Sunday, 22 February 2015

Another patch lifer followed by Raptor fest

Ricky was able to join me for the afternoon of the 21st, and I was hoping he would bring some of his good luck with him after finding a Merlin on his patch at Thorpe earlier in the week. I'l be honest- the circuit around Church Marsh felt a little lifeless indeed mundane as we approached the river bend behind the hide. Ricky had certainly bought that luck of the Cleverley, for on the river was a female Scaup! Initially I thought I was looking at a female Tufted with large white flash at the bill base, but a closer inspection through the bins revealed a clearly larger Duck with a longer looking head and larger bill. We watched the bird for around 10 minutes before she dived, and oddly that was the last we saw of her. Scaup can dive and will hunt for food underwater but I cannot believe she did not surface in the 7 or so minutes we waited. Perhaps the Scaup surfaced round the river bend. Whatever the case, this will go down as a highlight of the year when I look back and I was pleased that we were able to properly grill this bird in case of a Lesser mis-ID! I took an awful record shot with my awful camera, I'll include it here for the sake of completeness.

A few teal were on the lagoon, and the bright conditions encouraged 2 Buzzard and 1 Kestrel into the sky to soar and latterly hunt. This boded well for our visit to Waveney Forest later on. Before we left, we explored a little off piste hoping to add to the Wildfowl count. We were delighted to flush a Woodcock, which took off, veered toward us before bombing past into the nearby woodland. Classic view of a cryptic species. 

We arrived at the mound in Waveney Forest mid-afternoon, narrowly missing a female Hen Harrier as we were just setting up. This was not to be a setback, for everywhere we looked we could see Raptors. At least 7 Short-eared Owl were on the wing, tussling with Kestrels, Crows and even each other. Some of this played out close enough that we could hear the grunts and squeaks of the Owls. Superb! A Rough-legged Buzzard was present, along with 2 Commons. 3 Barn Owl hunted, one carried food almost within touching distance of the assembled birders. Ricky spotted a Kingfisher whizzing along a dyke, and a Chinese Water Deer fed nearby. As we began to lose the light, Marsh Harriers became more obvious and Short-eared Owl activity dropped off slightly. What a superb area for Raptors this is, one can only guess how many in total use these marshes over Winter.

Having stopped off to grab dinner for myself, I called in at the patch as darkness fell. A c3000 strong Corvid roost left Claxton for Buckenham, 2 Barn Owls hunted and 10 Golden Plover breezed through, marking the third patch year tick of the day. Norfolk and the patch on fine form! 

Friday, 20 February 2015

Hockham area- Breckland Swamp

A thoroughly enjoyable morning exploring the Hockham area with birding gent Paul Newport, who kindly offered to show me around his patch. Do check out his blog: Paul has birded the area for sometime, and knows every nook, cranny and corner much like I know Surlingham. We enjoyed a great variety of birds from start to finish, and I was especially pleased to see my first Siskins and Lesser Redpoll of the year. Cranberry Rough held both of these species, and what a gem of a site this is. Not far from here we also heard Woodlark, again my first of the year and always an evocative sound.

Hockham Fen is vast, much bigger than I was expecting and an unlikely sight after row upon row of pine and conifer. Here, wildfowl included Shovelor, Teal, Mallard, Coot, Greylag and Wigeon. A male Sparrowhawk was a nice sight as he cruised over the fen, and up to 4 Grey Heron sat perched high in a group of Alders. A lone Snipe got up and disappeared high over the fen.

Walking back through the forest, Treecreeper, Nuthatch and typical woodland birds were abundant. After discussing the celebritization of birding, Planet Rock and other important things (!) I left Paul who had been an excellent host and great company, heading solo to Thompson Water. I walked a stretch of the Peddar's Way, adding Yellowhammer to my species list for the day. I then made a stop at Thompson Common and walked a short section of the Pingo Trail; untapped potential here and a return visit a must. I was a little disappointed not to catch a glimpse of Goshawk at another location, but getting out and exploring new locations and meeting new people is what it is all about. My Brecks horizons have widened.

 Hockham Fen looking like an Eastern European bog
 Hockham Forest

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Rockland Broad and a night time expedition

Not as exciting as it sounds unfortunately, so I will get the night it out of the way before reporting on some proper birding.

Connor and I continued our intrepid search for the elusive Long-eared Owl in The Brecks last night, visiting 7 different locations in and around the forest with no joy. We did enjoy a classic view of a Tawny (incidentally Tawnys were calling at each location), heard Barn Owl and saw a couple of Woodcock. Came away disappointed, but some really interesting habitat was looked over and of course, so much more still to do!

Today was more standard fare, an afternoon visit to Rockland Broad. I counted c1000 Black-headed Gulls on the broad itself, clearly potential for something rarer here amongst the roost but usually rather distant. 26 Tufted Duck was a record count (!) and a single Pochard was a welcome year tick, never easy to pin down. A second year tick flew north towards Buckenham in the shape of a Shelduck, and as dusk fell 4 Marsh Harriers passed through, a Common Buzzard headed to roost and a Barn Owl left its own to hunt. Classic birding on my doorstep. of note on the drive home was a single Roe Deer in a field between Surlingham and Rockland; the 2 Chinese Water Deer grazing amongst the marsh at Rockland are much less remarkable in these ere parts.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Some half-term birding to blog about

On Saturday 14th, I had some old uni friends staying with me for the weekend. It was a glorious day so we headed to Horsey on the east coast so that they could be introduced to the Grey Seal colony. The seals appeared to be enjoying the sunshine and many were hauled out on the beach. A few pups remained but I doubt many were taking milk and indeed a range of colours and markings were present. Walking back down the Nelson's Head track, I heard the bugling of Cranes and was able to show the group a pair grazing in the field. We enjoyed a few pints in the pub before heading back to Surlingham for dinner. I was of course disappointed to see that a Great White Egret had been reported whilst we were dining, but then at least someone had seen it if not me!

I took to Church Marsh on Sunday to blow the cobwebs out. Of note were a pair of Marsh Tit and 4 Grey Herons, the latter making use of the exceptionally low water levels in the river, wading at knee height and catching small fish with some success. Back home in the garden, 3 Bullfinch were stonking!

Yesterday, I was a little put off by the foggy start but stuck to my original plan of Carlton Marshes. It was difficult to see anything at first, but as the Winter light cut through small flocks of both Reed Bunting and Meadow Pipit were revealed to me. The scrape held 4 Dunlin, 2 Redshank, plenty of Lapwing and a Shelduck. Black-headed, Common, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls were using the site, many passing through, but another white-winger here is surely only a matter of time. Other bits and pieces today included a Kestrel and Golden Plover over.

Early in the mornings, we are being treated to both Song and Mistle Thrush singing. Interestingly, they seem to take turns: The Mistle belts out his sombre tune, and when resting the Song Thrush kicks in. Two lovely sounds to awaken to.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

WeBs at Church Marsh and Rockland

The first day of the year I would describe as pleasant today, and with both Mistle and Song Thrush in the vicinity of the garden I was optimistic for the WeBs counts.
Church Marsh totals:
Teal 21
Mallard 20
Mute Swan 6
Tufted Duck 1
Moorhen 1
Greylag 2
GC Grebe 1

Away from the water, and a passing Pink-footed Goose was a decent year tick for the reserve list, and a large group of Thrushes have amassed on the hill across from the ruins. Mistle, Fieldfare and Redwing all busying themselves feeding, an excellent flock. In previous years the flock have roosted in the surrounding trees and Redwing have even begun to sing, something to listen out for especially if the weather continues to warm up. Elsewhere, a smattering of common birds and residents including Treecreeper, Skylark, Kestrel and Reed Bunting. I must applaud the team from Strumpshaw for doing some scrub clearance this last week, good for the wildlife of course but allowing the visiting birdwatcher better views across the marsh and deeper into the scrub. Plus, the sightings board is back- cheers Ben! Made sure I got the first bits scribbled down, not much competition admittedly.

Rockland totals:
Mallard 2
Coot 7
GC Grebe 2
Greylag 10
Cormorant 1
Tufted Duck 7
BH Gull 9
Little Grebe 3
Common Gull 2
Grey Heron 1
Mute Swan 4
Teal 1

Yesterday, I took a walk round Wheatfen and namely Surlingham wood. Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer both disturbed, and very little bird activity on a typical muddy and cloudy February day.

A nice variety of common birds this weekend without anything outlandish and/or scarce, but the highlight were 3 Little grebe right in front of the hide at Rockland. Diminutive little birds, full of character.