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, 29 April 2016

Golden Pheasants, Arctic Terns and Redstart

On Saturday I headed into the Brecks again, starting off at Hockham Heath, an area where I used to see Golden Pheasants once upon a time.  Not seen them here for a good few years though, so not sure if there are any left.  No sign of any this time again, though plenty of common woodland birds like Treecreepers, Nuthatch, Blackcaps, Siskin, etc.

Next I wandered down the path to Cranberry Rough, a shallow wetland that looks like it ought to have Whiskered Terns bouncing around as Squacco Herons and Great White Egrets feed below.  A bit early for that maybe, though maybe not for the Egret.  Plenty of herons there and a variety of other species, but nothing remarkable this time.  Give it 2-3 weeks...

As I wandered up the track to Thompson Water I heard the distinctive call of a Golden Pheasant.  It's been a good while since I heard this species calling but I was quite sure.  So they are still here, I mused.  Now I just need to see it.  As I scanned the edge of the woodland beyond the paddock I was next to there was no sign.  It called again.  Still no sign.  There were lots of chicken coups in the paddock and as it called again, more loudly, my attention was drawn to one of the coups in which I could see not chickens, but a Golden Pheasant!  Doh!  There was a pair in there though the female remained hidden most of the time.  The male remained pretty vocal and I wondered whether this could be the source of some of the more recent reports of Golden Pheasant in this area.

captive Golden Pheasant, near Thompson Water, 23rd April

A few Swallows and the odd House Martin were at Thompson Water itself but apart from that the walk produced mainly the same kind of things as I'd already seen that morning - Nuthatches, Treecreeper, Blakcaps, etc.

Yellowhammer, near Thompson Water, 23rd April

Fowl Mere didn't have much to report - another Nuthatch calling here.

Couldn't find any Reeves's Pheasants in the Great Cressingham/Bodney area or around Cockley Cley where a female has been photographed recently, but at least one of the Reeves's Pheasant x Common Pheasant hybrids remains at Threxton Hill.

Reeves's Pheasant x Common Pheasant hybrid, Threxton Hill, 23rd April

On Sunday I eventually heard Dave's news that he'd found 5 Arctic Terns on the patch.  I've not seen Arctic Tern on the local patch before and these were only 5-10 minutes away so I headed down there hoping that the delay in me finding out about them wouldn't have cost me a good patch bird.  I rocked up to Poplar Lake (which isn't in Aylsham by the way - suspect that was someone reading Dave's tweet, googling for a Poplar Lake and jumping to a conclusion) and there were 4 Arctic Terns flying around.  Great to see locally, difficult to photograph with the background making it hard to get a focus on them.

Arctic Terns, Bittering, 24th April

Not much else on the patch other than Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers.

Heard an Oystercatcher over the house on Monday - don't get them here very often.

On Wednesday lunch time I finally found my first Whitethroat of the year, at Thornham.  On the way home from work I paused at the patch picking up Ringed Plover, another excellent local bird, 2 Dunlins and at least 7 Little Ringed Plovers at one site.

Yesterday lunch time I was heading back to work via Beacon Hill.  Driving up the hill from Burnham Market a couple of birds flew up from the verge and across the road in front of me.  Think one of them was a Great Tit but the other was a Redstart.  By this time I was already verging on being late back to work so I didn't have to stop and find it again but still great to see a spring migrant Redstart at an inland (just) location. 

Heard a Cuckoo calling at home this morning.  Last year there was one calling in the vicinity from early May through to mid June, always only early in the mornings.  Let's hope this one sticks around too.

Pheasant, north of Stanhoe, 27th April

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Shore Larks and Cranes

The temperature was below zero when I got up this morning and I had to scrape ice off the car before heading up to Burnham Overy.  Layers of mist covered the marshes as the sun rose and although cold it felt good.  Cold isn't ideal for spring migrants, but I was after Snow Finch and Alpine Accentor and they don't mind the cold (just in case you think I'm barking mad, Alpine Accentors are currently occurring well outside of their normal range in numbers in northern Europe and there have been 2-3 very extralimital Snow Finches too... now's got to be the best time to find Britain's first Snow Finch).

Burnham Overy at dawn, 20th April

Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap and Chiffchaff were all singing by the staithe, a Reed Warbler was singing among the Sedge Warblers along the dyke and 3 Whimbrels were in the channel.  A Barn Owl was quartering over the marsh.

Whimbrel, Burnham Overy, 20th April

Linnet, Burnham Overy, 20th April

As I headed to Gun Hill a Spoonbill dropped in to the saltmarsh.  A flock of 139 Sanderling remain on the beach and as I checked the sea buckthorn patch for migrants I heard and then saw 2 Shore Larks coming up off the beach.  They soon dropped down behind the dunes again but from a vantage point further along I couldn't relocate them.  Presumably 2 of the 3 birds that wintered here, though they haven't been reported much recently.

Spoonbill, Burnham Overy, 20th April

Overhead migrants included a number of corvids including Jackdaw, Rook and Carrions Crows in the same flock.  Finches included a total of 4 Redpolls (all singles) west and a few Siskins.  A Grey Wagtail flew west but it was the summer migrants I enjoyed most.  I always feel like I'm only scraping the surface with vis mig here so the 17 Yellow Wagtails I notched up probably represents a small proportion of the birds moving through this mornig.  Small numbers of all 3 hirundine species seen too.

I checked the dunes carefully for migrants, or at least I thought I did, finding very few grounded passage migrants.  Turns out I missed 4 Ring Ouzels somehow.  A Stonechat was along the fenceline and a Tree Pipit called so loudly I wondered if I had put it up from close by, although I never saw it.

Looking to Holkham the Great White Egret was showing and a Cuckoo called.  A pair of Mediterranean Gulls flew around for a bit - an adult and a second-summer.

Mediterranean Gulls, Burnham Overy, 20th April

As I headed back through the north dunes I was looking and listening out for the Cranes, having heard that a flock of 6 had flown west over Cley.  I wasn't in the best position on the north side but thought I might have had time to get back to the boardwalk before they reached me.  No chance!  Half way along and I heard one or two vaguely Craney noises, but they didn't seem right and I figured it was a Greylag Goose or something a bit muffled from the other side of the dunes, and I carried on.  Then I heard it again.  Sounded odd, though still not very convincingly Crane-like.  But a bit nearer and now sounding like it was coming from high up.  Must be the Cranes I thought, as they got a bit louder (and more recognisably Crane-like).  Scanning the skies I eventually picked up first 3, then all 6 Cranes.  High up and circling, but getting higher and higher and drifting south until I lost them over the top of the dunes.

Cranes, Burnham Overy, 20th April

Among the Cranes a few raptors appeared at various points while I was watching them, including a Red Kite.  Another (or perhaps the same) Spoonbill flew over as I returned to my car.

Cormorant, Burnham Overy, 20th April

Black-tailed Godwit, Burnham Overy, 20th April

Yesterday a Green-winged Teal had been seen at Burnham Norton.  I headed down there next although there hadn't been any reports of it today.  As I arrived I could see a couple of guys looking over to a puddle and behaving as if they might have got the Teal.  I couldn't see it from my car so, as they were coming back, I asked.  Yes, apparently it was showing there, though difficult in the heat haze.  With others I went down to where they were watching from.  There were only 4 birds in the puddle, a pair of Teal and a pair of Shoveler, and they were right about one thing - they were tricky in the heat haze.  We couldn't see the white horizontal stripe on the drake Teal but the only problem was that it also lacked a white vertical stripe - which is rather a big problem for a Green-winged Teal!  It wasn't that difficult in the heat haze!  It was feeding with its breast low in the water though, so it wasn't all that easy to see that the vertical bar was definitely missing, but even so I would have thought that the guys leaving would have wanted to see that the vertical stripe was there before going away ticking it.

Anyway I wandered round the loop path in the hope it was lurking in one of the dykes or pools, but no such luck.  A Whimbrel was on the saltmarsh, a Greenshank was in the tidal creeks and this Cuckoo flew past.

Cuckoo, Burnham Norton, 20th April

Monday, 18 April 2016

Mainly local birding

I've searched for migrants during my lunch breaks over the last couple of weeks, largely without much success.  A Black Redstart at Heacham a fortnight ago, a few Swallows moving south there and my first Sedge Warbler of the year, but nothing remarkable.

Other birds have included a Red Kite over Burnham Overy Mill and, on the way in to work, Little Owl at Sculthorpe.  A Treecreeper was singing just outside the office window one day but it's the local patch where it's all been happening. Unfortunately it was all happening while I was at work.

Last Monday there were 8 Swallows at Hell Pit, and still 25 Shovelers remaining.  Nearby my first 4 Sand Martins of the year (very late first sighting) flew over Creaking Gate Lake and my first Mallard ducklings of the year at Rawhall Gravel Pits (a brood of 12, accompanied by both male and female, unusually).  Other gravel pits in the area held a pair of Avocets still and pairs of Little Ringed Plovers at 2 sites.

Tuesday was when it all kicked off.  In the local area (not all at my patch) there were Little Gulls, Arctic Terns, Knot, Ruff, Dunlin, White Wagtail and all sorts.  Oh, and a Great White Egret just outside my village!  Needless to say not only was I at work today but I had to go out in the evening too, so I only had time for a very quick scan on my way home from work at one gravel pit where Dave had seen Arctic Tern, Ruff (both firsts for the patch), Knot (second for the patch), Dunlin and 3 Avocets.  Well the Knot was still there, and the Dunlin, and there were at least 7 Little Ringed Plovers which is a good count, but the real goodies had both gone.

On Thursday I managed to get to the patch before work and again briefly at lunchtime.  Pairs of Avocet were at two sites (though not at the same time, so conceivably the same birds) and plenty of Little Ringed Plovers.  A party of 5 Dunlin included four in breeding plumage as well as perhaps the same winter-plumaged bird that was there on Tuesday.  A Peregrine was having its breakfast early on.  We've been seeing Peregrines in the area well into breeding season on numerous occasions over the last few years but we haven't worked out where they're coming from.  Not inconceivable that they're the Norwich birds I suppose, but I rather doubt it.  Maybe the same birds that have been frequenting Wymondham Abbey?

Two Treecreepers were singing either side of me at Creaking Gate Lake - sounded like they were duetting with them seemingly taking it in turns to sing.  Made me wonder if females sometimes sing and these were a duetting pair, but according to Simon Harrop's "Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers" only the males sing (don't have it - conveniently Google Books shows the relevant page), although it looks some species covered in the book do duet with females singing too.  Assuming Harrop is correct I guess it must have simply being two territorial males.

On Friday my lunch time birding effort was hampered by heavy rain but I did manage a surprise second-year Mediterranean Gull in a ploughed field north of Stanhoe, followed by a pair of adult Mediterrean Gulls in the same field.

Mediterranean Gulls, north of Stanhoe, 15th April

On Saturday there were still 3 Dunlins on the patch along with at least 5 Little Ringed Plovers and 2 Avocets at the same site.  More hirundines too with plenty of Swallows and at least 5 House Martins at last.  Still at least 50 Fieldfares present.  No sign of any Arctic Terns though, despite a good number moving through inland locations in the county.

Red-legged Partridge, Bittering, 16th April

Didn't get out birding on Sunday, except for a quick outing in the evening where Marsh Tit and Green Woodpeckers were the highlights, but drove past what seemed to be either a Polecat or Polecat-like Ferret dead on the B1145 just east of Billingford.  Went back later to see if I could get a closer look and photos but it was gone.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Red-necked & Slavonian Grebes in summer finery

On Sunday I couldn't resist heading off to the Broads primarily to see the summer plumaged Red-necked Grebe at Ormesby Little Broad.  I've seen plenty of Red-necked Grebes before of course, but rarely in summer plumage.  Indeed the last time I saw one well in full breeding plumage was over 2 decades ago in 1995 when I saw a displaying pair in Scotland.

I rolled up at Ormesby Little Broad, had a very quick peek from the road before heading down to the viewing platform where most recent reports had come from.  It wasn't there and hadn't been for at least half an hour.  There were 4 Goldeneye, but that wasn't what I came for.  I gave it a while before heading back to the road to view from there.  I picked up the Red-necked Grebe across the water on the left hand side.  It was swimming towards me and in no time it was so close that it had disappeared behind the reeds just in front of me.  It came in and out of view often enough, and views were excellent when it was in view - but the reeds in the way made for difficult photography.  Interesting to see how a dark throat patch within the white cheeks appeared and disappeared as the bird's angle changed.

Red-necked Grebe, Ormesby Little Broad, 3rd April

At Rollesby Broad the Yellow-billed (Speckled) Teal x Marbled Duck hybrid is still present and a Bar-headed Goose was also there.

Yellow-billed Teal x Marbled Duck hybrid, Rollesby Broad, 3rd April

Bar-headed Goose, Rollesby Broad, 3rd April

I moved on to West Somerton from where I walked to Martham Broad.  Another 5 Goldeneye were on the Broad but on my first few scans I couldn't see the Slavonian Grebe.  It was diving a lot and I was just unlucky - it was there, at the back but easy enough to see most of the time.  Another beautiful breeding plumaged (more-or-less) grebe.

Slavonian Grebe, Martham Broad, 3rd April

Great Crested Grebe, Martham Broad, 3rd April

Plenty of Marsh Harriers here including a food-passing pair.

Marsh Harriers, Martham Broad, 3rd April

It was a beautiful sunny evening so I had a wander along the footpath along to the river.  A Willow Warbler was singing at the corner and a bit further on I disturbed a Grass Snake.  As a teenager I used to see Grass Snakes occasionally at Bough Beech Reservoir (Kent) but believe it or not this was my first ever in Norfolk and my first anywhere for 26 years!

Along the road north of West Somerton I paused to look at 2 Cranes.

Cranes, West Somerton - Horsey, 3rd April

I continued up the track through Sea Palling.  Not birding properly as it was late and I didn't have enough time, but thought I'd just go that way to see if I could see any obvious birds like Black Redstarts.  Turned out I could - one Black Redstart anyway.

A quick stop at Wroxham Broad on my way home, an excuse to stop and change out of my boots more than anything as it was starting to get dark and my dinner was going to be on the table soon.  A Common Tern appeared from behind the sailing club and disappeared back down the broad again almost before I'd managed to lift my bins up to my eyes.

On Monday I popped in to the patch on the way home, only for a very brief look.  Highlight was a pair of Avocets at a new site, though whether they remain to breed remains to be seen.  Also Little Ringed Plover displaying.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Burnham Norton and Sculthorpe Moor

A lunch-break wander round Syderstone Common on 31st March produced several singing Chiffchaffs, fly-over Siskins and a brief snatch of Blackcap song.

Chiffchaff, Syderstone Common, 31st March

On Saturday morning I headed up to the coast, passing Barn Owls at Brisley and Burnham Market.  I was to be meeting a group at Sculthorpe Moor at 9.15 or thereabouts so didn't feel I had time to do Burnham Overy justice, so opted for Burnham Norton instead.  Another Barn Owl was near the car park and 3 Mediterranean Gulls were splendid in their summer finery.

Along the seawall Chiffchaff(s) were singing in the saltmarsh, Goldcrest calling and a female Wheatear headed nipped across to the inland fields.  Clearly some migrant birds were arriving this morning.  A Bearded Tit called here too.

As I returned to the car one of the dykes held an interesting Wigeon.  It had a large area of white on the head, behind the eye.  I've seen a few Wigeon with white behind the eye and blogged about them a while ago.  Recently I again blogged about one bird at Salthouse which shows mixed male and female characters over several winters so is, presumably, an intersex bird.  This bird seemed to show mixed male and female characters too (though mainly female), so another intersex bird, I assumed.  Now what's the odds of two intersex birds both having excess white on the head if the two phenomena are unrelated?  And if they're not unrelated - why ever not?  Weird!  I noticed this bird also showed dark barring on the flanks, a feature that is not normally present on either male or female Wigeon, but is shared by intersex Pintails. Anyway, I've now blogged about this, so have a look there if you're interested.

Wigeon, Burnham Norton, 2nd April

At the visitor centre at Sculthorpe Moor the group were treated to 3 Red Kites.

Red Kite, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

A Blackcap was singing its heart out as we headed down to Woodland Hide, and unlike most Blackcaps this one had the decency to sit still while the whole group enjoyed close scope views of it.

Blackcap, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

A Long-tailed Tit nest in front of Woodland Hide was typically beautiful, if not easy to see, and here too were the first of at least 10 Bramblings, some of the males looking particularly fine.  Also the first of 5 Bullfinches here.

Long-tailed Tit nest, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

Bramblings, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

Bullfinch, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

Reed Bunting, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

We also saw about 3 Nuthatches including one which was visiting a nest hole, and heard a Treecreeper singing.  From the new Tower Hide several Siskins were taking advantage of the feeders and 2 Redpolls were there when I first looked.  Unfortunately the latter disappeared before I managed to get a good look at them so I wasn't able to establish what sort of Redpoll they were.

Nuthatch, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

Siskins, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

Blue Tits, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

Great Tits, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

Chaffinches, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

Goldfinch, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

Greenfinch, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

From the last hides we spent a while watching a Little Egret feeding and one of the Red Kites (or perhaps a different one) provided closer views than before.

Little Egret, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

Red Kite, Sculthorpe Moor, 2nd April

Lots of non-avian interest at Sculthorpe Moor too - check out my mothing diary page for details of not just moths (indeed no moths at Sculthorpe) but Vole and Stoats, Frogs and Toad, Stonefly, Elfcups and more.

On the way home I stopped off at the patch where the highlight was a Redshank at Bittering.  A relatively scarce bird around these parts now and this was the first time I'd seen one at this particular site.  Also a Little Ringed Plover on the patch.

Chiffchaff, Bittering, 2nd April

Buzzard, Bittering, 2nd April