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WHITLINGHAM: More spring birds

27th April 2013

Well it's finally spring, traditionally the most bird-filled time to be at Whitlingham and the most likely to turn up an interesting species of non-wildfowl. Standing in the car park I heard Swifts (90), and looking up saw a small flock flying against the grey cloud. Walking through towards the broads I heard my first Reed Warbler (91) of the year singing from the hedge along the gas compound. I kept listening out for warblers as I walked along the north shore, stopping to see a Bullfinch at the top of one of the willows.

Further along I decided to make an effort to see a Cetti's Warbler, having only heard them so far this year. After a short vigil by the riverbank I did manage to get some rubbish views of one in the bramble scrub (92). Further along I saw the first of at least six Whitethroats (93). Further round and a scan of Thorpe Marsh didn't add anything, so I continued round to the south shore. Here I met Simon whilst scanning a couple of Terns, at least one of which was a Common Tern (94). He told me that he had seen a Wheatear at Thorpe earlier in the day. Being a species that I haven't seen locally I went to the woodland car park to scan across in the hope that it would be visible. Despite trying several different viewpoints (all obscurred to a certain extent by trees) there was no sign of the Wheatear.

So, six more birds until the patch hundred - I'm guessing Common Sandpiper, Cuckoo, Gropper, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Marsh Harrier are the most likely. Of course a Wheatear or something new would be even better... 

Everything looks better with a yacht

SOUTH NORFOLK: Ashwellthorpe Lower Wood

21st April 2013

A lovely sunny day, so we headed out to Ashwellthorpe Lower Wood in search of Bluebells and Early Purple Orchids. I had never been before, and nearly kept up that record as we went past the new car park twice (not seeing it the first time, then seeing it too late the second time!). As we walked down towards the wood a Peacock butterfly flew past us, and we were greeted by the strong smell of Wild Garlic just inside the wood. Many of the spring migrant birds have now 'caught up' following the late onset of spring, but it soon became apparent that the flowers are still well behind. We didn't see a single Bluebell in flower, and early spring flowers like Lesser Celandines and Primroses dominated. We did see lots of Wood Anemones, which was nice. On the bird front we heard a Tawny Owl and had a couple of Buzzards fly over, whilst butterfly wise we saw more Peacocks and Brimstones. A nice place, I'm sure we'll visit again at some point.

Wood Anemones

WHITLINGHAM: Arctic Tern influx

18th April 2013

There was a large passage of Arctic Terns throughout the day, and so it came as no particular surprise to find out that some had been seen at Whitlingham. What was a surprise however was the amount, with up to 18 being seen. This is the largest number there that I can remember, although I haven't gone through the Bird & Mammal reports to check this yet. Last year the main passage was on 24th April, when I saw 4 Arctic Terns and 7+ Common Terns, but this year all of the birds I saw were Arctic - in fact a Common Tern would have been my earliest patch record as I usually see them in the fourth week of April: 2008 (23rd), 2010 (25th), 2011 (21st) and 2012 (24th).

Arriving at Whitlingham in bright sunshine I saw some Swallows flying over the Great Broad, and picked up my first patch House Martin into the bargain. A double check for anything rarer (Red-rumped Swallow in Kessingland and several Alpine Swifts were seen today) came up empty. Scanning down the broad I saw some Terns, all east of the island. Reaching them I positioned myself in a gap in the willows so that I could scan without standing out. I counted 16 Arctic Terns, and got some excellent views as they flew back and forth, stalling and swooping to catch insects just over the waters surface.

WHITLINGHAM: Beautiful evening & the song of the Nightingale

15th April 2013

This evening was one of those lovely patch moments, glorious sunshine and lots of birdsong. There was however a particular purpose for my visit, the discovery of a Nightingale at Whitlingham for the second year running. Handily I was visiting the in-laws in Lakenham when I heard about it, so I borrowed a pair of binoculars and headed down to the C.P. Walking along the north shore I stopped to find my first patch Blackcap of the year, singing rather softly from some Alders. The message I had received had said 'north shore', so I decided to head to a likely area and wait. Whilst listening I heard my first Willow Warbler of the year nearby.

After a while I began to wonder whether the Nightingale would sing at all, or was I out of earshot? Another birder appeared, and he decided to continue further round and listen from there. A short while later he beckoned me along the path, and a few seconds later I moved into earshot of a singing Nightingale. It was close by but initially hidden from my view in an area of scrub, but it didn't take long before it flew into a small willow. I was able to keep on it, and we were treated to excellent views as it perched in full view, singing with gusto. The song seemed to attract the interest of other birds. A male Blackcap came into the tree but was ignored. Two Long-tailed Tits then hopped towards the Nightingale, which stopped singing and chased one of them around the tree and out into the next bush. The Long-tailed Tit did attempt to return, but was chased off again. I listened for a little while longer, before leaving and returning the binoculars.

Whilst waiting for the Nightingale I also saw a Swallow (and two Willow Warblers on the way back). This puts me in the unlikely position of actually being ahead of my usual mid-April tally, despite the late spring. This gives me a slight chance of beating my earliest 100 (4th May), but I'll need some luck, maybe a Tern influx?

Many thanks to the finder for releasing news of the Nightingale.

BRECKS: Breckland trip

14th April 2013

My last day of the holidays, and I took up Paul Newport's invitation to check out some Breckland sites. We started early and after a couple of brief stop-offs we reached our starting point. We then spent the morning doing a circuit of the area, in places making use of bits of two long-distance footpaths, the Eastern Pingo Trail and The Peddar's Way. An enjoyable day's birding was sound-tracked by the now numerous Chiffchaffs, with good views of birds such as drumming Great-spotted Woodpeckers, several Marsh Tits, Bullfinches, Treecreepers and Nuthatches. A calling Golden Pheasant stayed frustratingly out of sight deep within cover. In terms of migrants, a Swallow was all we had for most of the day, until a House Martin flew across the fields as we were preparing to leave.

Non-avian sightings included Red, Roe and Muntjac Deer, Brimstone butterfly, Orange Underwing moth and some Scarlet Elf Cups. We also saw this rather nice moss, which I may eventually put a name to.

[Edit] Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have been told that this is Common Tamarisk Moss.

WHITLINGHAM: Patch tick!

13th April 2013

A count day at Whitlingham, and some glorious sunshine too. A flock of around 30 Redwings were in the trees along Whitlingham Lane, my latest patch record (although I wouldn't bet against beating it again on my next visit!). The two surviving Egyptian Goslings were on the main slipway, and a Chiffchaff, the first of six, was singing nearby. There were gulls spread out across the Great Broad, and I set about checking them for Med Gulls. I counted around 380 Black-headed Gulls, 6 Common Gulls, 6 Lesser Black-backs, 2 Herring Gulls but best of all, a Kittiwake!  An excellent inland bird, and interesting to see near the other gulls to compare the structure. It flew further along the broad showing off the black legs, but a motorboat then went the length of the broad, putting all the gulls into the air.

Continuing around the broad I heard, and with a bit of patience saw, a Sedge Warbler. Interestingly this is about the time I would expect Sedge Warbler here, although birds like Willow Warbler and Blackcap would normally be in first. This suggests that the early spring migrants are backed up, but mid-to late spring migrants may well now arrive roughly as expected. On the broad a couple of Pochard lingered, and a summer-plumaged Little Grebe was diving near the island. There was no sign of any hirundines, although I have been told that Swallows have been seen on the past two days. A Peacock butterfly was my second butterfly of the year.

THORPE MARSH: LRP, Green Sandpiper & Sand Martins

10th April 2013

A trip to Thorpe Marsh this morning, and reaching the bridge the unfamiliar but welcome sound of a Chiffchaff reached my ears. The water level on the scrape looked too high for smaller waders, and the only birds on the water were some Teal. A second Chiffchaff sung from near the railway line and a couple of Lesser Redpoll flew over. The only bird of note on the marsh was a Reed Bunting, one of several around the site today.

Scanning from the bird screen I couldn't see anything on the spit, but I heard a Green Sandpiper nearby so I decided to walk to the end of viewing area at the edge of the broad and have a look around. Carefully scanning the shingle broad edge I found a Little Ringed Plover, and later a second bird also emerged. Some loud calling behind me drew attention to a Water Rail out in the open. After turning my attention back to the Little Ringed Plovers I re-scanned the spit, finding a Green Sandpiper. A second Green Sand flew up from the broad and towards the edge of the river. A Sand Martin flew past my head, and soon after it was joined by four more, swooping and chattering before continuing on their journey. All in all a very successful morning, and it did actually feel a bit like spring!

Despite appearances, this Green Sandpiper did have a head

On the way back I noticed a small white flower which looks like either Common Whitlowgrass or Hairy Whitlowgrass, both of which would be new for me.

[A good day locally: also in Norwich today - A Red Kite flew over Thorpe later in the day, a Common Sandpiper was at Marston Marsh, a Med Gull flew over Eaton Park and a Spotted Redshank was at Bowthorpe Marsh]

NORTH NORFOLK: A butterfly!

7th April 2013

The first warm day of the year and my first butterfly, a Brimstone, which Cathy spotted flying through the garden of the Greens pub at Aylsham. On our way back from North Walsham to Norwich a Fieldfare was on the verge just before Coltishall.

YARE VALLEY: Wherryman's Way

5th April 2013

Adam & I took the bus to Rockland St Mary for a look around and then a walk back to Whitlingham via the Wherryman's Way footpath. It's a walk we have done in spring several times before, and usually picks us up a few spring migrants, although this year we weren't so confident.

Our first point of interest was at Rockland staithe, where there are some allotments. Some Fieldfares were immediately obvious, along with some Linnet and commoner stuff. We then walked along the path to the bird hide and looked out over Rockland Broad. Five pairs of Great-crested Grebes were present, one of them displaying. There were also single pairs of Tufted Ducks and Gadwall, and a Marsh Harrier flew over. With  little else around we retraced our steps back to the road, where Adam noticed a Wood Duck in a front garden. In fact there was a pair, and a pair of a south American duck (Ringed Teal?) on a small pond.

We followed the footpath up over the fields and along the edge of Wheatfen. A large flock of Linnets and some Skylarks were on some farmland, and a pair of Brown Hares and a Chinese Water Deer were further over. Reaching some grassier paddocks we found a mixed flock of Starlings, Redwings and Fieldfares, some of which flew up into the roadside trees. As we reached Surlingham a Marsh Tit was feeding in a garden along the covey road.

Next up on the south Yare tour was Surlingham Church Marsh. We walked up to the Ferry House pub and then along the river, spooking a couple more Chinese Water Deer. Continuing to the bird hide we saw some Teal, Tufted Ducks, Gadwall and Canada Geese, before re-tracing our steps and taking the path inland to check for Little Owls. No Owls in view, so after double-checking from the ruins we carried on towards the church. Several Red-legged Partridges ran across our path and into the woods, and a pair of Coal Tits called from the conifer tops.

The next leg of the journey took us towards Bramerton. Before we arrived we scanned across the marshes from a high point on the footpath, and picked out Curlew, Green Sandpiper and Shoveler on some flooded pools. Carrying on past the Woods End, we went across the farmland  towards Whitlingham sewage works. Here we were surprised to see 84 Lapwings on the fields (a couple of pairs sometimes breed near here, but the large number is unusual). 83 were in a group, whilst one had been ostracised.

A pair of Oystercatchers and a Herring Gull were the only birds of note at the sewage works before we went along the edge of Whitlingham Marsh. Some ducks, probably Teal, spooked up from the flooded woods, drawing our attention to a Water Rail running in comedy fashion. Looking over the river a Sparrowhawk flew up from behind the trees and soared over Thorpe Marsh. Whitlingham was busy and there was still little to suggest that summer had arrived.

WHITLINGHAM: It's still winter

4th April 2013

Another Whitlingham wander in single-figure temperatures and snow showers. Still no sign of anything summery, in fact a single Siskin and a flock of Lesser Redpoll gave a wintery feel. 36 Pochard and 55+ Tufted Ducks were on the Great Broad. Other birds of interest were a couple of Treecreepers and a pair of Bullfinches calling from scrub near the Little Broad. No further sign of the second Egyptian Goose brood, and the first one is down to two goslings. There isn't usually this level of mortality, so I suspect the cold weather is to blame.

NORWICH: Winter thrushes at Carey's Meadow

3rd April 2013

I was actually woken up this morning by the dawn chorus, one of the sacred seals of spring, and like yesterday there was actually some blue sky visible during the day. I walked down to Carey's Meadow, a nice piece of warbler habitat, to see if there had been any change in the bird life. A pair of Bullfinches called to each other, but still no chiffing or chaffing. As I approached the river I heard the harsh 'chacking' call of a Fieldfare, and saw several along with some Redwings in the riverside trees. There was my answer - it's still winter in the avian kingdom.

NORWICH: Spring in the Rosary

1st April 2013

April 1st is not a good day to find a rare bird, because of the obvious issues with people not believing you. I cleverly avoided this problem by not finding anything rare. What I did do was have a nice walk around Rosary Cemetery and Lion Wood, ostensibly for Chiffchaffs but realistically looking for anything to brighten up the day.

Bird-wise I saw the expected stuff, including Nuthatch, Green Woodpecker and Stock Dove. I watched a Wren foraging mouse-like in the dead leaves, and also saw what I presume is a form of display by a Coal Tit. Attracted to it by a sort of whirring noise that I didn't recognise (which I can't find on Xeno Canto, at least on the first page) I noticed a pair of Coal Tits perched on a branch, with the male leaning in and vibrating his wings, looking like it had picked up some moves watching David Attenborough's Life of Birds.

Other than birds there was a nice display of Primroses and Crocuses in the cemetery, and I found a Barren Strawberry plant in flower. Some brackets in Lion Wood look like Purplepore Bracket, and given that I have only just started looking at lichens, everything I noticed on tombstones was probably new to me if I can identify it.

I call these 'black lichen' and 'orange apothecia'd grey lichen'

Purplepore Bracket