Saturday, 27 February 2016

Free Day At Last

Friday February 26

A late start with nebulous intent, apart from setting off towards the north coast. Valley Farm added Tree Sparrow and Marsh Tit before a stop on the back road to Abbey Farm to view the one foot high, dry and grey, stalk covered field - apparently empty. The field behind it was densely covered with Gulls and Lapwings, the gulls behaving very aggressively towards the plovers. Suddenly a few hundred finches erupted out of the stalks, swirled about, some heading off over our heads, others landing again. About twenty stayed perched on the top of the stalks, all of them handsome Brambling in varying degrees of moult. One near full plumaged male posed in the hedge, thin twigs across it preventing photography. Linnets, Tree Sparrows and Chaffinches made up the smallest percentage of the flock.
Both Little Owls were visible in the fallen Oak tree which is their Abbey Farm home. Best viewed from a gateway but still distant. Find the birds....

A single Fieldfare and a Redwing did not give each other any peace. I think the bigger Fieldfare was the main culprit, forcing re-location every few minutes. Although they were close to each other, it was only possible to get one of the birds in focus.

Still no Golden Pheasant for us, traffic and walkers doesn't help.
A tide timetable check showed that high tide was over four hours previously. We still drove to our beloved Snettisham, where the water's edge was scarcely visible through the scope. Two Goldeneye remained on the pits, plus a pair of Pochard which was a year's first here. Our very first was yesterday, on Wroxham Broad on the way home from lunch with friends at Salhouse garden Centre - the second day running there. The thirty Avocets looked newly painted in their Tudor half timbered black and white garb.

Eating our Tesco bought bacon roll on Hunstanton cliff top, we saw two Red-breasted Merganser fly through - and the largest, most extensively exposed sandbanks we've ever viewed in the Wash.

Wells harbour had six Little Grebes floating about. So tempting to photograph them, with disappointing results in the late golden light  - which I find difficult to edit.

I'm thinking of specialising in disappearing birds ......

A Hen Harrier  flying over the road east of Stiffkey was the only other notable sighting. Plenty of luminous Yellowhammers at Choseley, still no Corn Bunting for us but a lone Grey Partridge.
The sunset was spectacular as we drove home. So was the news of a Willow Warbler in Norfolk to-day, the earliest since records began. Roll on Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and Terns.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

What To Do?

Saturday February 20

Go birding of course...... 
But where on a half term Saturday ?  Horsey and Winterton beach via North Walsham to take my laptop in to be mended. It has stopped charging but, the problem is the socket not the connecting lead which I had suspected when I decided to take the whole machine in.

Eccles area

Male Sparrowhawk.

Raptor layby, south of Horsey Mill

Golden Plover, Lapwings, 2 Marsh Harriers, a few Pink-footed Geese. A Peregrine flew across the road as we set off towards Somerton.

Winterton Beach

In no more than 20 minutes,  which is how long it took me to get cold and wet scoping outside. 4 Common Scoter, 12+ Red-throated Divers, 1 Great Northern Diver, 3 Gannets and a few Cormorants.

Flooded fields north and west of West Somerton

60+ Golden Plover, 100+ lapwing, 10 Dunlin, 1 Ring-tail Harrier, 1 Marsh Harrier, 3 Ruff, 13 Snipe. Fancy having to wait this long to add the last two to the year list.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

After Coffee and a Chat

Tuesday February 16

The moth group continues to meet on Tuesdays at Natural Surroundings - just the moths missing, traps not put out yet. The group present varies but it's always a very pleasant couple of hours. 
Such a beautiful day. - C temperatures overnight produced a heavy frost, another Disneyland winter landscape, some of the trees in the sun thawing into diamond sparkled  twigs. We saw 4 cars in the ditch at Bodham, two each side of the road. An eight car  accident at Thorpe Market too. We saw the police notice as we passed through, explaining the suddenly heavy stream of traffic which had driven towards us earlier. Although the roads were mostly dry, remaining puddles crunched and splintered as cars drove through.
Too lovely a day to go home. Morston was a throng of visitors, many taking boats out to the seals. Lucky. A Greenshank flew from out of sight on the marsh to land on the creek mud away from the people. 
Parking on the verge near a Holkham gated entrance, I walked to a gap in order to scope the marsh. Despite thorough scanning of all white blobs, I only found White-fronted Geese for the month list. Re-scanning from the left, a shout from Pam, still in the car, alerted me to a Great White Egret  flying towards Meals House, long black legs and feet stretched aero-dynamically behind, before dropping out of sight in a far field behind a hedge. Lucky. Well done Pam. It must have been down a ditch.
The pager had reported a Spoonbill at Burnham Overy. We drove to the Staithe first, as two Red-breasted Mergansers flew down the creek. Nothing else - apart from Redshanks that is.
Parking on a field verge just before the mill, I scoped the distant marsh. We were again lucky as the Spoonbill only showed for a short while before disappearing out of sight down a channel.
Choseley was to be the last birding stop. Surprise. No cars at all in the parking area beyond the barns which is a favourite viewing spot for raptor watching.
As soon as we stopped, I saw raptors rise from above the conifer belts. Scope in position, the Common Buzzards ( we saw 6 to-day) drifted away, leaving  a couple of circling birds over the two bare deciduous trees on the right of the biggest belt. Both were the wintering juvenile Rough-legged Buzzards, which have been present since last November. Two European birders drew up and were equally pleased, Dutch at a guess, from their excellent and only slightly accented English.
Green = month birds
Red = Year birds
 A lovely and, very successful, half day.

Twitter Alert

Sunday February 14

I hadn't planned any birding to-day - weekend, Valentine's Day, sunny and a gale blowing. Until... David N re-posted a tweet stating that there was a seabird passage going on. Sheringham front ?  Let's try Walcott and Mundesley first, which could be en route.
The front at Walcott was packed. We stopped long enough to see a cloud of Kittiwakes flying south and the odd Gannet. Promising. The seabirds at Walcott, being round the corner from Sheringham, are rather distant, maybe Mundesley would be better.
Parking on the clifftop rough ground, behind the large and empty hotel, can be like riding a ship in a storm. The wind was from directly behind us to-day, no buffeting at all, bliss. Being so high means that one can see down into the seething and deeply-rollered sea, although the passing birds were still rather distant. Too distant to accurately identify the procession of groups of Auks flying through. I suspect that they were nearly all Guillemots, the closer birds certainly were. Still a few Gannets, the constant stream of Kittiwakes, seven Red-throated Divers and a close first year Little Gull were added before my hands became too cold to continue focusing the scope out of my window. No more than an hour's watching had brought some very satisfactory results.
Sooty Shearwater and a Bonxie had been seen off Sheringham, other birders were very sceptical about the Shearwater.......some of our men friends often are if they haven't been present. Cynical......

Saturday, 13 February 2016


Friday February 12

Arriving in Cockley Cley at mid-day, as the sun appeared, seemed to be ideal. One of the birders present approached as soon as we stopped, probably expecting a question as to what they were watching. Two old girls with white hair! Stereoptype.
Smiling pleasantly, I asked if a Goshawk had been seen. Wrong answer, the one we all dread. Yes, about five minutes ago. 
As always, bad parking by the drivers of the four cars present - only to stand their scopes in the only empty space. Pam drove off to return and park rather awkwardly for scoping from the car. A neck-cricking position but, the best she could do under the circumstances. As reported, the thermals produced by the sun (we left home in brilliant sunshine only to find cloud and very wet roads in places as we drove west),  had encouraged a double figures of Buzzards to rise from cover. 
I had a view of a very white underside raptor, which was probably a Goshawk, before a lengthy scoping found a smaller bird swaying on top of a pine tree. Goshawk. I will admit that Sparrowhawk was my first thought but consulting the book clarified that the latter do not perch on top of trees ! Neither do they show the longer head and crucifix shape as they glide away - as this one did. 
No sight nor sound  of any Woodlarks which was disappointing, Lapwings, Starlings, Wood Pigeons galore, a singing Skylark  and a storm of Corvids from the neighbouring pig field the only other birds seen.  

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Swans and Cranes

Friday February 5

A no hwyl (energy/desire/motivation) day for me. The mooted trip to Titchwell aborted, we drove to Ludham Airfield and then, Ludham Marshes, after lunch.
The airfield swans were a little nearer this time, in two separate groups,  Whoopers to the north, Bewicks on the south. I counted the Whoopers. At least 47 with seven young whose bodies were already white with juvenile grey necks and heads.

Two Whoopers, two Bewicks at the back - should have used the Bridge camera for better depth of field
Adult Whooper
A Bewick family
Bewick family, parent in the lead
The 'road' out to St Benets Abbey gets worse.  The concrete slabs are cracked and becoming ever more worn in between the sections. The sides are also crumbling, not helped by the regular tractor and occasional heavy lorry passage. The drive in is therefore careful and slow. At one pause I saw two Common Cranes very distantly between two bushes. On reaching the car park, they had disappeared but re-appeared before we left. They then took flight when three more appeared from the left. A breeding pair seeing off territory rivals?
Thurne, with its windmills, is over half a mile across the marsh but I tried a photo of the three flying birds with my 300mm lens - without the 1.4 extender. 

A lovely warm biscuit-coloured Barn Owl appeared in the same area.

Down to counting the amazing number of Cormorants flying to roost in skeins of up to 40, over a 100 in a quarter of an hour, a Peregrine was the last bird for the day.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Honing Long Lane

Thursday February 4

On the way home from Pam's final, and totally satisfactory, Consultant appointment re her right hip replacement. Unfortunately he wants to see her in a year's time as the left hip, replaced 12 years ago, may be in need of replacement. Good really, as she's in the system.

Half way along Honing Long Lane we saw a small group of Red Deer in a field on the right. Pam turned the car and tried to find a gap in the hedge. No luck until we got to a muddy lane where there WAS a sizeable gap. I managed  a couple of photos of the four young males before a lorry indicating right pulled in close behind us. Pam thought it needed to go down the lane so drove off. Nooooo.......... he wanted to look at the deer too. After turning again, we saw him drive off, the deer had gone.
Variable horn sizes


Tuesday, 2 February 2016

What About Henry?

Monday February 1

Eight hours of good daylight and 78 species seen from the car. No, our legs are not atrophied. We walked at Sculthorpe Mill where we added nothing in a howling wind - all the small birds were taking shelter somewhere - and we walked to Abbey Hide at Flitcham. The walk at Hunstanton Tesco was for practical purposes.
Back to birds. It was a slow start, having to work hard to see anything. I saw Tree Sparrow on a bird table off Valley Farm Lane, it did not return for Pam. Driving along the back lane to Abbey Farm, an enormous flock of Finches kept rising from stubble fields, scattering madly along the hedges, flying helter skelter away and repeating their actions, We'd heard that the flock held Brambling and Tree Sparrows as well as the ubiquitous Chaffinches.  We tried very hard but, definite identity was not possible in the 200+ birds present. Still a dozen or so birders present, wandering the lanes. Room for one car at the hide, we sat in the hide for about 20 minutes before another mob arrived and we gave them room. Our first 2016 Gadwall was the reward.
Back to the lane and the decision made to go back to the polytunnel area, where there is room to park and, to look into a stubble field for the finches. They were still disappearing into the high stubble and I was concentrating on finding them when Pam said  'Raptor in the green field'. Said green field is at the back of the stubble field and the ringtail was sporadically showing above the hedge. We both had good Binoc views of the juvenile Pallid Harrier which has been wintering in the area. Jammy. 

On to Snettisham via  a fruitless couple of circuits of the Wolferton Triangle. No Golden Pheasant for us.
A low tide was coming in at the Wash, all the waders we expect, including Knot, apart from Sanderling, scattered densely across the mud. At least two thousand Golden Plover, massed in a line, were a spectacular sight when they took flight. Very little on the pits to-day, a pair of Goldeneye the highlight along with the delightful Little Grebes. It wasn't until we were almost upon it and it took off that we noticed a Peregrine with prey sat beside the track. That would have been a good photo opportunity.
Lunch with Fulmar and Rock Doves on Hunstanton Cliffs, admiring the aerodynamic shapes the gulls morphed into to cope with the strongly gusting wind along the clifftop. The sea was empty.
So was Thornham. No cars, no people, few birds. Until we saw a Little Egret hunched in the lee of a bank.
A disappointment at Wells, the quay was fenced off, we couldn't enter and look for the Shag. I tried from the road where we had to keep moving. The roadworks taking place only allowed one way traffic and the parked cars were another hazard.
We were both lucky to see the upper part of a Barn Owl sticking up from the top of a roadside hedge.
Gun Hill parking layby allowed me to scope the marshes, finding a few White-fronted Geese amongst the Pink-feet, Greylag and Brent.
We didn't spend long at Choseley as the parking spaces down the hill were occupied by birders looking for a Rough-legged Buzzard. On to Brancaster Staithe where we had a snack with the Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwits, 

Dunlin and the mussel men hard at work. At last, the Red-necked Grebe drifted fast down the channel on the outgoing tide. We spent about 20 minutes in its presence, as it drifted away then fought the tide to come back again. It really wasn't far away, I should have got better photographs, especially as the sun came out. Much too grainy (1.4 x still on) and an odd colour.

Re-posted photographs, maybe a better colour......

Carl C turned up too, he looks much better since his operation.
Stiffkey looked lovely in the fading evening sun. We added Merlin and a ringtail Hen Harrier here. 
Still - barely - enough light at Cley to scope Pat's Pool from the Centre car park, adding Shoveller, Avocet and Lesser Black-backed Gull before Bernard (Warden !!) drove his Land Rover around the scrapes, parking in front of Daukes, sending all the birds to North Pool.
Somewhere we added Marsh Harrier and Buzzard to the day's list making it eight species of raptor. We saw 5 Kestrels - which I haven't mentioned.
Lovely, despite the edges of storm Henry and its devastating wind which has caused much disruption in Scotland and northern England.
How did we miss Common Gull?