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, 27 March 2016

A day in the Brecks and Fens

Yesterday morning Redwings were still calling overhead at first light, as they had been when I went to bed.  I headed down to the Brecks for some Good Friday birding, this being the best day weather-wise for birding all weekend.  At least the nicest day, though with winds turning to a more southerly direction (and strengthening and bringing rain) there might be more in the way of migrants later on I suppose.

Barn Owl and Reeves's Pheasant got the day off to a start at Great Cressingham and the original Reeves's Pheasant x Common Pheasant hybrid at Threxton Hill was still present and displaying.  Didn't see the darker bird this time.

Reeves's Pheasant x Common Pheasant hybrid, Threxton Hill, 25th March

Pheasant, Great Cressingham, 25th March

A Red Kite at Bodney was the only bird of note before I hit Lynford Arboretum.  I'd seen a brown-bristled Marsh Tit last year - brown nasal bristles are supposed to be a feature of Willow Tit but this wasn't a Willow Tit.  With Willow Tits disappearing it's plausible that the odd hybrid should be appearing and, though I wouldn't go as far as to say that brown-bristled bird was a hybrid, I was conscious of this and determined to study all Marsh Tits carefully to see if I could find any evidence of hybridisation.  I found at least 5 different Marsh Tits but none that I could suspect of being hybrids.  One silent bird with a relatively bull-necked appearance and a bit more pale on the wings had me wondering for a while but it appeared so briefly I didn't get a good enough look and after studying the photos I think it was a pretty normal Marsh Tit.

Marsh Tits, Lynford, 25th March

Always nice to see Nuthatches, of which there were plenty, and only 1 Treecreeper.  A displaying male Firecrest appeared briefly, in a place I'd not seen them before and a Grey Wagtail dropped down in front of me.  Lots of Siskin flying around but no sign of Hawfinches or Crossbills.

Grey Wagtail, Lynford, 25th March

Mute Swan, Lynford, 25th March

I was planning to visit Welney later but with a need to find some clean facilities fairly urgently I decided to head there next!  I headed out to Reedbed Hide first (I think that's what it's called - the one left of the observatory).  Saw one of at least 4 Cetti's Warblers on the way down and a Fieldfare, and flushed a Water Rail from literally under my feet (it was under the boardwalk).  A Stoat showed from the Observatory but I didn't see so much up the other end, and no sign of the Great White Egret at Lady Fen.

Reed Bunting, Welney, 25th March

As I weaved my way back through the Fens I heard a Chiffchaff singing at Blackdyke.  Decided to drive down Cowle's Drove at Hockwold Fen, just north of Lakenheath (but in Norfolk).  Got as far as I wanted without seeing much of note but as I headed back through the muddy track one scan revealed a Great White Egret standing in a field.  Hadn't been expecting to see that, although it was presumably one of the two that have been frequenting Lakenheath (indeed they had been seen that morning).  I think they had been seen the Norfolk side of the river, on Hockwold Wash, but so far as I know not reported from this site.  Even so, Lakenheath is literally a stone's throw away, so I'm not treating it as a 'self-found' bird!

Great White Egret, Hockwold Fen, 25th March

I tweeted news out, looked back up and the egret was gone.  Hadn't seen it fly, but couldn't now see it anywhere.  A car that I'd seen parked up by the next field (separated by a strip of wood) but not realised were birders came past me as I headed down, and stopped to tell me that a Great White Egret had just dropped in there.  The same bird presumably?  Better just check my field again just in case, seeing as there are two around... no, there's still a Great White Egret here, so must be a different bird.  But this bird was now largely hidden deep in an area of thick rushes - hence not seeing it there before - and when I checked my photos later I realised this area was some distance from my first sighting.  So it probably hadn't walked there so either way I'd missed seeing it fly when I was busy tweeting.  In hindsight I think it's most likely that the bird the couple had seen was my original bird and the bird in the rushes was the second bird.  But definitely two birds between us anyway.

While this was going on a Green Sandpiper flew along the dyke and a large tanker lorry was heading towards me along the track.  I waited for it to pass before heading to the next field, but with a tanker passing I imagined any Great White Egret there would have been flushed, and whether it was or not I couldn't find it.  The tanker must have decided not to proceed down the very muddy rutted track and attempted to turn round, apparently failing to do so and getting stuck.  Glad I wasn't the other side of it as might have been there for some time!

I checked various other sites without much success, followed by visits to Cranwich Heath and Cranwich Camp.  These were more for invertebrates than birds, but a fine male Brambling flew over the camp, Green Woodpecker on the heath and Siskins everywhere.

Red-legged Partridge, Fowl Mere, 25th March

Another look for Pheasants in the evening only turned up the same Reeves's Pheasant x Common Pheasant hybrid, still in the same place at Threxton Hill.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Jack and the Bean Stalk

Or Jack Snipe and Bean Geese...

Dave has seen a couple of Pink-footed Geese on the local patch a few times this winter but on Friday a fortnight ago (gosh, is that how long it's taken me to write this) he got a bit confused noticing that at least one bird looked a bit like a Bean Goose.  He saw them again on Saturday and there were three birds, but still the situation wasn't clear, not helped by him not having a scope at the moment.  So I rocked up on Saturday afternoon to see what was going on...

A scan of one gravel workings area produced 5 Dunlin among the Golden Plover and Lapwing.  A good local record but not what we were looking for.  Nearby we found the geese.  The pair were lying down (so we couldn't see the legs) and asleep (so we couldn't see the bills) but I wasn't seeing anything to suggest they weren't Pink-feet.  Eventually they woke up and, although they didn't stand up and show us their leg colour they were clearly Pink-footed Geese.  But they didn't look like at least one of the birds in Dave's photos and Dave had seen 3 birds... so was there a Bean Goose here as well?

Eventually we found the third bird, but this was clearly a bog-standard Pink-footed Goose as well.  A good local record as we don't see many Pink-feet here, but not what we were hoping for.  But something wasn't right.  Dave's photos weren't great, he won't mind me saying, but there was at least one bird in there that really did look like a Tundra Bean Goose.  Even if the colours etc.weren't true and it was just a Pink-footed Goose, it didn't look like any of these Pink-footed Geese here.  But here were the 3 birds all accounted for, and all Pink-footed Geese.  And there weren't any more small geese.

Some while later as we were still standing there, resigning ourselves to the fact that there were just Pink-footed Geese and not Bean Geese here, but still scratching our heads as to how this identification wasn't pretty obvious to Dave when he saw them earlier or how they looked so Beany in the photos, and I picked up two small geese flying around.  The three Pink-feet were still on the deck so these were different... and what's more they hard dark forewings, and more dark in the tail, and orange legs, and pale bellies, and Bean-shaped bills... these were 2 Tundra Bean Geese!  They flew round and round numerous times but never came down, at least not anywhere we could see them, but the prolonged close flight views left us in no doubt whatsoever.  A great local record - the first Dave had seen in the Wensum Valley (I think it just about qualifies as that here).  The only ones I've seen in the Wensum Valley before were 2 at Sparham Pools on 20th March 2009 - interesting that these were at the same time of year which is later than any of the 200 or so I've seen elsewhere in Norfolk.

Educational birds too as I don't often get to see them in flight, at least not for a prolonged period.  They looked even more compact than Pink-footed Geese but I was trying to work out why.  Not sure it was entirely down to the length of the neck - wondered if the wings were shorter too?  And maybe more barrel-shaped bodies, bulkier at the rear?

Tundra Bean Geese, near Bittering, 12th March

Still some 150 or so Wigeon here, and still can't find an American among them.

Last weekend didn't give much birding opportunity either, but a visit to the patch was in order.  One field is in a strictly private and dangerous working gravel pit with no general access.  It is not viewable from any public right of way and even if it was no birds are visible without flushing them.  But 3 of us had an opportunity to give it a look on Sunday.  After Ian's preliminary count of 7 Jack Snipe in the morning Dave and I gave it a thorough search in the afternoon.  We couldn't better that, but 7 Jack Snipe, all flushed and impossible to see on the ground, was a great local record - in fact a pretty good record anywhere and the most Jack Snipe I've ever seen in one day.

Jack Snipes, private site, 20th March

Midweek birding has been pretty restricted recently - a couple of lunch time wanders round Syderstone Common have produced the likes of Marsh Tit, Treecreeper and Green Woodpecker, but nowt to shout about.  Otherwise a leucistic Curlew, Barn Owl, Red Kites and Bullfinches have been the closest it's come to excitement.  The room I've been working in over the last week has had a nice view though, with plenty of avian activity outside the window to keep me entertained, if only the likes of Stock Doves, Long-tailed Tits, Mistle Thrushes, Treecreepers, etc.

leucistic Curlew, Burnham Norton, 21st March

Long-tailed Tit, Syderstone Common, 14th March

The only other thing of note was hearing an Egyptian Goose at home one morning - my first for the house.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Ruddy Shelduck from the house

I've done far too little birding over the last couple of weeks, but did at least get out properly yesterday.  Prior to yesterday highlights were in lunch breaks.  On 2nd March north of Stanhoe I picked up a bird flying towards me from low down on a field that was immediately obviously a Rough-legged Buzzard.  But as it was flying straight towards me I decided to grab the camera, which got caught in my handbreak and by the time I'd freed it the bird was over the top of my car.  I couldn't get out as I was blocking the track and now something was coming, and by the time I'd got out of the way the bird was nowhere to be seen.  Then I started questioning myself as to what I'd seen in the quick view before my hapless decision to grab the camera.  Was I really positive that I'd seen what I thought I'd seen?  I ended up deciding I'd best not claim it.  Annoyed with myself for stuffing it up, and probably being excessively cautious over what should have been a perfectly good record.  Whether it was one of the birds from the Chosely area or not I don't know - it's not very far away so quite plausibly so.

A Red Kite and 2 Barn Owls were in the same area and seconds later the huge grey cloud that was looming suddenly deposited an incredible amount of hail leaving the roads looking like there had been a major snowstorm.  It was very localised and half a mile away the thick white covering on the roads finished abruptly and colleagues just down the road at Bircham hadn't seen any hail at all.

On 3rd March I was working from home when I saw a duck flying straight towards me.  That might not sound remarkable, but in the 18 months I've been living here I have only once seen a duck before.  That was flying towards me on a similar flight path but I didn't have my bins to hand.  Bizarrely it looked like a Ruddy Shelduck, but in near-silhoutte and with no bins I didn't consider that rather unlikely identification sufficiently certain to record it as such.  This time I had one of those déjà vu moments as I got exactly the same impression as I saw it flying towards me along the same flight path.  But this time I had my bins to hand and was able to confirm that it was indeed a Ruddy Shelduck!

Next day I was driving through Burnham Norton in my lunch break, around 1.00 pm I think and in bright sunshine, when a small Bat flew across the road and disappeared behind the house.  First time I've ever seen a bat flying in the middle of the day in broad daylight.  It seemed to fly out from the top of a tree, though it may have simply come from behind it; a bird (Blackbird I think) had just flown into the top of the tree so I wonder if it might have accidentally disturbed the bat?

On Monday I popped in to Brancaster Staithe during my lunch break.  The Red-necked Grebe was still there, along with a Goldeneye.

 Goldeneye, Brancaster Staithe, 7th March

Red-necked Grebe, Brancaster Staithe, 7th March

rainbow, Brancaster Staithe, 7th March

Next day I paused at Flitcham where a Little Owl remains in the roots of the oak tree in front of the hide, visible from the road.

Heavy rain all morning on Wednesday hadn't relented by lunchtime when I headed over to Holkham.  The weather meant fewer people and in turn that meant more birds showing by Lady Anne's Drive including lots of Ruff, Snipe and loads of other common birds.  Nearby a pair of Egyptian Geese were like chalk and cheese - one looked wetter than a drowned rat while the other looked in fine condition.

Egyptian Geese, Holkham, 9th March

Yesterday I headed up to Burnham Overy early in the hope of finding one or two early spring migrants.  Rather fancied finding a Great Spotted Cuckoo in the dunes.  Good dreaming, but back in the real world I couldn't even find a Chiffchaff.  I did see 2 Peregrines including one that put on a fantastic show stooping at a flock of Starlings.  Other raptors included Red Kite and Sparrowhawk.

Lots of waders on the freshmarsh with the tide being high including at least 150 Black-tailed Godwits.  Surprisingly few geese though - took me a while to see any Pink-feet though eventually a flock of 40 flew west and another smaller flock appeared later on.  The Brents were in the channel later on when the tide had gone down.  Among them was the Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent Goose hybrid.  I say 'the', but I'm not convinced it's the same bird I've seen each time I've seen one over the last 2-3 winters.  Maybe, but sometimes it looks a much better contender for pure Black Brant than other times.  Today it looked extremely similar to a Black Brant, but the neck collar was very thin at the front.

A Red-breasted Merganser flew past but apart from 3 Great Crested Grebes there wasn't much on the sea.  A Goldeneye was on the reedy pool.  The only passerine of any note was a Stonechat.

Dunnock, Burnham Overy, 12th March

In the afternoon I headed to the local patch - more on that later...