Monday, 14 December 2015

Too Good to Miss

Monday December 14

I went out without my pager yesterday. When I got home, I read that there was a Cattle Egret at Sea Palling, unreported for a week. 
After morning chores we drove the short distance to Hickling Lane which is west off the Stalham Road, shortly before Sea Palling village. More than a mile down the lane, we rounded a bend and spotted the lovely Park cattle in a field on the left. A group of them were feeding from a hay rack towards the back of the field, a white blob visible between the legs. It was the Cattle Egret. It continued to feed avidly the whole time we were there, finding lots of deliciousness amongst the trampled mud and manure. It did have to be alert in order to dodge swinging heads and legs.
The cattle are so beautiful - if dirty - the bird small and distant, I concentrated on photographing the cows, with the Cattle Egret as an additional extra. 

White Park Cattle

 Good Looks, Distinguished History, Future Potential
White Park is a very old breed of beef cattle, kept in Britain for more than 2,000 years but which is now rare. They are closely descended from Britain’s original wild white cattle that were enclosed in parks by the nobility during the middle ages. By the end of the 19th century such parks had largely gone out of fashion and the breed struggled to survive.
In 1973 the Rare Breeds Survival Trust was formed and chose the White Park as its logo. From around 60 animals left in the breed at that time the numbers have increased and there are now more than 750 adult breeding cows.  The breed is classed as “Minority” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
The White Park is distinguished in looks – large white animals with black points on their muzzle, ears, eye-rims and feet. The elegant wide-spreading horns are usually black-tipped. The cows are noted for ease of calving, milkiness and high fertility, while bulls used as crossing sires confer ease of calving and exceptional hybrid vigour. Excellent foraging ability, hardiness and longevity are also notable. The cows breed until they are typically 12 to 16 years old, although some breed up to more than 20 years of age.

Last Birding of 2015?

Sunday December 13

As Pam is due to have a hip replacement on Friday, we decided to have a day's birding. It may be our last opportunity for a few weeks. This week is full every day and - if it's the same as last time - riding around in the car will not be comfortable for Pam, on Norfolk's bumpy roads.
It was still dark when we left at 6.45 and then, we hit patchy ground fog, which became ever denser as we drove west.  After an hour, we saw our first bird, a Barn Owl. What were we doing out? We'd started so we'd finish. We managed two Tree Sparrows at our usual spot, two Redwings and a few Red-legged Partridges. Reaching Dersingham, the fog went away and we had a dry, not too cold, day until mid afternoon drizzle.
The tide at Snettisham was well on its way out, having reached a low peak at 7.20. Our first Goldeneye, two females, of the winter, on the pits, all the usual waders apart from Ringed Plover and Sanderling on the mud.  We did not walk to the far marsh where Dawn B had Great White Egret, Waxwings and the Pallid Harrier later in the afternoon ! Too far to-day.
A lone patrolling Fulmar and a small flock of Common Scoter at Hunstanton - and too many dog foulers. 
Holme Broadwater held many more ducks than usual, Shovellers, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Tufted and Pochard. Lovely. One Marsh Harrier scattered them into flight as it flew through, ignoring them all.
Negotiating the speed bumps on the way out, very near Bob's caravan, Pam noticed a Barn Owl sitting on a post. Surprisingly, it didn't fly when we stopped. I made a few mouse type noises and it turned and looked at me. Waw.

Many photos later, it flew rapidly away.
The Buzzard we saw at Choseley was much too distant to ID.
On to Brancaster Staithe  for lunch, where there were fewer birds than usual. Low tide, so no sign of the Red-necked Grebe but, a male Red-breasted Merganser glided by on the ebb, distant and frequently snorkelling. Not the best of photo opportunities.

When the drizzle set in we drove home, having listed about 70 species on an apparently poor yet enjoyable day.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015


Tuesday December 1

Mothing has finished for the year, we still met for coffee at Natural Surroundings. The morning was heavy misty drizzle, meeting was a better option than a day's birding.
We left soon after 11 in clearing weather, still very cloudy but rainless. Pam suggested Morston ,where the tide was going out, the creeks still well filled.  Pinkfeet and Brent, with the occasional Curlew, rose from the marsh, Redshank changed banks with their sentinel call, a lone Skylark gave thanks for the cessation and a few Meadow Pipits temporarily left the shelter of the marsh vegetation. A couple of Little Egrets gleamed into view. Lovely. 
Our first visit to Blakeney Harbour for some months was a triumph. Scanning Mallard (!) I saw part of a bird, partially obscured by a notice. Cormorant......... no, its head came into view. A winter juvenile Great Northern Diver. Excellent. 
I spent the next 10 minutes photographing it in between its frequent food dives, catching at least two Crabs. Pam was ever obliging in moving the car in order to follow its movements, diving against the tide and then drifting back, eventually disappearing fast around the bend on the strong ebb.

The Brent flocks at Cley were very distant on the drive out to the beach car park. We watched over a 1,000 Golden Plover milling about high in the sky over the Eye Field, never landing. A male Marsh Harrier drifted by and we left to find a sizeable group of Brent had landed in a field at the village end. The Black Brant was immediately recognisable but, too close to the verge and obscured by roadside reeds for my liking.

Julian's white drinks van was a welcome sight at Salthouse, not always there since the car park disappeared. Pam fetched our hot chocolate (I was parked too near the ditch to get out) whilst I scanned the pool. Mainly Wigeon and Teal with a few showy male Shoveller.

The birding was very unexpected.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Northern Visitors and a Twilight Ghost

Thursday November 24

Charity Shop collection over, book and camera dealers  dealt with and at least an hour of daylight left. Ludham/Thurne marshes beckoned.
The track down to St Benets was very deeply puddled and muddy margined until we passed the farm. Almost as soon as we hit the concrete slab track,  we stopped so that I could scope some distant swans. Bingo. Seven Bewick's. The track is single track, an oncoming car forced us to drive on to a gateway from which the birds were invisible.
First scan from the St Benets car park produced nothing apart from corvids. Suddenly, the row of mature Hawthorns lining the river bank exploded into life. We always argue about numbers. I think that there were probably a thousand Fieldfare milling about, Pam at least 500. Take your pick. Whatever........ it was lovely to see such a large and active flock on the berry festooned branches. The sun was setting behind us but it was still impossible to take any acceptable photographs. I have one of a single tree and the sky surrounded by dark and largely out of focus outline birds. Not posting that.
Another birder arrived, his wife was first to call the Barn Owl ghosting rapidly right, disappearing over the trees and the river. Fortunately, it returned, rather distant and fast flying but, it made three passes allowing me to attempt some photgraphy. I hadn't even changed my camera settings to winter low-light high ISA settings. Idiot. Obviously never a Boy Scout.
Some were sort of acceptable.

On the way back, Pam noticed a Common Snipe in the lush grass on the other side of a dyke. Well spotted. Poor thing turned out to have a broken beak. Did it jab a hidden stone? I hope it can still feed. Pam's photograph.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

November Has Arrived.....

Friday November 20

Hearing the rain being lashed loud and hard against the front window, the storm wind must have turned to the north, I am even more delighted that we went out yesterday. We left soon after eight a.m. driving directly towards Titchwell, the weather becoming ever clearer as we progressed west. 
North of Choseley Barns, Pam noticed a Buzzard flapping slowly south along the east ridge. As it banked, its paleness and  the white dark-banded tail confirmed my suspicions. A Rough-legged Buzzard.
Our much loved Thornham was bathed in sunshine, the sky almost completely winter-washed-out blue. Two hours off high tide, the creeks were empty of both water and birds. The beach held large flocks of Greater Black-backed and Herring Gulls, the marsh occasionally erupting with previously suaeda-hidden Curlew, Brent Geese, flocks of Skylark and the occasional Meadow Pipit. A few Little Egrets and a lone Marsh Harrier showed occasionally. 
We did see on more than one occasion, groups of small, restlessly flitting passerines. Twite? Or Linnets? Who knows.......I don't for sure.
Holme called. The Sea Buckthorn thickets are thickly aglow  with their vermilion orange berries, where are the thrushes to eat them? 

The thicket near the car park was having a path hacked through it by four volunteers who seemed pleased to pause as we drove in. Very few cars to-day, we saw none as we idled our way in, gentling even more over the dastardly speed bumps (haven't mentioned them for ages). Shouldn't they be called slow bumps? 

Winter reed heads in the wind
 David Grey's house is still for sale and a bungalow he has bought further on has a pile of rubble in the back garden but, looks identical at the front. Rumours are that he will demolish and re-build here. Pop singer and birder......good spot.
Pam photographed the herd of Konik horses and the delightful black-nosed English White cattle that have appeared in the cleared Paddocks area - and had to reverse a long way to let a car through on the narrow bend.
Back to Thornham and high tide where the creeks were already full. Creeks, boats and marsh + blue sky, photograph time.

From the Coal Barn
 Time to pick up a hot drink at Titchwell before driving on to Brancaster Staithe. More water, boats and marsh to watch whilst drinking.
The wintering group of Great Ringed Plover was huddled on a spit near the golf course shore. 

Two Grey Plover and a Greenshank appeared as we scanned whilst  regular small groups of Brent flighted over,  bound for the marsh.
The Turnstones and gulls don't like healthy food, I've learnt not to throw them my apple core. This Black-headed Gull huddled into its neck nearby,

before flying away.

Stiffkey, just in time for the evening raptor roost. And the rain. The dark clouds had been rolling in from the sea for some time, now they threw icy rain at me through my open window where I was scoping Wells boathouse in sunshine. Time to leave for a comfort stop at Morston. We'd heard that the old loos were to be demolished....... yeah, new and very civilised portaloos erected behind them. Unfortunately, the very heavy wind-propelled shower, decided to become wintry as I fought my way out of the car. Sort of soft hailstones. I got wet but the alternative was not acceptable.
It was dry at Cley Coastguards where a flock of 250 Golden Plovers had gathered in the Eye Field. In the fast setting sun, we tried to photograph them, which our cameras found very difficult. The setting sun was a deep, rosy apricot, which tinted the birds and the reeds.

How many times has Cley Windmill been photographed against a sunset? First time by me.

Wet, deeply puddled roads until we approached North Walsham - where it was dry !

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Post Abigail

Saturday November 14

Storm Abigail didn't really hit the east coast but, we had low grey skies, a strong south westerly and rain ! 
Despite this, we drove to Buckenham Marshes. My first impression was 'no birds'. The marsh is usually alive with Teal and Wigeon. Lapwing, Starlings and geese.
Eventually,  after assiduous scoping, I found one dyke had 50+ Teal and, at least a quarter of a mile away from the drive - in lane, a few Lapwing and Starling.
Cantley's Beet Factory chimney was billowing white smoke,  parallel with the ground, never veering nor pausing in the constant semi gale. 
Moving to a different viewpoint before a final scan, I found an enormous flock of Canada Geese, the largest I've ever seen. At least 80. Working my way through these, I reached one of the gate/fences which appear in the marsh. A perched Peregrine! The geese to the right,  with bottoms raised, feeding, barely visible in the poor visibility,  lifted their heads, White-fronted Geese, our first of the winter. 
i found that the fresh battery I'd put in my DSLR was dead..... I tried my Canon SX60 bridge camera , extending the lens to  60x . The resulting photographs were brighter than I had seen through my scope, amazing. Not pin sharp but... at over a quarter of a mile in very poor visibility?

Cropped even more

One Marsh Harrier, two Kestrels, a lone Black-headed Gull and time to drive home.

Western Conifer Seed Bug update

As posted on my Facebook page, the bug is fairly widespread in Norfolk, found in most squares, confirmed by James, thank you. Andy probably found that too when he got home and checked his books. Both Chris K and Perry reported finding one in their traps. It caused quite a bit of interest though as it's spectacular looking. Easy to miss these critters when not in a moth trap.


Thursday, 12 November 2015

Garden Comes up Trumps Again

Thursday November 12

Moth traps frequently attract other insects.  yesterday morning, we found a bug we'd never seen before not a surprise). i thought itr was a shield bug sp. from shape etc but with long antennae and legs. I couldn't identify it from the web and Pam couldn't find it in her book. We potted it and took it to mothing at Cley this morning where it caused a small sensation. To Andy, our beetle expert  in particular as it was the first he'd seen. 
It is a Western Conifer Seed Bug, a non native species originating in western USA and an alien invader. 
 It was first detected in Britain in 2007, when a single adult was found in a classroom at Weymouth College, Dorset. In the late summer of 2008. In the UK, the majority of records have been of adults observed at light traps
along the south coast of England, clearly indicating a large migration across the
English Channel

Probably the third for Norfolk.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

More Moths and Birds

Tuesday November 10

Full group attendance at moths this morning, apart from DN who is usually a regular. There were 19 of us clustered around the table at Natural Surroundings. Greg nearly always opens the four traps, 3  and 1 Heath, Giles was scribing this morning. The egg boxes are passed around the group, anything  'good' is potted before being passed around, in case it flies away before all have seen it. A very late Orange Sallow was the worst for wear. Best for us was our first Sprawler

The females are flightless, staying in their larva food plants, the males come to light but never feed during their entire adult life.
The other highlight was a very attractive bug which our beetle expert Andy, took home and later sent us the following information :
. Rhododendron Leafhopper Graphocephala fennahi (Cicadellidae), introduced from the USA and now widespread in southern Britain
Richard sent me this photograph.

Apart from the bug, all to-day's photos are Pam's, I didn't carry a camera.

On to CleySpy. During my clear-out I decided to sell two of my tripods, a lightweight Velbon and my heavier Manfrotto carbon fivbre. I also included a hardly used Opticron mini scope. It's lightness did not make up for the superior optical quality of my Swarovski 82mm which I still carry about. All are now on commission sale at the showrooms.
Pam's elderly Zeiss binocs are not up to the required standard any more. Scratched eye lenses, dented rubber and a very loose focusing ring = expensive repair. She came away with a beautiful pair of Swarovski 10x32 - small, light and optically superb. Much better for her shoulders and neck.
Time to give them an outing. We parked at Iron Road and walked to the newly opened Babcock hide - at last. The path is known as the Attenborough Way as he opened it. What path? It's rough, uneven and undulating tussocky pasture bordering the dyke and fenced off field. Clumps of Willow and Hawthorn, in their plastic sheaths, have been planted along the fence at irregular intervals. 
This small fungus was showing above the grass.

The very strong and gusting wind was blowing from the west so the hide was sheltered - except when the door was opened. 
We sat for more than an hour, overlooking a very large pool, I didn't expect such an open expanse with several islands, some covered in reed, others low mud. Looks like good habitat but very few birds to-day. Black-headed Gulls and Lapwing sheltered in the far corner, two Little Grebes were very active indeed, spending more time beneath the water than above. One came near enough for a photo.

Two men entertained us - unwittingly - by trying to make one of the grebes a Slavonian . We found later that one had been reported here this morning. Probably this paler one with a dark cap !!
After a short and rather unsatisfactory view of a Water Pipit, rising from an island, calling and flying away, we trudged back to the car. 
A most enjoyable way to spend a day.

Monday, 2 November 2015

It's the First

Sunday November 1

Very patchy, often extremely dense, fog made for a less than interesting drive from North Walsham west. Would we see anything at Sculthorpe Mill? 
It was full of birds. The car park held our first Redwings, Goldfinches, Blue and Great Tits, wild-flying migrant Blackbirds and Mistle Thrushes. Peering over the bridge at the mill race, we startled a Kingfisher from its perch and a Grey Wagtail from under the bridge. The Wag landed on some stones but the Kingfisher arrowed downstream and away.
The back garden held more of the same apart from a surprising Nuthatch on the stony path.
The hedges leading to Abbey Farm were devoid of birds as was the farm itself. Not even any Greylags. No water at all ! 
Driving west towards Sandringham, past Flitcham school,  the lanes are narrow and well hedged,  with varied crops growing in the fields.At one junction at least eight young Grey Partridges stood in the road staring at us, until we drove on. 
Further along the lane, nearing another farm, we stopped to scan the hedges as there was movement. Pam had a sunflower strip on her side, Brambling amongst the many finches feeding on the tops. I had a large number of Fieldfare flying from hedge to field and back again on my side, finches feeding on the seedheads left at the edge of the field. Thank you farmer.
 Not the highest of tides at Snettisham, due to peak at 9.22. We arrived before 10.00, in thick fog, the water's edge, still lapping the shore, barely visible. Oh dear. Several birders were giving up and trudging back to the car park. 
Teasels were festooned in glistening cobwebs, irresistible.

It cleared enough to view the pier 

and a ghostly Little Egret


Suddenly, the sun broke through and thousands of birds, avidly feeding on the rich food-filled mud left by the receding water, became visible.

A thousand Golden Plover, clouds of swirling Knot, another reef of Oystercatchers and Godwits of both species, scattered Redshank, Grey Plover, occasional probing Curlew, Shelduck massed on the water. All in warm sunshine and an almost cloudless sky.
Soon the air was filled with flighting skeins of gently calling Pinkfeet and the more strident calls of Brent Geese heading inland to feed. Wonderful.

Heading, slowly, back the Dunlin numbers increased, the odd Sanderling became a small flock and 20-30 Pintail paddled the creeks and shore edge. There were probably more, the females are pretty unobtrusive at this distance.
I love the pooled mud patterns left  by the tide. Could my camera do them justice?

Hunstanton was as crowded as it is on a holiday weekend. Loo and petrol stop at Tesco, no space to park on the clifftop, straight to Holme where we'd been told - in a text from friend Bob - that Short-eared Owls 'are easy'. He and his wife were there getting the caravan ready for winter. The kiosk was manned (?) by a woman we know from Scilly. She used to push her demanding and ungrateful mother around in a wheelchair every year. She told us that there were three SE Owls. We saw none.
From the car park hide, where Pam had her first meal, a pot of porridge, we saw Gadwall, Teal,  several Little Grebes, Shoveller and two Snipe. I heard the distinctive  kvik call of a Spotted Redshank and Pam saw it land on a near reedy edge, barely visible through the stems. At last, we've managed to miss them by not walking at Titchwell. Despite extensive scanning, no SEO here, only a Buzzard perched on a bush in the marsh. A Cetti's Warbler called once. Still a few Darters to be seen. We set off at 6C and the thermometer rose to 17C mid afternoon.
Titchwell would be packed, we tried Choseley. That area was packed too, Black Redstarts were about,  David the dog told us. We had a quick, fruitless, scan and left for Brancaster Staithe.
Plenty of room here. The clubhouse is now a pile of rubble and work on the foundations have started so,  no lunching yachtsmen. Pam ate her second meal. Lunch? I enjoyed photographing an adult winter Herring Gull,

standing sentry over a small flock of Turnstone. They see cars and come for food. Disappointed to-day. Unusually - although they're apparently easy - I managed some in focus shots. They're always scurrying about, other birds getting into the shot  and spoiling the focus.

Pam made the fortunate decision to turn down to Stiffkey Fen car park which was very full. We found a good spot on the front row where we pulled forward onto the grass so that I could scope from the car. The highlight was a diminutive Merlin, hardly bigger than one of the Starling flock he was harrying into a swirl of panic. Such a fast and acrobatic bird. He was unlucky on this occasion. John G came over for a chat. We saw a couple of Marsh Harriers and left as the light was fading, the sun a flaming vermilion orb on the horizon.
The Brent geese flock off Beach Road, Cley were at the main road end of the track. Pam drove out to the car park - just in case - and to turn round. The Eye Field exploded into at least 500 Golden Plover, taking to the sky before re-settling.
Straight back to the geese. I did one right to left scan and was on my way back when Pam called 'there it is'. A Black Brant had appeared on the nearside of the flock. Many geese were down in a dip. I took a few hopeful photos in the gloom before it disappeared into the dip again.

Photo enlarged and brightened
A lovely day which produced 82 species seen. Often missed birds such as Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Tree Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher and Snipe included
The Jack Snipe, Bewick's and Whooper Swans at Titchwell, the SE Owls all over the place, Hen Harrier at the west end of Stiffkey etc would have really bumped up the list. We were delighted with what we'd seen and had a really enjoyable day.
The drive home in ever thickening fog and darkness,  was not relaxing. 


Saturday, 31 October 2015

Mid-day Outing

Saturday October 31

We decided to take advantage of the lovely Autumn day and drive to Ludham Marshes. On the drive out to St Benets Abbey, we saw a few feral doves and a Carrion Crow.  Good start.
Parked looking over towards Thurne, I had a good scan before settling to the DT crossword. Almost immediately, Pam said 'Look' and a Short-eared Owl appeared from behind the hayrick, gliding to land on the grass about 100 metres away. I watched it for nearly ten minutes, whilst it preened vigorously - until a Magpie landed nearby. Mexican standoff ensued. The Magpie hopped  stealthily ever nearer, the Owl swivelling its head to watch every move. Near enough to peck the Owl's tail, the bird had a go but the Owl saw it off.
A few feather-shakes and re- adjustments  later, the Short-eared flew off towards the Abbey, disappearing over the raised river bank. With so many SE owls being reported flying in off the sea, this is what I'd hoped for.
One of these days, I'll manage some really sharp photos of flying Owls.

Pam's photo of it sitting down, taken through the windscreen using her Panasonic Bridge, is much better than any of mine when the bird was perched. 

A Pied Wagtail kept an eye on the proceedings.