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Rain dodging

27th February 2010

With more bad weather forecast, I accepted a lift up to the North Norfolk coast for a quick look around. We drove up to West Runton, where the local Med Gull watched us from the edge of the car park. It was raining again as we walked east along the beach, and then along the clifftop, but no sign of the Black Redstart. By the time we got back to the car, a small crowd was gathering under the shelter, waiting for someone else to find it (meeow!). A lone Fulmar flew west.

A quick look out to sea at Salthouse, but nothing other than gulls passing. Large flocks of Brent Geese around Cley, one flock being harrassed by Hares running around them. We then drove inland, seeing a female Mandarin and a Barn Owl before calling in at Foxley Wood. The paths were very boggy, but we squelched around in the drizzle nonetheless. Usual woodland fair, GS Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Marsh Tit, although I may have missed a Little Owl.

South Norwich

20th & 21st February 2010

On Saturday I spent sometime around the picnic area and woods at Whitlingham, hoping to catch up with a stray Waxwing or two. No luck, nothing more exciting than Fieldfares. On the broad there were still 6 Goosander (4 males/2 redheads), at least one Smew, the Ruddy Duck and the Red-necked Grebe. I spent some time staring at a gnarled tree where Adam had seen a Little Owl earlier in the week, but there was no sign of it whilst I was there. I went back via Trowse Woods, seeing a melanistic Rabbit in the fields nearby, and lots of Snowdrops in the woods.
I was put off going out for a walk on Sunday by the rain and sleet, but this worked in my favour as a male Blackcap put in an appearance in Cath's garden (Lakenham). Other visitors included Pied Wagtail, Wren and a decent sized flock of House Sparrows.

Half-term shenanigans - Strumpshaw and a nudist camp

15th-19th February 2010

I spent most of half-term week at Cathy's, and therefore had no access to the internet or bird services. This probably worked in my favour, not being tempted to go looking for the east coast Plover. I did however see the report of the Hume's (Yellow Browed Leaf etc etc) Warbler. With no further reports and little information, and in my infinite optimism, decided to check the Long-tailed Tit flocks around Whitlingham in case it had moved on. And I found it, and didn't tell anyone! Only joking. In fact the woods were pants, I still haven't seen a Goldcrest at Whitlingham this year. I did see 6 Goosanders, including a group of four males with their beautiful peachy glow. Kestrel & Stock Dove were patch year ticks.

On Tuesday I decided to go to Strumpshaw to look for the warbler myself. Previous Humes in the county have gone missing for several days before being refound, so stranger things have happened. On the way down Low Road we stopped so I could photograph a Reeve's Pheasant. Loitering around the woods in the rain was largely unproductive, 3 Goldcrests and 2 Treecreepers were highlights of a sort. Retreating to the Fen Hide as the rain got harder, we were treated to a Bittern flying out of the reeds and off towards the reception hide. A redhead Smew, 2 Chinese Water Deer and 2 Water Rails were all good as time passers. Another quick look in the woods produced a second Reeve's Pheasant of the day.

Wednesday was Cath's 21st Birthday, and therefore offlimits for birding. Suffice to say the Hume's wasn't in Chapelfield Gardens or Castle Gardens though. Thursday we went to Holkham to try and see that bloody Snow Goose, which unbeknown to me departed half an hour before we got there. It wasn't a total loss, I found my best bird of the holiday in the form of 2 Tundra Bean Geese in with c250 White-fronted and 41 Barnacle Geese. Cath found her first Firecrest, and the leucistic Pink-footed Goose was along Lady Anne's Drive. We also saw 2 Barn Owls & 2 Nuthatchs in the Hall grounds, plus a very early brood of 5 young Egyptian Geese. In his book "The Ecology of the Egyptian Goose at Holkham Park", Brian Sage lists only 2 occasions of earlier hatching, although it does only include data until 1997.

On Friday Gary was going to indulge me yet another Snow Goose hunt. We were driving near Ringland when his exhaust dropped off. The AA (not the alcoholics one) despatcher told us she wasn't very good reading maps, could we knock on some doors to find a postcode. With no reply on the nearest house, we found Merryhill Leisure Centre. "Looks like a nudist camp" I muttered, before a helpful receptionist gave us a postcode and seeing our binoculars, told us there were two Red Kites in the area. Thanking her, we returned to the car, and called the AA back. We then realised the postcode she had given us was wrong. Searching the internet for Merryhill, we found out that we had walked into the reception of a Nudist Camp, complete with bins. Whoops. The engineer found it very funny, telling us that he had "seen loads of birds over there, but it wasn't very pretty". It wasn't all bad, whilst we were waiting we had scanned a flock of finches and picked out a Brambling.

Driving carefully back to North Walsham with a tied up exhaust, we swapped cars and changed plans to a closer location. We walked through the magical forest of Waveney to have a look at the overwintering Rough-legged Buzzard. It performed admirably, regularly hovering whilst facing away, revealing the spread white tail. No sign of any owls or falcons, so we decided to spend an hour at Strumpshaw. More time spent along the edge of the woods but nothing more exciting than some Redpolls. In the Fen Hide we saw a ringtail Hen Harrier that had landed on the cut reed strips, and two Otters, a long overdue mammal tick for me. As the hail fell we walked back to the car.

Black-throated Thrush twitch

13th February 2010
I had an offer of a lift to Newholm to see the Black-throated Thrush, provided it stayed until February so that Gary could get his Norfolk list off to a good start. A combination of birthdays and other commitments left us with the 13th, so off we went. News throughout the week had been patchy, so we were hoping for a bit of luck. A trouble free drive up North and a Little Chef breakfast out of the way, we stopped a couple of times on the moors to look for Grouse. We didn't see any. Red Grouse has a big claim to be my bogey bird, to the point where I think they are probably just a made up bird used for marketing whiskey. A short while later we arrived in Newholm. As we parked up, a departing birder told us the thrush was showing in a nearby garden. Incidentally he became the first person I've ever met to call someone "duck".
Onwards then to the gardens in question, and it was a pleasant surprise to see how well stocked with bird food they were, clearly the locals haven't got too pissed off having birders everywhere. The Black-throated Thrush was showing well and was close enough to fill my 'scope view. A distinctive bird, I'm confident even I could pick one out from a Redwing flock without too much bother. After feeding for a while, it flew strongly over the gardens in the direction of a nearby headgerow. We were unable to relocate it, and after a rainshower we gave up and returned to the car. We walked past the Newholm wildlife pond, a sort of enlarged trench with a sundial in it. The only wildlife I could see was a dead woodpigeon, but they may well get a frog in spring.

The Black-throated Thrush, courtesy of Gary White. Why not visit his website (link on the right) and marvel at his other photos?

Wondering what else we might be able to see whilst in the area, we decided to visit the new RSPB reserve at Saltholme. We went via the Transporter Bridge at Middlesborough, a rather odd looking contraptionm, but well worth a go at only £1.20 a pop. Saltholme actually looks very impressive, and I was pleased to see the RSPB has developed a sense of humour, the No Smoking signs were followed by "Kippers, Cigarettes, or anything else". To counter this, we were subjected to the Spanish Inquisition (and it was unexpected) by a reserve volunteer, who wanted to know if we were local, where we were from, if we'd visited before, what political party we were affiliated to, what our favourite colour was and who we thought would win in a fight, batman or spiderman. Anyway, no sign of the dubious Hooded Merganser, though we did manage 3 Red-breasted Mergs and a couple of white geese.

After a return crossing on the crazy transporter bridge (I hope the Reedham Ferry man doesn't see it in a catalogue and realise he's been sold short with his wooden platform on a chain) we zoomed back towards Norfolk. By mid-Lincolnshire we had managed to get Radio Norfolk and listen to commentary of the Norwich match, which we won 2-1, hurrah. The final action of the evening was some owl watching, but despite some calls, we only saw one Barn Owl and some Woodcock.

Whitlingham in mist & sun

5th & 6th February 2010

As I was busy last weekend, Friday evening represented the first opportunity I had to try to patch tick the Ring-necked Duck for 2010. Unlike the previous week it looked like the light wouldn't be an issue, and I was positive as far as the Little Broad. Mist hung above the water, looking very picturesque, but oinous as far as birding went. From the jetty I could still see the far bank, so I walked as far as the island, but there the mist/fog* was so thick that I couldn't see anything more than a silhouette with cormorants sticking out of it. I walked back to the jetty, hoping to catch sight of a Bittern, one having been reported twice in January, but by now visibility was about 20m.
Trying to make something out of the trip, I went round towards the watersports centre to scan everything close in to the shore. I was rewarded with close views of the Red-necked Grebe, in a similar place to where I had seen it on its first day. As the light faded I waited along the edge of the Little Broad ditch, and was rewarded with views of my first Whitlingham Water Rail of the year, feeding along the broad edge.
* My understanding was that mist goes up and fog goes down (i.e. low-lying cloud). I later heard that the difference is solely one of visibility. I'm not really fussed either way, I just don't like leaving gaps for pedants to exploit.
On Saturday myself & Cathy got a lift down to the CP. The weather was gloriously sunny, but surprisingly about half of the broad was frozen over. There was a noticeably large number of GC Grebes condensed into the areas of open water. A couple of birders that I recognised but don't know their names told me the Ring-necked Duck was currently near the posts along the edge of the island, coinciding with another area of unfrozen water. Although sleepy, it obligingly kept its head raised, showing off the white eye-ring. In the same area was a redhead Smew, redhead Goosander and the 1st-winter male Scaup **. The GN Diver was also still around, but no sign of a Black-throat yet.
Following a walk up to the pumphouse, we then walked back along the south shore, click-counting the Great Crested Grebes. I clicked 49, my highest at this site by miles! Along the south shore the little hybrid goose (Lesser White-front x branta sp...maybe) that puts in periodic appearances was back.


** This bird was reported as Scaup, then as an Aythya hybrid, now everyone I've spoken to onsite recently seems happy it is a Scaup. I can't remember seeing a 1st-winter male Scaup before (probably because I dismissed any I have seen as hybrids ;-)), so am not in a brilliant position to comment.

Big Pub Garden Birdwatch

With apologies to the RSPB. Why not visit their version here:
Following last years summer Birds & Beer Tour, we decided to attempt a winter version. As the buses are two-hourly in the winter, and light was at a premium, we decided to throw all our eggs into one basket and conduct the whole thing in one place, The Dun Cow.
We got our beer, took up a table each by the roadside (it was cold, no-one else ventured outside other than to smoke) and started at just gone 11. We reached 20 species quickly, including flyby Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff. 'Scoping the beach car park we added pub mega Snow Bunting, along with Turnstone and Knot. The Knot was a lone bird in with the Turnstone, I missed it initially and had to wait another hour and a half before a walker flushed it.
A break for a roast lunch, and we were back out and ready to go again. Marsh Harriers were up, Adam located a lone Fieldfare, Gary found a distant Sparrowhawk, and then a second big pub tick with the local Barn Owl hunting in front of us. Egyptian Goose, Pheasant & Little Egret were all seen, before I brought up 50 with a Stock Dove. This milestone accomplished and freezing conditions made me & Adam decided it was time to leave, much to Gary's discust. I get the impression he would have stayed well into the night with a torch if the buses still ran then.

A fun days birdwatching, with educational bits as its all added experience of identifying birds as flypasts, in the distance and on jizz etc. The patrons of the pub were very courteous, with one of the staff asking what we'd seen and getting updates on our progress. The food was good too, go there, buy stuff, maybe I'll get commission.

Whitlingham & NN Coast

29th & 30th January 2010

Friday evening saw the return of snow to the county. Informed by Neil that the Ring-necked Duck had been seen at Whitlingham, I decided to make use of finishing half an hour early by power-walking down to the country park and hoping there was still some daylight left. As it was I managed about 15 minutes birding. I failed to locate the Ring-necked Duck, but did see the RN Grebe, Diver and Scaupy thing, which it appears people have decided is indeed a first-winter odd headed freaky Scaup as opposed to an Aythya hybrid. I'm hedging my bets until I get close enough views to get decent photos or a sketch of it. The trip wasn't a total loss, as dusk fell a Woodcock flew out of the woods to the east of the car park and off into the night.
On Saturday I accompanied Gary to the North Norfolk coast, where we hoped to catch up with the Snow Goose. A walk around a few sites in the north-east was largely fruitless, although a Fulmar flying west at West Runton was a year tick. We also saw the Med Gull and a Grey Plover there. The large flock of Snow Buntings at Salthouse were very photogenic, and the pair of Scaup at Wells were definitely Scaup, as opposed to hybrids.
At Holkham we scanned thousands of Pink-feet, but no sign of the desired white goose. The area around Meals House provided us with great views of a Firecrest, although it moved constantly, ruling out the possibility of photos. The sea was out, and we failed to find anything rare in the extensive gull flock. Scanning the saltmarshy areas we found 2 Snow Bunting and around 5 Rock Pipit amongst the Skyark and Meadow Pipits. Scanning the geese from the coast road we finally found something other than Pink-feet, 14 Barnacle Geese and some White-fronts.
Some birders at Wells had told me that the Corn Buntings had returned to Choseley, so we went and had a look. There were indeed a good number there, as well as a couple of Yellowhammers. Titchwell wasn't great, but 3+ Velvet Scoter offshore was a good sighting, I missed Velvets last year. Again no sign of the Twite. We finished the day at Witton Woods, where I saw my first Tawny Owl of the year.