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.