a quick scan through revealed the expected Avocet, Golden Plover, Redshank, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit and a selection of winter Ducks. 
Best of all were three Little Egret, one of which was hunting under the bridge next to a late-ish Whimbrel. 

Even more exciting (I know, it's October guys) were two Mistle Thrush over our house in Norwich yesterday.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Phalarope Day!

Debs and I met up with family today, both of whom were keen to see the confiding Daurian Shrike at Horsey. Excellent views were again obtained of this confident individual, which today was building up a small larder of bees and wasps. Shrikes can only 'show well', so why the photographers present needed to shove their massive lenses in the face of the bird I don't know, ridiculous.

A quick seawatch from here proved productive, a Common Scoter flock of c100 birds were loafing offshore, and closer in a few Red-throated Divers were fishing. Gannets fished distantly and one or two Auk species could be seen but not assigned to a species. A probable Grey Phalarope flew North, the first of a few today.

We had planned on giving the bushes a look around Shangri-La at Waxham, and on finding nothing of note we headed down to the beach. As luck would have it a couple of birders were watching two Grey Phalarope close in, gripping photos below!! The birds (possibly one adult and one juvenile) allowed for a close approach and we watched them spinning for food, classic Phalarope behaviour. A memorable moment followed, as two more Grey Phalarope flew South, over the heads of the pair spinning! My little cousin claimed another one South, so a maximum of six seen today, lovely little birds and I cannot imagine ever seeing four at once again!

Driving back we pulled in and studied the gulls following a plough. A distant Harrier would not come close enough, but a Mediterranean Gull was easily picked out amongst the masses of Black-headed.

We finished the day at Strumpshaw Fen and had brief views of Bittern. Marsh Harriers, Bullfinch, Siskin, Marsh Tit and Fieldfare made up a super supporting cast. Matt, one of the reserve staff, told us Otters have been showing beautifully from the reception hide, typical.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Patch update, and the only way to start half-term.

With a (nearly) blank week stretching ahead of me I began by taking in Surlingham Church Marsh this morning. A Wigeon was new in on the lagoon, and both Little Grebe and Cormorant on the river heralded the arrival ofWinter. 2 Great Crested Grebe were probably a breeding pair, and a Sparrowhawk overhead was probably local too. Large numbers of Starlings moving overhead, a flock of 5 Pied Wagtail, 6 Stock Doves and finally 40 Lapwing at Wood's End. Fieldfare and Redwing heard, but not yet pinned down this winter period. Bullfinch and Siskin also vocal from the scrub.
Returning home after the weekly shop, news had broken of an Isabelline Shrike at Horsey. Shrikes are a real favourite of mine, and I couldn't miss this! I read up on the Izzy Shrike complex whilst having lunch, and felt prepared to ID whatever was there.
Once I had enjoyed good views, I set about pinning the bird down to subspecies level. One or two on site thought it to be a Turkestan (Red-tailed) Shrike, but I could see no features indicating this. Infact, the bird was pale, lacked a prominent mask and supercillium, and the creamy wash breast with faint barring suggested an obvious Daurian Shrike.
It was a cracker, and showed well for the birders present. I missed it catching a Wren (short distance migrant?) but did watch it feed on the impaled carcass; butcher bird indeed!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Dipping and Patching

With a change in the winds and a quite unprecedented influx of Short-eared Owls into Norfolk, I had a feeling the weekend might hold something special. A Rufous-tailed Robin, though, was not even on my radar! Mixed messages were coming through regarding the whereabouts of this Siberian mega, and I decided on the Friday night there was no way I could get to Wells, let alone East Hills, before darkness. Photos appeared, and there was only one place I wanted to be the following morning.
Myself and Ricky arrived at Wareham Greens for first light and joined the masses, shuffling to keep warm in the dark. If the bird was still around, only chaos could ensue. Perhaps anticipating a ruck, the Robin had either copped it or left on the clear skies of the night before. Yes, we were disappointed, but October in Norfolk is great on a bad day. Waiting for the Robin, we had seen Brambling, Marsh Harriers, Yellowhammers, Skylarks, Brent Geese and Curlew, all on their own morning commute.
Both of us had to be back for a late lunch, so after checking the other track to the saltmarsh (and picking up a few Redwing and 2 Chiffchaff) we headed to Wells Woods. After some searching, we were able to pick up a calling Yellow-browed Warbler. This individual offered us a glimpse, and a second then left the same bush, flying high and away.

Today, with nowhere in particular to be and not in the mood for chasing anything rare, I set out for Happisburgh. It was a cracking day, and the local Starlings and Black-headed Gulls were making the most of the warm conditions doing some fly-catching on the wing. Groups of Siskin called overhead, but that was about it in terms of migrants. Waxham was much the same, and my migrant hunt had by now turned into a leisurely stroll.
I needed no excuse to get going, but had to be at Surlingham before dusk to conduct the first of 6 Hen Harrier roost counts. Traditionally, there has been a Harrier roost at Surlingham Church Marsh, but last year I only managed a single ring-tail. Still, it provided a good reason to sit still and see what comes and goes. 
I was in place by half 5, and the reserve was a noisy place this evening. Cettis, Water Rail and Snipe were all a part of the evening chorus. Better vis-mig here than the coast: Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails, Redwing and Mistle Thrush all moved through. A small roost of the latter was present, and Magpie and Jay numbers seemed to have at least tripled. The only raptor I managed was a male Sparrowhawk, and the evening finished with views of the resident Barn Owl. Surlingham at its best? Not far off. 

Monday, 3 October 2011

Timely Mega arrives in Suffolk

Having struggled to get out birding of late (weddings, stags, birthdays) I was chomping at the bit to be back in the field. On Sunday I literally found myself in a field late afternoon, watching a North American Sandhill Crane, probably the rarest bird on my personal list in terms of previous records. This, the first mainland record, is certainly a bird that commands the wow factor. Watching from a distance of about 100m, the bird occasionally raised its head in our direction, threatened to fly, but then just carried on grazing. The grey plumage with rusty overtones looked beautiful in the fading sun. Back on the lane in Boyton village, people were parking up and sprinting towards the target- scenes I have not witnessed since the Winterton Black Lark.
I only just made it to see the Crane, since I had been away in London for a friend's wedding. Whilst Slough is not somewhere I would like to be stuck, a passing Red Kite certainly lifted my mood as I ate lunch in a graveyard! A Ring-necked Parakeet flew over the reception party at Windsor, and a Nuthatch called loudly from atop a pine. I was doing Urban Birding- like David Lindo, his book of which I finished on the train ride home. 
The patch has suffered of late, and I hate to think what I have missed passing through. An evening trip with the RSPB threw up good numbers of Duck flighting into the lagoon- 10 Tufties were notable. The only Bat species we recorded were Soprano Pipistrelle and Daubentens outside the Ferry House pub. Bats and Broadside- gotta love it!
I finally have some evenings free this week, so should get down to Surlingham before dark. Another wedding next weekend (am I getting old?) but it is in Bath, so a twitch on the way back? My money is on a certain Brown Shrike, returning to Staines, or maybe a Black Kite. Either would do very nicely! 

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Good Vibrations on the patch

With a series of busy weekends coming up at precisely the wrong time of year, it was essential to squeeze in a visit to Surlingham on Friday night before leaving for London on the Saturday. 
I left it late, purposefully, to get a taste of what might be around for next weekend's RSPB Moth and Bat night on the reserve. Before the Bats came out, I enjoyed excellent views of a Kingfisher, first perched and preparing to fish before being spooked by a boat and flying off downriver. Continuing round the river bend, my first Bats of the evening. A purposeful flight, swooping down to grab insects from the surface of the Yare. One would associate Daubentens with water, but these mammals were flying high over the river rather than feeding close to the water. In short, I couldn't identify them! Natterers perhaps, sizewise. 
The lagoon was busy with wildfowl, Teal arriving in the gloom. As I left, the first of the Egyptian Geese began flighting in. A Tawny Owl called from the pine plantation. 
More Bats flew past at head height, these ones much smaller, Pipistrelle sp. One definite ID was a single Noctule, which bombed past across the reedbed. Lovely stuff! 
A Snipe was flushed from the puddle at the foot of the ruins, and by now I was struggling to see any further than 20 metres ahead, so back to the car I went. 
Me and Debs enjoyed Brian Wilson in concert last night, the old boy has still got it! 
Depending on the United result, I may well pop out again after tea. 

Monday, 12 September 2011

....and then onto the patch

Seeing rare birds does have an inspirational effect on me, and riding high on the buzz of seeing a Little Bittern earlier in the morning I headed to Surlingham Church Marsh that evening, eager to find some birds.
The male Marsh Harrier was back, drifting over the reed bed as the light began to wane. The muddy margins really should hold some Waders, but I had to be content with watching the Ducks for a bit. 
The main points of note came whilst watching the dark descend from on high, next to the ruins. On approaching, a few Mistle Thrush exited a large Oak. By the time they had all left, I had counted 29! Maybe I had disturbed their planned roost site, but hopefully this was usual behaviour for this time of the day. I reckon there were more, too. Pleased with a record count for the site, I was preparing to head back to the car when a Hobby appeared, like only Hobbies can do. High, over my head, then onto the reserve. A final foray before bed no doubt. Now very satisfied, I did head back to the car. 

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Titchwell: The Reaction

With the Little Bittern showing well (albeit occasionally) yesterday, I was in no doubt as to where I would be birding today. Arriving fashionably late, Debs and I joined the throngs that were cluttering the main track and raised bank, scouring the small pool for the juvenile Bittern. Ricky informed us there had been little action so far this morning, but a brief flight and the bird had everyone on their toes. It even had some on their backs, and bums, sliding down the bank for a glimpse. Not cool guys, the tracks are there for a reason. We did not have to wait too long before the bird moved again, and I was looking the other way, Debs with the first view as it flew low across the pool. I uttered a few expletives, fearing this could again be another dip balanced precariously on 299 BOU. Scanning the reed edge, a snake-like movement, and the Little Bittern was fishing. I had the views I was desperate for! Beautiful streaking on the breast, and a bright yellow bill. A landmark bird for me in Britain, and one I won't forget.
Able to relax, we took in some more of the reserve. Debs had not visited Titchwell before, and I promised her there was more to see than just a small pool. The sea was quiet, but a number of Waders fed along the shoreline. Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Dunlin, Curlew and a cracking Grey Plover. From the super hide, we watched Dunlin and at least 5 Curlew Sandpiper were picked up in a quick scan. No sign of the reported Buff-breasted Sandpiper sadly.
To break up the journey back to Norwich, we stopped off at Sparham Pools. I have never visited before, but this seems like a decent spot with potential. A walk away from the car-park, to the road and bridge over the Wensum, and we were rewarded with a lovely male Grey Wagtail. 
Surlingham Church Marsh yesterday was quiet, save for a Common Buzzard and Kestrel. Teal numbers have tripled, and 6 Mistle Thrush were in the grazing fields viewed from the ruins. 

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Surlingham update and Cantley Waders

Waders galore

Common Darter

Sunrise over Surlingham Village

A flurry of recent visits to Surlingham have come about I believe due to the realisation that a return to work looms. An Autumnal twist has been noted on the reserve: Mixed tit flocks roving far and wide through the scrub, and 4 Snipe were feeding at the rear of the lagoon on the 31st oAugust. On the 1st of September, a flock of c.50 Lapwing were at Wood's End, and a Chinese Water Deer was feeding at the edge of the lagoon. These mammals do seem to be more visible at this time of year. 3 Cormorants were on the river, returning for the winter. Other bits and bobs included a coming together involving a Marsh Harrier and Sparrowhawk (no harm done) and a Heron carrying away a Grass Snake.
On the 2nd of September, I was a busy birder. I began at the patch, arriving on site at 5.30am. I was keen to see what wildfowl used the lagoon overnight. As I walked towards my target, at least 2 Bullfinch called persistantly, but I was unable to pick them out in the half-light. A Tawny Owl called, Cettis Warblers sang and the Geese began to wake up; it was a noisy start to the day! On the lagoon, I smashed my record count of Mallard on site- 106 were counted. 44 Egyptian Geese, 7 Canadian Geese, 2 Greylag Geese and smaller numbers of Teal and Gadwall were the other birds that had presumably roosted on the lagoon. I watched most of them leave as the light broke through the misty gloom. The real highlight was a Kingfisher, which flew right past me as I sat in the bus shelter hide.
In front of the 'proper' hide, the reeds have been cut and burned. 2 Moorhen foraged here, and this looks like a good spot for Water Rail and Snipe, particularly as the months pass into Winter.

After cracking a few last minute chores at home, I picked up James and set off for Strumpshaw. The reserve was quiet save for a Hobby perched nicely on a dead tree, but we had really come to search for the Reported Willow Emerald Damselfies. I am still a novice in this area, but despite employing the expert help of James, we were unsuccessful. We did however see Common Blue, Brown Hawker, Common Hawker, Ruddy and Common Darter and a couple of male Brimstone Butterflies.

We then popped to Cantley, meeting up with Ricky and bumping into fellow blogger David Norgate. We had crippling views of the Dunlin flock feeding within yards of us. A quick scan through revealed at least 10 Little Stint, 4 Curlew Sandpiper and a few Ringos. We hunted for the Pectoral Sandpiper in amongst the mudflats and endless supply of Ruff, but this bird was to prove too elusive. We did however manage the usual Green and Common Sandpipers, and picked up a smart Wood Sandpiper. Again, fantastic variety on offer and having visited a few times over the summer, I feel like I am really beginning to get to grips with Wader behaviour at a site like this.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Dare to dip

You will need to make this BIGGER.

I seem to keep dipping a lot of birds lately. The Happisburgh Greenish, The Cromer Greenish and Bonelli's......don't get me started regarding the Caspian Tern at Titchwell. Its not like I twitch regularly, you would have thought the birds could behave on the odd occasion I do travel. Credit though to those hardened souls at Cromer; standing in one place for a lengthy period is not my strong point.
Cantley Beet Factory has been brimming with quality the last couple of days, and after my telescope temporarily lost a leg yesterday (putting a stop to some proper scanning of the exposed mudflats) I returned today for a proper count up, scope rehabilitated.

Little Stint 1 Juv (see photo; you do well to spot him observer!)
Curlew Sandpiper 3 Juvs
Common Snipe c15
Green Sandpiper 9
Common Sandpiper 4
Dunlin 12
Greenshank 13
Ruff c14
Knot 1
Redshank 2
Ringed Plover 10+
Lapwing 250+
Yellow Wagtail 2

Yesterday, I had my first Wheatear of the Autumn, plus a female Marsh Harrier.
Cracking range of Waders to be had, and a real pleasure to come across the Little Stint, so smart in immature plumage. Initially I found a single Curlew Sand with the Dunlin flock, and it was a classic 'last scan before I leave' moment during which I latched onto the 3 birds together. As a chap said to me on site, "Keep still, and the birds will come to you". Sound advice!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Someone left the gate open......

....and cows left their mess, all over the joint. Added to that the RSPB lads doing some sterling work clearing scrub, I was not expecting too much in the way of birds.
A much needed patch tick arrived on the lagoon, a Common Sandpiper calling had presumably been feeding out of sight. After a few bobs and a typically low flight path across the lagoon, it was gone.
Also of interest was a group of Warblers flicking in and out of a bush, mainly Chiffchaff, but in amongst them was a Lesser Whitethroat. I do not have any evidence of breeding for this species on the site, so presumably this bird was feeding up and moving through. Other bits and bobs included a Jay, pair of Great--crested Grebe and a chick, and teal numbers building up (note- must count the ducks!).
I photographed this pair of Odonata 'in the moment'. Are they Common Darter? If not, why not?

Popped to Happisburgh this afternoon after a late report of a Greenish Warbler in pines behind the cricket pavilion. I clearly need to be quicker out of the blocks. A flyover Yellow Wagtail was welcome, but not exactly what I came for! I stopped at various patches of scrub and horse paddocks on the way out of the village, all the right habitat; no birds save for more Whitethroat, feeding up for the journey ahead.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Dune walking

washed out Small Copper

'Resting' Small Heath

Debs and I spent a couple of hours searching for Butterflies in the Dunes at Horsey today.
Our main target was Dark Green Fritillary, and we were lucky enough to have 2 individuals give us a fly past; these guys just would not settle! As I understand they are past their 'best' now, and I will return next year with hopefully some photos to share.
My good record with Wall Browns continued, 1/2 seen. Singles of Small Copper and Small Heath were well watched. The Small Heath was at first identified in flight; I later read that these butterflies never rest or feed with wings open. Lazy. 2 Holly Blues, 1 Small Tortoiseshell and plenty of both Large and Small Whites made up the rest of the Lepidoptera.
Ruddy Darter, Migrant Hawker and I believe a male Common Hawker gave us a right show, delaying the drink in the Nelson's Head.
Debs, it was her lucky day, saw 2 Common Lizards. One she claimed was significantly bigger than the other, perhaps a male? Or could it have been something else entirely, since it was but a fleeting view?
Apologies if you are reading for birds, the title of the blog could easily lead one to believe that the content of the writing should be avian-based. With that in mind, we watched a female Sparrowhawk materialise, cruise towards some Swallows, then thought better of it. Why can't I find a Wryneck? Yes, there was that one time on Fair Isle, but that is cheating, right?

There goes the fear

Osprey at Eyebrook

WW Black at Grafham

Essex Skipper at Happisburgh

Before heading off to the British Birdfair at Rutland Water, I headed to the east coast for a bit of bush shaking. Conditions looked good for some early migrants, Wryneck and RB Shrike my own personal targets for the morning. Perhaps I should have set my sights a little lower, since a good few Lesser Whitethroats were as good as it got on the avian front. I did enjoy some success with some Butterflies: 2 Wall Brown in dunes at Waxham, an Essex Skipper on the clifftops at Happisburgh and best of all, a new moth for me: The Drinker! This thing looks like an X-file, what a beast. Stupidly the camera was in the car at this point.
On route to 'The birdwatcher's Glastonbury' (Yeah, right. If that was the Glastonbury crowd, you can count me out in the future) Debs and I stopped off at Grafham Water. Here we enjoyed excellent views of Both Black and White-Winged Black Tern. A useful exercise in Tern ID with Common also fishing the reservoir. Debs watching Terns= happy for the weekend.
The fair itself was a good one this year, punctuated by some interesting lectures and a brief meet and chat with Jimmi from Doves! He is involved with a project known as 'Ghosts of Gone Birds', which highlights extinction past and present. Also involved is my friend and mentor from my Nottingham days, Dr. Rob Lambert. He nailed his specialist subject of 'The History of British Seabirds' during the celebrity wildlife brain of Britain, but went on to be frankly embarrassed by Mike Dilger (Oooooooonnnnneee) in the general knowledge round. Rob, if you are reading, I was mouthing the words 'Lulworth Skipper' to you.
Best lecture was given by Martin Garner and James Lees, who spoke about finding and documenting rarities. Just the boost I needed after my abject failure to find anything decent on the coast, but they did point strongly at the use of digiscoping in order to get records accepted, something I do not yet.
On the Sunday, we left early in order to do the circuit of Eyebrook Reservoir. I quickly picked up the hunched-over Cattle Egret that had kindly turned up over the weekend, and intervened when I noticed a group of birders happily watching a Little Egret and believing it to be Cattle. Think of it as community service, lads. We also enjoyed crippling views of an Osprey, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard. A Ruff was with the Lapwing flock, and distantly a probable Black Tern hawked over the water. Bullfinch called from scrub, and a Yellowhammer landed and called within feet. What a great set of birds, and for a brief blasphemous moment, I wished Eyebrook were my local patch. Surlingham- you know I don't mean it, and will appease with the finding of a Whinchat later this week. Or a Woodchat Shrike.

Monday, 15 August 2011


Mink are a bit of a guilty pleasure, like say Duran Duran. They are an invasive species (Mink, that is) and have been responsible for depleting native fish stocks, and have had a negative impact on Water Vole numbers. They should not be here. But, one could argue that is a very xenophobic attitude. Little Owls should not strictly be here, but I can't say I mind them. I had never seen a Mink in the wild until yesterday, and a part of me was pleased to see them. It goes without saying, that I will not articulate this pleasure when contacting the RSPB.
After a fruitless morning at Surlingham, Ricky and I went to Rockland Broad in the hope of an Osprey sighting. Walking the track that circumnavigates the broad, a crash in the reeds revealed the aforementioned Mink, one chasing another. Unaware of our presence, but unseen in the undergrowth by now, the pair engaged in some rather odd noises (courtship, play?) and then disappeared further into the thick vegetation.
The Broad itself held a few Great-crested Grebe, Tufted Duck and a resident Kingfisher. 2 Marsh Harrier drifted through, and both Common Buzzard and kestrel were seen behind the hide in the meadow. No Osprey, but going by recent form, there is a good chance of one or more hanging around the Rockland/Strumpshaw/Surlingham area until September. Now that would be a smashing bird for the patch list!
Debs and I went for a wander in the Broads that evening, and the sky was undoubtedly the best bit. Add in the sound of bugling Common Cranes, and you can only be in Norfolk.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Knee-deep in Waders

Dropped Debbie off at work this morning and went straight onto Breydon Water. I had my reservations about the tide, and was proven correct when on arrival it was apparent most of the Waders were hunkered up against the bank, awaiting the retreat of the high tide. Despite that, I settled in for an hour's watch in the worst hide in Britain (honestly, check it out, it looks and smells like a toilet in a dirty rock club). Wader counts right here:

c220 Avocet- all feeding- what a sight! Over 1000 were seen in 2009, in September.
Black-tailed Godwit 20+
Bar-tailed Godwit 50+ (many of both Godwit species roosting out of sight).
Curlew 20
Greenshank 1
Oystercatcher 4
Redshank- difficult to even estimate, mainly out of sight.
Also of note was one Little Egret and a Common Tern.

The tide showed about as much movement as the Waders, so with time on my hands I decided to take in Cantley too. I checked the northern-most pits first, only 3 Green Sandpiper here. Main action was in the scrub- Reed Warbler, Whitethroat and young birds of prey (Sparrowhawk?) called from woodland nearby.
Not to be beaten, I signed in at reception and tapped up the main pit.
Loads of birds.
My notes make for some good reading!

Ruff 20
Knot 4
Green Sandpiper 15- conservative estimate
Common Sandpiper 5
Wood Sandpiper 1
Greenshank 1
Common Snipe 2
Redshank 2
Dunlin 2 (one interesting juvenile actually had me taking notes; the all black bill and short projection amongst other things confirmed it was 'just' a juvenile Dunlin).
Yellow Wagtail 4
Marsh Harrier 2
Kestrel 1
Bearded Tit- many pinging birds unseen in reed bed.
Little Grebe 2

Rather happy with that lot! Really enjoyed sifting through the endless Green Sandpipers in search of that one Wood; I would guess there were more of each, but as I did the circuit I was in danger of counting some twice. Easily spooked, they make you work for it!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Surlingham and Buckenham stuff

I have to admit, visits to Surlingham have been a little uninspiring of late. Poor weather, very few birds, and a while since a new species. The westerlies are not really conducive to decent migration on this side of the country, and the strong breeze means Warblers are laying low.
On the 9th, kingfisher hunting the main lagoon was brief but pleasing, and the recent glut of sightings lead me to believe there must be a late brood somewhere close. Duck numbers are low, but Teal, Tufted, Shovelor, Mallard and Gadwall are presumably here to stay until the Spring. Both Coot and Moorhen have bred.
Today, a male Kestrel was observed in classic pose, on electricity wires. 3+ Bullfinch were heard, one seen, near the start of the trail. Maybe a family group. Teal numbers were up again, 5+ now. A pair of Blackcap were feeding on berries in scrub. A Pied Wagtail flew upriver.
After lunch and a chance to collect myself, I headed to Buckenham Marshes for further disappointment. No Raptors, no Waders (pools are dry) but plenty of feral geese. A look through the flocks revealed a single White-fronted, local celebrity the Red-breasted x Barnacle, 2 Canada x Greylag and larger numbers of Greylag and Canada. It started to rain, I neglected to count them.
Above are some moody/uplifting pictures from both venues.

Frampton Marsh RSPB and a little bit of Derbyshire

Frampton Marsh in Lincolnshire is one of my favourite 'big' reserves, so with time on my hands before a university reunion weekend in Derbyshire I stopped off here on the 5th of August and spent a good few hours on a bench, surveying some excellent birds.
Top of the pile was a Pectoral Sandpiper, presumably an adult (I couldn't make out any white tram lines on the back) and a bird I have not seen for some years; 2 well-watched birds at Minsmere around 7 years ago (before I made notes!). What struck me was the overall 'dumpy' impression; even upright, the bird appeared somewhat portly. This was in contrast to the elegant Wood Sandpiper, 2 of which fed much closer to the path and my bench. 2 Green Sandpiper, 1 Common Sandpiper, 3 Ruff, 2 LRP, 2 Ringo and plenty of Lapwing made up the rest of the wader fest. Juvenile and adult Yellow Wagtail were flying over, sometimes landing, all of the time. At least 7 Little Egret stalked the marsh, completing a memorable scene. My reason for remaining seated rather than doing the circuit was a certain Spotted Crake, which had been present for just under a week. Despite my efforts, the bird was not seen. Apparently it rocked up early the following morning, typically Crake-like I thought.
Whilst I was not really in Derbyshire to bird, I did manage to get away from the cottage for a bit to visit Wyver Lane DWT north of Belper. Not much was seen here other than plenty of Hirundines and Lapwing, but the water levels look good for a Wader soon. Great little reserve; have a look here for an up-to-date look at what is about. Patch birding rules!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Extended update part 3- Other bits and bobs

Debs being arty at Strumpy
Holly Blue

Only by listening to Black Mountain have I made it this far- the third and final update, for now.

On the 29th of July, James and I made an early start in The Broads. Fairly unproductive, although a few juvenile Bearded Tits were welcome (only the second sighting for me this year, the first being pinging birds at Breydon). Feeling like not a lot was doing, we signed in at Cantley Beet Factory for a Wader watch. 2 Wood Sandpipers were undoubtedly birds of the day, and allowing for comparison were 5+ each of Common and Green Sandpiper. Still no sign of the rumoured flock of 45 Green Sand, so I will be back again before long. Other Waders included 1/2 Ruff, Dunlin and 3+ Lapwing. It was difficult to not flush the birds feeding around the edge of the pit, so will hidden were they. My counts above are conservative; infact, it seemed like Green Sands in particular were dropping in regularly, perhaps having fed in the nearby dykes of grazing meadows and marsh.

Summer returned yesterday, so Debs and I spent the evening at Strumpshaw. A nice range considering the time of year, including Common Tern, Little Egret, Green Sandpiper (heard only), Stock Dove, Jay, Marsh Tit and the usual Marsh Harriers. A Holly Blue posed nicely, and we watched a pair of Common Hawkers near the small pond.

Extended update part 2- Mothing.

Chinese Character
Swallow Prominent and Peppered
Elephant and Poplar Hawks

Two nights of trapping in a rural garden in Suffolk provided me with new species, ID conondrums and a reason to get up early in the first week of the holidays. I appear to have mislaid my complete lists, so below is a highlights reel, in no order whatsoever:

Dusky Sallow
Poplar Hawk Moth
Elephant Hawkmoth
Swallow Prominent
Brimstone Moth
Dark Arches
Broad-Bordered Yellow Underwing
Orange Moth
Chinese Character
Ruby Tiger
Pale Prominent
Peppered Moth

Not bad!
One in particular threw me, and typically this was the one image that was unfocussed. Can anyone ID the blurry moth with the purple sheen above, top photo?

Extended update part 1- Patch notes

Due to the absence of a computer and the usual self-indulgences I enjoy during the first week of the holidays, an update of my movements has been hard to come by. I am now back online and de-toxing before a weekend in Derbyshire. Here are my recent notes for Surlingham Church Marsh.

On the 25th, 2 broods of Reed Warbler were located. A single Tufted Duck was on the lagoon, no sign of those youngsters. Geese numbers had increased over the river; c50 Egyptian and the Greylag flock now well over 100. Mingling with 5 Canada Geese was an odd looking job, a small mainly black goose, pale cheeks with red fringes. I had it down as a Red-breasted x with either Canada or Barnacle. Later that day, I realised I had seen this bird before, but not in the flesh. Barnacle x Red-breasted it is then.
The 29th was very quiet, duck numbers even lower and Warblers hard to come by. A Kingfisher heading upriver was a welcome sight.
Today, presumably the same Kingfisher whizzed past as I meandered alongside the river. Juveniles of both Chiffchaff and Willow were seen and heard respectively. A female Kestrel and Magpie had let the heat get to them, engaging in an aerial duel. 2 Lapwing were on Wood's End marshes, a Little Egret Flew over and one of the two Little Owls was in the dead tree. The warmth meant plenty of Butterflies were on the wing, as were some Dragonflies. I am still learning with these guys, but I believe the picture shows a splendid looking Migrant Hawker. Please comment if incorrect! Also watched a pair of Brown Hawkers near the Gun Club. A bugger to photo, they just would not settle!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Surlingham and Cantley

Earlier in the week, Thursday, I visited Surlingham Church Marsh and was lucky enough to equal my site record count for Green Sandpipers- 3 individuals. I noted that one of the three did not have a clear cut border between breast streaking and white underparts; infact, a white streak went straight up to the throat. My excellent 'Shorebirds of the Northern Hemisphere' by R.Chandler informs me that this is usual on juvenile birds. More ammo for the future article in The Norfolk Bird Report!
Today, no Waders and not too much else. Standard fair for the time of year I suppose. 2 broods of Reed Warblers were briefly watched, as was a female Blackcap. A Sedge Warbler was showing well in a Buddleia bush, picking away at the unsuspecting insects. One juvenile Shelduck remains on the lagoon.
The first Gatekeepers of the year were out, along with plenty of Small Whites, Comma and Red Admiral. I also saw the moth pictured below; I do not recognise it, so I assume it might be a day-flying micro. Could someone ID please?
Cantley Sugar Beet factory was a new site for me, and there have been some decent Wader counts from there of late. Recent rarities include Baird's and Marsh Sandpiper. I had a feeling the rain would mean I had missed the best of the birds and I was proven right. Muddy edges that might have been there were not exposed. Juvenile Shelduck and Shovelor did not mind. The highlight were 2 Common Sandpipers, flying low over the large pit, calling.
Access here is straightforward. If you are without a car, then you can follow the public footpath that follows the river, leading down to the pits. I would assume if you require access to the dirt tracks that circumnavigate the pits, you would need a pass. Presumably most don't bother, since the signing in book in reception had not been used since early in the month, and Wader counts have been coming out of Cantley as recent as earlier this week. If you have a car, pull up at reception and sign in, picking up your security pass. Staff friendly and helpful. A site worth visiting- as long as the water levels are just right!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Godwit and a lesson in Wader ID

Two visits to Surlingham this weekend, a rather smart Black-tailed Godwit present both today and yesterday is new for the patch list. Also of note yesterday was a single Green Sandpiper, which I initially mistook for a Wood Sand! It was a rather smart looking bird, and at first looked quite delicate and dainty, just as a Wood should. Despite seeing plenty of Greens on the patch this last year, I am seeing them in all of their guises, and having poured over my Shorebirds book I can see how I made the mistake, and a lesson learnt! If I wasn't regularly watching a patch, I would not have had the opportunity to make such a balls up, and then correct myself!
The 2 Little Owls were showing well today, and nearby Ricky picked up a pair of Treecreeper- the third territory on the patch. 2 Green Woodpecker on the tree belonging to the Owls were probably youngsters, and 2 Marsh Harrier passed through. A total of 9 Lapwing were seen: 5 at Wood's End, 2 on the lagoon and one with a chick on the hill by the ruins. Great Tit broods were further evidence of breeding activity, and a Great Crested Grebe on the river had a single youngster.
In line with local sightings, there does appear to have been an emergance of Red Admirals, and I would suggest to a smaller extent Commas also. Speckled Wood being seen regularly on the reserve now, along with Ringlet and Meadow Brown. No sign of the Purple Hairstreaks this weekend, and no Gatekeepers as yet.
Picking up both Blackwit and Green Sand yesterday was a patch highlight for me, and although I like to think I 'watch' Surlingham regularly, I only really scratch the surface over the course of an average week. If I can come across goodies like the aforementioned by putting in 4 hours a week (approx), what else am I missing?! With the summer holidays fast approaching, I intend to maximise my time here for a short period and see just what I can turn up.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

In the firing line?

What was looking like a quiet evening on the patch picked up considerably as I made my way round the circular trail by now so familiar.
A Chiffchaff was the lone songster by the river, and Swallows were a welcome site over at Wood's End. The lagoon was quiet, the resident wildfowl loafing on the low level of water. The Shelduck family are still hosting their Egyptian Goose shadow, and the female Tufted Duck has managed to hold onto 6 young. 3 other pairs of Tuftie were present, new arrivals. 3 Lapwing were on or around the lagoon and a single chick is hanging on!
A noisy Kingfisher on the reserve was always going to get the pulse rate going, not only because its a Kingfisher (!) but because they have been a difficult bird to come by on the patch. The noise was coming from the firing range, and although only brief flight views were obtained the bird may have a nest on the steep muddy bank usually used for target practise. Not the safest place to raise a family, if indeed that is the case. It may be a young bird exploring territory, but the brief views and calls said adult to me.
More noise from the pinewoods, this time young Sparrowhawks, and a male carrying food confirmed my thoughts. Waiting for him to reappear, I scanned the trees at the foot of the ruins. A dash of silver in the canopy and I was onto a colony of skittish Purple Hairstreak Butterflies! The odd good view of a male at rest, what a pretty insect. Does give one neck ache, though.

Monday, 4 July 2011

A (mainly) Insect based update

Set the Moth trap at the folks' on Friday night in ideal conditions. We were not disappointed, a great haul including both Privet and Poplar Hawk, Peppered, Scalloped Oak, Dot and Common Footman amongst others. Some of the duller, more worn individuals have proven tricky to ID, so the pictures have been emailed to my Moth expert. A full list to follow!

Surlingham Saturday evening was glorious as usual, although bird life was restricted to a reeling Grasshopper Warbler and soaring Sparrowhawk. I will hold back from saying the Lapwing chicks have all been predated until I can visit again. Debs and I managed a good Butterfly list:

Large White

Small White

Green-veined White

Red Admiral


Large Skipper


Common Blue

Meadow Brown.

Also, can anyone ID this snail?? I believe Surlingham is known for its invertebrates, and one snail in particular. Maybe this is the critter?

Sunday afternoon looked promising for more Butterflies, so we again grabbed the camera and headed out, first visiting little known Booton Common NWT. Again, Ringlets galore here, plenty of Meadow Browns and the odd Large Skipper. A singing Chiffchaff was one of few birds seen or heard.

My Butterfly list is small, but with so many good areas of habo in Norfolk I hope it will be positively swelling by September. Buxton Heath holds a small colony of the rare Silver-Studded Blue, and Deb's pictures below will tell you all you need to know.

Bullfinch calling here also, and a Siskin flew overhead. Yellowhammer numbers seem good here, and the site looks ideal for Tree Pipit and Woodlark.

Still becoming better aquainted with the finer points of Dragonfly ID, although I am fairly confident that we had a pair of Broad-bodied Chaser investigating a large puddle.