Sunday, 28 February 2016

Seal up-river and growing the patch list- Edited!

On the 20th, I was visited by my friend Ian from Wisconsin, who is over here studying in London. He, like me, enjoys the vast and desolate beauty of The Broads and I was keen to show him a few of the residents. When the water bulged on the Yare, I expected to be able to show him an Otter, but to our surprise a Grey Seal surfaced! He was wrestling with a large Pike and having subdued the fish, tucked in. At this point, we were halfway between the Beauchamp Arms and Rockland Broad, and our Seal disappeared so we continued with the hike. Incredibly, the Seal must have been following us as he resurfaced at the broad! The odd Seal does get reported up-river every year, but this was the first I had seen myself. There was little else of note on The Broad but there was only one highlight from this walk (not including the pint of Waxwing at the New Inn).

The following morning at Church Marsh was not quite so lively, although 3 Shoveler went on the WeBs count and were NFY.

This morning I made an early start and was down on Claxton Marshes soon after 7. My patch list for the year swelled nicely, as I took in views of Treecreeper and Stonechat on the walk to the river, and a Skylark was singing high but couldn't be picked out against the blue. Not new for the year were an excellent 4 Barn Owl, 2 Marsh Harrier and 1 Kestrel. Lovely to see. Across the river, Dunlin, Golden Plover and Shelduck were also NFY. Buckenham was looking decent actually, the pools were busy with Lapwing and the aforementioned Waders and Raptors continually cruised through putting up the Wigeon. No sign of any Peregrine though.

Those that know me well will understand what a big deal this next bird is to me. Every February I go out and listen for Long-eared Owls, on and off patch, as far as The Brecks but often closer to home. I have never had a sniff off one singing outside the Thetford area until last night. A singing Long-eared Owl had me quite literally jumping for joy. I will be keeping the site to myself of course but hopefully readers will be just happy to know 'what's about' and any further news may or may not appear here! Until then, I will be raising a glass to both one of my favourite birds and Marcus Rashford! 

A quite unfortunate turn of events. I stepped outside again last night, hoping to hear the Owl again. In truth, I had not heard it particularly well the previous night and was just keen to firm it up in my mind. Indeed, the bird was singing again but something didn't quite ring true. The song seemed more tuneful than long-eared, not as harsh as I was expecting now I was hearing it well. I went away, listened to some calls on Xeno-Canto, including that of Eagle Owl. Just a refresher, nothing more. Songs by both species at different locations partly fitted what I was no hearing. The plot thickened.....

I got home from work today and set out to do some exploring, my aim being to eye on some potential roost trees, but in the back of my mind I have expected to uncover something. Walking along the backs of gardens, the one thing I did not want to see was an aviary, but that was what I got. Inside, a massive Eurasian Eagle Owl!

Bugger. What a balls up. I suppose I had jumped the gun, but then again I wasn't expecting to have to compare what I thought was a Long-eared to an Eagle Owl. I haven't heard Long-eared well for some time, I was out of practise. But I have heard Eagle Owl, well, at a location in The Brecks a few years ago. This bird was doing a poor job of being what it was supposed to be! Birds in captivity no doubt lose the urge to sing, or at least vary from individual to individual. Not the last mistake I will ever make, and looking back and re-reading my post, I can laugh about it now. Part of me here thinks "just be a better birder", but then again, what were the chances. You never stop learning.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

The highs and lows of February birding

To many, February can seem like an unappealing month. Still dark, certainly dreary and very much Winter. I can't disprove any of this, but I always look forward to the half term week and see it as an opportunity to get some seasonal birding done before the season begins to shift in mid-March.

Beginning on Monday 15th, amongst a few other typical half-term potterings I was keen to have a look at the Cattle Egret near Aldeby tip. The bird was frequenting a small paddock with cows not far from my friend John's house, so after a quick stroll along the track at Boon's Heath, he and I made our way towards the river. Passing the paddock, we stood on the river bank looking across at Castle and Carlton Marshes where a large Gull roost had assembled. A Barn Owl had begun to hunt on our side of the river, and a Redshank called before alighting on a small river side pool. The Cattle Egret then arrived from the south, giving us a fly-past before landing back with the cattle we had just walked past. We walked back and the bird allowed a close approach and we were able to observe the short-legged, hunched posture as the Egret fed around the feet of the cattle, picking up larvae and other grubs. I only had my phone on me, so took a few record shots.

On Tuesday, the weather looked perfect for a day in The Brecks. The conditions were indeed perfect, but I think this has to be my worst day of birding in and around the forest, ever. I saw very little of note, despite trying out 3 Goshawk sites, searching for Golden Pheasant, giving Hawfinch a go; the rewards just weren't there on this day. I did see the back end, quite literally, of a Firecrest disappear into a Holly bush at Thompson, which probably made me feel even more frustrated! Just one of those days. Instead of any birds, some nice Breckland scenery:

Yesterday, I was keen to actually see some birds, so headed to Breydon Water. Here, I enjoyed swirling flocks of Dunlin and Redshank, accompanied by Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Knot and Ringed-plover out on the mud flats. A superb spectacle. There were plenty of Wigeon and Teal, and a few Pintail too. I spent a while scanning for either the reported Spotted Redshank or Lesser Yellowlegs, found neither, and headed to Halvergate Marshes. I enjoyed a good stomp out along the Weaver's Way, and although Raptors weren't really in evidence I did see this flock of 23 Bewick's Swans, below. This was more my kind of birding, forget about The Brecks!

Driving home I saw 2 Barn Owl hunting the marshes alongside the A47. At least I saw some birds of prey over the last few days.