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

N.N. Coast with bonus lark

28th August 2010
Friday night a Booted Warbler was seen on Blakeney Point. There was no chance of me being able to get there at the time, so I decided to head to the coast on Saturday. Predictably it had cleared out overnight, so I turned to my secondary target of Icterine Warbler. Arriving at Walsey Hills there was no sign of the warbler, and no-one there had seen it either. Maybe it was going to be one of those days. Paul W introduced me to John Furse, who offered to give me a lift to Wells Woods, as long as I could deal with his puns. I agreed, and we set off for Wells.
We reached the beautifully maintained and reasonably priced carpark at Wells after a short stop at the Stiffkey Scarecrow Festival (for John to buy Jam). We went a long way in before finding a single bird, and lunch in front of the Dell produced one Wren. Finding nothing in the woods we looked around the scrub on the landward side, seeing what was probably a Garden Warbler dart into cover. Shortly before this a phonecall had told us there was a Greenish Warbler at East Hills. Why there and not here darnit.
Following this complete lack of success, it became us vs. migrants. Warham Greens, Friary Hills, Cley beach carpark and Gramborough Hill were all checked, giving us one Whinchat. It was at Gramborough that John got a "no further sign of Short-toed Lark" message. Having not got the first one this was a surprise, but it also meant that whilst we were at Cley it had just been found. We went back, determined to see something half-decent. The lark had gone to ground when we arrived, but I saw it fly up and west. Most of the group missed it, so we walked further along, only for it to fly again. At this point no-one could find it, and after walking much further along the shingle and a couple of false-starts we were beginning to think "sod it". Luckily the Short-toed Lark was relocated as we walked back to the carpark, and showed nicely running along the shingle near some yellowy-green vegetation. Ending on a positive note we left, and I managed to get a lift back to Norwich. Many thanks to John for an entertaining day!

Common Sandpiper passage

27th August 2010
Having opted for a lay in rather than seawatching (thats another chance of L-T Skua gone!), I decided to see if the northerly winds had blown any Common Scoter inland. At the start of Whitlingham Lane I walked across a rather soggy Trowse Meadow, and on reaching the eastern end I heard a sandpiper call, followed by two Common Sandpipers flying past and onto the riverbank. Walking quietly along I located them, and noticed four more bobbing up and down near the first two. I watched them for about a minute before they got restless and all six flew downriver, followed shortly behind by another two. I can't recall seeing 8 Common Sandpipers at the same site before, and certainly not at Whitlingham.
For once there wasn't a single car parked along the lane, so I was hopeful that there wouldn't be much watersport going on. I stopped along the edge of the Little Broad to look through the Long-tailed Tit flock, turning up two silent Chiffchaffs. Leaving the Little Broad behind I began my wildfowl count, which was made harder by a fleet of around 30 small sailing boats. Great.
Mute Swan - 100 (6 Little Broad, 94 Great Broad)
Mallard - 107 (45 Little Broad, 62 Great Broad)
Hybrid-type Mallard - 9, "Peking" Duck - 1.
Coot - 151 (4 Little Broad, 147 Great Broad)
Egyptian Goose - 3
Hybrid/Domestic Goose - 7
Moorhen - 2
Great Crested Grebe - 2
Cormorant - 10
Notably not a single pure Greylag, Canada Goose, Tufted Duck or Pochard, presumably because of the disturbance. Large numbers of hirundines (mostly House Martin) were hawking low because of the cloud cover, whilst Sparrowhawk, Common Tern and Bullfinch were also decent birds for the area.

Strumpshaw Fen

25th August 2010

With the holidays nearly over and sunshine at a premium, I headed out with Cathy to find her a first Swallowtail butterfly. Second broods are difficult to predict, but as I also wanted to have a go at locating Ben Lewis' Willow Emerald Damselflies we decided to try our luck at Strumpshaw. We got lucky with the Swallowtails, with a flypast in front of the Tower Hide. Although never seeing more than one at a time, there were probably two present. In the scrub along the path tens if not hundreds of Dark Bush Crickets were calling, and a Garden Tiger Moth was trying to look inconspicuous at the edge of the path.
Unfortunately from a damselfly point of view, the path along the Lackford Run all the way from the Tower Hide to the railway line has been shut for conservation work, and will remain so until the spring. This area is by the far the best Willow Emerald habitat, and a search of the other ditches only turned up large numbers of Common Emerald (mostly males). Bird wise it was quiet, three Common Terns, three Grey Herons and a couple of Stock Doves from the Tower Hide and heard only Bearded Tits and there flyover Green Sandpipers from the Fen Hide. The Osprey was seen whilst I was there but was apparently seen off by a Marsh Harrier.
Notice 1
The Pelican Inn in Tacolneston has opened an Ale shop promising to sell beers from all 31 Norfolk breweries, which sounds worth a visit.

Notice 2 has papers up for download relating to a recent conference on non-native species in Britain. A few interesting bits there, for me it seems a complete cop-out that we are now five years from the time when the Ely Muscovy population was shown to meet all of the criteria to be elevated to category C (it even recovered from a cull) but apparently more information is required as to their reliance on supplementary feeding. Presumably the idea is that as people will continue to feed them this study will be impossible and they can be kept in Cat E indefinitely. Yes they look horrible and have a restricted gene pool, but why have criteria for inclusion on a list if you don't act on it?

A photographic catch-up

24th August 2010

Finally I am settled into the new house, albeit with no sofa and lots of boxes of tat that I refuse to throw away strewn around the place. My garden almost backs onto Earlham Cemetery, so I am hopeful of some good garden ticks come the winter. So far I've had Coal Tit and Long-tailed Tit on my new feeders, and a pair of Sparrowhawks have flown over. I haven't found much info about birds in the cemetery other than a lone report of a Firecrest a few years ago, so if anyone has seen anything of note (yellow-browed warbler maybe?) in there I would be interested to hear about it.

In between waiting in for appliances to be delivered I have been out a few times, firstly to have a look at the Lesser Grey Shrike. Unfortunately it was Cromer carnival week, which added some time to the journey (as did the homicidal Romanian at Salhouse who tried to de-rail the train by putting concrete blocks on the track). At least at Sheringham I got to watch some of the Red Arrows flypast whilst waiting for the bus.

Red Arrows

The Lesser Grey Shrike ducks to avoid the Swallows that were mobbing it. A rubbish digiscoped shot, but it shows the breast contrast nicely.

I also canoed down the River Bure between Skeyton and Coltishall. A pleasant stretch of river, but only one Kingfisher to show for it.

A whole field to graze in, but no, it wanted to be in the river.

After several years of thinking I should go, me & Cathy finally went to Warham Camp to see the Chalkhill Blue butterflies. If anyone from the council is reading this, an important historical site is probably worthy of some sort of sign directing you towards it. The butterflies are at the end of the flight period and rather tatty, but it was a nice place to spend the afternoon.

Chalkhill Blue

Overnight rain has meant that we hadn't put the moth trap out for a while, but of the few that came to the outside light there is only one record of Orange Swift on the Norfolk Moths website this year, making it of particular interest.

Orange Swift

Thats enough for now, I'm off to learn Greenish Warbler calls.

The end of an era

August 2010

After four years of Trinity Street fun, it is time to move. Adam has moved into a house made entirely of large John Lewis cushions with his girlfriend Laura, and this weekend I will be moving too. Of course this is all entirely over-dramatic, I'm still going to be living in Norwich. However, due to all of the stuff that comes with moving house and sorting out internet access, I will probably not be updating the website until the end of August. In the nicest possible way, I hope that nothing good turns up in Norfolk until the autumn. Enjoy the rest of the summer!

The Rose Tavern, a quality local pub.

Whitlingham August counts

5th August 2010
A visit to Whitlingham to do a wildfowl count, particularly of the Coot, which have been accumulating steadily over the summer. Almost all of the Greylags had gone (presumably onto the river at Thorpe) as a result of intensive sailing over much of the broad. A strange-looking vehicle was also motoring around the broad, apparently removing waterweed on a barrel at the front.
Anyway, main counts:
Mute Swan - 121 (6 Little Broad, 115 Great Broad). 9 birds were large cygnets (4 & 5).
Mallard - 177 (84 Little Broad, 93 Great Broad) All eclipse-type, 9 obvious black-and-white type "domestic Mallards"
Egyptian Goose - 31
Tufted Duck - 7 (all conservation area)
Pochard - 1 male (Conservation area)
Great Crested Grebe - 4
Gadwall - 7
Moorhen - 4
Coot - 156 (133 in the conservation area)
Little other birdlife, one Cetti's Warbler and one Chiffchaff called briefly from near the Little Broad. Butterflies included my first Painted Lady of the year, Red Admiral, Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Small White and Large White.

Cley again

2nd August 2010
Another visit to Cley, this time with Cathy. Birdlife was similar to my previous visit, a large number of Spoonbills on North Scrape (one actually moved!), a summer plumage Curlew Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, c150 Dunlin and three Whimbrel. We had a brief seawatch, seeing one Fulmar west along with a few Terns and Cormorants. The large numbers of Swallows and Sand Martins that had been on the fences along the Eye field were gone, presumably on their way back to Africa. After lunch we checked out the central hides, one Spotted Redshank the pick of a meagre bunch. On the way back I had a chat with Andy Musgrove before we got the bus back to Norwich.

The fun of wader ID

31st July 2010

I was settling down for lunch on Saturday when I got a call from Gary offering a lift to look for the Hooded Crow that as been seen in the Cley area for a while. Deciding to go (HC was a Norfolk lifer) I got to the train in time and was picked up from North Walsham station. Handily the bird was relocated around the time we got to Sheringham, but some incredibly slow driving along the coast road limited our progress. We got there nonetheless, to find a crowd of 12-15 birders watching the Hooded Crow showing on-and-off in a stubble field. It flew off along with a flock of Woodpigeons, however it doubled back and perched in a coniferous tree nearby. Finding a decent vantage point we were able to watch it for some time, getting decent views and checking that it wasn't a hybrid.
As we were in the area, we decided to take a look at Cley. The large flock of Spoonbills was still on North Scrape (I counted 16 on most sweeps, but am assured that there were still 17, and the other one was directly behind one of the front birds). As we went back to the car I picked up 11 of them flying west. They flew past a birder who came up to ask if the Spoonbills were still there, but luckily once we'd told him he managed to spot them flying off! One more flew past before we left to try the middle hide complex. A Snipe has feeding in the open, and a number of Green Sands, Spotted Redshank (1 black bird) and Greenshank were obvious. We then began the unenviable job of checking through the Dunlin.
Most of the Dunlin were in summer plumage and very straightforward. A few weren't, but were still straightforward. We then came upon a bird with its head tucked in. It was noticeable initially because of its size, it was slightly larger than the Dunlin running around in front of it. Nowhere near as large as nearby Ruff, but enough to be larger than every other nearby Dunlin. The second point we noticed was the paleness of the underparts. There were no blotches, merely a few pale streaks on the upper breast and side. The bird occasionally lifted its head up to preen, revealing a long, black beak, slightly downcurved at the end. The bird had pale lores but no supercilium. The back was made up of black on chestnut, with cream fringes. There appeared to be small amounts of white either on the back or at the edges of feathers on the wing. As a Sparrowhawk flew over, the Dunlin flock shot off as a group. Our bird showed no intention of joining them, instead crouching low to the water.
By this point we had decided that the combined appearance and behaviour of this bird was odd. What we hadn't decided was what it could be if it wasn't a Dunlin. The lack of a supercilium and size ruled out most waders, and the bird lacked the jizz of Curlew Sand or White-rumped Sand. We hoped that it would give us a nice flypast, to check the rump and be on the safe side. As luck would have it after 45 minutes of not moving (despite a Marsh Harrier clearing te rest of the waders for a second time) it chose to fly when Gary was re-adjusting the 'scope. I kept on it with binoculars and picked up white on the tail area, but I was unable to be certain how far up the back it extended. The bird settled down in its new position, staying put low in the mud. It would sometimes swivel round on one leg, and also had "fit" type episodes of shaking and moving its beak.
Not wanting to leave in case we were missing something, we watched the bird for 2 hours+. A few birders came into the hide, but we realised that none of them had a great deal of experience with waders. Eventually Gary found two more experienced birders in Daukes who came and had a look. The conclusion was that the bird was a Dunlin, a slightly atypical one, but within the variation of the species. The non-flock behaviour, along with the inclination to not flush and shaking was suggested to be the result of a recent close encounter with a bird of prey. So there it was. We had spent the evening watching a Dunlin. Whilst there will undoubtedly be people that may scorn that, it was a useful excercise. It highlighted that by identifying common birds by jizz alone you miss out on seeing subtle differences in plumage, gave an insight into the variability of the species, and also showed the difference that light conditions can make (we went from 100% cloud cover to bright evening sun, with a noticeable difference in perceived colour of the crown and throat). It was also a good opportunity to make some field notes (attached below).

Wader notes. Ignore the bottom left flight drawing, the bird didn't show a white rump, I saw some white and was unable to be sure where. I also have to work on my "side-flight" views, as for most of its brief flight it was side on to me.

To end the day we went for a quick half at the Dun Cow. As we watched a pair of Linnet, the local Barn Owl flew in and landed on a post. We thought it couldn't get any better, until a Hobby flew in from the direction of Cley, swooping past before returning west. Pub tick!

Sandringham area

29th July 2010
No, I didn't go to the flower show. The main focus of the day was a social visit to West Newton, on the edge of the Sandringham estate. This left me able to explore east to Flitcham and west to Dersingham (I didn't say I was being sociable!) whilst Cath's parents met friends. The time before lunch was spent in the hide at Flitcham Abbey Farm. The local cows were pressed up against the fallen oak tree, but a scan along the posts behind located one of the family of Little Owls. Turtle Doves were calling, but it wasn't until a pair flew into a bare tree to the right of the hide that I could locate some, and we watched the male sing away for a while. Good numbers of Stock Doves were feeding in the area. On the way back young pheasants and rabbits chanced their luck along the edge of the road.
After lunch we set out in the other direction to Dersingham Bog. Despite a pleasant walk the heath was bird-light. A Kestrel perched at the top of a lone conifer was visible a mile off, whilst the call of Stonechats alerted us to at least four males. A lap around the boardwalk with not a dragonfly in sight was notable only for the amount of Round-leaved Sundew around the edges. A couple of Linnets later and we were walking back through the woods. Family groups of Coal Tit and Long-tailed Tits were calling, but nothing else stirred. Just before we headed back to Norwich we watched hundreds of gulls flying over towards the Wash, many appearing to have begun to moult primary feathers.