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.