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, 30 November 2015

Pallid Harrier

I wanted to bird Burnham Overy on Saturday morning but I also wanted to catch up with the Pallid Harrier.  Knowing how long I take at Burnham Overy and knowing the forecast was for the weather to get worse as the day went on, I figured I could only manage one or the other, so headed to Snettisham first thing.  Or rather I planned to head there first thing, but actually overslept and rocked up around 9.00 am.

The Pallid Harrier had showed well first thing, but I didn't get down to the south end until 9.45, despite hardly stopping to bird on the way down (though I couldn't resist snapping these Sanderling).

Sanderling, Snettisham, 28th November

There was already a bitterly cold wing blowing but I joined a small crowd looking for the harrier.  A male Hen Harrier was nice to watch, a Merlin sped by, a Barn Owl or two were hunting and an Eared Owl sp. flew beyond the sea wall.  I only got the briefest view of the latter which had possibly been put up by shooters on nearby farmland; it looked dark to me and others wondered if it might have been Long-eared.  All good stuff, but not a Pallid Harrier.

By now my hands were frozen and I wandered away from the crowd to the sea wall, partly to check the farmland inland of the sea wall and partly to try and get out of the wind.  Sitting down I managed to warm my hands up but I wasn't out of the wind and it was freezing!  This Roe Deer almost ran into me coming up over the sea wall right next to where I was sitting.  It didn't stop long before legging it the other way.

Roe Deer, Snettisham, 28th November

After spending far too long searching from here I was frozen to the core.  Eventually, after what must have been a few hours in the cold wind, I had no choice but to abandon the search and seek the relative warmth of a hide.  First attempt at what used to be South Hide (I think) was no good as it was destroyed in the storm surge and the temporary replacement structure did little to shelter me from the cold wind (though a couple of Goldeneye were visible).  So round to Shore Hide where I slowly warmed up while enjoying conversation with Midlands birder Dean and his partner.  Dean's partner kept an eye on the crowd and after a while she alerted us to the fact that they seemed to be watching something.  We hurried round to find they'd had a "candidate" for the Pallid Harrier, but it was now out of view.

The weather was now even worse and it had started raining, long before that had been forecast.  Fortunately the rain didn't last too long and after a while the Pallid Harrier appeared briefly.  The structure was really distinctive with its very narrow pointed hand but relatively broad hand, and its really long tail.  Plumage details were hard to discern at this range, but we could just make out the more obvious features.  It soon went down again and the wait was on once again.  At one point it popped up briefly as a Marsh Harrier passed over it: the tiny size compared to the Marsh Harrier was clear to see - it looked about half the size.  A ringtail Hen Harrier appeared at a similar distance and it was good to watch that for comparison - an incredibly different-looking bird structurally.  The Pallid Harrier appeared again, perching on top of a post for a while, and then flying across the saltmarsh taking a very similar line to that which the Hen Harrier had taken but looking quite a different beast.

It disappeared over the sea wall and, with the wind getting stronger and the threatened rain looming, we decided we weren't likely to get better views today and started back towards the car park.  The Pallid Harrier had disappeared well to the south of where we had been standing, not long ago, and we were now walking back north.  So when a bird appeared over Shore Hide a few yards in front of us, coming from the north, I did not expect it to be the Pallid Harrier.  My first thought was Kestrel but was immediately struck by how much it resembled the Pallid Harrier we'd just been watching... hang on, it IS the Pallid Harrier!  Flying towards us from the north!  How weird.  It was close, but quick, and in my haste I failed to get any shots that were sharp and exposed correctly, and its head was turned away so you couldn't see any of the details of the head/neck on it.

Pallid Harrier, Snettisham, 28th November

Had it gone back across the saltmarsh and up the Wash coast before turning round and coming back over the pits, or had it gone north over the fields inland and then crossed the pits as it turned back south?  Probably the latter, as a bit later what was probably it did the same thing again.  We'd last seen the Pallid Harrier heading across the south end of the pit so headed up the east side of the pits.  Dean picked up what he thought was the Pallid Harrier over the fields.  It didn't show well, moving behind a copse most of the time, but in the views we got we started to doubt whether this was the right bird.  The wing tip didn't look nearly as narrow and pointed as it had earlier.  But it did look good, and it wasn't as broad and round-winged as Hen Harrier, so we were pretty sure it was the right bird.  Interesting how different it looked though under the different conditions - in a less exposed location.  It crossed the sea wall and the pits turning to head south over Shore Hide, just as it, presumably, had done when we saw it earlier.

It had been an educational bird and I was glad I'd braved the cold to see it.  I'd still like to see it better so if it sticks around I'll probably go back, but in some ways, with the comparison with Hen Harrier and the change in appearance under different conditions, it was as good as getting good close views on its own.

Crag Martin, Little Auks and Goldeneye galore

I couldn't muster up the enthusiasm to twitch Derbyshire for a bird I've seen lots of abroad so avoided going to Chesterfield over the weekend.  But on Monday 16th I had to go to Derbyshire for a work meeting, and Chesterfield was just 40 minutes away - that made it an entirely different proposition.  I left home early arriving at the stadium about 5 minutes after the Crag Martin had left the stadium where it roosted and flown straight off.  That was a bit unlucky - on previous days it had flown around the stadium for a while before leaving.  It didn't return, and didn't go to the Crooked Spire as it had on previous days, before I had to leave for my meeting.  During the day it remained elusive, being reported just briefly from the Crooked Spire at around lunch time.

After my meeting I headed back to the stadium in the hope that it would return and have a fly around before going to roost, as it had done on previous days.  A crowd was gathered and as dusk approached it wasn't looking hopeful.  Then someone picked it up in the stadium, but I didn't get on it.  We waited a bit but there was no more sign.  Some of us headed down to the end of the stand where it was possible to look along the length of the stadium, but there was nothing.  Obviously it had gone to roost, and we had dipped.

Most of the crowd departed as the light faded and I returned to the car park with Chris.  As we chatted I noticed the few remained at the end of the stand were all looking and pointing, so rushed down to see if there was a reason for their activity.  There was - it had been seen again.  Too dark to see it properly under the stand but it had flown out and back in a couple of times.  And it did so twice more while I was there.  Success!  Of sorts.  I'd seen my first UK Crag Martin, but it was two split-second glimpses of a silhouetted chunky-looking hirundine in the dark.  Not quite the views I was hoping for, but at least I saw it.  It'll go on the list if only because there's absolutely no point in me investing any more time or petrol in seeing another one in the UK - they're easy enough to see in southern Europe.

I think the 3 Grey Wagtails that flew over the stadium in the morning were better.

All week the forecast promised a good northerly blow on Saturday and unusually that was still the forecast when dawn broke on Saturday.  I was there early and enjoyed several hours of a thrilling, if often frustrating, sea watch.  I suppose the headline birds were the Little Auks.  For some reason I was really struggling to get on these - and indeed most things - this morning, and consequently I only saw a fraction of the birds that passed.  My total was 20, but I missed more than double that many.  These two moved through with a flock of Dunlin:

Little Auks (and Dunlin), Sheringham, 21st November

Other seabirds were a similar story - I saw 3 Sooty Shearwaters but several Manx were called as well, none of which I saw. I missed the first Grey Phalarope but did managed to pick up another Grey Phalarope, despite not managing to see it well enough to have the confidence of calling it (other than a 'what's this wader?').  The guys in my section were preoccupied with a Pom Skua but someone called the Phalarope from the neighbouring section.  And talking of skuas I saw 8 Pomarine Skuas, or at least 8 Skuas that I was reasonably happy were Pomarine - quite a few others were called which I wasn't personally sure about.  I logged a single Arctic Skua and an impressive 135 Great Skuas, but there were a fair few skuas that I had to leave unidentified.  Also 35 Little Gulls and 2 Great Northern Divers.

Red-throated Diver, Sheringham, 21st November

Probably the real highlight of the day was the wildfowl and wader passage.  A record count of 141 Goldeneye (of which I saw 86) was fantastic, always enjoy seeing these moving.  A total of 4 Goosanders was good too, not a species we see lots of on seawatches.  Also 2 Scaup and 4 Velvet Scoter west, along with 10 Tufted Ducks, Pochard, 6 Red-breasted Mergansers and at least 180 Common Scoter (all my personal counts, probably just a fraction of the total birds moving).  Only 5 Eider was a surprise given how much else was moving.

No shortage of dabblers too, with over 700 Wigeon.  Fewer Teal, though I'm sure my count of 40 was a very long way short of the mark.  The next count wasn't a record but it was the highest number I've seen past Sheringham - 113 Pintail.  Also 25 Mallard, 35 Shelduck and a good count of 12 Shoveler.  Lots of waders moving too, though it was tricky to see them, let alone count them.  I put 250 Dunlin down, but there must have been far more than that.

I tore myself away in order to get some lunch and considered twitching the Little Auk that was showing remarkably well on a pool at Salthouse.  Unfortunately someone had seen fit to collect it, so that it could die overnight in a tub in someone's kitchen rather than in its natural environment.  Really not sure "taken into care" is the correct expression to use when you remove something from the wild.  It might make people feel better but it didn't help this Little Auk.  Anyway, another had been seen in similar circumstances by the time I finished lunch so I headed over to see if I could find it.  It was chucking it down and the 2-3 people out there didn't seem to be seeing it so I though better of it and continued on to Cley.  I pulled up by the beach hotel really just to check with the observers there whether the sea was still quiet before heading off.  Well it wasn't - James was there and he picked up a Leach's Petrel as I was asking the question.  I leapt out but couldn't pick up his bird, though I did see 2 close Little Auks and another flock of 30 Pintail.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Crossbills, Woodcock, Brant and some plastic ducks

Spent most of the day at Burnham Overy on 27th October.  I saw Kingfisher and heard Water Rail, Cetti's Warblers and Bearded Tit as I walked down to the dunes but there seemed to be few migrants about at first, the boardwalk bushes being quiet.  As I worked Gun Hill things started to pick up and by the time I'd returned to the boardwalk there was a clear increase in number of thrushes (especially Blackbirds) and some Bramblings.

Redwing, Burnham Overy, 27th October

I missed 2 Crossbills flying over at the boardwalk but made up for it later with 2 Crossbills in Hawthorns at the east end of the dunes, before moving up to the pines with a couple of Greenfinches.

 Crossbills (with 2 Greenfinches in lower picture), Holkham Pines, 27th October

On the way I briefly saw a Woodcock moving around beneath a Spindle before it saw me and scarpered, almost flying straight into a couple of birders in the process.

Woodcock, Burnham Overy, 27th October

Coal Tit, Burnham Overy, 27th October

I spent a lot of time at the east end without seeing anything, but just as I was about to give up a Lesser Whitethroat appeared.  At first it wasn't all that elusive but it was quite far off from where I was positioned.  In hindsight I wish I'd just studied it with the scope but I decided to get nearer, at which point it completely vanished.  I got just one photo of it with the camera on the wrong setting, and don't think I'll be able to take it further, but if I were a betting man I'd put a (small) wager on it being one of the eastern forms.  Didn't really fit a textbook example of any of the races though so not sure.  Not a classic blythi and quite a different beast from the presumed halimodendri I found at Burnham Overy a year or two ago, but looking quite un-British too.  Maybe southern-type Siberian blythi fits the pale plumage, brown nape, absence of warm rufousy tones on the wings and greyish colourless underparts?  Not sure what to make of the apparent large size though... maybe it was my imagination, but it was strong enough to make me keep double-checking it wasn't an Orphean (dream on!).

Lesser Whitethroat, Burnham Overy, 27th October

Finest bird of the day was an adult male Hen Harrier that flew west through the freshmarsh.  Later on a Short-eared Owl was circling over the freshmarsh, I suspected having just come in.  Other signs of winter included Red-breasted Merganser in the channel and Goldeneye on the reedy pool.  Didn't see any all morning but by the end of the day I'd logged 3 Stonechats - one in the dunes north of Holkham Pines and two on the way back along the sea wall.

Snipe, Burnham Overy, 27th October

Had Buzzard and Grey Wagtail at home on 29th before heading up to The Neptune at Old Hunstanton.  Great food as always and in the morning we mooched along the coast.  With weather not inspiring hard birding and the Mrs more interested in finding something to hang over the fireplace we spent more time in galleries than in the field, but I did manage Grey Wagtail over Cley village before seeing the Black Brant along Beach Road.

Black Brant, Cley, 30th October

Interesting to see that the wildfowl collection at Blakeney has now been re-stocked following the storm surge that destroyed it in December 2013.  Several young birds there and at least one looking like a hybrid.  Not sure about this one though... this Ferruginous Duck had me wondering with its indistinct belly patch, dull colouration (for a male, given its pale eye) and well-banded bill, but I'm not convinced any of that is out of range for a pure first-winter male.  We'll see how it develops...

captive first-winter male Ferruginous Duck (or hybrid), Blakeney, 30th October

Pretty sure I'd seen a photo somewhere of a Pintail x Mallard hybrid backcrossed with a Pintail that showed a breast like this, but with little else suggesting Mallard influence I wondered if perhaps a stained but pure Pintail (advanced first-winter?) was a better explanation.  Then I got a view of its tail and you can see the central tail feather (actually a long central uppertail-covert I believe) is slightly upcurved.  That should be a sign of Mallard ancestry so my conclusion is that this is a backcrossed hybrid (Mallard x Pintail) x Pintail.

captive (Mallard x Pintail) x Pintail backcrossed hybrid, Blakeney, 30th October

captive Smew, Blakeney, 30th October

Monday, 23 November 2015

American Goldie

A smart Siberian Stonechat turned up at Caister while we were in Cornwall so first day back in Norfolk I decided to go and see it.  It had been around for a few days but it had been a clear night and when Dave and I rocked up we found a few folk milling around not looking at anything.  Dave had already seen it so he knew where it frequented - and it wasn't frequenting there, it had gone.  A Short-eared Owl flushed from the dunes, but that was our lot.

Short-eared Owl, Caister, 26th October

Next we had a look along the coastal strip between Caister and California.  I'd never been here before but found a decent bit of habitat for migrants.  There had to be a Radde's Warbler in there.  Sadly if there was we didn't find it, just 20 Goldcrests.

We were planning to head down to Breydon later to see the American Golden Plover, predicted to appear early afternoon.  But it had already been seen so we abandoned migrant hunting and headed straight down there.  A vast flock of Golden Plovers was roosting on the mudflats and our chances of picking something out from among that lot seemed slight.  But that was ok because this AGP was preferring the company of Lapwings over the Golden Plovers.  Only it wasn't among them either.  A nice day, good light, excellent viewing conditions, but no rare plover to view.  Eventually we headed off to get fish and chips for lunch, returning as news came through that it had reappeared.  We arrived back to find a few folk watching it, but over lunch the weather had changed - it had turned into the dullest murkiest afternoon and the American Golden Plover was a grey bird in a grey gloom.  Not the greatest conditions to attempt photos of a bird that was a signifcant distance off, but that's never stopped me trying...

American Golden Plover (with Lapwings and Golden Plover), Breydon Water, 26th October

Also 5 Mediterranean Gulls plus another 8 Mediterreanean Gulls while we were having fish and chips.

Popped in to the local patch before heading home.  Nothing much doing there, 2-3 Little Egrets at Hell Pit being the only birds of note.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Ring-billed Gull at last

25th October was our final morning in Cornwall.  We had to be out of the cottage by 10 so I didn't have long at Porthgwarra beforehand - just enough for a hasty dash round the area.  There were still 2 Firecrests at Trevean Pool, a Wheatear was on the moor (surprisingly the only one I saw all week) and a Peregrine showed.

Wheatear, Porthgwarra, 25th October

Stonechat, Porthgwarra, 25th October

Back at Trevilley with the car packed and ready to go I met a local(ish) birder outside the cottage.  We chatted about the potential that Trevilley had to turn up migrants, mentioning some past highlights, including the Red-eyed Vireo I saw here in 1995 and the Yellow-browed Warbler which had been there up until the day we arrived a week earlier.  This week I had turned up nothing better than a Blackcap and a couple of Chiffchaffs in the hamlet but that was trumped at the very last minute: while we were chatting he picked up on a calling Firecrest

Not sure how many visits I made to Hayle during our week in Cornwall, at least in part to see the Ring-billed Gull.  It wasn't that it was a bird I was desperate to see - I've seen plenty before, and most of those in the UK were of the same age-class (second-winter) - but it's a good place to look for other birds and as it was there it seemed daft not to try and see it.  But try as I did I couldn't find it, so on the way home we stopped here for one last attempt.

A Kingfisher showed well, if a bit too far for photos, at Ryan's Field.  On arriving at the causeway I checked carefully through the close gulls, as someone had said it sometimes gets close to the causeway, and went on to check the flock a bit further off, and the ones in the distance.  Nada.  Then I took some time to photograph the Teal just in front of me before finally checking the main flock once more. 

Teal, Hayle Estuary, 25th October

No sign of the gull among the main flock, so one last check of the birds close in front of me - and there it was, Ring-billed Gull, the nearest bird and right under my nose.  What's more I later found it was in the foreground of my Teal photos so it had been there for at least 5 minutes before I actually noticed it!

Ring-billed Gull, Hayle Estuary, 25th October

Carrion Crow, Hayle Estuary, 25th October

A visiting Australian birder arrived and I showed him the gull.  Funny how someone who was clearly a highly experienced and competent birder had only just ticked abundantly common birds like Rook, but of course no different from when I rocked up in Florida the year before last and saw the likes of Grey Catbird and White Ibis for the very first time.  He'd already sorted out the Mediterranean Gulls and also mentioned having seen 4 Red-breasted Mergansers, a species I'd not seen this week.  Sure enough, a careful scan across to the very far corner of the basin revealed the four birds just as he said.

Last stop in Cornwall before heading home was Davidstow Airfield.  Nothing had been reported from there recently but I thought it worth a look - have seen some good birds here in the past and it didn't require a very significant diversion.  I needn't have bothered - it was pretty much devoid of any avian life.

Balearic Shears and Yellow-browed

A northwesterly on 22nd October prompted me to start off at Pendeen.  It wasn't the strongest so I wasn't surprised to find things fairly slow.  That said it was just about worthwhile with single Manx and Sooty Shearwaters and at least 16 Balearic Shearwaters.   Also an Arctic Skua and probably triple-figures of Kittiwake.

Next stop Kenidjack Valley, in the rain.  For those of you who didn't see it, this was where the Yellow-throated Vireo was back in the good old days (1990).  One of the smartest birds I've ever seen.

Kenidjack Valley, 22nd October

One of the Yellow-browed Warblers showed well but briefly, despite the wind and rain.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Kenidjack Valley, 22nd October

Then perhaps the same, or maybe one of the other birds (there had been 3 there) showed, and showed very well.  This bird called for a while and I wish I'd got a sound recording of it.  Sounded most odd - a little reminiscent of Hume's but not Hume's.  Not the brightest individual either, quite greyish, so it got me wondering.  On balance I felt it lacked too many Hume's features and was presumably just a Yellow-browed Warbler (as presumably everyone else who'd seen it over the preceeding days had also concluded).

Yellow-browed Warbler, Kenidjack Valley, 22nd October

I now decided to head off to Hayle where once again I couldn't find the Ring-billed Gull.  26 Mediterranean Gulls though, and the same Spoonbill and Ruff.  Also a Pintail.  St Gothian Sands always strikes me as a good bet for finding a yank duck so I headed round to there next.  No yank ducks - a couple of Greylag Goose x Canada Goose hybrids were the nearest thing to excitement here today.

I'd been told about a Pallas's Warbler at Zennor seen the previous day by a visiting birder.  He seemed competent and had apparently informed the local grapevine although news didn't seem to have emerged on any of their websites or the information services.  I decided to have a look and enjoyed exploring an area where I'd not birded before.  The copse between the village and the coast road looks fab for skulking Ovenbirds or an eastern Zoothera, but nothing like that today.  He'd seen the Pallas's a fair bit further up the valley (inland) but as I walked up to look for it I was passed by 3 road-repair trucks coming down, and when I reached the point the track had fresh repairs.  There would have been a good deal of noise and disturbance here prior to my arrival so maybe that contributed to the absence of any Pallas's Warbler.

Next day (23rd) I started off doing Porthgwarra again.  Things were very quiet, though the 2 Firecrests were still at Trevean Pool and 1 Firecrest was still at the Doctors Garden.  At least I had assumed all 3 were the same birds as I'd seen before, and indeed one was being reported from the Doctors Garden all week, but photos seem to suggest today's bird was a dull female whereas the bird I'd seen earlier in the week was a bright male.  Or was the dullness just the effect of dull conditions and a very high ISO setting...?  Surely not?

Firecrest, Porthgwarra, 23rd October

Other 2 Chough, 2 Snipe and 20 Siskins were the only other birds of note.

Chough, Porthgwarra, 23rd October

In the afternoon went for a walk with Vitty from Nanquidno to Cot, crossing the fields at Little Henda (where despite walking through the fields I could not locate any of the Woodlarks that had been there).  We did see 2 Choughs at Little Henda and 5 Choughs along the cliffs between the end of Cot Valley and Nanquidno.

Choughs, between Cot Valley and Nanquidno, 23rd October

Stonechats, between Cot Valley and Nanquidno, 23rd October

Next day's forecast looked like the start of the day would be a wash-out but it might be worth seawatching off Pendeen once the rain stopped.  Took the opportunity to do some dudey tourist stuff with the wife like Newlyn galleries and Lamorna Cove (where there was a Firecrest) before heading up to Pendeen.  To be fair the forecast wasn't exactly ideal for a good seawatch but the reality was still less ideal.  The sea was pretty much dead, 1 Balearic Shearwater being the only seabird that made it into my notes.

Another visit to Hayle produced the Spoonbill and 42 Mediterranean Gulls, but again no Ring-billed.

Chiffchaff, Trevilley, 24th October