Saturday, 19 March 2016

Lapping it up

 I had a day off for birding. This time I managed to get some company in the shape of Dave Simms from Maple Lodge. We've been out quite a few times but not managed a trip recently.
There were no lifers on offer for me, but there was one for Dave. Lapland buntings are apparently his real bogey bird, having missed them multiple times over the years. In fact, he thinks they don't really exist. A party of up to 8 have overwintering at Blakeney so that was that, decision made.
Dave came round to me about 6 and by 8.40 we were parking up in a rather dank and dreary Blakeney car park. On the upside, as soon as I checked my phone RBA showed 6 were already showing by the seawall.
After a quick coffee and a pork pie (balanced breakfast!) we strode off into the misty drizzle. Quite quickly we met 6 birders coming in the opposite direction who confirmed the presence and location. We then had one of those awkward moments. Another birder stopped us and didn't just again confirm what we were after but seemed determined for a chat. I could feel Dave itching to get away but we were a bit too British and polite so we listened to his stories of barn owls and twite before bidding him a brusque farewell.
We could see one birder still there and a small group of birds feeding on seeds on the ground. Someone had nicely been baiting them in with a bit of grain! Immediately we made out a female lapland bunting in the group! Handshakes all round and the pressure was off.
We did manage to annoy the other birder there though, as our congratulations may have been a tad too loud and the whole party of birds flew off! He did turn round and pointedly went "shhhhh" to us.
Slightly guiltily we slunk up to the gate where the birds were feeding and settled down.
There was no need to worry though. There were at least 6 lapland buntings together with reed buntings and skylarks coming to the food put down.
Lap buntings are similar to our commoner reed bunting in size and shape and the females can be tricky to tell apart but the males here, in almost full breeding plumage were very smart.

These are of the male. You can see the gorgeous russet markings on his neck and back and the almost complete black collar. He was even bursting into song occasionally from this perch, although it would be a major shock if they stayed to breed!!

The females also have the russety colouration of the males, but it is much more subdued. They also have a very distinct facial pattern which helps tell them apart from female reed buntings.
We stayed for about 45 minutes as the crowds started to gather before moving on to see what else we could find.
As it is getting a bit late in the year, the winter geese were really thinned out. We saw no pink-feet at all and only a few brent geese. What was nice though was this flock of white-fronted geese near Holkham. With these geese you are looking for two characteristics - the black-barring on the side of their bellies and that white blaze on top of their bills. We estimated there were about 100 or more in this flock.
Eventually we ended up at Titchwell, which is pretty much compulsory for a birding trip. This is closer  to Hunstanton on the coast and is one of the RSPB's premier bird reserves. As such it is also very busy!
It too was pretty quiet on the bird front. Most of the usual suspects were there but not in great numbers.

This black-tailed godwit performed well right  by the path, drilling the mud for worms. There were also some of it's smaller cousins the bar-tailed godwits around, but there were not as obliging.

You can tell them apart in flight by their tail patterns (barred or solid black) or when on the ground by the bill shape. The black-tails have a larger, straighter bill whereas the bar-taileds have a smaller bill with a slight up curve at the end.
Other highlights were the tiny dunlin whisking around on the salt marsh

The avocets were starting to pair up though still spent a lot of time feeding in the shallows.
A little egret was stirring up the mud as well as it fed by the path.

Grey plovers were also present in quite large numbers.

and on the beach there was this confiding turnstone.

Finally we stopped by the visitor centre to have look at the bird feeders where 6 bramblings were coming in to feed. These are like chaffinches with brighter colours, especially this stunning male.

So slightly weary but very happy we finally wended our way back home just in time to see England stuff France in the rugby. Not a bad day all round and made very pleasant with the excellent company of Dave.