Monday, 30 December 2013

Ending the year on the patch

A look back at some Christmas birding, and whilst there were no late additions to the year list some excellent Winter birding was enjoyed as thoughts turned to 2014.
Debs and I spent the afternoon in Surlingham on Christmas Eve, beginning at Church Marsh. 2 Curlew over doubled the patch record (!) and even treated us to a their mournful call. Also smashing the record for number seen on any one visit was the Marsh Tit, again 2 birds at either end of the reserve. I can remember when I saw my first Marshy here, and I am pleased to report they are getting easier! Expected residents were Treecreeper, Bullfinch (heard) Great-crested Grebe (2) and a hopefully-resident female Marsh Harrier.
We then moved onto Wheatfen for a walk through Surlingham Wood. Again, I heard the Nuthatch near the cottage and a few Redpoll sp and Siskin were typical winter visitors.

Yesterday I made an early start at Church Marsh, and feeling a bit rough this was my only stop in the end. Again, I had a Marsh Tit not far from the church and in fact this was the best bit of the walk, for some windfall apples were attracting Winter Thrushes in a back garden. Somewhere, I could hear one of my favourite Bird songs: A Mistle Thrush had began to sing.

Away from the patch, I spent some time at the family home near Stowmarket over Christmas and joined mum and the dog for a walk around their patch: Manor Wood and surrounding farmland. We enjoyed an excellent variety of species including 2 Treecreeper in the wood, 7 Yellowhammer, 2 Bullfinches, many Skylark (all on farmland) and a single Grey Wagtail over wintering in the farmyard. Mum also found a pair of Roe Deer antlers, fantastic specimen they are and we also enjoyed views of 2 groups of Roe, 4 and 7. Mum has a close eye on these groups and knows them individually, telling me that at this time of year they are known as 'Winter Field Deer', due to their choice of habitat. Not sure why they do this? High density in woodland forces them out and about?

So, the year draws to a stormy close and the appalling weather has slowed up my countryside pursuits somewhat. I hope to kick-start the patch list for 2014 later this week, with a brief look back to the year that was.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

And what of Surlingham?

With the utter devastation on the coast wreaked by the storm surge earlier in the week, I was anticipating some potentially harmful flooding at Surlingham Church Marsh having seen Ben's pictures of a very wet Strumpshaw. However, despite some standing water on the north of the reserve and signs that the river had overflown in one or two usual spots, the impact looked akin to that of a heavy storm so hopefully not too much saline crap has seeped into the marshes. On the reserve were 2 Kingfisher, 2 Goldcrest, 2+ Bullfinch, 1 Linnet, 3 Snipe and a few Teal.
Over at Claxton Marshes, 3 Marsh Harrier enjoyed the breeze but the real prize was across the river: 30 Taiga Bean Geese! Glad to have that zoom function on the scope.
Not much doing at Langley Dyke bar a Kestrel and 100's of Pinks somewhere up high, so I headed to some stubble and set aside near Surlingham. A flock of 100+ Linnet was notable, and Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Winter Thrushes were all recorded on similar habitat.

A few good bits in the valley of late which I thought I would collate here, none seen by myself I should add.

Cattle Egret south over Cantley.
Glossy Ibis Strumpshaw Fen
Ringtail Hen Harrier at Church Marsh
2 Waxwing Coldham Hall Carnser.

Conditions set to remain mild and settled for the next week or so, although Debs and I are away next weekend so any further birding will be during the Christmas holiday.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Great White Egret, Buckenham

An Sunday evening trip to Buckenham Marshes in hope of Raptors heading to roost yielded an unexpected Great White Egret, initially seen at 4pm over the river at Claxton/Rockland Marshes (bird of the year on the patch in terms of 'points') flying strongly across the river towards Strumpshaw before being lost to sight. Real monster in flight, size and long yellow bill leaving me in no doubt as to what I was looking at. Get in! Supporting cast of 3 Barn Owls at Claxton, Marsh Harrier at Buckenham and a superb Corvid roost by the station. And all those Wigeon for company, what a site Buckenham is.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Some changes at Surlingham

Headline news from the patch is a fond farewell to the Whaley Hide, dismantled and removed in favour of a sluice. Like other visitors I am a little sad to see the old hide go, but it was old and in many areas beyond repair. The installation of a sluice will connect the lagoon to the flow of the river, thereby increasing the biodiversity of the lagoon waters and putting an end to years of silt build up. Perhaps in time a few more Waders will look to stop here on migration, as the numbers of invertebrates increases. Exciting times. The team from Strumpshaw have also cracked on with more scrub removal, cleared ditches and uncovered a new mini lagoon between the main lagoon and the gun club. Excellent work and already I have noticed wildlife making use of their 'facilities'; today, a Treecreeper was frequenting an area of newly cut scrub that was previously obscured from view, and a count of 42 teal (2 females) was very healthy indeed.
Away from the main reserve, a skein of Pink-footed Geese flew north this morning at around 9am, 60+. This was actually a year tick for my Church Marsh list, which I just cannot see reaching the 100 before New Year. A mixed Siskin and Redpoll flock did not linger for observational purposes, but a Goldcrest in a Tit flock did! The churchyard was buzzing with Thrushes: Mistle, Redwing, Fieldfare and Blackbird all waiting patiently in the treetops to feed on berries below.

I then popped over to Wheatfen, and scored an unexpected patch tick. A Nuthatch was heard calling near the cottage, and the warden was on hand to inform me that a pair had been present for the last year or two. Not sure how I have missed them, but more than happy to add them to my list on a wet and windy November day. On top of this, 1/2 Brambling were seen and heard wheezing in Surlingham Wood- my first of this Winter anywhere on the patch. Love a good Brambling.

 Goodbye to the Whaley Hide
 The sluice; former position of the hide was behind the scrub to the right
 Fungi at Wheatfen. Fly Agaric I think. although someone has had more than a nibble.
Stunning Autumnal colours in Surlingham Wood, Wheatfen.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Half Term Birding

Been out of action ever since the weekend that was with Achilles Tendinitis, rather painful, but with the onset of half term and the ankle area easing up it was high time to get out and about once again.
Wheatfen was looking splendid on the 31st, so splendid in fact that the foilage shielded from view the Siskin and Redpoll I could hear. 6 Snipe were seen flying strongly southwards, and a bustling Tit flock held Long-tailed, Marsh, Great, Blue and a Goldcrest. I really thought I was into a Firecrest for a short time, and surely this is a species I will add to the wider patch list before long?
A scan over Claxton Marshes late afternoon did not produce a Short-eared Owl as I had hoped it might, but across the river I could see a group of Barnacle Geese grazing. 'Seen from the patch'= tick! I finished the day at Langley dyke, where 3 ghostly Barn Owls were hunting.

On the 1st of November, Debs, her dad and I took a walk round Bacton Woods chasing up the Parrot Crossbill reports from earlier in the week. We did see a flock of c.20 Crossbill, but no confirmed Parrots in there. We did enjoy a lovely Autumnal walk though, and over the Winter months we could easily tie this in with a visit to Ridlington Heath which looks promising after a drive through. One stubble field was brimming with Chaffinch, proper Winter birding! Pine Bunting would be nice.
We finished the day at Ludham for our first Raptor roost watch of the Winter. We only managed 2 Marsh Harriers and 1 Barn Owl so perhaps we were a little early  in the season. 2 Bats were seen circling farm buildings on the way home, a sign that the weather was mild and had not yet turned. Maybe these were the last Bats we would see this year?

Yesterday, I made an early start and grilled Happisburgh. The mist soon cleared to reveal a mild and pleasant day. My hope was that a slight shift in the winds and rain overnight may have let some birds through. Birds of the day were undoubtedly 9 Twite at the coastwatch, accompanied by lots of Meadow Pipits and 2 Reed Buntings. In fact, this was the busiest birding of the day! Despite the miles covered, and a return to the RF Bluetail site, there was little else doing. Is that it for Autumn then? With the westerlies set to persist, the expected arrival of Thrushes from the continent will have to be postponed. Perhaps mid-November and the Autumn will have a final flourish?

 Evening at  Church Marsh, a view I never tire of.
 Storm damage near the landspring at Church Marsh

 Couple of Fungi shots from Debs
Twite at Happisburgh

Monday, 14 October 2013

A weekend to live long in the memory

Saturday 12th, I picked up Connor around 6.30am and we headed to Waxham with migrant hunting in mind. It was clear that the NW blow and rain had dumped many common migrants. Every bush had a Robin, some more than one. There were also almost equal numbers of Song Thrush and Blackbird. As the sun rose, slowly more birds became active. Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Goldcrest and ticked and tacked from cover. Superb stuff! Overhead, Brambling and Redpoll were moving, and some did rest long enough for decent views. Heading out into the dunes towards the pipe dump, we encountered a female Redstart and a Woodcock on route. Still, birds were arriving including more Thrushes and even a few Skylark. Without much success around the pipe dump itself (a Robin with a sore throat gave us a headache for a while) we headed back to the car and onto Horsey.

Although there were less birds around by mid morning, little clumps of cover were alive with activity. In the same patch of scrub and pines that last year held a Red-flanked Bluetail, this year gave up a Yellow-browed Warbler! Smashing, a fist pump moment from me. We were onto something half decent. A walk to the holiday park and loads of grounded Chaffinch and Mipits were present, and we lamented not carrying our optics down here.

Winterton was quiet, although we only checked South Dunes whereas the reported action was in the Northern section. On the way to Hemsby, I remarked how the copse off King's Loke must hold a Pallas's Warbler today, and so it was! The local birder Ryan had just located the sprite before we arrived. Connor managed a glimpse but I missed this one. A Yellow-browed Warbler called, and any patch of cover held a Thrush. A Redstart was also a decent find. Love Hemsby, but that copse can be time consuming! A Dusky next weekend??

Finally, Great Yarmouth cemetary. It was good of Connor's pal Jason to meet us, for he was quick to put us onto the Red-breasted flycatcher feeding high up in the sycamores. Despite not connecting with anything rare, we left satisfied after a great day's birding.

Sunday 13th, and my plans to do the patch early doors were put on hold by some atrocious weather. Instead, I cracked some school work and headed back to the coast after lunch. Horsey again, and the strong winds seemed to be keeping the smaller birds down. On the beach, I had 19 Snow Bunting and a Woodcock. At Waxham, I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler and another birder told me he had a Long-eared Owl in the woodland behind the holiday cottage near the church.
With time running out, I finished the day at Happisburgh. A Wheatear was at the coast watch and 100's of Pink-feet were in the stubble. I almost ran over a couple of newly arrived Redwing near the cricket pitch, but the pines there were silent. I drove away from the village in two minds: do I check Cart Gap and the fields for a Richard's Pipit, or do I stop off at Whimpwell Green and hope for a Rouzel in the paddocks? Still not really in a mind for a decision, I indicated at the last minute and pulled off the main road and parked by the horse paddocks. I do like this spot, and I can thank James Appleton for putting me onto this area a few years ago. Arriving at the edge of a newly ploughed field, it was lively. Plenty of Robins ticking away, a Brambling wheezed and I also glimpsed a Mealy Redpoll with a largish white rump (pretty sure it was 'just' a Mealy). Then, a small bird flicked down from the hedge and landed in the field no more than 10 metres away. Appearing smaller than a Robin, the light was poor and it was not until it was immediately chased by a Robin that I realised I had something special. Orange flanks, blue tail. I uttered a few expletives and almost daren't believe my eyes. The bird then flicked down once again, before flying across the field to the opposite hedgerow. Desperate for a better view, I did not have to wait long. The Siberian beauty landed much closer to me, tail jerking downwards, white throat patch now seen well, the full suite of features. I was looking at a Red-flanked Bluetail, and nobody knew it was here but me. Quite a feeling, and a buzz I have not experienced since I took up birding more seriously less than 10 years ago. I had finally found a good bird! I phoned James A who came down quickly, saw the bird and like me uttered a few expletives (it's catching). I then called up a few locals and put news out more widely. I was glad Tim Allwood could make it, since I have seen some of his good birds in the past and he has always been helpful and full of advice.

Forgive me for over-indulging, and I know it was 'only' a RFB (increasing records over last few years) but for me this was a milestone. Not living on the coast limits my chances of rarity finding, fact. I do most of my birding in the broads, and I love it. This weekend was a bit special. I knew it would be decent, and as the weekend went on and I found the odd nice bird, I was determined to keep out in the field as long as possible. I got lucky, but perhaps in the past I have been unlucky. Next Saturday, I anticipate a shedload of marking and it would be nice to spend some time with Debs after a few weekends away. That might be it for a while in terms of hunting for hours, but after this weekend I am determined to grab these moments and experience the thrill of migration whenever I can.

Photo courtesy of Gary White. Thanks.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Signs of migration on the east coast

Ricky and I were keen to get in on the early October action so headed to to Caister Saturday morning, hopeful of some vis-mig and perhaps something rare too.
We began at Caister golf course after a quick look for the Rose-coloured Starling (I caught up with this bird last weekend, and since Ricky already has it on his list we decided against a thorough search). 100+ Meadow Pipits were moving through, many coming to rest on the course. This bode well. Overhead, we had 7 Redwing and a single Fieldfare. 3 Stonechat were showing well, perhaps local migrants or looking at the habitat, residents.
We extended our search to the northern side of the town, scanning the beach for any early Snow Buntings. No sign of these delightful winter visitors, but we did pick up 2 striking Wheatear. Probing the shoreline was a single Knot.Walking the heathland north, one berry bush was home to 6 Blackcap (5 females interestingly) and a single Whitethroat. 4 Brent Geese flew south for the winter, navigating around the wind farms. Red-throated Divers were in evidence on the sea.
Onto Hemsby, and bar a Goldcrest, Redwing and 2 Chiffchaff the migrant action was minimal in the scrub. Ricky picked up a distant skein of Pink-feet, must have been at least 100 in there.
Winterton was pretty quiet, although we did see 2 Small Copper and a number of dark, hairy caterpillars. Ricky has some photos which I am hoping he will stick on his blog so someone can ID them.
At this point Ricky headed home and I decided to go home via Waxham. Again, very quiet here and only a smattering of common birds were seen. 2 birders seen all day- is it really October?!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The question facing every Chiffchaff- should I stay or should I go?

Counted upwards of 7 Chiffchaff around the patch this morning, 5 at Surlingham Church Marsh and 2 at Rockland Broad. 2 were in song, which got me thinking. How many of the birds I saw today will be wintering here in Norfolk? A minority I would suspect, but wintering Chiffs are on the rise, so the data tells us. Perhaps the birds in song were the birds planning to stay, proclaiming this is me, and this will be my territory for Christmas dinner and beyond. The songsters remained hidden, but the birds I were able to see appeared to be fresh juveniles integrated with mixed Tit flocks, gleaning insects from the greenery. I also heard what I believe to be the warbled and guttural sub-song of a Blackcap, another candidate for residency. Add in the singing Cetti's Warbler (2) and for the first time in around 2 months, Warbler song had returned to the patch.
After walking the circuit at church marsh and seeing no-one (lovely) I headed to Rockland Broad chasing a report of a juvenile Black Tern from yesterday. No sign, yet again Rockland fails to deliver! Reports on the sightings board of recent Osprey and Bittern.

Yesterday I decided a sea watch was well overdue, but so was I it seemed as an hour at Scratby in the afternoon threw up 2 Med Gulls and a R Diver. I had feared the best had passed. Losing the will, I had a quick poke round King's Loke in Hemsby. No migrants as yet, but I will persist here and hopefully the best is yet to come this Autumn. My new job is enjoyable but time consuming, so I will have to make the most of some early starts over the next few weeks I'm sure.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Chat about the patch

Looking back on a busy few weeks, I did catch the tail of the fall including a superb inland Wryneck at Strumpshaw Fen and a Red-backed Shrike at North Denes Lowestoft. Also here were a Whinchat and a Wheatear. Working now in Carlton Colville, that means Lowestoft and in particular Pakefield are within easy reach for a post-work visit if conditions are good.

This morning I made an early start hoping for some migrants on the patch. The resident birds were initially the highlight: Kingfisher and Barn Owl at Surlingham got the day off to a good start. From the lagoon, a patch of scrub held at least 3 Reed Warbler, 1 Reed Bunting and a couple of Blue Tits. This reminded me of a similar encounter at Claxton over a week a go, a seemingly inconspicuous bush holding Lesser and Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Stonechat and Reed Bunting. All birds looking like fresh juveniles, sticking together in the hunt for food before the long journey south. I was determined though to find a Whinchat today, so widened my search to Langley Marshes and then Claxton. It was here I scored, 3 Whinchat seen from the footpath that leads away from the river starting at the Beauchamp Arms. Excellent little birds and a good bird to add to the patch list. Hopefully after a quiet couple of months this will kick things off again.

Of note, the sightings board at Church Marsh recorded 2 juvenile Ruff from August. Still need that one!

Debs and I had a walk on the beach at Happisburgh this afternoon before dinner. Sand Martins were still feeding young on the cliffs, and whilst it was still mild the evening pulled in much more quickly and the air turned cold and damp as we left.

Last night, I volunteered at Strumpshaw where a large group joined us for a Bat walk. Soprano and Common Pip were seen well to the delight of the group, and a Noctule flew over unseen. A few moths had been saved from the trap, including Canary Shouldered and Autumn Thorn.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Away from home

After more dips searching for Clouded Yellow than I care to remember (I got up early today only to be confronted with rain sheeting down, great) Debs and I escaped to Derbyshire for a week away. I had managed to convince Debs it was worth doubling back on ourselves in order to visit the Birdfair, so this we did on the Saturday. As usual, we divided our time between talks, book searching and chatting to a few friends. Jari Peltomaki's excellent presentation on the Owls of Finland was one of the best I have seen at Birdfair, polished to say the least. We also attended talks on Birding in Spain and the Wildlife on Yellowstone; both hot contenders for honeymoon/future trips. Incidentally, I have just finished Stuart Winter's gripping 'The birdman abroad'. His descriptions of American Warblers have pushed the USA right to the top of my must visit list.

Back in Derbyshire, it was birding in the dales for the week. The hills and the peaks for me offer a piece of wilderness we don't have in Norfolk. I come here and sense an urge to climb, to inspect distant woodland and to traipse across heather moorland. We did a bit of this! Around Dovedale, we enjoyed a relaxed circular walk encountering some excellent upland birds. A Dipper was typically poised on rocks by a fast flowing stream. A Grey Wagtail fed nervously on a small flash. We were treated to excellent views of a family of Wheatear, the young newly fledged. I have never seen downy Wheatears before. A male Redstart offered a few tantalising glimpses, reminding me of the excellent Surlingham bird earlier this year. Peregrine yelled from the peak above, fending off constant raids from the local Corvids. Stunning vistas and a pleasure to watch all of this play out.

The heather Moorland around Beeley is not easy to work, but having been relatively successful on our last visit 3 years ago, we visited the same area. Sure enough, we had a hunting female Merlin in the bins before long! Sparrowhawk and Buzzard completed the Raptor count.

Closer to our base in Milford, we visited local reserves such as Wyver Lane and Carsington Water. Although we saw little of note, it was just nice to bird new areas, enjoy a different landscape and again see a Dipper! Carsington turned out to be a good spot for Tree Sparrow, a delightful bird not common in Norfolk. Debbie picked up a Common Sandpiper here too.

Couple of highlights to round things off. Driving back from Dovedale after a superb meal in Alstonefield, a Tawny Owl was out and about nice and early for us. Perched on wires, he gazed down at us before disappearing into the forest. Finally, exploring the Coombes Valley across the border in Staffs I opened up a disused nest box to see what nesting material the Pied Flycatchers had been using. To my pleasant surprise, a Brown Long-eared Bat was roosting inside the box. The little fellow peered up at me, confused no doubt. I closed the box, leaving him in peace and counting myself very lucky.

Speaking of Pied Flys, a few have arrived at typical coastal locations today along with the odd Wryneck. The weather looks decent for the weekend, but whether I like it or not I am off to a speed awareness course (got the ticket on the way back from a Bat survey late one night) followed but Notting Hill Carnival for a final blow out before the final week of holidays.

 Eying up a bird
 Painted Lady- my third of the year after 2 at Queen's Hills
 Wheatear Family
 View from Sheepwash hide at Carsington Water
'Cave' (?) Mushrooms at Wyver Lane 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Norfolk Bat Survey- the results are in!

That was quick! Results as follows.

TG3206 Summary:
Summary: the numbers relate to the number of bat passes rather than necessarily the number of bats.
Bat species = where there is insufficient information to assign the recording to a species or bat family - normally where there is too much noise to pull out a reliable signal.
Myotis species = this is where the recording belongs to the family Myotis, which in Norfolk includes Natterer's, Daubenton's, Whiskered and Brandt's.
Low confidence = where there is a high chance of the recording being assigned to the wrong species. Confusion is most likely between Daubenton's, Whiskered and Brandt's, and between Noctule, Serotine and Leisler's.

30 July

1 Brown long-eared bat
8 Common pipistrelle
2 Myotis species
4 Noctule
28 Soprano pipistrelle

1 August

1 Brandts - low confidence
2 Brown long-eared bat
29 Common pipistrelle
1 Natterers - low confidence
2 Noctule

36 Soprano pipistrelle

You will notice the 31st is missing; as I feared, the batteries popped out that night. The full results actually provide times of individual Bat passes more often than not down to species level. Great stuff, I could have some fun on excel if I had time or knew how! What both nights had in common was that passes stopped or went unrecorded between 2.30 and 3.00am. Not sure how to explain that, perhaps they had headed back to the roost. Certainly 5 species there, possibly 7, and as David at Wheatfen said to me it is the unconfirmed ones that are potentially the most interesting. Brandt's stands out, a Bat I have never seen and of which there are very few Norfolk records. I would expect the Myotis species on the 30th to be Daubenton's, commuting over the fen to water. Many thanks to all at the BTO for analysing the data so quickly. Remember- you can still get involved.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Bits and pieces.

Firstly, congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Emerson!

A few notes from the start of August. Ashwellthorpe Wood on the 1st, no White Admirals but many Whites and Peacock. A Common Buzzard was calling and circling above the wood and a smart Kestrel was hunting on the woodland edge.
On the 2nd, I completed my first of 2 Waterways surveys for Daubenton's Bat. 15+ passes of said species were noted, an improvement on the last survey which was 8 in 2008. Considering the proximity of Marriot's Way to the city centre, I was pleasantly surprised to record 5+ Noctule, 2 Common Pip and many Soprano Pip. I have since had a Noctule fly over my house on his evening commute, what a garden tick! 
Debs and I visited Strumpshaw Fen on the 4th, enjoying the almost menacing flights of Migrant and Southern Hawker along with both Ruddy and Common Darter. 100's of Peacock Butterflies nectared in the reed beds, an amazing sight.
Due to the sparsity of notes in my book (getting lazy) I cannot put an exact date to the next sighting, but I would say it was around the 5th. I was very lucky to watch a mother and fawn Chinese Water Deer feeding amongst the newly cut grass next to Rockland Broad. I managed a few photos before mum spotted me and headed the youngster of to safety. Full of character these small Deer, and that is my second fawn this year. 

Yesterday, on route to a stag do I travelled via the Ouse Washes. I had forgotten what a desolate, windswept place this was. And the roads are a nightmare. Last time I was here, in 2011, I dipped a Blue-winged Teal. Same story this time. I didn't have much time to spare, phone calls in the hide and texts alerting me that the stag party were in a pub in Isleham informing me I needed to 'get on it' further shortened what time I had. The Teal was not on show, but I did see a good selection of common Waders. 
This morning, shaking of a heavy one, I saw a juvenile Cuckoo on a fencepost by our campsite. Tawny Owls had called throughout the night, and Common Terns were fishing the river Lark over the watershed. 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Barbastelle at Surlingham?

After setting up the recorder for the Norfolk Bat Survey, I took myself off for a walk in the dark round Church Marsh. I feel like I know this place like the back of my hand, but I like how it can shock and surprise me in the dark. Nightwalking is underrated.

From the hide, I awaited the impending Geese roost. Some great counts:
Greylag 193
Canada 27
Egyptian 13

There were also 4 Green Sandpiper probing the margins, my highest count this Autumn. By now, I was expecting the Bats to join me but I was disappointed. Single passes of Noctule, Common and Soprano Pip were all I managed until I approached the Church. (I should however comment on my encounter with a young Fox, one of the cubs from earlier in the year no doubt. I watched him for ages in the fading light, something I never would have gotten away with during the day.

The track leading to the church and the car-park has often been good for Bats, and tonight was no exception. Noctule passed overhead, and both Common Pipistrelle Species hunted right above my head. In amongst the noise from the detector, I picked up a Myotis sounding frequency, peaking at 32 KHZ. Possibly a Daubenton's (no water here, though) or maybe a Natterer's. Upon tuning the detector up to 45, the sound became faint, lost at 55. Back at 32, the detector was now emitting a series of smacks I did not recognise. Surely not?! I couldn't see any Bats,it was too dark by now (22.10). I have never knowingly heard Barbastelle, so despite picking the same frequency up again in the Churchyard I was prepared to accept it was a Natterer's, which would be a good record for me at Surlingham.
However, back home I have since listened to some recordings of Barbastelle and this sounds precisely like what I heard last night. The fact the strongest frequency was at 32 further adds weight to this claim. They can apparently sound 'Myotis like' in clutter, but the fast paced smacks are characteristic.
The buzz of detecting a Bat and hearing the clicks, smacks and bubbles never fades, but this was my first moment of genuine excitement whilst out detecting. I have emailed the Norfolk Barbastelle Study Group, hopefully for confirmation (difficult with single observer/listener and no recordings made) and I hope to try again in the early part of next week. I need to be out 20 minutes earlier. I can't tick it 'til I've seen it!

The Norfolk Bat Survey

Having picked up the equipment from Wheatfen (and then again, from County Hall!) I was all set to partake in the Norfolk Bat Survey. My registered 1km square is TG3206. This square includes much of Surlingham Marsh, Heron and Bury's Marsh, the latter pair not accessible to the public. On Tuesday night, I set up the equipment on Heron's Marsh. It was a perfect evening of Broadland beauty: low-hanging mist, Groppers reeling and Chinese Water Deer ending the tranquillity with the occasional bark or grunt.

Since this spot, I have set the detector to record at the end of Cut Loke (next to Bury's Marsh) and tonight I have one final spot, to the east and nearer Wheatfen. I think this promises to be the best location due to the mix of trees, a wildflower meadow and proximity to water.

Back to Buckenham

Debs and I returned to Buckenham on the evening of the 29th of July, a pleasant breeze and a fine evening was enjoyed. We bumped into Justin at the mill, a nice chap and vastly experienced in terms of birding the Yare Valley and further afield. He pointed out the Little Stint to us, my first of the year having not scored in Spring. This individual was not showing spanking scapulars I would expect from a juvenile, but the V-shaped brace was noticeable. Perhaps a first year breeder?
An excellent array of Waders were on offer, including at least 6 Wood Sandpiper split between the mill pool and the hide scrape. Singles of Green and Common Sandpiper, Greenshank and Curlew (over and flying onto my patch!) were accompanied by 5 Little-ringed Plover, and 4+ of Redshank, Common Snipe and Ruff. I adore Wader watching, but the evening light made it challenging so it was great to have Justin on hand. Whilst we were watching birds, Debs was taking some pictures.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

A mega Wader this Summer?

Personally, I think the next few weeks looks good for a rare, even mega, Wader here in Norfolk. The warm weather has allowed pools, lagoons and scrapes to look particularly inviting to any flyover flocks. At Surlingham, the water levels are the lowest I have ever seen them, almost too low. Pictures below. However, we are now due some stormy weather and a continuation of South-westerlies. Rain tends to ground, or at least push around, any Waders in an area. I would love to stumble across a Pectoral Sandpiper, and both Cantley and Buckenham have a decent record with this species. A straightforward Semi-P, or summer plumage Stilt Sand, and I'm dreaming. So, it was with these thoughts that I made my first visit to Cantley beet pools this morning. Selected counts as follows:

Green Sandpiper 12
Common Sandpiper 1
Ruff 9
Redshank 1
Lapwing 18

Also here, a Common Tern passed though  and I was noisily harassed by a gang of Black-headed Gulls who decided I was a clear threat to their chicks out on the pool.

Buckenham Marshes were splendid today, and hopefully a sign of things to come. I counted a total of 4 Wood Sandpiper, I would tentatively suggest at least 2 were juveniles but need to do some more reading in this area. Such a fragile looking bird, a pleasure to see and a sure sign that Autumn is on the way. Counts:

Wood Sandpiper 4
Green Sandpiper 2
Black-tailed Godwit 52 (Stunning mix of plumages).
Redshank 2
Ruff 2
Avocet 2
Greenshank 1

Marsh Harrier and Little Egret also.
I think 4 Wood Sandpiper is the most I have ever seen at Buckenham. There are also 6 birds being reported from Carlton Marshes in Suffolk. It's now or never for one at Surlingham!

Speaking of my patch, a couple of visits to report. On the 26th a single Green Sandpiper was on the lagoon, as were 2 Grey Heron. I enjoyed watching one wrestle with an Eel. Southern Hawker Dragonflies were new for the year. On the same date at Wheatfen, 4 Snakes that slithered into the undergrowth before I could get a look were probably Grass. I did manage to see a Fox though, near the small broads. On the 27th, it was a warm hazy evening before the rain came. Sparrowhawk begging calls were heard from the wood. 2 Stock Dove fed on the edge of the lagoon and the Green Sandpiper remained. 3 Sand Martin passed overhead. I was again lucky with mammals. Firstly, a vole sp shuffled off into a dyke before I could get a look at him. I was more fortunate with the local Water Deer though; a mother had bought her fawn down to the lagoon to drink and feed. I felt very privileged to watch, the second year in a row I have seen a youngster here.

PS I dipped the Two-barred Crossbills at Lynford. I do like Crossbills, but I like Waders more. Not feeling too disappointed, there will be more.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Away in Spain and home for more Bat surveying.

From the 19th to 21st of July I was at a friend's wedding in Spain, not far from Madrid so other than the airport I enjoyed rural surroundings, the constant buzz of insects and village plazas for my short time there. This was in no way a wildlife watching trip, but naturally my eyes were peeled and I picked up a few good bits. Birds of prey were enjoying the hot thermals, although I could only get a positive ID on a Red-footed Falcon. I had what I think was a Spanish Imperial Eagle, surrounded by many smaller Raptors, high in the sky over farmland. Much easier to ID were Great White and Little Egret, White Stork and Bee Eater. Despite the intense heat and late nights of beer and fine dining I did manage a walk out into farmland. A Shrike on wires was perhaps a Red-backed, and a Clouded Yellow flew right past me, a new species altogether. On doing some research it would seem this was probably a Berger's Clouded Yellow. I also encountered a Marbled Skipper, another new Butterfly. There many smaller Blue Butterflies, Chalkhill I think, although the full suite of features could not be obtained. So, an excellent few days and Spain remains at the top of the list for next year's honeymoon. Cadiz area sounds great, perhaps slightly cooler too!

Back home, I have completed part 2 of my NBMP survey in Thorpe St. Andrew. This time I was accompanied by Johny Prochera, thoroughly nice chap who like me enjoys escaping into the wilderness. On Monday 22nd, we had 6 Noctule Passes, 1 unsure and 3 Common Pip passes. Not quite as productive as last time, but the heavy cloud cover meant the Noctules would have been out even earlier so perhaps we missed the real action. The evening ended with light drizzle too, again perhaps a factor in the Bat's behaviour. Next- the NBMP waterway survey.

First- a trip to Lynford to nail these Two-barred Crossbill!

Monday, 15 July 2013

More Butterflies and the odd Bat for a blog.

Re-visited a site near Bergh Apton on Sunday, rich in Butterlfy and Insect life. Literally 100's of Meadow Brown and Ringlet were seen, the next numerous species probably Small Tortoiseshell. Red Admiral numbered just 2, Large Skipper 2 and Small/Essex Skipper c10. My first Gatekeepers of the year, 2, and 3 White species completed a super haul. The Cinnabar and 6-Spot Burnet were the day flying Moths were also encountered. 2 Brown Hawker patrolled the nettle beds, and a large Hawker went unidentified. Some choice pictures below.

Looking back to the 25th of June, a NBSG survey at Rainthorpe Hall near Taswood Lakes proved very productive and also marked a change in the weather for the warmer. The Hall itself is a quite stunning relic, well maintained and a privilege it was to walk the grounds. Before dark, a Barn Owl flew in front of the car and a Tawny Owl called. At least 3 Fox were seen as dusk fell and finally, James, you were spot on- I saw a Glow Worm! Once the Bats were out we were busy. Soprano and Common Pipistrelle were the frequent flyers tonight, and we also enjoyed good views of Noctule and Daubenton's.  Upon receiving results it seems a possible Barbastelle was recorded, but too faint to be sure.

On the 11th of July, a site record of 2 Little Egret were feeding on the lagoon at Surlingham Church Marsh. Both appeared to be adults, and legged it before I got a chance to capture them feeding. Green Sandpiper numbers are stable at 2.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Weather to watch Insects

After a week of bright but at times unsettled and stormy weather, it seems much of Britain has been struck by a mini heatwave. This is of course excellent weather for watching Butterflies and Dragonflies go about their business. Before recounting the last 2 days, of note at Church Marsh was a Common Tern upriver on the evening of the 3rd, new for the year.
Yesterday Debs and I spent the heat of the day at Wheatfen. We ended up with a cracking species list. Scarce Chaser were relatively common both in dykes and over the reeds. Black-tailed Skimmer, Norfolk Hawker, 4 Spotted Chaser and probable Broad-bodied Chaser were our other big Odonata. Onto Damselflies, and we saw Large Red, Azure, Common Blue, Banded Demoiselle and Blue-tailed. Butterflies were also on fantastic form. We were lucky to receive a fly-past from a single Swallowtail. Large Skipper was new for the year, and Small Tortoiseshell were seemingly everywhere. Really pleased to see them doing well. 

Today, woken by the new Cat I decided to get out and about before the heat became oppressive. Thankfully, there was some bird interest at Church Marsh. A single Green Sandpiper was working the muddy edges of the lagoon. A Little Egret flew overhead, and despite the growing heat the Warblers were all in good voice including Grasshopper- at least 2 of these reeling. Back to the insects, and the expected Red-eyed Damsels were on the lily pads floating on the river. A scarce Chaser hunted over the lagoon, and a Brown Hawker buzzed through. Ringlet Butterflies were out and about, new for the year. I love their beautiful subtlety. 
Onto Rockland, and again Small Tortoiseshell were in abundance. Large Skipper also increasing as the morning went on. I saw a Common Darter, new for the year. Finally, 2 Common Terns fished the broad. 

 Four-spotted Chaser
 Small Tortoiseshell
 Common Darter
 Large Skipper
Scarce Chasers 'busy'.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Canoeing with birds.

After much talk and until now little action (other than the purchase of a dry bag), on Saturday 29th myself and 2 of my best men set off on a weekend canoe and kayak trip down the river Nene. Our starting point was the 'harmless' market own of Oundle and our destination the town of Yarewell and campsite for the night. Conditions were breezy (turning to windy on the Sunday as we headed back up river)  but bright and often warm. It was a privilege to be so close to the wild residents of the river, and for that reason alone a long term aim remains to get myself a kayak or canoe and bird the shit out of the inaccessible broads.  Turning up a rare duck or two, access difficult, I'm there.
Anyway, our journey. We were accompanied by the omnipresent Red Kite. I never tired of seeing this superb Raptor, although Oundle resident Allan has them on his garden list! Common Buzzard and Kestrel were also plentiful. Best bird and contender for moment of the paddle came near Tansor, when a bird of prey leaving the water could only have been one thing- Osprey! The bird circled overhead, shimmied as if to dive, but in the end thought better of it and headed off. Wow. Added to this Summer visitor, Common Terns were seen every 15 minutes or so and both Reed and Sedge Warbler were regular. Cuckoos were heard twice, Kingfisher encountered on 3 occassions and Grey Wagtail, 4 of these.
Away from the birds, 1000's of Banded Demoiselle flitted in and out of the reeds and scrub, quite unforgettable. Red-eyed and Blue Tailed Damsel were easy enough to ID as we cruised past, and I would estimate there were hundreds of Common/Azure/Variable. Are Emeralds on the wing yet? Fairly sure I had at least 2, although the female Demoiselles do appear similar. Of the larger species, Broad-bodied Chaser, Black-tailed Skimmer and Hairy Dragonfly were all fairly regular.
Post-pub, we enjoyed Daubenten's Bats over the river and Soprano Pipistrelle near the mill at our campsite. Finally, after Austen meandered into some white water and capsized, a Grass Snake is worthy of a mention.

Some stats from the weekend:
20 miles canoed/kayaked.
15 hours on the water.
10 locks negotiated.
23 beers drank.
1 capsize
1 Osprey.

Lads, I look forward to the next water-based adventure! Now to recover from the last..........

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Caspo or not so?

With seemingly ideal conditions I headed to Buckenham Marshes RSPB just after lunch for a spot of Raptor watching. I found a suitable vantage point and parked up, overlooking woodland and the marshes. By 2pm, I had seen little to get excited about, 4 Common Buzzards the sum of my efforts. However at just after 2pm, I picked up what I initially assumed was a Gull distantly, but heading towards me. I soon realised this was a Tern, the flight too languid for a smaller Tern species but still distinctive. This was bigger than a Black-headed Gull. Soon enough, the bird was above me. I expected to see a black bill of a Sandwich tern, but instead got a carrot-coloured bill. Surely not? A Caspian?! Sadly the bird was lost to view heading north over Buckenham Woods. I calmed myself, and phoned RBA requesting the bird go out as a possible.

Why not a definite for me?

  • The bright sunshine I was staring into meant that the full suite of ID features could not be obtained. I could not see the primaries well enough to confirm nor deny black patches.
  • The bird was some feet above the tree line, and on a bright day with nothing to compare this bird to in terms of size, the usual caveats exist.
  • I did not notice streamers or  particularly long tail feathers, but I could not say for sure it was very short either. The direction of flight did not help.
  • I have never seen this species before! I dipped both the Thornham and Buckenham birds. 
  • Can I honestly rule out Royal Tern? In that light and again with no experience of either in the field, I'm not sure I can, however unlikely.
  • I never find anything decent.
Any thoughts welcomed.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Some recent goings on at Church Marsh.

Stepping back into last week, I had a good evening session at Surlingham Church Marsh. Whilst I have not yet been able to catch up with the Fox cubs again, a few markers have been laid down suggesting we are now into Summer. 2 Green Sandpiper were on the lagoon on the 19th, returning birds. Hopefully this is a sign of a decent Wader passage this year. Also on the lagoon was the first returning Teal of the Summer, a still smart drake. There were also 5 male Tufted Duck. Not sure if these chaps are returners or not, since Tufted Duck do breed on the reserve. Perhaps they are first Summer birds and/or local failed breeders.

Walking back through the churchyard, I heard the familiar squeak of a young Tawny Owl. The adult was seen briefly, chased into the pines by a noisy Blackbird. This left the young somewhere high amongst the leaves, and try as I might I could not find them! Plus, the adult would clearly have wanted to return, so I didn't look for too long before heading home and leaving the new family in peace.

Having been away at another wedding this weekend (9 in total this year!) it looks like I have missed the Rosy Starling up at Wells. Shame, looked a cracker. However, I do have a day off this Thursday so I am hoping for a warm day for some Raptor watching. I am also out again with the NBSG on Tuesday night, this time searching for the elusive Barbastelle at Taswood Lakes.

Friday, 21 June 2013

NBSG Survey

Out last night with the Norfolk Barbastelle Study Group surveying a transect within Lower Wood NWT, Ashwellthorpe. By the time we had walked the route in daylight, the hazy evening that had perhaps been in the offing had turned rather damp and overcast. 14 Degrees was warmer than recent weeks however, and Moths were on the wing which was a good sign.

We recorded 10 known Bat passes within the transect, the majority Common Pipistrelles along with a couple that were a little faint and therefore unidentified. Walking back to the car park, we encountered both Soprano and Common Pipistrelles. I love the peace and stillness of a woodland at night, but seemingly Bats aren't quite so keen. The woodland edge and gardens were predictably the best spots.

Despite the Bats not playing ball, Lower Wood is a super reserve nonetheless and access has been made easier thanks to a carpark just off the road through the village. The evening bird song was super, and the smell of wild garlic almost omnipresent throughout the wood. I would imagine a walk later in the Summer could turn up a greater range of Bats, although the analysis of recordings may throw up something else.

EDIT- Recordings analysed by Jane, and indeed we were having a better evening out there than we realised! Most exciting of all were 6 Barbastelle calls, some of which were recorded on my transect and (I hope) missed due to the noise of the rather long grass! Myotis sp. and Noctule from elsewhere also recorded. Blimey!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Keep Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'!

Saw an awesome bird today! Having been unable to connect with the Roller at Edgefield on Sunday due to family commitments, my personal day out from school could not have been better placed. I arrived at the clearing near Holt Lowes this morning and the Roller was on show, atop a tall tree stump. The bird continued to show albeit distantly, and was observed in flight and feeding. I left when the bird seemed settled on the ground. I remember as a child leafing through my Reader's Digest Birds of Britain, and thinking "What on earth is that doing in here?"whilst looking at the Roller image. Now, I have seen one for myself. Many thanks to the finder. Also at Edgefield, 2 Crossbill (!m) and a singing Woodlark.

Working backwards, I opted for a quiet potter around Wheatfen on Sunday, and arrived to find their busiest day of the year in full flow, Swallowtail Day. I tagged on the end of a guided walk and got to see 3 or 4 Swallowtail Butterflies, my first this year. Someone had also spotted a freshly emerged Elephant Hawkmoth, a cracker as always.  The reserve was buzzing, Gropper reeling and 2 Cuckoo calling whilst at the Swallowtail site. I had a quick chat to the warden David Nobbs before leaving, lovely chap, he told me that Red Kites are being seen every week and a Spotted Flycatcher has been in the cottage garden.  Wheatfen is such a special place, I look forward to whiling away a few Summer's days here again this year.

Last week, Thursday night, I joined Norwich Bat Group for the annual UEA Bat Hunt. The weather was a little breezy, but not too cold and thankfully for the first time this year, the Bats delivered. A full set of results can be viewed here: Thanks to Stuart for taking the time to analyse the recordings.

A quick plug for the Norfolk Bat Survey: If you haven't already done so, it is not too late to sign up and help ascertain just what species are in 'your' 1km square. Details here:

Digging further back into the archives, on Monday the 10th Debs and I shared in a proper wildlife experience at Church Marsh when 2 Fox cubs emerged from an earth. The light was fading and despite revisiting we have not yet encountered the cubs again. Still, magical stuff.

To finish, a few recent highlights that we did manage to photograph!

 Surlingham Fox Cubs
Surlingham evening sky
 Common Spotted Orchid
 Elephant Hawkmoth
Swallowtail Butterfly

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Retracing my steps.

Another crazy few weeks has led to the absence of an update. I am pleased to report that I have been out and about, and looking back over the pictures Debs and I took has reminded me of a few gems over the past few weeks.
A highlight for me has been the emergence of Dragons and Damsels. At Wheatfen, Large Red and Azure Damselfly were on the wing on the 26th of May, along with Hairy Dragonfly. Better late than never! This was a particularly fine day, in which we also heard Cuckoo and saw a Grass Snake.
At Rockland on the 2nd of June, 4 Spotted-Chasers were new for the year, striking looking beasties these. Red-tailed Damsels were also a first of 2013. On the birding front, a distant Hobby was a year tick and 2 Common Terns were hawking over the broad. Met a thoroughly decent chap who was convinced he had seen a Lynx here a few years back.
Evening visits to Surlingham Church Marsh have thrown up the expected breeding birds at this time of year. Debs and I enjoyed watching a Barn Owl hunt earlier in the week, a positive sign considering the scarcity of sightings from here this year.

Away from Norfolk, a wedding in Harrogate involved a stop at a friends in Oundle. We took out a canoe and paddled down the Nene one evening. A fantastic experience, not least because the wildlife accept a much closer encounter than if one were walking. We saw Kingfisher, Common Tern, Bullfinch and distant Red Kites throughout the valley. A stop at a lock for a beer and crisps with 2 of my best mates was pretty much my idea of perfection. Need to start saving for a Kayak, I've done enough talking about it!

On the Bat front, a very early individual left a roost somewhere near Surlingham church at 8.30pm on Wednesday the 5th of June. I would guess Natterer's based on flight pattern. The weather is slowly improving, so the various surveys I have signed up to should begin soon. This coming Thursday, the 13th, is Norwich Bat Group's Big Bat Hunt at UEA. Passive detectors will be used which record every Bat pass, and computers will be available to help assign the recordings to species level that night. If you are interested, we are meeting at North Park Avenue carpark at 9pm.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Whirlwind couple of weeks

Just happy to be alive and kicking after a nasty accident involving a berk in a lorry and my now scrapped Fiesta. Luckily, a lady stopped and offered to be a witness if necessary which put my faith back in humanity within a few minutes. Moral of the story? Do not take out insurance with Hastings Direct. Useless. 

Anyway, rant over and new car is on the way. Starting with the South Yare patch, a new species was added to the year list, and a very pleasing one too since Grey Partridge have declined considerably in the last 20 years. A pair were seen in a field along Surlingham Lane. At Church Marsh, 2 Feral Pigeon were an almost regrettable patch tick. Things have been quiet here, as the resident species settle down to breed and absolutely no Waders pas through. It has been rather more lively over at Claxton, where a Montagu's Harrier has been hanging around opposite Buckenham RSPB. Despite 3 evening visits after work, I still haven't connected. A calling Greenshank did provide me with a new bird for the year however. 

Yesterday, Connor and I agreed to put some time in on the Norfolk coast searching for migrants. Upon hearing that he and Ben had endured a largely fruitless day on the point the day before, I was already lowering my expectations. We walked Burnham Overy Dunes and Wareham Greens, not seeing a single migrant. The saving grace was smashing views of a pair of Montagu's Harrier and a Red Kite.

Today, Debs and I enjoyed a stroll in some sunshine around Wheatfen. Finally, we observed our first Dragons and Damsels of the year. A pair of both Large Red and Azure Damselfly and then 2 singles of Hairy Dragonfly were seen. Other bits of interest were a Sparrowhawk, Cuckoo and at least 2 Grass Snakes. 
We had our eyes to the skies here and later at Rockland, but no sign of the reported Black Kite from yesterday. 

A Bat update- last night I was on a NBMP course which dealt with survey methodology and identification. I'm good to go! Bats were not really playing ball, a few Daubs and less than 5 Pips; it was bloody freezing. We did see a roding Woodcock and a Barn Owl at Santon Downham. 
At the Norwich Bat Group AGM I ended up joining the committee, so the way this Summer is shaping up I won't be seeing too much daylight!