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.