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.