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.