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?).