Friday, 25 February 2011

First Moth Trapping of 2011

February 24
Despite being tired after our Chipping Norton trip, Pam put the moth trap out for three hours before bed. We caught 5 moths of 3 species, two of which were new for our garden. Pale-bordered Beauty and Yellow Horned.
Pam released the Beauty before I'd photographed it.

Yellow Horned


Thursday, 24 February 2011

Home At 3.00 p.m

Thursday February 24
Well, we did leave at 4.55 a.m............
Not the easiest of routes, cross country, east to west but we only went the 'pretty way' (made an unnecessary detour) once each way. The only conurbations to be negotiated were Norwich and Banbury before arriving in Chipping Norton , doing a recce, finding The Leys and then a parking place. A good ten minute hold-up whilst a cement lorry tipped its load on a sloping front garden too. All by 10.00 a.m.
The Leys is on a 1 in 5 extensive and very steep hill, houses on both sides. The top road entry  was  narrow, made even more so by big mains water-works which blocked the road to traffic. We had to step over drills, hose, a pile of tarmac and negotiate metal trench covers. The workmen were solicitous... must be the white hair and sticks!

The Leys
About nine birders were ambling about looking for the bird which had been seen flying into distant trees shortly before our arrival. We walked down to No 41, where birders have been allowed into a heated conservatory to view the bird feeding in the garden and, on the bird table. Good photo opportunities so I carried my camera as well as my scope and tripod. A notice on the window stated that they were shut until Friday....... They deserve the two days off after a hectic couple of weeks - but not when we're there !
 I decided to stay and view a small part of the garden viewable from the road along the side entrance. Ten minutes later a lone birder appeared from the garden of No 33 calling that the bird was in view.  Jammy. We'd seen a plank across two crates in there, from which someone was scanning the back gardens but Pam does not do entering people's property uninvited.....
No 33 turned out to be a birder-welcoming place. The owner, Emma, had a collecting box out so that  contributions could be made for Daisy, a sick child.
The Rufous Turtle Dove (orientalis) was busy preening in the top of a medium  height  tree behind the garage, partly obscured by branches. We got excellent views through my scope, though my photo is truly a record shot - euphemism for poor - into the light.
Eventually the remaining birders arrived, no phone signal where they were so a friend had to fetch them. We admired the darker underparts, the grey as opposed to white tail tips and its hefty size compared with the European Turtle Dove - I've left a Wood Pigeon in for comparison. We stayed until it flew out of sight into the garden of 41 to feed.
Emma came out to chat as we were leaving and she couldn't have been more charming and grateful for birders' generosity. She called it a gift bird. Everyone else we met was pleasant and welcoming too, not what you'd expect after several weeks of birders peering into their gardens and wandering around.

It's the one on the left!!
Good pics on Surfbirds, taken in the garden of No 41

After the panting, leg aching,  walk back up the hill, we parked in the town centre and had a cuppa and a toasted teacake in a nearby cafe before setting off home. We were in as BBC2 announced the 3.00 o'clock news - despite the diversion and a 25 minute lunch stop in a garage forecourt.
Oh dear, no weather bulletin to-day..... Dull and drizzly early morning, warm and sunny late morning/afternoon.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Weather Obsession

Tuesday February 22
It's a widely believed euphamism that the English are obsessed with the weather.  This Welshwoman is becoming increasingly so - especially when it interferes with birding over a longish period.
 Yesterday's monthly (approx) birding with friends Bridget and Aileen was, yet again, marred by poor conditions. We drove to Snettisham, where we'd arranged to meet, in occasional snow amongst the rain, in poor visibility and ceiling low cloud cover.
At least it stopped by the time we arrived, Pam and I forty minutes before high tide. We'd forgotten that it was half term, the reserve was teeming with family groups containing young children wet and cold and miserable (one dad told us).
It's always a joy to see the enormous flocks rising and falling on their way to roost, the 500 or so Oystercatchers last of all to fly to the western shore already heaving with waders, gulls and geese. Pam spotted a Peregrine flying parallel with the shore towards the waiting breakfast, it left hungry.
When A and B arrived - on time, we were early - we drove and then walked the short distance to the first hide watching from there for a while. The living bank of roosting waders was visible in the distance, Oystercatchers around the edges of the large flock of Knot which looked like grey pebbles to the unaware. Bridget found a male Red Breasted Merganser as we were leaving.
Such a disappointing day bird-wise. No Brent at Holme so no Pale - breasted which we'd earmarked for A and B. No Brent at Wells either, so no Black Brant. Both birds were wanted by the others. Nothing at Thornham either.....
A very enjoyable hot drink and chat at Titchwell feeding station was the highlight of the morning.
Lunch at Brancaster Staithe where a pair of displaying Red-breasted Mergansers drifted by on the ebbing tide.

Morston to look for last week's Rock luck.  Brighter by now - not difficult - I admired a fishing Little Egret set against the - to me - irresistble back-drop of aged wooden landing posts, mud and marsh.

My camera had problems dealing with the big contrast between the dark wood and the light water/mud. I should know how to deal with that I suppose. Another learning curve.....
 A breeding plumaged Herring Gull talked at us from a nearby post.

At least the last sought for birds turned up trumps but, that wasn't immediate either. Too many parked cars, people and photographers. The flock of Snow Buntings at Salthouse Beach car park area did fly past and back - and back again,  several times, looking for their usual feeding place, eventually settling on the shingle ridge.
We said goodbye to A and B, disappointed with the species seen but, as always, enjoying a day out with friends.
Chipping Norton on Thursday............

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Birding with Sue

Friday February 18
Another dull, uniformly dark, grey cloud  cover, start to a day. The poor visibility improved but, was never good.
First stop was at Sculthorpe Fen nature reserve where we walked directly to Whitley Hide, after showing our permits and being asked to look out for ringed Willow Tits.
Shortly before arriving at Whitley, I saw a very active group of tits zipping about the riverside treetops. Two of them were Willow Tits, playing chase me, so, difficult to get good views. Pam saw a yellow ring and Sue a white one on the left leg of these two birds. They were also calling, which is the only really sure ID feature in distinguishing them from Marsh Tit. A recent research article I read stated that previous ID features known to all birders i.e shiny cap , black bib size, no pale wing panel = Marsh. Dull cap, bull-necked appearance, pale wing panel =Willow Tit are all unsafe as both species can exhibit all or some of these features!
Apart from call/song, the only absolutely safe ID feature is that Marsh Tit has a white mark on the upper mandible where it meets the face whereas Willow always has a totally black  beak. All armed with this information, we waited for a Marsh to visit the feeder at Whitley so that we could test it out - they've always done so previously.........not one in the 45 minutes we spent there !! We'll have to try at home where they always do a quick visit to the feeders and then clear off to eat their booty.
The hide feeders did come up with the 'usual' Bullfinches, the two males were very different in the depth of breast colour, one rather pale. Must look it up. Seven Brambling coming into good spring colour, a myriad Chaffinches, a few Blackbirds, a pair of Reed Buntings but no Water Rail to-day. No sign of the reported Goshawk either, not unexpected on such a gloomy day.
Near the giant riverside Niger feeder on the way back, we came across a small mixed flock of Siskin and Redpoll amongst the Goldfinches. The Siskin were coming down to drink from the small river's banks.
After a comforting beaker of hot chocolate - very cold and damp again to-day - we set off for Holme. My intention had been to walk to Gore Point but Pam, very firmly, put the kybosh on this. She was much too cold.
The planned tick for Sue, a Pale-bellied Brent from the NOA car park hide quickly ticked off, we found three Stonechats on the return lurch down the rough entry track.
No sign of the Northern Harrier at Thornham. I admired the wintering Spotted Redshank, feeding avidly in the creek below, whilst Sue and Pam ate their lunch.
Five Corn Buntings at Choseley and a few yellowhammers. Nowhere to park - four cars present.
Several of our other usual birding stops along the coast were unproductive to-day. The 700 Brent on the pitch and putt flew off over the bank before we could look for a Black Brant and the road to the Wells car park and Abraham's Bosom was closed after the caravan site due to the, much needed,  re-surfacing of the car park paths.
Morston had a Rock Pipit for Sue's list, feeding along a creek's muddy verge.

Looks paler in this photo than it actually was, maybe my editing programme ! Pam is convinced but I'm not happy. I was at the time.....
Park over-looking Cley/ Salthouse Marsh from Salthouse Heath. The approach track is becoming increasingly overhung by gorse which made some rather concerning scratching noises along the car. No damage though. Scanning for white blobs in the increasing gloom, all three scopes in use, Sue found the Spoonbill present for several weeks. Usually reported as being on the Sea Pool, it was on a pool further inland. A lot of standing water so it has a good choice of feeding area.
Via Salthouse beach for the ever present flock of Snow Buntings, some lovely plumaged males now, before we drove home to some welcome warmth.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Two out of Three - One Big Miss

Thursday February 17
Setting out just before seven on a very misty/foggy morning, we debated  whether or not to continue with our journey. Norwich was to be the turning point. Still no improvement but we went on anyway, arriving at Lynford paddocks parking area at 8.50.
Still foggy, we could only see the tops of trees halfway across the paddock. Twenty minutes later, after admiring a pair of singing Marsh Tits, we reluctantly left the car, togged up and walked to the bench. There we sat it out for nearly an hour before the icy, damp cold  had seeped into the bones,  freezing limbs. No-one else saw any Hawfinches - nor yesterday's reported Great Grey Shrike - either. Small compensation.
I heard a Crossbill chip over but little else apart from the usual Tits.
Breakfast from the excellent Browns cabin at the roundabout before making the short drive to St Helens picnic area. The usual stop on the drive in where we immediately heard the drumming of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We alerted two other birders and one of them saw  it briefly before it flew away. The parking  area was devoid of birds, back for another, fruitless this time, go at the Pecker. Nothing on the river either.
The sun appeared at mid-day, like a silvery moon behind thinner cloud which gradually cleared. Worth another go at the Arboretum..........
No it wasn't !
Another slightly less cold hour's vigil. Many more birders by now including Robin Abel, most of whom had walked the entire area. Still no Hawfinches. We drove to the Arboretum end car park in order to warm up the car - and us. No birds at all. Everyone was complaining.
Pam wanted another go at St Helens. This added a Goldcrest  to the year list and a Lesser Redpoll to the month list.
The river was more fruitful this time. Biggest surprise was a couple of Treecreepers hopping about on the ground and in amongst willow scrub above. We've never seen them on the ground before. A lovely Kingfisher, spotted by Pam, kept vigil perched on an overhanging bough on the bend in the river. Too distantly for a photograph.
We really enjoyed the day in the end, driving home in ever increasing fog, just as thick at home as it was this morning.
Birding with Sue to-morrow. My leg was painless to-day, so, fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A New Lane

Monday February 14
During their visit yesterday, in a vain search for the Parakeet, Dot and Steve told us of a lane which leads to Breydon south wall marshes. Always eager to find a new no-walking birding viewpoint, we went the 'pretty way', via Winterton, always hoping for Cranes. To-day we found them. A group of three on the eastern side of the road between Horsey Mill and Somerton, viewable from THE layby. Probably a family group, one of them was lying down and well hidden in the tallish grass.
A dozen Common Scoter and a fly-by Red-throated Diver on the sea at Winterton Beach, followed by a few Med Gulls, black heads coming along nicely, amongst the Black-headed behind the Sealife Centre in Yarmouth.
Harpers Lane is unmade, about a kilometre long, rather holey and bumpy, past the MacDonalds roundabout en route to Burgh Castle. I found it disappointing as I hadn't witnessed the conversation and expected a view of Breydon Water. Instead, it stopped at a field gate with views of the fields and mashes only. In an hour and a half's stay, during which Pam ate her lunch, we saw 2 Marsh Harriers and a huge mass of birds lifting off Breydon. There were thousands, rising in a very long, horizontal, smoke-like cloud above the Wall. They rose and fell twice before settling again. The flock of Pale-bellied Brent also appeared for two short flights seen by Pam. Our first butterfly of the year, a Red Admiral, hastened past.
Buckenham Marsh looked lovely but relatively birdless - until I looked through my scope and a Marsh Harrier flew over. The biggest flock of Lapwing I've ever seen, about 2,000, rose from the increasingly tall grass and sedge. Through my scope, I'd already seen at least 50 Ruff amongst them on the ground. Driving to the Mill, I spotted the largely albino Lapwing Justin told us about at Club, it's wings and much of the body white. Leucistic I suppose would be more accurate than partial albino. A Chinese Water Deer came trotting along, facing the mid afternoon sun.

Chinese Water Deer
Pam was lucky at Strumpshaw, managing to get a view of the short flight by a Bittern just before we left. I love the view from the Centre Hide but found myself descending to counting Greylag to-day. One day, we'll be there when an Otter appears, on its reportedly daily visit - or two - or more....

Part of the view fron the Centre Hide at Strumpshaw RSPB


Saturday, 12 February 2011

From The House Tick

Saturday February 12
Sitting watching the Manchester derby game, Pam noticed Dave Holman and Christine outside the house. She quickly opened the window and asked if there was anything about. A Ring-necked Parakeet in The Street. Damn pager, only works if I put it on the front window sill - and it wasn't.
Accompanied by Dave, I had a look for it from the back garden, as it was reported flying our way. No luck. Back to the footie.Delighted that Nani had just scored, just before half-time, Dave appeared again. A beautiful male Ring-neck was perched on our telephone wire in the front garden. As I went to the car to collect my camera, it flew into Rai and Barbara's garden opposite. It then rested in a dense willow tree before flying down to a peanut feeder, where it stayed for 20 minutes before I left, leaving Dave, Christine and two other birders still watching.
Still there at the end of the match (2-1 to Man U, yeah !!!), and the sun was out so I was about to try for better photos (not difficult) when it flew off down the road.
Bob Cobbold had been there too latterly and he sent me some great photos to-night. Not a Norfolk tick for us but a beautiful bird for the year list - and 'seen from the garden' list.

Friday, 11 February 2011

This and That

Tuesday February 8
Needing a visit to Julian Graves to buy some prunes,  we set off for Sherigham, leaving via the sea front car park in case the Purple Sands were viewable. The return journey, due to the closed road , takes us past Gunton Park. Pam saw a GCG twice through a tangle of trees and bushes but it eluded me. I took the opportunity to photograph a pristine male Egyptian Goose.

Wednesday February 9
Most of our shopping trips manage to include birding - not by accident. To-day's target was the shop at Titchwell to buy something for our Australian birder friend, Tina. A dull misty day with poor visiblity until the sun broke through at our first stop, Thornham, where we added Rock Pipit to the year list and two male Reed Buntings to the month list. The marsh looked comparatively empty until a sonic boom, which felt as though someone had run into the back of the car, lifted clouds of birds out of the vegetation. Still no Knot..... A Spotted Redshank fed avidly in the fast out-flowing creek but no sign of the Northern Harrier.
We'd hoped to park in the fishermans car park at Titchwell, less walking. Yet again there was a pick-up across the entrance. I reckon it's the RSPB although it's public land. It's always the same vehicle and ever present these days.
Walking to the shop made my calf ache.  I decided not to walk to the Island Hide, obeying the 'rest it' instruction  (out of character !). Two men were cutting down a very large tree off the main car park, cordoming off part of the area. It left a still large tree with chopped off main trunks about a third of the way up. Ugly. I don't think they ever look good again, despite new growth. I wonder why they did it?
Brancaster Staithe so that Pam could eat her lunch with a great view. The mussel men were washing and carting away their booty, as always, a big group of Turnstones in attendance. After they'd left, a Herring Gull collected a large mussell, flying nearby before rising and dropping it onto some stones. Lucky first time, it usually takes several attempts to crack it. When it had finished, an opportunistic Turnstone moved in to clean up the shell.
This Bar-tailed Godwit and dabbling male Teal were near enough to photograph from the car.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Curate's Egg

Tuesday February 1
What a good idea, to leave early as high tide was 5ish at Snettisham and we'd need to be there as soon as possible......
Leaving in the dark at 6.15 we first had to clear the car windows of thick overnight frost and then travelled - via the diversions north of North Walsham - in thick mist with heavy grey louring skies - when it got light enough to see.
The Tree Sparrows at Harpley were chirping away, deep in the hedgerows, we'd barely made double figures by Abbey Farm at Flitcham. As we drove onto the concrete parking area, I saw a Little Owl fly from the path to the Hide into a near bush. Two in two days. We've never seen one in that area before. 
As we approached Snettisham at 9.00 it started to rain and did so until 11.00. Miles of mud and a small variety of birds. No Oystercatchers nor Knot (!!) but the distant shoreline was murky.
The most surprising bird at Holme was a Green Woodpecker which lifted off the approach road past the cottages into a garden.  I took one hurried shot before it flew off.

Always a pleasure to see

The NOA Hide overlooking Broadwater is increasingly in need of maintenance. The window flaps were easier to open to-day but the ceiling is mouldy, wet and warped in one corner. Someone had left a flap open too. Some TLC needed.
First bird seen was a Pale-bellied Brent, conveniently standing on its own on the right of the flock of Dark-bellied Brent the other side of the water. We didn't stay long in the cold and damp.
The Harrier viewed distantly from Thornham was too difficult to ID positively.
Choseley Barns were worth a visit. Spilt grain in the yard meant that we added a Yellowhammer and ten Corn Buntings to the list.
Again, on the return journey, we scanned the trees and bushes for the single Waxwing reported to be here. For such a colourful bird it was remarkably camouflaged, flitting the roadside hedge, feeding on the heavy crop of Hips.
Hot chocolate at Brancaster Staithe was cheering - and it had started to clear up, a little blue sky appeared.
Scoping from the layby oberlooking Burnham Marshes where thousands of Pinks were feeding, I found a Ross's Goose and a few White-fronts. There were probably many more of the latter but hedges, reeds and bushes get in the way. A Rough-legged Buzzard rose the other side of the plantation, turning to show us its pale underparts before fast disappearing.
Lady Anne's Drive at Holkham was clear of Pinks but Pam found a handsome Black Brant in the field east of the entrance road and a group of burly Eurasian White-fronts nearer the pines. 

I love their stripy belly
 The parking attendant told us that the main Hall grounds were only open from  April 1st until October 31st. We pointed out that our letter re the parking permit had not stated this. We were not very happy, it costs enough.
It's really nice to be able to park at will at Lady Anne's and then Wells though.
Abrahams Bosom had plenty of ducks but no sign of any Smew, female or otherwise. By now the sun was shining brightly, making viewing difficult but the winter countryside beautiful.
At Cley Coastguards, we saw two Red-throated Divers fly past and then a Ruff ( a white one) and a Reeve amongst the flock of Golden Plovers in the Eye field.
The ditch working digger near Walsey Hills had pushed the wigeon flock to the very back of the field and into the main channel before Arnolds, we gave up looking for the American Wigeon.
The Snow Buntings at Salthouse were as reliable as usual.
We drove home via Gunton again - that diversion - in fading light, tired but happy.
When we did the list to-night we were astonished to find that we'd clocked up 85 species. We'd missed Wren, Pintail, Pochard, Meadow Pipit, Linnet and Skylark to mention but a few of the commoner birds. BUT, we had been lucky with some difficult ones and steadily accumulated the numbers.
I shall have to edit and check this to-morrow, I'm very tired after a short night and a long but most enjoyable day.