Sunday, 29 January 2012

An update of minuscule importance

Common Cranes being hoaxed, a Spanish Sparrow shagging our Sparrows, a Long-eared Owl at a 'secret' mid-Norfolk location and an Iceland Gull influx are just some of the stories emanating from Norfolk and further afield. These tales all share one thing- I have nothing to do with any of them! Post-OFSTED I am just happy to be alive, my last few weeks have seen me struggling to maintain a work-life balance. However, I put all of that behind me today with a jaunt to Happisburgh. I searched the cliff face in hope of Snow Bunting or maybe Twite, but had to settle for James and Ossie out for a walk! The Scoter flock at sea numbered around 60, and after flying landed close in next to a Red-throated Diver. James picked out a dark looking Herring Gull with a streaky head, probably one of those Argentatus things.
We then drove further inland, searching some farmland. A Common Buzzard was harassed by one very persistent Crow, and a second Barn Owl of the day was seen. 2 Kestrels were seen perched, and as the light faded 2 Chinese Water Deer came out to feed at the field's edge. I had heard a strange call earlier, which I am fairly sure came from a Little Owl. Habitat certainly looked spot on. Driving back, a mixed Thrush flock and a Bullfinch made for a nice finish.
The Surlingham year list is slow to say the least. Most of the usual suspects are on there, last week 2 Treecreeper were a welcome early addition.
Other bits and bobs have included a Woodcock bombing over the road near Croxton (almost on the school list) and the over-wintering Grey Wagtail still at The Academy.
Two weeks until half term!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Weekend Mutterings

Genuinely good session at Surlingham Saturday morning, regardless of the season. 3 Bullfinch, a female then a pair, were a treat and ever since last December I seem to be doing well with this species, and long may it continue.  The Wood's End marshes had turned into a flash, which held c350 Black-headed Gull, a record count for the patch. 2 Kingfishers were seen on the river, one fishing from Surlingham Landspring, almost in the carpark! The common birds also seemed more evident today; Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Goldfinch overhead. 
From the hide, two (yes, two) female Marsh Harriers were hunting. Last year was a poor year for Harriers on the reserve, so this bodes well. One bird flushed 11 Snipe- another patch record. No doubt the Snipe are ever-present out there, but I have never seen a group this large. One bird looked smaller than the rest, and I instantly thought of Jack Snipe, although from experience this species does not flush so easily and if it is spooked, will only fly a short distance before landing. Who knows. 
Walking back to the carpark, the pine trees adjacent to the churchyard held a noisy Tit flock, which held every Tit species I have ever recorded at Surlingham, including a Coal and two Marsh! Great to get that under my belt so early in the year. Now for that year list on Bubo......

Saturday and Sunday evening were spent out in The Broads raptor watching. It was nice to be joined by proud dad Ricky on the Saturday, not put off by the strong winds. Neither was James of Happisburgh fame! We struggled on in the cold, James picked out a pair of Common Cranes not far from the wild Swan flock; 36 distantly, seemed to be more Whoopers than Bewicks. 35 Golden Plover were on a ploughed field, and other birds of interest were a single Kestrel and 4 Barn Owl. The biggest, literally, suprise was a Red Deer Hind over the river. At first glance we thought it was a horse! 

Sunday was a much better day weather-wise, and the birds played ball. 4 Short-eared Owls, 4 Barn Owls, 4 Marsh Harriers, a Peregrine and a Male Hen Harrier (which I missed!) made for a Raptor super-fest! A Stonechat was picked out by the sharp eyes of my little cousin, and distantly a group of 10 Cranes landed out of sight.  Only one place I'll be next weekend! Added to that I saw the FIRST half of the United match, and I was one happy chap.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Off and running

Well, walking really. Credit to these hardy folk who make the early start for a New Year's Day list, but I prefer the relaxed approach. A mug of tea, a Neil Young song, a read of the headlines, then I'm ready.
Surlingham the obvious venue, and with daylight burning fast the full circuit would have to wait. Wood's End again was home to good numbers of Common and Black-headed Gulls and flocks of 35 Fieldfare and 10 Redwing flew overhead. A distant raptor that upset the Gulls was probably a Harrier. 150 Greylag were counted, not the complete flock. 2 Great-crested Grebe were on the river. More birds for the year list included Cettis Warbler and Green Woodpecker. An unexpected sight was a murmuration of c5,000 Starlings over Wood's End, later seen behind the ruins of St. Saviours. A small group of c100 is often seen around the reserve, but nothing on this scale.

We popped out for a couple of hours this afternoon, Spring clean complete.
Beginning at Barton Broad, 2 Marsh Harrier over the reedbed, 20+ Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Mallard and a single Pochard, looking lost. Very few passerines in the bushes and scrub, and we left a little disappointed.
Ludham again, and here our best ever views of Short-eared Owl, we agreed. Two birds, one of which we managed to phish a little closer. The camera was dead, so no record shots I am afraid. Other raptors we saw: Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Common Buzzard. We left when the light was still good, both Shorties still hunting. A group of wild Swans graced the sky, distantly.
Owls, great birds. It was observed the the legs of a Short-eared Owl are about as big as that of a baby (human).

Sunday, 1 January 2012

On the eve of 2012

Couple of days birding in The Broads to report back on, and some thoughts on 2012, if you care for them. 
On the 30th, Debs and I again visited the ruins of St. Benet's abbey. We were treated to views of a Short-eared Owl soon after arriving, whilst two Barn Owls seemed to work a circuit around us, our company for the evening. The Shortie was proving elusive, but was eventually tracked down at rest on a perch, offering cracking views. Another 'eared-Owl' was seen briefly along the adjacent dyke, and 4+ Marsh Harriers flew into roost. As with last time, a steady stream of Cormorants overhead- just where do they go? 
Yesterday, I was keen to finish the year with a trip to Surlingham Church Marsh. Barely a bird on the reserve, the limited action was on the river and meadows. 2 Little Grebe, 2 Great-crested Grebe and some Ducks were on the Yare, and across at Wood's End the feral Greylag flock was out in force, along with a good dosage of Gulls- perhaps a chance of something scarce, genuinely quite a few out there!
So, a record breaking (!) year at Surlingham. Targets for next year, below.
I then continued the day and paid a visit to Hardley Flood. Minus a scope (my new maverick attitude to birding) it was tricky to id everything, but amongst the usual species were a group of 57 Curlew, which left before dusk as a group and probably represented my highlight of the day.
Finished at Langley Marshes, from the Wherryman's Way footpath. Gorgeous Norfolk evening. Across the river, I could just make out the White-fronted Goose flock at Cantley. A Marsh Harrier drifted into roost amongst the now departing Corvids, classic Broads Birding. 3 Barn Owls were soon out hunting, and walking back to the car a Tawny Owl was my last bird of 2011. My last mammal was not the expected Chinese Water Deer, but a Bat sp, encouraged to feed in the mild air. 

As aforementioned, I broke the 100 species mark in a year at Surlingham. Highlights have included Crossbill, Short-eared Owl and at times an excellent Wader Passage. Whilst I can't get enough of the patch buzz, this has taken some doing, as regular readers will know! 2 species were heard-only, and I am not missing too many extras. I will therefore set myself a target of 103 species for 2012 on the patch. 

Furthermore, some target birds I am yet to see at Surlingham:
Lesser Redpoll 
Pink-footed Goose
Wood Sandpiper
Spotted Flyatcher

See how I manage with that lot!

Looking further afield, finding something decent on the East Coast is always a target, and I plan to get under the skin of Scratby, Caister and Hemsby this Spring and Autumn. 
Having reached 300 species BOU in 2011 (including Little Bittern, Sandhill Crane and Daurian Shrike) I am in no rush to dash around after the next 'tick', but I would like to see a Red-breasted Flycatcher this year! 

Estonia was memorable in so many ways, not least since I got to share it all with Debs. Grey-headed Woodpecker lured with the HTC, Ural Owl on nest and Steller's Eider at sea just some of the best bits. 
2012 and no trip abroad for us, but we are planning a late summer trip to Northumberland. 

Finally, a big thanks to all the good folk I have met and befriended through birding. You help make the hobby what it is for me, and I am looking forward to another year in the field, and look forward to bumping into you, whether it be trundling around the patch or at the next Norfolk twitch!

Norfolk- come get some!