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Showing posts from 2015

A long-awaited patch lifer and Stubb Mill roost

I will need to review my targets for the year shortly, but I can safely say Jack Snipe would have been one of them, for it has been a target species ever since I took up this South Yare patch I now call home. Historical reports came from Church Marsh, the ditch alongside the gun club was apparently decent for them. On the afternoon of the 21st I went with this in mind, paying closer attention to the ditches and patches of open fen. I flushed 23 Common Snipe, which surprised me as I expected to find fewer, what with the mild weather. I almost trod on it, one way of telling you have a Jack Snipe on your hands. As it got up, it showed the mustard stripes along its back, and a short bill. It didn't fly that far before landing again, another signal that says Jack rather than Common. Bingo! Confirmed- this secretive, diminutive Wader is indeed a winter visitor here at Church Marsh.

Yesterday morning, I had the QA checks to do at Rockland Broad.The broad itself was quiet, save for a few …

Local ramblings and SYWG walk at Church Marsh

In contrast to my last post, the weather has turned mild and wet, rather than crisp and dry. Weekends away haven't allowed for much birding, but recent Saturdays and Sundays have almost been written off with high winds and rain dominating. Saturday the 5th was little different, although the rain held off as I walked round some marshes closer to home. A Woodcock was flushed, almost flying vertically once it had lift-off. I expect many of these birds are present in the damp woodland and scurb around the village, although seeing one has more to do with luck than anything else. A small number of Siskin were just about heard over the wind, their social calls carrying a short distance on the blow before dissipating.

Yesterday, it was a pleasure to help lead the South Yare Wildlife Group annual Winter walk round Church Marsh. Just under 30 people had booked up, so we split into 2 groups, my group initially heading away from the river and taking the track via the gun club towards the chur…

Winter hits Claxton

Awoke this morning to find a fine covering of snow over the land, and the ice-grey sky promised more. I headed out towards the river and encountered a feeding frenzy on route to The Yare. Goldfinch, Chaffinch and calling Bullfinch were all stocking up on fat reserves. Overhead, Fieldfare and Redwing restlessly broke cover before joining the Starlings out on the grazing marsh. Sleet fell, and any chance of Raptors hunting diminished, although I did observe a Buzzard making for cover. At the river, the usual carpet of Wigeon. A few Teal were in the dykes and flushed easily. Back on the marsh, a buff female Stonechat perched atop a gate. I think I have finally pinned down these species here, and thankfully they seem to be present year-round. Back home, and the feeders in the garden are finally getting some attention, with Great, Blue and Coal tits all enjoying the sunflower seeds.

Last weekend I completed the WeBs counts at Church Marsh and Rockland Broad, which were rubbish. I flushed a…

Some light twitching and birding the marshes round these ere parts

I'll start with the obligatory Siberian Stonechat photo, this from the 22nd. Needless to say this was both a stunning and educational bird. Completely different to the extra-pale looking male I had seen here the previous weekend, and I was able to watch and observe the full suite of features despite a couple of nuggets (one a very famous nugget) stalking the barbed wire fence.
 Siberian Stonechat
On the 24th, I met up with 'The Breckland Birder' Paul Newport, a true gent and birding pal with whom I share many values out in the field. Paul was keen to get to grips with some of the Mid-Yare reserves so that he could plan a small tour he was leading early November. We began at Church Marsh in Surlingham, and I was pleased that my local reserve was on good form. Redwing, Fieldfare, Redpoll and Siskin all passed through, the Redwing infact were encountered feeding on berries close to the river. A couple of Kingfisher blazed upstream just where I hoped they would, and our inter…

Massive influx of Goldcrest accompanied by a few Shrikes and Owls

An excellent weekend on the east coast. My better half was quick to veto any talk of going to the north coast, and looking back I am glad she did considering the heaving crowds of camo. On saturday afternoon, the 2 of us attempted to dissect Great Yarmouth cemetery. Upon arrival the calls of Goldcrest almost echoed round the churchyard, every tree dripping with these tiny birds. 3 Brambling flew over and alighted somewhere within, and at least 50 Redwing were in amongst the cover. Best bird was probably a Woodcock I inadvertently flushed but the spectacle of migration was something to savour; continental Robins, Blackbirds, Thrushes and crests all arriving en masse, tired and desperate for cover and food.
Debs had never seen Great-grey Shrike in the UK so we popped for a look at the bird in Lowestoft North Denes. The bird was surprisngly elusive for a Shrike, and was eventually picked up taking shelter from the confines of a fir tree.

On the Sunday, I met with Joe Harkness in Caister …

A coastal slog and a move to Crow Country

I am finding with the day length shortening I am often walking the patch in near darkness on a weekday after work. The movements of Finches and crests on the coast do not seem to have filtered inland, at least not down into the Yare Valley. Signs of change have been heralded by the arrival of Pink-footed Geese though, a couple of skeins have gone over the house in the past week. Perhaps there are more Blackbirds around, but with temperatures slowly dropping the residents could just be more obvious as they stock up on food. Very little to report from Church Marsh and Rockland, although it will not be long until the Winter Thrushes arrive and hopefully the Redpoll stick around in greater number this period.

On Sunday, with the wind from the east I had an afternoon on the coast planned. I began at Caister, encountering plenty of Goldcrest in the dunes and scrub but nothing much else. As news filtered through of a few rares on the north coast, I continued onto Hemsby hoping for the big on…

Record equalled and some new reading material

I toyed with heading to the coast this morning, but with conditions looking almost too good (and impending house move) I instead visited the patch this morning, allowing me to crack on with some packing and some school stuff over the rest of the day.

I arrived at Church Marsh around 8am as the sun was burning off any mist and dew that still lingered. The bushes looked beautiful, spider webs framed by the sun and the damp. Walking along the river bank, a Wagtail called and I knew this was one to put my bins to. A lovely Grey Wagtail it was, heading east down river. This is only more 3rd record on the patch and of course a year tick, a record-equalling one at that. 120 species now for the year equals last year's total and I am optimistic I can break this tally with some more Autumn birding before we have to move away. I am still missing Hen Harrier, Yellowhammer, Brambling and Lesser Whitethroat from the year list. Even better would be a new bird for the patch, and perhaps with coas…

Webs and Wheatfen Mammals

I enjoyed an excellent morning morning on the 13th, beginning at Church Marsh for the first winter WeBs count. Upon arrival in the carpark, a Siskin flew north over the churchyar, a species so scarce this year that this bird was in fact the very first of the year on the patch! I would hear a couple more as the morning lengthened, and this early movement suggests we may get a few more in situ this winter.
Elsewhere on the reserve, Chiffchaff were particularly vocal and the usual common species were soon picked up. The WeBs count itself was merely OK- 2 Kingfisher, 5 Mute Swan, 1 Grey Heron, 12 Mallard and 29 Teal.

Onto Rockland, and not surprisingly the large body of water provided a much better count: 1 Water Rail, 1 Common Snipe, 7 GC Grebe, 8 Mallard, 3 Tufted, 1 Kingfisher, 2 BH Gull, 2 LBB Gull, 1 Cormorant, 1 Moorhen and 2 Mute Swan.
More evidence of diurnal migration here, with 2 Redpoll over heading west. A Barn Owl was out late hunting the marshes, a Chiffchaff was actually si…

Final knockings of the summer, and the end of the patch dream?

A busy few weeks before returning to work, both on and off the patch.

looking over my notes as far back as the 22nd, Debs and I enjoyed a fine visit to Rush Hills scrape at Hickling. I remarked, rather untimely as you will see, that if money and work were no object I would love to live in this part of Norfolk. The leafy country lanes and abundant water bodies nearby make Hickling and surrounds so appealing. It was a particularly hot day, and the Waders on the scrape remained distant and hazy, but we did see 17 Dunlin, 6 Ringed Plover, 2 Wood Sandpiper, 1 Spotted Redshank, 1 Snipe, 2 Little Stint, 50+ Lapwing and 4 Ruff. As usual, great variety here.

With easterly winds and some rain, a fall of common migrants occurred beginning on the afternoon of the 23rd. Unfortunately I was unable to get to the coast that day but set off early on the 24th for Grambrough Hill hoping that the Booted Warbler had stayed overnight. The forecast had been wrong, the night had been clear, and the Booted ha…

Patch Walk- Langley to Surlingham Ferry

I had been meaning to do this for some time, and with a clear day forecast and little migrant activity on the coast I set off from Langley Dyke at 9.30am on the 21st with the eventual aim of having a late lunch at Surlingham Ferry. The route followed the Wherryman's Way to a large extent, and much of it was riverbank walking, taking me through every inch of the patch bar Church Marsh at the other end. Church Marsh itself threw up a flyover Greenshank on the 15th, but I did not intend to do the circuit here today.

I added many common species to my day list at Langley, including Green Woodpecker, Stock Dover, Kingfisher, Kestrel and Pied Wagtail. An early fillip came in the shape of not 1 but 3 Little Egret resting in the grazing field, a patch record (maximum 2 birds at Church Marsh briefly a few years ago). Heading away from the marsh and walking through rural residential areas I was pleased to see 3 separate House Sparrow colonies and the odd group of Greenfinch. The Beauchamp Ar…

Thailand August 2015 Trip Report Part 3

A final round-up now, focussing on a trip to the beach but also other wildlife we encountered.

Thailand seems quiet for seabirds, and this was confirmed by our guide Ike who after many hours watching has turned up very little (bar Thailand's first Zino's Petrol!). Fishermen report that 2 miles out, their ships become mobbed by seabirds including Frigates and Storm Petrols. Stuff is out there, but it rarely approaches the shore. We therefore felt lucky to see a Crested Tern species head south past our beachside resort on the 8th.

On the 9th, we took a taxi to Pakarang Cape, around 10 minutes drive from Khao Lak. Ike had told us this spot could be good for Waders, including Malaysian Plover. The beach here was wide, allowing the tide to play more of a role. We instantly struck gold upon arrival, a flock of 20+ Sandplovers were feeding along the tideline! A bird I have always wanted to see. Some individuals had a narrow orange breast band, but these guys stayed further away from …

Thailand August 2015 Trip Report Part 2

Day 2. August 7th. Sri Phang Nga National Park.

It has to be said for any birder planning a trip to Sri Phang Nga or Khao Sok at this time of year, rain would usually be an expectation. We were very lucky today as in or out of rainforest we were dry, and infact back at our resort in Khao Lak (the excellent La Flora) we had a dry run for a couple of days. One could be unfortunate and have a day or two wiped out by rain, but on the whole we found the showers came in bursts and cleared quickly.

We were picked up around 6.30am by our guide Ike and headed straight to one of the many National Park substations in Sri Phang Nga, passing some rough looking weather and a human trafficking checkpoint on route. Although the start was slow, the sun shined and slowly the birds emerged. Crimson Sunbird, Spectacled Spiderhunter and a Chestnut-bellied Malkoha showed briefly. I had enjoyed collecting a 'list within a list', the Bulbul family. Here was saw our rarest representative, the smaller …

Thailand August 2015 Trip Report Part 1

Although we returned to find a leaking water tank upstairs, there was no way this was going to dampen our spirits after a superb 2 weeks in Thailand. The birds of course are superb, and we were able to devote to full days to birding with guides which will be described both here and in part 2. It is however the food and the people that make this country what it is, and we were taken aback by the service and hospitality we received wherever we went. Buddhist temples and monks, palaces, Elephant treks, cooking classes, seafood; all and more will live long in the memory.
A few logistics: we flew with EVA airlines (decent enough) and stayed in The Rembrandt in Bangkok, U Chiang Mai in Chiang Mai and La Flora in Khao Lak. All superb and excellent bases for exploring the respective surrounding areas. On this, you would have to be fairly brave to hire a car out here (easier and less busy on the coast) and whilst the countryside is never far from your hotel, trekking alone is hard work and the…

Smashing records

I have had 4 Elephant Hawk Moths in a trap before, but Friday night with perfect conditions lured 15 into my trap in the back garden! Quite a sight, especially when some of the more sleepy individuals were left together to settle down in a conifer upon releasing them. I still struggle with some of the smaller species, but was delighted to see a single Rosy Footman amongst the haul. Others included Poplar Hawk, Buff Tip, Brown Tail, Sycamore, Smoky Wainscott, Leopard, Peppered Moth and Riband Wave. Over 100 Moths came to light during the night, my best ever trap for both variety and number.

Although I couldn't find a reported Mandarin at Rockland Broad on Friday, I did pick up 2 Curlew heading south which when I looked at my data proved to be a patch year tick. 10+ Tufted and 20+ Mallard were loafing on the artificial islands in front of the hide, and we surprised a Barn Owl from its roost and enjoyed watching it hunt over the marshes soon after.

Today I took some students to Minsm…

Something rare in Surlingham? And weekends away.

On the 5th of June, I was down at Church Marsh in the evening doing some light maintenance of the bushes and scrub. It was my better half who first signalled to me that something of interest was in the sky, so I dropped my saw and headed to the river bend where she was standing. A large dark Raptor, having just been harassed by a Kestrel, was heading away from us towards the pub. Although overall plumage was dark I could make out a pale head and a hint of a fork in the tail. Could this have been a Black Kite? It certainly had the jizz of a Kite species, but unfortunately with the bird heading away I was never able to get the clinching views I needed.

Struggling to shake off the thought of the one that got away, we were treated to fantastic views of 2 Fox cubs near the gun club- just the antidote after a near miss. The 2 played and cavorted unaware of our presence not too far from the earth.

Both here and on the Ellis Marshes nearer to home, Marsh Harriers and Barn Owls are now both re…

The Lake District, half-term week

With recent weekends booked up with stag do's and visiting family, I was looking forward to a short break in The Lakes with Debs and my family to blow out the cobwebs and hopefully do some casual birding in different surrounds.

I was both pleased and surprised at how common Wood Warblers were on the Beech and Oak covered slopes of the hills. Still using my temporary camera until Thailand when we will purchase a new model, so no photos of the birds themselves despite crippling views! What stonking birds these are. Instead, a photo of typical Wood Warbler habo will have to do:

I also picked up a lovely male Redstart on an 8 mile walk from High Dam to Bowness, always a delight to see and again not a bird that breeds widely in Norfolk (Wood Warbler not at all of course). Tree Pipit were encountered twice in cleared areas at the edge of forest, and a cacophony of alarm calls led me to a Tawny Owl in dense scrub nearby.

Around Windermere, we had Red Kite over, 2 Mandarin, 2 Common Sandp…

Time for an update

Having not felt myself for a while, birding time has been limited but having said that I have still added species to both my patch and British life lists! Such is the luck of living and birding in this fine county.

Back at the start of the month, Debs and I were treated to views of at least 4 Hobby over Claxton and Rockland marshes hawking for insects. I was pleased to see at least one was still in situ last night when I dropped in for a late evening visit. I finally scored with a Garden Warbler at Rockland, and at least 2 Common Tern were still present and thankfully this species is usually present throughout the summer despite not breeding.

A real highlight of the month so far has been connecting with the Pectoral Sandpiper at Buckenham, from Claxton! I could see some birders across the river and figured Ricky may be one of them, so I phoned him and after waving manically at each other he managed to get me onto the Pec. Top man! As you can imagine views were distant but compared with …

SYWG walk round Church Marsh

Early Sunday morning, myself and Peter Armitage led a group from SYWG round Church Mash. Despite a murky morning we did manage views of many common species and our returning Warblers. Before we split into 2 groups, we were treated to the call of a Cuckoo announcing his arrival back at the fen, along with brief views of my first Whitethroat of the year. We then halved the group and headed off in opposite directions. My group recorded the expected common species and enjoyed reeling Grasshopper Warblers, brief views of Sedge and Reed Warbler and prolonged views of Blackcap. The lagoon was fairly quiet, and it turned out the real action was savoured by the other group who watched an Otter on the river and had a fly past Common Tern, annual here but right place right time necessary. It was nice to see so many enthusiastic people so early in the morning, thanks to those who turned up.

Elsewhere during the week, it has been more of the same at Coldham Hall Marshes and again back at Church Ma…

An excellent few days on the patch

I made an early start sunday morning at Church Marsh, and whilst I fundamentally enjoy being outside, I did have a goal in mind: to catch up with at least part of the national influx of Ring Ouzel. The influx had been until Saturday the 18th predominantly coastal, but inland East Anglian birds reported from Ipswich, Long Melford and UEA provided some hope. Heading down towards the river, I scanned to the right over Wood's End marshes. Had I of been 5 seconds later, I would not have seen the stunning male Ring Ouzel, perched atop a riverside bush for a few seconds before going to ground in a dyke further away. Almost perfect- the timing, the bird, the patch! I quickly tweeted the news incase anyone else was in the area and keen for a look. Sadly this bird was not seen again, despite a search later in the evening. Hopefully he will now be in one of the mountain strongholds further north. Ring Ouzel has been reported before from Surlingham, infact the Church Marsh side of the river a…

The end of the beginning

Early this morning, myself and 3 companions said goodbye to an old friend, the Breckland Golden Pheasant. Having not conducted a thorough search for this elusive exotic for just over 3 years, it was time to see if they did indeed still exist amongst the understory of some old woodland haunts. At our first site in Norfolk, where Ricky and I have seen 2 males and a female (at least 3 males heard calling 4 years ago) we drew a complete blank. A Woodlark tried to cheer us up, and the call of the Nuthatch began here and accompanied us for most of the day. At our second site, now in Suffolk, again we turned up nothing. I know of a couple of private sites where they (may) cling on, but the game was up for us and it would seem old Goldie. As the day progressed we spoke to a knowledgeable gentleman who used to feed them at one site in Norfolk; used to being the key part of that sentence. Inevitable maybe, but still a shame. With the Breckland population disappearing/disappeared, I would argue …

Scotland trip report April 2015

What follows is a brief write up of my now annual trip to Scotland, staying with a friend in Inverness and birding the Highlands and surrounds. Bar the first day, weather was mild and I was removing layers of clothing rather than adding them. On the final day, Sunday, I was sat in a pub outside Loch Ness eating lunch and it was positively balmy.

1st April. Having arrived at lunchtime, I rested for a while and then was taken to a local patch of woodland called Craig Phadraig. This was a fairly typical largish block of pine atop a hill, which used to be the site of a Pictish fort. It was rather breezy up here and it even snowed for a short time. I soon picked up some calling Crossbill (already better than last year's total of zero), Siskin, Coal tit and a flyover Red Kite back at the carpark. A nice introduction to my time up here.

2nd April. I set off after breakfast for Brora, where incredibly one of two Harlequin Ducks in Scotland was hanging on into the Spring. The drive was pun…