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.