Thursday, 21 April 2016

Cranes over Claxton the highlight of mid-April

The 17th was the first of many days of settled weather characterised by high pressure. This has led to dewy, even frosty lawns in the morning but perfect conditions for migration. Perhaps too perfect, for in weather like this some birds won't stop until they reach their breeding grounds, making hay while the sun shines. It was early afternoon and myself and Debs were out fixing felt onto the shed roof, Storm Katie having stripped us of the previous offering. My better half noticed the long shapes high in the sky first,and I dashed in to get the bins. Having lived in the valley for less than 3 years, these were the first Cranes I had seen here, better late than never. Drifting through on the thermals, the pair were eventually lost to view as they headed west, away from the river. Carrying on with the task in hand, and a House Martin flew through the garden. I really thought we would struggle to better the doorstep birding of our previous house in Surlingham, but here we have had regular Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Barn Owl and Siskin (all seen from or in the garden) flyover Woodcock and now a pair of Grus Grus. Can't complain.

Whilst the Cranes will probably return to their north Broadland base for breeding, plenty of other species are engaging with the hustle and bustle or the breeding season on the patch. The first Willow Warblers were in on the 3rd, followed by Blackcap on the 5th and Sedge Warbler on the 8th. At time of writing, I am still yet to record Grasshopper Warbler but I expect they are probably here, favouring evening to sing. Over at Church Marsh, the Little Owl gave away its presence with a call yesterday ( I believe last year was a blank, although I probably didn't search that hard) and although not seen by me, a Lesser Whitethroat has made a welcome return to the reserve list. At least the male Marsh Harrier is still present, and a pair of Kingfisher indulged in a courtship chase which took them across the footpath, into trees, across the marsh and back to the river. These birds looks so exotic, I can imagine people from abroad would have a hard time believing they are British residents.

A Cuckoo was reported at Church Marsh yesterday; I am hoping to hear one at Ducan's Marsh in the village before long.

Friday, 8 April 2016

A Stork on the patch and more arrivals

For the last couple of years, around this time, I have been in Scotland. But with Easter falling earlier this year, I have been home for a week and therefore ideally positioned to welcome back our Summer migrants on the patch and add to my threadbare 'earliest arrivals' records, which now needs updating.

On the 3rd, it was a bright and breezy start to the day which was to be the pattern for much of the week. Down on Claxton Marshes, a pair of Stonechat cavorted, but there were little other signs of Spring with the resident Buzzard and Barn Owl out hunting as usual and around 3 Redwing departed. Across the river, a single White-fronted Goose at Buckenham was an unlikely spot in April, and a Peregrine on a post was also a little out of place since most birds have now returned to their breeding grounds.
That afternoon, the weather had warmed to a heady 16 degrees celsius. A female Marsh Harrier appeared to be prospecting a nesting site at Church Marsh, 1+ Bearded Tit were heard (my first Spring record since I began visiting here) and a Willow Warbler was new for the year. At least 6 Chiffchaff were in, all singing strongly of course.

On Monday the 4th, I had arranged to meet Joe Harkness at Church Marsh just after 3.30pm. Upon arrival, Joe was sat on the boot of his car looking to the skies. From my car, I naturally looked up to see what I was missing, and my jaw dropped as a lumbering White Stork flew low, slowly, west. I ground the car to a halt, but couldn't get anything more on the bird and a search of the marshes were fruitless. This was a genuinely exciting moment on the patch, and my timing for once had been impeccable. Seconds later, I never would have seen it. Joe had a better look than me and had not seen any rings on the bird. This and good conditions for migration add some credence to our sighting, and presumably the same bird roosted at Halvergate Marshes that evening. From Twitter, Peter Allard had checked the free-flying colony at Thrigby and confirmed that they were indeed missing 2+ birds at first light. This casts doubt over 'our' bird, but regardless of this information it will always be difficult to get a White Stork accepted in Norfolk. Joe has put together a lovely description though, and with the following in mind:

  • Strong southerlies for 2 days up until the sighting.
  • No ring (yes, I know some Thrigby birds are unringed)
  • Rare in this part of the valley (both genuine and Thrigby birds)
  • Another White Stork has turned up in Somerset
Why not submit it? 

Back down to earth, and on the rest of the reserve the other half of hopefully a Marsh Harrier pair was very vocal over the marsh, and pleasingly the Nuthatch has returned, this time frequenting the wet carr woodland down the hill from the church. Across the river at Wood's End, a small group of Martin species were hawking for insects, but were too distant to determine a species.

A visit to Rockland Broad the following day, and I added Blackcap to the year list. The Broad was very quiet, 8 Great-crested Grebes with the water almost to themselves. Back at home, the male Reed Bunting has been seen close to the feeders again and we are enjoying excellent views of the Buzzards across from us, soaring over the woodland, often seen from the couch, Lovely stuff.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Where Eagles Dare, and back in time for the Penduline

Back from an excellent week in the Highlands of Scotland, my third year in a row visiting at this time of year which fits in well with the Easter holidays. I was keen to connect with both Eagle species this time around, having seen a pair of Golden briefly last year and no Sea Eagles to speak of at that time. In an effort to make this happen, we headed to the west coast from Inverness, around an hour and a half drive, which in the BMW 4 hire care was just a pleasure. We picked up 2 Black-throated Divers in full breeding finery at Loch Gowan on route, a species I have seen only at some distance in the past so this was a splendid opportunity to observe them much closer. The rest of the day was spent cruising around Sheldaig, north to Gairloch, and exploring Gruinard Bay. We had a total of 5 Golden Eagle at 3 sites, and 2 Otter in Gruinard Bay. The west coast is suited to all of the superlatives folk use to describe it, and we only scratched the surface.

Day 2 was more casual, but the eventual plan was to end up at Burghead looking for the White-billed Diver. We travelled via the delightful Culbin Sands and woods, taking in a couple of flyover Whooper Swans and 14 early Sandwich Tern on the beach. Small groups of Crossbill called noisily overhead when we were in the forest, but no Crested Tit today. At Bughead, a Great-northern Diver drifted offshore along with a smattering of Eider and Common Scoter. No sign of the target bird here. 

Day 3, and into the Findhorn Valley. I absolutely love it here, epic birding, big skies and today was the finest weather I have had the pleasure of enduring in the valley. 5 Golden Eagle, 2 of which were talon-clutching with my target birds here, 2 Sea Eagle. A quite spectacular encounter with the dramatic backdrop in the photo below. Below the Eagles, Dipper and Merganser were on the river, Curlew and Oystercatcher fed on the grassy banks. We continued with a decent mammal list: Red Squirrel, Red Deer and Feral Goat.
Driving the Farr Road wasn't so pleasant, hail and wind made for trying conditions and little opportunity to see any wildlife. Once we broke through to Loch Ruthven, the sun threatened to come out again and we were treated to 5 splendid Slavonian Grebes. The best way to cap of any day, surely.

Our final day out was spent in various locations in the Cairngorms National Park. A long walk through a section of Abernethy Forest gave up none of the specialities bar 2 warring Red Squirrel and some interesting poo (see below, not Caper). Out of the forest, a Red-throated Diver was on Loch Mallachie and the usual Red Grouse were at the foot of Cairngorm. I tried last year's Black Grouse site, no sign but it was late in the day by the time we made it over.

I have to admit, after such a nice week away exploring places old and new, birding on a grander scale than I am used to, I was struggling to find the enthusiasm to get back to the patch. Now, I still haven't been anywhere 'local', but any thoughts of negativity have been wiped away after brief views of the Penduline Tit at Strumpshaw this afternoon. This was a tough, tough bird to pin down. I heard it calling a number of times, and with only one of assembled group also hearing it, I was starting to think I was going a bit mad. Eventually, the bird gave itself up, I called it out, and managed brief views as it searched for food on the back of a Buddleia bush. Upon seeing the bird and feeling utterly relieved, I tried to get views from round the side, aware that others had not yet seen the bird and thinking I could help out. One individual, who had been complaining of putting 3 days in to see the bird and failed, moaned that I had gotten in her way, when the bird was not even on show! So much for trying to help. Bar one chap who located it before I refound it, Jake, and Gary, the majority of the crowd seemed to have little idea and were unable to identify the call and/or common birds. The best and the worst of twitches all at once. I'm aware I am sounding like the author of another blog here (and don't worry, you can post comments and I won't delete them ;) ).Chuffed to finally see this species, but looking forward to a return to the patch tomorrow morning.