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End of year musings and a look ahead to a bigger patch.

January and February proved a great start to the year, both down at the patch and further afield. Lesser Redpoll was finally nailed down at Surlingham, and a male Ringtail Hen Harrier should really have been the highlight of February, had it not been for the brief appearance of a Northern Bullfinch. Despite what I thought was a decent description, the Norfolk Records Committee declined to accept the record. Nonetheless, an exciting and educational bird for the patch. In The Broads, Cranes and Short-eared Owls duly obliged on numerous occasions  In keeping with the aforementioned Redpoll theme, a Coue's Arctic Redpoll was a British life bird for me at Kelling. February ended with another British lifer, a Red-breasted Goose at Felixstowe.
March heralded the return (?) of the Northern Bullfinch, although I was later alerted to similar-sounding female Eurasian birds so nailing a departure date is difficult. Elsewhere, I took in the American Wigeon at Marlingford. A second Hen Harrier …

Waxwings, Otters, and Scum.

Having missed out on some Waxwing in Surlingham, it was law of sod that Debs and I should bump into a group of 7 at Buckenham station on the 27th! Some pictures of these characterful critters below. On the marshes, the Taiga Beans were present but a little distant, so we drove round to Cantley where we enjoyed  a closer look of the Beans and White-fronts together.
That evening, I elected to take in Strumpshaw and the evening commute. Here I had smashing views of 2 Otter: one on the river and one from reception hide. Whilst watching the river-crossing Otter, the Harrier roost was building up over at Wheatfen, some birds heading across to Strumpshaw but others staying put. Amongst the 10+ Marsh Harrier was a Ringtail Hen Harrier. 3 Bearded Tit pinged as they moved through, and a Tawny Owl began to hoot. Last to go over, other than the usual Corvids, were 2 Grey Heron.

Today, I met with Ricky nice and early at Buckenham. The wind whipped into us across the open spaces, of which Buckenham…

Woodcock- new to Surlingham

After an evening of both superb food and company, I was ready to blow out the cobwebs at the patch. Bird of the morning presented itself as I left the car behind, a Woodcock blazing a trail from the churchyard into the small pine plantation. Unsurprisingly, I was unable to relocate it. When a Woodcock arrives like that, landing gear out, it almost appears as if someone has flung the bird towards its destination. What a buzz. My dad once told me of an old tradition: if a chap shot 2 Woodcock with a left and a right, and someone was there as a witness, the 'winner' gained a year's subscription to The Shooting Times and a bottle of Grouse. I would hope this has been phased out! Woodcock is my 110th bird recorded at Surlingham Church Marsh.

Continuing round the river bend, I picked out 3 Redpoll in flight. One landed, a very pale individual (never straight forward) and I was able to observe feeding and plumage from various angles. The think dark band on the undertail coverts g…

Taking up the challenge

Having decided to join in with the Patchwork Challenge fun, the boundaries of my patch have been allowed a little breathing space. Whilst I shall maintain my Surlingham Church Marsh year/life list, the other areas south of the Yare that I tend to potter around in such as Rockland, Wheatfen and Claxton will surely add some variety to my final Patchwork year list. In anticipation, I headed to Wheatfen after a quiet walk around Church Marsh early doors. Although in keeping with the lack of birds at Church Marsh earlier (a juvenile Marsh Harrier and Mistle Thrush in the churchyard the pick of the bunch) I did happen upon a mixed Thrush and Finch flock in a grazing field north of The Covey. c100 Redwing and Fieldfare were feeding on the ground along with c50 Chaffinch. I could not pick out a Brambling amongst them, instead finding a few Goldfinch. Behind me was a feeding station in a small front garden which the common Tits were enjoying. I made a note to keep an eye on this area as Winter…

Notes from the patch

Not a great deal to blog about dear reader, but at the moment it is the comings and goings I am revelling in.

For real quality, look no further than our Common Cranes. Debs and I were treated to 3, then more distantly 16, of the broadland birds a couple of weeks back. Surprisingly, these were the first Cranes she had seen in Norfolk (but reminded me of the Estonian birds that seemed a lot more friendly). Perhaps the Estonian birds are more approachable. Despite their wariness,  I do worry for our small population here in Norfolk. It will be interesting to see how many roost this Winter; will we see a flock of 40?
Also in the broads, we had a Short-eared Owl in near darkness on the way home.
I have not yet pinned one of these down on or at least closer to the patch. I have been staking out Langley Marshes for the last 3 weekends, but so far have only had the resident Barn Owls. I did catch a glimpse of a Tawny on the drive home, not an easy bird to see despite their widespread distribu…

The Patch gets a look in after all

After a frenetic Saturday's birding, I felt justifiably guilty having not been to Surlingham for over 2 weeks. I therefore made an early start on Sunday and began at Langley, the sun still low in the sky making for a beautiful morning.
Plenty of Geese over the river at Buckenham, some of these possibly the reported returning White-fronts and Beans. Underneath a gathering of Cormorants was a male Peregrine, perched and ready. There seemed to be plenty of birds about today and I was picking up Bullfinch, Pied Wagtail and Green Sandpiper overhead.
Onto Surlingham, and although the lagoon now appears devoid of quality for the Winter (the Teal are looking smart, though) the rest of the reserve is really showing its colours. The churchyard was an epicentre of activity, with a roving Tit flock that comprised at least 5 Goldcrest (no fire, yet) Marsh, Coal and Long-tailed Tit. Still by the church, a Brambling wheezed unseen, my first of the year here amazingly! Elsewhere, Redpoll passed o…

A late flurry of birds

Good job I checked the bird news today!
I had planned to do the patch mid-afternoon, but on hearing about a juvenile Surf Scoter at Sheringham I quickly changed plans. Luck was certainly with me today, for on arrival James and co recommended I avoided the long cliff-top slog and approached the cliffs from the west of Sheringham; sound advice. I had however heard a Richard's Pipit on the golf course and later discovered 2 birds were probably present.
Walking the footpath I saw Barn Owl hunting the scrub next to Dead Man's Wood (dare I ask?) and a small group of birders were looking out to sea. Before long I was watching a bird I had never seen before, a Surf Scoter! The profile view allowed a look at 'that' bill and the double cheek-flash was evident when the bird wasn't diving or looking the other way. Thrilled with that, I knew Ricky was on route so I spent some more time on the cliffs. I picked up a Red-necked Grebe, a nice self-find (although when I told one cou…

When in Rome....

Despite missing the Great Thrush Fall of 2012 (and anything else decent for that matter) there has to be life in this Autumn yet for me. It is a wonderful, restless time of year. I enjoyed a blustery walk round Surlingham yesterday afternoon, the first visit post-holiday. Church Marsh lagoon was devoid of Duck, but I was able to watch a Kestrel hovering over the marsh. The marsh adjacent to Coldham Hall was more lively however. I caught up with the escaped Harris Hawk, complete with Jesses, and what a fine looking individual s/he is. Desperate to get a photo, I headed to the marina but the bird was chased away by a pair of angry Rooks. A flock of 60+ Golden Plover over and passing Cormorants reminded me this was in fact British birding in Autumn.

So, Rome. The headline news on this ere blog is that Debs and I are now engaged to be married, so Rome turned into a kind of engagement-honeymoon. We packed in the expected sight-seeing in our short stay, overwhelmed by archaeology on such a …

What a difference a day makes

A trip to the North coast on Saturday with friends was largely uneventful, but we did enjoy good views of some of the best Norfolk has to offer. Bearded Tits at Cley, Pink-feet regularly passing overhead and some Grey Partridge at Wareham. Cley aside, saw barely any birders at all; no doubt waiting for Monday morning!
Driving to work I just knew it would be buzzing out there. More than just compensation was a high-speed chase on the A11 involving a Sparrowhawk and a presumed Blue Tit; I do not know if the latter survived, but what a scene it was, the prey twisting and turning above the traffic to avoid being just another victim.
I managed to leave off work at the earliest opportunity today to see if the Thrush fall had impacted on my patch.
It was evident that Robins were in abundance,I counted 18 around the reserve. The hoped for Redwing and Fieldfare were present too, conservative estimates of 15+ for each in one berry-laden hot-spot.. Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagatil, Lesser Redpoll and …

Scant reward- but this is not over!

A couple of weekends following the same routine (Hemsby, Winterton South Dunes and the sea) have proved rather uneventful, as has been the case elsewhere in Norfolk. This weekend did feel more like Autumn though, particularly at Hemsby where many Redwing, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Robins flicked in and out of bushes, alluding to something rarer. A trawl of likely looking habitat turned up nothing scarce, let alone rare. Regardless of the destination, my track record of finding anything of note is getting worse rather than better! It turns out Waxham had Ring Ouzel, YBW and some commoner bits and pieces. Why not Hemsby?! Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat were in the oaks beneath the Hermanus restaurant at Winterton but that was as good as it got!
This has been the poorest October in terms of quality and quantity of migrants that I can remember. To further my case, I have actually been out looking for stuff. The birds aren't there, not for me. And if they are around el…

Bats on the Patch, and the Pipe Dump.

Enjoyed an excellent Bat walk led by Matt from Strumpshaw RSPB. The small group had amazing views of Noctules over the Yare, what impressive beasties they are. It has been a long time since I actually watched this species, and at first I thought I had seen a Snipe, such is their size and manoeuvrability. We continued round the trail, Soprano and Common Pipistrelle feeding and seemingly chasing one another above our heads. Brown Long-eared in there too, and I am fairly sure I picked up a Natterers with the detector around an hour after dark. Plenty of mixed woodland around, which would suit this species. Desperate to know more- the thought of missing out on a parti-coloured or Barbastelle genuinely frightens me! Looking forward to becoming more involved on a local level next year.

On Sunday I went in search of migrants, a walk down to the much abused Pipe Dump at Waxham. Very few Passerines anywhere despite much bush bashing. Of note though were 100s of House Martins hawking over the d…

Grabbing the odd moment

Consumed by school at the moment, hence a gap between updates here. Now that the patch is more tricky to visit regularly, I appreciate it being there even more. Nothing scarce to report, just some general goings on that keep the broads ticking.
The bat detector has proven a solid investment, and despite missing an outing with the Norfolk Barbastelle Study Group due to car problems, I have been amusing myself down at Surlingham now the nights are pulling in once more. I am getting to know good bat 'spots' and have enjoyed some close encounters these last 2 weeks as the young Bats join the adults on the wing. I have recorded Noctule, Brown Long-eared, Soprano and Common Pip so far, and last year Daubenten's were hunting the Yare and no doubt are doing the same this year. If anyone knows of any swarming sites in and around Norwich, do let me know; that would finish off the season nicely.
Whilst the bird activity has been quiet, 5 returning Wigeon are a sure sign of the season…

Cley jaunt and a Buckenham sky

A sortie to Cley on the 2nd had more on the menu than birds. Debs was keen to eat at Cookie's Crab Shop (albeit in neighbouring Salthouse) and we wanted to try out some new scopes at CleySpy with a view to a new year purchase. We of course had a leisurely stroll around the reserve, but first this:
Fresh, tasty and well priced at £6.50. We sat out the front of the shack, watching the world (and some birds) drift by and my good friend and birding mentor Rob Lambert (2nd place in celebrity wild brain of Britain at Birdfair, so he says) turned up. We had a nice catch up.
Anyway, the reserve was a little quiet but we did pick up a distant Curlew Sandpiper and 2 sleeping Spoonbill. Keen to prolong the day we dropped in at Stiffkey Fen. A Pectoral Sandpiper had been reported and showing from the sea wall. No luck there, but we did manage a glimpse of the bird, looking over the reed tops on the way back to the car. Great location but a terribly awkward view of the pool, and views from the…

Yare Day and some Bats

On the night of the 22nd, I headed to the patch after some Bats. As the light faded, the lagoon filled up with wildfowl. Egyptian and Greylag Geese noisily announcing their arrival amongst the quieter Teal and Gadwall. Nothing quite like watching Geese Whiffling by moonlight.
I picked up my first Bat around 8.50pm, a Pipistrelle sp. A further 9 individuals followed including Common and Soprano Pip, Brown Long-eared and best of all a Noctule. I was interested to observe both Soprano Pip and Long-eared hunting together around the same Oak tree, very different jizz to the pair, the long-eared being slower and more 'fluttery'. Walking back to the car I picked up one frequency I was unsure of, maybe a Natterers, and on referring to the sounds I had stored on my mobile this had to go down as one that got away. All great fun, if a little unnerving in the dark- but that is part of the buzz!

A day in the Yare Valley on the 24th was superb, accompanied by my Uncle and cousin Ben. We beg…

Brits abroad killing our Turtle Doves?

Had to read this twice, still can't quite believe it.

http://www.davis-bowring.co.uk/index.php/sporting/Moroccan-Shooting.html

A British company offering trips to Morocco to shoot Turtle Doves.

I am not a part of the anti-shooting brigade in England; in-fact, conservation and management for 'game' can be one and the same thing. But the above is totally inexcusable, and grim.

Birdlife International have urged people to contact the company via email and lodge their opposition.
But then, you don't need me to tell you that the Turtle Dove has been subject to massive declines, and is now globally threatened. These are our Doves, and we want them back next year.

Stirring up a Hornet's Nest

Notice on the hide at Rush Hills- 'Hornet's nest. Do not enter and leave alone'. I of course entered; I had never seen a nest like this until today. Incredible honey-comb design and yet seemingly paper-thin. I didn't hang around, the drone of the insects enough to put me off and I moved in front of the hide.

Wood Sandpiper 4+
Common Sandpiper 2
Ruff 16
Avocet 18
Redshank 1
Dunlin 2
Black-tailed Godwit 1

That may be the most Wood Sand I have recorded in one place. Happy days.

Earlier in the morning, I visited Buckenham. The Wood Sand remains here, and new in was a Greenshank. Snipe numbers are up on yesterday, at least 30 were counted. A Lesser-black Backed Gull had a red ring on its left leg, and a silver on its right. No sign of the Hobby I encountered yesterday. Although early in the day, Hawkers were already on the wing as were a few Butterflies. Good to see a late emergance of Peacocks and now a few Small Tort. Thank Goodness.

Walking back to the station, there wer…

Out of county birding

Busy month, and on composing this ere blog post I almost forgot a significant bird that got August off to a flyer- an adult Purple Heron at Sutton Gault in Cambridgeshire. A cracking adult it was, donning full war paint and regalia. Also a British lifer, don't see too many of those these days.
This unlikely out of county twitch came about thanks to a kind invite from a friend to visit his thesis site in Berkshire, which is focussed around river restoration. He listed various inverts I cannot recall and explained the significance of the now resident Ranunculus on the river bed, whilst I watched Buzzards and Red Kites catch the thermals. Lovely stuff.
I should preface this next section by saying I do not work for the Northumberland Tourist Board but what a fantastic county! I won't bore/grip folk with a day by day account here, but instead a few highlights:

1) The coast. Unspoilt, sandy beaches, amazing dune systems and muddy harbours. Eiders floated in the bays, and we were luc…

SWT Redgrave and Lopham Fen and RSPB Buckenham Marshes

Redgrave and Lopham Fen is moreorless halfway between my place in Norwich and my parent's home down in Suffolk. On route for a catch up and mothing session (more of that later) I stopped off for a walk around the home of the rare Fen Raft Spider.

In the wind and the drizzle I saw very little, but the sightings board spoke of good birds including Hobbies, Breeding Barn Owls, Cuckoos and Bearded Tits. I completed the short red walk shown above, but the full walk is close to 7km. Throw in some winter Finches, Thrushes and Owls and I reckon this is definitely an under-watched site with potential. Great variety of habo ranging rom broad leaved woodland, carr woodland, Fen, marsh and meadow.

Good trapping session in Suffolk resulted in the following:
Orange Moth
Poplar Hawk 2
Mother of Pearl c10
Riband Wave c10
Common Carpet
Yellow Tail
Brown Tail
Dingy Footman
Common Footman
Dot Moth
Common Wainscott
Grey Dagger?
Common Rustic
Dark Arches
Scalloped Oak
Clouded Border 2

 Poplar Hawk and…

Second of the day: Bats, and Cantley

Almost forgot- gave the Bat detector a run out at Strumpshaw Fen on Thursday night. Recorded (I think) 5 species of Bat. The 2 Pipistrelles were common throughout the reserve, Brown Long-eared was recorded near the meadow trail (classic woodland edge habo) and Daubenten's were seen over the pool from reception hide. The frequencies were not as strong here, but the behaviour and habitat moreorless confirms this species as present. For those counting, the 5th species goes down as a possible Serotine, hunting near the pines at reception. Lots to learn here, but Bats are a genuine passion I am finally getting the chance to indulge in.
Today, I went to Cantley Beet Factory. First visit of many this Summer. Always a lot to see here, so a list will have to suffice:

Dunlin 1
Ruff 5
Redshank 1
Green Sandpiper 3
Common Sandpiper 2
Avocet 3
Yellow Wagtail 1- surely a local breeder?
Bearded Tit 2
Lapwing- many!

I checked the back pools too, only one Green Sand here but plenty of (I think) Sou…

Lower Wood NWT, Ashwellthorpe

Birding the fringe- my personal challenge for this Summer. However, there is a reason no-one birds woodland on a cloudy day in July.
Directions- Ashwellthorpe is just south of Wymondham. We parked in the village on the Wymondham road just before the White Horse pub (shut during our visit); a public footpath from here leads to the wood. As we approached the site, the sun was blazing and so we latched onto a few Butterflies. All 3 (possible) species of Skipper were the best bit. Bird-wise, Green Woodpecker (2, maybe 3) Nuthatch, Coal Tit and Whitethroat. On arrival at the entrance, you are greeted by the following sign:


A wood recorded in the Doomsday book (nice little History nugget there) and is full of Hornbeam: Hawfinch anyone? The walk through the wood lasts around 30 minutes, and whilst this would no doubt be a cracking dawn chorus venue or a decent winter visit, today was pretty dead. I don't blame the wood, just our timing. Nice to see some ancient woodland being preserved a…

Big Butterfly Counting

Spent the last couple of days exploring sites old and new, the focus being Butterflies but at Strumpshaw yesterday I managed to get myself involved in adding a few birds to the BioBlitz list for the week!
Ben had emailed me to let me know the Moth trap would be emptied for the public in the morning, so along with a small group I watched in eager anticipation. Many new Moths for me, including Eyed Hawkmoth, Early Thorn, Rosy Footman, Fen Wainscott, Rufous Minor and a Double Kidney; this one had the enthusiasts excited. After the 2 traps were emptied, I stuck around to join in a bird race for an hour. Two fly-by species from earlier (Siskin and Green Sandpiper) could not go on our list, but we did happen across a family of Spotted Flycatcher! New for the week, not seen since Spring. We also managed Hobby, Common Tern, Stock Dove and a juvenile Water Rail. 51 species in total, thanks in no small part to 3 young budding ornithologists who were on the team. As luck would have it, Firstrees…

Frits and Skimmers at Holt

The day began splendidly, whilst enjoying lunch at the King's Head in Letheringsett a family of Kestrels busied themselves behind us.
Our real reason for heading in this direction was of course the Butterfly fest ongoing at Holt Country Park. Arriving at the pond, one chap picked out a White Admiral- our first target of the day. We were lucky enough to see more of these as the day progressed, and I would imagine they go under-recorded in many of our woods in Norfolk. The pond itself was brimming with life, Broad-bodied Chasers manning their perches and chasing off the likes of Common Darter and Four-spotted Chaser. We also saw Banded Demoiselle, Large Red, Emerald, Azure, Common Blue and Hairy Dragonfly. An incredible range, especially for someone relatively new to Dragonflies.
Heading out onto the Lowes, it was difficult to avoid the heat but our efforts were rewarded with some male Keeled Skimmers- our second target of the day. I was surprised at how small they actually are. I h…