A pre-Christmas jaunt, and not much was stirring, not even a... well you get the idea anyway. Bird of the day was this colossal gull, dwarfing the Lesser Black-backs although matching them in mantle shade.
A short walk around the paddocks was devoid of Hawfinches, but did see a nice perched up Crossbill. Poking around the arboretum I found a calling Firecrest, and we also saw some late fungi, including an Ear-pick Toadstool and some Stag's Horn.
Many thanks to all those who have contributed to my birding throughout the year, be it through lifts, information about sightings, advice or companionship.
So, you find yourself with a week off and don't fancy wandering around Hunstanton on the off chance you find a garden with some buds in? Why not take the big Eider challenge? Ben Lewis originally found a female-type Eider on the river at Buckenham on Sunday, and then yesterday it was seen heading west past Strumpshaw. Continuing along the river, hopefully it will get to Whitlingham (and even more hopefully it will stay there. Unfortunately work prevents me from going each day and checking, but if anyone goes to Surlingham C.M., Brundall, Bramerton, Postwick, Whitlingham Sewage Works or Thorpe & Whitlingham please keep an eye out! Lets get some more sightings on the Map of Duck below.
Other random bird news:
Waxwings have returned to Norwich for the winter, with a small flock around the Hall Road area (thanks to Will from the Birdbeards blog for updates on these).
The Hawk & Owl Trust have put up a new camera on the Cathedral to look at the Peregrines next year. I don't know why they need a new one, maybe its conitnuous rather than shots every two minutes. Anyway, its good that the male is still holding territory around the Cathedral.
Woodfordes have given the NWT a cheque for nearly £2400, raised from sales of its "Once Bittern" beer launched earlier this year.
Shrike ID seems to be quite fluid, this bird is currently classed as the Daurian subspecies of Isabelline Shrike by the BOU. These digiscoped shots manage to capture the bird yawning (presumably bored of hearing the onlookers comment on its Wren eating) and stretching out the tail and wing feathers, which on some birds could have been very useful.
I had intended to go to Whitlingham, although I hadn't exactly decided what it was I expected to find, other than hundreds of people. Luckily I was saved from myself by the news that the Sandhill Crane had been located in Suffolk. Thanks to Cathy & Margaret who agreed to give me a lift, and to Gary who gave updates as it flew around a bit, we arrived in Boyton, parked outside the village so we weren't obstructing anyone and got there just in time. The Sandhill Crane was standing in a stubble field, and we watched it for around 10-15 minutes before a microlite spooked it and it circled then flew over the hedge. Someone had the presence of mind to set up a collection basket for the local church to try to keep onside the bemused (and in one case livid) local residents, and I see that since then the church carpark is being used.
Another hot day with southerly winds, making searching for migrants that little bit harder. I decided to have a walk around the dunes and scrub north of Lowestoft. The banks of brambles that should have a nice mix of outgoing warblers feeding up and incoming birds were empty. The only thing that was in the dunes were semi-naked old people burning their skin, and that wasn't an encouragement. Walking back along the beach a Red-throated Diver landed on the sea, still partially in summer plumage. A Grey Seal emerged with a fish and was mobbed by gulls, and four Med Gulls flew around.
An early morning visit to Whitlingham was delayed a few roads from my house as I watched a cat furiously chasing a Grey Squirrel in and out of gardens, along a fence and under a car, before the squirrel finally found refuge in a Holly tree, still being watched by the cat. I arrived just after dawn, and was treated to some nice views as the banks of mist began to clear. Whilst watching the mist rise up from the river at Trowse Meadows a Bullfinch called in the distance. A walk around the broad was largely uneventful until the final stretch, when a Kingfisher flew across the path and a Marsh Tit popped up in a tree beside the path. Several Redwing flew over, my first of the autumn.
In the afternoon we agreed to go to the coast to have a look around. The lack of migrants reported and the westerly winds meant there was no obvious destination, so I decided on Thornham (the wrong ...rnham as it happened, but there we go). We parked at the staithe carpark and walked along the coastal path, but there were hardly any passerines about, and a Spotted Redshank in one of the creeks was the best bird of the trip.
It wouldn't have happened in my day. Anyway, it appears that someone on the UEA campus wasn't in the student bar, and as a result found a lone Snow Bunting wandering around on the grass outside some of the new accommodation blocks ('new' as in not Waveney Terrace/Prison). I found out about the bird when I got home from work (thanks to James G for the text) and after a cup of tea decided to walk down to UEA and see if it was still around. To my surprise it was, and was every bit as tame as Snow Bunting usually are at the coast. It was walking around, picking at white feathers and dandelion clocks as if to check that they weren't snow. Eventually it flew in a tight arc around two other birders, landing even closer to them on the next bit of lawn. Well done to the finder, and to any new birders starting uni here - its not always like this!
What a difference a day makes. In contrast to the previous day when I had the country park almost to myself, the sun had brough out hundreds of people. Wildfowl numbers were accordingly down, the whole Wigeon flock had gone. The only new arrival was a drake Pochard in with the Tufted Ducks. A Shag had been reported near the island in the morning, so I checked and re-checked all of the Cormorants, but with no joy. If anyone who reads the blog knows anymore details (adult/juvenile, time seen etc.) I would appreciate it. Whilst scanning from the bird screen a flock of 146 Lesser Black-backed Gulls dropped in, and I spent a while scanning through to check for Yellow-legged Gulls. There definitely weren't any adult YLG, but it did highlight the fact that I don't know how to separate juveniles and 1st winters, so some evening reading needed!
2nd winter Lesser Black-backed Gull. Maybe.
A couple of weeks since my last visit, and with Grafham Water showing the potential of inland reservoirs (albeit much larger ones) I thought an early morning visit was in order. Upon arrival I was scanning from the slipway when I heard the whistling noise made by Wigeon, and sure enough six were swimming around near the far bank. As I continued round I found a further 37 mixed in with a similar sized flock of Gadwall. It wasn't long before the ducks were disturbed by a speedboat sent out by the watersports centre, but when they landed again I was able to confirm that there were 43 Wigeon, far and away my highest count here. In the conservation area bay another 25-odd Gadwall and a Little Grebe were loafing around. Three Chiffchaffs were singing around the site, and five Cetti's Warblers were singing too. A Speckled Wood and a couple of White sp. were the only butterflies, whilst a Shaggy Ink Cap was by the path at the east end.
Shaggy Ink Cap
No prizes for guessing my destination on Saturday, with the juvenile Little Bittern at Titchwell defying a supposed period of inactivity resulting from the presistent westerly winds. It took two and a half hours of pool gazing before we got views, but it was worth the wait. A close Red Kite and a late Swift flew over. Everyone has their moments where a bird shows after they leave, and this was nearly mine. Cathy had waited patiently for a few hours and I had agreed to go after checking the freshmarsh, but on the way back I noticed everyone had bunched together. The Little Bittern had came into the open then back into the reeds (a nearby birder accurately described picking it out as a "Magic-eye puzzle") but I finally saw bits of it. After a short wait it then stepped out into the open again, looking straight towards us then turning side-on and catching a fish. Despite the reeds blowing about in front of me I managed to get a couple of digiscoped photos for posterity.
A warm morning was a mixed blessing, nice enough to go out but warm enough to bring hoardes of people to Whitlingham. Adam suggested a walk along the river south of the city, so we headed for Marston Marshes. The paths had been resurfaced since my last visit, but the riverside ones don't appear to have been raised, so its only a matter of time before they flood. The new wader scrape was similarly disappointing, both in size and the fact that it is almost invisible from the path. We saw Great Spotted Woodpecker and Kestrel, whilst a flock of House Sparrows were on the feeders on Marston Lane.
It began to drizzle as we crossed the railway to Eaton Common, stopping to watch a Green Woodpecker in the paddocks. A heard-only Kingfisher was the only bird of note here, and we headed off to Keswick Mill. Only a lone Moorhen on the mill pool, but in a sun-trap around the corner we saw a number of butterflies including a pristine Comma. We followed the track down to Harford Bridges, where we had a cup of tea and marvelled at the extensive Tesco Local Nature Reserve. walking back up the main road we were heckled by morons whilst photographing some Sandy Stilt Puffballs (a rare fungus) before heading back along Marston Lane.
Jim had been seeing good numbers of waders at Cantley over the past week, and invited me to join him there for the afternoon. On the way we called in at Strumpshaw to look for the Willow Emerald Damselflies. We didn't see them, but as this is the third year they've been recorded at Strumpshaw I'm sure I'll catch up with them eventually. We did manage Common Blue Damselfly, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, Brown Hawker and Migrant Hawker. From the reception hide a Hobby was perched on a dead tree and an immature Grey Heron was standing half-submerged, perhaps trying to cool off? Several Brimstones were flying, a rather late second brood.
After signing in at the security lodge we preceded down the footpath to the settling pools. On my previous visit to Cantley the water levels had been high, but it was immediately obvious from the large areas of exposed mud that I should expect more birds this time. Quietly viewing from the first corner we found a flock of Dunlin & Ringed Plover that also included 11 Little Stints and four Curlew Sandpipers. Eventually we walked alongside them, getting my closest views of both of the latter species. David N was already onsite, and we were joined by Ricky, creating a sort of 'bloggers-elect'. Most of the rest of the time was spent scrutinising each Ruff and Dunlin, but we also turned up Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank, Snipe, Yellow Wagtail and more Curlew Sands. Good views, good company, great birding.
Mixed wader flock
Juv. Curlew Sandpiper
Ostensibly today was a series of historical visits, but we managed to pack in some birds too. We started at the ruined castle at Castle Acre. The site is free to visit and has some chalk flora such as Lesser Calamint to look at when not staring at the ruins or running backwards and forwards over the bridges. The landscape looks a bit like what the Teletubbies home would be like if they decided to fortify it.
After visiting the castle, we went to Castle Acre Priory. Another English heritage site, this one charges admission, and it wa touch and go whether it was worth £5.60. However, as we were already there and it looked quite good, we went in. Straight away I located a calling Grey Wagtail, and we spent a while stalking at least three more amongst the ruins. We also saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker and Margaret found a couple of Little Owl feathers.
After Castle Acre, we briefly stopped at North Elmham Chapel, Norfolk's first Cathedral apparently, and a very small one. Driving back to the Fakenham Road we had just got to Guist Common when a stunning Harris Hawk flew alongside the car and then over the road. I think one has been kicking around that area for a few years, but it was my first experience of one in the 'wild' (I know its an escape). We stopped in case it flew back, and whilst waiting a Bullfinch flew into the hedge.
With north-easterly winds I had been contemplating getting up very early and going seawatching, but a late night put paid to that idea. Instead I contented myself with a trip to Whitlingham in the hope of some windblown Scoters. As it happened the best bird of the day was a Common Gull in with the Lesser-black backs, which a quick notebook check suggests is my first August record here. There is still an uncut cereal field at the top of the lime tree avenue, so when that gets cut it could push some Red-legged Partridges into the meadows, but I'm struggling to amuse myself here at the moment. Plantwise some Hops are growing near the river. A large beetle wandering along the path was a Great Diving Beetle, a normally aquatic species, but one I have seen on land before. One of the Whitlingham Lane residents told me he'd seen a Grass Snake on the lane in the week, which would be good to see locally. And thats about it.
I know it doesn't look too spectacular here, but they are a pretty hefty beetle, with a good nip too.
After a fairly quiet August (so far) I didn't take any tempting to go to Graffham to see the White-winged Black Tern that has taken up recent residence. Gary & I arrived to see a few birders on site, and took advantage of a close Black Tern to get some pictures. It wasn't until it flew off that the comments around us made us aware that some individuals thought it was the White-winged Black Tern. The bird we were after was actually flying around with some Black Terns on the far edge of the reservoir. Eventually they made their way round to the sailing club, and the White-winged Black Tern treated us to some close fly-pasts before settling on the pontoon. After giving far better views than 90% of vagrant species* it set off on another lap, and we took our cue to head back to Norfolk.
After getting stuck in traffic near King's Lynn, we headed inland then north to Titchwell. We had a look through the waders, where Gary earned himself hero-worship status from a nearby birder by locating three Curlew Sandpipers near the back of the freshmarsh. Whilst this birder told his friends how he could hardly see the bird, let alone an eye-stripe, another well-meaning birder committed a cardinal sin. He tried to express his doubts about a recent Buff-breasted Sandpiper sighting (on-site this was changed later to Dotterel, I'm not sure on what basis) but insisted on only calling the bird a BBS. Don't do it folks. Maybe use acronyms when writing to save time, but not when speaking. You have time to say "Buff-breasted Sand(piper)". What if we think you mean Broad-billed Sandpiper? Or Big Balled Stint? More importantly, it justs sounds really really silly.After calling in at Stiffkey campsite carpark (a couple of Spoonbills on the saltmarsh), we went to the Dun Cow, hoping to cash in on the wader bonanza around the coast. The best bird was pretty much the first one, Gary spotting a Yellow Wagtail get up from near some cattle and fly west. I picked up a Hobby soaring above us, and at one point four were circling together, a lovely summer sight. A kettle of gulls over Cley seemed to be highlighting where we should be, so we finished the evening in the central hides. We were treated to some very close Common and Green Sandpipers, whilst further out six Spoonbills slept, and amongst the waders were one each of Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper, plus three probing Snipe. The whole lot was put up by a marauding Sparrowhawk, and some Swallows flew into a nest they had made inside the hide! Always a great place to end a days birding.
* This, like pretty much any unreferenced statistics on the blog is a completely made up stat.