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.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Perched Rough-leg and a white Stoat

I arrived slightly later than normal at Burnham Overy this morning, around 8 am.  There seemed to be far more birds around than last week and I enjoyed the walk, although it was a while before I saw anything especially noteworthy.  A Red-breasted Merganser and 5 Goldeneye were in the channel and a Chinese Water Deer was on the freshmarsh again.  Two Barnacle Geese were easy to pick out from among the Pink-feet. 

Having just acquired the ID guide to Britain's Sea Mammals I put my learning into practice to confirm 6 Common Seals on the end of Scolt Head.  About time I knew what sort of seal I was seeing each time I come here - never really got the hang of Seal ID until now.  At least 7 Great Crested Grebes were on the sea with another flying west - haven't seen them here recently so maybe there's been some movement in the last few days?

As I headed east through the dunes I picked up one of the Rough-legged Buzzards several times, getting some good looks at it perched on fence posts.  In fact I'm not sure I've ever had such good perched views before.  Not that you'd know it from these photos...

Rough-legged Buzzard, Burnham Overy, 31st January

A party of 4 Red Kites appeared again, much later than they have done on recent visits, hanging around over the east end of the dunes before at least some of them eventually moved off west towards Scolt Head. 

Red Kite, Burnham Overy, 31st January

Kestrel, Burnham Overy, 31st January

The second Rough-legged Buzzard appeared briefly over Holkham Freshmarsh - I checked back to make sure the first bird was still there and it was.  As I returned to the car I picked up the Stoat in its white ermine coat that I'd heard others report recently.  I'd wanted to see that so was pleased, although I'd have been even more pleased if it had been close enough to photograph or shown for more than a couple of seconds.  The only other thing of note was a Kingfisher as I neared the car park.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

More geese

Yesterday when I checked the goose flock near work all I could find was the 2 Barnacle Geese (but there weren't many geese there - many more evidently arrived soon after, judging from the report of 10,000 in the early afternoon).

I returned today and found a lot more geese, though many were out of sight from my view point.  A single Barnacle Goose and an Icelandic Greylag Goose were all I could pick out on the first scan but then the pair of Barnacle Geese flew in.  A more careful look revealed a party of 4 Tundra Bean Geese and then before I left a fifth Tundra Bean Goose appeared.  Although bigger numbers were present today it was nowhere near 10,000.  As I drove off I noticed a huge flock in the distance getting up from a field that is out of view from any road - maybe that's where the rest have been getting?

Monday, 26 January 2015

Various geese

Found a good-sized flock of geese near work today.  It contained 2 Barnacle Geese (the same pair I've been seeing all winter?  Unusually I haven't seen any singles this year), a Tundra Bean Goose and a leucistic Pink-footed Goose.  More geese were arriving all the time so it was no great surprise to learn that others had found rather more there in the afternoon.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Shelduck hybrid on the patch

I spent some time birding the local patch this morning.  First stop was a gravel pit that's been pretty rubbish recently.  In 2013 it was great - Temminck's Stint and breeding Avocets were among the highlights.  Early last year they filled it in and began excavating a different field - with no standing water it went downhill and apart from an escaped Ruddy Shelduck that spent all year there with a couple of Egyptian Geese, we hardly saw a thing.  It's an active working gravel pit with no legitimate way to view, but on Sundays and evenings we sometimes sneak it to have a look.  A lot of extraction has been going on recently but still no standing water.  Even so I managed two birds I'd not seen there before - 2 Mute Swans flying over and a Marsh Tit in the roadside hedge.

At another site only a small section of the water is visible from any roads or public footpaths.  As I arrived today I met the landowner who was very friendly and interested in the birdlife there.  He's told me that once the shooting season finishes I'm welcome to go in and have a look round, so that's excellent news.  After he'd gone I noticed what at first resembled a Ruddy Shelduck among the Egyptian Geese.  But it was an oddly dark, slightly chestnutty colour - more like Cape Shelduck I thought.  Clearly not a Cape as the head wasn't grey, but could it be a hybrid?  At first there seemed only to be a slight hint of grey on the head - a little in front of the eye and a little behind/above.  I've seen otherwise pure-looking Ruddy Shelducks with a little pale greyish colour on the head so not sure that's a barrier to a pure bird (though I'm also not sure that those birds were 100% Ruddy).  But then it put its head down revealing a really obvious small patch of darker grey on the centre of the crown - surely that was outside of the range of pure Ruddy?  And the rear of the bird wasn't just dark orange it had blackish markings in it, like on Cape Shelduck.  I won't say I'm 100% positive yet, but I think this bird is a Ruddy Shelduck x Cape Shelduck hybrid.  Unfortunately after looking at it I only had time to take one or two rushed photos before it walked out of view.  Hopefully I'll see it again and get some better pics.  The anomalies don't show up well on these photos.

probable Ruddy Shelduck x Cape Shelduck hybrid, Bittering, 25th January

Interestingly (well, I thought so anyway) I'd seen a photo of a Ruddy Shelduck recently that struck me as oddly dark and I'd wondered if this might have been the same bird.  I can't find where I saw that, unless it's the bird shown on the new NE Norfolk Bird Club website (here).  I don't think it was that photo I saw, but I do think the bird in that photo is also a Ruddy Shelduck x Cape Shelduck hybrid, though a female whereas mine was a male.  On that bird note the dark greyish colour on the inner webs of the tertials - I don't think that occurs on Ruddy Shelduck.

All this makes me wonder about those Ruddy Shelducks I've seen with a little grey in the head.  When I first noticed this I wondered if they could have been hybrids but decided against it.  Some were in a collection with Cape Shelducks too, another was the long-staying escaped (blue-ringed) bird that's been on the patch for the last couple of years.  Maybe these are hybrids, if not F1 first-generation hybrids?  Anyone seen grey in the heads of wild Ruddies?

The only other bird of note here was a Woodcock.  As I headed back these 3 Roe Deer posed for a photoshoot.

Roe Deer, Beetley, 25th January

 Very rude of this one to stick its tongue out at me.

Roe Deer, Beetley, 25th January

Quiet day at the coast

Dave and I arrived at Burnham Overy at first light.  As we walked down a Kingfisher flew past and then I picked up a large diver flying in through the gap between Gun Hill and Scolt Head.  It looked like it was going down in the harbour so we hoped to see it again when we got round to Gun Hill.  Probably a Great Northern Diver, but too brief and too distant to be 100% sure.  A shooter walking out into the middle of the fresh marsh may have been responsible for far lower numbers of Pink-footed Geese sticking around than usual but a Chinese Water Deer gave good views there - I couldn't remember seeing them here before but checking my records now I see that I have done.

As we approached the dunes 4 Red Kites appeared low over the dunes, flying west towards Gun Hill.  Among them 2 Rough-legged Buzzards suddenly appeared - all six were in the same field of view at one point.  Last week I saw five kites appear suddenly low over Gun Hill at dawn and I'd wondered if they'd roosted there.  Perhaps they had, but seeing these slithering in almost below the dunes made me wonder if they could have snuck in last week without me seeing them until they'd arrived.  They certainly hadn't roosted on Gun Hill last night.

Red Kite, Burnham Overy, 24th January

Rough-legged Buzzards, Burnham Overy, 24th January

We spent a while at Gun Hill looking over Brancaster Harbour for the diver (no luck) and also keeping an eye out towards the golf-course and Scolt Head just in case a Snowy Owl might be lurking there somewhere (not completely random - someone apparently described a bird seen on the golf-course earlier in the week that sounded like a Snowy Owl).  The best I could manage was 4 Goldeneye and 7 Red-breasted Mergansers.  In fact the rest of the four-and-a-half hours we spent at Burnham Overy was pretty uneventful.  A Fulmar, a Bullfinch, and, well, nothing else really.  It really was very quiet indeed.

Teal, Burnham Overy, 24th January

East Hills and Holkham Bay, viewed from Burnham Overy Dunes, 24th January

As we returned to the car we took the opportunity to photograph some waders starting to become active as the tide dropped.

Dunlins, Burnham Overy, 24th January

Grey Plover, Burnham Overy, 24th January

Bar-tailed Godwit, Burnham Overy, 24th January

Wigeon, Burnham Overy, 24th January

A little disappointed with the morning's showing we decided to pop along to Wells to see if the Red-necked Grebe would perform any better.  It didn't, though the Shag was in channel beyond the dock.  After a while it flew towards us and dropped in to the dock.  Interesting how it kept calling just before it dived - I noticed one doing that here last winter too.

Shag, Wells, 24th January

Curlew, Wells, 24th January

Ringed Plover, Wells, 24th January

We then drove around aimlessly for a while in the hope of bumping in to something interesting, but apart from a Greenshank at Moreston we didn't.

Greenshank, Morston, 24th January

Friday, 23 January 2015

A lunch-time Shag

Popped over to Wells in my lunch break today in the hope of seeing the Red-necked Grebe that keeps getting reported.  No sign - only Little Grebes in the harbour.  A fine Red Kite drifted over though, while I watched the Shag on the platform just beneath where I parked.

Shag, Wells Quay, 23rd January

Saw two more Red Kites from the car at Holkham as I drove back to the office.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Monday lunch

Having spent most of my lunch break looking in vain for goose flocks I pulled in to the layby at Burnham Overy for a quick scan.  A distant Rough-legged Buzzard was sat on a post and a Short-eared Owl was hunting there.  I once made a list of all the birds I've seen during lunch breaks and it was quite impressive.  Don't remember what it came to but I do remember that Short-eared Owl was one of the more surprising omissions.  A few years later and I think I've managed to continue avoiding seeing any lunch-break Shorties despite spending many a lunch overlooking coastal marshes where they are regular.  Satisfying to have put that right at last.

I just had time to pop in to the car park at Burnham Norton where a Barn Owl was quartering.  On the way back to the office 2 Bullfinches moved along the hedge in front of me rounding up a surprisingly successful second-half of my lunch break.

Sunday afternoon stroll

Went to Bintree Wood for a walk this afternoon with the Mrs.  This was the last place I saw Willow Tits in the Wensum Valley and I haven't been there much since.  A chance they might still survive there I guess, but we didn't see or hear any this time.  Best bird we saw was a Woodcock we flushed.  Vitty thinks Treecreepers are poorly named - apparently they they don't creep as creeping implies a slower more deliberate movement.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Kites and a couple of Rough-legs

I started Burnham Overy at first light and walked down from the staithe towards the beach.  A Barn Owl quartered the fields on the right, a Pintail was in the channel and 2 Fieldfares flew in from the direction of the sea.  As usual, wave after wave of Pink-footed Geese flew over heading inland to feed - a spectacular sight as always.  It was bitterly cold with a biting wind, but beautiful.

Pink-footed Geese over the sunrise, Burnham Overy, 17th January

As I neared the dunes I spotted a group of 5 Red Kites hanging around low over Gun Hill during a flurry of snow.  I imagine they'd roosted there as I think I'd have seen them coming in otherwise.  After a while they dispersed, one to the east and the others to the west/south west.

There were 9 Goldeneye and 4 Red-breasted Mergansers in the channel and as I wandered through the dunes I noticed several Song Thrushes in places I'd not seen them last time.  One of them was on the seaward side away from cover and I suspect they were immigrants like the Fieldfares earlier.

A Rough-legged Buzzard showed nicely over the dunes and a short while I spotted it again while a second Rough-legged Buzzard was visible over the fresh marsh.  During the course of the morning I got a few more views of one or both birds, including a nice close view over the dunes at one point.

From the east end of the dunes a flock of Common Scoters was visible on the sea but the first bird I looked at was the Velvet Scoter, a nice drake.  Looking inland towards Holkham I found the largest flock of White-fronted Geese I've seen so far this winter - at least 110 birds but quite possibly many more as part of the flock was out of view.  Also 4 Bullfinches round here again.

As I returned a Snow Bunting flew over the boardwalk.  A Ruff flew over the grazing marsh where 4 White-fronted Geese were among the Pink-feet.  I heard Bearded Tits, then saw two flying from the dyke towards the reedy pool.  As I approached the staithe I heard more Bearded Tits - two males were in the reeds on the footpath side of the dyke further up towards the staithe than I've ever seen them before.  They were keeping low but the reeds were so thin here they were in view, so I dropped down the bank to photograph them.  Tricky, but here are my best shots.

Bearded Tit, Burnham Overy, 17th January

When I got back to the car park I could see Red Kites again, over the saltmarsh between Gun Hill and Burnham Norton, but seemingly drifting towards Gun Hill - back in for roost already?

Red Kite, Burnham Overy, 17th January

On the way back inland I saw yet another Red Kite between South Creake and Sculthorpe before hitting my inland patch.  There has been a clear influx of ducks since my last visit including 9 Shelduck and at least 30 Teal on one lake at Bittering.  Elsewhere on the patch Rawhall Gravel Pits had another 5 Shelducks, along with a Ruddy Shelduck which was presumably the colour-ringed bird that's been in the area for a while, though the one leg I could see seemed bare.  There was an unringed bird with it a year or two ago - might possibly have been that bird back again?

House-tick and lunchtime snaps

I worked from home on Thursday so had the occasional opportunity to glance out of the study window.  A Cormorant flying over wasn't very exciting, but it was my first for the house.  That's 63 species since 9th August.

Yesterday I was back in the office and at lunch time my usual search for geese produced numerous empty fields with geese flying in the distance having just been disturbed by twitchers/farmers/whatever.  Eventually I gave up and stopped at Brancaster Staithe where I took a few snaps.

Dunlins, Brancaster Staithe, 16th January

Notice the orange inner scapulars on the Dunlin above - retained juvenile feathers or new breeding plumage feathers coming through?

Herring Gull, Brancaster Staithe, 16th January

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

More Tundras

Today's wild goose chase took me to Choseley where the first orange-legged geese I came across were both Pink-feet.  Actually they were pretty dull pinkish orange, but enough to warrant a closer look.  Pink-feet they were though so I continued scanning, soon coming across a bird with proper bright orange legs.  At first I thought it was another orange-legged Pink-foot as it didn't look very Beany but then it turned slightly and looked completely different, a fine Tundra Bean Goose.  Then I realised there were three, and then I suspected the two sleeping birds lying down next to them were more.  Eventually they woke up and confirmed their identity and while all that was happening a different bird wandered past - 6 Tundra Bean Geese in all.

Tundra Bean Geese, Choseley, 14th January

Monday, 12 January 2015

Greenland White-front

A first-winter Greenland White-fronted Goose has been lurking with the Pink-feet in NW Norfolk this winter but hasn't been seen often.  I'd not seen it yet and when I began my lunch break news broke that it was at Burnham Market.  I headed straight there but the flock of Pink-feet were right up to the track so there was no possible way of stopping without disturbing any of them.  Well I had no choice as it was the end of the track, so I turned the engine off and free-wheeled to as quiet-as-possible a stop.  The closest ones flew but most stayed put, though very alert and walking away rapidly.  I knew if I wound down my window or even raised my bins the movement would scare the rest of them off too, so I waited for them to settle down.  That meant I hadn't been able to check the ones flying off and I didn't know if the target bird was among those or left in the field.

Once they'd settled I set up my scope (staying in the car of course - to get out of the car in situations like this would just scare off the whole flock) I scanned through, quickly picking out a young Tundra Bean Goose.

Tundra Bean Goose, Burnham Market, 12th January

I spent about half an hour scanning through the flock seeing nothing else, but towards the end of the time I noticed a few geese arriving from neighbouring fields - perhaps the birds I'd flushed away at the beginning?  Then there it was, looking so obvious I can't believe it was there the whole time.  At the back of the field but in full view and very easy to pick out due to its dark plumage and orange bare parts, the first-winter Greenland White-fronted Goose.

Greenland White-fronted Goose, Burnham Market, 12th January