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.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Cliff Swallow on the way to Titchwell, and Waxwings

On Saturday 5th November I was due to meet the group I regularly help with at Titchwell in the morning.  The only problem was that on Friday afternoon a Cliff Swallow appeared at Minsmere, with news emerging too late to get there that afternoon.  Now I've seen a few Cliff Swallows in North America, but the opportunity to see one in the UK - especially one in East Anglia that doesn't require a long drive and probably a ferry or helicopter ride to reach it - was too big a chance to ignore.  The Cliff Swallow was thought to have gone to roost at Minsmere so the odds were that it would be seen early in the morning.  Also a reasonable chance that it wouldn't hang around for long after it was up - these are diurnal migrants.  I would have to be there early.

Well most people wouldn't consider Minsmere to be on the way from North Elmham to Titchwell but this time it had to be.  I set off very early arriving at Minsmere in the dark - I wanted to be in position at first light.  I was surprised to find just 2 cars in the car park although more started arriving pretty soon after.  I clocked on that the two people who arrived just after me had more gen about its actions yesterday than I did and were likely to be in speedy communication with others who might be the first to see it this morning (both of which proved to be accurate), and decided they'd be good people to hook up with (with their permission!).  I headed down to the footpath just past West Hide with them, a good viewpoint where we stood a good chance of seeing any birds emerging from roost.

Water Rail and Kingfisher called, a couple of Brambling flew over and a flock of 20 Siskins went by, but no sign of any hirundines as it got light.  Quite a crowd had now amassed and others were looking from other locations.  Then one of the guys I'd gone down with received a phone call advising him that the hirundine flock was on view from the north wall, rapidly followed by confirmation that the Cliff Swallow was among them.  We started running up the track towards North Wall before I (and I noticed quite a lot of the others) realised we were far too old and unfit to run and slowed to a fast walk.  As we approached the dipping pond area the hirundine flock appeared over our head - about 8 Swallows and among them the Cliff Swallow, easy to pick out with its highly distinctive structure.  It showed nicely for a short while before the whole flock drifted south becoming distant and eventually disappearing - just as the bunch of hopefuls that had been waiting in Bittern Hide were catching us up.  They must have got the news slightly after us as they weren't that much further away, but things were looking pretty gloomy for the ones that didn't make it in time.  There was every chance that the birds would not return.  I felt a bit sorry for them but was personally elated that I'd got there in time.

After using the facilities I emerged some time later to find the mood a bit merrier - while I was inside the bird had reappeared and was now showing from the Stone Curlew watchpoint.  I headed up there to find probably hundreds of people watching the bird which was, initially, perched in one of the bushes.  It kept on leaving the bushes and going for a little fly around before returning to a different bush.  Initially it showed quite well but with people getting too close it seemed to be retreating further back before heading off south again.

Cliff Swallow, Minsmere, 5th November

I was now going to be late to Titchwell so decided to leave Minsmere and head up there quick.  Apparently the Swallow did return and continued to show all day but the following morning it flew off shortly after leaving roost never to be seen again.

Lots of birds on show at Titchwell, if not all that many notable ones among them.

Titchwell, 5th November

An area of cut reeds just next to the hide proved popular with 2 Stonechats which were enjoyed by the group.

Stonechats, Titchwell, 5th November

A pipit visited the same area briefly.  In life it showed a blazing pale supercilium, streaking on the underparts largely restricted to the breast, grey brown upperparts lacking any olive tones, very white wing bars and tertial edges and indeed looked like a fairly straightforward Water Pipit.  It called too, and I thought it sounded like a Water Pipit.  When I looked at my photos I was a bit surprised and confused to see a bird that at first glance looked much more like a Scandinavian Rock Pipit.  The supercilium looks much less distinct in the photos than it did in life but the breast streaking is also thicker and less distinct than I had remembered.  I started wondering if I had stuffed up - maybe I hadn't looked at it carefully enough in my attempt to get others on to it.  In the end I don't think so - yes the streaking on the breast isn't quite as I had remembered it but its pretty minimal on the flanks, the wing bars and tertials look ok. 

Water Pipit, Titchwell, 5th November

Among the waders were 6 Avocets and an impressive 95 Ruffs, the highest count I've made in a decade.

Black-tailed Godwit, Titchwell, 5th November

Shoveler, Titchwell, 5th November

Teal, Titchwell, 5th November

With the strong northerly wind and profusion of rain I had wondered if the group would cancel, but they're made of hardy stuff.  Not hardy enough to spend very long looking at the sea mind, although they did brave the elements to take a quick look.  I managed to see one Great Skua fly past but it wasn't easy conditions for showing birds to people and we soon returned to the comfort of the hides (or did we go straight for the cafe, I can't remember).

On 13th November I was in Norwich when I heard some Waxwings calling.  I didn't have my optics with me and I was in a hurry, but a flock of around about 10-12 birds landed in the top of a tall tree between Mill Hill Road and Park Lane - I was pretty sure they were the Waxwings I had heard.  A couple of hours later I returned to this area and was about to start having a more relaxed look for them when I received a message from Jos (leader of the group I'd been at Titchwell with) to say she had seen a Waxwing at Jenny Lind playground, near where she lives.  Perhaps the birds I'd seen had moved on to there - it wasn't far away.  I had a quick skirt round the block first anyway, just in case there were still some there, and then headed up to Jenny Lind.  I met Jos and by now more birds had appeared.  They were hard to count but in the end we saw at least 9 Waxwings here - very probably the same flock I'd seen earlier that morning.

Over the next few days varying numbers of Waxwings continued to entertain visitors before running out of Rowan berries.  I popped in again on Sunday 20th (again with no camera gear) and saw 30 Waxwings but there were hardly any berries left so I don't think they were seen much more after this.  Plenty elsewhere in the Norwich area by now though, very likely including some crossover with the same birds - mainly being seen in Bowthorpe and Costessey.

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