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The hirundines are here

31st March 2010

Every evening this week has been rainy, but today was down to just drizzle so I went to Whitlingham anyway. The temptation was further down the valley at Strumpshaw, where they have Garganey, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Swallow, Sand Martin and House Martin. Arriving at the Little Broad a Swallow zoomed low across the water in front of me. Taking several counts and averaging them (bloody difficult to count, they wouldn't stay still, surprisingly) I counted 32 Swallows. In amongst them were three Sand Martins, a day later than in 2009. On the beach area a pair of Grey Wagtails were a welcome sight, the bright yellow standing out against the murkiness.
After that the rest of the walk was a bit of a let down. Still no broods of young from the geese, and a lone Chiffchaff was the only warbler calling. 15+ Swallows and 6 Sand Martins were feeding over the water between the south shore and island. With the drizzle still falling and another batch of canoeists setting out I headed home.

Clocks go forward = more birds

28th March 2010

The plan for Sunday was quite straightforward, help Gary see a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker for his yearlist and then travel around the area mopping up any other birds he needed. Three hours in and there was no sign of any LSW, although we had seen good numbers of Crossbill, plus Siskins, Redpoll, Grey Wagtail, Nuthatch etc. At midday birdsong had decreased and with sightings now even less likely we decided to drive to Kessingland to have a look for the Pallid Swift. We arrived to find both Alpine and Pacific Swifts swooping around each other, frequently in the same binocular view. Having watched them from the seafront, we went to the nearest pub, the Sailor's Home, where we continued to watch both birds whilst drinking Broadside.

Me & Gary enjoy a drink and a couple of swifts

Escaping back into Norfolk before the border authorities noticed we were gone, we went to Winterton Dunes to look for migrants. The area was barren, between us we saw 2 Magpies, 2 Skylarks and a Chaffinch before Phil found a lone Wheatear. Having hugged the totem pole for luck, we were about to head for home when Gary's "mega alert" alarm went off. Lesser Kestrel at Minsmere. We ran for the car, saving ourselves around 5 seconds, and set off back into darkest Suffolk. This was my first proper spur-of-the-moment twitch, everything else I've been for has been long-staying. On the way we were held up by a Porsche, it's not often you can say that!
Arriving at Westleton we scanned for the Lesser Kestrel, which had by now flown off. Near to us a birder picked out an Alpine Swift above the woods, my third in three days. With no Kestrels in view, we carried on towards Minsmere. Whilst watching some Red Deer and a Swallow, a birder drove down the drive shouting "it's at Westleton Heath" before zooming off. Watching everyone run to their cars and jump in was sort of like an alarm at a well-staffed fire station where only two people can fit into each badly parked fire engine. After turning round we made our way back to where we had parked previously and set off down the heath. Eventually we came to a clearing where there were already 100+ people scoping into the distance. It didn't take long before I got good but distant flight and perched views of the Lesser Kestrel in the evening sunshine, at times framed by Red Deer and Rabbits. A magical moment and a cracking bird.

Another hybrid goose

27th March 2010

A walk around Norwich looked to have produced nothing other than 5 calling Chiffchaffs (3 at Whitlingham, 2 at Lakenham Way) until I found a hybrid goose on the slipway at Whitlingham. It looked like a dowdy version of the presumed LWF x Barnacle, similar in size and primaries. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera, but I am awaiting pictures to be emailed to me which I will post.

Alpine Swift

I thought of quite a lot of "swift" puns for the title, but decided to spare everyone.

26th March 2010

After spending quite a bit of time birding locally recently, I took up Neil's offer of a lift to Cromer to have a look for the Alpine Swift after work. Our plan was to park in town and walk up to the lighthouse, where if nothing else we could have a panoramic view of the surrounding area. As we walked along the footpath past the public gardens we were told the swift had flown east from the town ten minutes ago. We felt positive (it was in the area) rather than negative that it may have flown straight through. We hadn't left the houses before we saw the Alpine Swift flying over the roofs (rooves? What is the plural of roof?). Stopping at the entrance to the little wood, we got crippling views as the swift flew over wood, sea, against blue sky and cloud, and on several occasions close overhead. The large size and white underparts were clear at distance, but the best part was the shear manoueverability of the bird. If it had been roosting in sight on the church tower I may have missed this, and that would have been a travesty.

It's ok to be excited about Redshank

25th March 2010

Spring is still taking its time to get to Norwich, but a couple of Water Pipits at Thorpe was enough to get me out after work, albeit in the rain. No sign of them, a good poke round turning up the usual stuff, Reed Bunting, Cetti's Warbler, Teal etc. I was about to leave when I heard a calling Redshank. I spun on the spot trying to pick it out, the second call just as hard to pinpoint as the first. Hoping it had landed rather than gone straight through, I walked to a gap between the willows and scanned the shingle spit. At the end was the Redshank, which strolled around for all of 30 seconds before flying up and off eastwards. On the NN coast you can walk through a marsh full of them, but this was only my second Whitlingham area record, and arguably my best find here this year (how depressing is that?). As I waited for the bus back to the city, no Alpine Swifts went to roost on Thorpe church, which was a shame.

Who needs swifts when you've got canoeists?

23rd March 2010
Completely oblivious to the fact that Alpine Swifts had descended on the North Norfolk Coast like alien spaceships in Independence Day, I went down to Whitlingham after work. A Garganey had been seen in the conservation area the day before, but there was no sign of it, continuing my long-standing jinx with this species at the CP. If the past birds are anything to go by it was probably gone on the day, but a couple of people in a canoe who insisted on going right along the edge of the island and conservation area bay, made sure that any pre-roost ducks were moved on.
Other than that, it was quite a nice evening. The Kingfisher fizzed across the Little Broad, now an almost regular occurence on my evening walks. A Green Woodpecker was feeding on a grassy area to the north of the broad, and couple of pairs of Teal skulked along the flooded edges. We had to wait for a pair of Mute Swans to vacate the area around the bird screen (still flooded) to have a scan, but only turned up a lone Snipe and a couple of Little Grebes. Across the river 100+ Tufted Duck and a pair of Oystercatchers gave a black and white theme to Thorpe Broad. No hirundines, and no sign of Saturdays Chiffchaffs, presumably they were just passing through.

Frog Chorus

21st March 2010

A day out with Cathy, trying to find her a first Brambling before the meagre amount we do have leaves. Before we left we spent an hour or so listening to the trilling Waxwings in a nearby tree. I don't know why they need to eat at all, all they do is just sit in a tree calling for 95% of the time. After this we went to Sculthorpe Moor, where almost every waterbody was full of spawning frogs. Their loud croaking joined together to make a constant buzzing noise, which a few non-country folk even thought was machinery in the distance.

Sitting in the Frank Jarvis Hide we eventually saw our target bird, with a pair of Brambling alternating on one of the feeders. One of the Golden Pheasants dashed manically from a holly bush, at least they're trying to look wild now. Scarlet Elf Cup fungius was scattered through the wet woods, and two Roe Deer were foraging at the woodland edge. The Whitley Hide gave us nice views of 2 Water Rails, a pair of Bullfinches and a Buzzard. On the way to the far hide we had to avoid stepping on toads, who had evidently claimed one pond for their own. Amusingly we watched as oversexed frogs jumped on the backs of toads, evidently unconcerned as to what they were trying to mate with.
If you look at the manic expression, it is quite reminiscent of the creature from "Alien"

Fed up of being humped by frogs

Chiffchaffs and Waxwings

20th March 2010

I decided against going to the coast today, mostly on the basis of rain being forecast, but also in the hope of finally getting a migrant at Whitlingham. Before I set out Cathy called to say she had 5 Waxwings in her garden, a reminder that there were still plenty of winter species I need on my patch list this year. Walking down Whitlingham Lane it became evident there was a canoe event on, making the park even busier than a usual weekend. Lingering amongst the Little Broad alders we spent some time watching a Lesser Redpoll. This proved useful further along, when we located a Mealy Redpoll further along and were able to have an almost direct comparison between species.
Wildfowl numbers low, mostly Tufted Ducks and c12 Pochard. A couple of sinensis Cormorants shared the posts with 3 Lesser Black Backed Gulls. Along the south edge of the broad we finally located a Chiffchaff. It declined to call, but allowed decent views in the pathside willows, showing fresh yellowy-green tones to the plumage. We located a second near the carpark, this one a shade less yellow, and also not singing. My first butterfly of the year was a ragged looking Small Tortoiseshell, and a lone Redwing was feeding opposite the carpark. An unfamiliar goose call had me puzzled until I saw that the little hybrid goose had flown in. I don't think I've ever contemplated what a hybrid bird sounds like, maybe I'll have to research that.

Cute but screechy
A second call of the day told me the waxwings had returned, so I went round to Cath's to have a look before the rain set in. This one was particularly curious about my presence.

Waxwing with attitude

Spring is on its way. Apparently.

18th March 2010

A warm evening down at Whitlingham, the sort of cloudy day that pushes insects lower and gives great views of hirundines over the water. Not yet though, with the first Sand Martins still around the coast. Still no Chiffchaffs, my first one last year was the 19th. The best bird on the broad was a sleeping female Goldeneye to the east of the island. Scoping across to Thorpe Broad a fox was standing surveying the pools, bad news for the Lapwings and potentially LRPs.

1st migrant dates over the past few years:
Chiffchaff (2007) 13th March (Whitlingham)
Sand Martin (2009) 30th March (Whitlingham)
Willow Warbler (2009) 30th March (Whitlingham)
Swallow (2008) 1st April (Weybourne)
Common Tern (2009) 11th April (Hickling) Whitlingham 23rd April (08)
Grasshopper Warbler (2009) 11th April (Hickling)
Sedge Warbler (2009) 11th April (Hickling)
Reed Warbler (2009) 17th April (Whitlingham)
House Martin (2009) 17th April (Whitlingham)
Whitethroat (2009) 26th April (Cley)

Thorpe & Whitlingham Broads

13th & 14th March 2010

After a night out for Gary's birthday (at the aptly named Black Swan), I had a late start to the day. Crossing the railway line to Station Marsh/Thorpe Broad a male Reed Bunting was singing from a willow tree. The Broad itself was fairly unproductive, a couple of Little Grebes and some Teal were worth a look. Some gulls were loafing on the spit, along with up to five Oystercatchers and c40 Lapwing. We abandoned the walk across the marsh to the north side, as the mud looked rather deep. I scanned the marshy pools from the cattle compound, but still no sign of any Garganey or waders.

Sunday was mostly taken up with Mother's Day stuff, but I managed to get an hour and a half at Whitlingham before dusk. Earlier in the day Andy Musgrove had a Bittern and someone also found a Mandarin, so it was rather frustrating to find bugger all over the first majority of the broad. I had almost got to the Watersports Centre when the distinctive shape of a Mandarin swam into view. I sat on a bench and watched as it swam around, eventually coming up onto the edge to feed. A patch tick, now for that Garganey...

A Mandarin in poor light

Garganey Watch update - still none

w/c 8th March 2010

The two Garganeys at Rush Hills on Sunday seems to be a false dawn so far. There has been a clearout of wildfowl at Whitlingham, with only Tufted Ducks and 15ish Pochard in the conservation area. The only new arrival was an all-white Domestic Goose, which remained too far out for me to get some black paint on its primaries. A couple of Cetti's Warblers are now singing, and the resident Kingfisher is still zipping along the south side of the Little Broad. Other than that, the only sighting of interest was a roost of 30+ Magpies in the Alders on the north side of the Great Broad. On the bright side, it was light enough for me to see some birds after work, which can only be a good thing. Chiffchaffs are probably only 1-2 weeks off too.

A sunny days birding

7th March 2010
After two months we finally got a nice bright day, and accordingly me & dad decided to go for some low intensity birding in North Norfolk. We spent an hour in the hide at Flitcham, seeing my first Little Owl of the year. It's place in the tree roots seemed to have been taken by a prospecting Stock Dove. The Greylag Goose scaring doesn't seem to have had much effect, there were loads still, and we also saw a covey of Grey Partridges and a Buzzard on the hedge between the far fields.
On to Titchwell for some hot food. Avocet and Stonechat were firsts for the year, and no amount of scanning could produce any Twite, I probably haven't seen any for over two years now. A big raft of scoter were offshore, along with decent numbers of Goldeneye. A pair of Black-tailed Godwits were either mating or trying to drown the other bird. My highlight of the visit was the scrum to see a Woodcock near the visitors centre. Once it emerged how far in the bird was, I decided it wasn't worth waiting to get a glimpse, but some of my favourite comments included "is it what I'm looking at now?" and "is that it? Oh no, hang on, it's a Chaffinch" Good stuff.
We stopped at a site for Dartford Warbler on the way home, but didn't manage so much as a Stonechat. The nice weather had understandably brought out other birders and dog walkers, so it wasn't that much of a surprise. Last site of the day was my old stomping ground of Holt Lowes, where despite the growing shadows we found two Adders basking near the path.

Garganey Watch part 1

6th March 2010
March is the month in which I make various journeys to watercourses around Norwich looking for Garganey, only to retrospectively find out that one was seen the day after I looked. It's like a tradition. The earliest Whitlingham date (as far as I know) is March 10th, so today I went to UEA. Wildfowl on the broad was typically limited, 2 pairs of Great Crested Grebes and a male Goosander was about it. A number of marshy pools created by river flooding look more promising than the main broad, but they were birdless.
On the meadows nearby were three Green Woodpeckers, one of whom gave good views in the spring sunshine. There were also six Mistle Thrushes and several flocks of Redwing. At least one Redwing in the hedge alongside Bluebell Road was singing, the first time I can remember hearing anything other than calls. There was no sign of any Little Owls in the fields near the hospital, although the horse wandered over to stare at us.
On a totally unrelated note, I was sorry to see that the Worstead Festival has been cancelled this year. Following the demise of the Tunstead Trosh years ago there is now a serious lack of good summer village entertainment.