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WHITLINGHAM: Owl watching

30th October 2011

Apologies for the 'blank' post before this one, I am short of time and wanted to post about the owl.

On Friday evening a Short-eared Owl was reported at Thorpe Marshes. This represents a great sighting for the edge of Norwich, but by the time I got there it was almost pitch black. I still had a look round (I would have seen it had it broken the skyline I reckon) with no luck.

Saturday I was out, so on Sunday evening I remembered that the clocks had changed and went to Thorpe at 16:00. The first half hour of my vigil sitting on the cattle pen was pleasant enough, with a noisy stream of gulls heading back to the coast and a couple of noisy Grey Herons around too. Then the moment that in all honesty I didn't think would happen, a Short-eared Owl flew up from vegetation near the broad, and did a sweeping flight around the marshes. Less than a minute later it was gone, flying over Bungalow Lane. Absolutely amazing. I've seen a fair few SEOs at the coast, often in daylight, but for some reason this one on the patch was much more thrilling.

As the light got worse I decided to get up and double check that it hadn't flown behind some of the willows. At that point the owl flew back into view, coming in high over the poplars. I managed to get one sort of in focus picture (it is a SEO, honest!) as it flew over my head and out of sight. I waited ten minutes and then began walking back, only to get my best views as it flew across the path in front of me and then alongside the path at close quarters. A really enjoyable evenings birding.

At the time I presumed it would be the first Thorpe/Whitlingham Short-eared Owl, but as it happens I have just got my copy of the Norfolk Bird & Mammal report for 2010, which says that a maximum of three were seen at Whitlingham Marsh during the winter of 2009/10. Incidentally Whitlingham Marsh could refer to the council owned nature reserve of that name, or the marshy area behind the sewage works (with no general access) that is referred to as Whitlingham Marsh on Ordnance Survey maps. The only other B&MR nugget I have seen of interest to Whitlingham folks is a max count of 30 Little Grebes in Feb.

[Update] For those wanting to look for this bird, it is still being seen 10/11/11.


30th October 2011

One juvenile Shag offshore, an Eider, a few Guillemots and Red-throated Divers, plus a Red-breasted Merganser scared off by a jetskier. On the way back we stopped in Winterton as the Pallid/Common Swift flew over the car, but with the pale grey background I couldn't make out any plumage details at all. A Marsh Harrier flew over near Filby Heath, and there was a large flock of Pink-feet near Acle.

NORTH-EAST NORFOLK: Some seawatching

29th October 2011

After a brief spell moving some furniture around, Gary, Adam & I set off for everyone's favourite stretch of "under-watched" coastline, Trimingham. Before walking to the woods Gary noticed a Buzzard sp. flying west that appeared to have a white rump. We managed to find a gap in the treeline and confirm that the bird was as suspected, a Rough-legged Buzzard. The bird then stalled in the air and swooped down out of sight. We intended to try to re-find it, but news of a Red-rumped Swallow flying north from Sea Palling with two Swallows had us instead choosing to go to the clifftop.

The sea was initially not too productive, but as time passed several groups of Little Gulls passed leisurely by, as did several Kittiwakes and a couple of Wigeon. A number of Red-throated Divers were on the sea, and a lone Snow Bunting flew east along the cliffs. At around 12:30 the moment we were waiting for arrived, when three Swallows flew up from the cliffs. In a blur we panned from bird to bird as they split up across the fields. Surely one had to be the Red-rumped? The closest two were definite Swallows, the third had come and gone none of us had seen a pale rump on it. We were faced with the truth that despite it being the end of October it was just a coincidence that there were two groups of Swallows along the coast.

Feeling hungry we moved on to the Poacher's Pocket at Walcott, where we could get a bit more seawatching in. After the initial curious questions from patrons and passers by had been answered we started scanning the sea. Most of the birds seen were similar to Trimingham, but here they were mostly pub ticks for me. Several Guillemots were loafing offshore, and a Common Scoter and 2 Red-breasted Mergansers were good birds, as was a flyover Redpoll. I missed a Great Northern Diver, but the best bird of the day was a Black Guillemot. A rare bird in Norfolk, it flew in and landed on the sea, allowing reasonable views before drifting west. Whilst eating we had been haunted by the calls of Pink-footed Geese, so we decided to have a look for them on the way back.

Following the calls we soon located a large flock of Pink-footed Geese in a couple of fields just inland of the coast road. We failed to find any scarcer species in with them, but Gary found a neck-collared bird (Pale blue CCI). The WWT got back to me very quickly about this bird, which was tagged in Aberdeenshire in April 2002, and has been sighted in Norfolk most winters since then. This year it had already been reported from the Horsey area the previous week, so the birds weren't 'new in' as we had suspected. On the way back to North Walsham we stopped off at Ebridge Mill where we saw a Grey Wagtail, and we had a Sparrowhawk near the library.

Neck-collared Pink-footed Goose

NORWICH: Annual Beer Festival

28th October 2011

On Friday I went to my 10th Norwich Beer festival. The event is now so popular that the queue for the lunchtime session stretched well past the Playhouse, so we went to the Ten Bells first (I refuse to call it the X Bells, that's just silly). When we did get in, they had run out of half-pint glasses (this year a sort of tankard style), which rather ruins my collection. As a result of going late in the week many beers were no longer available, but it was still fun as always.

NORTH NORFOLK: Right place, right time

26th October 2011

Travelling east along the coast road produced two notable occurrences. Firstly a flock of newly arrived Pink-footed Geese flying over Cley made a very convincing dinosaur pattern. Secondly I ended up being in the right place at the right time to see a recently found Pallid Swift flying above the grounds of Beeston Hall School. After a while it then flew almost overhead and off towards Beeston Bump, eventually being lost in a low cloud.

WHITLINGHAM: List moves on slowly

24th October 2011

Walking around Whitlingham in the rain, I couldn't help feel that I should just write July-October off and spend any available time near the coast. Early November is the time when wildfowl numbers increase sharply, and it was noticeable that we were a way off. c60 Tufted Ducks and 32 Teal were the ducky highlights. A Kingfisher flew along the south shore, keeping my spirits up. Right at the end of the spit on Thorpe Broad a lone Snipe was feeding. I got a bit of deja vu along the riverbank when I heard a Bullfinch in the same scrub that I had heard earlier in the year. This time I managed to see it, my first patch year tick in a while. In the area between the Little Broad and Great Broad two Giant Puffballs were growing. Flyover stuff included a small flock of Redwing and around 30 Siskins, but no sign of any Brambling amongst a flock of Chaffinches. I've only seen Brambling here once, so if anyone does see some on the deck I would appreciate an email! Hopefully there will be more to report in the coming weeks.

EAST NORFOLK: A ropey set of shrike photos

23rd October 2011

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.

BROADLAND: Cockshoot Broad

16th October 2011

A brief visit to Cockshoot Broad saw me make two basic errors. Firstly I presumed that it would be quite quiet, and secondly I thought I'd be able to see some ducks. As it turned out, loads of tourists were moored at the Cockshoot staithe, and there was a constant stream of people in and out of the hide. With regards to the visibility, the angle of the sun meant that all of the birds on the broad were completely silhouetted. There were definitely Teal, Mallard and Tufted Ducks. Bird of the trip was a Kingfisher, which did a double-flypast. Afterwards we took a detour to the Caistor St Edmund area, where a large covey of Red-legged Partridges was the highlight.

NORTH NORFOLK: Lots of men in a field

15th October 2011

The place to be for any Norfolk birders with an interest in listing or rarities was Warham (site of the UKs second Rufous-tailed Robin for any foreign readers), and I duly took my place on the concrete pad at dawn, having been given a lift by Gary. Ultimately it was not to be, but a steady stream of commoner birds overhead and on the saltmarsh was some consolation. The cold morning was also a reminder that I need to buy warmer socks. Many congratulations to Rob Martin for finding the bird, and thanks to whoever organised the field for parking. The day promised more birds for those who spent the time looking, but I had a ticket for the Norwich City v Swansea match, so headed back to the fine city. We won 3-1 and played very well, so its all good.

For a finders account from Rob Martin see here: Punkbirder
For an account of the find from James McCallum see here: UK400 Club blog

Alternatively, make up a conspiracy theory about it. Bare in mind it will directly contradict the accounts of the people that were actually there at the time, so make sure its good. Maybe you were flying over in a microlite at the time and heard the whole sordid affair go down? Or maybe a friend of a friend was doing a mole survey for Natural England and was in a burrow three feet below the track and heard everything. There's no prize for the most creative entry. In fact, it might be best to just accept the statements made by Rob & James rather than pissing off two of the people most likely to find the next mega in Norfolk. Just a thought.

WHITLINGHAM: After the day of the owls

14th October 2011

I don't often let myself get too bothered by missing a particular bird, but I couldn't help wishing I'd been at Titchwell the previous day to see the mass influx of Short-eared Owls. Surely a once in a lifetime moment for those present. With my inland patching hat on, it struck me that if ever I was going to see a Short-eared Owl locally it would be now. This was further brought home when I found out that one had got as far down the river as Strumpshaw (c6 miles away). Even without the SEOs there was an influx of Great Grey Shrikes and Yellow-browed Warblers, so more than enough to keep the interest up.

I headed down to Whitlingham after work, arriving around 5. After scanning the meadows and the scrub around the Little Broad (Adam had a Brambling here earlier in the week, a scarce bird at the C.P.) I went for a quick scan of the Great Broad. Gulls were pouring onto the broad for a pre-roost bathe, the 250+ Lesser-black backs on the water were only a fraction of the birds passing through. At the east end of the broad 213 Greylag Geese was an unusually high count. Today though the waterfowl were secondary. I had identified Whitlingham Marsh and the sewage works as being the most likely spots, so I headed past the woods (quickly scanning Thorpe Marsh on my way). Of course I didn't see any owls, and no shrikes were perched on the fence, but it was worth a shout. As I walked back along Whitlingham Lane in the vanishing light I wondered what fun and games were going on at the North Norfolk Coast.

WHITLINGHAM: As you were

9th October 2011

Not too much wildfowl about today, c160 Coot and a couple of previously unseen domestic-type Mallards hardly set the pulse racing. A drake Pochard, a couple of Wigeon and a couple of groups of Gadwall accompanied the Tufted Ducks on the stretch east of the island. A few more Cormorants and a couple of Grey Herons were resting in the trees. A few Migrant Hawkers were still on the wing, and a male Kestrel was hunting over the meadows.

NORWICH: Mousehold Heath, more Redwings arrive

8th October 2011

A quick trip to Mousehold Heath was accompanied by a small passage of Redwings, which continued overnight. I can usually occupy myself in the autumn in periods of low bird-activity by looking at fungi, but the dry weather has meant that there is hardly any of that around either. Trip aborted, we went to the Wig and Pen for a beer.

MEDIA: Whitlingham Ferry?

Whitlingham was in the news last week, with Thorpe St Andrews council considering building a chain ferry between the C.P. and Thorpe Marshes. Whilst this would obviously be convenient for me, I don't really understand what benefits they think it would bring. The quoted cost of up to £250,000 means that it is highly unlikely to go ahead in any case. Perhaps they could have saved some money by looking at the one at Reedham rather than a similar one in Scotland. There would be a bit more mileage in linking Thorpe riverside with Whitlingham (allowing people to have a walk then go to a bar or cafe), but the railway line is in the way. Anyway, interesting to hear its being contemplated, and something to keep an eye on over the next few years.

SUFFOLK: Boyton Crane twitch

2nd October 2011

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.

The crane has also made it onto the Norfolk list (or it should do once the formalities are gone thorugh) by virtue of a retrospective identification from some birdwatchers at Snettisham. As frustrating as it is to not see the bird in Norfolk, it is surely a good thing that the bird can take its place on the county list, when everyone realised there was a very high likelihood that it had gone through or around the coast of the county in reaching Suffolk.

SUFFOLK: Lowestoft North Denes

1st October 2011

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.