Wednesday, 13 February 2019

North Norfolk meanderings

We seem to be set for a period of warm weather coming up. Perhaps not Spring per se but certainly something to get nature revved up for it. When I set out very early for Norfolk it didn't seem like that though. It was still pretty chilly and slightly foggy. By the time I got to Cley just after 7.30 it was very grey. There was a slight hint of a sunrise trying to break thorough the low mist but my first coffee of the day was very welcome.

The reason I was here was to try and connect with a glaucous gull. This has been resident for a few weeks now feasting on one of the seal carcasses on the beach.

This was about halfway between the shelter and the north end of the east bank. I parked up in the East bank carpark and walk down the bank to the beach. I got a year-tick as I was walking as a party of bearded tits flew off, pinging as they went. The marsh was alive with calls as birds woke up and the flocks of geese flew around.

I eventually found the seal and scanned out over the nearby beach and pools. There were lots of ducks including a large flock of my favourite duck, the pintail. Must have been over 50 of them. Within a very few minutes I got onto a small party of gulls having a wash and brush-up!

One of them stood out immediately, with its overall creamy colouration and lack of any large black highlights. This was the juvenile glaucous gull.

I watched if for about 90 minutes as other birders arrived as well. We were all hoping it would finish its ablutions and come up to the beach and feed.

Although it was very instructive in giving us a good view of the wing patterns of juvenile glaucous gulls and their comparison to other large gulls it did not seem hungry. Even after all the other gulls had flown off it just carried on mooching around and preening itself. I did get a nice view of a marsh harrier hunting the pool near it but even that didn't persuade it to move on.

With other targets to try and see I finally gave up and moved off along the coast. Next stop was at Thornham harbour for the twite. These small finches are a regular here and are very reliable, normally lurking around the car park area. This time they were ridiculously easy, as four other birders already had them located. Even better, within a couple of minutes they all flew up and the whole flock of 13 birds sat on the same post for us to see and count them.

They are often confused with, and fly around with, linnets. You can tell them apart though by the light-coloured stumpy beak. One of them has a coloured ring which I'm sure means something to someone! On the way out I had a bonus bird. I saw a car pulled over to the verge and someone looking into what I though was an empty field. On close inspection though I saw a light shape on the fence line - a barn owl sitting out in the sunshine (yes, the weather had cleared up quite nicely!!).

I did nip into Titchwell after this. Although it was good, as ever, most birds were quite distant feeding on the marshes. I did get one more year tick with a lone eider mooching about miles out off the coast. I then doubled back down the coast to Sculthope Moor. This small reserve just outside Fakenham isn't a place I often go to. It has been reporting both mealy and lesser redpolls coming to the feeders though. I paid my donation to get in and found the local warden. He pointed me to the feeding site and within no more than a minute I had both redpoll and siskin. One redpoll was even in breeding plumage with a beautiful red breast.
 The next challenge though was to separate the two redpoll species, only recently split into two. The common, or mealy redpoll, is actually the less common bird here, most of the are the lesser redpoll.

There are two distinct characteristics which you can use, both of which are shown above. The mealy are larger and are much greyer in their plumage. As you can see, the left-hand bird is much colder in its plumage compared to the warmer, browner tones on the right. Not a prize winning photo but quite instructive nevertheless. There were also marsh tits and treecreepers in the surrounding area. As a last stop I went back to Cley hoping to catch the glaucous gull in some better light. It was nowhere to be seen but the flock of snow bindings were showing well on the shingle.

Another really good day with 6 year ticks in the bag. The journey home was a trek as an accident had closed the A505 causing a large diversion down country lanes but it only slightly took the gloss off it. Up to 173 for the year now, way better than any previous year. Still hoping for 180 by end of Feb but I'm running out of "easy" birds to get now!!!!

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Ducking and diving

After the long day out yesterday I got up late with no plans to do any birding. I did a few tasks around the house and garden and was just settling down to a cuppa when I saw the phone blink. A ferruginous duck in Essex. We had noted it yesterday but I had forgotten about it. These are becoming controversial birds now. Historically they have been rare migrants to the country.  Now there is a release scheme in Germany and many are also being released or escaping over here. So, the first thing anyone does when one appears is to check its legs for rings. This one, from photos, was seen to be fully unringed. This meant it was not from Germany and had a better provenance. This swung it for me so I altered my plans. I threw my gear into the car and drove round the M25 to Lee Valley Park, only 30 miles away.
These old excavation are now a large wetland area, good for bitterns and winter wildfowl. I've not been before though, so I wasn't sure of where to go. Fortunately as I arrived some other birders were setting off from the car park. Not only that, they were the same ones we had met yesterday at Frampton - the two Jims and Brian Anderson.
It took us about 10 minutes to walk to where the duck had been seen. When we got there it wasn't showing though. With a bit of searching it was tracked down to a scrubby island where it was lurking in the overhanging branches. You could just about make it out, a rusty brown body and a white bum. We chose place that looked good and camped out hoping it would show. It kept diving in the mangroves but refused to come out. Finally though it dived and came out into the open water.

It is a very handsome beast. The russet colours showed really well as does its white iris. That especially gives is a very comical look. I stayed with it for a couple of hours but it never came out again. Indeed for a long time it totally disappeared to, I presume, have a bit of a kip.
Its did give me the chance to have aloe at some of the other residents - grebes, coots, herons and goosanders.

Not a long trip but a satisfying one. Good to meet up with the Andersons again. You meet so many people on facebook/ twitter that its nice to realise they are real people!!!! Still looking for that first year tick though!!!!

Roaming around

Yesterday was a group outing with LGRE and two of his regular birding buddies. We met up early doors with a full days birding planned. First stop was to be at Frampton Marsh for the long-staying long-billed dowitcher. This is almost certainly the same bird which has been roaming the country for a few years now. If so, I have seen it in Kent and also at Frampton before Xmas. It is now over 170 days since it arrived there.
The journey up was pretty misty but as we approached the reserve it cleared and we thought we could be in for a good day. As we arrived though the mist rolled back over the marsh and we were in a right pea-souper. Another birder we bumped into as we got out the car told up that no more than 20 minutes before it was crystal clear and he had seen harriers and merlins over the marsh. Now you could barely see the hundreds of brent geese no more than 50 yards away!! With visibility almost nil we hung around gossiping in the visitor centre for an hour till we gave it another go. The mist had lifted slightly but it was not ideal. We split up and tried to cover different viewpoints but very few birds were in sight. Geoff, who I was with, finally got a call form LGRE - he had found the dowitcher as it flew into the area he was watching. We yomped down and indeed there it was - a dim shape in the mist.

Dowitchers should be in the USA so this one is now a proper immigrant not a migrant. It is a medium-sized wader, with a very long bill which it was using to probe vigorously in the mud for worms.

Appalling photos but you should be able to see the eye-stripe as well. Not much else around but we did bump into 3 other birders who we got onto it straight away, saving them a lot of time. It turned out I knew them "virtually", the Andersons, with Brian and his blog being to the fore!!!
With a busy itinerary we packed up the gear and headed off for our next stop. This was to Deeping Lakes for the LEO's. The weather wasn't much better and visibility not great but we saw 3 owls roosting on the usual island. What was better were the large number of goosanders on the river next to the road by the reserve. I think we had over 20! No time to rest though and we set off again to Thorney Toll for an over-wintering rough-legged buzzard. This is a different one to the Holme Fen one I've already seen. With a bit of creative navigation from Lee we got to the travellers site from where you could scan the flat farmland. Another birder put us onto where it had been seen and shortly we saw both it and a hen harrier quartering the fields (I dipper the hen harrier). Both were at great distance though!!
No rest so off we went again back to almost where I was brought up. The Crab and Winkle pub in Werrington has been hosting two waxwings for last few days. My dad used to have the occasional pint there as it was only 10 minutes walk from the house. I needed no sat nav to find this one. The birds were present but just sat up in a tree not feeding in the increasing gloom of the late afternoon.
I thought that was it for the day, but Lee had one more treat for us. A hooded crow has been in residence at Ferry Meadows Park on the outskirts of Peterborough all winter. Lee gave it no more than 1% chance of getting it though!! We got to the car park and located the meadow where it is normally seen. It looked good with quite a few crows around but all were common carrion crows. We scanned them all and as dusk started to fall we saw they were gathering in trees to roost. Finally we thought we had the hooded crow, showing paler in flight than its friends. We walked round to where the roost was and found it finally, sitting high up in a tree. That was it for the day. A good if tiring expedition. We set out with 5 targets and got them all together with a few other nice bonuses as well. Two more year ticks including hooded crow which saves a a trip to Scotland!!!

Friday, 1 February 2019

Hare today...

I don't only go out and photo birds. Although they can be quite tricky in the UK to get close to, furry instead of feathered beasties can make for lovely subjects. With Winter still well and truly with us, and a light covering of snow on the ground I didn't want to go too far away from home. My initial reason for a trip was to get another year tick. Corn buntings are increasingly rare in our countryside but breed and over-winter in good numbers in the arable fields around Wallingford. When I got there you could see the fields were very snowy but there was a lot of wildlife around. There were a lot of winter thrushes, especially fieldfares and decent numbers of corn buntings was well. What I noticed though were the hares. In virtually every field you could see 2, 3 or more hares either feeding or starting to chase each other. I decided to give up on looking for good views of the birds and focus on the hares instead.
The fields are large and open so you can't exactly creep up on anything as it can see you coming from miles off. I tried to keep to the fields edges and use the available hedgerows which allowed me to get pretty good views of some of the hares.

It must be pretty hard being a hare in these conditions. They don't have burrows to go into so have to tough it out. Their food, what there is of it, is frozen and hidden under the snow. You could certainly see they were trying very hard to feed up before the evening came on.
A few of the beasties moved between the fields and one was certainly quite surprised when it came through a hedge line and found me standing there. It diverted its path pretty quick and scampered off at speed. Just like gazelles "spronking" they do little jumps presumably to show predators how fit they are.

Others were a bit more chilled out and sat still watching me as I blundered though the snow. Eventually they would give up and amble away!

After an hour or so though they started to disappear. The reason was that a shoot had started up a few fields way. There are incredibly large numbers of partridge around and this would be their targets. Not only was there the introduced red-legged but quite a few of our native grey partridge as well.
I think this could be worth another visit. Pick a frosty morning, get there early and even take out my portable hide. They should be getting into boxing soon.
Oh, I did get another year tick earlier at Barnes WWT, a bittern. See if you can spot it!!!