Thursday, 24 December 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 Black-headed and Common Gulls, a handful of Coot and Tufted Duck and a Marsh Harrier over. Star bird went to only my second Grey Wagtail of the year, and 4th ever record on the patch. This bird was in the same spot as the 2nd, a couple of years back, sat on the sluice at Rockland Staithe. After some heavy rainfall the the flow had picked up, proving attractive to this pretty Wagtail. Fingers crossed it remains into the New Year. for this would be a nice year tick so early on.

Of an evening, Debs and I have been walking down to the marshes in the village and enjoying the raucous Corvid roost by moonlight. There does seem to be a smaller roost in the trees that line the road to the Beauchamp Arms, although many more continue to make the journey across the river to Buckenham Carrs. Last night, we deviated and drove to Hickling Broad to take in the roost at Stubb Mill. Initially, bar 3 Cranes, there was little action out 'the front', but just behind us on the track were a large group of Fieldfare drinking from the puddles. In amongst them, a few Redwing and the odd Brambling. A Repoll flew overhead, and then our attention was turned to the marshes themselves when a Barn Owl arrived to hunt. Marsh Harrier numbers were growing, and by the time everyone had left we enjoyed the sight of 55+ swirling into roost together.

Finally, one of the moments of the year. In near-darkness on the walk back (do take the scenic route, this always produces the goods) 3 Crane flew overheard, low, calling. Magic.

 Claxton Marshes (it actually was cold)
 Cranes at Hickling
 Fieldfare and Redwing behind the viewpoint
Hickling Broad- undoubtedly in my top 5 places in Norfolk.

Monday, 7 December 2015

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 church and back round. We were off to a good start when we encountered a Barn Owl hunting the private marsh just west of the Ferry Inn. As one walker nicely put it, you can never tire of seeing these birds in their element. The marshes themselves were bleak and brown with seemingly little life, and the hoped for Bearded Tit did not materialise.
 At the Landspring, a Kingfisher left its perch right on cue, and a Siskin called from the canopy of the Alder woodland. We had nice views of a pair of Teal here, and a little more distant were the usual flock of Wigeon that over winter on the small lake.
Perhaps the bird of the day was a bit of a surprise given the timing, a pristine Little Egret flying overhead, once more than scarce in these parts, but now on the increase.
At the hide, a few Gadwall and Teal dabbled in the lagoon, and as we left a Water Rail squealed, a sign that it was getting darker and the call of the pub was getting stronger. A small group managed good views of a Chiffchaff nearby, a species no doubt feeling vindicated in its decision to stay here for the winter with such mild weather in the offing.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

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 couple of Snipe at Church Marsh, which along with 2 Mute Swans and a Mallard were all I could find. Rockland was almost as bad, 3 Coot and 150+ BH Gull as exciting as it got.

Turning away from the birds for a moment, this next bit is a shout out for a mate of mine who runs his own online business making quality leather accessories. All items are natural and respectfully sourced and hand-made. I have added a photo of a wallet I bought, ages really well. I just thought he deserved a bit of light backing, and with Christmas coming up you can get your belts, wallets and bracelets here rather than some shitty department store. Good luck with the growing business Si!

Ending on a more typically birdy note, Debs and I were travelling back from Suffolk this evening and spotted a nice Tawny Owl perched in a bare tree along Ferry Road, Claxton.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

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 interest was further held by a female Sparrowhawk over the hide, calling Bullfinch and Cettis Warbler and a snorting Water Rail.

Rockland Broad was a little quieter, as it often is. I always hope for a rarer Grebe at this time of year, but on the water only the expected Great-crested Grebe dived and fed, along with a single Tufted Duck and a small gathering of Black-headed Gull. Over the marshes, Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier were added to the day list.

We then took a jaunt round the other side of the river to Strumpshaw Fen. I was relieved for both of us that at least one of the Great Grey Shrikes remained, and although distant Paul picked up a bird catching insects and we were able to observe typical Shrike behaviour even if from around half a mile away. This was incredibly my 4th GG Shrike of the Autumn, and a lovely Mid-Yare tick. A bird has since been reported from Claxton Marshes, soon to be the bit of the patch on my doorstep. Walking back, a Bearded Tit was heard and a Weasel ran across the track.

Buckenham Marshes is a site with year-round interest that for me peaks mid-winter, with its hoards of Wigeon and Geese. Today was a little prelude, with a smattering of Wigeon having already arrived and a single Peregrine sat on the ground watching proceedings from afar. The highlight here was undoubtedly our second Weasel encounter of the day, indeed of the year for me. The small predator zig-zagged across the track ahead of us, momentarily disappearing into cover before emerging again to cross the track once more. Eventually, it got that close to us that when it re-emerged, it did so behind us! 

We finished at Halvergate Marshes, and by now the poorer weather looked to set in. Bar a smart group of Redpoll which alighted on a gate in front of us, the birds here were keeping a low profile. The marshes here are brilliantly bleak, and fast becoming one of my favourite spots in Norfolk. A nice end to an excellent day in the field with Paul, and hopefully he will have as good if not better a day when he leads his tour group soon. 

Back home, and Winter birding has taken pole position. On the 26th, I enjoyed watching 2 Short-eared Owls at Langley Marshes. A sight I never tire of, these giant moths flying low over the dank, misty marshes. With dusk approaching, I chanced my luck at Claxton Marshes hoping for the same experience. A close call with a Barn Owl instead here, and a group of around 100 Fieldfare on the ground- my largest group of this Thrush anywhere on the patch this year. 

Yesterday afternoon, I had a couple of things to do in Yarmouth which was ideal for either a stop on the way back at Breydon or Halvergate, With no news so far of the American Golden Plover (my other British record also came from here, and indeed the bird was relocated later that day) I again headed to Halvergate and spent a splendid couple of hours walking the muddy tracks around the Weaver's Way. I scanned the wide open spaces, which surely would throw up a Rough-legged Buzzard and Hen Harrier this Winter. A group of noisy Rooks alerted me to a small, low-flying Falcon which was probably a Merlin but with light fading and views poor I cannot say for certain. Marsh Harriers floated into roost, and Pink-footed Geese chattered over the setting sun. Back at the car as I was unloading my gear, 7 Bewick's Swans flew overhead nice and low for me to get a good look at. I am only aware of one other Norfolk report from the last 10 days, so this was an unexpected bonus. The Barn Owl that landed next to my car was even closer, but as the photo shows below he refused to look me in the eye.

Tomorrow, we make the move to Claxton, not before raising a glass to Surlingham. Should the rain stop, I will pop out later for a roost watch in the village, which will feel a little final but no doubt I will be back by the weekend; the new house is most certainly 'on patch' and only 9 minutes away by car.

 Sun setting over Surlingham Church Marsh

 Short-eared Owl mid-dive at Langley Marshes
 Halvergate Marshes, with gate
Barn Owl at Halvergate

Monday, 19 October 2015

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 beach carpark at 8.15am. I had not wanted to jinx the site, but I was optimistic we might pull something out of the bag early doors. My instincts were right, for a Great-grey Shrike was perched atop some gorse on the edge of the golf course! My camera quickly told me to charge my battery, so we just had to enjoy the memory of the moment instead. Quite literally a Great bird for the self-found list. Buoyed, and with groups of Siskin and Redpoll moving overhead, we headed to the main cemetery in Caister. Like yesterday in Yarmouth, the tress were alive with Goldcrest. A few Redwing and Fieldfare added to the variety. Heading into the dunes north of the town, we flushed a Short-eared Owl which gave us quite a display on the wing before hiding in a tree. I always feel sorry for exposing an Owl when flushed like this, but every time an Owl bursts from the scrub, cue heart in mouth moment.

We then continued the day at Hemsby, meeting Ryan and Tim for some scrub bashing. We only really had an hour before Joe would have to depart, and this would come back to bite us as later that day the guys confirmed a Red-flanked Bluetail was present and pulled out an elusive Olive-backed Pipit! What a site the wood at Kings Loke is, love it in there!

Joe headed home and I continued to Waxham. It was surprisingly quiet during the walk to the pipe dump, although I did spot one of the two Great-grey Shrikes that had been found in the last few days. My third in two days! The wood at Shangri La was more exciting, a cacophony of noise led me right to a roosting eared Owl, probably Long-eared given the timing and habitat (my second in here) but I only managed to see its backside as it angrily disappeared deeper into the wood, Thrushes in pursuit.

My final stop for the day always gives me goosebumps after the RFB a few years ago, Whimpwell Green. Nothing rare in here today, although 3 late Swallow over were of note. Plenty of crests in here, no reason why a YBW or Pallas's couldn't be amongst them somewhere.

Returning home, I was pleased to see Steve had found a Pallas's at Caister. It has been a decent year here, with Barred Warbler, Wryneck, GGS and now this beautiful sprite. I am enjoying working Caister and there are still areas I haven't checked out.

So, a fantastic day of migration in action with some good finds too. I am not a coastal birder by trade and I enjoy any chance I get to be out in the field. If that is to be my one 'big day' of the autumn, I'll take that.

Monday, 12 October 2015

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 one. Kings Loke wood held around 11 Redwing, similar numbers of Song Thrush and maybe as many as 50 Goldcrest. A further bash of some habo in the area revealed smaller numbers of the same species. By now, it was looking like the fall of rares was limited to the north coast, with Dusky, RFB and Izzy Shrike all making landfall. Still, it was a beautiful clear day and birds were clearly still arriving. I tried Winterton south dunes. and again fell over a few Goldcrest and nailed a single Brambling calling but nothing remotely scarce unfortunately. It was getting late in the day, real life beckoned, and I returned home. Looking at the east coast reports, minus a Yellow-browed Warbler my session had been as expected. Sometimes, birds arrive on an easterly and filter south along the east coast of the UK until they hit the rump, the north Norfolk coast. Having said that, there was a Pallas's Warbler in Essex and today a Radde's in Great Yarmouth, so it wasn't like nothing got through- I just couldn't find it! Still, I am not a coastal patcher by trade and I enjoy any day out on the coast. I saw 1 birder- imagine the number on the north coast!

On the saturday, Debs and I took a walk to Happisburgh coast watch starting from the bowling green. Debs saw a Snow Bunting and I had a Wheatear. There were a few Goldcrest, but the main arrival clearly took place on Sunday. We enjoyed fish and chips at Walcott and finished the day watching the local Turnstone as the sky changed shape and mood as we sat on the sea wall.

In other news, I am thrilled to report that my future on the patch has been secured with a move to Claxton. I am both optimistic and excited about a move into the heart of Crow Country, and a quick glance at my records shows that so many of my best patch birds are from Claxton and the surrounding marshes. We move at the end of the month, and I look forward to my first walk from the front door down to the river. A hunting Hen Harrier or Short-eared Owl would be just lovely.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

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 coastal action being limited for me this season I can look to focus on what is available on the doorstep and enjoy this.

Elsewhere on the reserve, the movement of Siskin continues with more birds overhead in 1s and 2s, heading in various directions. The Pines at Wood's End are bound to hold a few this Winter, and I must remember to give this area off-patch a visit. A Snipe got up from Postwick Marsh, and a Kingfisher flew up river. At the lagoon, I was pleased to see a pair of returning Wigeon, my first of the Autumn. Probably because they were new in a still a novelty, I actually thought they looked smart in their eclipse plumage. Teal numbers are steady, and Gadwall and Mallard are always present in varying numbers. Calling Blackcap and Chiffchaff numbers are both down, just one of the latter today. Arriving back home, a Redpoll flew over the house.

Some great Owl action to report on from the last week. Debs and I were walking back from the pub on the 10th and encountered 2 Tawny Owl, 1 in hot pursuit of the other. A further 3 were hooting nearby, and Barn Owl began screeching as we arrived home. I will miss this walk. Even better, on the 20th at Church Marsh 2 Crows exclaimed loudly over the pine wood as darkness arrived, and looking up we could see them harassing a Short-eared Owl! Never regular and never predictable, this Owl is always a joy to see and that night was no different. I originally thought this was a year tick, and indeed at Church Marsh it was, but having seen a single bird at Claxton back in Marsh, this was not the 120 I was looking for. Cue Grey Wagtail.

In other news, I have a nice collection of nature writings and this was added to on my birthday. The photo below shows my latest additions. Particularly looking forward to Meadowland; 'Claxton' by Mark Cocker was the kind of intimate portrait I love and this looks to be from the same stable in that sense.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

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 singing and I caught a glimpse of a late Reed Warbler. With a Buzzard mewing and Cettis singing, this all felt a lot like Spring.
The best of the day was left until last. As I left the hide I scanned the gates and posts on Rockland Marshes, and quickly latched onto a Chat species. With the help of the scope, this was quickly pinned down to Whinchat, and a further scan revealed a second bird, 2 Stonechat and a Wheatear! My third ever patch Wheatear was the 'rarest' bird here, but Whinchat was belatedly new for the year. Pretty chuffed with all three!

Yesterday the 19th, Debs and I attended the small Mammal safari at Wheatfen. I was really hoping for one of Yellow-necked Mouse (scarce in Norfolk, only 4 records from 2013, although going by records submitted House Mouse is rarer, so a certain amount of either species goes under reported and or under recorded) and Water Shrew. I did not know Harvest Mice were also present at Wheatfen, but event leader Dan Hoare explained they were extremely elusive. Dan had kindly been setting and baiting Longworth traps for the past 3 nights, and were hit the jackpot in trap number 2 with a Yellow-necked Mouse. Elsewhere in the wood we had plenty of Wood Mice and an ex-Bank Vole. The damp but relatively warm conditions of the past week had given rise to some cracking Fungi, many of which James had ID'd on his Facebook page. Although something had taken a chunk out of a Fly Agaric, I have not seen this particularly species looking as good in many years.
We finished the walk and retired for tea and coffee and a look at various skulls and droppings. Thanks to Dan and Wheatfen for hosting an excellent morning.

 Fly Agaric
 Glistening Inkcap
The Face of Evil
Yellow-necked Mouse before release

Sunday, 6 September 2015

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 had gone. 1 Pied Fly remained in the same bush, along with juvenile Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. Wheatear, Whimbrel, Fulmar and Sand Martin were added to the day list. I then headed to Wareham Greens to see what else was left over. 2 Pied Fly were the best of the bunch, a lovely Lesser Whitethroat showed nicely and there were plenty of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff around. I caught up with Connor and Kayn coming back from East Hills, where they had had 30 Pied Fly and a good few Redstart. I fully expected them to say they had found a Greenish, but as we discussed, this fall seemed mainly to have been made up of common migrants bar the Booted and the odd Wryneck.

I met up with Colin and Ben (Moyes) on the 28th for a bit of bush-whacking at Winterton. 1 Pied Fly, 2 Redstart, 2 Chiffchaff, 4 Whinchat and 2 Stonechat were our reward for a solid session in the dunes. Frustratingly, I am fairly sure we had an Icterine Warbler by the fence line. Initially, I saw the bird feeding on the ground near the Whinchat. Alerted by odd behaviour, I followed it back to the bush it had come from. Tail was long, square-ended. Breast was yellowing and the back was olive coloured. I never quite pinned it down close enough to confirm, but this was certainly not a Willow Warbler. Later that day, I noticed someone had reported a possible Icky from the same area.
After losing our prize into the bushes, we headed to Caister. Ben spotted 30+ Med Gulls loafing on the shoreline, and the bushes here held 2 Whitethroat. I was pleased to see that someone found a Barred Warbler here on the 31st, and back at Winterton a Bluethroat had turned up. Can't see everything!

I gave Caister another shot, just Wheatears for company this time. Next weekend looks decent if the forecast easterlies hold, and I may get out to the coast again if time allows.

Back on the patch, a high tide has swamped much of the local marsh and flooded the lane in the usual places. on the 31st, a Garganey on the river adjacent to Church Marsh was a surprise and a welcome year tick. A trundle round this morning threw up only a couple of Bullfinch, although a fellow Twitterer had a Hobby there later on in the morning. Very nice.

As I alluded to earlier, all is not well at the mill. It is with a heavy heart that Debs and I have to leave Surlingham, as we have been served our notice. I am absolutely gutted, and with 2 months to find somewhere to rent I cannot foresee a place coming up in the village between now and then, nor Rockland either. Some people seem surprised we are not buying, but of my friends who have bought somewhere, they were able to do this due to an inheritance. Enough said. We have had to look further afield, Loddon to the east and as far west as Mulbarton, Bawburgh etc. We are determined not to move back into the city, and I am sure somewhere will come up for us. Depending on where we end up, how much I can visit Church Marsh will likely change. I am desperate to continue my involvement here, but I am obsessive when it comes to time and making best use of it. I have already considered Ashwellthorpe Wood and Flordon common to the west as potential pieces of a new patch. All speculation until we get a place somewhere. Until then, we intend to enjoy a final few walks round marsh and the fen.

 Pied Fly at Gramborough
 Local Swan
Evening scene at Church Marsh

Saturday, 22 August 2015

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 Arms in Claxton was my first obvious stop, and en route I ticked off Coal Tit, Song Thrush and best of all a calling Willow Warbler. It was here I discovered the camera had no battery, complete lack of planning.

10.30 seemed a little early for a pint, so I pushed on with the river now directly on my right. A few fisherman were chancing their luck, AI understand the swims here can be productive. With the day warming up, not many species were added between here and Rockland Broad, save for a Reed Bunting, Linnet and a late family of Reed Warbler making a racket from deep in the phragmites.

I positioned myself in the hide, lamenting the lack of wildfowl to myself when a female Marsh Harrier cruised by and a Common Tern alighted from a boy. Two expected, but nonetheless decent birds for the day list. The Tern then made an almighty noise, alarm calling and flying higher above the tree line. It's target? An Osprey! A massive bird, even compared to the female Harrier who joined the Tern on harassing the fish-eagle. The 3 jostled for around one minute before the Osprey headed off east. Wow. I knew I had seen the bird of the day and indeed one of the birds of the year on the patch. I have contrived to miss Osprey in the previous 2 years here, and the year in which it appears scarcer than ever in The Broads is indeed the year I connect! I left the hide on 49 species, a patch lifer, and keen for a beer to celebrate.

Pint of Trawlerboys at the New Inn, second only to the irrepressible Little Sharpie as beer of the day. It was now approaching midday, and so followed a lean spell in terms of new birds. Heading across country towards Wheatfen, Bullfinch and Great-spotted Woodpecker were welcome additions. Little activity at the fen, so I headed on to the next scheduled stop at Coldham Hall. Here I enjoyed a nice pint of Fatcat Bitter, saw a Kingfisher and heard a Cettis' Warbler. By now the birds had taken a back seat to the beer and the idea of finishing the patch walk, so I dumped my bag at home and headed down to The Ferry. Fully expecting the day to be done as I tucked into a Bacon baguette and pint of said Sharpie, 2 Common Sandpiper flew low upstream. A patch year tick! With a Wader species in the bag for the day, I was content to head home for a kip, only for a group of the local House Martins to alert me to the presence of a male Sparrowhawk as I neared the house. Day done, 54 species, and what about that Osprey!

Looked back over my notes for the day, and noticed an absence of both Great Tit and Starling? Presumably down to time of year because both species are often present in or around my garden which of course I passed on route to The Ferry. Mistle Thrush didn't show today, but I find they often don't at this time of year. Skylark have stopped singing but will be present, and I perhaps could have tried for Nuthatch in Surlingham Wood. 60 species certainly do-able in August, and I hope to compare today's outcome not just with next year but in Winter and Spring too. Using Buckenham (birds seen from the patch) maybe 70 species is possible in the Autumn?

Friday, 14 August 2015

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 the camera. This feature and the longer tibia and bill confirmed them as Greater Sandplover. The juveniles allowed close approach, and we spent sometime walking the beach scanning the flock and learning about these Waders. Now to find one along the Happisburgh coast this Autumn! Also here, 2 of 'our' birds: 2 Whimbrel and 1 Curlew.

Back at our resort, the lifers didn't dry up, with Pied Fantail displaying beneath our balcony and a Common Tailorbird finally nailed! Common Myna, Scaly Breasted Munia, Olive-backed Sunbird and Eurasian Tree Sparrow were common here. In the evenings, Brahimny Kites flew over to roost, giving way to Bat species that hunted the resort grounds.

In other wildlife, we came across a variety of Lizards. Our favourite was the flying Lizard the Draco, encountered in the rainforest, flying, before camouflaging itself against tree bark. I initially thought I had seen a large Dragonfly land! Geckos were common in rural and urban areas (smooth backed gliding possibly) and at La Flora we stumbled across a Common Butterfly Lizard sunning itself. on particularly dry days, I saw a couple of Many Lined Sun Skink.

Butterflies were both hugely varied and impressive. I have not yet gotten round to completing a list, so a few photos below will have to suffice, some identified, others not. We must have seen in excess of 20 species, so a great destination for the Butterfly enthusiast.

My final bird list comes in at 106, although v1.2 will be out soon with the odd correction and amendment I expect. Birds are everywhere in Thailand, from Black-winged Stilts and Egrets at Bangkok airport, Flowerpeckers and Broadbills in the rainforest, Sandplover on the beach at Barwings up a mountain. I have to choose the Spectacled Barwing as bird of the trip. A real specialist at altitude, the only Barwing species in Thailand and a bird I did not know existed until I went on this trip. That for me is what it is about, learning and experiencing new things with great company in phenomenal habitat. Here is a video which I believe was uploaded by our first guide Uthai of 2 birds in action:

And finally, a few pictures. Thanks for reading, especially if you got this far!

 Great Mormon
 'Draco' Flying Lizard
 Not sure
Common Punchinello
 Common Butterfly Lizard
 Greater Sandplover
 Sandplovers DO make you happy
Pied Fantail

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 Scaly-breasted Bulbul. My records state a total of 9 Bulbul species; awaiting confirmation from my 2 guides on this! Having already seen a mixture of 2 birds, a Shrike-babbler, here was another: a Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike. A cracking little bird which unfortunately was a little too high in the tree to take a photo of.

Upon moving on, we pulled over to watch a large raptor displaying over a small plantation. Consulting the ID books confirmed this a Crested Goshawk, what a beast! We than ran over a Cobra, which had been thrown into the road by a gentleman protecting his caged birds! Worth a stop to look at the corpse.

Our next stop took us deeper into the rainforest, at a site where Pittas have been seen recently (not to be by us sadly) but where Broadbills and Barbets were frankly abundant. We enjoyed the frolics of a family of Blue-eared Barbet, and Ike was able to call in a pair of rare Red and Black Broadbill, which left me open-mouthed when I stumbled across a single bird with Ike behind calling them in! Wow. Other birds here included Asian Fairy Bluebird, Large Woodshrike and Red-billed Malkoha.

Our next stop, a site where Tiger sightings are rare, (enough to send a tingle nonetheless) bought us to the doorstep of the Gibbon, for we could hear calling from perhaps a mile away. A frustrating glimpse of a Hornbill species left me knowing I would not be able to tick Hornbill on that view alone.......until 6 Bushy-crested flew past in tandem! Quality rainforest birding. Greater Green Leafbird, Greater Coucal (seen from the car drying off) and Sunbirds galore nipped in and out of the low lying vegetation.

Still in the rainforest, we headed to water to score some different species. By now it was mid to late afternoon and the forest in general had quietened somewhat. We still managed to connect with Chestnut-naped Forktail, a family of 3 feeding in a puddle on the track ahead of the car. As if we needed reminding from our first day out, Forktails are awesome! Great to catch up with some waterfall specialists here, in Grey-rumped and Crested Treeswift. Add to that my first ever Needletail, Brown-backed, and Pacific Swallow, and we enjoyed a stunning display from the masters of the sky. Chestnut-headed Bee Eater was a fine way to complete the day.
Gonna have to write a third and final post guys.......

Day list:

Red Junglefowl
Blue-eared Barbet
Red-throated Barbet
Bushy-crested Hornbill
Chestnut-headed Bee-Eater
Chestnut-bellied Malkoha
Red-billed Malkoha
Germain's Swiftlet
Brown-backed Needletail
Crested Treeswift
Grey-rumped Treeswift
Crested Goshawk
Black and Red Broadbill
Greater Green Leafbird
Asian Fairy Bluebird
Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike
Large Woodshrike
Chestnut-naped Forktail
Pacific Swallow
Scaly-breasted Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbul
Grey-eyed Bulbul
White-throated Kingfisher
Greater Coucal
Oriental Magpie Robin
Common Myna
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Plain Sunbird
Brown-headed Sunbird
Crimson Sunbird
Streaked Spiderhunter
Grey Wagtail

White-rumped Munia

 Red-billed Malkoha
 Black and Red Broadbill
 Forest track, loads of activity down here
Greater Coucal

Thursday, 13 August 2015

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 best areas for birding are not within walking distance of any of the places we stayed. What I am getting at, is for us and our locations, a guide was essential for 2 days and we could not have been happier with the company and expertise of both Uthai at Doi Inthannon and Ike in Sri Phang Nga.

Day 1. August 4th. Doi Inthannon and Foothills.

Uthai picked us up from Chiang Mai bright and early at 5.15am, and the sun would not rise until we arrived in Doi Inthannon National Park an hour later. On the way we saw our only Duck species of the trip, Lesser Whistling. On arrival we paid our entrance fees (300 Baht per person as I recall, so around £6.00 in total for Debs and I) and began birding near the entrance gate in drizzle. We were still at a relatively low altitude and were searching for a Large Niltava which Uthai told us fed on the forest floor and could be elusive. Whilst searching, one of the first birds we encountered I instantly recognised, a migrating Grey Wagtail. Grey-cheeked Fulvetta and Mountain Bulbul are passed through in groups, but no sign of the Niltava. With the weather poor, we headed to lower altitudes to search for birds amongst pine, scrub and swamp.

I caught a glimpse of an Owl species on arrival at our next spot, and using playback Uthai was able to confirm this was an Asian Spotted Owlet which called back loudly. Other birds amongst the pines included the wonderful Shrike-babbler and Stunning Scarlet Minivet. We then tried a site for the rare Black-tailed Crake, and unprovoked the bird called from the swampy reedbed! Uthai was thrilled to know the bird was still present, and so this was enough for us too. At this site we also caught a glimpse of an Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Little Spiderhunter and Speckled Piculet.

Heading back up the mountain, we stopped at a site for Spectacled Barwing and 2 birds responded to playback and gave delightful views preening and calling. One of the birds of the trip without question. At the summit, the birding was dark, misty and dank- perfect conditions for a Brit! Here we found more birds specialised to survive at this altitude and in these micro-climes. Chestnut-crowned Laughing Thrush, Chestnut-tailed Minla and White-browed Barwing were yet more 'birds of the trip' contenders. We also enjoyed passing Phyloscs here; Ashy-headed and then either Blyth's or White-tailed, nipping in and out of vegetation, gleaning flies from tree trunks, fantastic! We also watched a Crimson Sunbird here, a proper Oriental bird, its bright colours contrasting with the gloom.

Having had a day punctuated with the calls of Barbet species, we finished by heading out of the National Park and into the foothills and surrounding countryside. Here, we were much luckier with Barbets- Coppersmith and Lineated both seen well. Asian Palm Swift, a delightful Indian Roller and an unexpected Burmese Shrike looking splendid as a sentinel on telegraph wires were more 'lifers' as we continued on through open countryside. I was initially lost for words when describing a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo I was watching, and further icing was piped in the form of a Cinnamon Bittern. Still not content, Uthai continued to show us some great birds not far from the road including Paddyfield Pipit, Red-wattled Lapwing and a flock of 40+ Asian Openbill. We finished the day around 5 and were back at our hotel just before 6.

Uthai was great fun and full of local knowledge, not just regarding the birds either. Without him we would not have seen one-tenth of what we achieved today, so we were extremely grateful. A few pictures of birding day one follow, before post two.

First, day list:

Lesser Whistling Duck
Speckled Piculet
Lineated Barbet
Coppersmith Barbet
Common Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher
Greater Coucal
Chestnut-winged Cuckoo
Indian Roller
Asian Palm Swift
Spotted Owlet
Rock Pigeon
White-breasted Moorhen
Red-wattled Lapwing
Common Buzzard
Hawk sp
Great Egret
Little Egret
Cinnamon Bittern
Asian Openbill
Silver-breasted Broadbill
Burmese Shrike
Black Drongo
Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo
Eurasian Jay
Racket-tailed Treepie
Scarlet Minivet
Fantail sp???
Asian Paradise Flycatcher
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher
White-browed Shortwing
Black-backed Forktail
Pied Buschat
Ashy Woodswallow
Swallow Sp?????? 
Black collared Starling
Common Myna
White-vented Myna
Great Tit
Yellow-cheeked Tit
Black-headed Bulbul
Black-crested Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Mountain Bulbul
Flavescent Bulbul
Hill Prinia
Yellow-bellied Prinia
Ashy-throated Warbler
Blyth's/White-tailed Leaf Warbler
Oriental White-eye
Chestnut-crowned Laughing Thrush
White-browed Shrike-Babbler
Chestnut-tailed Minla
Grey-cheeked Fulvetta
Brown-cheeked Fulvetta
Yuhina sp???????
Spectacled Barwing
Dark-backed Sibia
Crimson Sunbird
Olive-backed Sunbird
Little Spiderhunter
Paddyfield Pipit
Grey Wagtail
Tree Sparrow
White-rumped Munia

Scaly-breasted Munia

 Spectacled Barwing
 Chestnut-bellied Minla
 Chestnut (a different shade_ crowned Laughing Thrush
 Uthai and I admiring some Warblers
 Crimson Sunbird
 Female White-browed Short Tail
 White-bellied Moorhen

Monday, 13 July 2015

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 Minsmere, and despite the drizzle we had a goods day pond-dipping and bird counting. Best find were 6+ Spotted Redshank, along with 3 Blackwit and 1 Ruff. One of the lads netted a young Newt from the pond, and the expected Caddis Fly and Damselfly Larvae delighted the group.

It has been a slow month hence the lack of posts, but the Albatross at Minsmere proves anything can and will turn up. Hoping for a Caspian Tern or maybe an early Red-footed Falcon on the patch before I jet off for Thailand later this month. For now, I have been content with a local Tawny Owl waking us up over the weekend, and the usual Warblers are still giving the odd burst of song down the local marsh.

Coming up- a Bat walk at Strumpshaw on Friday and a Thetford foray Sunday. Then, hammer the patch before holiday!

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Wednesday, 17 June 2015

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 regular day hunters with mouths to feed no doubt. Cuckoos continue to sing, although a poor flight view at Church Marsh is all I have actually seen of them this year. The expected Warblers also continue to sing, but our reedbed specialists appear to be quietening down now as they tend to nests.

I was away in the Peak District the weekend of 13th and 14th, during which time I clocked up a good few miles on foot and a good few pints of ale too. I have grown very fond of Derbyshire, and I enjoyed watching Raven, Curlew and Common Buzzard amongst the peaks. Other birds of note over the weekend included Common Crossbill, Lesser Redpoll, Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher and Mandarin Duck. Red Kite were more common on the way home; I encountered one bird in the middle of a housing estate in Oundle!

Finally a weekend at home coming up, although even that was not intended. I wish you a successful recovery Mr. Grohl and hope to see you back on stage soon!

Sunday, 31 May 2015

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 Sandpiper and Grey Wagtails. Of the usual Warblers, Garden were seemingly much more common up here than back home, their scratchy song emanating from many a Bramble. A special moment and a proper wild encounter was had when I spotted a young Roe Deer on the ground, left temporarily by its mother but not quite well hidden enough.

I had expected to pick up the breeding Flycatchers on our walk, but it took until the final day to connect with Pied and Spotted, both of which were at nest sites close to a river. The male Pied was singing constantly but was not easy to spot high up in the dense foilage of the Oak he had chosen. The Spotted was far more obliging. Now to find one on the patch again this year.

Speaking of the patch, a Cuckoo is still heard regularly from the house, and pleasingly a brood of Coal tits have fledged in the garden. Hoping for Goldcrest next. Last night, a Pipistrelle sp hunted around our outside light and a Noctule flew over the house. I have been lazy/busy and not yet had the Moth trap out in our new place, but aim to rectify this over the coming weeks. Before we left for Cumbria, I had what I think was an Elephant Hawk Moth out the back on the hedge in darkness one evening.

Monday, 18 May 2015

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 the Redshank it was easy to spot, dumpy-looking and with a much lower centre of gravity than the elegant shanks. Back on the Claxton side, a male Wheatear was new for the year. 

On the 10th, having planned to sleep and recover, news of a Citril Finch at Burnham Overy gave me no choice, I was in the car again and heading to the coast. Like 100s of others I made the long walk from the carpark in fine warm Spring weather and connected with the bird upon arrival, and needless to say it was a cracker and a quite outlandish addition to my British list.Sunday morning before the Norfolk Birdfair, Debs and I made an early start at Church Marsh, a Cuckoo in flight the avian highlight of the morning. The hedge opposite the Church on the north side was alive with insects, including our first Damsels of the year: Common, Azure, Blue-tailed and Large Red. I am reliably informed by James that our Hoverfly was Helophilus pendulus, and the Spider was a Nursery Web Spider. The Birdfair itself was decent, and I am surprised more Norfolk birders did not support this event.

On the way home from work today, a Red Kite was low over the A146, just past Thurton before the Rockland turn off, not far from home.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

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 Marsh last night. A Barn Owl was a nice extra at the latter site, and at the former a Harrier with a long hawk-like tail flew over into the dusk. This may well have been a Montys but I was unable to pin down the ID in the disappearing light.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

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 and at Wheatfen, but infrequently so this is a great addition to the patch list.

The rest of the morning was almost as rewarding, adding new species to the year list (Reed Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, all obvious Hirundines) and checking in with 44 species. Well deserved glass of wine Sunday night followed.

I awoke sometime early Monday morning to the usual Blackbird song at around 5am, but before returning to slumber I caught the edge of another call on the wind, and then clearer; the boom of a Bittern! Although unlikely to be a Surlingham bird, this was probably a male across the river at Strumpshaw making himself known. Believe it or not, a patch tick for me- I have never caught up with a wintering bird and having spent little time around Coldham Hall Marshes until moving nearby this until now has been the one that got away. I feel very honoured to be able to hear this bird from my own bed, a true survivor in the reeds.

On Monday evening following the report of 3 Arctic Tern at Rockland, Debs and I headed there after dinner. The light was beautiful but certainly made Tern ID more tricky than usual. After some study and discussion we agreed there were at least 2 Arctic and 3 Common, both year ticks of course and the Arctic not the easiest bird in the valley but clearly annual at Rockland. Right place, right time! We walked home with a hunting Barn Owl for company along the Wherryman's Way.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

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 that this is it for the East Anglian population. I hope I am mistaken, and that there are some sites unbeknownst to me that hold stable populations. I doubt it, since only a handful of people ever knew of the Norfolk site I referred to previously. What would be regretful, is to see the last mainland Goldie go the way of the Lady A in Bedfordshire right now. Caged, fed, and jizzed on by NGBs. And no- the Wolferton birds are not real.

It was still early after our dip, so we tried Santon Downham for Lesser Pecker. Now, this is a species we really should care about losing. Having had them at a site in Suffolk this Spring, I was hopeful but the local pair were not playing ball. I finally connected with Brambling for the year, and 2 pairs of Mandarin Duck gave us a fly past before one set landed in trees. Redpoll flew overhead, Siskin and Nuthatch called constantly. Ben's keen vision picked out a Goshawk, our first 'decent' bird of the day.

We then headed to another Goshawk site, the weather prompting us to do so. Again local Goshawk finder Ben picked out a displaying male, with possibly another smaller bird in the air too. Buzzard carrying nesting material, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk completed the Raptor fest. Yellowhammer, Siskin and Curlew added to the variety here.

A brief stop at the lovely East Wretham heath produced the warden who we enjoyed chatting with, but no birds bar Buzzards kettling overhead. Ricky headed to do some Cleverley Cleaning, leaving the 3 of us to press onto Lynford. Brambling, Siskin, Chaffinch and common Tits came down to feed but unfortunately the resident (?) Hawfinch did not. We explored more of the arboretum, Ben spotting a brief Firecrest before I located one in a conifer. Eventually the bird left the tree to feed on the ground, allowing super views of an always stunning species. Very odd to see it on the ground foraging like a finch, but hopefully James and Ben got some good shots.

Leaving here for Great Cressingham, a wrong turn took us into the path of 3 tussling Red Kites, which came over the car in what was a dramatic scene. 3 Stone Curlew were in a field in the Cressingham area, the first I have seen for some years (can't be doing with Weeting Heath heat haze, this was more like it!). Our final stop was to search for Willow Tit, and despite an excellent artist's impression courtesy of Whitlingham's finest, we drew a blank here. Much discussion about suitable habo ensued.

So, an excellent day in the field but also a landmark one. Not only do we say farewell to a fine bird on the British list, but we also discovered Ricky has been spending a lot of time in chip shops with questionable men. I think he has learnt his lesson.

A quick note about the patch- Willow Warbler in yesterday at Rockland, and 2 Blackcap singing in Surlingham. The Wildfowl and Waders survey was decent: 4 Snipe, 2 Shoveler, 4 Coot, 2 Gadwall and 23 Teal the best of Church Marsh.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

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 punctuated by regular sightings of Red Kite and Common Buzzard, and this was to be the norm for the rest of the trip. I initially missed the turning for Sputie Burn and ended up in Brora itself, although I did have 10+ Purple Sandpiper here and a resplendent Red-throated Diver on the sea. Retracing my tracks, I located the turn off and parked where I probably shouldn't have before heading down towards the sea. I quickly locked onto a diving Duck, which revealed itself to be the female Harlequin. A British lifer and an excellent start to the trip. Better together! Also here were Golceneye, Razorbill, RT Diver and a pair of Grey Wagtail.
With the weather improving by the hour I changed my plans slightly, and headed to the Findhorn Valley to do some Raptor watching. This has to be one of the best places in Scotland for Birds of Prey, and with a backdrop like you will see below, one of the best places to bird full stop.

Wild Goat, Mountain Hare and Red Deer upped the mammal list for the trip. Peregrine, Buzzard and Kestrel called and hunted amongst the crags. What I had really come for though, appeared from behind the left hand ridge in the above photo. First one, then two Golden Eagle! A lifelong ambition to clap eyes on one, until now just a picture in bird books I owned as a child. Great to spot them myself, and watch them soar, perch and interact in their domain. A superb end to the day.

April 3rd. An early start today, arriving at Loch Garten Caper watch just after 6. EJ, the local Osprey, had returned yesterday evening and was observed adding sticks to the nest and having a general clear-out. Good for her. No sign of any Capercaillies by half 7, so I headed to a site for Black Grouse not too far away. I drew a blank at the first place, but scored at the second, watching 10 males and 4 females at a lek. Glorious stuff, and I was glad of the wind which carried their bubbling calls in my direction. My next stop was Anagach Woods, another chance for Caper and perhaps some interesting Crossbill. Plenty of Crossbill in the woods, and some had a faster alarm-like call, but nothing to observe for any length of time. I walked for miles, hoping for a glimpse of the giant Grouse, This wasn't to be, but I did add Crested Tit and Red Squirrel to the trip list.

 A drive home via Lochindorb, and I added more RT Diver and Redshank to the list. Below was a very territorial Red Grouse, who was not a bit bothered by the car even when I wound down my window.

4th April. I found out that a Ring-billed Gull had been over-wintering in Dingwall, which itself has a decent history of scarce Gulls. We picked up a loaf of bread from Tesco, and wandered over to the small boating lake where the bird was last seen. Slowly plucking the bread to pieces and launching it into the air, we were treated to a scene from a Hitchcock film, and of course the Ring-Billed Gull- another lifer for me.

 April 5th. Before flying home, I was glad to get to Loch Ness which although devoid of bird life does of course have a certain legendary connection with a mythical beast. The exhibition here is really rather good, and whilst I love the idea of a left over Plesiosaur, scientifically this is highly unlikely. Perhaps the photos and reports relate to Sturgeon, but whatever the case it was a glorious day and a fine end to the trip. I will return next year for my fill of wilderness and whisky- no there's a name for a tour company.