Tuesday, 13 May 2014

If i tell you i have to shoot you

I keep looking at my life list and seeing what are the obvious targets to go for. Montagu's Harrier is near the top of the "birds seen by other people but not me" list. I had it on my list from years ago, but I've taken it off as I don't really think I could have told a Montagu's from a hen harrier then.
They do breed in Norfolk though, and have been reported this year, so I thought a quick trip up could be in order to go for them. Only problem was, I had only a vague idea of where they are. Monty's are the rarest  breeding raptor in the UK and as such even mentioning having seen one is frowned upon. Disclosing where is a total no-no. A trawl of the internet got me to Downham Market, but no closer. So, with more hope than expectation I just downloaded a map and decided to drive around and see.
With a very silly early start I stopped firstly at Wolferton to try for the Golden Pheasants that are there. I really do think they are mythical. I have tried sitting in the car, driving around, playing calls, walking around. Nothing, not a glimpse of a feather. Still, I did pick up tree pipits on the heath.
Next stop was on to Burnham Market for the Monty's. Now, for obvious reasons I am going to play the game and be coy about "where". After driving around a lot and stopping to look at what looked like obvious spots I finally identified the "usual spot" by the normal method - looking for the blokes with 'scopes. Although the area looked perfect, and on talking to the locals already there, it was where they bred last year, so far this year no sign. At least no repeat sightings. Apparently they need a combination of the correct height of crop at the correct time so can move where they might nest to find those. It was clear though that there was nothing so far this year, but at least I know where to go in future. If anyone does want directions then please get directly in touch, otherwise, no clues!!

So, I moved on to go and have a look at Titchwell. It was a lovely day by now, and the reserve was, as ever, busy with family parties. The birding was a bit mixed. Most of the birds you would expect to be there were present - both godwits, grey plover, lrp, knot, avocets, common terns, warblers. One year tick was got in the shape of common sandpiper and a pair of little terns behaved well on the freshmarsh.

Next stop was to go to Cley for the Temmincks stints which had been around for a few days. These tiny waders are the rarer cousins of the little stints we also get here, and are best told, as a family anyway, by their size. Even compare to dunlin they look small. In the field they can be difficult to tell from little stint, but they have pale legs rather than dark and white outer tail feathers rather than dark. The patterning on the back is quite distinctive of little stint as well. Temminck's sort of look like a miniature common sandpiper. When I got there, two were showing reasonably well on Pat's pool from the hide. It is amazing down there the number of bird photographers who don't recognise the birds. Two with large 500mm lenses were taking flight shots of mallards but id'd a common sandpiper as "the stint". When the stints did appear they didn't bother taking a photo. Takes all sorts I suppose. Not much else around in addition to what I had got at Titchwell.

A couple of blokes in the hide did mention that Kelling Heath was good for turtle doves, so that was my last stop.
Kelling heath was larger than I remembered and two things were against me. It was now about 3.30/ 4 and getting hot. The chance of the doves calling was low and the site was large. I walked around for 30 minutes, with lots of whitethroats rattling in the bushes. A few pigeons flying about got my interest up but nothing definite. I was doing nothing much when from behind a clump of trees I heard a strong Yorkshire accent say "overhead, going right". I looked up and saw a buffy shape with black wing bars flying past and landing in a tree about 50 yards away. It only stayed for a minute or so, long enough though to get a few record shots. Turtle doves are now incredibly rare, compared to even a few years ago. Sites where they used to breed are now deserted. Accepted wisdom is that "unless something is done" it will only be a few years before they go the way of the red-backed shrike and lose their breeding status. What the "it" is may be less clear but many are killed on migration every year, as Chris Packham has highlighted recently. 

I thanked the other birders, two of whom I had previously met at both the Monty's site and Cley, and called it a day with 4 new year ticks, taking me to 206 on BOU or  210 vs 400 club rules.

One last thing which was very pleasing was the number of hares I saw throughout the day. The crops were low enough for them to be seen, mainly just eating away. One local was saying they are so common around there that they are shot and eaten. Seems a shame as I do love seeing them.