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.