Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Last Fine Day?

Tuesday January 27

North-easterly gales and blizzards are forecast from to-morrow - luckily we'd arranged a birding day with Sue for to-day. We haven't seen her since September, our illness and travels caused cancelled dates.

These days do not start early as she has to drive here from Burghapton. Sue's knee is bad at the moment so we didn't feel bad about car birding again. First stop was Felbrigg, as Sue hadn't seen Little Owl this year.  Very obliging, one was sat in its hole in the dead tree before flying to a tree protector and back again.

Two walking birders caused the finch flock in the lane leading to Abbey Farm to fly madly around. Sue managed to see a Brambling and Reed Bunting and lovely male Yellowhammers though. 
What? FOUR cars in Abbey Farm car park. We still went to the hide which only had three birders, looking for the Little Owl. As soon as Pam sat down in a chair she saw an owl, sat on a small branch viewable by looking through a 'window' above the nest box. The other three were delighted but had to move to see it. Another perched distantly on a tree protecting fence. After calling Mistle Thrush and Long-tailed Tit we left. 

The two women had an open bird book in front of them, we guessed they were beginners. Not just the book, we too had a book phase, from their delight at the birds we called. Good when that happens. Wish people would ask, few do.

It was already mid-day and, despite the high tide at Snettisham, I'd decided to give it a miss. However, Pam took the Sandringham road and it was too tempting to forego. It wasn't a high, high tide which meant plenty of mud on view. A good scattering of Dunlin, Redshank and Grey Plover, a swathe of Golden Plover, the biggest flock of Oystercatchers I've ever seen here, thousands of Knot clustered on the tide line Teal and Wigeon. Lovely. Four female and one male Goldeneye on the first pit, the most this winter.

I'd suggested that we lunch at Thornham harbour so as to have longer searching time for the Twite flock. We finished lunch, viewing a remarkably empty marsh, before parking in the top car park for a final look around. I walked to the bridge and did see a  flock of small birds too distant to ID. Ah well. No sooner had I sat in the car than the flock of Twite appeared, flying madly about in decreasing circles before landing in the top branches of a bare tree the other side of Thornham Bank. At last.

No way were we going to drive past Brancaster Staithe to-day. I tried to photograph in the low and weak sun with very limited success.
Most of the Dunlin were like this...

or being very active like this one.
As I took this photo of a thieving Turnstone, it took off.

No room to park at Burnham.... we drove on to Stiffkey Marsh. Too early for the main roost, we saw three Marsh Harriers and I scoped  a Merlin, which no-one else got on to. I always feel as though I've failed when that happens.

Hoping for a Black Brant, I unsuccessfully scoped the Brent flock in the Eye Field at Cley. Pam spotted a Stonechat using the fence as a drop off and return point. I scoped it and it was a delightful male. Very little light now so we drove home via Waitrose.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Brecks Day

Sunday January 25

 A weekend visit would ensure enough birders at Lynford Arboretum near Mundford to make the chances of finding ONE Hawfinch greater. Maybe. We stayed nearly two hours, enjoying the sunshine, the lovely trees and meeting friendly birders.

A view towards the entrance gate, Cornus Mas bed in the foreground, feeding station behind fence on the right.

Winter colour of a Mahonia sp
Most of the time was spent in the avenue feeding station area, leaving no ground leaf litter unseen. After an initial search, we walked to the bridge, lingering to watch Marsh Tit, one Reed Bunting and  a myriad Blue Tits on the overhanging feeders. Several Siskin fed in the Alders edging the stream. Apart from the feeder areas, there were no birds around - to quote the warden. The conifers near the entrance are usually very reliable sites for viewing Crossbills. Not to-day.
Back to lean on the fence in the avenue, gazing at leaf litter again. The feeders were virtually empty (black mark), two Nuthatches were able to access the 2 centimetre layer of nuts in one, Marsh Tit and Bullfinches also seen nearby.
Time to move on. As a local birder said, just the one bird by the end of the week was not going to be easily found in such a vast area. Bother, I don't know of any other reliable site in Norfolk. Gone are the days of easy sightings in Holkham Park, when one could just walk in and set up a scope on several in and under,  the trees near the gates.
Another disappointment. Browns near the roundabout started off as a roadside food stall selling excellent burgers, sausages and bacon baps. Always a forbidden treat on our annual visit. Now it's gradually developed into 'Browns cafe and restaurant'. They were still doing takeaways last year. Pam went in to enquire and was told by a woman - in a very superior tone - 'not on Sundays'. Boo. Diet intact.
We haven't walked to the Methwold Washes viewpoint at Lakenheath Fen RSPB for a year or two. We usually go directly along the railway line to the centre of the reserve. Entrance is now through the Centre only, taking a very winding path (the warden told me it was shorter than the straight path from the car park !) up to the bank and the washes viewpoint. Good, there was a seat. My back was not good by now. Immediately we saw the Great White Egret silhouetted against the reeds on the other side of the river - Norfolk. We were sat in Suffolk. The bird then flew to the east of the pool, so graceful in flight, long black legs stretched out behind. A nearby Little Egret was a useful size comparison. There were 3 Great Egrets here last year. A breeding possibility, to add to the Somerset success?
Another birder had bothered to carry his scope and called a Bittern walking through the sparse end of the reeds where the Egret had been, before disappearing into the thicker area. We were very grateful for the call. A single Whooper Swan was in the same area.
Back to the Centre for a welcome hot chocolate, drunk whilst watching the feeders from the comfort of an armchair. The usual suspects plus at least 6 Reed Buntings, the largest group I've seen for many a year.
Home to find that Robbie's heat-mat isn't. Stone cold. Back to his other heat mat.
I'm not asleep! He flopped right under my chin and I was trying to do a word game!
Pam took all the photos on this page, I didn't carry either camera. Our Hamamelis Mollis (witch-hazel) is at its best at the moment, a beacon of light in a drab winter garden.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Many Miles, 4 Year Ticks

Friday January 24

After dropping a casserole off at Kate's - she had a hip operation last Saturday and Jim doesn't cook - we drove to Sparham Pools near Lyng.

It's about the only reliable place we know of for wintering Goosander in Norfolk. We forgot about frozen water due to the present cold snap. Hearts sank. Such a beautiful sunny day too.  At least 6 Goosanders were distantly viewable, asleep in a patch of clear water against a far bank. Thank goodness for that.
No sign of the Great White Egret, as I had suspected. Reported 'at the far end',  we can't walk that far at the moment.
Next stop, Wells Harbour. Avid scanning did not produce either the Shag nor the Red-necked Grebe. After consulting another birder, we found the Shag - below us -  tucked in between some temporary pontoons and the harbour wall. He hadn't seen the Grebe either. It was a very low tide, maybe it had drifted towards the harbour mouth. As I got out to photograph the Shag, it rounded the pontoon and started diving in the centre of the channel.

Early for the roost at Stiffkey, we decided to have a look anyway. I quickly located a male Hen Harrier perched on a raised mound - through scoping to see what some other birders were looking at. Later, I re-found it flying near the derelict boat on the beach side of the track out to the sea. Excellent. Lovely birds and, this was a full adult male.
Having endured the painful speed bumps and then the deep and frequent potholes en route to Morston Quay, we were rewarded by good view of a Greenshank
Just in time. A woman plus FOUR dogs came down the mud bank to cross the ankle deep water - the labrador having first run through the creek to frighten off all the birds. Not even an attempt to stop it by the owner.
I love boats, water and mud, especially in sunshine. A true East Anglian adoptee. Weathered and rotting timbers make it even better.

Our third attempt to see the Purple Sandpipers seen on the rocks on Sheringham front, had the same result as the previous two. Nothing. Again, it was low tide. We've always walked to locate them in the past, but not in this cold.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Another Try

Monday January19

Late start again but, an hour earlier than last time. Pam had to call the AA out yesterday, rear offside, pancake flat tyre. Not a problem, the car was in the drive. Pam was not happy with our custard yellow, temporary spare  fitted!

 Our Mundesley garage mended the puncture whilst Pam waited, first thing this morning.
Halvergate Marsh beckoned, the leek and potato soup making will have to wait. Not the best of weather, watery sunlight low in the sky giving a hazy scope view directly into the light. Again, hundreds of birds, mostly Lapwing to-day. A Club member approached us to say that the Roughie had been perched on a gate earlier until a Quad bike riding shepherd had startled it off.
Gradually, the 'crowd' rose to about 10 birders. We decided to drive on and take the track out along Weavers Way again. 200 yards along the road, the juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard was perched, relatively near, on a gatepost. I persuaded a very reluctant and complaining Pam to stop on the single white line........As she slowed, the bird took off. No pics to-day. Good bin views for me. The juvenile's pale tail with banded end is very mucky looking compared with an adult.
Where next? We try to see winter birds in January, leaving resident species for later. After January 1st that is. Breydon South Wall was the chosen destination, south of the Rugby Club car park. We walked to the first gate, meeting four very pleasant male birders who greeted us with 'You're in for quite a walk girls'. That was for the Richards Pipit which was too far for us. Our aim was much nearer, the field near the farm barn.
By the time I reached the gate I had very little breath. I stopped there and set up my scope whilst Pam walked on a little way as we'd been told that the two birders near the farm were looking at the bird (s). I scanned assiduously, finding a pale lump - too still to be a bird. Pam and the men returned to tell me that there were two birds down in the field. I allowed the older man to commandeer my scope but it was the younger, Angus, who located a Short-eared Owl showing in the tallish grass. Taking my scope back, I found it for Pam who was lucky enough to see it fly - whilst I was blowing my nose. One of my favourite birds in a favoured family. 
We told the men about the Roughie and the older man said he was a Suffolk man and no way was he going to enter green and yellow territory. Very jovially. Breydon South Wall was in Suffolk until the boundaries were changed last century. Both Norfolk and Suffolk records include birds seen on South Wall !
Just as well there was very little wind. My face was numb.
Leaving the car park we met Peter A . We discussed our Shrike submission which I wanted withdrawn from the Club 'best bird of 1914' competition as it hasn't been ratified by the BBRC. Peter told me that the club rules are that it will be admissable anyway and a previous winner had had his entry declined as 'not proven' but kept the Cup. I don't agree with that rule and neither does Pete.
We all think that the Halvergate Roughie is probably the easiest of the winter influx into East Anglia.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Rough Dip

Thursday January 15

Leaving at mid-day turned out to be a bad idea. We spent over an hour scanning Halvergate Marshes for the Rough-legged Buzzard reported there.We saw Common Buzzard, Kestrel and Marsh Harriers. Frequently, the sky was full of thousands of birds milling about, a magnificent sight on such a lovely, sunny, winter's day. Pinkfeet, Lapwing, Starlings and Golden Plovers. I love the area.
Gratifyingly, no-one else saw the Roughie either, always a relief !
When we got home, my pager burst into life with news that the bird was seen at 12.15............
I haven't taken any photographs recently. I managed one, through a gate,  of the ever wary and skittish Fieldfare before they all flew off.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Dip Filled

Friday January 9

I needed to take a mal - functioning machine back to Staples in Great Yarmouth. We drove there via St Benets and back home via The Sealife Centre and Horsey. As you do....
Driving carefully down the uneven concrete slabs with eroded joins and holes which constitutes the track to St Benets car park, I noticed 8 Common Cranes flying towards Thurne Mills. Two peeled off and flew towards Upton Marsh, the others landing near the mills. 
Scoping from the car park, the flock very distant, my attempts to count them became a reason for hilarity. Tall reeds, ditches, bent over feeding Cranes and constant movement........maximum 17, minimum 14. I tried hard to find a Short-eared Owl but failed.
After Staples, the beach behind the Sealife Centre held 13 resting adult Mediterranean Gulls. Bob tells us that there's one at Walcott, last year's bird maybe. Not when we're there.
It was 3.30 when we reached Horsey straight where we were due to have Tunch - very late lunch, early for Tea - in the birders layby. Two more Cranes fed on a green bank to the east of the road.  Lovely.

Saturday January 10

The rain stopped and the howling, gusting wind eased a little. The sun even came out and the sky blued. Was it worth a seawatch although the wind was southwesterly and not the best?  I was hoping that Scotland's hurricane might have pushed something south.
Nothing at all off Walcott, apart from the magnificent sight of heaving whitecaps, crests blown back, crashing onto the sea wall.
Horsey Straight. Yes ! The pair of Cranes were in the identical spot. They WERE moving and not tethered.
The sea from Winterton Beach car park was even more spectacular, higher and more unevenly breaking whitecaps with deeper troughs. I counted about a dozen Gannets swooping distantly south in singles before ceasing. Cormorants and juvenile Herring and Black-backed Gulls fought the wind. Why do they bother trying to fly into the wind? Same goes for the Cormorants. Many of them gave the battle up and allowed the wind to take them south again. What a waste of energy.
A quick look at the large and well scattered Pinkfeet flock on the Hemsby Road until I found one of the Tundra Bean Geese before driving home to watch football.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Ahead of the Forecast Storm Bomb

Wednesday January 7

To-day's morning sun was watery and low in the sky, giving a soft focus edge to the scenery and trees. I love winter trees best of all, their bare branches allow a more expansive view, their shapes and form beautiful in themselves. But what about spring trees with their fattening buds followed by the so delicate and tenderly unfurling soft green leaves? And the colours of Autumn? It's the full blown blowsiness of dark, tired and dusty green late summer which I like the least.
Apart from Felbrigg and Cley, our day's plans were as amorphous as roosting Starlings. 
Yes ! A Little Owl was huddled in one of the holes in the favoured dead tree, viewable from Felbrigg car park. No winter thrushes though.
Parking in the field entrance at the start of Beach Road, Salthouse, to view the several hundred Brent Geese, it took a while to find the Black Brant. It must have been down in a dip on the first scans. Pam found it first.
It was very dark and gloomy by now - late morning - we still decided to make for Titchwell shop where we needed to buy a new tide timetable for the Wash. It was good to be out. Pam dashed in for those and then on to Thornham.  We didn't stay long but there was no sighting of  the reported Twite - again. Low tide too, so Snettisham was ruled out.
Apart from one car, we had Old Hunstanton beach car park to ourselves. Hundreds of waders on the beach, a few Knot amongst them. Too far for Pam to see using bins, though she managed the three Common Scoter which were even more distant. Shape, blackness and size make them much more discernible.
After lunch in Tesco's cafe, we tried the town beach where Pam caught up with Knot. I've never seen the tide as low here. so much mud with  scattered sand banks like islands in a silver sea.
Flitcham Village where the garden of the last house before Abbey Farm is usually worth a look. As we pulled in to the lane entrance opposite, a large flock of finches rose from the muddy and weed strewn area inside the field entrance. Many perched in the bare hedge, others soon returned to feed on the ground. One male Brambling was the highlight amongst the Greenfinches, Chaffinches and House Sparrows. I saw three Yellowhammers when we first arrived but never again. Pam didn't see them at all. A very active and restless flock, groups departing to roost all the time. We were hoping for Tree Sparrows but didn't see any in the rapidly fading daylight. No birds at all in the area behind the hay bales protecting a field entrance near the barns.
Abbey Farm record book had a report of two Rough-legged Buzzards earlier to-day. It was now raining as well as dimpsy, no chance of raptors in this. There was a large flock Of Pink-feet at the back of the filed with a small number of thrushes hopping through the tussocks, Redwing amongst them. Suddenly all the birds, apart from the geese, took off, two workmen walking through the field the other side of the pond. Cue to leave.
Where the path to the hide fencing ends, Pam found a Treecreeper making its syncopated way up a small tree trunk. Lovely. Common birds according to the books but, always a joy to me as I seldom see them. We don't spend much time in woodland
High winds and rain are forecast for to-morrow, the so called weather bomb. All these new and dramatic terms to describe weather. I rather like them really.
I have now sent in my final Isabelline Shrike record submission to the County. If passed, it will then go on to the BBRC for ratification - or rejection. Oh for a photograph. Fingers crossed.

First Time Dip

Sunday January 4
Very frosty, our car, parked on the north facing side of the house was thickly encrusted. Several squirts of anti- freeze and vigorous scraping later, we could see well enough to drive off. 
No Swans at Ingham but a sizeable herd at Catfield on the Ludham road. We didn't stop as the lane is narrow. We did on the way home, having found a small pull off. Over a 100, a quarter of them Whoopers, the rest Bewicks, with a pleasing scattering of juveniles.
On to Ludham Marshes and St Benets car park. More arctic swans were visible on the western side, three parked cars of birders viewing them. Later.....
Expectant and confident, I quickly binned the usual area between the mills at Cranes. Ever hopeful, Pam turned the car so that I could scope the marsh from my seat. Still no Cranes, just three Chinese Water Deer.
Hearing a voice, there was Pauline, Peter setting up his scope. The swans are all Bewicks. As we chatted and I scoped intermittently, P called a Peregrine sitting on a very distant gate post beneath a bare bush. Scope views were good enough, my photos using my Canon 200SX rubbish. The bush was in sharp focus.
Home to watch Man U beat Yeovil 2-0 away, in the FA Cup 3rd round. I only relax - relatively - when a second goal goes in. Pam says that she doesn't want to watch with both P and I !

Friday, 2 January 2015

Wild Goose Chase

Friday January 2

As has become accustomary, Buckenham Marshes to catch the Taiga Bean Geese before their departure north was the aim of the day.
We drove via Ingham and - yes - the Bewick and Whooper Swans were still at the far end of their roadside field.
Where was the Pinks flock with several Tundra Bean Geese at Repps?  We couldn't see any and the road has white lines with nowhere to park.
On to Buckenham. Driving over the level crossing at Strumpshaw, down the lane and past the station, a car driving towards us stopped, the window rolled down and there was Brenda F - in an unfamiliar car. We exchanged birding info, B stating that she hadn't done very well yesterday and had seen all the expected geese here. 
I scoped my way down the track before stopping at the padlocked gate near the fisherman's car park to scope the marsh from a better angle.
Assiduous scanning added White-fronted, 2 Taiga Bean and a small flock of feral Barnacle Geese to the year total. Pam spotted the latter through a gap in the gate.
Waiting for the gates to open at the crossing, a Marsh Tit made its way along the roof of an unoccupied cottage. Near the riding stables, a Mistle Thrush flew into an enshrouded tree and fed on its ivy berries.
Approaching Repps on the way home, we saw a large flock of Pinks join others in a very undulating harvested sugar beet field. Where could we stop? After driving on and then returning to turn again, we found a spot where the road was wide enough. Oh dear. There were thousands of geese, more flocks whiffling in to join them as we watched. And the sun was low and setting fast. 
Trying a different lane giving a better view of the hollows - but into the sun - I scoped again and managed to identify one of the Orange-legged Tundra Bean Geese. Full house for the day.


Thursday January 1

What a dismal day. Dry but grey overcast with poor light. Not much wind to start off and then a very strong westerly by early afternoon.
We must remember not to set off too early next year. We left soon after 6.30 but it wasn't light enough to peer for birds until an hour later. Sunrise was at 8.07 when it was still very dull with poor light. We ate breakfast in a field entrance watching hares - same as last year - waiting for more light.
A Blackbird showed under North Walsham street lights as the first bird of 2015, the second, a Barn Owl near Fakenham, much better. Valley Farm Lane added Song Thrush and Grey Partridge, the lanes and hedgerows en route to Abbey Farm adding many of the commoner passerines including a pair of Yellowhammers.
Approaching West Newton, our first raptor, a lazily flapping Buzzard, changed perch.
We knew that the tide was at its nadir at Snettisham but thought that it was a better destination than Titchwell on Jan 1st, mecca for both birders and the Chelsea set. Goldeneye at the caravan site pit and on the reserve itself was a good start. Tufted Duck on the first pit at the very furthest reach were discernible through a scope.  I couldn't see yesterday's reported female Long-tailed Duck.
The miles of mud was scattered with hundreds of waders and duck. A flock of over a 100 Pintail was notable, a large, well scattered flock of Golden Plover, a few Grey Plover, hundreds of Teal, Dunlin, Shelduck and Wigeon, a scattering of both Bar and Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank. Curlew with one Lesser Black-backed Gull. A lone Canada Goose popped its head up from a creek and was the only one we saw all day.
I'm sure that there were thousands of Knot along the very distant shoreline, none that were identifiable for sure through my scope so they didn't go on the list. Snettisham without seeing Knot? Remarkable. Not even any smoke-like flying shapes along the water.
Seeing a Black-necked Grebe from the Causeway, we returned to the Rotary Hide for a better view. There was also a dirty cream juvenile Glaucous Gull on the far beach. Two good sightings.
Hunstanton Beach added Sanderling and Oystercatchers, Fulmar from the cliffs. Holme in an increasingly strong wind which made a swollen flap in the Broadwater Hide bang constantly and annoyingly. That curtailed our visit.  A beautiful male Marsh Harrier and our only Shoveller were the highllights. The NOA hide is badly maintained, dirty and in need of repair.
A general meander along the coast adding the odd species here and there. Incredible that we had to wait until Stiffkey for the first Little Egret. 
J and D had texted news of a wintering Greenshank at Morston. Not that we could find it, the area was very crowded with boat trippers on the way to see Blakeney Point's record number of seal pups.With the final addition of Avocet and Carrion Crow at Cley and Rooks near North Walsham, our total was a respectable 76. 
I didn't see a Robin..........
Man U drew again, away to Stoke, 3rd place looks the best outcome. Man City plough on and we watched Chelsea lose 3-5 to Spurs, very good match to watch. 
Jim texted during the day to say that Kate had a sickness + bug so to-night's meal was cancelled. We enjoyed just loafing and watching TV.