Monday, 10 September 2018

Reflections.

A great summer of wildlife to reflect upon. Looking back at my diary notes, a number of items jump off the page and I will embellish upon a few here.

Early August I caught up with a tiny percentage of the Pied Flycatcher influx. I left the girls for half an hour on Caister beach on the 3rd of August (thankfully they were there when I returned) and stumbled across a single bird feeding on flying ants perhaps amongst the gorse. The following day I met up with Tim at Waxham, had a good yarn about all things education, and whilst most birds had cleared out I still picked up one bird calling loudly overhead.

The 10th was an odd day for me. I saw a new bird for the UK in Spotted Crake, but views were particuarly underwhelming and did make me question the whole twitching thing once again. On reflection, the day was more about spending quality time with my uncle and I will probably remember it more for that and getting soaked on route back to the car.

On the 18th of August, with the M40 as a backdrop, I went searching for Butterflies on a chalk hillside in Oxfordshire, Aston Rowant nature reserve. It was a windy day, but the Blues showed well especially in any dips and hollows away from the elements. Adonis, Common, Chalkhill Blue and the most Brown Argus I have ever seen, were abundant. Realising I was running out of time to leave and beat the traffic into Bristol for the night, I trudged back greeted by the dazzling flush of the odd blue. I thought, I'll just check behind that bramble one more time......and there it was! A single Silver-spotted Skipper, my official target species for the venture. It allowed close approach before belting off across the hill never seen again. My weekend continued with a 10 mile hike on Dartmoor over hill and bog, and then the worst conditions I have ever Moth-trapped in threw up an Ear Moth in the tent with me. God bless OS maps and The Warren House Inn, I doubt the group would have survived if either had not been present to assist.

Back home, a Semi-palmated Sandpiper at Minsmere was another new bird for me. The compact shape, pale colours and relaxed feeding motion allowed me to distinguish this from Little Stint, and I felt like I had a decent shot of calling one in the field myself. Can but hope. The relaxed feeding notion was continued with a day birding by pub in the company of the excellent trio of James, Gary and Adam. 44 Species for the day, and more beers than were necessary to not see a Wren. Thanks to James for driving, and for introducing me to The Gunton Arms.

I have really gotten a lot out of late night Mothing. A rainy Wheatfen and 2 trips to Knettishall Heath have all been great, that feeling of anything could be possible once dusk gives way to dark. A couple of real punch the air moments at Knettishall when my first Marbled Clover and Clouded Buff came to light. I have another visit to Wheatfen planned for later this month. Still no Convolvulous in the garden, but Tree Lichen Beauty is gunning for the Moth of the year award right now.

Best til last. The girls and I went WeBs counting at Rockland Broad this weekend gone. The back to work feeling had set in, and there was an element of routine about the visit. Quickly putting pay to that was a hunting Osprey, fantastic views for all 3 of us. Rose had to be restrained from leaving the hide via the window, such was the euphoria she could sense inside. Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel and Osprey all within 2 miles of the home in one day. Once again, the patch both grounds and inspires me as we head into Autumn.







Wednesday, 1 August 2018

The best of The Patch and a Norfolk Day Walk

I led a cosy (ie few people attended) walk on Norfolk Day weekend, from The New Inn at Rockland out to the broad, river and back. It was advertised as a Bat walk but as with any dusk walk there was plenty of other wildlife to enjoy. By the staithe, a Lesser Stag Beetle scuttled along the path. Although the broad was quiet save Ducks in eclipse plumage, at the back a Bittern flew over the reedbed in the direction of Wheatfen. This was actually my first record of the year on the patch, having not made an early starts in April (this side of the river at least) where I would usually at least hear booming. As dusk entered darkness and a slightly blood-red moon rose, 2 Hobby hunted close to us, one eating a large Hawker on the wing as they tend to do. It was on the return leg that we connected with Bats, and initially plenty of them. At least 6 Noctule hawked over the river and scrub by Short Dyke, lots of feeding buzzes heard over the detector for the party to enjoy. These are Britain's biggest Bat, and primarily a tree roosting species. They appeared very suddenly as a group, suggesting they are using the willows or similar as a nursery roost site nearby. Heading back to the pub for last orders, Common and Soprano Pipistrelle were easily picked up via the detector and occasionally seen by moon light. A fantastic walk that showcased the variety on and around Rockland Broad.

Yesterday I met up with my uncle who volunteers at Minsmere as a 'Guide in a Hide' every Tuesday. The scrape and pools were looking ripe for rare, but on this day we were happy to settle with variety. 2 Curlew Sandpiper were amongst a 44-strong flock of Dunlin, and I counted 11 Spotted Redshank in an array of full summer to full winter plumages. Terns were feeding young on the islands, and Med Gulls and a Kittiwake loafed in the sun. Most striking were around 10 Turnstone in wonderful ruddy summer best. We counted at least 3 each of Green and Common Sandpiper, but could not find the Wood that had been reported. I enjoyed a comment from a chap in reception asking us about this bird. Upon saying we had not seen it, he proclaimed "But, it's on the internet".

I popped into the Blyth Estuary on the way home, but the tide was high so little was seen of note, but it won't be long until the first Osprey drops in on route back to Africa.

Below are a few snaps from a recent visit to Church Marsh. A young Toadlet proved difficult to spot amongst the damp undergrwoth after a rare shower, and a/the Common Tern has been present on and off since May. The last photo though- what a contrast. The rich, green verdant colour of the fen and then the parched yellow and golden grazing meadow.




Tuesday, 24 July 2018

A new feeder

The kind folk over at Vine House Farm https://www.vinehousefarm.co.uk/ 
recently sent me a new feeder to try out, which you can see in the photo below. The feeder sits perfectly on a ring designed to hold a seed or water bowl. It has a 'handle' at the back which can be secured to a (probably wider) pole if required. Initially, the birds were wary, no doubt as this looks a little different to anything else around. I filled it with suet pellets provided by Vine House, and it after a few days this was the hot feeder in the garden, plagued by juvenile Starlings, to the extent that the fat balls next to it are oft forgotten! Handily, I can change the inner part of the feeder to suit fat balls rather than pellets. This will be a useful test, as I will find out whether it is the nature of the new feeder design or indeed the food available that has meant the immature Starlings come back again and again. A further test will be the winter months, but in the meantime nice to enjoy the local birds as they make their efforts to survive the heatwave.

I will add a further Moth-heavy update later, for now below are 2 distinct forms of common Moths the Peppered (Insularia) and Poplar Hawk (near 'buff' form).

 



Monday, 25 June 2018

Away from home- Salcey Forest and Oundle

I've had the date in the diary for a while, and after the abject failure of Skipper hunting during the May half term week I was keen to make amends and do some more exploring in the Midlands. This time, the targets were Black Hairstreak and Wood White, before meeting up with friend Allan and an Oundle pub crawl. 

Upon arrival at the Horse trail (see below; confirmation I was in the right place thanks to the scribbled b.h. and star that could be a Butterfly on the sign?) I had walked a matter of metres before I was stopped in my tracks by a Purple Emperor that landed on the track and briefly fed on salts, sun-bathed and finally disappeared high into the canopy. An incredible encounter, and I did not once think to grab the camera of course. Onwards, and White Admirals were flighty but numerous. The Damselfy below is I believe a female Beautiful Demoiselle, a nice bonus if so as this is a species I had not counted on seeing, and indeed have not seen at all in the UK. I scanned the tops of the Blackthorn, hoping for a glimpse of the rare and restricted Black Hairstreak. I found a smaller trail and could see where long grass had been walked over and felt this could deliver the goods. Sure enough, a Black Hairstreak came down to the ground and did allow me to observe and take a photo. Further sightings were mainly as the species skimmed along the top of the blackthorn bushes. I found this Butterfly easier to connect with than Brown Hairstreak last summer, which appeared to be a stronger flyer and less prone to settling. But this was a Black- rarer, apparently more approachable, and restricted to ancient woodland in the Midlands. 

I spoke with a group led by a chap from Butterfly Conservation, who said they had only seen 1 Wood White. I didn't fancy the drive to Bucknell Wood south of here, and at this stage the elusive Wood White looked like it would remain to be just that. I continued to search for another hour, spying more Black Hairstreak flitting through the thorns and brambles. Finally, I got lucky. A very small white species appeared, rarely straying beyond or below a metre above ground level. I followed it up and down a forest ride, and concluded that I had never seen a white species look or behave like this. This was a Wood White! Another chap walked past, and confirmed my thoughts. 

With my 2 targets achieved and numerous other species seen, I headed to Oundle. I knew I was close, Red Kites began to black out the sky. With the sun obscured by cloud, a trip to Glapthorn at this point of the day was probably not worth it. Instead, we investigated the local food festival and continued on to various drinking holes to watch football and rugby. The following morning, we emptied the Moth trap and I was pleased that both Privet and Poplar Hawk had made an appearance, as well as Large Nutmeg NFY and a couple of micros in Oak Green Tortrix and Large Ivy Tortrix. 

I am back this way for a social event in July, and must pop in to the Chequered Skipper pub. Hopefully a few years down the line, and this species' reintroduction will be complete and another good reason to visit.





Saturday, 16 June 2018

Well, I talked that up!

Finally, Marsh Warbler week delivered on the patch. A message from Tim alerted me to the presence of a local bird so I headed down that evening (first time out of the house for a few days due to virus!) and in breezy but bright conditions I watched a male singing amongst a scrubby reedbed. I made a few notes of birds imitated: Blackbird, Song Thrush, Blue Tit, Common Tern, Swift, Wren, Oystercatcher, Reed Bunting, Swallow, Icterine Warbler (?) and Zitting Cisticola (?). The bird was seen well enough to observe the rump and pale fringes to tertial feathers. Also around were 2 Cuckoo.  I wonder as to the bird's origins. The species imitated are all resident in Northern France, Belgium and the low countries. I could not make out any Mediterranean species amongst its repertoire. Further birds have been recorded at a few locations on the Suffolk coast, and one at Strumpshaw Fen this Spring. I would tentatively suggest this bird has overshot its usual breeding patch by only a short distance as the Crow flies. No doubt this will go down as a highlight of the year, and to be honest will be tough to top.

This morning I walked a little aimlessly through light drizzle at an increasingly humid Surlingham Church Marsh. A Coot was with 4 young on the lagoon, and a young Water Rail squealed. A Common Tern was hawking over the small patch of water, and in song were Chiffcaff, Blackcap and Reed Warbler. Perhaps looking for second broods.

Red Kite update- 1 at Hales and 1 at Stockton this past week.

I smashed through the 100 Moth count this morning, and after a recount also managed over 50 species. NFM was the understated Water Ermine, a Broadland specialist. New for the year were Dark Arches, Rosy Footman, Ghost (a female, but notoriously hard to rear any caterpillars that may follow the eggs) and Small Angles Shades amongst others. Looking forward to another overnight trap and a morning walk round Rockland tomorrow.

Next weekend, I am staying with a friend who is conveniently located in the heartland of the Black Hairstreak with Wood White nearby. It would be silly not to, so I look forward to a couple of days in pursuit of Butterflies and probably some ale in Oundle.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Silent Spring?

I wonder what reader's thoughts are on the Spring of 2018 so far. Finally, and with relief all round, the Swifts and House Martins have returned to The Street, careering amongst the rooftops and trees in pursuit of prey invisible to our eyes. Swallows though appear lean in number. Regular walks through Claxton Marshes should be delivering Warblers aplenty, but it is just not happening. A guided tour round Surlingham Church Marsh in early May was a pleasure, but it has to be said unspectacular for birds. Cuckoos sang for the first week, then disappeared. We have had a Hobby over the house, and another at the marsh. The first fledgling Sparrow and Starlings are in the garden being fed by parents from the fat balls, life beginning anew. Things are happening, but the low density of our local birds is concerning.

I can only comment on what I see locally, and I am keenly aware that with this location I am somewhat spoiled. For example, an evening walk from Claxton to Rockland and back allowed me to observe Hobby, Barn Owl, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Reed Warbler and Common Tern. Really not that bad is it! Local Red Kite numbers continue to increase, my most recent sighting only 3 days ago over Hales. Perhaps titling the blog Silent Spring (after the book by Rachel Carson of course) is scaremongering to some, but it does feel like a wider European decline of our birds may have in some ways caught up with us this year. I am out birding this afternoon in and around Surlingham, Foulden Common tomorrow and odds and ends as the week closes. I would love to refute my hypothesis, believe me!

Sunday the 20th was a glorious day, so the 3 of us popped over to Strumpshaw Fen where Rose saw her first Swallowtail. Also on the reserve of note were Scarce Chaser and Hobby. The previous day, we had a Red Kite low through the garden, a tremendous sight.

The Moth trap finally got going in May, with nights remaining above double figures and some cloud cover. Friday 25th was the largest and most variable catch of the year, with 99 Moths of 31 species. New for me was an Alder Moth, and plenty of first for the year including Figure Eighty, Angle Shades, Alder Kitten and The Flame. One species, possibly a Pale Tussock, egg-layed on my shorts which were hanging on the washing line overnight. I brushed them off with a small paintbrush, and will attempt to raise the Caterpillars that follow. Yesterday was decent too, with Privet Hawkmoth and Gold Spot adding to the year list. A Wall Brown Butterfly was in the garden yesterday, Claxton somewhat of a stronghold for this uncommon species.

Just going back to the blog topic before I sign off. I saw it over the weekend on Twitter and have seen it before- birders threatening to 'pack-in', or quit, birding. Bizarre. This may just be in response to a frustrating Spring in terms of migrants where they live, but still, to treat birding as something you can turn on and off like a tap is alien to me. I call wargaming and painting my hobby, birding is just what I do. This has perhaps naturally extended to a range of wildlife over the years, and I wonder if at some point Mothing will eventually take up more of my time, with trapping in the garden, record submission, trapping in new habitats etc. Having said all of this, it is the Yare Valley, it is Spring, and it is Marsh Warbler week. Will 2018 be the year?

 Alder Moth, almost annual in the square looking at records. 

Gold Spot, stunner.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Getting back into the patch

It hasn't taken long to wash away any post-Spain blues, with Spring in full swing in the South Yare Valley there is much to see and enjoy. The sun shone on the 16th and the first Butterflies emerged from hibernation, a pair of Brimstone in Claxton along with Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell at neighbouring Langley. Always a red letter day when the first Butterfly of the year is sighted, and I look forward to a Summer in search of more.

Amongst the mist and murk that the 12th bought, I recorded the first returning Warblers at Church Marsh. Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Blackcap were all welcome new for the year, and to be honest some have probably been around since earlier in the month. With Lesser Celandine and Grape Hyacinth in flower, it was beginning to feel like Spring, but the season was having to make every effort to please amidst misty cold conditions.

It was really this weekend gone that Spring could finally breathe, with temperatures today reaching almost 25 Degrees C. Although Saturday was a little cooler, upon opening the Moth trap 2 Cuckoo sang from the marshes to the north and south. Orange Tip and a likely Holly Blue were in the garden, the first of the emergence after the hibernators have made their play. A dusk visit to Claxton Marshes ended with a nice pint of Trawlorboys and a loud and agonisingly close Grasshopper Warbler. He was still there this morning, giving it hell and out of sight again. Whitethroat was another new for the year, the nettle-creeper also in full song whilst giving his new territory the once over. Tremendous views of Barn Owl at both Claxton and Langley marshes, hopefully both males doting on the incubating female someplace.

I had a couple of hours to spend with Rose this morning, so before the park we went to Rockland Broad. An Arctic Tern had been reported, but I settled for a pair of Common. A Reed Warbler pushed me closer to a full house of returning Warblers and of note were 2 singing Cettis, a species that has been wiped out on the coast after The Beast.

Mothing has not been prolific (around 25 species for the year) but I was thrilled with first a Pine Beauty this morning, and then almost embarrassed to pull out a Purple Thorn. Both new for the garden and me, properly spoiled today. EDIT- Purple Thorn a second for the garden, thanks to Moysie for reminding me!

Sighting of the Spring so far goes to Debs, who had 3 Crane south over Claxton on the 20th, and as if that wasn't enough to make me wince, a Peregrine hunting the field out the back too.


Purple Thorn 

 
 Sunset over Claxton looking towards Rockland

Rockland Broad- Common Terns

Saturday, 14 April 2018

A casual trip report- Southern Spain, Cadiz Province, April 2018

Back from a lovely week in Southern Spain, staying on the edge of delightful small town Prado del Rey in Cadiz Province. We flew with EasyJe, hired a car (essential) with Europcar, and stayed in the charming Casa Rural La Jaima, further details here: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/VacationRentalReview-g608975-d5441033-LA_JAIMA_casa_rural-Prado_del_Rey_Sierra_de_Grazalema_Natural_Park_Province_of_Cadiz_A.html

At this point, I would like to thank John Cantelo for providing me with a PDF of his latest guide to Birding Cadiz Province. John was extremely helpful and is the go-to guy for any questions about birding in this region.

I intend to add a few photos, but currently the camera charger is out of view......

With this being a family holiday with no intention to travel too far (and alpine walking a challenge for a 1 year old) I spent a lot of time birding from the doorstep. Olive groves, scrub and lightly grazed hillsides made for a beautiful outlook and were home to a range of bird species. Serin, Corn Bunting, Linnet and Goldfinch were the regulars of the 33 species encountered. On warm days, Raptor watching was superb. A maximum count of 80 Griffon Vultures latched onto thermals and soared high above the villa. Booted Eagle was regular overhead, and singles of Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle and Lesser Kestrel all made it onto the house list. Bee Eater were often bubbling away overhead, and Sardinian Warbler was a common bird. The song of Nightingale was a constant companion, although typically I never laid eyes on one the whole week through. Wryneck (locally scarce), Woodchat Shrike, Spotless Starling, Melodious Warbler and Iberian Green Woodpecker were just some of the local highlights. What a pleasure it was to breakfast, then take a gentle stroll around the site and pick up these species and more. As the days passed, more was revealed- a Cattle Egret commute in the evening clocked in around 8pm, the maximum count being 64 heading north. 2 Pallid Swift passed through on the 6th, and on the final day a female Pied Flycatcher turned up on passage. Whilst I enjoyed this side of the locality, Rose enjoyed seeing the Donkey, Horse, Sheep and Chickens that were all a part of the small holding here. The location was safe, rustic and our hosts were excellent. I cannot recommend this enough as a base to bird from- but beware you may end up staying put, viewing large kettles of Raptors with the mountains as a backdrop, beer in hand.

We visited El Bosque twice, enjoying excellent tapas at La Duende and some good birds in and around the botanical gardens, well signposted to the north of the small centre. Western Bonelli's Warbler and Iberian Chiffchaff were easy here, the Bonelli's in particular a real treat to watch fly catching, zipping about in the pines. Other common species here included Crested Tit, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Nightingale and Woodchat Shrike. Although my Butterfly list for the trip was a little disappointing, I did see the wonderful Spanish Festoon.

Alpine birding was more challenging with family in tow, but the driving was great and the climb from El Bosque to Grazalema and beyond is not to be missed. There are various places to stop and walk if you wish, and the best spot we found was west of Grazalema at El Torreon. Here, a pair of displaying Short-toed Eagle (including the male hovering) was just immense. Bonelli's Eagle and Griffon Vulture were also observed well, and a flock of 13 Bee Eater passed through. A little further on, I came across a singing Alpine Accentor, and a Cleopatra Butterfly. I am sure Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting and Black-eared Wheatear are do-able with more time in the area.

So, in conclusion- a little hard to return home! 13 avian lifers, and 2 new Butterflies. The wealth of birds on our doorstep was just a pleasure to be around, and is in stark contrast to the number of species encountered in open countryside here in the UK. I enjoyed seeing species that rarely make landfall in the UK, and therefore feel more prepared if I should be lucky enough to encounter any of the above on the coast in October.

However, it is time to walk the trails and tracks across the marshes and footpaths here once again and although dreary at the moment I am looking forward to Spring arriving in northern Europe having seen the effect in the med. 2 Swallow were seen on wires yesterday, the first for the year on the patch. Before leaving for Spain, I went to see the Felthorpe Redpoll massive (2 Arctic in there for me, but I am sure everyone has had enough of reading about Redpoll ID and my two-pence-worth is not worth that!) and lucked in with 4 Spoonbill seen across the river at Buckenham. With warmer weather forecast this next week, what about an Alpine Swift on the patch?

Monday, 12 March 2018

Thoughts on The Beast

With The Beast From The East in the rear view mirror, driving past the frozen drifts that scatter the countryside today I reflected on what was an unprecedented few days in my experience. I remember well digging my car out when I lived in Norwich around 5 years ago, before the call came in from work to remain at home. If anything, temperatures were even colder then, but this year the sheer amount of snowfall and strong winds caught almost everyone out. To be genuinely cut off in the village was a unique experience (the road to Rockland the only passable route, and the shelves of the village shop were ransacked with no plan nor recipe in mind) and I am sure we will talk about this for years to come.

The local wildlife made instant changes to behaviour. On the final day of February, a female Reed Bunting appeared amongst the snow in the back garden, and 2 males arrived over the next couple of days. Fieldfare and Mistle Thrush became firsts for the garden, both hanging around until Saturday the 3rd when a gentle thaw began and the garden was empty by mid-morning. A fascinating Thrush v Thrush battle played out in the arena of the lawn, and a Barn Owl and Kestrel showed interest in proceedings, flying through once each between Wednesday and Friday.

I managed to get to Rockland Broad, which turned out to be a great decision as 9 Pochard (7 drakes) were on the broad, a bird that has not graced the year list for over 3 years. Weather can have that affect I guess. Down on frozen Claxton Marshes, I watched a little sad as Green Sandpiper, Golden Plover and Common Snipe drifted aimlessly past me, presumably looking for a piece of open ground or water to feed. No doubt some of these birds would have perished over that week. Very unusual to see these species so close, but desperate times and all that. On the river, I found Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and Mallard all sheltering from the wind against the river bank. A tiny Wren and a Robin shared the same hollow tree stump, away from the Arctic conditions.

Now things have warmed up (a little) I had the Moth trap out on the night of March 10th. First trap session this year incredibly. One stunning Oak Beauty ushering in Spring at Claxton, along with the timely March Moth (3), Chestnut (2) and Dotted Border (2). A single Oak Nycteoline was in the bathroom.

 Claxton Marshes
 9 Pochard, record flock size for the patch, Rockland Broad
Oak Beauty

Monday, 19 February 2018

Hawfinch cracked

I began the half term week at Wrentham cemetery, whereby upon arrival I raised my head to the bare branches towering over the yews and there atop the tree was a Hawfinch, easy as that. I was starting to think this species was getting the better of me, having dipped at another Norfolk Churchyard on 2 occasions. This bird was soon joined by 2 more, and I enjoyed views of them feeding up high before flying low through the churchyard and disappearing into a Holly bush. Great to hear them calling too.

The weekend's WeBs counts were disappointing, and after a week of ice on the car early in the morning, I had hoped for more especially on Rockland Broad. Teal, Coot and Tufted Duck are expected species in small number. The Black-headed Gull pre-roost of 180 was more impressive. Teal and Mallard were the only birds I was able to record at Church Marsh, although the small private lake behind the church held at least 2 Wigeon and a male Shovelor, a first for the year. 2 Little Owl called from the gun club meadow, another first for the year and always nice to hear that they still hold onto this territory, seemingly not bothered by the full bore club. Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and Marsh Harrier the other bits of note. Singing and calling has picked up on the patch in general, and yesterday a singing Marsh Tit at Rockland was added to the list of songsters which now includes Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and the odd burst of Cettis's Warbler.

A walk down to the river through Claxton Marshes yesterday, and a record count of 92 Mute Swans were loafing out on the grazing meadows and marsh. At least 4 Buzzards loudly proclaimed their presence, unsettling the gathered Corvids. A single Barn Owl hunted distantly as the light began to slip away.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

WeBs recap and old red returns

My wife nonchalantly dropped into conversation that a Red Kite had been present for most of the day out the back of the house on Friday. Out for most of the day Saturday, I finally managed my own sighting earlier today. The heavy, drooping wings and forked tail unlike any other Raptor in the valley and a welcome return to the patch. I am almost convinced that breeding took place last summer, but from September onwards the birds disappeared and I never had the smoking gun in the form of a nest or a juvenile to prove my thinking. Hopefully this will be the year. In other local news, I am still enjoying at least 1 Tawny Owl on my drive home from work in the evenings. A bird remains around Pond Farm, and on Thursday evening I had a second near the old church. The bird at Pond Farm is around half a mile away from a substantial block of deciduous woodland, so unless it is using a garden or not breeding at all, this individual must be making a short commute each night to what on the face of it looks like fairly inconspicuous farmland. Presumably the local Rat population is healthy enough for it to continue its endeavours.

Having made clear a few targets in my last blog, it was with great surprise and excitement that I watched a male Goosander flying down river at Surlingham Church Marsh on the 20th. Not even on the list, I exclaimed! I love how patch birding can still surprise even after over 5 years patching at Surlingham. Goosander are unpredictable in the valley, and more reliable at quiet inland lakes and pools such as Sparham or Thorpe Little Broad. A great bird to add to the lifetime list here, and after a relatively lean year in 2017, this was a species I had never recorded, in the bag, before January slinks away. Elsewhere on the reserve, a Nuthatch was calling near the church, at least 2 Bearded Tit pinged from the reeds near the gun club and 17 Mallard were on the lagoon. Most interesting was a possible Siberian Chiffchaff. At the time, I noted that this was the palest Chiffy I had seen (bar of course an actual Siberian) with grey tones to its plumage. The breast though was strikingly pale. Annoyingly it never called, and remained low in scrub. I saw it on and off for around 30 seconds before it moved away, lost to view. I expect this probably was a Siberian, but without the call to clinch it, it won't go down as anything more than a very pale Common Chiffchaff.

At Rockland the following morning, I was struggling to keep warm with the temperature hovering around zero. Warming the cockles slightly was the long-staying drake Goldeneye, nice to get this not only into the New Year but on the WeBs count too. 7 Teal, 2 Coot, GC Grebe 2, Little Grebe 2, Mallard 2, Tufted Duck 3, Kingfisher 1 and Heron 2 completed the count. Again, Bearded Tit were pinging here too, this time on the Rockland Marsh side rather than the more likely Wheatfen land. 2 Marsh Tit, 2 Buzzard, 1 Marsh Harrier and a single Snipe rounded off the morning before I returned home to warm myself up.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Tawny in the hedge

For the last few days, arriving home in the dark via Carleton St. Peter I have been treated to splendid views of a Tawny Owl. If anyone reading knows where Pond Farm is, drive past there around 5-6pm and you have a bloody good chance of seeing this bird sat atop a hedge. One night, I pulled up alongside it and we just stared at each other for around half a minute until it grew a little more anxious and flew. I have watched it hover by a verge and drop into the undergrowth, and tonight I had a nice flight view over the road and beyond into the field by headlight. The local Tawnies are getting ready to raise a family once again, and are fairly vocal. Perhaps this bird is a youngster, as the territory does not seem ideal for breeding, but then one cannot tell how far they wander in a night.

Before the New Year we made a family visit to Santon Downham in the hope of connecting with the Parrot Crossbills. I did not let on about the tolerant Otter family on the river, but need not have worried for one individual performed superbly in front of a small gathering on the river bank, close enough for even Rose to see. Although tough to beat the wilderness that accompanies a sighting on a Scottish loch or coast, this was certainly my best sighting in terms of views. No Crossbill sadly.


The following day, we blanked with Hawfinch at Sotterley Park but an evening stroll down the marsh allowed for a close encounter with both Barn Owl and Woodcock. I managed to time it right so that I was on the track to the Beauchamp Arms just before darkness, with the Corvid roost erupting above me. A sight and sound I never tire of.

The New Year crept in and so did the birds. A drake Goldeneye on Rockland Broad remained from at least the 5th of December, and at the staithe a Grey Wagtail is again over-wintering. The common Raptors have all been recorded, including a male and female Marsh Harrier at Surlingham which bodes well. 

A Hume's Leaf Warbler had been present at Waxham for over a week, so on Sunday the 14th I caved and went for a look. I had not added a bird to my British list since the Cliff Swallow at Minsmere (probably due to the fact I rarely choose to make those longer journeys) and this was a species I had wanted to observe for some time. On arrival I was the first birder on site, and walking past the impressive new Shangri La Passivhaus I instantly heard the vocal Hume's calling. The first couple of notes were similar to a Coal Tit, but then the classic call I had been listening to on my Aves Vox app kicked in. The call began to drift beyond the cottage, so I followed north past Bide a Wee cottage and managed a glimpse of the elusive Phyllosc as it dived into a bramble. I did wonder whether that would be it, and although other birders had turned up not all knew the call so I felt a little isolated with this one. Thankfully, as I was creeping through some low scrub south of Shangri La, the Hume's decided to make an appearance right in front of me. I whistled and got others onto the bird, which again called and moved within 2 inches of the ground gleaning whatever insects it could find from the foilage. It was pale, with grey tones especially around the mantle. The supercilium was there but not bright, it didn't jump off the bird. What was most striking was the behaviour, reminiscent of a Cetti's Warbler. I didn't even bother with a photo, and just counted myself lucky that I had observed the bird so closely as it went about its business. 

WeBs count tomorrow, so back to the patch. A few targets for the year ahead- Merlin (always), Med Gull (hoping for a bird in the Rockland pre-roost), Firecrest (migrant, has been recorded but not by me), Long-eared Owl (have been recorded relatively locally in recent years), Marsh Warbler (the ultimate) and finally Glossy Ibis (maybe the likeliest of the lot?).