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.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Marbled Duck hybrid in the Broads

As you probably know if you've been reading my diary for long, I can't resist a good hybrid.  I like learning about bird identification, and hybrids provide a fascinating insight into that topic, but one that has been much ignored by birders for decades.  In some ways wild naturally-occurring hybrids are more interesting than captive or escaped ones, but the insights gleaned from studying captive birds can be applied to wild birds and there's more opportunity to study non-wild birds, so it pays not to ignore even the obvious escapees.  And that's what this one was, a bird photographed by Tony Stride and Murray Smith during the last week at Rollesby Broad.  Said by some observers to be an escaped Speckled Teal (which now comprises two species, Yellow-billed Teal and Andean Teal, only the former having yellow on the bill) but showing some clear anomalies for that ID.  It was clear to me that this was a hybrid involving a Marbled Duck (Marbled Teal), and that immediately made it interesting for any hybrids involving Marbled Ducks are rather unusual.

Based on Tony's photos I identified it as Marbled Duck x Yellow-billed Teal hybrid, but after seeing Murray's photos I started to wonder if it was in fact Marbled Duck x Yellow-billed Pintail.  On Sunday I went to see the bird in the flesh and this reinforced my belief that it involved Yellow-billed Pintail.  After some further discussion with the likes of Joern Lehmhus, perhaps the world's foremost expert on hybrid ducks, I now think I was right the first time, that it was Marbled Duck x Yellow-billed Teal.  I won't go into detail here as I've already done so elsewhere, but here is the bird.

probable Yellow-billed (Speckled) Teal x Marbled Duck hybrid, Rollesby Broad, 24th January

I couldn't find much else here, or across the road at Ormesby Broad

 Check out the variation in leg colour of these Coots...

Coots, Rollesby Broad, 24th January

I headed round to the Filby side where I failed to find anything of interest at Ormesby Little Broad - just a couple of Water Rails and a Treecreeper heard calling.  Across the road at Filby Broad I couldn't find the Mandarin that had been seen a few minutes earlier, just a couple of Goldeneye.

Stopped to check a Pink-footed Goose flock near Clippesby on the way home.  Couldn't pick out anything other than a leucistic Pink-foot.

Not much to report from my lunch breaks last week - a flock of c. 180 Fieldfare at Houghton, a Grey Wagtail over Flitcham and 3 Sparrowhawks. Also a Barn Owl on the way to work at Tattersett.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Game cover and birds - positive benefits of shooting?

I headed over to Flitcham early, though not quite early enough as I arrived about a minute or two after the Pallid Harrier left its roost.  Had a good look round the area without scoring, but saw Barn Owl, at least 5 Tree Sparrows and 20+ Bramblings.  I then headed round to have a mooch around the area to the south of the A148.  Have never really explore the Massingham Heath, Grimston Heath, Congham Heath area before so decided to make a start.  Couldn't possibly cover the whole area today but started off with the area closest to Flitcham, walking a fair old distance round the farmland around Congham Heath Wood, Belmont Ring and Stonepit Hills. 

Good to see lots of game cover here and no doubt we can thank the people who like shooting things for the fact that Tree Sparrows remain in this part of the county.  I saw at least 12 Tree Sparrows in one maize strip, which I'm sure would have been birdless arable crop if there wasn't an economic benefit in keeping the gamebirds well fed.  Lots of other small birds around too, like flocks of Reed Buntings and I was constantly seranaded by Skylarks.  A female Hen Harrier flew past the south end of Belmont Ring.

Hen Harrier, Belmont Ring, 23rd January

You get a good view across the valley from the footpath just south-east of Belmont Ring and can see the favoured field where the Pallid Harrier is most often seen at Flitcham as well as a good deal of land to the east of there where it may spend much of its time when its not in view at Flitcham.  It's all a bit distant from here of course, but it should be possible to pick up the Pallid Harrier fairly easily with a 'scope if its flying around that area.  Having said that, I didn't pick it up, though it was seen back at Flitcham a bit later on.

A pair of Marsh Tits were among the other small birds seen on my walk.

 Marsh Tit, Congham Heath, 23rd January

After this I had a quick look at Ashwicken (Grey Wagtail, 89 Wigeon, but nothing of real note), Pentney (nothing of any note) and Blackborough End where I scoped the gull flock in the field between the tip and the A47.  Not easy to see the birds as the flock was dense and unsettled, at least that's my excuse for failing to find any decent gulls.

The Serin at Downham Market wasn't playing but a drake Goosander kept flying up and down the river and 2 Red Kites flew past (viewed distantly across the town).

Had a quick gander round some Fenland/Breckland locations on the way home, but with the light failing didn't have time to have a proper look anywhere.  I did see the Reeves's Pheasant x tenebrosus Pheasant hybrid at Threxton Hill though, albeit in the near-dark by then.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

More lunch break birding

Last Friday lunch time I popped up to Brancaster Staithe where the Red-necked Grebe remained, though again far more distant than it had been the first time I saw it.  Also 4-5 Red-breasted Mergansers here.

Saturday and Sunday were mostly spent in bed with a terrible case of man 'flu.  Monday I worked from home so Tuesday was my next opportunity to get out in my lunch break in NW Norfolk.  Too many people at the Pallid Harrier to make stopping and viewing from the car practical so I continued on round the back roads south of the A149 between Massingham and Grimston, an area I should explore some more.  Nothing much doing there today though, but on the way back a nice showy pair of Grey Partridges provided a photo opportunity.

Grey Partridges, west of Anmer, 19th January

Also a large flock of Fieldfares at the top of the road NNW  from Flitcham - couldn't see any Naumann's Thrushes among them (Britain's first, and unless I've forgotton one, last Naumann's Thrush turned up on this day 26 years ago, though I seem to recall news didn't emerge for some time; at least I didn't see it until 17th Feb and there was a fairly big crowd there then).  Back at work a Grey Wagtail flew through the car park.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Shortie magic!

Sunday afternoon saw me doing a spot of local patch birding, partly in the hope of seeing a "Ruddy Shelduck" that Dave had seen earlier.  There was a suspicion that it might be the apparent hybrid Ruddy x Cape Shelduck that I'd seen months ago but would have liked to have got better views.  Sadly it wasn't behaving and all I managed was a few Snipe, a flock of 20 Pied Wagtails and nearby a Brambling.

Monday's lunchbreak was shorter than usual but I still managed to notch up 2-3 Barn Owls and a Grey Wagtail.

Grey Wagtail, Ingoldisthorpe, 11th January

For Tuesday's lunchtime excitement I tried to find something interesting among the Greylag Goose flock at Raynham Lake.  No luck there but that left me time to pass through Tatterford Common and there I found a large flock of finches including at least 70 Bramblings.  Very nice too.

Wednesday was better.  I headed up to the Brancaster Road where I stopped to check the Pink-feet.  Jim S was stopped there too, forcibly thanks to a blow-out, and he'd seen 2 Rough-legged Buzzards.  They didn't show for me but heading back to work I passed a Short-eared Owl in the hedge next to the track.  Having taken a record shot through the back window I reversed back past it and was surprised it didn't fly off.  Drawing up next to it I was amazed that it stayed put while I took scores of photos.  Eventually it did slowly move, but just flipped over the car and went behind the hedge the other side.

I thought it might have continued on down the hedge slightly so I drove the short distance to the end of the hedge where I discovered it sitting on a post, posing for more photos from a different angle.  If it had flown from here I might have done a better job at getting some flight photos but if I'd stuck it out any longer I'd have been late back to work.  Fantastic experience though - never been so close to a Short-eared Owl - or probably any wild owl - for such a prolonged period.

Short-eared Owl, north of Stanhoe, 13th January

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Scotland days 4 and 5

(Here's the fourth and final instalment from my short break in Scotland in 2015. Day 1 was here)   

On Wednedsday I spent the early part of the morning in the garden where Tawny Owl was calling first thing and the Spotted Flycatchers continued to perform as a Cuckoo called more distantly.

Siskin, Braemar, 3rd June

Spotted Flycatchers, Braemar, 3rd June

Willow Warblers, Braemar, 3rd June

Robins, Braemar, 3rd June

Blackbird, Braemar, 3rd June

Greenfinch, Braemar, 3rd June

garden, Braemar, 3rd June

Rabbit, Braemar, 3rd June

We headed down to Linn of Dee but were still in the car having only seen Grey Wagtail when news of a nearby rarity prompted a change of plan.  Soon after we were at Loch of Skene where the target was not showing.  It had been hawking insects low over the water and also high in the sky further away.  After a while I picked it up over the water, a fine Black-winged Pratincole, and over the next hour or two I enjoyed watching it feeding while enjoying a good chat with Harry Scott, a local birder I'd met and stayed with years ago when I found an American Golden Plover on the Ythan.

Black-winged Pratincole, Loch of Skene, 3rd June

Red Kite, Osprey and Sparrowhawk were among the raptors on show at the Loch of Skene.

After this we headed back to Linn of Dee to resume our earlier plan, that is to go for a walk in the hills above the Linn.  This was very pleasant and produced a few birds, though nothing spectacular.  Goosander flew over, 3 Crossbills were feeding and we saw 2 Redstarts and 2 singing Tree Pipits.

Crossbill, above Linn of Dee, 3rd June

Redstart, above Linn of Dee, 3rd June

above Linn of Dee, 3rd June

Harry had told me about a female Capercaillie that had been seen recently at the car park at Linn of Dee.  I'd spent quite a bit of time in the Linn of Dee over the last few days but avoided the car park as that always seemed to be busy with tourists and mountain bikers!  We spent a bit of time here this afternoon, but no sign of Capercaillie - just this Red Squirrel.

Red Squirrel, Linn of Dee, 3rd June

We took our fish and chips from Braemar to a pull-off south of the town from where we enjoyed a Curlew singing, a Cuckoo and a fine male Ring Ouzel.  Back at the base another Red Squirrel was in the garden.

At dusk I headed back to the car park at Linn of Dee in the vain hope of seeing the Capercaillie.  I heard a couple of Crossbills and managed to avoid hitting any of the 400+ Red Deer that were littered throughout the valley as I drove down.

This was our last full day but next morning before heading back south I had one last try for the Capercaillie.  It was a bitterly cold morning - minus 2 degrees which I didn't think was very June-like.  There were fewer Red Deer this morning but this one was especially impressive.

Red Deer, Linn of Dee, 4th June

Also on the mammal front was this Hare.  I associate Mountain Hares with Scotland but I suppose there's no reason why I shouldn't see Brown Hare here too, especially in the valley as this was.

Brown Hare, Linn of Dee, 4th June

Unfortunately though the birds weren't as showy as the mammals.  No Capercaillie, nor anything else of note.

Pheasant, Linn of Dee, 4th June

Linn of Dee, 4th June