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For previous years (2012-2019) see the links on the Whitlingham Bird List page.

Blakeney Point

26th April 2009

Earlier in the week, the weather forecast looked great for migrants at the weekend, so Gary had invited me & Adam along to walk the point. As the week wore on, the forecast looked less promising, but a few good birds on saturday still gave us a bit of hope. Starting at 5.30, we left Norwich and the local fox enjoying a meal at the bottom of our road. On the way we almost made a game casserole from: Pheasant, Woodpigeon, Guineafowl (running down the road near Edgefield), R-l Partridge and a Roe Deer (running down some streets on the outskirts of Holt).
Arriving at Cley, we decided to have a quick look around the village on the offchance the Red-rumped Swallow was still around. It wasn't. We did see my first Whitethroat of the year, and heard a distant Cuckoo. Further scanning near the mill proved fruitless, so we went on to the beach car park. The walk started well, taking two minutes to find our first Wheatear, and another two minutes for me to be sick of every bird being a Wheatear. A few Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits and a very reddish-brown Wren later and it had reached the stage where we were having to claim 'migrant' Woodpigeon and 'migrant' Dunnock to keep our spirits up.
The area around halfway house (halfway to where?) had 2 Yellow Wagtails, but little else...except Wheatears. The Marrams were quiet except a small army of Shelduck going through training exercises. A good number of Brent were in the channel, and the plantation held one Chiffchaff and one Willow Warbler. We waited at the Coastguards, where we were joined by Gary's friend Phil, but even with an extra pair of eyes we didn't add anything else.
On the way back a quick check at Salthouse failed to produce Spoonbill, and listening from a laybe at Salthouse Heath we didn't hear Nightingale.
Year list 181 species (+1 heard).

Whitlingham (14)

23rd April 2009

Having been at work all week I took advantage of a warm evening to get down to Whitlingham. The brood of 4 Egyptian Geese are all still alive and well, but the Mallard ducklings were down to 3! Walking round there were another two broods of Egyptian Geese (3 & 9), a brood of 4 Coot and a Moorhen nesting 6 feet up in a tree! The pair of Grey Wagtails were also around the Little Broad beach.

Moorhen in a tree. According to the guy I was talking to, the Moorhens have to climb up the branches rather than fly in to the nest!

The Great Broad was fairly quiet, 13 Sand Martins and a singing Lesser Whitethroat were the highlights. Scanning the old workings produced one Shelduck and around 30 Tufted Ducks. Again my timing was off (next day Sandwich and Little Terns seen), but the walk was pleasant and had a good chat with one of the locals.

Titchwell & Kelling

19th April 2009

After the previous days lack of birds, we took the train and Coasthopper to Titchwell. We quickly found the male Red-crested Pochard from the first hide, along with a few Grey Plover. The reserve was getting busy, so we went down to the beach, where a seawatch added Sandwich Tern and little else! A walk up to Choseley was almost made pointless as a couple walking the coastal footpath scared everything from the hedge and pad. Eventually the birds started coming back, a few Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings drinking from a puddle in the road. An unfamiliar call alerted us to a Lesser Whitethroat in the hedge.
Deciding to head for somewhere less crowded, we got off the bus at Kelling and walked down to the beach past the water meadows. Walking along Weybourne Camp I failed to see Wheatear for the umpteenth time this spring, but did manage to seem the Nordic Jackdaw, the first one I have recorded, although I can't say I've really been actively looking! As we reached the beach car park at Weybourne, a last scan for anything other than rabbits or Woodpigeons paid off as I picked up a distant Ring Ouzel. A stiff walk to the main road saw us get to the bus home with about a minute to spare!
As the trains are still 2 hourly, we spent an hour in Sheringham taking pictures of Turnstones and Black-headed Gulls. The beauty of digital cameras over film, is that I can delete all 122 pictures of the back of a Turnstone.

This gull caught my eye, mainly because of the yellow and black beak. I'm presuming it's a between-plumages Herring Gull, but if anyone wants to offer me anything rarer then please do!

Year list 178 species.

Strumpshaw & Buckenham

18th April 2009

Determined to make the most of my last few days before starting my new job, me & Adam got the bus to Brundall. We were walking towards Strumpshaw when we noticed a Grey Heron looking in a garden, which stabbed down and caught a rat! It was quite a struggle, with the rat getting free at one point, but it was quickly recaptured. A couple stopped their car and looked very excited. It was only when it emerged they thought they had seen a Crane that we understood why!

Strumpshaw was fairly quiet, a few butterflies and a male Blackcap were seen around Lackford Run. From the tower hide a large number of Shoveler and a few Pochard were as exciting as it got. Seeing Ferruginous Duck on the sightings board at the reception hide, I asked the volunteer warden when it had been seen, to which he replied early morning. By now Adam was at the window and had found it! Unfortunately it is ringed, blue or green depending on who you believe!

Buckenham had been largely emptied of Wigeon, but we did find a party of 5 Yellow Wagtails. A paler bird was presumably a female, but they flew off and we couldn't relocate them. A few waders and Sedge Warblers later we returned to Brundall and home, a nice day out but little reward.

Whitlingham (13)

17th April 2009

Dragging myself out of bed, I made my way down to Whitlingham about half-pace. Along the Little Broad a Lesser Redpoll was singing in the alders and giving good views. A singing Reed Warbler was only seen briefly, and took a call recording for me to be confident it wasn't sedge! I must find some way of learning bird calls properly. The Egyptian Goose fledgelings have all survived so far, and a brood of 8 Mallard chicks had joined them. Both broads were devoid of ducks (6 Tufted, 9 Gadwall), but thats not too surprising considering the amount of dogs running around off leads. I imagined the following conversation, although it probably happens regularly. "Shirley, does that Conservation Area, Dogs On Leads sign apply to us?" "Don't be daft Bobby, we own a goat" "Oh yeah hur hur, silly me"

I counted five singing Cetti's Warblers, and four Sedge Warblers (seeing my first of the year). Hearing dogs barking loudly, I looked across the river where police were talking to the owners of the houseboat with the out of control dogs on it. I wonder if people have complained about them? A scan of the new workings turned up the missing 100-odd Tufted Duck, along with four Shelduck. Still no sign of any LRP though.

Continuing round, a flock of 15ish House Martins, 2 Swallows and a Kestrel flew over, a Grey Wagtail flew along the shore and the pair of Black Swans were on the slipway. A Gadwall looked like it may have a few farmyard mallard genes in it. A Blackcap was eating insects out of Blackthorn flowers, and a couple stared at me for taking pictures of a Treecreeper that they obviously couldn't see. I came home and had one of my Scottish beers, Harviestoun's Black Engine Oil. Described as viscous, chocolatey and bitter. Oh yeah.

Species list 173 species.

Scotland Trip

12th-16th April 2009

A 12-hour coach journey marked the start of my long-awaited holiday to Scotland, staying at the loch-side town of Arrochar. On the way we stopped at Gretna Green, which to me seemed rather like Wroxham Barns only with every other shop selling shortbread. We had a chance to have a quick walk around Loch Long in the evening, where I picked out 3 Hooded Crows foraging on the strandline.
Day 2 began with a cruise on Loch Lomond. For such a large body of water, there were naff-all birds. Three pairs of Canada Geese, a few Mallard and an island of Lesser Black Backs was it from the boat. Driving round the edge a pair of Goosander at least hinted that there were birds, albeit hidden ones. It was a similar story at Loch Awe - birdless. In the evening a mountain-side walk was good for common small birds, until we reached a stream with a Grey Wagtail and two Dippers, which we watched bob up and down for a while.
Day 3 was my most anticipated day. Driving over the Rest And Be Thankful mountain pass, 2 Ravens made a welcome change from Buzzards. Along the side of a coastal loch we saw our first Eider, and an adult Yellow-Legged Gull before the ferry to Bute. Incidentally, the 3 minute crossing costs £88 per car or £174 per coach if you fancy going. Once you're there you can see the town of Rothesay, and Mount Stuart house. And that's it. It wasn't that bad, and in Rothesay harbour I found my first ever Black Guillemots. I couldn't believe how small they were, having presumed that they were the same size as Guillemots and being surprised to see a bird about the size of a pigeon!
Day 4 was a foggy trip to Edinburgh, with just enough time to have a look around Edinburgh Castle, and visit Royal Mile Whisky Shop, ironically because it's one of the best places to buy Real Ale in the city.
Day 5 and another 12-hour coach journey back to Norwich.
I'm glad to see not much has turned up in Norfolk whilst I've been on a (rare) excursion out of the county, although it looks like I've missed the chance of Brent Goose on my Whitlingham list!

Species list (including AGP/PGP) now 170 species.

Hickling and Potter

11th April 2009

Having the morning free, me & Adam got a lift to Potter Heigham to walk the back of Hickling Broad. We had fairly low expectations, but made a good start with a first Common Tern of the year fishing in the area around Swim Coots. We stopped for a while at the hide overlooking Rush Hills, finally finding a Little Stint along the back bank. A bonus was three Little Gulls, presumably stragglers from last weeks influx.

Further along the path, a rather surreal moment, when what I initially thought was a bulky-looking and rather dark Marsh Harrier turned out to be a Raven! Thinking it would be rainy, we hadn't bothered bringing decent cameras (typical) and after a minute or so it flew off. Most of the time I would have been stunned by the idea of a Raven in Norfolk, however one (presumably the same bird) was seen near Happisburgh the previous day, so I guess it was right place right time. We scanned regularly for the rest of the walk but never cought sight of it again.

We were hearing Sedge Warblers with increasing regularity, but failed to see any. better luck was had with our first Grasshopper Warbler, patience paying off with a brief flight view as it moved in an area of short trees. A second bird further round proved too elusive. We finished with chips at Potter Heigham, where I noticed a Rook flying overhead had an extended upper mandible, giving a Chough-like curved bill!

Year list now 164 species.

I'm now off to Scotland for a week, fingers crossed for some good birds!

Breydon Water

9th April 2009
An early morning trip to Breydon was almost scuppered before it started when I got to the station without my wallet. Fortunately I got hold of Cathy, who got there and lent me some money for the train! When I arrived there were only three birdwatchers there, the birds finder (Peter someone), Ben Lewis (looking for Bitterns if anyone from the RSPB reads this) and another helpful local birder. We watched the plover from around the corner adjacent to the railway line for an hour or so, gaining flight views when a couple of walkers flushed it. By this time another 10-15 birders had arrived. Views were split between Pacific, not sure and impossible to id, interestingly I didn't hear anyone put forward a good case for it being American, other than initial impression.
Being too tight to pay to access the ID paper from British Birds 2004 (and not hardcore enough to have had it in the first place!), my ideas are mostly based on the ID criteria from the Byrkjedal & Thompson book "Tundra Plovers" summarised below.
There are 10 field markings/criteria put forward that vary between juvenile or non-breeding American & Pacific Golden Plovers. As no-one has heard the bird call, that one is useless. Two refer to primary length (past tail and vs tertials), but as the bird appeared to me and several other birders to be in a state of partial moult, probably non-breeding to breeding, these are unsafe too.
This leaves:
1) Structure: PGP has a plump body and slender neck, AGP uniformly slender. From my observations when the bird stood to attention, I would say Pacific for structure.
2) Bill length: PGP has a bill backward projection past the eye, AGP to the eye. Ben's pictures prove the projection goes past the eye, so Pacific.
3) Tibia length: PGP has longer tibia, around the length of the bill or more, AGP has a tibia of half its bill length. From observation I think the tibia were definitely longer than half bill length, so Pacific.
4) Toe Projection: On AGP the toes either don't project or only do so fractionally, whilst on PGP most of the toes are visible. I couldnt see either way in flight, it was too quick, but again Ben's photos suggest toe projection, so with less certainty than the first 3, it suggests Pacific.
5) Back Colouration: PGP is yellow, AGP is pale yellow. Although the lighting plays a part here, the back definitely appeared golden to me. The book doesn't mention colour of the chest, which I have heard is suggestive of American on this bird because of the grey, but sticking to back, its another Pacific character.
6) Supercilium: AGP is broad and white, PGP less broad and yellowish. Whilst the supercilium did look off-white to me, it was very clear, so I don't think it convinces me either way. Tie.
7) Crown contrast with nape and face: PGP moderate, AGP very much. This is the only feature I think is in favour of American, because like the supercilium, I noticed a strong"capped" appearance. American.
So there we go. It should be noted I have no field experience of either species prior to this bird, and I am aware that they can be so similar that it is impossible to separate them, but I think there is a good case for it being a Pacific Golden Plover with a well-marked face! As the bill has been shown to be a good PGP feature, it would be interesting to see if any research papers can give a table of variation, i.e. is bill size reliable enough to clinch ID regardless?
I'm getting a bit bored of editing this post, so this is my final word! When I was there, I was reasonably happy it was Pacific, based partly on the fact that the short tertials could be related to moult, which was the right time period. More observers then concluded the bird wasn't in moult, and was a fairly straight-forward American. Since then, the bird has called and this seems to suggest/clinch Pacific, and notably repeat observers seem to favour Pacific still. I'm coming round to the idea that I'll find out the final ID decision in 2009s Bird & Mammal Report!
Read what people who have actually seen Lesser Golden Plovers before have to say here:
Also at Breydon was a Black Redstart, my second of the year, and I also saw a Yellow Wagtail from the train somewhere before Acle.

[Edit] Despite the characters mentioned here, it was evenutally decided that this bird was an American Golden Plover, and was accepted as such by the Norfolk Rarities Committee.

Whitlingham (12)

7th April 2009

Seeing how busy Whitlingham had been the day before, I planned an evening visit to avoid the crowds. Walking across Trowse Common a Kingfisher flew in a wide arc around the river. Some of the Tufted Ducks were already putting their heads into their wings, so I probably got there a bit late! There was a good range of ducks (no Garganey though); Pochard 6, Teal 2, Shoveler 4, Gadwall 12 and 140+ Tufted Ducks, along with a group of 5 Little Grebes. 5 Cetti's Warblers were singing, one of which we got a glimpse of. A lone Swallow flew over the east end of the broad. By the time we got to the far end, the sun was beginning to set. As we walked past the little Broad, four small bats (probably Pipistrelle) were hunting insects over our heads.

Whitlingham (11)

6th April 2009

Seeing that the country was being flooded by Little Gulls, I went down to Whitlingham in hope rather than expectation. As I'd suspected, the country park was full of families and dog-walkers, suffice to say no sign of any Little Gulls. As it was, 14 were reported from Colney GPs, so I wasn't far off. The day wasn't a complete failure, the first brood of Egyptian Geese chicks were on the Little Broad, and the 2 Black Swans were doing a brief courtship of head raising and bobbing. Further round I found a hybrid goose that me & Adam first saw last year. We think it's parentage is likely to be Lesser Whitefronted Goose x Barnacle Goose.

Around the back of the broad the Willow Warbler that started singing a week ago was still in the same group of trees, and back in Trowse a Kingfisher flew out of a buddleia and downriver. The next day I found to my despair that after I had left, a pair of Garganey were located that evening at Whitlingham by one of the punks. Darn it!

Upton & Horsey

5th April 2009

Me & Dad went out on the motorbike, starting at Upton for Grass Snakes. It took a whle to find the first one, but we ended up seeing 8, getting photos of one basking on the path. otherwise the reserve was quiet, 2 Marsh Harriers, a Barn Owl and a late flock of Fieldfare the best birds.

After lunch, we headed to Horsey to have another look at the seals. Despite the beach being quite busy, they didn't seem bothered by the people. Still no Wheatear for me, but four Swallows flew through going east. A number of Stonechats were along the path, and a flock of pipits at Waxham Holiday Park were too far away to ID.

Year list 157 species.

Thorpe Area

4th April 2009

A number of local sights visited, starting with Rosary Cemetery, where we saw two Nuthatches. Lion's Wood gave up another Nuthatch and a few Chiffchaffs. Carey's Meadow was quiet, give it another couple of weeks and it should be heaving with warblers. Finally we ended up at Thorpe Marshes, where I failed again to see any LRPs. Ample compensation was an Avocet, sitting on the shingle spit and occasionally being chased by gulls. This was the first one I've seen around Norwich, and a notable Whitlingham area tick.

This duck was smiling, isn't that nice?

Mousehold Heath

Feeling guilty for staying at home doing nothing, me & Cathy went to Mousehold Heath. Nothing out of the ordinary about, GS Woodpecker, Chiffchaff etc. Whilst I was there I got a call and offered a job! Hoorah. Two and a half months is quite enough unemployment for me! Three flyover Fieldfares were probably heading back north. We went to the Playhouse on the way home for a celebratory pint (Oak Grain).
In the evening I headed out again with Adam, walking the local stretch of the Wensum. Little about, three Chiffchaffs holding territories, and three Great Spotted Woodpeckers, including one in the middle of a park. I located them all by call, at this rate I'll be able to find everything like this in 60 years! We called in at the Fat Cat on the way back, which was absolutely packed. I had a pint of Wild Cat, then we wandered home.