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.