Sunday, 31 January 2016

Burgh Castle and Strumpshaw Fen

Burgh Castle offered a good chance of boosting the historical sites list, and with the Lesser Yellowlegs still being seen anywhere around Breydon Water I decided to give it a go Saturday lunchtime. By the time I arrived close to midday, the tide was already high leaving little to no mud exposed. I wasn't far off though, for the recently mud-less Waders were in the air, huge flocks of Black-tailed Godwits and Lapwings were circling. Redshank, Curlew and Ruff joined them, before alighting on the flooded fields to the north of the river confluence. Watching as I was from within the ruined fortifications, Marsh Harriers passed by at head height, offering superb views. Bearded Tit pinged from the reedbeds, a pleasing addition to my new list. I did take a short walk along the shore, but eventually the gusts of wind got the better of me and I retreated to the carpark.

On the way home I called in at St. Olaves Priory. The nearby priory restaurant was a giveaway in terms of location, but upon parking up I had to hop over a fence to actually get to the ruins, only to be confronted with a public footpath which would have led me straight to it. The shots below tell the story really, the refectory was impressive but the ruins themselves quite small but nonetheless worth a wander round. Little bird activity here, although Great Tit was new for the list.

I made an early start at Rockland this morning and wished I hadn't, it was dire. I then took a phonecall from Ben Lewis who informed me that the Siberian Chiffchaff had reappeared along the river bank, so Debs and I tied in a short visit with a shopping trip. We did hear the bird calling, but it was never seen in the almost constant drizzle. A Water Pipit over was of note.

It was thanks to Martin Garner's excellent Challenge Series that I was able to understand (having forgotten!) what to look for in a Tristis. A true inspiration, and a loss to the birding world. RIP Martin.

 View from Burgh Castle across to the Berney Arms Windmill
 Inside the Priory ruins at St. Olaves
Door to the impressive refectory, above. 

Sunday, 17 January 2016

WeBs count weekend

With frost on the ground and the first real wintry day of the season, I crunched and waded my way round Church Marsh. There were plenty of Wildfowl overhead, unsettled perhaps by the frozen conditions, but very few on the reserve itself that I could actually count on the WeBs! As always when the temperature dips below freezing, the Teal and Wigeon all congregate on the neighbour's pond which seems immune to the minus temperatures. Only a Coot, 3 Cormorant and GC Grebe were on the river, and a Kingfisher buzzed through. One sighting of note was that of a Yellowhammer near the gun club. I have come across a wintering bird here before, sharing the hedge with a Reed Bunting. Crucially, this was not a species I recorded anywhere on the patch last year (the Postwick singer may have sang his last) so this was good news for the year list. Elsewhere, the Nuthatch has now left the pines and moved into the Churchyard, and I actually got to see him this time. I would think the chances of attracting a female are slim, but with my walk always ending at the church, this is becoming a real highlight of the patch. Marsh Tit and Goldcrest here too.

Moving on to Rockland, and ice had covered much of the broad. Bar a few Mute Swans, nothing much doing out there. The walk back held a Kestrel, and then the birding 6th sense kicked in: I just knew it was worth another look over the broad, standing on the wall bordering the track. Bang slap in the middle of my view finder were 2 male Goldeneye! These stunning Duck are a rare species on the patch, and although I have had them once before at Rockland (pair, male and female) this was just over 3 years ago so a nice surprise indeed.  I know that Carol Rushton had a look for them in the afternoon, but there was no sign. Rockland Broad is never particularly productive for Wildfowl, I expect they got fed up and buggered off.

Back home, Debs and I watched 4 Buzzard soaring out the back yesterday, and after a chilly walk down to the marsh this evening we both exclaimed 'Woodcock!' on the way back as one flew over The Street, heading towards the river. It must have come from the Ducan's Marsh area.

Nothing much planned for next weekend, visiting parents so birding may be limited. In terms of my Historical Sites list, the Lesser Yellowlegs has been showing again from Burgh Castle today, so if it is still around in a couple of weeks time I really should get down there for a look. Having spent a year glued to the patch, a bit of variety will do nicely this year- I need to get my eye in anyway.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Binham Priory and Warham Greens

Binham Priory was another historical site I was yet to visit, and with such stunning skies I felt confident I could take in some local history and up the new list too. The Priory itself was set amongst high ground to the north of the village, and along with the pillars and ruins the church itself is still used today for local services. I am not a religious person, but I do enjoy visiting churches and can't help but get caught up in the moment, imaging what might have been occurring here 900 years ago at its inception. There are a few finds inside on display, flint tool heads, even a coffin.
Walking amongst the ruins, I was especially pleased to spot a Buzzard alighting in a bare tree, and then it joined two more on the breeze. Other new birds for my historical sites list included Stock Dove, Pied Wagtail, Goldfinch and Collared Dove. 

Of note driving from home to the north coast, 1 Red Kite near Lenwade, and 4 more Buzzard at various localities. 

Moving onto Salthouse, we had lunch at Cookies Crabshack, the usual Crab salad going down a treat. I look forward to a Summer visit when we can sit out the front and admire the view across the marshes. With plenty of light in the day, we headed to Blakeney and whilst I didn't know quite where to look for the reported BNG and GNDs, we saw a smattering of the expected Waders, tonnes of Brents and bumped into my cousin Ben and Uncle Colin who were after the Lapland Buntings, which they got albeit in flight. We instead headed back to the car, and from Blakeney Guildhall I added Curlew, Redshank, Turnstone and Cormorant to the aforementioned 'historic' list. 

Final stop of the day was Warham Greens, which was superb and offered us good views of 4 Hen Harriers, including 1 male. Walking back to the car as the Brents came over calling was, as always, magic. 

 Binham Priory
 Blakeney Harbour
Grey Plover 
Brents over Warham

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Back at the patch- Nuthatch making History

With heavy rain forecast for the afternoon, which of course duly arrived, I was eager to make an early start and so I was at Church Marsh just before 8am in order to see what was about and get the year list underway. A good range of species were seen, eventually finishing on 52 with the expected and unexpected gaps at this time of year. Highlights were 2 Barn Owls hunting in the same binocular view, something I did not see here last year. Also abhorrent to a nearby group of Magpies was a hunting female Marsh Harrier. Ducks were hard to come by, perhaps due to the hunting Raptors, but I was chuffed to hear the pings of Bearded Tits from the reedbed. This species returned to Church Marsh last year, and to hear it persisting is just great, maybe this is the year breeding will take place.
The scrub held 2/3 Chiffchaff, and the usual Tits were present minus the Marsh, which does always take a little more effort. Siskin called as they flew overhead, and a small skein of Pink-feet headed off to feed as the sun rose. Back at the carpark, I was lucky to record a new bird for the patch here. Unmistakeably loud, its call like a machine gun, a Nuthatch was calling from the small pine woods near the Churchyard, on the way to 'Rivers Court'. I desperately searched for a glimpse. In my head thinking this is not optimum habitat and this may be the only chance I get. Nothing doing. Maybe he will hang around, but I am not hopeful.
Onto Rockland, and I have to say it was dire here, a close encounter with a female Kestrel the stand out moment. Considering the vast expanse of water, I added a mere 5 species onto the day tally.

My birds seen at historical sites list sits at 25. If any readers have suggestions as to how I can boost this over the year, do please let me know. I have no idea what to target myself, I think 80 would be good going though. I do not see this a a competitive year on year list, as some of the less interesting sites will only get visited the once, and I don't intend on returning next year in the hope of ticking a bird, that misses the point. Similarly, I am now looking to book up accommodation for Northumberland in the Summer and I know for a fact that some of the sites here will bolster the list, and we don't intend to return next year at time of writing.

Next weekend, my scope needs a new tripod so along with a visit to CleySpy I hope to take in both the Warham Greens Raptor Roost and Binham Priory, not in that order of course.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Happy New Year- Birdwatching at Historical Sites of Interest

With no big foreign birding trips planned for this year, I wanted to of course focus on the patch but also The British Isles. I will be returning to Scotland in early April, and Debs and I will return to Northumberland in the Summer. Much of what ties our trips together (as well as the birds) are the history and culture of the locations we visit, and particularly with Northumberland I felt we scratched the surface a few years ago but now with a joint membership of English Heritage in the bag we should really be able to get under the skin of a variety of historical sites. So as well as the marshes and broads on my doorstep, this year I intend to keep a list entitled 'Birds seen at Historical Sites of Interest'. This extends to wildlife in general (need to get on top of Wildflowers this year, and have been granted access to a super piece of marsh nearby to hone my 'skills') and should get me/us out and about to some different places all with a story to tell, and maybe some decent birds too. 

I began this foray into the unknown with the known, New Year's Day afternoon had Debs and I visit the ethereal St.Benet's Abbey at Ludham. The site has received a Heritage lottery grant and now boasts new carpark and information boards, but most importantly a little maintenance was done on the building itself, said to be the only Abbey not to be dissolved by Henry VIII. This has to be one of my favourite places in Norfolk, and even when birds are thin on the ground as they were yesterday, one can still marvel at the ruins and enjoy the Cormorants overhead going to roost. We had 1 Barn Owl, 5 Marsh Harrier and just 6 Bewick Swans, although plenty more and a few Whoopers had been seen earlier in the day. I recommend the new website which has a wildlife sightings section. The Norfolk Archaeological Society has an excellent website, too.  Importantly, the 'Birds seen at Historical Sites of Interest' list (will need to shorten that) was off to a good start.
The ruins of St.Benet's Abbey, Ludham

Today, we visited Castle Acre Priory, Castle, and Castle Rising Castle. The weather was pretty dismal, and any thoughts of stopping off for the Pallid Harrier (not seen for the last 2 days) were quickly put to bed. There were gaps in the drizzle though, and we were able to enjoy a breezy walk around the ruins of the priory. The Cluniac Monks who once lived here were well known for their luxury take on architecture, and even today this site is extremely impressive and a must visit. 
The Priory ruins at Castle Acre

Some decent birds here too. Jays called from nearby woodland, Mistle Thrush and Redwing flew overhead, both Great-spotted and Green Woodpeckers called and best of all a Little Egret flew down the Nar. This river valley had been an obvious choice to settle many years ago and remains good for birds it seems. Views across the surrounding countryside were good here, and even better at the site of the castle remains on the other side of the village. Greenfinch and Chaffinch were added to the fledgling list. Our final stop for the day was Castle Rising, an imposing stone keep just north-east of King's Lynn. On a clear day, Raptor watching would be essential here and indeed the castle was once a popular hunting and hawking base for the landed gentry and visiting Kings and Queens. 
 Castle rising 
A Corpol at Castle Rising

For those of you not so keen on ruins, barrows and monks, fear not, I will be back on the patch in the morning. 2015 was a record breaking year with 122 species recorded. No surprise, given this was my first complete year living on the patch itself. Happy New Year to all my reader/s, and hope to see some of you out and about in 2016.