Monday, 31 December 2012

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 graced Church Marsh, and the likes of Treecreeper and Great-crested Grebe began courtship. At the end of the month came for me the patch bird (s) of the year- a pair of Garganey on the lagoon.
Into April, and one of my favourites. the Green Sandpiper had returned to the reserve. Willow Warblers. Chiffchaff and later Grasshopper Warbler all joined the resident songsters. A Thrush roost was a surprise, Redwing singing amongst the Mistle Thrushes and Fieldfare. 4 Lapwing moved back onto the lagoon to attempt, and sadly fail, to breed.  A trip to the Brecks yielded a superb cast of Golden Pheasant, Goshawk, Hawfinch and a Harris Hawk.
May is a superb month at Surlingham, and the highlight was mammalian, an Otter, my first for the reserve. Dragonflies and Butterflies were by now out in force. Not far from Cley, I picked up a lifer, a superb Bee Eater!
The Summer months had me seeking out obscure reserves and whiling away the school holidays looking at mostly insects. A highlight not only of Summer but of the year was watching and photographing Purple Emperors north of London. It was a wet Summer, which left few muddy margins for Waders at the patch, and even Cantley was not always producing the usual glut of Waders.
A stunning lifer came in the shape of a Purple Heron in Cambridgeshire, followed by a singing Blyth's Reed Warbler at Wareham Greens.
The Farne Islands in August were just stunning, and we were lucky to be on Inner Farne the day after a small fall. We saw Icterine Warbler, Whinchat and Pied Flycatcher along with the expected seabirds.
Autumn was a little hit and miss in truth, hit in that Debs and I got engaged, miss in that the winds rarely swung to the east and the great Thrush Fall occurred during teaching hours! However, a late flurry of birds did occur in November. A Surf Scoter was a nice find off Sheringham, and here too was a Richard's Pipit and Red-necked Grebe on the sea.
The last month has seen action predictably wind down at the patch, although a Woodcock was a welcome addition to the list. Waxwing, Hen Harrier, more Otters than you can shake a fist at and a Water Pipit ensured that the year finished with some classic Broadland wildlife.

Phew. No doubt missed some good stuff there, but it does take a while to trawl through the blog together with my notebooks (and time is against me, I am due to produce a course for a lunch gathering soon).

A look back to a post from last January and I was relatively pleased to see that I had managed 3 out of my 5 target birds at Surlingham this year: Lesser Redpoll, Pink-footed Goose and Garganey. Wood Sandpiper slipped through the net, but I may have to admit defeat with Spotted Flycatcher, which is sad. So, after some thought on a rainy day, my 5 Surlingham Church Marsh target birds for 2013 are:

1) Wood Sandpiper (Should pick one up on the lagoon)
2) Water Pipit (possible flyover, habitat is good for an over-wintering bird or two)
3) Firecrest (Reported twice by others on the reserve; my turn please!)
4) Osprey (Annual at Rockland, so this would be a flyover record)
5) Ring Ouzel (Marshes and scrub along river have always looked likely; there is at least one record within the last 5 years).

Now that I have signed up to the patchwork challenge, I have made full use of the 3kmsq allowance.

As you will see, Surlingham Church Marsh remains on the left hand edge, followed by Surlingham Marsh, The Covey leading to Wheatfen (Ted Ellis Reserve), Rockland Broad and footpaths leading out across Claxton and Langley Marshes.
Rockland should add some real spice to proceedings, and Surlingham Wood with Ted Ellis's reserve may throw up a Lesser Pecker, who knows. The marshes at Langley are just across the river from Buckenham, so perhaps I can grab some flyover Geese. In general, I would hope that Short-eared Owl, Bearded Tit and Golden Plover become more regular sightings rather than just every other year at Church Marsh.

With this all in mind, my Surlingham and South Yare patch targets (and where I expect to encounter them) for 2013 are:
1) Black Tern (Rockland Broad, annual passage migrant)
2) Slavonian Grebe (Rockland Broad)
3) Nuthatch (Surlingham Wood)
4) Whinchat ( Claxton/Langley Marshes)
5) Long-eared Owl (?).

Looking further afield, I will continue my trundles out east during migration. I have come to accept that with limited time and geographical location, the chances of me actually finding something decent and beating the locals to it are slim. However, you just can't beat that buzz of grilling a tit flock at Hemsby or watching the Skuas bomb past at Happisburgh. The East coast is just great, and when the time comes I will be making my fair share of early starts in order to experience migration in full swing.

Away from birds, I also plan to become more actively involved in Bat surveying in 2013. These creatures have always been a real passion of mine, time to take it a little more seriously. I would be keen to visit roosts with a view to obtaining a license somewhere down the line. 
Finally, I have signed up as an RSPB volunteer. This is in part due to a potential future career in environmental education, but regardless of this outcome I know I will enjoy putting something back into a region and organisation that already plays a massive role in my life.

So, all that remains to be said is thank-you to all who take the time to read my blog and offer their advice, insight and/or messages of support. Here's to another great year in the field!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

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 has many. Taking shelter behind the hide, I picked out a smart Water Pipit creeping amongst the tussocky grass. Also of note were around 10 Ruff in amongst the Plover flock, 2 Marsh Harrier, Kestrel and Common Buzzard on the approach road. The feral Barnacle Geese were not too distant, but the 'good' Geese must have been over at Cantley for we saw no Beans or White-fronts today.
Having started early we had a few hours still to play with, so a stop off at Strumpshaw was rewarded with views of an Otter from reception hide, tangling with an eel before swimming off to feed away from the giant lenses, don't blame him/her. The reserve itself was quiet, very little was on show from Fen Hide but we did luck in once again with the Otter on our way out.

Crossing over the Yare we headed down the Covey only to find that Wheatfen was closed due to flooding. Nonetheless, the Fieldfare and Redwing flock remains in one of the larger paddocks, so we stopped awhile and watched the birds search for worms in the saturated ground.
Church Marsh was decent despite the guns, a lovely male Marsh Harrier hunted and inadvertently flushed 6 Common Snipe. A Little Grebe was on the river, Mistle Thrush in the churchyard and Common Buzzard over the car-park.
All kinds of Flotsam and Jetsam wash up on the river bank, but this has to be the best find so far:

 That scene with the pool balls in the sock still makes me cringe.

And that is nearly 2012 finished.  I hope to get an evening visit in tomorrow but that looks unlikely due to the poor weather. Either way, I shall no doubt pull off an end of year highlights blog post before much longer.

To finish with today, some of those Waxwings.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

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 gave this one up as a Lesser Redpoll. Nearby, the familiar call of Siskin overhead. Although not yet a good Winter to see Siskin on the reserve, numbers have certainly increased since my last visit. The calm, relatively warm weather was proving productive for me: Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Coal Tit all observed at close quarters. A female Sparrowhawk flew right past me, disappearing into the undergrowth.
By the time I had arrived at the lagoon, the shooting had begun across the river and the Teal and pair of Shoveler were clearly spooked. A Kingfisher near the gun club didn't seem too bothered though, allowing me to follow him for a while.

With one eye on next year's patch boundaries, I spent the remainder of the morning at Rockland. A Kestrel was hunting the marshes, and I picked up Marsh Tit and Bullfinch in the scrub. On the water itself were both Great-crested and Little Grebe.

This evening, Debs and I arrived in The Broads and opened the car door to the sound of Whooper Swans and Cranes, it just does not get any better than that! We also caught up with a few Bewick's Swans, 2 Barn Owls and 2 Kestrel. The day finished as it had begun, a Woodcock across the track in front of the car.

Below, a Barn Owl, plus  driving between sites, this (female?) Red Deer was pished almost into the car!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

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 progresses and the birds become ever hungrier.
Around the reserve I managed Tree Creeper, Bullfinch and a few Jays. I also stumbled upon this birch tree supporting maybe 2 species of Fungi:

 This looks like Birch Polypore
Also Birch Polypore, not fully developed?

Details of my new patch boundaries to follow, although not a lot changes really. My stomping ground does not change, but what this will do is get me out to Rockland Broad and Wheatfen when things are quiet at Church Marsh. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

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 distribution and lack of fussiness when it comes to choosing somewhere to live.
Down at Church Marsh, a territorial Kingfisher chased another bird away from its favourite dyke last week, no sign of any yesterday. Of note was 1/2 Yellowhammer amongst a mixed finch flock, the other birds being Reed Bunting (out of place there) and Chaffinch.
I have been following with great interest the evening commute over our fine city. On a full moon, there appears to have been a steady flow of Pink-feet over my house for the last week or maybe 2. This usually occurs between 8 and 10pm. Furthermore, c3 Redshank were calling to each other in the black, around 5.30 when I returned from work one evening last week.

To end, some wintry pictures.

Monday, 19 November 2012

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 overhead calling as did more Bullfinch. A flock of 90 Lapwing over at Wood's End was my highest patch count, get in!
After a highly recommended roast lunch at The Marsham Arms, Debs and I headed into The Broads in search of Cranes and Raptors, our first such trip of the Winter (?) period. Debs was on fire, picking up a group of 3 Cranes close to the car as we passed through a likely spot, and more distantly 16+ fly away from us. We did manage a single Barn Owl, Marsh Harrier and a Short-eared Owl (the latter in darkness as we drove home) but nothing quite on the scale of last Winter. Still, early days yet and without a severe frost the usual suspects are yet to move. Plus, it was such a clear evening I would expect Owls to emerge later and hunt throughout the night.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

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 couple what I had seen, the response was "Yes, but we are here for the Scoter". Really?) and then a large Pipit species dive-bombed into a bush. I set my scope up, and sure enough onto the path crept a nice Richard's Pipit. Great views, I totally forgot I had a camera in my bag. Still, nice to be lost in the moment. Ricky arrived, I managed to get him onto both birds.
Walking back, we encountered a very pale female Chaffinch displaying migrant-like behaviour. She was feeding on the edge of a stubble field, never far away from us and only flying a short distance to keep ahead. Tame, but more likely very tired.
By the time I left Sheringham it was too dark to look for the Rosy Starling at Northrepps. No matter, for I cannot remember a better hour of birding this Autumn!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

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 grand scale and humbled by the Vatican and everything that goes inside of it. We did of course manage a bit of birding. On route to and from the airport, we saw both Cattle and Great White Egret. Common birds in and around the city included Yellow-legged Gulls, Hooded Crows and (Monk?) Parakeets. In amongst the remains of the Forum, we encountered a few confiding Black Redstart, pictures courtesy of Debs. Also at this site, a presumed escaped Cockateil called loudly and posed for some pictures. I say presumed, Australia is a bloody long way away.

Enjoyed a talk by a student from the University of Bristol last night, organised by Norwich Bat group. The topic was Bat roosts in churches. Whilst some interesting observations were made, what really concerned me was that in one area Soprano Pips are foraging some 14km from their roost site, crossing A roads in search of food. Presumably habitat is richer in food species elsewhere? Bats that roost in Cley church foraged much closer to the roost in the church, indicating that they are finding food closer to home in an area rich in biodiversity.

 Underbelly of the Coloseum. Ignoring the crowds and trying hard to picture what wildlife and Gladiators would have roamed underneath.
 Black Redstart, The Forum.
 Yellow-legged Gull, the new Caesar round these parts.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

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 Blackbird passed through, may unseen in the fog. Watching a Barn Owl hunt the marsh, a sound from the weekend had me just a bit excited- a long over-due patch tick was flying somewhere up there: Pink-footed Geese. Also of note was an almost continuous passage of Black-headed Gull, south-west. Water Rail were squealing, Cettis calling- magic!
To finish off, I assisted a farmer in returning a cow to a field. Can't beat the patch!
Some Autumnal and misty photos below.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

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 elsewhere, they have been missed due to poor observer coverage. The negativity on BF (understandable) has no doubt led to a few sat at home, pager in hand, waiting for news rather than actually making it happen. That attitude in turn is a cause of suppression (why should we share our good birds with you if you can't be arsed to look for your own?) which again means the birds that are there, might as well not be. What to conclude from these musings?

  • It has been a poor October, so far. Weather systems and winds not coming from the right direction.
  • There probably are more birds out there than the news services suggest, but they are either being missed or suppressed/not reported. Not that I have an issue with this, just to make that clear.
  • As an aside, being based inland with a patch in The Broads, I am usually reliant on those that live and bird by the coast to find a beauty. 
Still, it ain't over yet. Plenty of time for Raddes, Dusky, Humes YB, Pallas's and a further fall of Thrushes,
Redstarts and Flycacthers. Next weekend I am going to brave the north coast with some friends visiting. See you at the next big one?

Monday, 1 October 2012

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 dunes, along with smaller numbers of the larger Barn Swallow. Deciding after a couple of hours to give up on the bushes, I walked back alongside the sea and set about grilling the ocean. Winds not ideal, but stunning views of Gannets fishing in close. Red-throated Divers and Guillemots also loafing close to the shore line. I did pick up a couple of decent birds: a single Black Tern closely followed up by a Little Gull. I continued onto Happisburgh, Bacton and Walcott. I have decided Walcott could potentially offer the best sea watching, taking into account vistas, distance from sea, local food and drink on offer when on a break etc. More of the same at these east coast haunts.

Worthy of a mention, always, were my first Pink-footed Geese of the Autumn, over Waxham. Group of 23 followed by 50+, a sign of colder, bleaker times ahead.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

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 changing, and both Cetti's Warbler and Robin are singing again. The Greylag flock are back together across the river at the evocative Wood's End, and many of their number roost on the lagoon at Church Marsh. Kingfisher, Green and Great-spotted Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel have all been seen or heard in the last 2 weeks.  Best of all, 2 Barn Owls against a pink sky hunting together at Church Marsh.
A walk round Wheatfen had me and the insect life clinging onto the dregs of Summer, for Hawkers were on the wing along with Red Admiral Butterflies- glad to see a few of these this year, better late than never.

Couple of Bat walks coming up- Weds 26th with Norwich Bat Group (Mousehold Heath looking likely) and   Sat 29th at Surlingham.  Bats, and a beer afterwards.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

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 sea wall were always going to be distant.

I had no idea the nights were pulling in at such a rate, and probably only enjoyed three quarters of an hour at Buckenham last night, but it was absolutely superb. Nothing exceptional seen, but standing in the near dark as Geese whiffled in with newly arrived Wigeon and Teal calling gently on arrival was magic. Greenshank, Green Sandpiper and Redshank called as the mist replaced the red sky. All a reminder of the changing evening commute for some of our birds. My favourite time of year approaches fast.

                                                                   Big Sky Country

Saturday, 25 August 2012

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 began at Surlingham which was on good form. 3 Common Buzzard were picked up high in the sky, the weather primed for Raptors. A Marsh Harrier drifted through. One of my Green Sandpipers showed up on the lagoon, followed by an uncommon bird at Surlingham: a Marsh Tit.

We then proceeded to Buckenham Marshes and the good birds kept coming: Yellow Wagtail (3+), Hobby, Green and Common Sandpiper, Common Snipe and Black-tailed Godwit.

A quick trip to Strumpshaw produced a lifer for all of us- 2 Superb Willow Emerald Damselfly. Check out the sheen on the wings and those golden pterostigma!

Our final stop, via a quick meet and great and Raptor scan with Ricky, was Cantley Beet Factory. The water level was frustratingly high, and the main pit itself held plenty of Lapwing but not a lot else. The mud flats to the north were decent though, and here we found Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Green and Common Sandpiper and a distant Water Rail.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Brits abroad killing our Turtle Doves?

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

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.

Monday, 20 August 2012

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 were many juvenile Linnets, Goldfinch, Swallow and Pied Wagtail. Moment of the day then followed. A Stoat emerged from the vegetation, and proceeded to chase the 4 Pied Wags, no intention of catching or killing, this was purely play.

 Migrant Hawker- Surlingham.
 Stoat going loopy.
Hornet's Nest.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

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 lucky to pick up Arctic, Great and a possible Pomarine Skua at sea. (the latter appeared barrel-chested, but not enough to confirm an ID. I believe juveniles are unlikely at this time of year anyway, and a full set of spoons was not in evidence, sadly).
2) The islands. Coquet still had a few Roseate Terns present, nesting alongside Arctic, Common and Sandwich. Some interesting ID conondrums were posed, mostly involving juvenile birds. Some seabirds like Kittiwake were still on the cliffs of Inner Farne, but Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill were all seen from boats. Inner Farne was amazing, the buzz and electricity of a fall of migrants cannot be beaten. Icterine Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Whinchat all in an hour!
3) The moorland and hills. A rugged contrast to the coast. Red Grouse, Goshawk and Stonechat all enjoyed up here.
4) A 'Viking invasion' on Holy Island and a walk to the castle (great county for castles, if you're into that, which we both are).
5) The best bookshop I have ever been in. Stocked up on Barnes, Greene and King.

Druridge Bay was the destination for our final day. Some decent birds including Little Stint, Wheatear, Arctic Skua, Whimbrel, Marsh Harrier and Spoonbill. The locals were particularly interested in the Spoonbill and Harriers (one pair breeding near here) which reminded me never to take these for granted back here in Norfolk.
The Northumberland Wildlife Trust appear to have adopted a Laissez Faire approach to reserve management, much to the annoyance of the locals I spoke to.

Got back last night, itching to be out in Norfolk again. Popped to the patch, and along with a lot of Ducks there were 2 Common and 1 Green Sandpiper on the lagoon. Surlingham is back, I'm back, and I have 2 weeks left to find something decent before school beckons.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

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 Grey Dagger
Scalloped Oak, what a beauty!

Back in Norfolk, and Buckenham Marshes this morning was decent. Surely more rare to turn up here before Autumn is over and out. Great Wader haul:

Wood Sandpiper 1
Green Sandpiper 3
Common Sandpiper 1
Greenshank 2
Redshank 1
Dunlin 2 (ad and juv)
Ringed Plover
Common Snipe 2
Also Hobby and Little Egret of note.

Finally, 2 Common Sandpiper on the patch at the end of last month were a year tick. Ta.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

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) Southern and the odd Migrant Hawker now on the wing. Need to examine these individuals more closely.

                                                                    Yellow Wagtail

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 and carefully managed.
Oh, and by the time we actually got into the wood, it was cloudy and breezy. No sign of the White Admiral pictured on the reserve welcome board, but this is supposed to be a decent site for them.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

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, FirstreesJohn was out and about on the reserve, nice to meet the man himself.
That afternoon I conducted a 15 minute BB count on the patch (since there was bugger all else about).
2 Gatekeeper
2 Comma
White sp 7
Meadow Brown 1
Ringlet 1

Not bad, but I had hoped for more considering the blazing heat.
Anyway, a few pictures from yesterday.
 A very content Oak Egger
Eyed Hawkmoth 'warming up'.

Today, I tried out a recommended 'obscure' site near Poringland. I was greeted by purring Turtle Dove and screaming swifts, lovely start. I was quickly aware that this place was a hive of activity and began another BB count.
8 Meadow Brown
3 Gatekeeper
4 Ringlet
2 Comma
1 Small White
2 Large White
2 Large Skipper
1 Essex Skipper

That's more like it! I also saw at least three 6 spot Burnet Moths, a sure fire indicator of a healthy ecosystem.
Some pictures now follow, plus one Butterfly that I am yet to ID. Any comments here appreciated.

6 Spot Burnet Moth
            Unknown? (Appears to be a Meadow Brown not showing off its fore-wing, thanks for that Kieran).

                                                                 Essex Skipper, I think.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

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 have to admit I did not see one of these at Surlingham earlier in the year; that must have been a Black-tailed Skimmer. Out on the heath and away from the bogs, we found a Grayling Butterfly.
Back to the woods, and it did not take long to find our last species on the hit-list: Silver-washed Fritillary. Frustratingly, only one individual rested for us to admire for a few seconds but we were treated to some excellent fly-by views of this powerful Butterfly.
 Large Red Damselfly
 Holt Lowes
 Keeled Skimmer- note the amber pterostigma
Female Broad-bodied Chaser