Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The East Wind Doth Blow (I know it's north wind...)

Tuesday January 31
Don't know about Poor Robin.....but we were very cold on Yarmouth south beach. What a day to choose to look for the Velvet Scoter present there for at least a week. Unsuccessfully too, that hurts my pride. Heavy swell and a biting east wind directly into my face, weeping eyes, runny nose and freezing hands to boot. Might have felt differently if we'd found the bird. A couple of Red-throated Divers and a passage of breeding plumaged Cormorants were the sole reward.
At least the car is clean though, sugar beet harvesting plays havoc with the roads round here. The carwash near Asda does a good job, the man who did the pre wash to-day was especially good. The car, wheels an' all looked clean before we went through. Very polite too - Eastern European of course.
We did have a Woodcock walk out into the road near the Hannants' house on the Stalham road, fortunately, both us and the car behind, swerved and missed it.
Home via Winterton Beach, no dog walkers to-day, the beach and car park were deserted. Several more Red-throats, Cormorants, 3 Gannets, 8 Snow Buntings and a flight of 18 Red-breasted Mergansers (most I've seen in Norfolk), made for a pleasant interlude.. - all from the car in its comparative warmth.
No birding to-morrow, coffeee morning. Feb 1 long day listing will have to wait until Friday, Pam has a dental app on Thursday. We'll probably do a couple of shorter trips locally.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Garden Bird Count

Saturday January 28
 We did our count from 9.55 - 10.55. The sun was still difficult for viewing our back garden. We face virtually due south.
We saw 14 species which included Blue, Great, Marsh, Coal and Long-tailed Tits. No Greenfinch, Dunnock and Collared Dove. Best bird was a single bright male Lesser Redpoll.
A neighbour's garden to-morrow....

Friday, 27 January 2012

Some Suffolk Birding

Friday January 27
Another social occasion with birding.
Minsmere is a convenient meeting point for our Essex friends, Jen and Marj. It was a surprise to find heavy machinery warnings en route, followed by a rash of temporary buildings taking up space in the car park. These housed the cafe/shop/visitor centre in one, the loos in another - and I don't know about the others. The 'old' centre is being extended towards the loos and a new activities centre is well on the way near the workshops. Hm.....
The cafe area is very small but, there was an empty table for us to catch up over a hot drink before walking to West Hide, on a perfect winter morning. Blue sky - without wind to exacerbate the cold.

All the expected ducks from the hide, until Jen spied the pair of Smew distant on the north side of the scrape.

How good are your eyes? Male Smew. It's the pale blob in the middle - taken with my Powershot
We'd planned a walk to Island Mere after lunch to see them . Great, one of my favourite birds. Fiona (!) the escaped Greater Flamingo fed in front of East Hide, 3 Bewick's preening nearby.
After lunch, we all drove to the Coastguard Cottages on Dunwich Heath. After a sterile half a mile of heather scanning, M and J walked further, Pam and I returning to the car. Waw, a handsome male Dartford Warbler perched on top of a bush for a couple of minutes before disappearing into the depths.
We were not as lucky at Ness Point, at lowish tide in poor evening light. Plenty of Turnstones, no Purple Sandpipers to-day.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Unplanned Detour

Thursday January 26
After lunch with friends at Salhouse Garden Centre and a quick shop in Roys, the sun came out. We turned right at Roys roundabout and took the road to Ludham Bridge, where we spent some time scanning the marshes.
What are the odds of finding 1 Whooper, 1 Bewick and 3 Mute Swans together? Not for long, the Mutes had a youngster and drove the 'wild' swans away, wings flailing, neck outstretched, beak open and hissing. Very impressive - and effective.
As the sun reached the horizon and the sky took on an apricot hue, a male Marsh Harrier hunted along a dyke and, best of all, two Common Cranes flew rapidly to their roost. Lovely.
Thanks for the tip, J.A.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Local Birds

Wednesday January 25
It's a week since we've been able to hang the bird feeders again - all clear by the ratman. Gradually, the birds have returned so that we're reasonable busy - ready for the RSPB Garden Bird count this coming weekend. We shall watch R and B's garden too, as usual.
Out of the 6 regular male Blackbirds feeding, at least two have dark beaks, meaning that they are northern birds escaping south for the winter. I'd always thought that they were first winter males until I read a recent article.
Long-tailed Tits are regular again, I wonder how many little flocks come through each day. Again I'd always assumed that they were 'ours', until Jed, of the NOA, told me that ringing had proved that there were several groups each day.
The local Rough-leg has now been reported twice on the pager, others must be seeing it. We must go and check the roosting site , to see if it's still being used.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Birding - At Last

Monday January 23
Due to a combination of circumstances - Sue in New Zealand via Singapore and home via Hong Kong - Christmas and New Year, we hadn't taken her birding for almost three months. Pam still not well but made the effort to keep our commitment date.
A beautiful winter morning with no frost, we set off before 9a.m., first stop Holme. The reported Spoonbill was no longer on the Broadwater, two Scaup were. Despite extensive scanning, no Short-eared Owl....
Maybe Thornham would turn up trumps. The first bird we saw was a Spoonbill, huddled, preening, on the far mud.
Titchwell was a disappointment to-day. The Freshwater Pool looked like a lake. A display board explained that a special machine will be arriving next Monday (!!). It travels over the water, cutting the reeds below, hence the water level. Is this the most efficient method of reed cutting? I suppose that the RSPB knows what it's doing but.....why do it a week in advance?
On to the sea where we found the tide to be at its lowest possible. The bench was vacant but only a foot above the sand blown onto the platform. Most birders had walked to the sea edge. We didn't, it was cold enough where we were despite my ear-muffed hat - Sue threatened not to walk with me. I told her it was the height of fashion but I don't think she believed me. At least I had warm ears and part of my face was covered, protecting my vulnerable sinuses. I'll wear my Balaclava next time.
About 20 minutes scanning brought: 2 Long-tailed Ducks which flew in, at least ten Goldeneye, the occasional Red-throated Diver fly-past and a distant passage of Auks.
On the return journey, I decided to sit and scope the distant, narrow island on the Fresh Marsh. Amongst the gulls and ducks massed on the little available space, there were half a dozen Ruff, Dunlin and Pintail to add to Sue's list. Determined to locate a Snipe, I slowly scanned the bank under the Parrinder Hide and found one. Eureka, at last.
A Water Rail fed under the Centre bird feeding station but, as the Redpoll flock was not present, we didn't linger.
Still no sign of any Corn Buntings at Choseley, too much yard activity.
A hastily eaten lunch at Thornham where Pauline appeared, telling us that Betty has a health problem. Get well soon. Betty is  remarkably healthy usually, hasn't seen a doctor for 23 years. Incredible. 
Away to view Gun Hill marsh from the layby. The flock of Lapland Buntings soon rose from the stubble field, at least 60 have been recorded. We had to be careful as there is also a flock of Skylark, which are very similar in flight.
Lady Anne's Drive for a quick geese scan - no warden present to-day and we refuse to pay the exorbitant parking fees for a 5 minute visit. We've paid for an annual permit in the past when we could also drive into Holkham Park to view the grounds and Lake. This is only possible between April and October now and the car park has been moved so that the lake is out of view. And.....the permit cost is beyond that which we are prepared to pay. Shame, as Pam loves her geese. About 200 hundred Pinks were feeding to the east of the drive, amongst them one Greenland White-fronted Goose. Four had been reported further west yesterday.
Wells' Beach Road had traffic lights on the corner near the Toilet block, We waited patiently until, eventually, a car came from the other direction and told us what we'd begun to suspect. It was red both ways, they were not working. A quick whizz when it seemed safe to do so, in time to see hundreds of Brent flighting from the harbour and onto the football pitch and the Pitch and Putt. They weren't settled either and kept moving position and being joined by others. I don't like to give in.....I did though... without finding a Black Brant.
Last stop was Salthouse for a hot drink, watching a flock of Snow Bunting, containing a few lovely males, feeding on nearby shingle. Lovely.
Barely time to get in and have tea before we were out again. Gt Yarmouth Bird Club night. Justin was as fluent and informative as always, the subject 'Affordable Western Europe Mini Breaks'. Italy, then Finland and lastly, Portugal and Spain. Some great photos he'd acquired too.
A written voting slip when added up, gave the annual 'best bird' found by a club member within a 30 mile radius to a Sardinian Warbler found by Ian at Hopton. Well done, he's found a lot of good birds in the time we've known him. Broad-billed Sandpiper was a close second.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

What to Do

Tuesday January 17
I woke to a heavily frosted lawn and frozen pond. First time this winter......maybe not, but the first for a couple of months. It stayed like it for the whole of the morning, the dyke bank didn't clear at all.
We should have been meeting friends for lunch but Pam has a sore throat and cough, my sinuses are better though. Didn't want to spread our germs to the vulnerable. By lunchtime, Pam decided that it was too lovely a sunny day to stay indoors and was well enough for a short drive . Via Stalham Tesco to pick up lunch, we drove to Horsey and Winterton. Lunch was eaten in the raptor layby at Horsey, watching two fields full of Golden Plover and Lapwings amongst the sheep. A lone male Marsh Harrier hunted in the distance, near a large flock of Pink-feet.
The reported Glaucous Gull had flown south shortly before we got to Winterton, a returning birder told us - he'd missed it too. I wasn't expecting to see it as it was a couple of hours since the pager message.
Red-throated Divers kept popping up everywhere we looked, on a seemingly empty sea. The highlight was a close-in Shag (!), our first of the year and a relatively good sighting for Norfolk.
Despite a good scan and a lot of hope, neither Short-eared Owl nor Cranes seen on the way home.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Not a Black Friday

Friday January 13
Would the Shrike still be there...? Yes it was. A Great Grey Shrike has been present near Fakenham Morrison's for some time now. Initially, it caused a bit of a commotion as it was thought to be an eastern  sub species, then a hybrid and now all that's gone quiet. Northern Great Grey Shrike it shall be.
Three returning birders  told us it had caught a mouse and flown off to eat it. It must have been a very small morsel or a hungry bird. As we arrived at the concrete pad, it appeared on top of an oak about half way back the way we'd come! Almost immediately it flew back towards us, hovered like a Kingfisher, posed in the hedge and disappeared again. Good enough for us but not photographable. Our first Skylark of the year too,
Sculthorpe on a sunny winter day is lovely.We decided to walk the loop track first, hearts descending when we saw that the 'Woodland School' area had a class in action. Apart from a few screams and yells later, all was relatively quiet though.  One bird from the Jarvis hide but then we saw Siskin, four Treecreepers, a couple of Marsh Tits ( a fleeting glimpse of one previously, looking for the non existent feeders in our garden), and the usual Goldfinches on the way to Whitley Hide.
What a pleasure to watch the regular and  frequent mixed flock feeding on the 'Grab and Go' bird table viewable near the hide. Some do perch in the shrubby tree nearby but, photographing the rapid visits is a challenge. A Water Rail darted out of the reeds, legged it across the ground under the feeding table and then fed well hidden. The unhusked black sunflowers dropped from the table, form a thick carpet, popular with the Rail, Bullfinches and a Short-tailed Field Vole which made short dashes from under the camera box.

Water Rails

A pair of Bullfinches. I never get tired of watching these beauties.

A Marsh Tit finally stayed long enough - but the sun had gone in.
There's always a chance of seeing a Little Owl from Felbrigg Hall main car park.  Unfortunately, heavy machinery was at work in our favoured bay. We snatched a quick peek whilst the driver was away, no sign of an Owl in the nesting hole nor nearby. As the driver returned, in a different machine, a flock of small finches rose into a nearby tree. We had to move rapidly, parking in another bay and I then scoped the top of the tall Oak which still held some of the birds. Beautiful Brambling. Most unexpected. I phoned it in to Birdline but the report did not appear - on my pager at any rate.
It was very difficult to ascertain an accurate number as the flock kept flying away, some returning, others dropping to the ground and back up etc. I did count 50 in the tree at once though.

Monday, 9 January 2012


Monday January 9
The fitters and electricians had finished by 2.45, still enough light to respond to this morning's phone tip-off.
We drove a narrow lane in our area, scanning carefully, until we reached the church. No sign. A bit much to expect the target bird to have stayed in the vicinity for 5 hours....
On the way back, Pam pulled in to the edge of a seeded field, just in time for a Rough-legged Buzzard, closely hassled by a Carrion Crow, to fly out and away from a nearby tree. Damn that crow! Great views of the pale barred tail as it flew, and then landed in a distant tree. I attempted a couple of pics before it flew again and we couldn't re-locate it.
Thanks again James, info much appreciated.

True distance through a 400mm lens.
Enlarged ! Could be anything.......

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Another Wild Goose Chase

Saturday January 7
The morning was spent doing the laundry - beautiful sunny winter day. Rather late, we worked out that this was our last 'free from commitments ' day until next Friday. Slow roast pork joint in the oven, we drove to Buckenham Marshes via the railway crossing. Strumpshaw car park was packed, that visit will have to wait.
We drove far enough down the track to Fisherman's car park to enable viewing of the marsh immediately south of the railway line. I struck lucky this time in finding the flock of Taiga Bean geese immediately, their orange legs gleaming in the sun. An assiduous scan found a lying down Whitefront which turned its head so that it was looking at me straight on. The amount of white on its forehead extending up towards the head made it look like a Coot's shield. Excellent, the Lesser Whitefronted Goose. It then got up and grazed, giving further views.
The marsh was full of birds, at one point the Golden Plover, Starlings and Lapwing rose in a huge and dense cloud. Not far off 10,000 I reckon. That total does not include the thousands of Wigeon and fewer, Teal, White-fronted and Pink-footed Geese present. I saw about 30 Ruff in all, scattered amongst the Plovers, a single Dunlin and added Barnacle and Canada Geese to the year list.
Disappointingly, no sign of a Peregrine, a single male Marsh Harrier was the only raptor. Pam didn't want to drive to the mill to-day so we didn't check for any neck- ringed Scandinavian Greylag which have wintered here for the last three years or so.
The usual Werthers as a thank you to the crossing attendant, over the years we've been served by many and none have turned one down.
The pork looks great.......

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Stir crazy

Thursday January 5
No birding for 3 days......Obviously Yodel were not going to come - again - and pick up the parcel for Amazon.
Still a tremendous wind but, less than last night and Scotland and the north's hurricane. It was gone 3 before we set off for Winterton, very dark to the east, apricot sky topped and bottomed by forest-like gun-metal cloud in the west and the setting sun. We went as directly as possible, arriving at the beach in time for a bit of sea watching before sunset.
The wind was gusting strongly from the north-west, hurling any passing birds at breakneck speed to the south. Any attempting to fly north were virtually stationary. An angry sea with deep troughs was great to look at, difficult to see any sitting birds. A few Red-throated Divers, several Kittiwakes and two Gannets were added to the list before the light faded completely.
Maybe the Horsey raptor roost would be worth a look. At least six Marsh Harriers and a single Kestrel. No sign of the hoped for Cranes or Short-eared Owls.
Good to be out.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Geese x n

Monday January 2
Such a lovely looking day but much colder. More like the usual conditions for goosing at Buckenham Marshes.
Approaching via Grimmer Lane, we parked in a gateway, then across to another gateway  to scope the marshes. Waw, I've never seen as many geese here, nor as distant. There were thousands of Pinks, Whitefronts and - eventually - at least 30 Taiga Bean Geese. The flocks were largely hidden behind the distant trees. Far more Whitefronts here than seen in previous years. We decided, after a lengthy scan, that there was little hope of finding the Lesser Whitefront amongst the numbers present,  at that distance with such restricted viewing. Not with any certainty anyway and, it was into the sun. It would have been stringy.
Rollesby Broad
Joining three birders on the road bridge, they excitedly pointed out a superb Kingfisher perched in fairly near reeds. Still too far for a decent pic though. They'd also seen a Bittern fly into the reedbed. Several Great Crested Grebes to add to the year list.The Great Northern Diver  was on the Great Broad against the far bank.
Gt Yarmouth
Our favourite Med spot is behind the Sealife Centre. Despite the presence of families, there were at least 30 Mediterranean Gulls sat on the beach. Several flew off as we arrived - man and child walking through.
I love early January......

Sunday, 1 January 2012


Sunday January 1
We had a great day, leaving home at 6.45, having already ticked off a Tawny Owl at 12.15 when we went to bed after the awesome London fireworks. The best ever I think, we didn't have those little boats chugging up and down the river spewing fire in various colours.The next bird was a Barn Owl shortly before Fakenham as it began to get light. Somewhere between Holt and Fakenham, a Woodcock did a VTO from the near verge and we also had one flying over the road.
Harpley Area
Breakfast (ham sandwiches, home cooked ham and bread), watching a couple of Brown Hares chasing about in a stubble field.  The first skeins of many thousand Pinks seen to-day, drifted across the sky, calling all the while. As it got light, as usual, our favourite lane added Red-legged and Grey Partridges, Tree Sparrow, a singing Song Thrush and a few finches.
Flitcham and Abbey Farm
Our worst experience ever at Abbey. A mere puddle of water in front of the hide, a few Mallard in the pool behind and the usual scurry of white-tail-flicking Moorhens, Very disappointing. Too early for any raptors. Yellowhammers and a single Fieldfare  along the road.
Flitcham - West Newton - Sandringham - Wolferton Triangle
A flock of Redwing with the odd Fieldfare in the orchard area, a field of Curlew at West Newton,
a quick recce around the Sandringham car parks (full of royal watchers and radio/TV cameras and reporters), Goldcrest at Wolferton and off to Snettisham.
What we know as the quinoa field, had a dozen or more Mistle Thrushes and a small flock of Greenfinches using the wires as a jump off for the fruiting hedge.
That road through the chalets gets worse! Even our 4x4 suffers. The tide wasn't as well in as I'd expected but, distances for scoping were reasonable. All the usual waders plus a splendid group of 6 male Goldeneye displaying to a single bewildered looking female. Being anthropormorphic....I'd swear she was saying ' What are you on about'. Four Bewick's Swans flew through, which was a bonus.
Responding to a pager message, we toured both North and South sections before giving up. The pager hadn't said which area - nor where chalet 46 with its Black Redstart was. We gave it up as a wasted half an hour and went on to
Tesco was closed, good job for the workers, good that we didn't need the loo nor a food supplement.
The cliffs were crowded to-day, we parked in a different area from usual, another lucky happenstance. Fulmars, 'Rock' Doves, a close Razorbill, a small flock of common Scoter and ........a Black-necked Grebe. Excellent.
Holme NOA Hide
Time for another re-fuelling, two more sandwiches and a banana and a struggle to open a rain swollen hide hatch. Was it worth it? With a little patience and steady scanning, yes. A lone Shoveller sleeping on an island, firstly a Marsh Harrier, then a female Hen Harrier and two Grey Herons perched together on a fence post. We often miss Heron.
Too many Hoorahs about... our first Brent and an immediate turn round.
Usually avoided on New Year's Day but I really wanted to see the Redpolls  so we drove in and actually found a parking place in the first  car park. Jammy.
We only had to wait about 10 minutes for the birds to return to the Alders around the feeding area. We had one Lesser, one Mealy and the lone Coue's Arctic Redpoll feeding in close proximity.
The walk to the pools and the sea will have to wait for another day despite that it would have added up to six birds to the list.
Zilch. It's months since we saw a Corn Bunting there, before we went to Australia.
Brancaster Staithe
For lunch, there was room on the far mound, which is our preferred spot. Ringed Plover added whist we gulped down a piece of leftover Turkey and Ham Pie ( frozen precisely for the occasion), a piece of Pam's delicious cake and a cup of coffee.
Burnham Norton
We still haven't seen any Canada Geese - none here either.
Holkham - Gun Hill end
No sign of the Roughie....
The light was fading fast as we walked out to Daukes. Several thousand Golden Plover took off and swirled around the hides, their wing noise had to be heard ... it made the hairs on my neck stand up.
We started in Daukes, adding Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Water Rail Gadwall and  Avocet before moving to the one with a better view of Pat's. The Western Sand had been seen on the furthest spit, in front of Bishop's and crammed with Goldies. I tried my best to scope it but I was not alone in failing. A scope emphasises the gloom and it was very gloomy. Spirits were lifted by a Bearded Reedling apearing in the reedbed.
Bird number 89 was a Sparrowhawk zooming across in front of us as we passed Ebridge Mill. 'Our' Buzzards must have gone to bed.
We saw some very good birds but had some incredible misses. No Wren, Long-tailed Tit, Snipe, Jay, Bullfinch, Coal Tit, Canada Goose. Pied Wag was our 80th bird and Mute Swan the 78th. Typical birders, bemoaning the birds missed rather than celebrating the ones seen ! We're very happy with the result though, we've only made the upper 90s once when we were younger and fitter.
No feeders in the garden either, although we think the rats have gone, we have to wait for the pest man's all clear.
I may get round to adding a list of 'seens' to-morrow, if birding allows. If not, later in the week as every day after to-morrow has an appointment of some sort.
List of birds seen - in order of appearance
Tawny Owl
Barn Owl
Black-headed Gull
Blue Tit
Pinkfooted Geese
Wood Pigeon
Tree Sparrow
Red-legged partridge
grey Partridge
Stock Dove
Song Thrush
Collared Dove
Egyptian Goose
Great Tit
Carrion Crow
Mistle Thrush
Common Gull
Red breasted Merganser
Bar-tailed Godwit
Go;den Plover
Little Egret
Little Grebe
Herring Gull
Grey Plover
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Greater Black-backed Gull
Meadow Pipit
Tufted Duck
Bewick Swan
Rock Dove
Black-necked Grebe
Grey Heron
Hen harrier
Marsh Harrier
Brent Geese
Coue's Arctic Redpoll
lesser Redpoll
Mealy Redpoll
Ringed Plover
Mute Swan
Pied Wagtail
Black-tailed Godwit
Water Rail
Bearded Reedling

I've missed one somewhere... must check my list.