Friday, 17 November 2017

Wading through mud

This has been a very strange Autumn. With my new 3 days a week at work regime I was hoping to really get close to 300 for my year list. After a strong September, October and now November have been really tough. The weather systems have been totally against dropping anything rare in from the continent and the lack of easterly winds has meant sea watching has been awful. Consequently my list has almost stalled. The mid 260's which is not bad but not were I wanted to be mid September.
So, more in hope the expectation, I headed off to Norfolk this morning. There had been strong northerly winds last night which might have resulted in some displaced auks, skuas or shearwaters relocating back up the North sea past Cley beach. At least, that was the theory.

Unfortunately the weather was gorgeous. The weather system had moved through early doors resulting in a flat calm sea and despite an overnight frost, pleasant temperatures. Trouble was, there were no birds! Nothing, or almost nothing was moving past. Over 3 hours, and in the company of a birder, Jerry, who has retired up to Norfolk from Croxley Green, we saw a few divers and scoter but nothing else. A seal kept us marginally amused but it moved on as well.

On the beach we did get a small flock of snow buntings fly past but they didn't top. Stonechats and goldfinches were pottering about on the edge but otherwise the land was as quiet as the sea.

I gave up about 10.30 and via stopping at our favourite farm shop for essential supplies (fish and pheasants) I just headed to Titchwell to see what was going on there. Despite being packed out with visitors as usual there was not much else on the rare front to be had there either. It is always a good place for getting close to the commoner birds so I headed to the beach where it was low tide.

At Titchwell this means opening up large areas of prime feeding grounds for waders and it didn't disappoint with lots of birds feeding on he mussel beds. I pretty much got the whole set of the common waders you would expect.

There were very good numbers of turnstones, which are also the easiest to get close to as they focus on prising up juicy morsels from the mud.

On the small size, dunlins were present but not in large numbers, and now in their plain winter plumage without the black belly of Summer, and a few ringed plovers were skittering around looking for small crustacea.

Going up in size, and from top to bottom, I also had knot, in good number but spread out, redshank, mainly on the marshes other than the beach, and a very few grey plover.

Ever present on the coast around here, oystercatchers seemed more intent on getting their plumage into good condition than feeding. They were very vocal though if I ever got too close to them!

Both godwits were also going over the mussel beds in search of lunch. Its gave a good chance to compare and contrast them in Winter plumage. The top two photos are black-tailed godwits - larger, straight bills and a plain plumage. Bottom two are the smarter, in my eyes anyway, bar-tailed godwits. Smaller, slightly upcurved bill,  and a more mottled plumage.

Finally, and our largest wader, is the Eurasian curlew, with its giant down curved bill. I think there were more on the mussel beds than I've see before, which is good as they are actually becoming a red listed species in the UK due to a decline in their numbers. Being large, they were also a bit easier to get in flight as they moved around.

Finally, a bird you would not have seen even a few years ago there are a couple of little egrets joining in the low tide fun.

A nice day, and sometimes good to take time to look at the common stuff rather than chasing the rares. Still, would be nice to get a few good birds before the year is out!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Pretty great

Last Sunday I got a phone call late in the afternoon from Paul Lewis at Maple Lodge. We had a rare bird present, a great white egret. This is a first for the reserve and no more than 5 years ago would have created quite a stir, if not nationally, then at least locally. Over the past few years though they have colonised the south of England, with breeding colonies in double figures now being seen in the Somerset levels. Still, a nice bird but a stinking cold and work got in the way so I couldn't get down there till this morning. It had been showing every day from Long Hedge hide so I was hopeful it would still be there.
I got into the hide about 8, with nobody else around. There were lots of gulls and ducks mooching around and at first I couldn't see the egret. Then after a minute or so I spotted a large white shape emerging from a patch of reeds on the far side of the lake. Unmistakeable from its size, clearly a GWE!

That is it roughly in the middle of the picture, a slightly larger white blob. It was some distance away and even with my big lens and a converter on it was still small in the frame. Still, the light was gradually getting better and it would be out in the sun if it ever came out.
Soon Keith Pursall the chairperson of the reserve joined me and we spent a very pleasant 90 minutes watching it as it fed and squabbled with other residents.

The gulls were very interested in it, trying to steal anything it caught and perhaps looking for small fry, disturbed as it wandered along the muddy edge.

There seemed at times to be a stand off between it and the resident grey heron. They never really squabbled but they would do a strange parallel walk, like two red deer stags seeing who was the strongest.
What it was mainly interested in though was getting some breakfast in the form of small fish. It was reasonably successful and, as well as some small ones which we couldn't see it did catch at least two decent sized fish whilst we were watching it.

Disappointingly it never seemed to want to move away from the far bank and come any closer though. It did fly around a short distance but only to get to another fishing spot close by or more lily to get away from its rival the heron.

We spent most of the time watching its antics, but theref were a few other stars around, especially the shovelers and teal which are coming nicely out of their eclipse plumage.

Wonder how long it will hang around. With the water levels at the lodge dropping for some unknown reason the fishing should get easier and easier for it.