Sunday, 25 April 2021

Getting Ready

 Sunday, April 25

Tenderstem seedlings and newly sprouted peppers now potted on into pots big enough for almost a month's growth whilst we are away. Sturdy Cucumber plants also in the ground in the lean-to greenhouse. I'd planned all my planting on the well-founded assumption that we would be unable to travel. Andrea will see to the watering whilst we are away.

Not knowing that we were able to go to the Hebrides until about ten days ago, there has been a lot of re-organising to do. The Highlands week already cancelled, the route has changed. England's Travelodges closed to non essential travellers until May 17 meant a direct drive to Scotland. A long day's drive for two octogenarians. Pam decided that taking our time and making regular stops would make it possible. I ended up making it a three night journey up, we can bird as we go - nothing new there. Our first stop will be at Gretna Green, as near to the border as is possible. The second at Dunbarton, a mere 90 miles. The final night, before crossing to the Isle of Mull, is at Corran Ferry, north of Oban. Convenient for the ferry, only seven miles from Fort William and the large supermarket where we can stock up for the week. 

New rules for the cottage too. We have to take our own bed linen, kitchen linen, and towels, to Burn Cottage on Mull. All islands ask for a lateral flow Covid test to be taken three days before, and a second one one day before travel. As mentioned in my last post.That's two lots for us. The second batch of tests has arrived, I was only allowed one at a time.. 

The hotel on Skye where we need to stay after leaving Mull, and before the ferry to North Uist, had not kept our booking. I found another Hotel - all B and Bs are still closed.The ferry from Uig is also booked, tickets to be collected on the day. Phew.

So, late afternoon, after the Man U match, we went birding. To Hickling NWT Reserve where, on production of a Blue Badge, one can drive to Whiteslea Lodge. Very little about on a dull, cool day. Willow Warblers the main songsters, Marsh Harriers busying about.  On the return journey, a cloud of Hirundine appeared. Mostly Swallows and Sand Martins with at least one House Martin. I saw one of the latter at West Runton, Pam didn't. Pam got out to climb the bank for a better view, returning quickly to point out a male Yellow Wagtail on top of a tree stump. Lovely. We then drove to Stubb Mill where we had very good views of a flying Common Crane. At last.

Pam has been keeping a record of garden birds. There have been no Brambling for the last three days. 

My Gentian sink looks great at the moment. They haven't much enjoyed the overnight frost and low temperature. but look fine from a distance. One of my very favourite flowers. This particular species is supposedly an Autumn flowering variety, all the plants derived from a single pot bought from Inshriach Alpine Nursery in the Highlands.


Friday, 23 April 2021

Migrant Catch-up

 Wednesday, April 21

Mid afternoon is not the optimum time to visit Barton Broad, that's what we did though. Using my Rollator, I walked out to the viewing platform along a wire netting covered boardwalk.through wet Alder carr. A couple of small patches of Slime Mould, a juvenile bracket fungus, and our first Willow Warbler of the year.The Alder catkins looked lovely, I should have photographed them.

Sitting on the viewing platform is a real penance in a northerly wind. We only managed about ten minutes, during which we saw distant Great Crested Grebes, Sand Martins and the odd Swallow skimming the far water, three Common Terns fishing near the reed bed. The birds are always rather far away here, I used my telescope which I transport laid across Rolly's seat. The bag takes my camera and 1-400 lens comfortably, better when when it isn't zoomed.

On the return trundle, the sun appeared, and immediately there was more bird song. At least three Willow Warblers, Wren, Dunnock, Blackbird and Blue Tit.

Pam had noticed a newly mown meadow in the last mile or so before the reserve disabled car park. On the return journey, Pam called a Mistle Thrush there as I called Ring Ouzel. Yes, it was definitely a two bird moment. The Ouzel was a female. No sooner had I pointed my lens than she flew off into the wood. We had to move on as it's a narrow one car lane and traffic arrived. We turned round, there was the Mistle - and a male Ring Ouzel. I took a few 'proof it was there' shots before we had to move on again.


Only the Thrush remained on our third passing.

Thursday April 22

There was a moth-ing session at Cley this morning. Due to Covid restrictions, only six people could be present, Pam and I volunteered to give it a miss. We shall be in Scotland for the next four sessions. Instead, we went to Titchwell. I haven't walked there for more than eighteen months.We aproached via Choseley, seeing our first Common Whitethroats, zipping about in the hedge, singing as they chased, never still.

A Kestrel led us a merry dance along the road. I have become a little obsessed with taking a decent photo of one. This is the best so far, keep trying.


The Fishermen's car park, which we have used for over thirty years, saving at least a hundred metres of walking, is ever more difficult. Soil tipped at the far end turning area, overgrown bushes and 'road' churned up by large machinery. I think it was a fifteen point turn.

Blackcaps sang as we set off towards the beach. The path looks flat. In actuality it has loose stones on a dusty grey surface which sends judders up my arms the whole time, some parts worse than others. My Rollator is not a cross country machine, they are too heavy to lift in and out of the car. What I need is some new, bigger and softer, wheels. Having complained, it  did make it possible for me to walk as far as the freshwater pool, making use of all the seats available. These became magically vacated as we approached. Was it Rolly?

More Willow , three Cetti's, and a few Sedge Warblers sang their delight and ''keep off my space'', songs. Bearded Tits pinged low in the reeds, a distant Bittern boomed.

At one stop. we were hailed by a couple who had attended Cley Moths last year, when they lived in Worcestershire. They now live in Snettisham. Both had been to look at the moths on the Visitor Centre wall near an outside light. Pam did so when she went to the shop for a hot drink, Early Tooth-stripe, Brindled Beauty and some I forget .True to my reputation, I would never have recognised this very pleasant couple. Probably not next time either.

The freshwater pool was full of water. We managed to see four Sandwich Terns hunkered down on a mud bank, head tucked under wing, before the slow walk back.

Our hot drinks were enjoyed at Brancaster Staithe, watching an inrushing tide, and the efforts by the owner of a Pelican dinghy to  launch the boat, and then, to  battle the currents, the sail flapping out of control. He had to use his outboard in the end. Very entertaining. A few Turnstone, Redshank and Oystercatchers were the only waders we saw.

North Point brought me a very welcome year tick - we didn't see one at all last year.  What a daft bogey bird when they are so common. A Common Snipe. At last.

A thoroughly enjoyable day out, although tiring on unfit legs with very dodgy knees.

We got home to find that our free pack of seven Covid lateral testing kits had arrived. I discovered on Tuesday that the Scottish Islands have asked for tests to be taken three days, and another, one day, before entry. The result has to be logged on the NHS website. As we are visiting two islands, we need two lots of tests. I sent for ours, they are available from major pharmacies.


Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Back at NS

Tuesday, April 20

Not many moths again in the Natural Surroundings traps, on a cloudless, warm, late spring morning. Very misty overnight, burnt off soon after dawn. Twelve of  us were present, we outnumbered the moths. The highlight was three Pammene Giganteana, Early Oak Piercer, pheromone lured by Andy, there at NS, into a hanging trap.

Pam's photo


After a hot drink and the usual enjoyable sociable chat, Pam and I went on to Morston. The tide was well in, the first of the seal watching boats' passengers returning to the far mooring spots. We did a quick turn around, parking on a small rise behind the cafe, overlooking the creek, marsh, and  the field where the target bird had been seen. We waited and watched, a Buzzard perched on a post and then a tree, Song Thrush, Blackbirds, Starlings, and Jackdaws in the field. Brent Geese grazing on the marsh and two fly-by Swallows.

Another birder arrived, setting up his scope below us in a hedge gap. Pam joined him. He hadn't seen the bird either, she returned to the car. A few minutes later, he beckoned and we drove over. The handsome male Ring Ouzel had appeared out of the hedge lining the seaward edge of he field. Cue some shutter clicking. 


Despite all our entreaties, it never did come any closer.

We thanked the helpful birder, and drove to Cley Beach car park. No sight nor sound of the Sedge Warbler we saw last Thursday - nor of any other migrant. Maybe West Runton would be more productive.

As we could produce an NENBC membership card, the car park fee was only £1. We parked behind the hut so that I could look at the sea. Ian and Sue soon joined us. We'd made contact as we drove in. They'd walked, but the reputed Black and a Common Redstart plus a Common Whitethroat were nowhere to be seen. Whilst we chatted, a constant small scattering of hirundine flew through. Mainly Sand Martins with a few Swallows, and probably at least one House Martin. Both Sue and I thought that we had seen one. Better views wanted. A lone Fulmar was the only seabird of interest, a female Wheatear popping up on the edge of the cliff in front of us, was a delight.


Sunday, 18 April 2021

Garden Update

Sunday, April 18 

 Our splendid tomato plants are now in their permanent home, the lean-to greenhouse. My aim always is to have them in situ before our annual Scottish trip as they are easier to water, and to care for. 


 The pots placed beside them direct the water straight to the roots.


I'm keeping the cucumber plants cossetted in the propogator at night, a little longer.


One is not encouraged to grow tomatoes and cues together as  the former inhibit the success of the latter. I've not found this to be a problem so will continue. The cues are planted out of direct sunlight, against the white painted back wall.

The alpine bed has dainty Narcissus bulbocodium, Hoop Petticoat, in bloom, a much increased group.


and this delightful white flower I bought from a rather good alpine plant nursery near Inverness.The marker has disappeared so I don't know its name.


The latest miniature tulip to flower forms a much smaller clump than last year, I must have removed some of the bulbs when I re-made that area of the bed last year. 


Watching Prince Phillip's funeral yesterday, I was captivated by the  Last Post etc beautifully played by the military brass bandsmen - although the instruments were silver. Dad played Euphonium in the Ystradgynlais Silver Band when they were in the top class with bands such as Foden Motors, Black Dyke Mills and Manchester CWS.  I sometimes accompanied him to rehearsals, sitting on the step beside him, reading a book. We once joined him on a trip to the Albert Hall for the annual National Championships. Manchester was another venue we attended. Most of the bands had Ystradgynlais old boys playing for them, lured by a better job out of the coal mine. One of the other conductors was a son of the Ystradgynlais band's leader.

All I remember about the London trip was seeing the Crazy Gang and Tommy Trinder at the Palladium (Aunt got the tickets),and being shown around the Kensington home of the then Speaker of the House of Commons. Dad's oldest sister, Aunt Ann, was his housekeeper. He had stuffed birds in cases lining the staircase. I remember a Tawny Owl.

Manchester was notable for going to watch a Doris Day movie - Move Over Darling - in a very plush cinema where an organ appeared from the floor to play a medley before the curtains opened. A real treat for a little Welsh girl.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Permit Renewal

Tuesday, April 13 

At last. Natural Surroundings was permitted to open its doors to visitors again. Our first moth-ing session of the year did not promise well. The temperature went down to freezing overnight - again - the ground was frost-white this morning. Unsure as to exactly where the traps were to be opened to-day, I believe that the Herb Garden is down the grassy slope below the Pavilion, I stayed in the car. The slope can be slippery. The path down from the car park is also hazardous for the unsure of knee.

I could see that there was a good turnout busying themselves fetching the traps etc. I sat and caught up on some magazine reading, listening to Blackcap song on a beautiful sunny morning.

Mike was the first to appear, coming over for a welcome chat, good to see people again. Pam then returned, accompanied by Val, another pleasant catch-up. Although one keeps in touch by text, email and phone, it's really good to talk face to face again.

Only three moths in the two traps, a paucity, as we all suspected. 

We decided not to stay for coffee as we'd planned a visit to Titchwell, to renew our long overdue permit to drive down at Snettisham RSPB. We then had a chiropodist appointment in Sheringham at 2.00,  the time available was truncated.

Driving west along the coast road was novel, we always drive west inland and return via the coast. A good decision. As we approached Wells, Pam called a large raptor flying almost overhead. The road was straight, we were able to stop safely. Now it came into my view. A White-tailed Eagle using the thermals to climb, its immense, broad, finger-feathered wings majestic, silhouetted against a blue sky. Accompanied by the usual coterie of shepherding raptors, Buzzards on this occasion, dwarfed by their target. They all disappeared.

Armed with the old permit and my Blue Badge, getting a new permit at Titchwell was straightforward - after the long one way system taking Pam around the whole shop. Good sales ploy. More Blackcap song whilst I waited. The toilets are cordoned off, two portaloos in the corner of the car park replacing them. Covid distancing I suppose.

As we drove into Brancaster Staithe, it was obvious that there had been a high tide. The brick-red, summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwits, probing the wet banks,  had soft-mud encrusted legs and beaks.  


On to the rise for lunch. A winter plumaged Grey Plover, a couple of Curlew, Turnstones, Redshanks and Oystercatchers kept us amused. As did the groups of Brent Geese rising from the distant marsh. One landed on nearer mud,. leaving only its footprints behind - like all good naturalists.


We now have a much improved view from the Meals House road gate. Hedges have been cleared, enabling a panoramic view of the marsh, and the Cormorant and Spoonbill nesting trees. We saw several Spoonbills, a Grey Heron, Red Kites, Marsh Harrier, Egyptian Geese and a herd of Belted Galloway. Retrospectively, we missed the five Cranes seen along the coast, including over Holkham.

Morston's resident Turkey was in full display mode, tail fanned to its extreme, neck arched, wattle and comb bright red and engorged, strutting his stuff. The female looked totally disinterested. 

Inspecting the brackish pool on the west of the far car park, Pam noticed a partially hidden wader, which obligingly climbed the bank into distant view. Our first Whimbrel of the year. Very well camouflaged.


One of the wintering Greenshank fed at the southern end of the creek.

Time to endure the 6-8 weekly toenail cutting before driving home for a welcome cuppa.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

No White Tail

Saturday, April 10 


Maybe it was worth another go, after a distant speck at Cley and a dip at Horsey  This is definitely in my top five favourite birds, and my favourite UK raptor. Pallas's Sea Eagle, my most wanted raptor, seems like a distant dream now, impossible to achieve.

A twenty five minute drive, scanning the sky as we went, we arrived at Horsey Mill. The layby was full, the four cars present's occupants all looking west. We stopped further along, and could see nothing. 

As we passed on the return journey, one of the cars took off at speed. We followed - this has paid off in the past, daft though it sounds. He swung into the Horsey Corner car park track where a small group of birders were looking through scopes. We stopped just before all the no parking bollards to scan the field to the south. The juvenile White-tailed Eagle, one of the Isle of Wight release birds, was sat on the ground at least 400 metres away.

A birder we know as a member of Great Yarmouth Bird Club, told us that it was a bird new to East Anglia, according to Roy Dennis, Number G466 (if my memory serves me correctly). We sat and watched it for about ten minutes before it did a short flight, resuming its position, just gazing about, being buzzed by Magpies. 

It took off again, this time rising slowly before flying strongly away, the massive yellow beak very obvious, even at this distance, its lack of a white tail indicative of its lack of years.  


I am not proud of these photos, but pleased I got anything, hand holding a 400mm lens looking past Pam and out of the driver's open window. Into the sun and very distant too. Do these sound like excuses? They are.