A diary of my birding activity covering highlights and photos from my birding adventures. Mainly Norfolk (UK), occasionally beyond. I might mention the odd thing that isn't avian, but for moth and other insect news check out my mothing diary.

Monday, 6 May 2019

King Eider, Siberian Chiffchaff and Grey-bellied Brant

Apart from Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Redpolls, Siskins, Bullfinches and a Brambling at the local meadows, the only birding worth mentioning in the first week of November was a quick visit to Sheringham.  I found the King Eider reasonably easily, opposite the west end of the golf course.  There was a Common Scoter in the same bit of sea and 4 Redshanks flew west.

King Eider (with Common Scoter in bottom image), Sheringham, 5th November

Local birding didn't improve the following week except that there were up to 4 Lesser Redpolls and Siskin at home.

A visit to Burnham Overy on 17th November was interesting enough, though perhaps not as much as I would have liked.  There were 20 Barnacle Geese, which are normally assumed to be the local feral flock.  That may indeed have been the case for all of them, but I did wonder about these two as I picked them up over the dunes apparently flying in from the NNW.  Maybe they were part of the feral flock that had just had a bit of a fly around, or maybe they were genuine immigrants arriving from the north...?  I suspect the former.

Barnacle Geese, Burnham Overy, 17th November

There was a large raft of Common Scoter just off the mouth of the Burn.

Common Scoter, Burnham Overy, 17th November

Sadly I couldn't find any more unusual scoters among them, though there were 6 Red-breasted Mergansers knocking around.  Also 4 Tufted Ducks east and 3 Razorbills.

There was a Great White Egret in the estuary, and I saw 2 Avocets, Kingfisher, Short-eared Owl and 2 Red Kites.  But so far as passerine migrants were concerned it was pretty tough going.  There was one Blackcap and at least 100 Blackbirds but precious little else.

Mike Buckland had fared a little better at the west end of Holkham Pines finding a nice Siberian Chiffchaff there, so I went along to join him looking at that.  It was an interesting bird.  Not quite as obvious as they can be with distinct greenish tones visible in the scapulars in some lights - enough that would once upon a time have disqualified it but apparently not any more.  In other lights it looked really good - compare the two images below.

Siberian Chiffcahff, Holkham Pines, 17th November

Mike had tried playing its call in order to elicit a response as the bird had failed to call at all.  This hadn't worked but someone else came along and played a quick burst of Siberian Chiffchaff song.  The bird's response was instantateous!  Immediately it popped up high and started engaging in an amazing wing-shimmering display.  It still remained silent, but this was enough to disperse any remaining doubts as to its identity.  The other Chiffchaff that was alongside it didn't respond at all (in fact there were at least 3 Chiffchaffs here).

Chiffcahff, Holkham Pines, 17th November

For the rest of the month I stayed local and consequently saw little.  I heard Barn Owl from my study and at the meadows heard a Brambling, saw Sparrowhawk, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatch and Treecreepers, Siskins and up to 5 Bullfinches.

Stock Dove, North Elmham Cathedral Meaodws, 21st November

Skylark, North Elmham Cathedral Meaodws, 21st November

Robin, North Elmham Cathedral Meaodws, 21st November

Bullfinch, North Elmham Cathedral Meaodws, 21st November

Mistle Thrush, North Elmham Cathedral Meaodws, 25th November

December started with Pink-footed Geese heard over the house on 1st and 2 Redpolls on 3rd.  A quick stop at Wroxham Broad when I was passing on 5th produced 2 Pink-footed Geese among 200+ Greylags.

Local birding was generally slow.  Despite overlooking the river Wensum the only duck species I'd recorded at the Cathedral Meadows between the end of April and December was Mallard.  So it was a surprise to see a Shoveler and 3 Gadwall fly over heading towards the park on 8th.  I don't think I've ever been so excited to see a Shoveler and some Gadwall before in my life!

I went along to Bittering on 17th December where the highlight was these 3 Whooper Swans, a good local bird though not the first time I've seen them here.

Whooper Swans, Bittering, 17th December

Nuthatch and Treecreeper continued to be regular at the meadows, and also Marsh Tits were now appearing more often.

Coal Tit, North Elmham Cathedral Meaodws, 17th December

Blue Tit, North Elmham Cathedral Meaodws, 17th December

Great Tit, North Elmham Cathedral Meaodws, 17th December

A distant flock of 62 Golden Plover were new for the meadows on 22nd (also 213 Lapwings) and 29 Pink-footed Geese flew east on Christmas Eve.  Also this day a newly-formed puddle viewable from the corner of the meadows provided some new habitat and with it some new species for the patch - 2 Wigeon and 12 Teal.

Treecreeper, North Elmham Cathedral Meaodws, 22nd December

I could hear a right old commotion in the larger trees behind the chapel ruins with tits, Blackbirds, finches and Jackdaws all making alarm calls.  Clearly something was up, but the birds seemed well spaced around the top of the tree and it wasn't immediately clear where their cause for concern was.  I wondered if it was a Tawny Owl, but couldn't see one, and then 2 Jays appeared in the tree.  I've seen birds mobbing Jays so maybe these were the cause, but I wasn't convinced.  The Jays flew off and the noise continued, so I walked round the other side and sure enough, there was a Tawny Owl, sat in full view in a hole at the very top of the trunk - an unusually exposed position for one of these to roost I thought.  Well it liked it enough as it remained more-or-less reliable there through into March, and a staggering number of birders came to see it during that time.  Interestingly though, I never saw the other birds getting remotely bothered by it again.

Tawny Owl, North Elmham Cathedral Meaodws, 24th December

On the way down to Kent on Christmas morning 2 Ring-necked Parakeets flew over the M25 near Stapleford Tawney.  Then on Boxing Day, on the way up to the Lake District, I saw a Red Kite near Harrogate and then 8 Black Grouse at a well-known spot followed by Red Grouse and a Barn Owl around Alston Moor.  Not sure how common Barn Owl are up here - I don't recall seeing them up north before.

Black Grouse, up north, 26th December

The final family visit on the whistle-stop tour of the UK was in Dundee on 27th, where we also dipped on Waxwings.  Finally it was back to Norfolk on 28th where first stop was Docking to see the extremely interesting Grey-bellied Brent Goose.  I've looked at photos of one or two putative Grey-bellied before and thought, why aren't they just Dark-bellied x Pale-bellied?  Well, in one or two cases they probably were.  You won't be able to tell from my rubbishy photos but this was quite different.  Very interesting, and I was very grateful to get a second chance after missing it last winter.

Grey-bellied Brent Goose, near Docking, 28th December

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

October birding - Yellow-brows and Waxwings

After returning from Cornwall, local birding produced the likes of Marsh Tit and Redwings, but nothing exciting.

A trip to Brancaster on 11th October was worthwhile.  I started off at Broad Lane where there were plenty of thrushes but little else, so I moved on to the golf-course.  As I walked along the beach it was clear that there were a lot of birds arriving from the north, particularly Skylarks and thrushes.  There were also 32 Red-breasted Mergansers on the sea, and 36 Lapwings flew west.  With wall to wall sunshine I didn't expect so much to be happening, although the wind was in the right direction.

Blackbird in off the sea, Brancaster, 11th October

The dunes by the beach huts held Chiffchaff but apart from thrushes I'd seen very little else by the time I approached the far eastern point.

Song Thrush, Brancaster, 11th October

Redwing, Brancaster, 11th October

There there was a group of 3 Bramblings (a fourth flew over too), quickly followed by a lovely Redstart.  Almost as soon as I finished watching this a Whinchat appeared.  Suddenly it was getting good!

Redstart, Brancaster, 11th October

Whinchat, Brancaster, 11th October

I'm not sure if all the Woodpigeons on the point were newly arrived migrants or local birds.

Woodpigeon, Brancaster, 11th October

Walking east along the edge of the golf-course the sun had been in my eyes so I hoped that as I turned round and went back I might find some new birds.  And so I did: a second Redstart and this cracking Yellow-browed Warbler!

Yellow-browed Warbler, Brancaster, 11th October

After that excitement it all calmed down again.  A nice Red Kite drifted over and I heard a Water Rail as I returned to the car.  There was also a Brambling at the chalk pit in Titchwell but nothing else, apart from a Tawny Owl calling at 2.55 pm.

A visit to Lynford on 13th October was focused on leaf-mines not birds so only the usual expected species noted like Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Siskins.

A bit of passage was evident at the meadows on 20th October with the likes of Meadow Pipits, Brambling, Redpoll sp. and a various thrushes noted.  Much more excitingly though was a group of 3 Dark-bellied Brent Geese that flew over - an excellent record this far inland.

Dark-bellied Brent Geese, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 20th October

Song Thrush, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 20th October

Woodpigeon, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 20th October

After this I headed up to Beeston Common for a fungus foray which was very interesting.  Overhead raptors included Sparrowhawk and Marsh Harrier.  I pointed out the latter to the warden who was very pleased as it was the first time he had seen one there.

I then went along to Salthouse where the Stejneger's Stonechat remained.  Unfortunately I'd forgotten to put my scope in the car so I had to borrow other people's scopes to get decent views.  The two forms of Siberian Stonechat (maura and stejnegeri) have now been split and although there are average differences that are detectable in the field, it is not yet fully accepted by all authorities that these are possible to separate with absolute confidence in the field.  This bird was subsequently seen to leave some droppings on some pathside vegetation and these were duly collected and sent off for DNA analysis, enabling it to be confirmed as Stejneger's, the first proven record for Norfolk.  Although it was my first proven Stejneger's I am not counting it as a new species yet as I have never seen a proven maura.  Some of the Siberian Stonechats I have seen in the past have almost certainly been maura (while others were almost certainly stejnegeri) but until such time as the identification criteria are sufficiently well established that past records can be accepted as one or other taxon without DNA I'm happy to count only the proven ones.

Stejneger's Stonechat, Salthouse, 20th October

The following day I was back up at the coast, this time to look at another first for Norfolk.  Earlier in the day a Red-backed Shrike had been reported at Weybourne and I wondered whether, given the date, it might in fact turn out to be a Brown Shrike.  Late Red-backed Shrikes do turn up sometimes but the odds of Brown are proportionately much higher, and Norfolk is well overdue its first.  Well I couldn't make it up in the morning to check, but others did, and sure enough it WAS a Brown Shrike.  I managed to get up later in the afternoon and with some difficulty managed to see it a few times.

I also popped along to Weybourne where a Canada Goose was present with Pink-feet.  The race of this has been hotly debated and I am by no means sure, but whatever the taxon it was surely a wild bird from North America.  A lot of people are saying it's Todd's (race interior) but it's certainly not a typical example.  Others have suggested it is Atlantic (race canadensis) and it does show some real similarities to that form.  I'm not saying it is canadensis, but there seems to be a lot of confusion about that race.  Some references suggest that the feral British birds are canadensis, and if that is the case then this bird was quite obviously different.  Some of the conversations I've had seem to go along the lines of it can't be Atlantic because that's what the feral birds are and it doesn't look like them.  However other references suggest that feral British birds are in fact a mix including Giant Canada Goose (race maxima), or a mix of maxima and moffitti.  Comparison with feral birds doesn't seem a very helpful starting point when it comes to identfying races of vagrant Canada Geese.

vagrant Canada Goose with Pink-footed Geese, Weybourne, 21st October

It was much the same sort of stuff at the meadows, without so much overhead passage, on 24th October.  3 Redpolls over, 3 Bullfinches in the hedges, 30 Redwings and a Fieldfare knocking around and both Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Great Spotted Woodpecker, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 24th October

Redwings, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 24th October

Song Thrush, North Elmham Cathedral Meadows, 24th October

A Grey Wagtail flew over County School station as I wandered down that way - amazingly the species had eluded me so far at the meadows themselves.  I then went on to Great Ryburgh where the highlight was a pair of Stonechats.  Also Sparrowhawk and Kingfisher.

I headed up to Sheringham for a seawatch on 27th October, seeing Barn Owl at Thornage on the way.  I didn't see everything but my highlights included a Black Guillemot, 2 Little Auks, 4 Pomarine Skuas, Long-eared Owl and 4-5 Short-eared Owls.  Also Great Northern Diver, Purple Sandpiper, while commoner seabirds included 2 Manx Shearwaters, 8 Great Skuas, 3 Arctic Skuas, ~500 Kittiwakes and a Little Gull.  There were hundreds of Wigeon, Teal and Common Scoter moving, and a selection of other species including 3 Scaup, 8 Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser.  Afterwards I had a quick look at a few spots like Friary Hills in search of migrant passerines but apart from lots of Blackbirds I didn't find much.

I was back at the coast two days later, at Burnham Overy.  A little bit of seawatching produced a Pomarine Skua, a Short-eared Owl and a flock of 11 Eider west.  A Velvet Scoter was among 50+ Common Scoters off Gun Hill, and there were 2 Red-breasted Mergansers, but I couldn't find the treasure at the end of the rainbow...

rainbow, Burnham Overy, 29th October

A flock of 61 Ringed Plovers on the beach contained a single bird that appeared to have paler wing-coverts.  I had an inkling that this was a feature of Semipalmated Plover, a bird that I have long hoped to find at Burnham Overy.  But this bird was fast asleep and absolutely no other identification features were discernible on it.  I stayed with it for what seemed like hours, only for it to eventually shift position slightly and the apparently paler wing-coverts now at a different angle to the light simply vanished.  Then it woke up and was indeed an obvious Ringed Plover!  Ah well, it was worth a try!

Ringed Plovers, Burnham Overy, 29th October

A Grey Wagtail was about the only overhead passerine migrant and there wasn't a great deal in the bushes either apart from a few Goldcrests.

Goldcrest, Burnham Overy, 29th October

In the fields there were 28 Barnacle Geese and the Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent Goose hybrid.

Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent Goose hybrid with Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Burnham Overy, 29th October

I then moved on to Stiffkey where I checked out the path alongside the flood south of the road.  There wasn't anything noteworthy on the flood itself but I found a nice Yellow-browed Warbler in the wood along the side.  There was Chiffchaff in here too as well as the usual Bullfinches.  The Chiffchaff was a little less camera-shy than the Yellow-browed...

Yellow-browed Warbler, Stiffkey, 29th October

Chiffchaff, Stiffkey, 29th October

Redwing, Stiffkey, 29th October

This Cormorant on the bank of the ditch at the start of Cockthorpe Common didn't look too healthy.  I doubt if it ever left this spot unless it was in the jaws of a fox or something.

Cormorant, Stiffkey, 29th October

I had a quick look at the fen but apart from a couple of Chiffchaffs there wasn't much doing so I decided to call it quits and head back home.  As I turned off the coast road at Morston I noticed quite a few birds flitting around the bushes by the pond, so pulled in to have a look at them.  They were mostly thrushes and tits, but then I noticed a couple of Waxwings munching on the haws.  Fantastic!

Waxwings, Morston, 29th October

Eventually they flew up to the wires where I got a clearer but no closer view of them.

Waxwings, Morston, 29th October

A lovely end to the day!

A couple of days later there were a few birds around the meadows with about 30 Redwings, a Brambling, 2 Bullfinches, Nuthatch and 2 Treecreepers.

Redwings, Cathedral Meadows, 31st October

Bullfinch, Cathedral Meadows, 31st October

Treecreeper, Cathedral Meadows, 31st October