Thursday, 21 December 2017

Midwinter Solstice seems like a good time to reflect

After a quiet November, I had to wait until the 20th of December for one of the patch days of the year. I began with a casual pre-lunch stroll down to Claxton Marshes, hoping for the first Short-eared Owl of the Winter. The marshes themselves were quiet, save for the small gathering of Mute Swan and 2 hunting Marsh Harriers, both female. The dyke alongside the footpath caught my attention however, with the pings of Bearded Tit emanating from the lower stems. There were at least 3 birds here, at least 1 a male, and these birds constituted my 3rd, 4th and 5th records in Claxton. Much closer to home than the last; a garden bird next?! I watched them feed for a while, then lost sight and turned my attention to the wet flashes across the grazing meadow, which had caught the interest of a group of Lapwing and Starling. One of the Harriers flushed a Snipe, and walking back I looked up to hear the monosyllabic call of a Pipit, and one I had been after for a while- this one was a Water Pipit, my first on the patch! I know that Ben gets them every year, often in off-piste locations, but this year he had seen flyover birds in Rockland and birds on the deck at Church Marsh, so I had felt like this Winter was a good chance to connect. And so it proves to be.

Later that afternoon, I met Ricky and James for a walk to Rockland Broad and back. Beguiled by the local Muscovy Ducks and slowed by Ricky's missing phone, we headed out as dusk approached. We had at least 2 Redpoll call overhead and briefly circle before being lost to view. Upon checking the water levels, I flushed a Woodcock from the damp carr woodland. The Broad at first appeared to hold very little bar a c300 strong Black-headed Gull roost. A flash of white of a diving Duck, and my hopes were raised. It was indeed a Goldeneye, a stunning male. This is not an easy species at Rockland, and I believe this is my 4th or 5th record. According to the sightings sheet, this bird has been here since the 9th and presumably arrived on the cold weather system that swept the UK in early to mid December. A nice addition this late in the year. At the back of the broad, mist made Raptor watching difficult. A large group of Bearded Tit went unseen, and singles of Marsh Harrier and Buzzard slipped through to roost.

Looking back over my notes for the past couple of months, a ringtail Hen Harrier was certainly the bird of November, at the back of Rockland Broad on the 4th. 8 Little Grebe on the 19th were a site record count, and 2 Woodcock over Claxton on the 18th of December flew in the absence of a traditional Woodcock moon. Away from the patch, I was lucky to catch up with one of my favourite species. Sotterley Park in Suffolk, along with neighbouring Henham, have historically been Hawfinch breeding and wintering sites but have been blank for at least 5 years. The nationwide invasion of this bullish Finch has bought birds back to Sotterley, and on the 3rd of December I connected with 2 (1 male) in the dell at Sotterley. I wonder how many birds are here altogether, and fingers crossed they hang around to breed. I need to spend more time here to find out what is going on. A roost count would perhaps be the best way of establishing numbers.

My year list on the patch looks like it is all done at 118, my lowest total since counting and 3 off last year's total. Water Pipit was bird 150 heard or seen on or from the patch, so a genuine landmark. Looking ahead to next year, Merlin still evades me as does Firecrest and these would be 2 likely additions one day. A singing Marsh Warbler is still the number 1 target! I can only put the lower than usual total, and lower number of blog posts down to family life, and I wouldn't change this for anything. I am still lucky enough to have the patch on my doorstep, and Rose's fledgling list already includes the likes of Barn Owl and Marsh Harrier. What a place to grow up.

Away from home, we have a family holiday in Spain to look forward to in April which although not for birding I hope to see a few Vultures, some continental Butterflies and enjoy nice wine amongst the mountains. Although a year with endless highlights, it has not always been a cake walk and the holiday is much deserved for Debs and her dad for reasons I won't go into here. UK-wise, I was talking with James about a trip to see the Marsh Fritillaries in Lincolnshire and we just need to pick a decent weekend nearer the time for this to come off. Black Hairstreak is another target, and I recall a weekend either side of Father's Day should work for this species and perhaps Wood White. Cirl Bunting? Maybe......patch? Without question. Seeing and understanding the wildlife in the South Yare Valley is what continues to drive me, and I look forward to the arrival of the first Willow Warbler back at Church Marsh just as much as the first Autumn foray to the coast.

Merry Christmas to all my readers, and I will endeavour to blog just a little more often in 2018.
 Church Marsh at its best

Hawfinch country.

Friday, 27 October 2017

The month of promise......and westerlies

Like a child in a sweet shop, I studied the charts for my two weeks off in October. However, the shelves appeared empty of treats, for westerlies were forecast to set in for the foreseeable future. But were they really empty, or is this just a Norfolk-biased perception? Understandably, there has been much lamenting on Twitter of 'the worst Autumn in Norfolk's history' and indeed I believe more Autumns like this will follow with climate change impacting on both the frequency and ferocity of Atlantic storms. Having said all this, migration across our isle has continued and the expected visual changes that glorious Autumn brings are all there to see.

On the 8th, I was at Church Marsh early doors and this was the day that the Redwing officially reached the arrivals lounge. Flocks of 52 went north, 165 South. Brambling and Redpoll also called and flew over the bus shelter hide. This was fantastic to observe and proof that migration doesn't have to be rare for it to be an enjoyable spectacle.

One thing with the mild days and nights has been a longer than expected Mothing season. Not that the seasons end of course (I intend to trap throughout winter weekends when cloud persists overnight) but the middle of Autumn has proven to be fruitful. Merveille Du Jours are regular, and classic October Moths like Feathered Thorn, Blair's Shoulder Knot, Green-brindled Crescent and November Moth are all often on the other side of an egg box. Moth of the Month and probably the year was a migrant, Norfolk's 9th L-album Wainscot. A flurry of records over the last few weeks meant that this was one I was ready for, if not expecting. I was absolutely thrilled to find it sat on the conifer above the trap, and tentatively added a photo to Twitter to have it quickly confirmed as an L-album. The wonder of social media, and mild nights in October. Doubt I would have caught that in premium east coast birding conditions.

Continuing my exploration of the Covehithe-Benacre area, I was back on the 18th and flushed 8-10 Twite from the cliff face. There were a good range of Waders on Benacre Broad, including Knot, Dunlin and Sanderling. There were 10+ Goldcrest amongst coastal scrub, a single Chiffchaff and a few Thrushes had come in on the North Easterly Winds. Redpoll and Siskin moved overhead, and Gannets ploughed a course at sea. It finally felt like Autumn. As it turned out, the next day saw a few rares filter through off the back of the short window of easterly winds including a Radde's Warbler in Suffolk and a small fall of Yellow-browed Warblers.

It was great to meet up with birding pal Paul Newport ( on the 25th, and after a quiet Moth trap we headed to my new hunting ground of Benacre, a site Paul was familiar with, albeit as a young lad. Glorious sunshine accompanied us throughout the day, perfect conditions for birds wishing to move. Upon arrival at the ruined Covehithe Church, Paul picked up a Brambling overhead flying north. Walking along the cliff edge, again a group of 5 Twite were flushed, followed by a further 2 hanging on the coattails of a charm of Goldfinch. Small numbers of Meadow Pipit and Skylark moved overhead throughout the day, but it was the Redpoll migration that really caught our attention. A steady trickle of these attractive winter visitors moved through all day. The broad was looking interesting, Grey Plover and 50+ Black-tailed Godwit in with the more common Waders. A pair of Kingfisher were perched on a fence as we arrived, and when panic set in amongst the mud and reeds the culprit became obvious- a juvenile Peregrine was circling above us. I remarked to Paul that whilst the Norwich Peregrines were always nice to see, you can't beat a true estuarine Peregrine at one with its surroundings.

As if to underline this fact, another juvenile Peregrine showed itself to us at Hen Reedbeds, engaging in what turned out to be a failed hunt and strike on a pigeon. Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank and Ringed Plover probed the mud just ahead of the rising tide. What a superb day for Bearded Tit this was turning out to be, with sightings at Covehithe Broad and now again at Hen Reedbeds. The best record of all though came at Claxton Marshes, new for here and suggesting Beardies have had a good breeding season. Finally, we observed 5 Hornet feeding on the late-flowering Ivy on Mill Lane Claxton, and hopefully Paul got some decent pictures of these impressive beasts in the tired afternoon sun.

I am yet to encounter any winter Raptors on the marsh, but signs that things are moving are there. A Nuthatch on the edge of Claxton Marshes was a second record for the parish (much suitable woodland is private) and one bush held 5 Goldcrest on the 24th, and a pair of Bullfinch uttered their sombre call as I was walking home.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

A patch lifer, forays into Suffolk and of course some Moths

On the 25th August I attended the Norfolk Moth Group meet at Brickyard Farm Surlingham. By midnight the temperature had dipped to 9 degrees celsius and the mist was settled over the reeds, which put pay to the session but nonetheless a few interesting species were trapped. Oblique Carpet was a new Moth for me, as was Round-winged Muslin. We also trapped Latticed Heath, Webb's Wainscot, Currant Pug, Pinion-streaked Snout and Bulrush Wainscot. Dave Appleton took a few micros away with him, and came back to us with some good news: Gynnidomorpha permixtana, was new for Norfolk and we think East Anglia. I look forward to coming back to Brickyard in the future, hopefully when the temperatures hold at 15+ and we catch more Moths than Hornets!

Returning to work after a long hot summer is always tough, so when news broke of a White-winged Black Tern at Rockland Broad on the 4th of September I felt properly summer-sick. Thankfully, I was able to get to the broad straight from work. The heavily moulting Tern was seen hawking for insects over the broad with a small crowd of enthusiastic twitchers. My first views of this species in a few years, and crucially my first on patch! Marsh Terns really are a joy to watch, but with dinner and baby duties calling I was not able to stop for long on this occasion. Rockland had been delivering of late- I had an Osprey on the 28th August too.

We the Autumn equinox under our belts, that time of year is here where I turn my attention firmly to the coast. With a whopping 2 week half term to play with in October, I cannot wait to get to Waxham at first light with Pink-footed Geese commuting overhead and the calls of Redpoll and Siskin punctuating the air. Until then, and with the weather still fine, I have been exploring some of the not so well trodden areas of Suffolk. I had assumed Corton was the closest location from house-coast, but it actually looks to be Benacre/Covehithe. For a few weekends now, I have been checking out Benacre Broad, Beach Farm, Covehithe Church and Kessingland/Benacre sluice. I twitched a Wryneck at the latter site with the girls in tow, more to get a feel for the area but never a bad day when you get to watch this odd-looking Woodpecker feed at close range. Beach Farm looks promising, on fine days I have had Whinchat, Wheatear and Lesser far. It has been years since I have been to the broad, and how erosion and time has changed this site. I must remember to bring a scope though, that much hasn't changed!

I felt an instant connection to this part of the coast, probably due to the nostalgia of visits 10 years ago with mum before and after uni, when I seemed to have so much time on my hands. I recall seeing my first Honey Buzzard at Covehithe Church, and first flock of Snow Bunting on the cliffs here. Wherever you turn, you are birding in beautiful surrounds with a stunning backdrop. The permissive paths and byways that cut through the Benacre estate look promising for passing migrants, and surely Yellow-brows filter through these hollows. So, whilst the October image for me is still very much Waxham north to Happisburgh, I do want to see the seasons through here and with a 33 minute drive from door to coast, it would be silly not to do so. I've worked Caister, Corton (a bit) and enjoyed both, but neither 'felt' like Benacre. Had to quantify or define, but that matters to me when I'm out birding.

Back home, a Grey Wagtail down river at Surlingham was typical for the time of year on the 1st of October. My first pinks have been heard over the village, and I uncovered a Merveille du Jour in the Moth Trap at the weekend, all signs that Autumn is here now. However, on the final day of September a Wall Brown was in the garden, and another was at Rockland Broad along with a Small Copper and Large White. Looking out of the window this evening, I wonder if we have seen the last of the Butterflies on the wing this year.

I was pleased to receive an email from birding friend Paul Newport who had found a Yellow-browed Warbler on his patch over in The Brecks. Paul is a passionate patcher, and I know he will have been thrilled to find this Siberian sprite close to home. You can read an account of that here:   With the wind in the west, and barring a Tanager at Wells, I need to get off the sofa and find my own this weekend.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

A hot streak

The title cannot of course refer to the relatively mild mid-summer weather, but instead subtly alludes to a summer that has seen me connect with a number of new species of Butterfly in a short space of time (one of those of course a Hairstreak).

Early August, the now Bradley clan descended on the peaceful Cotswolds, first for a 10-mile pub crawl consisting of 8 pubs and at least as much local ale (Rose and Debs bit-part players in this quest it has to be said) but secondly for relaxation and some Blue Butterflies. The weather made seeking out the specialist species difficult, but I was thrilled to find 2/3 Adonis Blue on the chalky hillsides of Rodborough Common. Chalkhil Blue was very much the default Butterfly of these parts, so when I finally stumbled across a flash of electric blue, I knew instantly I was dealing with my target. Fantastic.

Whilst the same wow factor did not follow when I found a single male Small Blue, I will at least remember traversing the slopes of Selsley Common, stepping over many a Brown Argus, and finally giving up and ascending the common, only to stop in my tracks as my second of 2 targets flitted away from a patch of scorched grass. Taking all things into consideration, this was Butterflying to a new level. Small Heath, Small Copper, Silver-washed Fritillary, Brown Argus, Common and Chalkhill Blue were 'easy'. Throw in the real specialists, and the fact that I was outside peak season, and the southwest with its calcareous soils really does merit another visit.

I was priviliged to meet up with local Lepidoptera aficionado Peter Hugo, who invited me to go through his Moth trap one morning. His house overlooks the town of Stroud, and the garden list boasts Duke or Burgundy, Silver-washed Fritillary and White-letter Hairstreak. Although the previous night had been chilly, there was still a decent haul to go through which included a Beech Green Carpet and Nut Tree Tussock, both new for me.

Back home, numbers of Moths have been up and down due to the clear nights. However, I was lucky to come across a Sharp-angled Peacock, a coastal species with very few inland records attached.

A couple of day trips have yielded success on the Butterfly front. on Tuesday, James Emerson and I headed to Chambers Farm Wood in Lincolnshire as planned to hopefully see Brown Hairstreak. We spent as much of the day there as time would allow, enjoying crippling views of Purple Hairstreak on the ground in front of us, but only flight views of Brown. The mix of Ash, Blackthorn and a variety of plants to nectar on made this wood an ideal spot for this elusive Hairstreak, and as we began a slow trudge back to the car we both I think felt a little frustrated that the crippling views others had enjoyed were not to be permitted to us. Finally though, a female stopped James in his tracks a few feet from us. She then flew into an Ash, wings open, allowing us to see the large Orange blotches at an albeit acute angle. I then picked up a male nearby, and the set was complete. Job done, and a return visit in May is already being discussed for Marsh Fritillary.

Yesterday, I was very privileged to join Mr. Bird Therapy for a look at a small colony of Clouded Yellow. The site is private, and sadly may soon be up for sale and who knows what. I saw around 10 Clouded, including a Helice female. These Butterflies rarely come to rest, and are a speedy proposition to photograph over the trefoil. I am sure you have seen Joe's excellent photographs on Twitter though, wings open, so it does happen! Very lucky to be at the heart of this species' attempts to colonise the county. I wonder what will be next?

Looking back with anger, I noticed that Sally, one of the Norfolk Montagu's Harriers, has died under suspicious circumstances. I was privileged to see the family late in July, but the news was a stark reminder of how fragile their existence is here in Britain.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The dulcet tones of summer, and a guided tour

Inland migration has slowed right down, and the soft tones of Summer have set in, albeit with oppressive levels of heat during the last 30 days. Today the garden has finally had a good dump of rain which the flowers we have been planting will enjoy.

With avian interest naturally dipping,  Lepidoptera are keeping me busy. Some nice firsts in the garden trap, including Scorched Wing, Figure Eighty, Cream-bordered Green Pea, Small Angle Shades, Puss Moth and a garden record count of 174 Moths of 64 species on the night of the 24/25 June.

The Swallowtail was always high on the agenda in June, as I had been asked to privately tour a small group with this target species in mind. I had been successful at Wheatfen (4) and Strumpshaw (3) during June, but with poor weather seeing out the month I had to move the tour to early July. Thankfully, the group were not disappointed and we achieved views of 2/3 Swallowtail at Strumpshaw Fen. I think though that they were won over by the White Admirals and the sheer volume of Comma we saw on the day. I have decided I need to formally advertise these guided tours, as I have completed a few over the last few years and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have added a tab on the homepage with testimony. Hopefully more to come. Being keenly aware of my own knowledge base and skill set, the private tours would suit folk who are perhaps visiting the area or who are unaware of what is local to them. If you know of anyone at a loose end who ticks those boxes, send them my way! Ultimately, I enjoy sharing what I know and helping people connect with nature. The teacher bit does at least come in handy.

The evening dance of the Purple Hairstreak is something Matthew Oates has written about. A colony was present on Oaks in Claxton last year, but my max count was only around 5. However, on a humid but grey evening last week I counted at least 15 so I am pleased to report the colony has expanded. I have been re-visiting, but have drawn a blank in less favourable conditions so far. Down on the marsh, a Barn Owl has been seen carrying food, 3 juvenile Kestrel were brief sentinels atop a wooden gate, and a Hobby can occasionally be seen commuting over the house.

News from Wheatfen- Silver-washed Fritillary are back for the first time since 2014, and have been seen egg laying. I managed 2 on a quick visit with Rose in the beech woodland 2 weeks ago. Smashing orange tanks these things, real purpose to their movements. A great addition to the patch.

Arse end of a Frit

Friday, 7 July 2017

That night in King's Forest

I have put a fair few hours in over the years in the Thetford Forest complex, searching for Long-eared Owl. My best views of this crepuscular species have always been on migration, but that all changed when Ricky and I descended into the forest in early June following a tip-off and a from Shaky which suggested I might finally achieve the views I had craved. Locations will not be given out for obvious reasons.

Arriving at the site around 9pm, we inadvertantly flushed 3 young birds which had been roosting on the ground, a slightly different spot to a day or so ago. Stepping back, we listened as the Owls began to squeak. Naturally curious, it did not take long for the young to begin a few practise flights, one particular bird confident enough to fly past us as we stood flabbergasted in the ride. I knew as I watched this unfold, this was a wildlife highlight I would look back on with fondness for the rest of my days. Feeling as if we had taken up enough of their time, and to allow the adults to arrive with food, we left just after 9.30 and headed back. On route, we had a Nightjar veer overhead against an almost purple-tinged sky and at least 5 were heard churring that evening. At the clearing where we started, I commented that it was really too dark to pick out an adult hunting on the far side. I need not have worried, for right on cue an adult passed a metre or so above us and proceeded to hunt a margin in front of us! The perfect evening had just got better. What was most intriguing, was trying to pin this adult down to a nest. For, after another short walk, we picked up another 2 young at a different nest. A lack of Tawny Owls in the area was a good sign that quietly, these birds have established themselves here over many years and are doing OK. Throw in the Tree Pipits, Viper's Bugloss and a moon that ate up the sky, and I had finally nailed Long-eared Owl in The Brecks in the best possible manner with an accompanying cast of thousands.

Photo courtesy of a West Ham fan.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Raptor's steal the headlines in May

Red Kites continue to make their push eastwards, and the bird below was photographed (badly) today on Claxton Marshes, coming out of an aerial duel with a Marsh Harrier and continuing to search for food. Another, perhaps the same, was seen on the 13th in the same location. On the 16th I observed one passing the window, from the couch!

Huge excitement ensued on the 3rd. when a juvenile White-tailed Eagle made landfall at Buckenham that evening. This individual, assuming it is one and the same, has been touring Norfolk and Suffolk for a few weeks now and this was a rare opportunity to add it to the 'seen from patch' patch list. In brisk chilly weather, I parked at the Beauchamp Arms and walked east to a small hut presumably used for monitoring sailing or fishing competitions. This gave me an elevated view over Buckenham Marshes, and the Eagle was easily picked out on a gate post. Needless to say this was a giant of a bird, and the Oystercatchers were very brave indeed to want to harass it. I watched as the bird left for roost around half 7, trailed across the marsh by the local Waders, Geese spooked by the predator making a racket. Quite a scene so close to home. Avocet on the pools were also NFY.

The Swifts arrived back en mass over the 5th and 6th, and already seem to be getting on with nest building in the local houses. An evening walk to Rockland on the 6th was still wooly hat weather, but Common Sandpiper and Garden Warbler (3 territories now) were welcome year ticks. A Cuckoo was heard, and these would remain in short supply until later in the month.

The annual dawn chorus walk with SYWG at Church Marsh was a little disappointing this year in terms of species, but the attendees received good renditions of a variety of songs, including Grasshopper Warbler, and I was most pleased to see Nuthatch in the wet carr woodland. A week later, and although the wildfowl and waders survey was equally dull, I was thrilled to see a pair of Marsh Harrier prospecting on site. 

The first Hobby was recorded on the 13th, and and another bird was seen at dusk over the Beauchamp arms on Friday night. 

Mothing is slowly improving, and I have had a few first over the last few weeks: May Highflyer, Rustic Shoulder Knot, Least Black Arches and Cloud Bordered Brindle. None especially rare, but I didn't trap a lot this time last year so I am still getting to grips with even the common Spring species. Eyed and Poplar Hawk Moth have graced the trap, and this morning I awoke to a decent haul finally, (at second count) 13 species of 25 Moths.

Debs, Rose and I had a walk at Strumpshaw this afternoon in the hope of catching up with an early Swallowtail. No luck there, but Damsels were out and about- Azure, Variable and Blue-tailed. I also came across a couple of Hairy Dragonflies on my village run this morning. 

A year all about Raptors so far, with an over-wintering Hen Harrier, the arrival of the Kites and a patch addition in the shape of a Sea Eagle. Still time for a May mega to see out the month, and with half term a week away I am hopeful of adding to the list.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Winds hit their mark in the Yare Valley

Although the end of April and early May has been chilly enough to warrant a woolly hat and jacket, the winds from the east and north have bought with them some decent birds on the patch. Having been laid up for a spell after Scotland with an infection, I was finally getting better on the 23rd and headed to Church Marsh to conduct a Wildfowl and Waders survey, whilst at the same time noting any Bearded Tit or Marsh Harrier behaviour. Shelduck, Gadwall and Teal were paired up on the lagoon, and a single Snipe landed out of view. A male Marsh Harrier was circling over the western corner of the marsh but no sign of a female with him. I heard a couple of pings from the resident Beardies but nothing conclusive. Reed Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler although late were new for the year. The following evening I enjoyed decent views of the latter on Claxton Marsh, exciting to find new territories of this elusive Locustella.

A walk round the patch on the 29th threw up a beautiful Wheatear on Rockland Marshes behind the broad, not an annual bird for me and one often encountered close to the river on migration. 2 Common Tern on the broad were also new for the year, if expected. On the 30th, bird of the month bombed up river and onto the marsh- a Whimbrel! With the nights pulling out I hope to be able to add a few more migrants in the coming month before birds settle down to breed. Finally, as we entered May, Debs and I heard our first Cuckoo of the year singing near Coldham Hall.

If you are local, I am leading the South Yare Wildlife Group walk round Church Marsh on Sunday morning. Meet at the Surlingham Ferry Inn at 5.30am. Hopefully we get some nice birds to kick start the Sunday  .

I had to share some awesome sky shots of Claxton, and of course a record shot of my Wheatear.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Scotland jaunt

I made my way up to The Highlands again this April, an annual visit at this time of year and my fourth year in a row. Having nailed avian targets bar Capercaille and Scottish Crossbill on previous visits, my only real target was the former this time so I was able to try some new sites and finally take part in a distillery and tasting tour at Tomatin (the trip highlight!)

It was a fairly bleak week weather-wise, but with clear skies forecast myself and 2 friends went to the Findhorn Valley on the afternoon of the 10th. One distant Golden Eagle and a pair of cavorting Peregrine were the Raptor highlights amongst the munroes, and a pair of Curlew were calling on territory. As the promised weather failed to deliver, we made for Loch Ruthven and enjoyed 3 Slavonian Grebe on the water close to the hide.

The following day was the only planned 'day in the field' and we made an early start searching for Capercaille. How close we came. I have in my possession 2 feathers found on a track, which weren't there on the way through the forest, so the bird/s in question must have crossed our path. A rumble in the heather and a brief glimpse of a sizeable bird flying away was probably a female, but I can't be certain on that view. The only other people we saw had indeed seen a female not far from this spot. The woods were excellent for Crossbill and Siskin, and although I left disappointed I feel like I am a step closer to finally seeing this bird in the flesh. Maybe next year. During the rest of the day, we had a couple of Red Squirrel, a pair of Ring Ouzel on Cairngorm, a pair of Osprey at Loch Garten and a pair of Red-throated Diver on Loch Morlich. It's easy to be spoilt in The Highlands. In a vain attempt to to see the White-billed Diver at Burghead, we instead watched Gannets fishing and had the first Sandwich Terns of the year pass west.

With the serious birding done, we spent a good deal of the 12th exploring new sites, namely Corimony RSPB. Here they offer Black Grouse safaris, but not fancying another early start we were content with picking out 4 birds on the moorland in this beautiful isolated reserve. Other bits included Brambling, Grey Wagtail at Glenn Affric and a close encounter with a male Sparrowhawk.

Our final day was spent sampling the best of the local Whiskey at Tomatin. The tour was fascinating, although by the end I was impatiently awaiting my first dram. The 14 year old is without doubt the finest Whiskey I have tasted, and we left for the heady heights of Inverness more than a little jolly.

Hopefully I will return next year with the girls in tow, and although I won't expect either to join me on any early starts for my nemesis I hope to be able to show Rose a Red Squirrel.

Friday, 7 April 2017

The arrival of the Red Kite, and getting in on the Emperor action

 Like buses, Red Kites. Hot on the heels of one on patch and 2 just off around Hales, I added a further 3 birds yesterday and I feel like this species has now formally announced its arrival having briefly popped in earlier in the year. 2 birds were spotted high above Wheatfen by my cousin Ben Moyes, and a further bird was seen close to home at Claxton marshes late in the afternoon of the 6th. A superb addition and surely here to stay.

Looking back over my notes since my last post, a singing Blackcap on the 25th of March was my earliest record for the patch. Others have since piled in and are vocal throughout the valley in gardens scrub and woodland. Debs and I finally connected with some Hirundines with 4 Sand Martin and 2 Swallow following the river west at Buckenham Marshes RSPB. Swallow soon followed this side of the river, when at least 2 were seen hawking for insects with a House Martin on the 6th at Surlingham Church Marsh. I had to wait until April the 3rd for the first Willow Warbler song, an absolute joy to hear as always, and since then another 2 birds have made the presence known at Church Marsh.The first Sedge Warbler was at Claxton Marshes on the 4th and at least 3 were at Church Marsh yesterday. Such an exciting time of year, I love adding the migrants to the patch year list and watch them settle in for another summer here.

It was a real privilege to observe a pair of Nuthatch in private woodland adjacent to Church Marsh. They have become a patch certainty with the Wheatfen bird/s, and with a lone male on patch at Church Marsh last winter I hoped for a further range expansion, but didn't expect it so soon. Having heard nothing from them this year, yesterday was a pleasant surprise. With a vocal male showing well (see below) a female soon joined him and the pair were observed mating. More great news for the patch and its seemingly growing diversity. I was pleased that team Moyes got to see them.

Having left Church Marsh and been to Rockland Broad, Colin Ben and I returned to Claxton Marshes to pick up Ben's Emperor Moth lure. I didn't hold out much hope for this, and the excellent Norfolk Moths website showed a paucity of records in my square and surrounds. It was therefore with great shock and excitement that as we approached the lure, a male Emperor Moth launched itself into the air. This fantastic looking beast refused to settle for a photo, but the 3 of us didn't mind, stunned though we were. Where on earth had this thing come from, and had we just got really lucky, or picked the location wisely? I will certainly be purchasing my own lure and will try again at this site soon. Stay tuned for more Emperor action!

With it being the Easter Holidays, the garden trap has been out these last few dry nights. Frosted Green, Purple Thorn and Muslin Moth the highlights so far. Need to sit down this weekend and get my sightings uploaded. Holly Blue, Red Admiral and Orange Tip have been other recent Lep additions. I am yet to see a Comma, and that will be a genuine fist pump moment as over the years they have jumped ahead of the pack as my favourite local Butterfly.

A quick walk down to the river today, more Raptor activity with Buzzards and Harrier distantly displaying. The cry of the wild- a Curlew made it onto the year list.

After the Nuthatch photos is the image of the possible Sinensis Cormorant from early March. I would appreciate any feedback on this individual.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Claxton- the Raptor capital of the South Yare

The month began with some chilly weather, soon turning mild by the 10th. On the 5th of March, a ringtail Hen Harrier was hunting Claxton Marshes, a welcome year tick and on the day nice to compare this bird with hunting Marsh Harrier. A single Barn Owl was also out and about as the days began to lengthen.

I completed the WeBs counts on the weekend of the 11th, and the headlines here were the distinct lack of wildfowl. Teal were down to 10 at Church Marsh, and the only bird on the rise on the water was the Great-crested Grebe at Rockland Broad, at least 4 pairs here. The 11th was a red-letter day for me, as I recorded my first Butterfly of the year: a Small Tortoiseshell in the garden sunning itself. This was followed by  Brimstone, another Small Tort and my wife saw at least 3 Peacock in the village. I really should have put out the Moth trap over this weekend, since then the weather has been wet during the nights of Friday and Saturday, limiting any opportunity.

Having already bagged Short-eared Owl for the year, it was a nice surprise to see another one hunting on Claxton/Rockland Marshes on the 14th of March. There were also 3 Stonechat (2 males) close to the track, and I often find they will do this in Spring before disappearing into the marsh to breed. One male was doing a solid impersonation of both Oystercatcher and Green Sandpiper. I had no idea they mimic. Bird/s of the day though were 2 Grey Partridge, rooting around in some dust and grit near the road in Claxton village. I have never recorded the English Partridge in Claxton, and without checking my records it must be 4 years since the last patch birds in Surlingham.

In February, Debs and I saw a brief ringtail Hen Harrier over paddocks in Ashby St.Mary, and what must be the same bird has no turned up in fields around Ducan's Marsh twice in the last 10 days, although it seems I am not meant to see this bird again! I can rely on Debs to keep me updated though, and one of her views was on the ground down to 10 metres! I went out today with a view to catching up with this seemingly tolerant individual, but instead saw another Raptor species I had been half expecting: finally, a patch Red Kite! With birds on the move over the weekend, I had dared dream of finally catching up with this obvious gap on the patch list. Over Ducan's Marsh, the resident Buzzards were both up high, seemingly marshalling the Kite through at around 11am this morning.

2 Bullfinch and 3 Chiffchaff are now singing in the village.  Hare, Lesser Celandine, Coltsfoot and the evening song of the Blackbird and Mistle Thrush are all making themselves known. Hopefully by my next update, I will have a Willow Warbler to talk about.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Patch it- I'm back

Funny thing, I don't seem to have the time these days. Not that I haven't been out this year, I have, but it was only today that I felt compelled to post. Hopefully this will kick-start the blog again for the year which, even if nobody reads it(!) I do find it useful to look back and use it as a retrospective diary.

Numerous trips with the pushchair down to the marsh in January got the year list ticking over, without anything in particular to raise the pulse. Infact, bar the usual Barn Owl, Claxton remained quiet until mid February. Bird of the month was most certainly the Woodcock, with birds at Wheatfen on the 7th (2) and Claxton on the 21st. Patch scarce in the form of Bearded Tit were heard pinging at Church Marsh on the 14th, and a foray away from home at Herringfleet Marshes on the 22nd had 9 Reedlings at dusk together.

Into February, and the WeBs count was a record breaker at Rockland Broad with highest ever counts of Tufted Duck (26), Coot (13) and interestingly Gadwall (11) and Teal (2), the latter pair not recorded on the broad before. This was no doubt off the back of some tough weather which resulted in snow flurries and icy conditions. A nice surprise on the 13th, when Debs and I were driving back from Norwich I spotted a Ringtail Hen Harrier quartering fields between Ashby and Hellington. Not quite on patch, but a notable record and a reminder that continental birds are not nearly as fussy when it comes to habitat out of the breeding season. Horse paddocks are quite a step from Warham Greens!

I managed to fit in an evening at Haddiscoe Marsh, twice actually, and the walk around the island on the 14th was the more productive visit. 3 Short-eared Owl, 2 Barn Owl, 5 Bearded Tit and over 20 Chinese Water Deer the highlights of a crisp Norfolk evening. the 100s of Geese seemed on constant alert, and with the presence 2 idiots driving onto the Marsh and wandering up to their quarry with big lenses, it was no wonder. I am pleased to have finally caught up with 'this end' of the island, as I always find views from the mound distant. You do at least get the bonus of walking through Fritton Forest if you look from the mound, though.

This morning I woke before my alarm and was at Church Marsh just after 7.30. I instantly heard the distinctive, but distant, call of a wild Swan, which I initially tweeted as a Whooper. I later had to blame my tiredness, for a quite remarkable sight unfolded soon afterwards- around 100 Bewick's Swans flew in a near-perfect V over my head, going South-East. I was completely in awe of this spectacle. Finally moving on after I lost the birds into the murky horizon, it dawned on me that I had not heard a Whooper earlier!
The rest of the reserve was finally coming to life. A Marsh Tit sang right in front of me, 2 Bullfinch barrelled overhead and landed out of sight. A Great-spotted Woodpecker was drumming, and its larger cousin the Green was calling. These were all year-ticks. They were here on January 1st, but only now as the sun warmed the earth did they reveal themselves. Yet another Woodcock was flushed from behind the hide, and Wildfowl were represented on the lagoon by just 3 Teal. The Swans have gone, nice to hang onto these guys for a little longer. On the river, I had one of those Sinensis Cormorants, I think. Head very white and grizzled looking. I do have a photo, will get that uploaded for some input soon.

This afternoon, Debs and I made the usual walk down to the river. Both Peregrine and Golden Plover have been ticked recently by looking across to Buckenham, but today the action was all on our side of the river. A Short-eared Owl drifted into view, high, for it was being harassed by a Crow. I really felt for the Owl, for it was pinned in the sky for at least 15 minutes and was clearly shattered by the time the Corvid finally let it land. Like buses- 2 super year ticks come at once! Last year, I did not record neither Bewick nor Shortie. I will undoubtedly be birding even more locally than usual this year, and if today is anything to go by, I am thrilled at the prospect.