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.

Friday, 12 February 2016

A Whale, 1.5 Ferruginous Ducks and 27 Kites

Seem to be getting behind again - best sort that out.  Back to 1st Feb when the only highlight of my lunch break was this showy Muntjac.

Muntjac, Helhoughton, 1st February

Last Wednesday I saw a fine Red Kite on my way to work at Sculthorpe and the Red-necked Grebe at Brancaster Staithe again in my lunch break (along with 3 Red-breasted Mergansers).  The Grebe showed nice and close this time allowing a few pics, though these might have been better had it not been quite so dull.

Red-necked Grebe, Brancaster Staithe, 3rd February

Redshank, Brancaster Staithe, 3rd February

On Thursday I saw a Barn Owl on the way to work, a Grey Wagtail at work, and then popped out to Hunstanton in my lunch break in the hope of seeing the Sperm Whale that had been beached there.  Of course I would rather see a healthy whale swimming in the open sea than a dying (or by now maybe dead) one on a beach, but it would still be interesting to see.

I looked first from the car park near the lighthouse.  There was a crowd of people on the beach but no sign of any beached whale.  I didn't know exactly where the whale was supposed to be, only that it was on the beach, and it clearly wasn't on the beach here.  So why the crowd, I wondered?  Given the numbers of emergency services in the area, including ambulance personnel who I didn't think would need to be attending a beached whale, I figured there might be some other sort of incident going on, and headed off to other parts of Hunstanton to look for the whale.  Drawing a blank I started to return to the lighthouse, but was interupted by a message saying it was near the hotel at Old Hunstanton.  The crowd I'd seen hadn't been far from there - maybe it was there after all and perhaps it had returned to the sea successfully on the rising tide?  Good news if so but I wasn't sure if it might have been round the corner out of view, so I headed up to Old Hunstanton next.  I stopped in the car park and had a quick look, but only very quick as I was in a private car park and blocking people in. 

This time I didn't just look on the beach but scanned the sea, and there was the Sperm Whale.  Excellent.  I just had time to dash back round to the car park near the lighthouse and look from there, a bit more relaxed as I wouldn't be blocking anyone in but not very relaxed as I'd wasted so much time now that I needed to be heading back to work.  I quickly found it again, showing much of the time despite the surfers all around.  I rattled off a few rubbishy shots but didn't have enough time to really look at it properly.  I kicked myself for not stopping here when I first arrived - if I had done I might even have had enough time to go down to the beach and see it relatively close, rather than from the top of the cliff half a mile away.  I might also have noticed that although it was thrashing around it wasn't actually moving very far - in hindsight I think it might have still been grounded in such shallow water that it wasn't off the sand at all.  In all my photos it was oriented exactly the same way, which would be odd if it had really been swimming freely as I supposed at the time.  My pleasure that it had made its way back to the sea was unjustified, though it was in any case tainted with the expectation that it would in all likelihood beach again come low tide.  Needless to say it did indeed die in that spot later that day.  Sad, but inevitable.

Sperm Whale, Hunstanton, 4th February

I'd been hoping to spend Saturday birding on the coast but with strong winds and heavy rain forecast I decided to do other things instead.  In the end there wasn't as much rain as had been forecast and I felt a bit cheated, but I did pop out very briefly.  Bintree Mill was the highlight - the flood containing a very impressive array of ducks.  Some 280 Teal was a fantastic number for this site, and lots of Wigeon, Shoveler and Gadwall too.  More unusual locally were 3 Pintail.

Pintails, Bintree Mill, 6th February

On Sunday I wasn't free until the afternoon but then headed up to Holkham with Dave.  Main target was the Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid, but I also wanted to see the pure Ferruginous Duck.  Some have suggested that that's a hybrid too so I wanted to see it for myself and make my own mind up.  Like several other females that have been rubbished, I think it all looks in range for a pure bird - people don't seem to appreciate how variable they can be. 

Ferruginous Duck, Holkham Park, 7th February

The hybrid was better looking though!  Two drake Scaup were still present here too and we also saw 20 Barnacle Geese and a Barn Owl.

Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid, Holkham Park, 7th February

A while ago I saw photos of a Lesser Black-backed Gull x Herring Gull hybrid at the Blakeney quay wildfowl collection and I recently heard that it was being seen there regularly (perhaps responsible for the recent Yellow-legged Gull claim?).  We headed over here next in the hope of seeing that, but no luck.  Interesting to see how some of the young birds in the collection are progressing in their moults though.  The collection has recently been re-stocked and for the most part with pairs of young birds.  The Smew is considerably further advanced than it was last time I saw it, but less so than I expected having previously read that they can change surprisingly quickly.  The Garganey that had previously shown almost no sign of masculinity was now clearly a male.  The Hooded Merganser male still looks much like a female but it shows just a small white patch on the side of the head now. 

captive Smew, Blakeney Collection, 7th February

captive Garganey, Blakeney Collection, 7th February

captive Hooded Merganser, Blakeney Collection, 7th February

A Barn Owl was hunting behind the collection but as time was now pushing on it didn't seem worth heading out to the marsh to look for the Lapland Buntings and Twite.  Instead we headed off to a Red Kite roost where we enjoyed the spectacle of 27 Red Kites in the air together, the most I've ever seen at a time.

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