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Birds & Beer Tour 2009

30th August 2009

In honour of our combined love for birds, and beer, myself, Gary & Adam decided to do a bank holiday trip combining the pubs and birding habitat of North Norfolk. Gary's wife Claire came with us to Titchwell via Choseley (not a bunting in sight) to ensure we started the day with a few birds. Titchwell was relatively poor, the resident Eider,a Bar-tailed Godwit, one Greenshank and two Avocet were probably the pick of the bunch. Having spent too much time, we decided to give up on Holkham and move straight to Wells.
At Wells we were dropped off at the Buttlands, and went into our first pub, The Globe Inn, where we began our second bird list of the day, birds seen from the grounds of pubs. After half an hour or so we walked down to the quayside and into the Golden Fleece, which offered a good viewpoint. Pub-bird lifers included flyby Curlew & Little Egret, and GBB Gull in the harbour. Our next stop was Stiffkey Red Lion, where the valley view promised much. In the end we had to make due with Kestrel, Pheasant, Swallow, House Martin & Greenfinch.
Our next stop was Blakeney, which was heaving with people. A quick look at the wildfowl collection failed to yeald anything we were sure was wild (Pochard maybe?) so we went up the street to the White Horse. Whilst here we heard of a possible Citrine Wagtail at Cley, which would have been a lifer for me, but would have meant probably missing the last bus back to Sheringham. Luckily (although it would have been better if it had been one and had stuck around a few days) the decision was removed when it was re-identified as a White Wagtail.
Feeling that we hadn't actually added many birds to the main days list we popped in to Cley (8 minutes on the reserve then out!), adding Yellow-legged Gull, Green Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper. On to Salthouse and the pride of place, the Dun Cow. Unfortunately a covers band were playing, and the garden was full of revellers. Ignoring the strange looks we carried on scanning the coast, and were rewarded with excellent pub ticks like Teal, Black-tailed Godwit, Wheatear (scoped near the Little Eye! Pity we couldnt find the Whinchat) and Meadow Pipit.
Last bird of the day was a Snipe, seen from the bus-stop at Salthouse. We crammed on the last bus back and went to the Lobster in Sheringham for some food. I then got the train back to Norwich, whilst my fellow alcoholics lingered another hour, also visiting the Robin Hood.
An enjoyable day out, and being a relatively new list, its nice to be able to get a lot of lifers for my "from pubs list." As ever, if anyone knows of a pub with good birdwatching potential, let me know in the comments!

A microlight, or "large eagle sp." as they are commonly known in Norfolk. Maybe.

Miscellaneous observations from North Norfolk

My last full week on holiday before going back to work, and an attempt to get a bit of variety in. A trip back to my home town of North Walsham on Wednesday, from where I walked to Edingthorpe, round via Knapton and back along the Paston Way. Bugger all about bird-wise, but if you like churches then I heartily recommend Knapton, it has one of the best examples of ornate roof carvings in the county.
Whilst watching the weakest link, my faith in human nature reached new depths when a science student, when asked "which mammal beginning with P is similar to a dolphin" answered "umm, Pelican?" Idiot.
A trip on Thursday to West Runton involved a drive through Cromer, where someone had painstakingly covered over the "Twinned with Crest" to read "Twinned with Royston Vasey". Vandalism isn't big or clever, but it does seem that bit less offensive if it makes a valid point. Rock-pooling was good fun, but we didn't catch anything that was more than an inch long.
Seawatching on Saturday produced a moderate Manx Shearwater, Gannet and Fulmar passage east, with one Red-necked Grebe west. Kelling Meadows held a Wood Sandpiper and a Green Sandpiper, Gramborough Head had one young Willow Warbler, and the hillock west of Salthouse had 7+ Wheatears. I have genned up on American Black Terns in case these westerlies carry on for the next month.


25th August 2009

Despite being taken over by lethargy, I autopiloted my way to Cley on the train and Coasthopper. The only two interesting bits to the journey were the resident Black Swan at Salthouse duck pond, and being sat in front of the only remaining person in Britain to use the phrase "Top Banana" without irony. A look into each bush along the paths failed to produce a lingering Pied Flycatcher, and the scrapes held the same waders as a week ago, with added Knot (this isn't strictly true, apparently a Bittern showed well and moonwalked backwards and forwards in front of Daukes shortly after I left).
I succumbed to the inevitable and nestled into the shingle to seawatch. Almost everything was moving west, the best being one Manx Shearwater and six Common Scoter, along with quite a few Gannet, Sandwich Terns, Cormorants, 2 Whimbrel and several specks along the horizon that I couldn't get down to the family level, but were definitely birds. Oh for some North-easterlies.


24th August 2009

As Black Terns are on the move (large numbers at Grafham and Rutland), I decided against a trip to the coast in the hope of finally adding Black Tern to my Whitlingham list. No joy, partly because of how busy it was I would suspect. I'm going to the pub to watch Norwich v Sunderland tonight rather than check out Bawburgh Lakes, Norwich's premier Black Tern site, but if any are seen there this evening, I predicted it. Two families of Great Crested Grebes had young, presumably second broods, and I need to check pictures I took of a duck to decide whether its just an eclipse domestic male Mallard, or a "Brewer's Duck." Thats how exciting it was. Still a few Swifts about, and a Sparrowhawk over Thorpe.

Bird Fair

23rd August 2009

Dad gave me, Adam & Cathy a lift to the Birdfair at Rutland Water. It was good, but I don't think I'll be going regularly. Having walked past most of the foreign holiday stands, we met Simon King, who was very nice, and caught the end of the Wildlife Brain of Britain, won by Chris Packham. Adam scraped together all of his coppers and bought himself a new telescope and tripod, whilst I limited myself to the "Birds New To Norfolk" book.
After a couple of hours we went and did the hides, seeing two Osprey and a Wheatear on Lagoon 4, and a hunting Osprey from one of the other hides. The resident Scaup was in fron of the main birdwatching centre, as was a Green Sandpiper. We went round to the Lyndon reserve, where I got a few record shots of Tree Sparrow on the feeders. We saw 6+ Buzzards and 2 Hobbys throughout the day.

Hickling NNR


A leisurely stroll around the NWT reserve, initially in the rain. We managed to find a lone Swallowtail caterpillar, but the wind was too strong to see any adults. The habitat on view from Secker's Hide looked much better than when I was last there (admittedly this was ages ago), and there was 6+ Snipe, 4 Greenshank and a party of Bearded Tits. Not much seen around the rest of the reserve, other than 2 Little Egrets and a Grey Heron from the Cadbury Hide. Back in the meadow near the visitor centre, a Peacock was strutting around. I can't quite work out why, unless its a recuperated and then escaped bird from the nearby animal sanctuary.

Hickling (Lucky Pony evening)

18th August 2009

Last night a Red-footed Falcon roosted near Hickling, and even though there had been no further sightings since lunchtime, me & Gary felt fairly confident that it would come back to it favoured trees to roost today. There was a surprising lack of birders around (2 all evening), but the lack of waders on Rush Hills may go some way to explaining it. A walk as far as the fields near Heigham Sound produced 3 Kestrels, a Sparrowhawk and a Marsh Harrier. A sillouetted dove was eventually clinched as a Turtle Dove thanks to Gary's perseverance.
Near the hide two Bearded Tits and an Emerald Damselfly (although I'm going to check to see if I can string Willow) lightened the evening. On the way back Gary said that he hadn't seen the (konik) ponies for ages, so when I spotted the herd I yelled "PONIES!" We had stopped abruptly, and were about to set off again when an owl flew out of some bushes. A Long-eared Owl! It flew into a small woods, where it was promptly mobbed by Jays, briefly flying back out and then out of sight. Only my second LEO, and my 206th Norfolk BOU bird of the year, modest, but my record (which should grow nicely when the northerlies start).
Walking back to the car, we noticed hundreds of geese collecting between bales in a cut field. I estimated around 700, about 200 of which were Canada, the rest Greylag. At least three hybrid geese were present, two long-necked and white faced, whilst one looked like a brownish Canada Goose. Probably all Greylag x Canada, but Gary took some photos to check. Whilst watching the geese I thought I'd got the red-foot, but a second pass showed the bird in question to be a Hobby. A dip, but a very satisfactory evenings birding.

Year list 215 species (206 Norfolk)

Winterton & Horsey

15th August 2009

Overcast with south-westerlies? That'll be prime conditions for migrants and butterflies then [/sarcasm]. With no better ideas, me & Adam went to Winterton more in hope than expectation. The South Dunes were overrun with Grayling, birdwise Sparrowhawk, Green Woodpecker, Stonechat, Whitethroat and a single Willow Warbler. The North Dunes were devoid of all birdlife until the track separating Horsey and Winterton, where a family of Stonechats were munching dragonflies. A Fox Moth caterpillar was apparently a first for me, and a few Wall butterflies were around, but no fritillaries. A family of four Kestrels put on an aerobatic show over the dunes. My first noticeable Gannet passage of the year, mostly going west.

London trip - photo special (!)

13th & 14th August 2009

A brief but eventful trip to London left me with the chance to have a look around the inner London parks, before getting my 3 hour + coach journey back to Norfolk. Fortunately the train strikes have now been called off, lessening my need for vitriol. Anyway, most of what I saw was plastic, so not much good for reviewing, but some good photo opportunities. Here are a few highlights.

Juvenile Reed Warbler at Regent's Park

Ring-necked Parakeet at St James' Park. Easy to hear, but I was chuffed to actually find it amongst the leaves.

The pigeons are coming - war is imminent

This looks like a Peruvian Ruddy Duck, but have I eliminated Maccao Duck?

St James' Park Pelicans - welcome at Whitlingham any day lads.

A very tolerant Grey Heron, one of 16 at Regent's Park

Bar-headed Goose x Greylag Goose
(Both parents present nearby, otherwise it could have been more tricky to tell)

More Cley near misses

11th August 2009

Following reports of a possible Semipalmated Sandpiper at Cley the night before, me & Adam decided to go along early morning to have some Calidris ID fun (or not). Probably for the best, the bird was long gone, although there were a lot of Dunlin, each checked thoroughly. All Dunlin. A few Greenshanks and Green Sands were dotted around on Simmond's Scrape, but Pats Pool was almost empty. My first Wall Butterfly of the year flew past on the path beside the main road, and I was looking at another on east bank when about 60 people walked past, presumably some sort of walking tour. Shortly after that we gave up at Cley, and walked towards Salthouse. We fluked a Roseate Tern on Arnold's Marsh, watching it for about 5 minutes before it flew west.

We put in 30 minutes seawatch, seeing a few gulls and terns, plus a Fulmar west. At about this time and unbeknown to us, a probable Slender Billed Gull flew east past Cley. The times were about right, but we didn't see it pass us! Our "easterly" count was 1 Sandwich Tern and 2 Cormorants. Que sera sera. The Ruddy Shelduck I saw last week was still kicking around on the marshes near Salthouse. Having received a text from Gary informing us it had passed and we obviously weren't looking hard enough, we went to Sheringham seafront to check any loafing gulls. This took ages, as there were vast amounts of really slow walking people. Some of them probably started walking down the high street in July. Anyway, people were everywhere, gulls were not. We did get a Gannet diving near one of the buoys, but that was it. Hopefully 3rd time lucky with Cley flybys.
Wall butterfly at Cley

"And remember, you'll see most things if you walk along the skyline wearing garish colours and shouting. What's that Brian, you have a drum? Excellent!"

Breydon & Rush Hills

10th August 2009

The offer of a lift to Rush Hills to see the Baird's Sandpiper saw me & Adam go to Yarmouth to meet Gary. With time to kill, we walked around both parts of the cemetery in the drizzle, seeing bugger all. The highlight was a Herring Gull trying to bring up worms by dancing on a grave. After this we still had time to kill, so we went to Breydon Water, where we met a birding tramp. As I walked into the hide, I thought "ah a birder. Hang on, why does he have a 2 litre bottle of cider? Oh no" He then surprised us, by saying something about how many Avocets there were (500+ at a rough count), and proceeding to tell us how he couldn't see some of the waders because his binoculars had been stolen. He must be a few years off the birding bandwagon, because he asked if we'd seen the Wood Warblers at Kelling.

Having made our excuses and left, we walked round to the Tern platforms (1 Arctic, 20+ Common), seen a juvenile Cuckoo and 16 Little Egrets. We had time for a cup of tea at the station, before meeting Gary and going to Rush Hills. A birder at the hide helped us onto the Baird's, which was on a dark stretch of mud with a Little Stint, some Dunlin and Ringed Plover. Distant views, but a life bird nonetheless, thanks to Time Allwood and Andy Kane for finding and IDing it. On the way back to the car we stumbled across a mimicking Acro warbler, annoyingly another Reed. Adam noticed a smart Garden Tiger Moth near the path.

Back to North Walsham, chips for tea, then off to the White Swan for drinks and pool.

Rush Hills

8th August 2009

Me & Adam got a lift to Potter church, and walked along Weaver's Way to the hide overlooking Rush Hills. It quickly became apparent that the Pec Sandpiper had gone (either to Swim Coots or just left!). Nevertheless we spent an hour and a bit trying to identify waders in the heat haze before giving up. Of what we could see, a Wood Sandpiper was the best of the bunch, being a long overdue year tick. We walked back along the footpath towards Hickling, seeing lots of fungi, and a pale-phase Buzzard being mobbed by a wader. As we waited to be picked up, a number of Yellowhammers were singing.
Note: A Baird's Sandpiper was seen at Rush Hills after we left. Damn.
A Shag along the River Wensum in Norwich (make up your own "Shag on Riverside" joke) would be my first for the Norwich area, but as Norwich City are currently 1-6 down, I don't think visiting that area is a good idea at the moment!
We lost 1-7. Darn. After giving the crowds an hour to disperse, I did go for a look, with negative results (i.e. no Shag). Snigger.
It was then seen in the exact place we were looking 30 minutes later. Double damn.


4th August 2009

Once again I came close to a scarce migrant, a Pec Sand turning up on the 5th! My timing has to improve sooner or later. I had planned to spend a day walking around North Walsham, but the offer of a lift to Titchwell with Cathy and her family swayed me. The pool to the west of the main path held two Ruddy Duck (both female/juvenile types, unless male eclipse looks like that too) and the family of Red-crested Pochard. The new Island Hide looks similar to the old one, with the exception of a full length window pane, which a wheelchair-bound lady soon turfed other birders away from. Common Sandpiper, Golden Plover, Little Ringed Plover and Spotted Redshank were all present.

The Parinder Hide is now a pile of wood, and the pools to the North were almost completely dry, maybe deliberately drained. A bright male Linnet called from the scrub along the path, but we had to wait until the shore for more birds. A Little Tern flew past offshore, and a few Whimbrel were on the edge of the shore. A party of 20+ Eider took a bit of identifying, I'm not familiar with the black-and-white eclipse plumage, made more difficult by the bobbing up and down in wave troughs. A Reed Warbler was the only thing of note from the Fen Hide, although Cathy's mum was befriended by a poet, who proceeded to sell her a book of his poetry. Whilst drinking tea in the picnic area a Marsh Tit flew briefly onto one of the feeders.

Enjoy the pond scum whilst you can...

Cuckoo at last


Present and visible for a 5th day (2 originally, 3 this spell), I had somehow managed to be busy for the first four, and was desperate to see the Great Spotted Cuckoo now, rather than wait 10 years for another one. It seemed like I was doomed to fail, a lorry hitting a bridge outside North Walsham meant a 45 minute delay on my train, which then terminated at Cromer. A quick walk around Cromer (or "Ladybird Plague Town") failed to find a bus going to Sheringham, so I had to wait another 30 mins for the next train. The Coasthopper was full, but luckily I managed to stand near the front. I arrived at Kelling an hour and a half late, but the steady stream of birders coming from the beach looked content, which was a good sign. I needn't have worried, the cuckoo was showing well, and even when it disappeared from view, the constant mobbing from Linnet and Meadow Pipits helped relocate it.

I watched for a while, however the Ladybirds were now nipping with increased ferocity. You may laugh if you haven't experienced it, but it is a decent nip for an insect! And bizarrely they almost all went for the back of my neck. Little buggers. A seawatch on the still sea was almost birdless, a few Sandwich Terns and 8 Cormorant west was it. I walked west, past Gramborough Head and back to Salthouse, seeing 12 species of butterfly (Small Heath was first of the year) and watching some young Swallows flocking on an elder. On the way back to Salthouse village I picked out a distant Ruddy Shelduck, my first of the year, although its not BOU admissable yet.

Year list 210 species.



A tale of what might have been (but ultimately wasn't). Following the recent influx of waders, a trip to Buckenham was in order. The stretch of road between Strumpshaw and Buckenham was alive with butterflies and dragonflies, and I lingered to take a few photos. At Buckenham a family of Goldfinches sat on top of a bush, and Swallows swooped low over the railway. At the Fisherman's carpark we stopped and scanned the pools, finding two Green Sandpiper, an Avocet and a few families of Shelduck. Further round the path we were stopped by an unfamiliar song and the back of an Acro warbler disappearing into the reeds. Me & Adam both thought of Marsh Warbler, but the song didn't fit. Probably mimicry of another species, but on that song we had to urr on the side of Reed.
The other side of the mill a number of waders were feeding on the pools. A decent amount of Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit, along with 7 or 8 Green Sandpiper and 3 Snipe. We debated long and hard over a leggy wader with a dark back and white underside, clearly bigger than Green Sand. Since arriving back we hav agreed on juvenile Greenshank, although it still isn't a textbook example. We walked back to strumpshaw, Adam pointing out a pair of Spotted Flycatchers, before going through the woods to the visitor's centre. A few 2nd brood Brimstone butterflies and some Small Red-eyed Damselflies made good subjects for the camera.

Upon arriving home I see that the Great-spotted Cuckoo has been relocated - hopefully it will stick around this time!