Sunday, 11 December 2016

2 Patch Lifers- and one is here to stay

With Rose Ava Bradley finally making her arrival into the world on November 20th, time further away from home has been been hard to come by but infact, her coming has made me appreciate what is on my doorstep even more.

The original due date was the 5th, and a few folk were justifiably surprised to see me at the Minsmere Cliff Swallow twitch that day. This American vagrant had made landfall near the visitor centre with 3 Barn Swallow, and I managed to convince Debs that should anything happen, I would be back in 2 hours. I was, but need not have worried.

Having lost a week in hospital with initially poorly mum and baby, work kindly offered me another week's paternity leave which I gladly snapped up. This eased the pressure, and I have been able to grab the odd hour here and there on the patch, sometimes with baby. On the 4th of December, I elected to leave Rose with mum and headed down to The Covey at Wheatfen to watch an obliging Cattle Egret devouring worms around the feet of the mandatory cattle. This was indeed a patch lifer for me, and with 3 birds recently at Gapton this was very much on the cards. No idea who found it, but thanks! Later that day we received a visit from Moysiebirder and family, so after the expected ogling over Rose, Ben dad and I nipped out for another look at the Egret and then a dusk vigil at Langley Marshes. This was a superb evening- Hen Harrier, Grey Wagtail (2), Curlew (13; lovely to hear the true call of the wild back on the patch) Barn Owl (3) and a single White-fronted Goose over. Back at the house, at least 2 Woodcock flew by the light of the moon. Top patching!

This morning, Debs and I made use of the accessible track down to Rockland Broad (really need to think about how much of the patch is pushchair friendly now) and spent an hour walking and surveying the Wildfowl out on the broad. Best of all were 2 Goldeneye, making up records 5 and 6 on the patch after 2 early on in the year. Not far off annual, and I expect they arrived during the cold weather and have elected to stay.

I am sat on 120 for the year, 2 off equalling the record of last year. A flyover wild Swan and Short-eared Owl would do it; a Water Pipit would break it! Back to the coal face tomorrow, but with only a week until Christmas holidays, it is on.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Quality abounds on the patch in October

It has been difficult to tear myself away from the coast this October, but with so many birds on the move at this time of year some consistent patching was bound to turn up some good birds.

Starting though with something much more local, the continued and indeed strengthening presence of Bearded Tit at Surlingham Church Marsh. Recalling the halcyon days of summer, I had seen a maximum of 3 birds together at any one time but was convinced there were more. On the 15th, I recorded a group of 7 erupting out of the reedbed, and could hear a further 2 individuals pinging from whence the small flock came. This count of 9 represents my record count on the reserve and indeed on the patch and will be looked back upon as a highlight of the year for sure. Elsewhere on the reserve, there has been an expected increase in numbers of Goldcrest and Thrushes, and on the 25th a visit with Ricky heralded the arrival of Autumn proper with a wheezing Brambling and the second Woodcock of the Winter period, hot on the heels of a bird at dusk on Claxton Marshes the previous evening. I record Woodcock annually at a part of Church Marsh not accessible to the public (volunteer warden privileges) but if you want to catch up with this bird, now is a good time and I would recommend Rockland Dyke which backs on to Wheatfen. As for Brambling, that delightful Autumnal Finch, I have now heard 4 in the last week having not recorded them at all in the first Winter period of this year. Like Shorelark on the coast, I hope they have a good Winter inland.

Not only the migrants are putting on a good show, but the patch regulars that can be evasive are doing their best to give themselves up at the moment. Marsh Tit are calling and being seen regularly at both Church Marsh and Rockland Broad, Water Rail are squealing from dykes (and even showing at Church Marsh, an incredible encounter where Ricky and I inadvertently flushed a pair and one landed on a perch briefly) and the now resident Chiffchaff are settling in for Winter, one in full song on the 15th. We have had to wave goodbye to the Swallows though, perhaps for the final time this year in the valley. 5 Were at Rockland Broad on the 15th.

Both male and ringtail Hen Harriers have been reported at Claxton Marshes over the last 10 days, the ringtail proving more reliable. I have been diligently watching most evenings from the footpath leading away from Claxton Mill, and whilst these evening sessions have not yielded the target bird I have enjoyed regular close encounters with Barn Owls, the burgeoning Corvid roost, grunting Snipe and an odd looking pale Buzzard. Today, determined to break my Hen Harrier duck for the year, I made an early start with the intention of catching the bird as it left the roost at Strumpshaw (assuming it commutes in the same area). It was to be a great morning for Raptors. In the dark, I could just make out 2 Barn Owl hunting almost side by side. As the light slowly developed and the marsh took on an olive tinge, Marsh Harriers and Buzzards were going about their business. At the river, I peered across to Buckenham and spotted a stunning Peregrine on a fence post, that sentinel of the marsh returning for Winter Wigeon. A Kestrel hovered no more than 15 metres from me. Best til last though- the ringtail Hen Harrier came through just before 8am. So stylish these birds, skimming the ground and seemingly more athletic than the local Marsh Harriers. I tracked it across the grazing field south of the pub, and eventually lost to view. I gave myself a moment for a fist pump, and headed towards Langley Marshes to see if the bird would stop to hunt. Viewing now from the sailing marsh, no sign of the Harrier but 2 Buzzards were giving another Raptor (with jessies) hell, possibly a Harris Hawk but difficult to be certain in the early morning light. I have seen a Harris Hawk at Coldham Hall marshes a couple of years ago, and a bird gets reported at Strumpshaw occasionally so this may be that bird living wild in the valley.

Eager to connect with the Harrier on its return journey, I tried Langley Marshes this afternoon. Carlton Marshes had 3 Short-eared Owl yesterday, perhaps they or others would work their way in this direction? Not as yet, but 4 Crane dropping onto Cantley Marsh were a pleasant surprise and my 3rd-6th records on patch after the pair over Claxton in the Spring.

Just to add, a splendid morning searching for Fungi at Wheatfen with the redoubtable James Emerson, documented here and with relatively warm temperatures, the Moth Trap has been on and Novemeber Moth Agg and Feathered Thorn have been added to the garden list. A few pics of both the foray and a Moth are on Twitter, as always.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Twitching versus finding

I had put aside Sunday for a full day in the field, so when news broke of an Isabelline Wheatear at Burnham Overy on Saturday morning I wasted little time in getting the usual bits together and made the trip up to the north coast. I join the crowds perhaps twice a year these days, but this was to be a lifer and with plenty of eyes, hopefully more decent stuff would be located near by. 

I've said enough about the parking elsewhere on social media, needless to say it was atrocious from some but no need to repeat myself here. The walk to Burnham dunes is always a long one, but with restless Brent and Pink-footed Geese feeding either side of the track, there was always something to look at. Finally arriving at the end of a long line of birders, the Isabelline Wheatear was easily picked up as it fed amongst the sparse vegetation. The black alula contrasted with a sandy wing and back, almost like the bird had been through a dust storm and never bothered to tidy up its appearance. Posture notably erect, even more so than other Wheatears I have watched. Whilst the group were watching the Wheatear/searching for a reported Pallas's Warbler, 2 Waxwing dropped in. My first of the season and a delight for the assembled masses. In addition, a Shorelark had pitched down just east of where we were, so before trudging back I spent some time watching this bird. Not been a great past couple of Winters for Shorelark, hopefully they will be making a strong comeback this year (28 reported from Holkham today, a real throwback). The twitch had paid off- lifer, and jammed in on a couple of scarce bits as I had hoped I might. It looks like a Desert Wheatear was nearby too, and today a Radde's Warbler. I wonder if you took that crowd, and plonked them at Wells, or even Waxham. Would the same quality of birds be discovered?

With that thought very much in the forefront of my mind, I made the short journey to Wareham Greens and parked along Garden Drove. Initially, I had the place to myself but other birders did start to trickle in with the same idea. The Pit was quiet save a few Redwing and Fieldfare passing through, and the hedgerows held plenty of Goldcrest but nothing beyond that. A female Blackcap was the source of some takking, and as the light began to fade I headed home. Bird finding hadn't gone quite as well as the twitching, today anyway.

Yesterday, I made an early start and walked the new coastal path between Waxham and Horsey. Little point in giving a blow-by-blow account here, suffice to say I did not see much! Lesser Redpoll were undoubtedly the bird of the day, with flocks numbering from 10-30 moving overhead and never settling. Siskin were not far behind, and other birds of note included 2 Chiffchaff, 1 Swallow and a Blackcap. Happisburgh was similarly quiet, and the holy site of Whimpwell Green was hiding a few Goldcrest but nothing to set the pulse racing. Again, bird finding not proving massively successful, but you can't beat being out on the coast in October, easterly winds afoot, not knowing what is round the other side of the next bush. 

Monday, 10 October 2016

Siberian Sprite turns up at end of rainbow in Waxham

Having had a good afternoon on the Saturday in the tranquil surrounds of Great Yarmouth Cemetery (2/3 Yellow-browed, Brambling, Ouzel over), and spurred on by news that a Radde's had been found out east, I elected to go for an old school weekend, retracing my steps that led to the Bluetail a few years ago. Ironically, I could even follow a new route, with the opening up of a new coastal footpath that links Sea Palling with Waxham and I believe extends further. I have never been more excited to see a hedge freshly trimmed (!). The track now means one can walk in amongst the coastal scrub, without looking down upon it in frustration thinking, how the hell do I get in there? It didn't take long for it to feel very birdy indeed, Joe and I picking up at least 1 Lapland Bunting in-off soon after 8am. Meadow Pipits seemed constantly on the move all day, and every step revealed a wary Thrush or Robin darting out of cover and away from us. Surprised not to pick up a Yellow-brow, for now we had to settle for Brambling and Siskin moving overhead. It was on, and we knew we were in with a real chance of finding something. If conversation dipped, Joe was quick to remind me "it will be in that next bush Jim!". 
Arriving at Horsey, some people were ringing/trapping rare birds and the tapes were playing loudly. It was difficult to tell whether we were hearing Yellow-brows for real, until one chap kindly informed us that we probably were, for their recording was of a YBW quickly followed by a Goldcrest. With that eliminated, we heard at least 2 birds here and saw one. Please note at this time, YBWs were regarded by RBA as 'scarce', so we were rightly/wrongly pleased with our work. 4 Lesser Redpoll chattered loudly as they came in, perhaps interested in the tapes, refusing to alight anywhere in view. 
The pipe dump was not especially exciting, a few Reed Bunting the only migrants of note bar the now expected Crests and Thrushes that accompanied us on our walk. Another shower, and another rainbow- heralding more arrivals? Pressing on back to Waxham, we stopped at a Sycamore south of Shangri La cottage (now a Passivhaus, why can't all houses be made to this design?). The tree was dripping with Goldcrest, and I recall Joe asking after 5 minutes can we be sure they are all Goldcrest? I was quick to say no, this deserved our time. Within minutes, Joe dropped the Pallas's Warbler bomb, was it one? I managed to get onto the bird in question, and without question we were looking at a splendid Pallas's Leaf Warbler, probably fresh in from Russia. Fist pumping and much adulation ensued, and after a brief gap we located the bird again. We contacted Tim Allwood, who thankfully was nearby with Andy and both came down to enjoy the bird with us. A couple of twitchers arrived, one who had been in the area anyway and was thankful to be given the heads up. Once another chap arrived, we moved on, still buzzing as we would be for the rest of the day (even work felt manageable today!) Regarding the bird itself, even without a decent view of the lateral crown stripe the identity was assured. The thick, custard coloured supercilium and dark eye stripe stood out, and the bird spent more time hovering for flies compared to the nearby crests. It called only 3 times whilst we were there, a much cuter squeak than a Yellow-browed, of which there was also one in the sycamore but briefly. 
We had a look round some suitable habitat in Happisburgh, but in truth the prize was in the bag already. Surprisngly, another Pallas's was at the dung heap by the coast watch point, and we had checked there so perhaps another new arrival. A further bird was found down in Suffolk at Bawdsey, and today another in Great Yarmouth cemetery. Smashing birds, great to locate one and share it with others. Finding himself a lifer, that's the way to do it Joe! 

 Pallas's Warbler, photo by Tim Allwood
Me pausing to take photo of exciting habitat

Sunday, 18 September 2016

From Caister to Corton

With a northerly blow forecast, I was keen to get out on Saturday and do some seawatching. I was busy Saturday morning, but soon regretted not being busy Saturday afternoon instead as 2 hours from Scratby were not very productive, although it was good to finally meet Stratton Birder Steve. We gave it a couple of hours, the best bird was probably a Grey Plover going north. Brents, Gannets and Wigeon were the most numerous migrants of 8 species not including the resident Med Gulls. Steve and I then went separate ways to hunt some Passerines, although Steve did return later and score a juvenile Long-tailed Skua! I went to Caister and did the usual loop, saw absolutely zilch. With still an hour to spare I went to Yarmouth Cemetery, and bar a Chiffchaff there was nothing in here either (I'll refrain from saying it was 'dead') although 2 Firecrest had been reported earlier in the day. Unusually I didn't see any other birders, although it was by now around dinner time and I too was getting hungry so called it a day.

Reading the bird news from the day, I felt like I had missed out on some good seabirds. The north coast was always going to score, but there had been a few Shearwaters and a couple of Leaches out east in the afternoon. Not to be defeated, I was keen to try again Sunday morning and James Brown suggested North Suffolk might be decent. I has birded Gunton in the past but never Corton, and having been committed to the East Norfolk coast up until now I had never really given this area much thought. A quick look at Google maps revealed from where I live now, Corton is just 30 minutes away compared with 45 minutes to Caister. Gunton was basically the same, and with time as always at a premium I was already looking at a change.

I met James at 7.45 this morning, and he had already put in over an hour and seen a Puffin, a good record. In the hour and a half I watched, we had a Balearic type come through north (rarely banked or cruised, appeared in a rush with lots of flapping) and a Sooty Shearwater (much longer winged and spent time cruising over the surf). I haven't seen a Sooty for a couple of years so this was already 200% better than yesterday! Brents, Gannets, Wigeon and Teal were numerous, and we also had a few Auk Sp and a Grey Wagtail over.

I then went to have a look for yesterday's Wryneck at the old sewage works. What a smashing area this is. There was lots of activity in the surrounding hedges with Chiffchaff flycatching and getting bother from the local Finches. There was no Wryneck, but a female-type Redstart showed briefly on the sewage works fence. Slightly further inland, a boggy area held another Chiffchaff. I had a quick walk round the old railway site, Siskin and Grey Wagtail overhead making the occasion seem that bit more Autumnal. More Chiffchaff were here, and again I was taken aback at the quality of habitat here within easy reach. Without even checking the well known Radar Lodge area or Corton Woods, I was sold. If the locals don't mind, my Autumn birding is sorted!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Slowly does it

With summer continuing to outstay her welcome, birding has been slow of late. Having been over at Strumpshaw Fen to look through some Moths with Ben on the 31st, and feeling like I hadn't seen anything 'good' for ages, I strung out the morning with a walk round to Tower Hide. The immature Glossy Ibis was showing well in front of the hide, and continues to be present at time of typing. This bird constitutes my 5th Yare Valley record after 4 birds at Reedham/Cantley Marshes in 2012. A target bird south of the river for sure.

Frosted Orange, my first, from Strumpshaw Fen
 The Glossy Ibis, a mid-stayer 

Having been round Church Marsh and Rockland Broad this weekend, along with regular walks down to the river, I can safely say there is not much around at the moment. Still, the weather is glorious and I never tire of getting out and exploring the valley. Church Marsh had a juvenile male Marsh Harrier, a pinging Bearded Tit and a few returning Teal and Shovelor. Chiffchaff are everywhere, their 'hweet' call giving them away. I wonder how many will stay for the Winter. Rockland was dead this afternoon, although a Small Copper was a new one for the site. 

On Butterflies, my garden has really delivered this Summer. Along with the expected common species, we have had Small Copper, Painted Lady, Wall Brown, Speckled Wood and Brown Argus! The beds we have been digging and tending to already paying off. 

Being back at work means the Moth trap only gets set at the weekend, which is hurting. A few new ones of note: Engrailed, Marbled Beauty, Pale Water Veneer, Common Purple and Gold, Rush Veneer and Rusty Dot Pearl. I am still letting many micros go without ID, but hopefully The book will turn up on my birthday later this month. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Snettisham- Wader Spectacular

I have had my eyes on the tide times that could produce a 'Wader Spectacular' this year at Snettisham, and whilst many have been and gone that coincided with me being at work/asleep, I was pleased to finally connect with this experience on Tuesday morning, arriving at Snettisham around 8am. The times provided by the RSPB helpfully allow for a moderate walk to the estuary, nonetheless I got there in plenty of time and watched the tide gently encroach on the mudflats, eventually forcing the 10s of 1000s of Waders off the estuary, many alighting on the small pools behind the rotary hide. The decision making process that the birds must go through fascinates me. I had only been watching for half an hour, and the first of the flocks got up and began swirling against the blue, before coming down behind me. There was still plenty of mud spare at this point, but an active decision had been made- enough is enough chaps, we're moving now. And so this dynamic continued, groups of 10s 100s and 1000s departing The Wash and cramming onto the pools and spits behind where I stood. Knot were clearly the most numerous species here, but there were 1000s of Golden Plover and Oystercatcher. Dunlin, Blackwit and Barwit must have been in there 100s, perhaps more. 

Having watched the spectacular come to an end, I observed the jostling for position of 1000s of Knot on the small pools and islands. One tiny island housed only Turnstone, a strict policy from the shorebird community here. Again though, decisions being made. Some small groups quickly gave up on the pools and flew out over the estuary, presumably waiting for the mud to become re-exposed. I also left at this point and began the walk back along the shoreline. Here, Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail (2) were migrants just passing through. I came across a small flock of Peeps on the shoreline, the Sanderling amongst them picked at insects amongst the spray, the Dunlin and Ringed Plover though just appeared to be waiting it out. I then got lucky, for a Little Stint and 2 Curlew Sandpiper were a part of the group. I managed a couple of photos of the Sandpiper, see below. Spotted Redshank was another 'decent' Wader on the day list. 

With fine warm weather set in for the day, I nipped up the coast to Titchwell. In Truth, I scored pretty much the same Wader species as Titchwell, just in smaller numbers. One addition was a Whimbrel flying north. A female Common Scoter was a little unseasonal offshore, but a Whinchat in the scrub certainly was not. Now to find one of these in Claxton, must be about time. A walk down to the river this afternoon drew a blank, but a Greenshank flew over calling. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

Update 3/3- Minsmere.

Driving along the track to Minsmere, I was reminded of how much excellent and often impenetrable habitat there is here. Upon arrival, hearing a Bee Eater had been seen on the reserve, I remarked to mum that it would most likely have worked its way inland by now. Thankfully, I was wrong. The bird remains present today, and we both managed distant views of this most exotically dressed of migrants as it hunted for bugs over the woods. Within minutes of seeing this bird from East Hide, I picked up an interesting looking Buzzard over Westleton. A prolonged look and this turned out to be one of the Honey Buzzards in the area, drooping wings and more pronounced tail giving it away. With 2 excellent birds in the bag, a look over the scrape revealed a Little Gull and a few Ruff.

Minsmere being what it is, more was in store. A female Adder almost crossed our path as we walked amongst the dunes, the first time I have seen one of these for at least 2 years. A couple of Wheatear whizzed about in the dunes, photographers desperately trying to get that shot. The sluice bushes were quiet, so we walked up to the chapel ruins. Chapel Pool was excellent for Waders, although in almost blinding light it was difficult to pin down all of them. Curlew Sandpiper, Redshank, Dunlin and a probable Little Stint were on the pool, and the latter had been reported from there so this was likely to have been the tiny scampering silhouette we saw. Elsewhere, a couple of Knot were seen from South Hide.

After a traditional for Minsmere jacket potato lunch, we headed to Sizewell. Perhaps something regarding the warm outflow here has changed, for there were no Terns hunting around the platforms. Over the power station, a juvenile Peregrine was flexing its muscles. An excellent day out.

A scattering of migrants heralds the start of the birder's Autumn.

Although we are still enjoying some excellent summer weather in East Anglia, a run of easterly winds and a few migrants making landfall signals that Autumn is underway for the birder. On the 17th I headed to Caister early morning for my now usual circuit at this time of year. Beginning at the golf course, I picked up 2 Whinchat and 5 Wheatear. This boded well, but was infact the best of the migrants today. Caister north dunes gave up a single Whinchat and Wheatear, and many Common Blue Butterflies, which seem to be having a good time of it. With time in the bank, I headed to Winterton South dunes but could only pick up a Chiffchaff here, the Grayling and Small Heath Butterflies stealing the show. Summer hanging on, but Autumn more than knocking.

That evening, I took the usual route down to Claxton Marshes and my good (ish) fortune continued- at least 2 Purple Hairstreak were in the Oaks, a very good local tick. Out on the marshes, Marsh Harrier and Kestrel were hunting, and a Reed Warbler was still feeding a late brood. Corvids have begun to group together, forming smaller satellite roosts around the parish. A Hobby flew over on my way back to the house.

Perhaps of most interest was this photo snapped of a pair of Emerald Damselfly species. I thought the pairing looked interesting, but genuinely wasn't sure exactly what specie/s I had seen. On Twitter, folk have gone from Common Emerald pair, mixed Pair of Willow and Common, and most recently 2 males! Not being the most experienced with either, I intend to email the photo to BDS and perhaps in due course Atropos? Thanks to all for their input with this, and if anyone reading the blog wishes to have a say, please feel free.

Summer Moth highlights so far

I've owned a Moth Trap for a few years, but having moved a few times (the trap likely to cause disturbance in a couple of locations) coupled with some shocking summers, only now have I been making a constant effort to trap, almost nightly. Truly bitten by the bug now. The excellent Norfolk Moths website has been a real help, as has a chap on Twitter who goes by the moniker @mothiduk ! I have also attended a Moth morning at Strumpshaw and one here in Claxton, hosted by the SYWG. Both of these mornings amassed some impressive totals, over 100 species at Strumpshaw (a few micros pending) and 39 at Claxton (excluding micros). I particularly enjoyed the Wainscots at Strumpshaw, and of course a migrant Tree Lichen Beauty was an obvious highlight. In the village, a Reed Dagger was probably the scarcest Moth trapped. 

At home, species counts have varied from 10-40, many micros on top of that not yet being identified. The Micro fieldguide is on the birthday list. Highlights have included my first Antler Moth, Webb's Wainscot, Fen Wainscot, Balsam Carpet and The Tissue. The Tissue is a rare Moth in Norfolk, and looking at previous records on the aforementioned website, the last record for TG30 was 1938! This was in the Rockland area. There appears to have been a peak of 3 records in 2013, otherwise this species is encountered intermittently. Balsam Carpet is another decent record, around 10 recorded each year locally in The Broads. Not every night has delivered something of such interest; last night for example was pants, just 10 species recorded after a clear moon-lit night. Still, we go again, trap out tonight providing the rain holds off. 

Tissue, this individual showing a pink-ish tinge, which threw myself and a few others initially. 

 Antler Moth. 
 Pebble and Swallow Prominent
Balsam Carpet, confirmed by the field-guide!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Northumberland- Coast and Castles

I almost couldn't believe the Bonapartes Gull on the Wansbest Estuary was still present come the start of summer, and ever since June I have been crossing my fingers that this bird would stick so I could get a look on the way up to our holiday cottage in Northumberland. I surely deserved some luc, having left East Anglia just as a first for Britain shows up. And so it was , on Saturday July 30th Debs and I descended the concrete bank of a fly-over (cue various remarks about the places we end up) to view the Wansbeck Estuary near Ashington. It did not take long to pick up the Bonapartes, a smaller Gull than the Black-headed species with which it was associating. Paler, and with an all-black bill, this was a learning curve for 2 Gull amateurs and a great start to the break. Also on the mud here were Whimbrel, Dunlin and a few Sandwich Tern more distantly.

We stayed near Bamburgh, and the rolling countryside around our cottage was home to plenty of House Sparrow, Yellowhammer, Hare and best of all a few Tree Sparrow. We were a short drive from Seahouses, the gateway to The Farne Islands and although we had been across before, our visit this year was timed a little earlier and we were treated to fantastic views of breeding Puffin, Razorbill, Shag, Kittiwake and the 3 'Common' Tern species. Many of these were viewed from the boat, and whilst docking at Inner Farne an Arctic Skua caused havoc amongst the Tern colony on Brownsman Island. This piratical bird was chased off by a swell of Terns, and will have to wait until they disperse before considering another attack. Fulmar and Gannet were regular over our boat, and a few Knot grazed amongst the Grey Seals and Seaweed.

Other than The Farnes, the trip was light on real birding. Some new contacts on Twitter had kindly given me details of both Golden-ringed Dragonfly and Black Darter sites, but the 2 days we headed into the uplands were windy and punctuated by showers, so we spent more time exploring ruined castles which was great fun! Budle Bay must get a mention though, right on our doorstep and a couple of trips here when the tide was right yielded close views of Curlew, Whimbrel, Red-breasted Merganser and young, Greenshank and Oystercatcher. Similar tidal habitat on Holy Island added Bar-tailed Godwit to the holiday list. We decided against a Heleborine search when once again rain stopped play.

So, another lovely visit to this county which for me says two things- Seabirds and Castles!

Bonapartes Gull, Wansbeck estuary with larger Black-headed for comparison
King of the cliff
 Edlingham Castle. Middle of nowhere, proper wild ruin. 
Dunstanburgh Castle. A fair walk, well worth it.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Garden Moths and local Willow Emerald

Cracking few days of trapping in the garden. On returning from Northumberland, I plan to catalogue my finds but until then have been uploading onto the excellent Norfolk Moths website. Many highlights to speak of, and lists longer than I care to type, but here are a few of the crowd pleasers. Many of these were trapped and then visited by Joe and James, so I was pleased with such variety.

 Garden Tiger, 2 of these rested outside the trap until early morning. 

Wow. Antler Moth. Exquisite and amongst my favourites.  

A great double act, Pebble and Swallow Prominent.

This got us searching for an ID. Balsam Carpet. Not so common.

I am thrilled to have confirmed Willow Emerald at a local private site, Ducan's Marsh. Other cool stuff here included Brown and Migrant Hawkers, Long winged Coneheads and a Hornet-mimic Hoverfly, the same species I have had outside my house in the last week. Thanks to James and Joe for helping me confirm these species.

Willow Emerald Damselfly. Note the pale Pterostigma.

Long-winged Conehead. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Butterfly Extravaganza

With a continued spell of warm and sunny weather, I have been launching operation Butterfly over the last 4 days, with splendid results. Spurred on by Matthew Oates' book and a belief that this is something I 'can' do (peak birding time often held up by work, but long halcyon days in the summer allow for extra time in the field) I began with a visit to Bonny Wood in Barking, near the family home in Suffolk. In fact, many of the family turned out for the walk including Moysiebirder and dad. The 23rd was a hot day, the wood itself quiet save for the buzz of insects. We were onto our first Silver-washed Fritillaries before long, at least 6 individuals dashed past us on the woodlands rides, rarely stopping to feed and not allowing any photos. A few of us got onto Purple Hairstreak high up in the Oaks, and on the way back we found a much more confiding and more easily observed colony. The target- Purple Emperor- did fly through high and strong, but sadly only myself and Ben got onto this beast of the canopy. Walking back to the village, Ben was quick to spot a White Admiral, completing a good haul although views were a challenge. Really exciting to think that the neighbouring parish to home has Purple Emperor- and now I have the evidence to prove it to myself! I wonder what their status is in Suffolk? The Theberton colony are apparently introduced, but with others popping up at Bradwell and Monk's Wood, perhaps this enigmatic species is on the rise and has naturally expanded its range in my home county. 

With Emperor season at its peak, I was keen to try Fermyn Woods for the first time, tying in a visit to a friend and a beer festival/village fete. Arriving midday on the 25th, the bright sunshine had been replaced by cloud and locals were reporting hard work inside the Fermyn complex. I spent an hour on the first ride, craning my neck in an attempt to identify a small Hairstreak colony. There were a few Elms around, so probably White-letter, but not confirmed. Then, a larger Butterfly caught my eye- a Purple Emperor high above the canopy. Jackpot. Walking on to a small clearing, I observed Silver-washed Fritillary engaging in what can only be described as harassment by male on female, and another Emperor perched high up just out of good view. With the day fast disappearing, I retraced my steps and eventually achieved good views of a perched Emperor, too high to even dare photograph. I was desperate for one to come to ground, but on this occasion my experience of this species in Hertfordshire a few years ago was not to be eclipsed. (See here:

Onwards then to Bedford Purlieus, absolutely no sign posting for this area of Rockingham Forest but when I pulled over to consult the map and a Fritillary flew past, I decided I was in the right place. With only half an hour until I was due to meet my friend for the first pint, I spoke to a couple of guys searching for the target species here- White-letter Hairstreak. One chap had been looking for 3 hours and was then headed home. Even if I could have caught up with him, not sure I would have dared show him the image I captured below. Very lucky. Easily my best views of this species.  

 White-letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus, Northants. 

We made a surprisingly early start this morning despite the late night at Thurning Fest, during which I won a bottle of QE2 Whiskey, unopened in decanter. (Whiskey auction sites have this going for around 100 quid! One to hide in the cupboard and forget about). Although I knew it was too late in the season to look for Black Hairstreak, I wanted to check out their stronghold, Glapthorn Cow Pastures. An enchanting little reserve, and hopefully a return visit here next June will deliver. Today, we contented ourselves with commoner species and the contsant mournful call of the Bullfinch. Goes without saying almost, but Red Kites were everywhere.

 Inside the reserve- no cows or horses in sight, just a lot of Blackthorn. 

I then headed home, via Devil's Dyke on the Cambs/Suffolk border. I have been meaning to visit here for years, and what a treat this was. 100s of Chalkhill Blues fluttering over the chalky hillsides here, a new species for me. It was not long until I added another first, Marbled White. I only counted 5 of these which were subsequently harder to pin down and photograph.

So, an excellent few days and thanks to James Emerson for site details. I snapped a few wildflowers pictures which I am hoping he will be able to id when I see him Thursday! Cheers James.

 Chalkhill Blue, Devil's Dyke

 View from the Dyke- keep walking for Reach Fen! 

 6-spot Burnet Moth

Marbled White

Thursday, 21 July 2016

In pursuit of Summer

The English football team have been knocked out of a major tournament, and we have left The European Union, since I last posted. A while ago, then. 

As the holidays approached, I appeased myself with decent views of the Caspian Tern at Breydon Water, a species that had given me the slip on more than one occasion in the past. Into activities week, and myself and a group of students witnessed a Marsh Harrier food pass at Cley, a Spotted Flycatcher at Flatford and a first for me- an Old Lady Moth in the trap at school. An excellent final week of work which the kids seemed to enjoy, particularly the bit where I handled a False Widow Spider, unaware of it's inherent danger. 

At Church Marsh, I am close to confirming the breeding of Bearded Tits. I recorded this species almost 5 years ago when I first began visiting Surlingham, and expected it to be elusive but annual. This did not prove to be the case, so this marks a welcome return for a Broadland specialist. I have seen 2 birds together, one of which was a juvenile/female, but better views needed. Elsewhere, the dearth in Waders continues, but both Reed and Sedge seem to have had a good breeding season. 

Notable, a Yellow Wagtail bathing close to the A146 at the start of the month. A return visit involved hiking along a field margin in a suit, with nothing for company but the Skylark's song. No Wagtail. 

Yesterday, I embarked on a walk from my house, down to the river (pub number one, excellent pint of Green Jack), west, taking in Rockland Broad, away from the river, pub number two (new Woodfordes ale, can't recall the name) and home. It was hot, with a welcome breeze. Highlights were being surrounded by Migrant Hawkers on the river bank, tracking a young Chinese Water Deer, and a Great-crested Grebe on nest close to the footpath. 10 species of Butterfly were recorded, along with the end of a Grass Snake.

Next week, return of the Moth Trap from work, and a foray out of Norfolk and into Northants and Cambs- In Pursuit of Butterflies. The book of the same title has got me all fired up, and whilst I have seen Purple Emperor before, a reconnection with his majesty is needed. Tie that in with a beer festival somewhere near Oundle, and Monday is made. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Ducan's Marsh, Claxton

Having achieved both awful and brief views of the Blue-winged Teal at Carlton Marshes, I can finally say I have seen a 'lifer' this Spring. Along with the Teal, there has been some interesting birds in East Anglia, including a Great Knot and Pacific Golden Plover at Titchwell. Not needing to see either bird, I have contented myself with a weekend on patch.

Early this morning I took a walk down to the river. There were plenty of juvenile Sedge Warblers amongst the Reeds, whilst any Reed Warblers were still busy singing. A Barn Owl and Marsh Harrier hunted the marsh. 2 broods of Cygnets are currently being raised, and the parents will have to keep a close eye on them if they are to avoid falling into the clutches of a Mink or Otter. On returning home, I changed and went for a job whilst it was still cool. In Carlton St. Peter, I came across 2 Barn Owls together. One was much higher than the other and appeared a little uncertain, perhaps a youngster in training?

Before lunch I made my way down to Ducan's Marsh, and area of land I have kindly been given year-round access to. Today was an open day, and myself and a small group helped undertake an Orchid Count. In the main, we were counting Common Spotted, Southern Marsh and Early Marsh. Difficult to separate when so many have hybridised together. We ended up walking a transect of the marsh, anc counted 1,961 Orchids between us. As well as these flagship species, I was also able to acquaint myself with Marsh Fern, Yellow Meadowvetch, Marsh Mint and Sanicle amongst other things. Whilst walking the marsh, we put up a Meadow Brown Butterfly, my first of the year. A Broad-bodied Chaser hunted the dykes, and on the walk back I came across a Black-tailed Skimmer on the road, another first. Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were still singing, and a family of Bullfinch moved through unseen.This is a real gem of a site and I am lucky it is but a short walk from my front door.

Elsewhere, I have been fortunate enough to happen across 4 Red Kite on my travels, and this is a site I intend to return to in order to establish if breeding has actually taken place. A Little Owl was in the village on Friday evening, taking the parish Owl count up to 4.

 Rockland Broad last week
 Ragged Robin, Ducan's Marsh
 Marsh Fern with unknown Sedge/Rush?
 Early Marsh Orchid, I think.
Ducan's Marsh- the area to the right held 1,961 Orchids! 

Monday, 6 June 2016

Finally, just in time for the tail end of Spring migration........

.......we get some good weather. Too little too late? Only time will tell. I have enjoyed watching the resident birds go about their business on the local marshes and broads, but that ranks as the poorest Spring I can recall in terms of migrants and variety. That is not to say the birding is not good- but just a little underwhelming. Over at Rockland Broad on Saturday, I enjoyed a bit of a raptor fest, with 3 Hoby, 2 Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier and Kestrel all seen well. 2 Garden Warbler were singing, one by the carpark and one by the broad. A couple of Common Tern were hawking over the broad, and a Kingfisher was up to the usual near the hide. Don't get me wrong, this is all great (and in the warm too) but I was hoping for something a little different at Rockland this Spring. Still, with the decent weather set to continue for the next week, eyes to the skies. And indeed, to the ground, for my first Wall Browns of the year were flying and I happened upon my first 4-spotted Chasers of the year too.

I made my way round Church Marsh early Sunday morning, and whilst the broad itself has quietened down with nesting wildfowl tucked away, the (resident?) male Marsh Harrier continues to hunt, and the reedbeds remain alive with Sedge and Reed Warbler song. Back on the marshes close to home, a Hobby showed nicely from its perch on a post. The highlight of the last week has been without doubt the local Barn Owls. At least 2 have been screeching from the field beyond our garden limits, and on clear nights the birds can be seen silhouetted as they fly backwards and forwards.

I see a Blue-winged Teal has been reported from Carlton Marshes, a bird that has given me the slip on 2 previous occasions. My next opportunity to try for this would be Wednesday or even Thursday, so hopefully it will do the honourable thing and hang on for me.
 Hat weather
Shorts weather

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

NWT New Buckenham Common

On Sunday Debs and I had dinner booked at her mother's, an ideal opportunity to drop in at New Buckenham Common which is just a short walk from their door. Green-winged Orchids were in abundance in patches, and one need not stray far from the path to find them.

As well as these fine specimens, another target was Turtle Dove. Birds were certainly present last year, and this habitat of uncultivated common land and scrub is just ideal. Fortunately, I heard one bird singing and perhaps the same poised on an over-hanging wire. I expect to catch up with the returning pair in mum's garden over half term, but those aside, this will not be a species I record prolifically this year, nor any more. There is hope, for a moratorium on hunting in Malta has been called which will give future birds a chance if everything goes to plan. Hopefully we are not too late.
The Common was alive with Common Whitethroat and Willow Warbler. Single Bullfinch and Linnet were seen. I was shown the web below, home to many Small Eggar Caterpillars.

The previous day, Debs and I attended the Norfolk Wildlife fair, and although we again felt it was not particularly well attended, we enjoyed a decent hog roast, a walk round the hall and a chance to peruse some bird art and literature. I missed Jonny Rankin's talk and never saw the Edible Frogs that live in one of the ponds- at least one of those I can go back for! Speaking to a chap from NARG was the highlight actually. I have always found Reptiles and Amphibians fascinating, and he was able to fuel a bit more of this by telling me Adders have a strong hold in The Broads, and that the Newt in my toilet last year was actually a Smooth, not Great-crested. They welcome Herp sightings, and you can upload them here: