Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Hobby cruises in

Sometimes, things just fall into place. Doing the circuit around Surlingham Church Marsh this morning, I had been thinking about seeing a Hobby. A harbinger of Summer, a true athlete in the birding world. On cue, he appeared, zooming low across the reedbed announcing himself with a gust of wind. Lovely stuff! This was a bird I saw regularly last year, late summer, so hopefully this year I will be lucky enough to see juveniles fledge here or nearby.
Another year tick came in the form of a Yellowhammer, on the other side of the river at Wood's End. I expect there are more birds around on the farmland but I have been a little lazy and neglected this part of the reserve. Furthermore, no sign of the Little Owl again, prompting me to conduct a thorough search of the field and surrounding trees soon.
The Lapwing chick bravely survives, and the other female remains sat tight. A single Shelduck was on the lagoon. A Little Egret flew over, and maybe a different individual did the same around an hour later. 2 male Marsh Harriers were calling/shouting at each other high above the reedbed, and the 'intruder' elected to move on after a brief scuffle. Surlingham regaining its status as a raptor hotspot then.
Also of note, 4/5 Mistle Thrushes were in the sheep field next to Church Lane.
A Buzzard was seen over woods between Rockland and Surlingham.

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Swallowtails at Strumpshaw

And you can make them bigger, too. Click on the above for Broads glory shots.

For those that don't know where to look, park up at Strumpshaw Fen and walk back on yourself to the house and footpath. Follow this footpath for 5 minutes or so, and the owners of the next house you will encounter kindly allow Butterfly watchers to walk up the border where the above crackers often feed. Sure enough, we watched one individual very closely here. Another was seen on the reserve itself, not far over the railway track, and a final Swallowtail was seen back along the aforementioned footpath. One would have been fine, felt priviliged and lucky to see three!

Had a quick look round parts of the reserve, and the breeding season is now in full swing here. Amorous Marsh Harriers over the reedbed, Ducklings on the ponds, baby Tits and Warblers in the bushes and reeds and a grunting Water Rail was within touching distance but not seen.

We saw plenty of other Butterflies too: Orange Tip, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Brimstone, Large White and Brown Argus.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Overdue update- worth the wait!

I almost felt like a half decent birder as I trudged down the track adjacent to the river at Surlingham Church Marsh this evening. A bunch of chip-chip calls overhead, and looking up I knew exactly what I was going to see- Crossbills! I raced back up the track, and viewed across the meadow and located the birds sat atop a pine tree looking like classic Crossbills. They didn't hang around, but what a bird for the patch, elated!
The rest of the reserve was pretty lively tonight; along with the usual warblers and Reed Buntings a Lapwing chick was 'new in'. Rather worryingly it was moreorless left to its own devices, the mother remained sat tight. Perhaps another egg yet to hatch? However, as soon as a Grey Heron drifted across the lagoon, birds from both pairs launched themselves bravely at the Heron. One of many skirmishes I expect. A Water Rail was the first squealer for some time.
Near the gun club, a Treecreeper gave a couple of bursts of its unobtrusive song, and a Little Egret flew east. At least 4 Blue/Great Tit nests counted, need to do a proper survey next week.
I also saw 2 foxes tonight. One was on the other side of the river, presumably the same individual I have seen here in the past. However, at the ruins a different male almost trotted right up to me, checked me out, and plodded away in no great rush. Probably my best ever views of a Fox, and a close encounter I am still buzzing from!
Still no Hobby, Turtle Dove or Spotted Flycatcher yet; still time, I keep telling myself.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Weekend round-up: Did I see it?

Yes, if you are thinking of the Lesser Yellowlegs at Cley. And a lovely looking bird it was too, made all the more sweet considering this has been a bit of a bogey bird for me; dipped 3 times when living in Suffolk. And waders, I can watch all day.

O.K, Great Snipe- arrived in the hide at 6.15am, it was packed! The door guardian ushered me behind him and to the right, where I waited for around an hour until people started filtering out. No sign, and when I heard some people had been present since half 4 (maybe some even stayed in the hide through the night?) I felt a little lucky in a strange way. Leaving the hide, I quickly picked up the Yellowlegs on a pool along with 2 Wood Sandpiper, Dunlin and a Little-ringed Plover. I thought the Dunlin looked rather smart, even at a distance, and today I noticed RBA are reporting a possible American Dunlin. Interesting. I have since had a gander at my shorebirds book, which suggests Pacifica and Hudsonia have slightly longer bills, bright chestnut scapulars and a large belly patch. A little annoyed with myself that I didn't take any notes about this bird I saw on Saturday morning, but truth be told I was knackered, and an American Calidris was not really on my radar. I need to be a better birder.

Surlingham Sunday morning was a nice stroll as usual, and whilst no new species were added to the reserve list I did observe Blackcap, Blue and Great Tit carrying food. In fact, I even got a shot of a Blue Tit at the nest; a hole in the ruins.

There seem to be 2 Lapwing nests, although one parent was worryingly casual about the business of looking after the eggs, if indeed there are any.

Oh, the Snipe is still about at Cley, if anyone has a spare few days.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

If you're looking for rare, look on.

The magnificent Citrine Wagtail aside, I haven't seen many 'rare' birds of late. I am partly to blame, since both the recent Collared Flycatcher and Great Snipe were just about gettable from my place in Norwich, but I refrained from making the journey on both occassions. It was late, my football team were playing, I had just opened a beer, I really should find my own and what if I miss it were my main excuses/thoughts. However, the Snipe lekking is a mindblower, and as I type a Lesser Yellowlegs has also made landfall at Cley. Could be worth a trip over the weekend, a rare foray to the north coast from this birder increasingly comfortable in The Broads.
Surlingham Church Marsh allowed for some classic British birding yesterday evening. The usual Reed and Sedge Warblers were in full voice and active across the reedbeds. 2 Lapwing are now nesting, significant for the Yare Valley. A male Sparrowhawk materialised, as they tend to do, and drifted over the reedbed. A Kingfisher was again on the river, and a Fox showed well in amongst the long grass. Another birder put me onto a resting Treecreeper, and also said that a pair of Kingfisher have been using one of the dykes and are presumably nesting somewhere nearby. Talk of Otters using the reserve is great, but I never see them!
No new birds for the reserve or year list this evening but nonetheless a Spring evening worth blogging about.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Surlingham, Storks, score!

Up early today, driving towards Surlingham watching the sun rise, and one cannot help but feel you have got the edge over everyone else. I don't do enough really early mornings, but a walk organised by the South Yare Wildlife Group around my patch was a good reason to be up and about just after 4. The walk was led by Ben of Strumpshaw fame. Bird of the morning was a Kingfisher which flashed past heading downriver, new for the year and a bird I don't often see at Surlingham Church Marsh. A couple of Swifts high and distant were also new, and other highlights included the usual Warblers including 4 Grasshopper and a new Garden. A Little Egret was a decent record, and 2 pairs of Lapwing were on the lagoon. No waders today, a little disappointing in truth. The walk concluded with an excellent cooked breakfast at the Ferry House, the group seemingly pleased with the morning's events.
After bashing out a few reports, I decided to investigate Hardley Flood over a trip to the coast. 3 Avocet were the best birds here, also present were plenty of Shelduck, Swallows, Martins and a Great-spotted Woodpecker. A decent site I will certainly be revisiting.
Since I was moreorless in the neighbourhood, I popped over to Aldeby hoping for a look at the White Stork. There are apparently free-flying birds at Thrigby, but this individual is unringed and has arrived in good conditions for migration. Sure enough, on rounding the corner there was the bird, wading in shallow water and showing well, which Storks tend to do. A couple of Wigeon were rather late, and the other birder at the site had also seen a Pintail and Grey Plover. The small patch of water is described on the bird information services as a 'shooting pool', so I am not sure about the creedence of the ducks but nonetheless another good spot worth coming back to. Oh, and a British tick in the bag.
Arrived home in time to see Hernandez put Chelsea to the sword. Get in!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Evening update from the patch

After the glut of new birds at Surlingham recently, I was perhaps a little greedy in hoping for another tonight. Although no new birds were counted, Hobby cannot be far away from appearing. With the water level on the lagoon still low, I am hopeful for a wader or two Sunday morning.
The Greenshank was still present on the lagoon, happy to wade up to its breast in the water to the left of the hide. The Lapwing was sitting tight, and an Oystercatcher called overhead. I notcied that the only duck species present were Gadwall and Mallard; perhaps that will be that until failed breeders return. The usual warblers were vocal, in one spot a Sedge and Reed Warbler were sharing the same square foot of reedbed it seemed.

A final highlight was a Great-spotted Woodpecker, a bird I have seen on and off but not for some time. The male pictured below was 'chip' calling and drumming on the edge of the scrub and woodland near the church. Other birds of note on and around the reserve included Mistle Thrush, calling Cuckoo and the first Egyptian Goose chick.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Estonia Trip Report, April 2011

Estonia April 12th-19th 2011, Jim Bradley. ice_bear1@hotmail.com

Ice at the ferry crossing

Exploring the ancient forest

Red-breasted Goose at Audru

Pick the bones out of that!

Great-grey Shrike near Spithami.


Estonia is a place of real wilderness, yet easy to explore with the possibility of some cracking birds. Recent literature from both Gerard Gorman and Dave Gosney means that there is now plenty of useful information on birding Estonia, yet this country remains relatively unknown compared to other eastern European states such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Steller’s Eider, Owls and Woodpeckers in early Spring, Citrine Wagtail, Great Snipe, Great Spotted Eagle, Black Stork and Greenish Warbler in May and beyond are just some of the birds you may encounter.

We used Estonian Nature Tours http://www.naturetours.ee/ to help plan and guide our trip. We are a young couple, so did not fancy being part of a tour bus scenario, and were keen to do most of the birding ourselves. We used a guide for one and a half days courtesy of the above company, who in turn arranged a hire car and our accommodation. In hindsight, we could probably have made arrangements independently, but this gave us piece of mind and both guides were very good. Estonian Nature Tours were excellent when it came to planning the trip and organising potential places to stay and birding sites to visit.

Books and DVDs:

'Birding in Eastern Europe' Gerard Gorman

'Finding Birds in Estonia' Dave Gosney. This is a book and DVD pack, both of which are excellent and highly recommended. We used this guide every day without fail.



Easyjet fly from Stansted to Tallin, and we booked our tickets January 2011 for around £120 for the pair.

Car Hire.

Estonian Nature Tours organised a Honda Jazz for us at 215 Euros for 6 days. Main roads are tarred and usually free of traffic. Minor roads are what we in the UK would class as a dirt track and need to be driven with some caution. Small settlements and cities are well signposted, and the maximum drive time between large cities was around 2 hours; Estonia is a small country and easy to navigate. However, driving in Tallin is another matter. Signposting is sudden and lanes open and close without one realising.

Petrol is around half the price of what we pay in the U.K (£1.35/LITRE) and stations are common, as are ATM’s. Some stations are self service where you pop in your card before starting, and some are pay at the counter.

We bought a michelin road map from ebay before the trip for around a fiver, and this turned out to be a shrewd purchase in hindsight.

Guided Birding.

Looking back, I am glad we had paid for the guides but that is not to say you have to use a guide to bird in Estonia. We used one guide on the island of Saaremaa from 15.00 to 22.00 in order to secure Steller’s Eider and hopefully some Owls. We used another near Tartu from 06.00 to 18.00 for the forest brding, chiefly in search of woodpeckers. Their local knowledge and expertise was a real help and we enjoyed their company.

Food and Drink.

It would be difficult to be a vegetarian in Estonia. We ate plenty of meat here, even for Breakfast! The various places we stayed at provided a substantial breakfast, often enough to see us through until dinner. This consisted of porridge, cold cuts, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, eggs, bacon, bread and juice. Main meals we ate included pork and beef dishes, chicken and fish. Nothing out of the ordinary as far as we were concerned, and we were well looked after. We both agreed we never ate a bad meal, and some were very good. They like their soup, too. Food was between a third and a half cheaper than what we are used to in the UK, depending on where we ate.

Detailed Itinaray .

Day one- arrival and journey to Roosta Holiday village, near Spithami.

After navigating our way out of Tallin, the roads to our destination on the west coast were fairly good and we were able to stop at a few locations for birds. One route, we saw White Stork, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Black Woodpecker and Common Crane- this all from the car.
At Dirhami, a small fishing port, the bay held large numbers of both Long-tailed Duck and Red-breasted Merganser. Suprisingly no Divers were seen, but a supporting cast of 50+ Goldeneye, singing Woodlark and White Wagtail made up for their absence. I can safely say I have never seen so many LT Duck in one place!

Spithami, futher north, is supposedly a good sea watching point. By the time we had arrived, mist had turned to fog and little could be seen. A few migrants were on the spit, including Wheatear, Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare and Redwing.

The road (track) from Spithami to the main road held some goodies though; 6+ Common Buzzard were circling, and in amongst the group were 2 Rough-legged Buzzard. We stopped awhile to watch this magnificent spectacle, and it was a good job we did for a Great Grey Shrike made itself known to us, landing on wires.

At Roosta Village itself, we were ideally placed for an evening walk along the beach. Cranes were heard, Woodlark again singing and Goldeneye were at sea. 3 Heron flew past as the sun set, and walking back to our cabin a flock of Bean Geese announced themselves overhead.

Great start, great spot!

Day 2 Roosta- Saareemaa.

We had to meet our first guide at our hotel, west of Kurressaare, at 15:00. We opted to head straight for our hotel, have a sleep, then head out. This meant missing out on Matsalu Bay and Sutlepa Meri, but the former would be visited the following day when time allowed.

Similar birds seen from the car including Hooded Crow, White Stork, Fieldfare and Redwing.

The ferry at Virtsu was a straightforward affair, we arrived around half an hour before departure, queued for a short time, drove on and headed to the top deck.
The ferry journey takes around 30 minutes, and was easily one of the best experiences of the trip. Much of the bay was still iced over, but the patches of water that were clear (around the midway point of the journey) held 100's of both Long-tailed Duck and Greater Scaup. There seemed to be a greater variety of birds on the return leg, including Common Scoter, Smew and Common Eider.

Our guide Veljo met us at the Saaremaa Hotel and we took our car out to the coast. Sorve is a usual hotspot for Steller's Eider, but Veljo directed us to Undva instead. Here we enjoyed good views of c.220 Steller's Eider. It almost goes without saying, but, what a bird! A White-tailed Eagle was calling distantly, and grounded migrants on the beach included Brambling, Meadow Pipit and Yellowhammer.

The rest of the afternoon and evening were spent in the area searching likely looking spots. We came across a flooded field which held c40 Common Crane (an unusually large flock for the time of year, commented Veljo) Barnacle, White-fronted, Taiga Bean and Greylag Goose, drumming Snipe, Whooper Swan, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Pintail and more Buzzard. Classic Estonia. A Black Woodpecker flew in front of the car.

As darkness fell, we tried playback to entice a Pygmy Owl closer. We did hear calling, but no views. Veljo was desperate for us to see something, so we trekked deeper into the forest for Tengmalms. Again no luck, but we did see a couple of roding Woodcock.

We thanked Veljo, who had been not only a great guide but great company, and hit the sack for the night.

Day 3- Saaremaa to Parnu.

Before heading south we stopped at Matsalu Bay and Keemu bird tower on the south side. This was a great spot and we regretted not having time for the northern shore. We saw 2 White-tailed Sea Eagle on the ice, 100's of Whooper Swan, Great-crested Grebe, Wigeon, Barnacle and Taiga Bean Geese. A Herony was a nice sight soon after leaving the tower at Keemu. More classic Estonian birding near Lihula. A flooded field held 4 species of Goose, Whooper Swan and Crane. We pulled up and took a few photos.

Tuhu Soo, mentioned in Dave Gosney's guide, would no doubt be a great site but was totally flooded when we visited due to the snow melting.

Before Parnu, we stopped on the coast near Audru. Amongst the 1000's of White-fronted and Barnacle Geese, we found the bird of the trip- a Red-breasted Goose! We even obtained a few pictures. The hedges and scrub here held Mealy Redpoll, Siskin, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Thrushes. No sign of any Penduline Tit, which can apparently be found here. Maybe we were a little early for breeding activity.

Day 4 Nigula and surrounds.

Headed to 'Gosney's Magic corner' first thing. The snow meant some tracks were inacessible, but we did manage a Hazel Hen, flushed from the path we were walking down. A Grey-headed Woodpecker responded to playback and gave good views. Curlew called and Snipe drummed.

Near Massiauru, were came across our second Great Grey Shrike of the trip, 2 Wood Sandpiper, Wheatear and 2 White Stork's nest.

Nigula Bog itself was a little disappointing. The main boardwalk was covered in snow and the water frozen over. The (by now) usual species were seen, and of note was a calling Middle-spotted Woodpecker heard near the reserve centre.

Day 5 Parnu- Trofee Lodge.

First and only wet day of the trip. Little birding done but we did hear our first Ravens of the trip. Even more pools opening up by the side of the road holding swans and geese.

Trofee lodge was probably our favourite place to stay, although if you have any issues with hunting it might not be the best place for you!

Day 6- Birding around Tartu.

A slow start caused by mist and cold temperatures. Despite the excellent local knowledge of our guide Ivar, we only managed to hear Black and Three-toed Woodpecker at a flooded riverside site near Puurmani. 35 Mealy Redpoll and a Common Sandpiper were the only other birds of note here.

The sun was slow in appearing, perhaps putting pay to any early morning woodpecker activity. Instead, we happened across a Ural Owl on a nest near Laeva. A welcome bird before lunch. We did stop at the Great Snipe lek site at Karevare, but were a little early in the season. No Snipe were seen, but we did see a pair of Common Sandpiper.

The afternoon was some of the best birding we had here, mainly thanks to Ivar. We stopped at a forest track between Laaniste and Joepara, near the river Peravalla. By now the day was much brighter. We had 2 Wood Sandpiper on territory and Ivar spotted a Lynx footprint in the snow. Then, jackpot. White-backed and Three-toed Woodpecker seen well, the former observed at the nest. Just as we clocked the Three-toed, a Tengmalm's Owl began calling from deeper in the forest; this was 16:25!! Pairs of both Firecrest and Northern Treecreeper then put on a show, and Ivar saw a Nutcracker nearby. Northern Bullfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Goldcrest were other birds of note. What a wealth of species! We were all thrilled, and felt rewarded after many hours walking and searching.

Day 7- Back to Tallin.

The drive back produced the expected Geese, White Storks, Swans, Buzzards and a single White-tailed Sea Eagle.

Tallin is a fantastic city and well worth leaving some time to explore here. We ambled round the cobbled side streets, drank beer and wine, and reminisced on an awesome week in the Estonian wilderness.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Happisburgh, Eccles, Sea Palling 02/05/11

On a high after the success at the patch this morning, I headed to the coast genuinely believing my luck was in. If you call a Wheatear lucky, then it was. Always nice to see of course, but I had rather hoped for me. It was at the Decca site, Happisburgh. It arrived and perched nicely for around half a minute, then off it flew. Seems a lot of birds are probably doing just that at the moment. Plenty of Swallows around, but not much else. And to think I checked so much good habo! Will the wind drop? Will Norwich get promoted tonight? Does anyone care?
In other news, the death of Osama Bin Laden was totally overshadowed by 2 Whimbrel and a Greenshank at Surlingham Church Marsh (see previous post, reader/s. Adding the s perhaps optimistic there).

The wind remains but plenty of patch ticks!

Cracking morning, glad I made the effort to get up and about earlier than usual.
A pair of Oystercatcher over at Wood's End gave some hope that waders may be on the move, and on arriving at the lagoon I struck lucky. A Greenshank was feeding just to the left of the bus shelter hide, a comical scene as it dipped its upturned bill into the mud, surrounded by the brood of Mallard ducklings! A second patch tick soon followed, as a Whimbrel called and flew overhead, north. Another one soon followed. Could have sat there all day, but no food and a trip to the coast this afternoon meant that was just not possible.
Decent goings on in the scrub too, a Garden Warbler was new in and sang from the same bush as a Blackcap, allowing close scrutiny of these two variable songsters. Suprisingly good views were obtained.
Passing the Ferry House, Reed, Grasshopper and Sedge Warbler were singing and 2 House Martin were over the village. Convinced I had heard the rattle of a Lesser Whitethroat near the gun club, I waited patiently and eventually the bird in question gave brief views- another tick! A Skylark singing from the field to the South-East was also a new bird, but I couldn't find this one to admire.
A report from the hide of 6 Greenshank and a single Black-tailed Godwit from yesterday did make me a tad jealous I'll admit, but still what a morning.
Next sunday at 5.30am, the South Yare Wildlife Group are doing a walk around the reserve and then breakfast at the Ferry House. Sounds good! I was unaware such a group existed, so all being well I will go along and report back. Remember, you heard it here first.