Saturday, 22 February 2014


A beautiful day, almost a feel of spring in the air. Got down to Maple Lodge just after 7.15 with bird song all around and the trees just starting to show green.
The floods of the last few weeks seem to have subsided somewhat and the path down to Teal hide is now a path not a stream....
Not too much around on Lynster's field this week, even without the wildfowlers but I did pick up 3 grey wagtails, or possibly 4, coming off our lake and flying over towards Lynsters. I've been after grey wagtails for the last couple of weeks as i needed them for my year list, which is now up to 152!!
I then hot-footed round to Rotunda, as the sun was shining bright and water rails and Cetti's warblers are being seen regularly from there. I only had to wait about a minute for the Cetti's to burst into song, and about 5 minutes for a water rail to come out onto the marshy area and start feeding. Over the next 30 minutes or so both were regularly in view (and song/call) together with a reed bunting on the bird table and a green woodpecker on the grassy area.
I managed to get a quite nice sequence of shots of the water rail despite it being a bit skulky and mainly staying in the shady area.

Photos of the Cetti's were, as ever, more problematical as it rarely showed well or for very long, but i think patience and a slightly longer lens than 300mm could get something worth keeping.

 Finally, later i the morning the geese popped back to Lynsters' along with the mini-goose, the lesser Canada or cackling goose. This shot shows the marked size difference between the two species...

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Norwegian blue?

Blimey! A day without rain or gale force winds predicted. Not even a "is your journey really necessary" message from big brother. So, with a couple of days leave still to use up by end of the month I set off before dawn for Norfolk. Two targets - Richards pipit and parrot crossbill. I've already dipped on the pipit, which would be a lifer, and it always has the phrase of "elusive" added to sightings which is never good.
I was in Norfolk as dawn was breaking, and when I was near Welney I spotted about a hundred swans in a field. Location and time of year caused a sudden braking and turning off into a field. Even with the bins I could see they had yellow not red bills so the 'scope came out. This means they are not our normal mute swans but the birds who migrate every winter from northern climes. Welney acts as a magnet for them. They were mainly whoopers but I got at least 2 pairs of Bewicks in with them as well.
Carrying on with the good start I saw two barn owls hunting the verges. Their population has really suffered over the last few years and whereas I would normally almost guarantee seeing them, even in Norfolk they are good birds to see. I also picked up a small covey of red-legged partridge in a field near Fakenham.
So, first main stop was Kelling for the Richards pipit. It has been there for a couple of months but ranges widely. Over about 90 minutes I got meadow pipits but nothing else. No other birders on site to help so I gave up. Annoyingly it was seen later on, but about half a mile away from where I was looking anyway!
Next stop was at Holt, or more precisely Edgefield, for the parrot crossbills. This is one of the flocks which, along with their 2-barred cousins, have invaded this winter. Crossbills as a family do what they say on the tin - their bill is crossed allowing them to pick seeds out of pine cones. The parrot crossbills are told mainly by their enormous, thick bills compared to our residents. This was much easier than the pipit. About 8 birders were already on site with 'scopes all pointing at the same tree. The flock numbered about 15 and were mainly at great range (500 yards??). Even at this range you could see the size of their conks!!  Eventually they did fly down to a nearby pond to have drink, which they did on average every hour, allowing me to grab a few digiscoped shots.

 You should be able to see the large beak.On reviewing the photos I also picked out a common crossbill.
Last stop was Holme dunes. A short walk along the beach delivered a nice, if mobile, flock of about 35 or 40 snow buntings.
Other than that, pretty quiet. Usual waders and gulls, brent and pink-footed geese, marsh harriers. Moves me up to 148 for the year  (or 150 if you count ruddy shelduck, which 400club does, and the slightly dodgy cackling goose at maple Lodge!!) and back up to 17th place.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Bluetail bonanza

Lifers take precedence over all others and I've learnt from bitter experience (green heron among others) that waiting for weather/ a more convenient day means the bird clears off. So, the report of a red-flanked bluetail in Gloucestershire meant a day-off at the earliest possible opportunity. Wednesday was dreadful weather but today had a window in the morning when it was at least not chucking it down.
A not too bad start of 6am got me to the Gloucestershire countryside near Marshfield by about 8. Although you always worry about finding the right spot from the instructions, about 15 cars parked on a small country lane gives the game away. Only about 10 minutes walk down a very muddy field led me to a herd (gaggle?) of birders all studying a bush. I got straight on to the bird.
RFBT's, as it will now be known, are normally in Finland in the Summer and migrate to Asia in the Winter, so this is the wrong side of the country and the wrong time of year. Most records are autumnal on the East coast. We normally get a couple or so sightings a year in the UK. This had led to speculation that this may have been either around here or at least in the UK since it tried to migrate and got lost in the Autumn. Also, it may stay around till the urge to migrate in the Spring.
Anyway, this is a bird that really does what it says on the tin. The size and habit of a robin, it has red flanks rather than a red-breast and a very attractive blue tail which it shows off by flicking incessantly. The photos, which were all at range and in very poor light, show off the main features.

They also show what it was doing most of the time - flitting from hawthorn bushes to the ground to get worms and then taking them back to the tree to eat them. Generally it was pretty confiding and came as close as 6 feet at one point giving great views if not ones that were easy to capture. 
I stayed with the bird for about 30 minutes before moving off. The weather was closing on so the only other bird i managed to get was a pair of ruddy shelducks, which are not tickable on BOU rules, only on 400 club, but are great birds to see.

Takes me up to 141 on the year-list and 327 (400club)/ 319 (bou) on my UK life-lists.