Sunday, 28 December 2014

Stubb Mill Raptor roost and stuff on the patch

Roost watches on the patch proving fruitless in terms of the scarcer stuff right now. Been at it in the late afternoon pretty solidly since the 20th, spending time all over the patch. Most Marsh Harrier were c7 going to roost at Stumpshaw, seen from Wheatfen. There were also around 1000 Starling here, swirling around in a cloud before dropping off into the reedbed. Rather worryingly, the only Barn Owl I have seen was at Claxton Marshes on the 23rd. Swathes of Wigeon and Lapwing on and around the river here as usual, a wonderful sight and sound.

Bullfinch have been a real flavour of the month, picked up by their mournful calls and often found feeding high up in the trees. Maximum only a pair though.

So, on Boxing Day Debs and I ventured a little further afield to Hickling Broad and the Raptor roost at Stubb Mill. I haven't visited for a couple of years and Debs it transpired never has, so a perfect place to spend the afternoon. I would estimate we had around 40 Marsh Harrier, and then 2 Kestrel, 22 Crane and 2 Whooper Swan. Brambling heard wheezing.The Cranes of course the highlight, an absolute delight to see and hear. The 'new' track takes you back to the carpark via the marsh edge, and so we were treated to more sightings and bugling calls of the Cranes. A fabulous site and we agreed to spend more time here in the Spring. Being totally honest- a little disappointed not to see a Hen Harrier and/or Merlin (someone called a ringtail but it was just a young Marsh Harrier) and whilst we were probably a little unlucky with respect to the former, this Winter has been rather ordinary and both Owls and Harriers are thin on the ground.

Off out to Ludham in a bit, perhaps we will get lucky there.

Track through Surlingham Wood, Wheatfen
View across to Hickling Broad and Marshes

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Into the final knockings

I rose before the sun today and enjoyed a crisp morning and a walk around Surlingham Marsh. I encountered a Muntjac Deer on the Carnser, perhaps foraging away from frozen areas like the numerous Thrushes on the ground. I then heard 1 if not 2 Bullfinch, and for a change the pair were easy to see amongst the dead wood and pale sky. Stunning birds and lovely to have them so local. A female Marsh Harrier was hunting over Heron's Marsh, and she or another bird flew close by overhead as I made my way round. There was little else out and about bar a Chinese Water Deer and a nice mixed Tit flock containing Marsh and Coal. It was a gorgeous morning though.

Returning home briefly for a much needed bacon butty, I then went east to Rockland Broad. The small dyke that held a Grey Wagtail last Winter appears to have been dredged, much to the interest of the local Finches and Tits. Still no Brambling though. The broad itself held Tufted Duck, Coot, LBB, Common and Black Headed Gull. More Bullfinch called from the scrub. 2 Chinese Water Deer grazed on the meadow. 

I gave Claxton Marshes a go this evening, ending the day with 2 each of Kestrel and Barn Owl. 4 Chinese Water Deer were here. Darkness had moreorless engulfed the marsh, but I popped to Church Marsh to check the depth gauge and heard both Snipe and Chinese Water Deer. That makes a total of 8 today, on the increase I would suggest and potentially damaging, as nice as they are to see.

Not long until the year list comes to an end, and begins again anew. Still time to add a tick or two to the patch list, hoping for Short-eared Owl (seen the wrong side of last Christmas) or a Whooper/Bewicks.

Monday, 17 November 2014

From doorstep to marsh and back

Rose early on Sunday morning to a dripping, damp misty morning in the village. The lanes and hedges are ablaze with colour at the moment, and Debs and I enjoyed all of this well before the rest of the village awoke. Upon leaving the front door, the first bird of the day was to be a Bullfinch, couldn't ask for a better start! At least 2 birds were calling, all I saw on this occasion was a white backside. Good to know they can be seen local though.
Continuing towards Ferry Road on foot, we encountered Fieldfare, Redwing and Song Thrush feeding on the Rose hips adorning the scrub. Birding can and will be at times dull in the deep mid-winter, but these welcome visitors always make it bearable. Not much was moving overhead due to the thick mist, and the same was true upon arriving at Church Marsh.
A significant number of Teal were loafing about on the lagoon, and after nervously circling when we arrived, they settled again and I was able to count 107, which Ben tells me is a record count! Smashed, the previous high being 53 from 16th November 2003, incredibly the same date as my count. As well as the expected residents including Kingfisher, Cettis' Warbler and Reed Bunting, a familiar pinging sound emanated from deeper within the reed bed. Finally, Bearded Tit have returned to Church Marsh after at least a 3 year absence. Number 120 for the year.

Owls featured elusively rather than prominently this weekend. Arriving at Chris and Allison's on Saturday night, an Owl drifted through the yard which I at first thought was Tawny, although they do have a resident Barn Owl (and part time Hen Harriers and Tree Sparrows, very nice). It was nice to visit and catch up with everyone.

Back home, Debs and I both awoke in the early hours this morning to a calling Tawny Owl. I could hear another bird towards Coldham Hall, but can't recall if he came any closer as I drifted off to sleep again.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Patch update and Carlton Marshes

It has been a while since I have added a new species to the year list let alone updated the blog. The latter will have to suffice for now!
I parked up at the top of the hill, Church Marsh beneath me, Saturday the 8th on a mild November day. A Thrush fest ensued of the good kind, with Mistle, Song, Redwing and Fieldfare all bursting out of the berry bushes they had been feeding on. It is also a good time of year for Corvids too, with Jays popping on on both fat balls in our garden and in their usual spots around the reserve. Elsewhere, the WeBs count was poor, with just 20 Tealthe only Duck encountered. I wonder how saline levels are in the lagoon, post-flooding a couple of weeks ago.
Onto Rockland, and the count was restricted to GC Grebe and a Cormorant. 2 Crows gave the local Buzzard hassle over the small wood in the marsh. Interesting to note a sightings board discussion that had taken place in the hide "What a joke, cow shit everywhere", followed by "What do you expect, this is the countryside. Try Eaton Park".
Driving home, a large flock of 50+ Fieldare nervously exploded from an Oak in the village, and an evening walk round my new stomping ground Surlingham Marsh (Coldham Hall, for those who don't know where this is) produced a Woodcock after dark.

I had been meaning to explore some Waveney Valley habitat for a while, so on Sunday I ventured to Carlton Marshes. A super reserve with bags of potential. The scrape reminded me of the Argentinian Pampas, so desolate and open. Here, a Redshank and 2 Little Egret probed for food but according to the sightings board, Jack Snipe has been regular of late. Walking the full circuit (just shy of 2 hours) I encountered a pair of Stonechat, Bearded Tit, Siskin, Goldcrest, a Stoat and Chinese Water Deer. Plenty more to see here, I will be back.

I had hoped to go on to see the Lowestoft Desert Wheatear, but by the time I had finished at Carlton dusk was arriving, and I had to pick up dessert. In a way, glad I didn't go. A lovely bird from the photos, but the behaviour I have read about sounded appalling, and I really hope this wasn't so and instead Chinese Whispers. Images of a person laying across the concrete reaching out to the bird were almost laughable were they not genuinely concerning.

Some awesome Cetacean sightings over the weekend, Humpback and today Pilot Whales moving through. Fascinating and a privilege to share our waters with these beasts.

Friday, 17 October 2014

A Steppe up and the week that was

Last Saturday, I caved and joined the throngs of visiting birders at Burnham Norton to see the Steppe Grey Shrike. Now, my Helm Shrike ID guide is in a box somewhere for removal but I did note at the time what a compact little bird this was, with lovely peachy hues on the flanks and pale mandibles with a black tip. I never tire of Shrikes and this one was a real crowd pleaser. A helpful chap on Birdforum pointed out that the Lincolnshire bird was if not more confiding, so perhaps that is indicative of this subspecies of Southern Grey Shrike. Debs and I watched with amusement as he fed on mealworms which had been provided. Overhead, Pink-footed Geese were returning to Norfolk for the Winter no doubt surprised by how mild it was, and still is.
The following day was my only real window of opportunity to get to the coast, what with moving this coming weekend. I went round Church Marsh first thing, 2 Kingfisher and Teal numbers building the highlights. Out East, Began at Waxham, very quiet save for an odd ticking in the small wood near the holiday cottage. Couldn't pin it down to anything and the bush I assumed it had come from gave nothing up. Of course I was thinking Radde's, but I have also heard some Robins make odd noises over the years. Hard work from Horsey corner to the pipe dump and back; Brambling south and steady passage of Mipits all I could muster. Then drove to Happisburgh. Whimpwell Green silent, no repeat of last year. Heard a single Yellow-browed Warbler at the edge of the cricket pitch in the village along with Richard Moores. That was to be my lot, and although it felt right, I was clearly a day early having looked at the charts.
I left the house at 7 the following morning.....for work! I stood and listened in the garden, for overhead in the drizzle and gloom were probably 100's of Redwing streaming through the village. On arrival at work, I went out to the playing field and still more were passing through, now in Beccles. I had that sinking feeling as I went back to my room to sort out lessons for the day.
I was pleased to hear from friends of their successes on the coast, Monday and Tuesday certainly produced the goods and as many have commented, if it had been a weekend who knows what else may have been found. It was less pleasing to hear of the poor behaviour at some of the twitches, and of some 'birders' intolerance for those that use the countryside for anything else other than birding. Neither act gives the hobby a good name.
So, southerlies for the next few days. Perhaps a rare Swift may make an appearance, and I would expect the first Brambling to arrive further inland. I have already heard Siskin calling at Church Marsh, so a change in the temperature late October and no doubt the Redpoll will follow. A Common Snipe called as it flew over our house last night, a reminder that things are changing and moving.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

I think......yes, Autumn is here.

As I type the wind is giving the leaves on the trees a real run for their money, and since I last posted Autumn has certainly arrived. Still relatively mild (I had a t-shirt on at Minsmere last Sunday) but change is afoot.

Beginning with Minsmere, the presence of a Little Crake seeped out to the news services on Saturday the 4th. This would be a new bird for me, so after an early morning check round Rockland (Swallow and probable Brambling the highlights) I headed to Suffolk expecting a queue for Bittern Hide and the usual throng of twitchers hoping to catch a glimpse. I arrived mid morning, wandered into the hide and set up my scope, nowhere near as busy as I had expected. Within 10 minutes the bird scuttled out onto the vegetation at the back of the pool. Despite the haze, it was clear enough to see I was looking at A smart Little Crake. My cousin and Uncle were enjoying views too along with a few other familiar faces. I watched the bird for 15 minutes or so, until more people arrived and I got out of the way to give them a spot. I went down to the sluice bushes which were quiet. A Stonechat and parties of Bearded Tits were the pick of the bunch heading back to the car.

Down on the patch, a male Stonechat was at Church Marsh on the 4th, in exactly the same spot as last year's bird, perched opposite the gun club. At Claxton Marshes, the Whinchats have long since departed but I have had a maximum count of 3 Stonechat, so perhaps this family are local to the marshes.
Post-Little Crake, Debs and I went to Langley Dyke for a walk down to the river. We scored big time here with a dog Otter swimming away from us towards Buckenham.

Not sure how to play this weekend coming. I am a big Shrike fan and with the Steppe Grey at Burnham Norton this is very tempting. Looking at Magicseaweed, there is a window for some easterly passage. Bit of rain on Saturday afternoon so perhaps Sunday morning, hit the coast. This is a key weekend, as the following is booked for another house move. Not far, infact just a bigger place in the same village.The doorstep habitat here is awesome, and on a Spring morning I am pretty confident I will be able to hear Sedge Warblers from the drive........

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A sprint for a Sandpiper and other Norfolk tales

Luckily nobody else was up early enough this morning to see me running back to the car to collect my scope at Church Marsh, having just spotted 2 Waders at the lagoon edge just to distant to ID. Certainly a test of the leg, which held out. On returning to the lagoon having worked up a sweat I was able to positively identify 2 Common Sandpipers, telling myself how much I liked Sandpipers and how much that could mean when the end of year patchwork challenge points are added up. Elsewhere on the reserve, I encountered singing Chiffchaff and Blackcap. Perhaps they are setting up a territory for winter or maybe just singing because they can. Kingfisher (regularly seeing at least one in the last couple of weeks) Sparrowhawk and 2 Little Grebe the best of the rest. In recent weeks Little Owl, Green Woodpecker and calling Tawny Owl are all of note.

Today Debs and I grabbed a few hours round Waxham before heading for dinner at my father in law's. We walked from Waxham Sands down to the pipe dump, and it was at the dump that we found Redstart, Whinchat, a beautifully crisp Lesser Whitethroat and 2 Wheatear, This was as good as it got but a really exciting half hour or so when it felt like almost anything could drop in. Hard work out there and as usual I wish I had more time. A move to the coast would sort this.......

I have been persisting with Caister the previous 2 weekends but to very little avail. I'll be honest- I do just prefer Waxham-Horsey! I still feel like there is more to discover in these areas I have birded casually for a good few years.

 Little Egret at Church Marsh, one of two that landed briefly during the week
 Me searching for rare at Waxham
Local Stonechat still a popular bird

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Wales, armchair birding and back on the patch

Without doubt my longest gap between updates on this ere blog, and with good reason. Not only has United's transfer dealings taken up a lot of my time on Twitter, but I also got married. This wonderful day was prefaced by a serious leg sprain which meant I was unable to walk properly for some time and I am not the best patient says the current Mrs. Bradley. Still, we enjoyed a wonderful mini break in Wales and I will start with this.

Our cottage was set on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, with the backdrop of Cennen Castle, Ravens and Red Kites. An ideal setting as I recovered on the couch and the swelling in my leg finally began to retreat. Every evening we were treated to a 40-strong Soprano Pipistrelle roost leaving both ours and the neighbouring cottage, the Bats emerging very early to hunt in the valley. Locally, we picked up Redstart, Badger and Wood Mouse. I wish I could have been able to explore more but long walks were out of the question.
We visited an RSPB reserve out on a limb, Gwenffwrd Dinas. A short walk here provided us with vintage Welsh Hills birding: Dipper, Yellow Wag, Raven, Red Kite, Buzzard, Redstart, Nuthatch, Tree Creeper. The same afternoon we went to a Red Kite feeding centre near Llandovery. 18 Kites very quickly became 50-60 once the food appeared, the birds seemingly arriving from all over the valley for their daily scavenge. Quite a sight!
The highlight of our trip was undoubtedly a trip to the Pembrokeshire coast, where we took a boat trip offshore in search of Cetacens. A couple of Harbour Porpoise were not far from base, which bode well. Grassholm was an incredible experience, 1000's of Gannets here, the noise and the smell intense and memorable. The further out we went, the more Manx Shearwater we saw, probably my best ever views of these as they zipped low over the water. Heading back, we stumbled upon our target- a pod of Common Dolphin. They soon came to use, and followed the boat for 20 minutes or so. There were at least 7, including 2 calves. Just wonderful and a true wild moment for us to share.
Back on dry land, after such a spectacle, my British lifer of a Chough would not be overshadowed. Picked up a pair feeding on a cliff side and gave the biggest fist pump of my life.

Back home, and the easterlies meant a trip to the coast was in order and now the leg was getting stronger I could expect to walk a little further. I decided upon Caister, and having chatted to a local birder about some other decent habitat I was unaware of here I will focus on these areas this Autumn. I had a decent visit, plenty of Whinchat and Wheatear about but nothing scarce. Most of the Greenish Warblers seemed to have made landfall on the north coast, although with one at Winterton yesterday who knows, I may have missed one.

Yesterday on the patch, I went out with the sole aim of adding a common migrant to the year list. Claxton Marshes delivered in style, not 1 but 7 Whinchat! Having had them here last year, I am hoping this will be an annual event.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

A new patch bird- not the Purple Heron though!

Yesterday news broke of a Purple Heron in a ditch at Claxton. Now, there are quite a few ditches at Claxton and no further details were forthcoming. Not owning a pager, I checked RBA online late in the day and knew I had missed a big patch bird and one which I have been expecting for some time now. I went out in search this morning post-car boot sale. Assuming it was mobile I began at Langley Dyke. Very quiet this morning, but I glimpsed a small bird flick from a wire into a bush, and back again. Surely a Flycatcher. This would be a patch tick whatever the species! I went round the back of the carpark for a better view, and confirmed it is Spotted Flycatcher! Now this seemed to be a different bird to before, as on its back were 2 white downy feathers not present on what was probably an adult seen at distance. This is what patch birding is all about, you just never know!
I had by now almost forgotten about the Heron, but I went to Claxton on auto-pilot. Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler and a female Sparrowhawk over but no Herons.

There is always something to do for our wedding at the moment, and I am finding myself turning down all sorts of offers to bird and socialise this year. I am desperate to get up to the north coast to hunt for butterflies but am having to be content with local wanderings, which I really should not complain about. Debs and I went to Wheatfen yesterday, which was superb for Dragons and Damsels. We saw Emperor, Migrant Hawker, Ruddy Darter and the species below. This may or may not be a Willow Emerald, opinion is split on the forums!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Great Knot in the bag and some local bits and bobs

Couldn't help but feel I had been here before, when a Great Knot was reported once again at Breydon Water. I absolutely love Wader watching so was not put off at all by the 'probable' reported on the Sunday night, and in preparation I slung some clothes and gear in the back of the car. I finished up at work early with a couple of tasks to complete, but there was only one place I was headed to first. It was a hot day, and I was glad of my shorts and t-shirt as I paced out the 1 and a half miles down the estuary towards Burgh Castle where I was delighted to find the bird feeding on the mud not too far out. I made a few notes at the time. Some spotting on the flanks, and scapulars looked black but fringed with white allowing for a chequered effect. The bill looked slightly decurved, the tail accentuated. The head colouring actually looked dark red but in fact was black, the sun playing tricks on this glorious hazy afternoon. I went home and read up on the Great Knot some more, who knows it could be me one day.

Although my local listing has slowed up I am still respectfully placed in the Patchwork minileagues. I have been very busy with wedding preparation which perhaps accounts for a lack of additions, but I still manage fairly regular visits at least to Church Marsh. Last night Debs and I heard at least one Gropper in full reel, saw our first Common Tern of the year fishing here and noted young Grebes and Tufted Ducklings doing well.

On Saturday we stopped briefly at Zak's in Mousehold and connected with a couple of Purple Hairstreak at the top of the oak in the car park. We also saw a young Peregrine near the river in the city centre.

At home in the garden, I have finally seen the local Nuthatch! A Gatekeeper was the newest addition to the Butterfly year list.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Rose-coloured Starling from work

My boss was kind enough to let me out of work during a free period this afternoon, I was hoping to see the male Rose-coloured Starling down the road in Carlton Colville. A short drive and I found the expected guys and girls in camo gear in the middle of a housing estate, much to the delight of school children heading home. I had no gear but a fellow birder Danny was kind enough to lend me his bins and track down the bird for me, top bloke! My first adult male of this species; forget the Caister bird I have seen the real deal now! When the Caister bird was last seen it was beginning to put on adult feathering, I'm sure this bird is a different individual but who knows.

Other than that it has been pretty uneventful on the patch of late. Even the common species are beginning to quieten down as the peaceful buzz of Summer sets in. Green Sandpiper, Cuckoo, Marsh Harrier and the like should not be taken for granted though! It appears an Osprey is being seen at Strumpshaw, so hopefully I can add this to the list at Rockland Broad soon.

On a walk yesterday afternoon Debs and I encountered our first Meadow Browns of the year. I expect the paddock to be full of them soon. In the evening, we are enjoying at least 3 Noctule Bats hunting overhead.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

A below average May ends with a bang

I had set aside last Friday to do some serious birding away from the patch, and met up with Connor early doors and headed to West Runton, where the female Black-headed Bunting proved a little too elusive. We checked out Wareham Greens where the only bird of note was a Spoonbill. With no further sign of the Bunting we had planned to call it a day, but news of a Rustic Bunting at Happisburgh had us sticking to the road for a little longer. This was to be a double Bunting dip, for the Rustic had gone to ground and has not been seen since. Ricky turned up and found a female Redstart in the paddocks near the coastwatch, and a small Warbler that sprang from the same bush was probably a Blackcap, not the bird we were looking for. A Yellow Wagtail the other bird of note here. The day ended up being a bit of a birding social, with Tim and John making welcome appearances during the day.

I walked to the Rockland Broad hide and back today, and it is pleasing to see that the 1s Little Gull is still in attendance. Reed Warblers were noisy, and one in particular was worth a closer listen incase of Marsh. Not yet, anyway. Now is the peak time for arriving Marsh Warbler and I will be devoting some time into finding one of these locally of the next couple of weeks.

Last night we arrived home from a wedding and I stood in the garden for a bit, listening out for passing migrants. I found myself in a state of shock at 11.30pm, when overhead I could hear 'crex, crex, crex'. A Corncrake was flying over the garden! The bird headed north in the direction of the river. This has to be contender for bird of the year. Just a paltry 2 points in the patchwork challenge though!

This afternoon I got round to planting some Gernaniums, Peppers, Cucumber and Tomatoes in the garden, and as I got my hands dirty a Common Buzzard soared overhead. Another more distant raptor was probably a Hobby.

If Odonata are your bag, now is a great time to be out and about in the broads. At Wheatfen earlier in the week I had Scarce Chaser showing really well, and today at Rockland the first Norfolk Hawkers for me this year.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Chasing the prize

A gap between posts as large as this in May can only mean one thing: the men in suits came for us at school. Despite the short half term, an unnerving finish and little opportunity to rest. I awoke early today to empty the Moth trap and for the first time in many weeks felt refreshed and ready to go again. Hopefully Spring has not left me behind.
Sunday the 18th was a warm day, so I went for a short walk along Langley Staithe. I enjoyed watching young Rooks being fed by adults on the marsh, almost as big as their parents now. There was not much other avian interest but the path was great for Butterflies. 2 Wall Brown, 2 Common Blue, 1 Small Tortoiseshell and 1 Small Heath- a new species on the patch for me. There were also Common and Azure Damsels on the wing.
An evening walk on Wednesday the 21st yielded a single Wheatear, again at Claxton, again atop the muck piles dredged from the surrounding dykes. My 3rd record this year.
Looking back more recently to Saturday, all of the usual suspects were to be found at Church Marsh and it looked as if migration had ground to a halt. A notable absentee the Garden Warbler has still not been picked up, although an early start will probably pay dividends. New for the year on the Odanata front were a Four-spotted Chaser and Banded Demoiselle. Red Admiral was a new Butterfly for the year.
Had an even better Dragonfly day at Wheatfen yesterday, with Scarce Chaser also on the wing. Some didn't last the day though, for a superb male Hobby appeared completely in control over the reedbed treating me to some excellent flight views and then perched eating his catch.
Checking through my photos, I have captured a lovely immature Scarce Chaser at Church Marsh, too! Any comments or thoughts on species, age, sexing welcome as always. Need to get back into the groove with Dragons.
 Immature Scarce Chaser, Surlingham Church Marsh
 Male Hairy Dragonfly, Surlingham Church Marsh
 Female Banded Demoiselle, Wheatfen
Male Scarce Chaser, Wheatfen

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Dark skies and Swifts

Epic scenes in the South Yare Valley this weekend. I never quite managed to beat the showers this weekend, the weather made a special effort to catch up with me. I did grab a few hours in the field here and there, and by far the highlight were 100's of Swifts careering against dark skies at Claxton Marshes this afternoon. I watched them for as long as the weather would allow, ever impressed with their aerial ability. It felt rare, too, and had I not been rained off I would definitely (maybe) nailed an Alpine.

Early this morning I set off for Langley Marshes, to count some Lapwing and hopefully catch up with some migrants. Undeterred by the drizzle outside (fuzzy head actually helping in that respect) I lucked in with a roadside Turtle Dove in Langley on route. A new patch bird! The marshes themselves weren't great, 6 Lapwing and a thorough soaking.

Debs and I enjoyed a stroll round Church Marsh this evening, finding Warblers hard to come by but 2 male and 1 female Shoveler had returned to the lagoon. Greylag Geese have goslings, and Mallard have ducklings. Sometimes it's the simple things.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Tern deluge

Rockland Broad was finally on excellent form this afternoon, and I must remind myself of that on the days when I see only Coot. Reports of Arctic Tern from yesterday had me on the edge of the seat, for this was a year tick. Looking at the news from today, Black Tern had now arrived in force and there was always a chance of this species too. My luck was in, for amongst at least 5 Common Tern were 1+ Arctic Tern and 1 Black Tern. A great opportunity to observe the distinct jizz of these 3 species, and the marsh Tern will of course be a highlight of the year when I look back. Also still present was the 1s Little Gull, a real acrobat this little chap, although I had come across him a few days back.
Walking back, I heard a Gropper from behind the hide and at the staithe, my first Swift of the year was seen above.

Church Marsh was pristine and alive with our summer visitors this morning. Teal seem to have done one now, leaving Gadwall, Mallard, Shelduck, Coot, Moorhen, Mute Swan and probably Tufted Duck to make best use of the lagoon. A little late this year, but 3 Lapwing have shown up at the back of the lagoon, 2 were calling and displaying early this morning. A Little Egret added a touch of class. 

On Star Wars day, I caught up with the Little Gull for the first time, who now appears to be lingering. Two Whimbrel passed through, with good numbers at Breydon I was hoping a couple might detach themselves from the group and head up river. 

On the 31st of April, further patch ticks in the shape of the glorious Hobby, hawking high over Claxton Marshes. Down on the ground, Two Wheatear were resting up on top of some of the piles of slidge presumably dredged from the surrounding dykes. Not just a patch tick these, but patch lifer! Although one of the benefits of living out here is being able to hit up prime spots when the time allows and the weather looks good. I am sure Wheatear are regular in the valley, but a first for me at any rate.

Finally, a mention of our garden. Debs heard a Cuckoo close by earlier in the week, taking the garden list to 61. We also saw our first Odonate of the year, a Hairy Dragonfly, beside the track leading to the house. What a pleasure it is to live out here. 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Yellow Wagtails at Surlingham plus being a whisker away

A Whiskered Tern at Rockland Broad last Thursday would not only have been a massive hit on the patch but also a lifer for me. It just wasn't meant to be however, I was working late and the bird was present for just over 3 hours once it had been reported. Rockland is a good site for this Tern, and despite no news on the Friday I headed down after work for a check round. 5 Common Tern were new for the year list, and if one thing has come out of this it is that I am now better at Terns having read ID guides to death since the event! Thank-you to all of the people who contacted me about the Tern, nice to know such a support network exists and I hope I can pay you guys back with a biggy on the patch one day. Providing I get to see it of course!

Teal are still clinging on at Church Marsh, with 3 pairs present as of yesterday. Whilst counting the Ducks, a familiar call instantly had me looking to the sky, and a lovely Yellow Wagtail flew east over the lagoon. I am sure they are present on passage both here and elsewhere at peak times, but nonetheless this was a bird I did not record anywhere last year, so I was pretty chuffed. Walking round to the ruins, another 2 flew over, something of a small passage taking place.

After Connor's superb Alpine Accentor on Saturday morning (he had calmed down by the time I spoke to him) I was keen to try the coast myself so made an early start at Caister this morning, exploring the area east of the gold course and then the scrubby heathland north of Fifth Avenue. Very few migrants in evidence, in-fact the highlight was not avian at all, but a Harbour Porpoise heading south. This made the early start worthwhile for sure. I know Ryan Irvine has them regularly off Hemsby, so this individual is probably a local. Other bits of note were 24+10 Barnacle Geese North (later picked up by Richard Moores at Happisburgh, I wonder as to the origin of these) and singing Sedge Warbler, Blackcap and Whitehroat. I pushed on to Winterto North Dunes, but even fewer migrants were in the bushes here so I called it a day and headed back to paint the bench. I couldn't resist a stop-off at the patch on the way home, and enjoyed excellent views of Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and Kestrel at Langley and Claxton Marshes. Possible Hobby at Langley but it disappeared to ground on the Cantley side of the river, so I will have to wait to add that to my list. The patch is really buzzing at the moment, Sedge and Reed Warbler all over the place and surely something a bit special soon?

Monday, 21 April 2014

Ton up on the patch, and a word on the AFON young birder's day at the BTO.

A 50-specie haul at the patch this morning, my best so far this year and some real crackers in there including Kingfisher, Cetti's Warbler, Marsh Harrier, Grasshopper Warbler, Green Sandpiper and number 100 for the year, Whitethroat. Not bad within walking distance of the front door! It feels like the pieces are falling into place now, although the weekend perhaps didn't deliver the excitement that some predicted.

Debs and I enjoyed walks round Rockland Broad and Wheatfen yesterday, hoping to catch the national Arctic tern passage that was hitting the news services. In all it was a very quiet day with little doing on either reserve.

I did want to mention the excellent A Focus On Nature young birder's day which was held at the BTO. Details of the participants can be found here:

Although I am listed as a speaker, I had the easy job of sitting on a debating panel. The youngsters had it much tougher, giving talks to all assembled. They were all fantastic and each with their own message. I was proud to see my cousin Ben speak with such enthusiasm about his birding experiences. Going by this lot, the future of nature conservation is in good hands. I certainly left feeling inspired, and I know the BTO staff felt the same way.

Friday, 18 April 2014

I got 99 problems but a patch ain't one HIT ME

Any excuse to get that lyric into a blog post title; needless to say I am up to 99 for the patch year list. A reeling Grasshopper Warbler brought up the number of Jay Z early this morning, although not in the usual early arrival spot, this one was in the corner of the reserve near the gun club. Elsewhere, 3 pairs of Shelduck on the lagoon smashed my record count for this species. Interesting to watch the reaction of the 2 resident pairs as the third arrived. Very aggravated, but the peace that ensued suggests the lagoon can cope with 3 pairs. However, a lurking Fox may have had other ideas this morning, eyeing up the Shelduck and the Gadwall with intent. Great mammal moment.

Marsh Harrier activity has been very interesting of late. 4 Different individuals have been seen in the last 2 weeks:

  • A regular 'silver'backed' male, colouration similar to that of 'Eastern' Marsh Harrier. He was seen dropping food into the reedbed, and (presumably) a female below responded.
  • A second male, typical plumage
  • A third male, juvenile, almost cream head and brown upper-parts rather than silver. A confusing individual on first glance.
  • An adult female, rarely seen but present in the last 2 weeks. Perhaps on a  nest.
A first at Church Marsh- I heard Reed Warbler before Sedge this year! No doubt Sedge have been present longer, but when I returned from Scotland it was Reed I encountered first. Also of note, a 'mixed singing' Willow Warbler. The tone was clearly that of a Willow Warbler, but this bird was copying the song pattern of a Chiffchaff. I have never come across this before but it would seem it is not as rare as my own experience would suggest. More information on this here: 

Other firsts for the year included 21 Sand Martins over Rockland Broad (2 over the house this morning) and 2 House Martin, over the house. 

Yesterday Debs and I enjoyed a pleasant (and in the end frustrating) trip to Minsmere. The frustrating bit was driving away, discussing the fact we had not found a RR Swallow, only to be told we had missed one near the old carpark! That's birding I suppose. We can't really complain, for this wonderful reserve still provided us with a great range of species. A Nightingale was singing near the work centre, and was our first bird upon arrival. Not bad! I also came across an alba Wagtail, then realised others were lookin at it too, so not really a find! A striking bird, although picture below doesn't really do it justice. A Raven had been reported from the reserve, and we did see a large Corvid getting stick from the local Lapwing. It could well have been a Raven, but I won't be submitting it! The scrape was decent, with Med, Caspian and Little Gull, Dunlin, Turnstone, Black-tailed Godwit and 2 Sandwich Terns in-off.
With things to do like prepare for an Easter Egg Hunt, we had lunch in the car before heading home. 

Finally, the last 3 nights, I have stood outside around 9pm and listened to the eerie screech of a Barn Owl. He's back. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014


Approximately 30 minutes after alighting the Easyjet flight to Inverness, I was face to face with a ridiculous lifer: an American Coot. Here he is:

 And me at Loch Flemington, lifer in the bag.

From here, we retired back to the flat and plotted out a route to Burgh Head. A White-billed Diver had been seen here, so we thought this well worth a look. An excellent range of Sea Duck were seen, including Long-tailed and Common Scoter. Both Great Northern and Red-throated Divers performed well. A wildlife hihglight of the year soon followed, and not the WB Diver. A pod of at least 6 Bottlenosed Dolphins came through, 2 individuals breaching. A superb sight and a moment to remember.

We then went to Roseisle Forest, and although they made us work we enjoyed excellent views of a pair of Crested Tit. Also of note was a displaying Tree Pipit. Siskin were here by the bucketload, and the fields bordering the forest held Hooded Crow and Curlew.

The following day, Friday, was spent almost entirely in the Findhorn Valley. This really is an epic setting, suitable for Middle Earth or indeed the Eagles we had hoped to see/ Although we were not so lucky with the Eagles, we did see Raven, Red Kite, Peregrine, possible Merlin, Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Dipper and Grey Wagtail. So not a bad 'consolation' haul! After negotiating the tricky Farr Road, we paid a visit to the delightful RSPB reserve of Loch Ruthven. The Slavonian Grebes here were looking splendid in breeding plumage, all 5 of them. We grabbed a glimpse of a Water Vole, and Austen saw a Weasel. Further mammal sightings were lifers for the both of us: Mountain Hare, and Feral Goat.

Saturday was spent exploring the Caledonian Forest around Abernethy. Perhaps the late nights and long days were catching up with us, for today was a little disappointing in terms of variety. Two Osprey were seen at Loch Garten, 3 more Crested Tit and Crossbill over are the only notes I have. The real star of the show for me was the forest floor, covered in Moss, Lichen and (I think) Juniper. It was obvious to see what sets this forest apart from anywhere else in the UK, just superb. We called in at Tulloch Moor, but were left Grouse-less.

With time running out, it was agreed the priority species for the last day should be Ptarmigan. With the railway out of action, and keen to take the moral and physical high ground, we headed up Cairngorm. The conditions were reasonable, and as we headed into Snow Grouse territory, Red Grouse reminded us they lived here too with their 'Get back, Get Back' calls. A distant view of a Ptarmigan bombing over a distant ridge was then smashed by a snoring sound, and looking up 2 Ptarmigan were close by. It was a pleasure to spend time with these birds on their terms, and imagine for a few minutes what an earth it must be like to live up here. Bird of the trip, easily.

We spent the rest of the day around Dorbach. My bird finding instincts took over, when perhaps time would have been better served back in Findhorn. Still, a super few days and next time the aim will be to clean up the Grouse and Eagles we missed, attempt to ID some Lichen and dare to dream about Scottish Crossbill.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Early April

Various bits and pieces to report on, beginning with a gorgeous day on the patch.

With so much birdsong at Church Marsh this morning I made an attempt to count everything I saw and heard, later to be uploaded to Birdtrack, cue feeling of warm and fuzzyness. Blackcap are here in force, 12 singing males counted. Chiffchaff seem to have quietened down, perhaps busy with nest building, since only 4 were heard. At least 4 Willow Warbler were also singing. It was decent on the lagoon, with male Shelduck, nesting Oystercatcher, Green Sandpiper, 12 Teal and 4 Gadwall. Elsewhere, a single Swallow was new for the year and always a fine sight. Perhaps I am the first person s/he has encountered since arriving on these shores. Quite a thought.

This afternoon I walked along the river over-looking Langley Marshes. At least 11 Lapwing were present, a decent count at this time of year. Marsh Harriers displayed overhead, and young Rooks cawed noisily from their nests. The addition of the drains and sluice suggests Langley could be very productive in the future. I was pleased today to add Shovelor and Pochard to my year list, both species loafing in the sluice. Pochard are not easy south of the river either!

Other than that, a working trip to Minsmere on the 31st yielded a lovely male Ferruginous Duck along with booming Bittern. A snatch of Sedge Warbler song was the first I have heard from that species this year, fairly early.

Around Surlingham, Butterfly numbers have increased with Orange Tip and GV White on the wing, joining Peacock, Comma, Small Tort and Brimstone. Mother delivered the Moth trap over the weekend so a couple of evenings with the light on produced Common Quaker, Early Grey and Early Thorn. Having not done this for some time I am having to re-teach myself what I am studying, although sometimes I get lucky and can ID a species moreorless straight away.

In other news, I am delighted to become a mentor for A Focus On Nature, you can see what excellent work they do here: The young conservationist movement is in safe hands.
Tomorrow morning I leave for the Scottish Highlands, in search of wilderness and the obvious Scottish specialities. First stop after the airport- Loch Flemington for Yankee Coot!

 Snake Eyes at Langley.
 Early Thorn being early in the garden.
Black Sexton Beetle. Interesting critter, also in the trap.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

New arrivals on the patch

I awoke to the song of a Mistle Thrush, a beautiful tune when one is halfway between asleep and awake. It sounded as if it was in the garden, probably perched in what I think is a Cherry Tree. By the time I was out of the door it had departed, still singing, but further away in the nearby copse.
It was to be a morning of song and calls that allowed me to pick up more returning migrants. A Willow Warbler was singing in the scrub, the end of the song to me sounds like he is laughing all the way to the bank. On the other side of the reserve, a Blackcap fired out its own tune. Last year, I welcomed back these pair on the 13th and 14th of April respectively. Factoring in a harsh Winter and my proximity to the patch would suggest it was always likely I would pick these two up earlier this year, but to record them both in March is at least of note if not significant. I will compile a list of arrivals and departures in the near future.
Elsewhere, a Kingfisher bombed away from the river and over the marsh, and a male Sparrowhawk cruised over the pinewoods, hopefully prospecting a nest once again. A few Teal were on the lagoon, although no sign of the hoped for Garganey. I had already seen one Green Sandpiper head towards Wood's End, and luckily another was grounded and probing at the back of the lagoon. A Shelduck flew over head, technically a returning bird I guess. Excellent in terms of variety today.

A search for a reported large Owl species proved fruitless the previous evening down at Wheatfen. It was an eerie evening all things told, the mist lay thick on the meadows and a couple of Tawny Owl hooted. A small Bat species hunted high amongst the pines at the entrance to the reserve. Back at home, another Bat was out late last night but promptly disappeared when I went to grab the detector.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Two-barred Crossbill clean-up

The last time I dipped these birds was late Summer and again into Autumn last year, so the reports of a maximum of 5 Two-barred Crossbills at Lynford had me firing up the Fiesta and heading to the Brecks, accompanied by James and Connor. A glorious day it was, and upon arrival it did not take long to hear singing Firecrest (4 + territories encountered) and Nuthatch. We began searching for Crossbill at a construction site just inside the arboretum, and after 10 minutes or so a male Crossbill landed in a small tree. A closer look revealed it to have wing bars, one in particular was chunky. Even more crucial were the tertials, fringed white. This looked good for the reported 1w male. He didn't hang around, and we were left almost convinced!
Searching amongst the varied trees and shrubs, Connor came across 2 Hawfinch. I managed a glimpse of one high up in a pine. I have never seen Hawfinch in the arboretum itself, only in the paddocks or on the ground near the feeders. Presumably we had stumbled across a nesting pair, a real slice of good birding and good luck combined. The usual site at the feeders was busy with onlookers to the Hawfinch were naturally keeping a low profile.
Back at the puddle, we chatted to other birders and up until now the definite Two-barreds had not been seen since this morning. Connor again was on form, picking up a call we had been hoping to hear, a 'tooting' contact call from the larches. Now we were able to enjoy excellent views of a male, soon to be joined by a female and a second male. What trying, but cracking birds these Two-barreds are. We watched them feed in the larches, able to take in the full suite of features. Unmistakeable!
Other birds of note included Redwing, Goldcrest, Common Crossbill and stacks of Siskin.
I haven't looked at my life list for a while, but it looks like I'm now up to 313 BOU, and with a trip to Scotland in April I can hope for a few more additions.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Bits and Bobs

A quiet weekend, out birding on the patch early this morning. Took the saw with me for a bit of maintenance, and although I only cut back a few bushes the difference between today and this time last month is striking. Not much in the way of birds, although there are at least 4 Chiffchaff on the reserve now. A pair of Little Egret heading upriver was the highlight and now my max count at Church Marsh! Rockland was similarly quiet, but again presumably a second pair of Little Egret were heading down river.

Hardley Flood, and the water levels were high meaning no Waders and not much of anything else, bar my 3rd pair of Little Egrets today. With nothing doing I stopped off for a quick stroll round Sisland Carr, followed by a glance over Claxton Marshes in the hope that the Ringtail Hen Harrier would pass through. I had to make do with a distant Barn Owl.

Bird of the day for me was a Common Buzzard seen from the garden, being hassled by the local Corvids.

One of those weekends when I toyed with going for the Dusky Warbler, didn't, and checked RBA too late to be in with a chance of the 5(?) Two-barred Crossbill at Lynford. Always next weekend.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Hardley Flood and an evening on the patch

A beautiful morning in Chedgrave as I set off along the river bank to take in Hardley Flood. Both Fieldfare and Redwing were on the move (the latter still moving over the garden tonight) and a single Redpoll flew west. On the water itself were 2 Pintail (both drakes), many Shelduck, a single Redshank and an immature Great Black Backed Gull. Kingfisher, 2 Little Egret and on the marshes 26 Curlew added to the variety. Not the hoped for GW Egret or even Glossy Ibis, but living much closer to this under-watched site means I can look to make regular visits here and hopefully catch up with some migrants over the year.

I called in at Langley Staithe on the way back, hearing Redshank across the river and an unseen Green Woodpecker. 2 Marsh Harrier were up high, looking in prime position for a food pass but nothing came.

This evening I managed a quick walk around Church Marsh. Of note was a presumed dead Bank Vole, picture below and happy to receive any comments as to an ID. A Chiffchaff sang (4 reported this morning) and 2 Grey Herons stalked the flash at Wood's End. Stunning sky tonight.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Singing Chiffchaffs and other Spring features

Up and about early this morning, leaving the house on foot just after 7 to take in the patch. Highlights were 2 singing Chiffchaff, 1 near the pub and another in the scrub. I would presume these are resident birds that have been hiding throughout the Winter, but the warm air mass and records of Grasshopper Warbler and Wheatear further north may suggest otherwise. Joining the chorus were Reed Bunting, Cettis's Warbler and Skylark. A male Sparrowhawk cruised across the grazing meadow. Kingfisher and Green Sandpiper on the flash at Wood's End were the best of the rest.
On returning to the house, Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone Butterflies had been encouraged by the balmy temperatures and were inspecting the heather I had planted yesterday.

This afternoon I got the itch to be out again, so popped to Wheatfen for an hour. a Common Buzzard was displaying over the wood, and although the Woodpeckers I had hoped to see were quiet, I did happen upon to basking Grass Snake. I finally caught up with the resident Nuthatch too, a fine sight to see as it stalked a Silver Birch. I chatted to a nice couple in the carpark who informed me of a South Yare Wildlife group talk on Bees, I shall make an effort to attend this seeing as Bees are a bit of a target this year.

Determined to catch up with some Woodpeckers, I drove to Wood's End. Passing the Water's Edge, it could so easily have been a mid-summer's day, folk out on the decking enjoying a drink. I followed a footpath and saw both Green and Great-spotted Woodpeckers. The Butterfly list also increased, Peacock and Comma on the wing now.

I am now tweeting, @SurlinghamBirds should you wish to follow me.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Settling in to Surlingham and the garden list is off and running

I have spent most of the morning planting summer bulbs, a Buddleia and some heather in the garden. The Snowdrops underneath the tree are perhaps past their best, but the Daffodils and Crocus that have materialised are welcome and look smashing. The mild weather has had me removing layers in the middle of the job, and the local wildlife scene appears intent and with purpose for the first time this year. Driving along Slade Lane this morning, I saw my first Butterfly of the year, a windswept Small Tortoisehell. Always a red letter moment in any calendar year. Back in the garden, 2 more Small Torts and a powerful looking male Brimstone. Added to this a large Bee species (I intend to get to know Bees much better this year) and a Ladybird species and Spring has truly sprung.
Although our feeding station is rarely utilised by the resident Tits unless early in the morning, the garden and surrounds has certainly thrown up some good birds. A reservoir to the south of us pulls in a variety of wildfowl at night, and standing in the dark I have heard Egyptian and Greylag Geese, Teal, Wigeon, Little Grebe and Mallard. Oystercatcher are heard most nights since early in the week and Black-headed Gulls are a noisy distraction. Our garden borders a large paddock, which is nicely overgrown, pleasing the Rabbits. We had a nice surprise one evening whilst washing up, since it was not just the Rabbits who enjoyed using the paddock:

The Barn Owl epitomises everything I hoped for when we moved out here. Freedom, beauty and wild spaces. She, or he, has since been seen twice more. Hopefully a nest is nearby.
Although less exciting, Linnet are regular over the garden and probably breed in the surrounding farmland. Yellowhammer, Sparrowhawk, common Tit Species, House Sparrow and Tawny Owl have all been heard or seen in the garden.

Weekends have been spent unpacking and sorting the garden, hosting parents and paying bills so little time for proper birding. The last full visit I managed at Church Marsh was on the 20th of February with Ricky, and thankfully was the best trip of the year so far. The first Oystercatcher had returned to Wood's End and 2 Tufted Duck were on the river. Ricky picked out a Little Grebe, soon followed by a second. Not an easy bird here. Best of all was a small passerine perched on the reed stems near the gun club. I looked, and looked again to be sure. Stonechat! A patch lifer. So full of character and a bird we both hold in high esteem. I checked if he was still about on Sunday morning, but there was no sign.

I have been inspired since moving here, and knowing I can walk down to the patch tomorrow morning before breakfast is a freedom I will do my best not to take for granted.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Tales from the patch and a bit of wardening

Although much of my free time of late has gone into the house move, I have managed to get out into the field with the extra time that half term offers.
Yesterday evening I made a quick visit to Langley Marshes. This is becoming an excellent spot for Little Egret, at least 3 were here. A peek across the river revealed the flock of White-fronted Geese, another 'extra' species for the patchwork challenge. A male Marsh Harrier ghosted by as I was watching the Geese. To the right of the Geese I could make out some smaller Waders on Cantley Marshes, probably Dunlin but too distant to confirm. It is looking decent out there! Onto Claxton, and 3 Barn Owls were hunting and a Kestrel was perched looking smart. A cloud of Lapwing and Golden Plover erupted over at Buckenham, the culprit a female Marsh Harrier moving through.

After lunch today I went to the new house to install the most important piece of kit bar the shower:

The garden behind us has a nice looking feeding station, so by placing the feeder here I can hope to pull in some birds from the wider countryside rather than steal their birds! Whilst I was assembling the feeders 5 Fieldfare flew over, and a gathering of Gulls were assembled over the small reservoir to the south of us, including a Great Black Backed.

I then headed to Church Marsh, now within walking distance. My saw was at the ready, and indeed I did cut back some vegetation:
As well as a bit of wardening I also did the WeBs count, totals of 2 Tufted, 3 GC Grebe, 35 Teal, 14 Mallard, 4 Gadwall and 2 Moorhen. Much more exciting was a Barn Owl hunting at 2.30pm, followed by further Owl action in the smaller guise of a Little Owl, calling. I managed to track him down and he proceeded to glare at me. Understandable, because I inadvertently alerted a Tit and Thrush flock as to his presence. He flew off, clearly disgruntled. A drumming GS Pecker was the first of the year.

Onto Rockland, and the BH Gull roost numbered around 200 which is sort of decent. Wildfowl numbers were lower than Surlingham, although 9 Tufted Duck just about deserve a mention. My favourite songster at the moment, the Mistle Thrush, was in excellent voice near the carpark:
At least 3 males were heard singing today, a healthy number compared to last year. It is very mild out and about, so perhaps our resident birds will have a good breeding season.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Sunday stroll

Fairly lazy weekend on the birding front, but good reason for that as I will explain. Popped to Wheatfen after lunch today and the resident birds were making themselves heard, including Great-spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Goldcrest and Treecreeper. I almost walked into a Water Deer, who was grazing on the track near the small lagoons. In the woodland, Bullfinch called but remained elusive. A female Reed Bunting showed herself nicely through a gap in the scrub.
A scan from Claxton Marshes allowed me to add to species to the list that were entirely absent last year. 3 Ruff could be seen on the marsh, as well as 3+ Dunlin! 17 Shelduck were new in, and 2 Peregrine were assuming the usual fence post vigil. On the Claxton side, female Marsh Harrier and Kestrel surveyed the marsh. Heading to the car, the breeze had encouraged a Buzzard to take to the skies.
I finished up at Church Marsh in the hope of the ringtail. Again no luck there, but I did enjoy Song Thrush in song and the over-wintering Wigeon on the small lake.
So, although not much birding done I have been busy. For a while now Debs and I have been looking to move out of Norwich, and we have been patient in our search for a new property. Yesterday we finally found the right place for us, and it is in Surlingham! This has not really sunk in yet, and the next few weeks will be pretty hectic. Living on the patch, I'll take that.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Looking at the patch with a Warden's eye

On Saturday 25th, I met Ben Lewis at Surlingham Church Marsh to begin my new role as volunteer assistant warden at both Church Marsh and Rockland Broad. I was thrilled when Matt Wilkinson had asked me if I was interested in the part time role, which upon investigating could easily be balanced with birding and school. During an average winter month, I probably visit Church Marsh three times and Rockland Broad once. My role here requires a once per month check of water levels and vegetation length, WeBs count, safety check and the odd bit of maintenance. Yesterday was my induction, and after being issued with a saw and pair of gloves Ben and I set off round the muddy track to get a feel for the job description. I was lucky enough to explore off piste, which as well as learning a little about reserve management delivered my first Woodcock of the year here and around 10 Common Snipe. I can see now why the Snipe like it out here, although they would do well to avoid the cattle's tread. The corner of the reserve parallel to the small lake is proving particularly productive at the moment, with what was probably the largest mixed flock of Redpoll and Siskin present in the Alders, well over 50. Other bits of note included a Linnet over, c.180 Lapwing over and later that evening 76 Golden Plover South.
Rockland was quiet for birds, as if often is. 11 Tufted Duck, 2 Great crested Grebe and 14 Coot the best we could manage. Whilst there does not seem to be quite as much maintenance, pruning etc to do here, there are some complex conservation and land ownership issues which Ben made me aware of. 

So, I am now a warden of sorts, of my patch! Doesn't get much better. I have learnt and gained so much from watching wildlife at Church Marsh; it will feel good to put something back. Thanks to the guys at Strumpshaw for giving me this opportunity. 
I'll try to use the saw sparingly although the usual landscape photos may now be accompanied by impressive examples of my pruning 'skills'. 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Church Marsh on Saturday

A fairly nondescript January morning, light winds and a threat of drizzle and the temperature mild for this time of year. Selfishly, I would quite like to see some colder weather but I doubt our resident birds would agree with me. This benign Winter is giving the Barn Owls a chance to recover and should allow for a decent breeding season for many, should it continue.
I arrived to birdsong, whereas last year the trees and bushes would have been frozen and silent. Chaffinch sub-song was a first this year, and in full swing was a Mistle Thrush in the churchyard. One of my favourite bird calls, something distant and wild about this one. Another bird was seen near the ruins. Elsewhere on the patch were Skylark overhead, a smattering of Teal on the lagoon, a Song Thrush and Treecreeper. The best of the action was near the landspring, Church side. A small flock of Siskin were showing well, and in amongst them were a Goldcrest, Treecreeper and common Tits. The Siskin were so close I could hear every squeak and squeal they made, quite odd when you listen closely.
Soon after I had left for home, a nice fella I bumped into at the carpark, Clive, later reported on Birdforum that he had seen a Marsh and juvenile Hen Harrier. I really hope the latter sticks around, but tomorrow will be a test since the shooting will take place at the gun club. If I can get home from Sunday lunch in time I may attempt a roost watch from the hill. This would be a South Yare tick for the year, there simply aren't many out there!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Happisburgh then back to the patch

Made and early-ish start today and decided to head to the coast and take advantage of the glorious if chilly conditions. Happisburgh is always a favourite destination, and we were not disappointed for as well as blue skies and a bracing sea breeze we were treated to close views of 12 Snow Bunting on the cliff face 50 yards or so from the beach car park. The reported Black Redstart was easy enough to find on the rocks beneath Doggerts Lane, but he did not hang around long enough for a picture. I blame the local Robin and Stonechat for hassling him.

Late afternoon and a trip to the patch beckoned. I love the evening commute over Church Marsh and with it being January there were still a few obvious year ticks missing. Most pleasing were not 1 but 2 Barn Owl hunting either side of the river, one showing well from the hide. A Sparrowhawk was disturbed from its roost, silently gliding across the marsh to find a sheltered spot. A few Herring Gull flew over, and once the gloom had reduced the birds to dark shapes I relied on my ears to pick out Wigeon, Teal, Snipe, Water Rail and finally a Little Owl. A great selection. Glad the Little Owl/s are still around, for they appear to have vacated the trees behind the gun club for now; this individual was heard calling from somewhere behind the lake adjacent to the footpath that leads up the hill to the church.

The previous weekend, Debs and I made a genuinely early start and beat the crowds to the seals at Horsey. A few pictures below. We also saw a single Snow Bunting picking through the flotsam along with the expected but hardy Turnstones.
We stopped off at Barton Broad on the way home and enjoyed Goldeneye and Tufted Duck, nothing scarce doing however.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Patch bang wallop!

New Year's Day was an absolute shocker weather-wise after around 10pm, so bar a pub lunch Debs and I kept a low profile. Today however was a perfect opportunity to get the 2014 patch list up and running, albeit flying solo. This was a bird race, versus no-one.
Beginning at Surlingham Church Marsh, the bright sunshine meant the resident birds were seemingly more active than usual at this time of year. It did not take long to add Marsh Tit, Goldcrest (2) and wintering Siskin to the list. Looking across the river to Wood's End, an early contender for bird of the day: a Peregrine Falcon! Not recorded anywhere on the patch last year, back of the net! A real powerhouse in flight, a female I reckon. The Falcon had forced most stuff off the marsh, but a second treat in the shape of 15! Curlew circled and landed, a patch record smashed and to boot a tricky bird on the year list. Moving on round the muddy circuit, the expected species were added including Bullfinch (female), Lesser Redpoll, Treecreeper and Kingfisher. Heading to Wheatfen, I had amassed 40 species, the only 'dips' being Little Owl and Gadwall (elusive in Winter).

The warden agreed that it had been quiet of late, and the main focus of their work had been dealing with storm damage. I walked most of the circuit and saw very little, let alone new species. The Redpoll hotspot was silent. The 15 Curlew were seen again, circling over Rockland now. Into Tuck's (Surlingham) Wood and I fared a little better, picking up Song and Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare and to complete the set Redwing.

I had hoped for a few Wildfowl species on Rockland Broad but as is par for the course there was bugger all on the water apart from a few Coot and Tufted Duck. A Marsh Harrier with a green tag on either wing was of note, this female bird from the ringing project based at Sculthorpe I understand. Walking back to the carpark past Hellington Beck Outfall, something inside me suggested a closer look at the water's edge was necessary. A Grey Heron was flushed, and then the bird of the day was found; a Grey Wagtail. These birds always look so dapper, and apart from an old Church Marsh record from a few years back I had assumed is this species no longer bred on the patch. Now, this could be a wintering bird, but upon close inspection this is ideal habitat; have I overlooked this species? The patch continues to throw up surprises, and another species not recorded anywhere last year. Now on 50 birds, 60 do-able?

Claxton Marshes handed me Short-eared Owls last Winter, no such luck so far this period but an early Barn Owl was out and about. Looking across the river, I cheekily added Golden Plover, Barnacle and Canada Geese. A group of 6 Linnet were a bonus. 2 more Peregine, how the hell did I miss them last year?!

Last stop with the light fading, Langley Dyke. The 2 birds I needed for a nice round 60 soon appeared.  A Little Egret was fishing the dyke, and a hunting Barn Owl flushed patch favourite Green Sandpiper! I waited until dark for a Hen Harrier, but instead was treated to the Corvid roost commuting overhead and a calling Little Owl- 61 at the finish!

I occasionally pine after a coastal patch, or at least a location closer to the sea. The chance of finding a rarity increases, passage birds in evidence, sea watching etc. But today reminded me why birding the broads as a patch is hard to beat. Quality and quantity on tap, you just have to find it!

Driving home got me thinking what I had missed, and would 70 species be possible? I think with colder weather it would. Birds out there that I missed today:

Pink-footed Goose
Meadow Pipit
Great-spotted Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker

And that would bring me to 70. Add to that (a mix of birds I HAVE seen and birds I KNOW are out there):

Common Snipe (an obvious miss today)
Kestrel (as above)
Cetti's Warbler
Reed Bunting
Hen Harrier
Short-eared Owl
Tawny Owl
Wild Swans
Jack Snipe
Long-eared Owl
Bearded Tit

and you're over 80 for a Winter's day south of the Yare. It would have to be an exceptional day, preferably more than one pair of eyes would help.

Apologies for the listing and extended musing, but this again got me thinking about targets for this year (cannot be arsed with a 2013 reflection, Red-flanked Bluetail and Surlingham Redstart nuff said).
This bit needs careful consideration so for now I will just type OSPREY and go away.