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, 28 January 2017

Local birds and a superb Hen Harrier at the coast

I only popped out locally each day from Tuesday to Friday and by and large didn't see much (or anything) to report.  In fact on Wednesday I didn't see anything at all - didn't realise how foggy it was until I got out of the village.

Buzzard, Foxley Wood, 24th January

Thursday was marginally better - the patch now holds at least 35 White-fronted Geese.  Here are 29 of them...

White-fronted Geese, Bittering, 26th January

There were also much larger numbers of wildfowl than usual including at least 328 Teal (they were bunched up so the real number is probably much higher) and maybe 5-600 Wigeon, if not more.  Also heard a Brambling call which I think is the first time I've had one on the patch this year.

Yesterday I returned to Swanton Morley fishing lakes which were mainly frozen over - a handful of wildfowl crammed in to the small unfrozen section of Holkham Lake included 17 Tufted Ducks, 2 Shoveler and a Teal.  Little else to report apart from Treecreeper, Bullfinches and Siskins.  Nearby at Bylaugh Sewage Works the 2 Chiffchaffs continue to feed on the filter beds.

Chiffchaff, Bylaugh, 27th January

Today I headed up to Burnham Overy at dawn.  Among the Pink-feet heading off over the village were 6 Barnacle Geese (another 25 Barnacle Geese were on the freshmarsh a little later).  I disturbed a Kingfisher a couple of times as I walked down the sea wall and there were 7 Goldeneye in the channel.

As I walked through the dunes to Gun Hill a Hen Harrier appeared hunting over Gun Hill and then flying towards me along the dunes.  I enjoyed fantastic views of it and managed a few snaps too.

Hen Harrier, Burnham Overy, 28th January

I briefly heard what sounded like a Long-tailed Tit coming from an isolated privet and then, some time later, I heard it again.  Surely a single Long-tailed Tit wouldn't be lurking in such a bush, unseen, for so long - could it have been something else?  Eventually, but not before quite a wait, I was staggered to see not 1 but 8 Long-tailed Tits emerge from the little bush!  They flew off towards Gun Hill where I later found at least 16 Long-tailed Tits being much more typically vocal and visible.

There were 2 Common Seals on the end of Scolt Head before I turned my attentions to the sea where there were 4 Red-breasted Mergansers and the odd Great Crested Grebe and Red-throated Diver but nothing scarcer.  A couple of Fulmar flew west.

As I walked east through the dunes 3 Red Kites flew through the dunes.  Towards the east end I had another go at the sea, picking up a Slavonian Grebe close in not far away.  Further into Holkham Bay the scoter flock were a bit distant from my vantage point but I managed to pick out at least 2 Velvet Scoters.

Crossing the dunes and looking towards Holkham there were little groups of White-fronted Geese in several places - not sure how many - at least 25 but probably 50 or more with others no doubt hidden.  Also one of the Great White Egrets was on show briefly.

Heading back to the car the goose flocks contained the Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent Goose hybrid and a Stonechat was feeding on the tideline.

Mallards, Burnham Overy, 28th January

Monday, 23 January 2017

Surprise Sandpiper

I started off at Titchwell this morning where there were 2 Water Rails in the ditches beside the main path near the visitor centre and a Water Pipit further up.

 Water Rails, Titchwell, 23rd January

I was afraid the mist would prevent viewing on the sea and it did restrict visibility a bit, but it was still excellent.  There were ducks everywhere - thousands of Common Scoter (has anyone actually counted these??).  Impossible to count accurately I estimated about 70 Long-tailed Ducks on view early on and counted 45 Velvet Scoters, although the latter was undoubtedly conservative.  A drake Eider was there, a Red-breasted Merganser flew past and there were at least 12 Goldeneye (probably more) on the sea.  A group of 4 Red-crested Pochard would have been a surprise had I not remembered reports of an even larger group over the weekend.  A first-winter drake Scaup flew in from the south and landed on the sea - apparently it had been seen on the freshmarsh until then.

Yesterday Paul had seen 2 Scaup and a presumed Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid at Saddlebow.  His description of the hybrid sounded interesting - hard to imagine what else it could have been but it sounded a bit different from typical examples of this hybrid.  I decided to head down there and have a look but although the 2 Scaup (drakes) were easily found I couldn't locate the hybrid.  I checked the other bridges south of here down to Stowbridge (where there were 4 Goldeneye) but no luck.

Cormorant, Stowbridge, 23rd January

Stowbridge, 23rd January

Next stop was Nar Valley Fishery, entering from the Wormegay High Bridge end.  Had Sparrowhawk and Kingfisher as I walked along the Nar towards the gravel pits and then when I reached the first pit close to the path I saw a small wader flying towards me.  It looked like a Common Sandpiper but as it continued past and away I was troubled by the fact that it seemed to lack the usual distinctive flight pattern of Common Sandpiper, not arching its wings at all.  But it was rising to get over the trees at the end of the pit so I guess that's why and as it did so it let out a short triple-note call.  Thank goodness for that - I don't think I could have put it down otherwise.  A totally unexpected mid-winter record - my first ever in January. 

I walked on to the actual fishery which was all frozen but provides a good vantage for one of the largest of the gravel pit lakes which wasn't completely frozen over.  I nearly mistook a family part of 3 swans as Bewick's but gave them a second look when I saw 2 adult Whoopers nearby - they were in fact all 5 Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans, Nar Valley Fishery, 23rd January

There were also 75 Mute Swans and among the duck, 5 Goldeneye.

Goldeneye, Nar Valley Fishery, 23rd January

For the second time in three days I glimpsed a large-looking egret flying behind trees and dropping down.  Fortunately this time the light was better and I saw the bill clearly enough - as I suspected this was the Great White Egret.

While all this was happening I was mulling over the Common Sandpiper in my mind, allowing doubts to start creeping in.  I started thinking about Spotted Sandpiper.  My recollection was that their call is more like Green Sandpiper, not like what I just heard, which sounded like a Common Sandpiper, but foolishly I played a recording of Spotted Sandpiper just to reassure myself.  The start of the call in the recording I listened to was a bit more like Common Sand than I'd remembered, although it finished off as I recalled.  I'd only heard 3 notes - was I 100% sure?  I was pretty sure, but not 100% sure.  Spotted Sandpiper also has a slightly shorter wing-bar and although I couldn't be certain I'd have picked up on this in the view I got, I reckoned I probably would have done.  But with niggling doubts I spent the rest of the afternoon checking over the gravel pits towards Wormegay High Bridge which were in the direction it was flying towards and probably the most likely habitat for it to stick around in.  I know from my reservoir-watching days how Common Sandpipers often get quite vocal flying around at dusk so maybe this would allow me to confirm.  It didn't - there was no more sign, so I put it down as a "presumed" Common Sandpiper.  However, later on Dawn drew my attention to a tweet I'd overlooked the day before - Ash Banwell had seen it yesterday and identified it as Common.

Anyhow, while looking for the sandpiper I did see a redhead Smew - another bird that had been reported yesterday although I'd forgotten until I saw it.  Also a Barn Owl.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Hawfinch mania

I started off at East Wretham Heath this morning where 4 sleeping swans grabbed my attention.  With necks wound in and bills not showing, and nothing alongside to judge size by I'm not sure why I knew they were Bewick's Swans, but somehow I did.  I guess Mutes would have had longer tails but there must have been something else?

Bewick's Swans, East WrethaTurns m Heath, 21st January

Eventually they woke up and my instict proved correct.

Bewick's Swans, East Wretham Heath, 21st January

Turns out they've been there since December.  This Mute Swan didn't have much time for them though.

Mute and Bewick's Swans, East Wretham Heath, 21st January

Other birds here included at least 3 Lesser Redpolls and 2 Green Woodpeckers.  I was planning to spend some time at Thetford but on hearing that there weren't many gulls showing there I decided to walk on through Croxton Heath to Fowlmere and Devil's Punchbowl.  I've never done this walk before and probably won't rush to do it again - a lot of miles trudged for little reward.  A few more birds around Fowlmere and Devil's Punchbowl like Nuthatch and Treecreepers but the walk between there and East Wretham was uneventful in both directions taking different tracks.

Back at East Wretham Heath a Stoat was no doubt enjoying the abundance of Rabbits. A pair of Bramblings perched up for a bit before heading off when I tried to take their picture.

Bramblings, East Wretham Heath, 21st January

Eventually I did make it to Thetford where the Glaucous Gull appeared as I had my lunch.  Also an adult Yellow-legged Gull there.

Glauous Gull, Thetford, 21st January

Next I headed to Lynford where I planned to have just a quick look at Lynford Water before heading down to the Hawfinches.  I wasn't particularly bothered about seeing the Great White Egret but when I glimpsed a large-looking egret flying behind the trees at the east end and dropping in to the reedy area there I couldn't leave it without finding out whether it was it or not.  I walked all the way up as far as the bridge and back down along the top but couldn't relocate it so I'm still none the wiser (though I'm pretty sure it was).  There were a couple of drake Goosanders in the reedy area, barely visible.  A couple of Green Woodpeckers, a pair of Marsh Tits and Nuthatch also present round here, along with 20+ Siskins.

Eventually I got down to the paddocks where I had already missed the first arriving Hawfinches.  But as I stood there with PD and AB I notched up an incredible 49 Hawfinches.  With the birds they'd seen before I arrived plus a few I missed while I was there they managed 65 I think, fewer than yesterday which was itself down on the day before when I think they said they had 83 (don't quote me on that - low 80s anyway).  Many of the birds spent some time in the tops of the trees giving great views, if a little distant for photography.  A single Crossbill and later 3 Crossbills flew over and stuff like Marsh Tit, Green Woodpecker, Bullfinch down here too.

I had one final look at Lynford Water as it got dark - a couple of Little Egrets dropped in and the 2 Goosanders flew down the water in the fading light.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Nar Valley birding

I started out at the local patch this morning where I counted 30 White-fronted Geese - a new record for the site I think.  I then headed across to Narford Lake checking a few other sites on the way with nothing of note.  I'd been past Narford Lake before and looked from the road but hadn't at that point worked out how to get close to view it properly.  Various messages from there recently (thanks to a Great White Egret that I didn't see today) mentioned the church and I found a path leading to the church so tried that.  Good result - the back of the churchyard provides a good enough view of the lake to see the hordes of wildfowl there.  Really good - very impressed!  I counted 350 Pochard, 168 Tufted Duck, 100 Teal, 109 Gadwall, 594 Coot and 28 Mute Swans.  Also 2 Goldeneye among them and a bit more unexpectedly, 2 Bewick's Swans.

Bewick's Swan, Narford Lake, 20th January

Pentney was largely frozen over but there was one ice-free patch of water just big enough to hold 168 Teal.  Also 56 Wigeon feeding on the grass here.  Ashwicken was also largely frozen over but plenty of birds in the ice-free sections including 127 Wigeon, 122 Pochard and 15 Great Crested Grebes.

Mistle Thrush, Ashwicken, 20th January

I had a look round Saddlebow and a couple of bridges south of there which were pretty disappointing.  Slightly better at the bridge at Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalene where a redhead Goosander flew over and 4 Goldeneye were on the river.  I moved on to Tottenhill which again was mainly frozen but a section in the NE corner was crammed full of at least 650 Teal.  A single drake Pintail was the only bird of note I could find until a first-winter White-fronted Goose dropped in to join the Greylags.

Teal, Tottenhill, 20th January

A flock of 21 Whooper Swans were in a field north of Wissington Beet Factory and a Red Kite flew over.  At the factory I disturbed 3 Redshanks from the pool above the fishing lakes - they reminded me of the last time I saw Redshank at Wissington Beet Factory - June 1991 when one was accompanied by a Terek Sandpiper.  I took the footpath running through the factory from which I could see good numbers of Shoveler and Teal in one of the lagoons.  A Cetti's Warbler was calling nearby. Just south of the beet factory was another field of swans - this time 110 Whooper Swans and 9 Bewick's Swans.

Finally I stopped to have a look down a footpath along Methwold Lode.  A small muddy path alongside a small insignificant ditch didn't promise much at its start.  I was about to turn round and abandon the idea when I noticed a bit of water through the trees.  It was frozen and I couldn't see any birds on it, but this it looked like a significant amount of water that wasn't showing on the map.  I carried on if only to investigate.  As the path opened out I looked north across the ditch to a great bit of habitat I had no idea existed.  I think it's called High Fen.  The footpath itself reminded me of paths at Lakenheath or Denver Sluice - regular hawthorns along a grassy ridge with a dyke to one side and arable fields to the other - plenty of Fieldfare and Long-tailed Tits at the moment, but I bet its full of Lesser Whitethroat song come the end of April.

Long-tailed Tit, Methwold Lode, 20th January

Looking north across the dyke was a series of wet meadows.  Lots of Lapwing there, a flock of Golden Plover and several raptors hunting including 2 Marsh Harriers, Buzzard, Kestrel and (further off) Red Kite.  Several Snipe were flushing, either from just across the dyke, presumably by me, or by the raptors - there must have been far more present.  A Fox was out there too - interesting to see the reaction of one of the Marsh Harriers when it ran up to it, without realising it was there I think - the harrier lifted off, flew round low over the fox but not really looking like it was going to bother attacking, and then plonked itself down nearby.  Meanwhile the fox carried on as if nothing had happened.  The Marsh Harrier had green wing tags, at least one of which had R7 on - hopefully I'll find out more about it in due course.

Red Fox, High Fen, 20th January

Marsh Harrier "R7", High Fen, 20th January

I bumped into an aged chap who apparently lives in a decrepid boat in the dyke and has his shopping brought to him by the local farmer.  Don't think he gets to talk to many people out there and he tried to make up for it!  I would have liked to have walked on further and spent a bit more time here, but time was pressing on and I needed to be in Norwich for an appointment soon, so I shall have to return here another day.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

A good day with Glaucs and hybrids

I started off at Malthouse and Ranworth Broads yesterday, hoping again to see the Ferruginous Duck-like hybrid and maybe that Scaupy thing I saw at Ranworth Broad last time and couldn't resolve.  There was nothing of note on Malthouse Broad, which was largely frozen over.  Nuthatch was calling, Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and about 20 Siskins as I headed over to Ranworth Broad.  As I walked out I was serenaded by a singing Mistle Thrush, Kingfisher flew overhead, and so did a Lesser Redpoll.

James Gilroy was there and had seen the Ferruginous-like duck in the channel on the right hand side.  Nice to meet James who had emailed me recently about the duck wondering if I had any insight as to what it might be.  I hadn't really, which was one reason I was keen to see it.  It appeared briefly while we were there, and didn't strike me as looking very much like a Ferruginous Duck - the shape looked good but it seemed to be dark brown, too dark and too lacking in ferruginous tones for even a female Ferruginous.  It was too brief a view though but after a fairly long wait it did eventually come out again, this time allowing a more prolonged view, although I didn't manage any photos.  The head and upperparts (especially the head) really are dark - I have never seen any suggestion that pure Ferruginous Duck can be that dark - or have I just missed it?  At some angles there even seemed to be a slight green sheen to the head - very subtle but I don't think I was imagining it.  I've seen a similar thing on female Tufted Duck before.  Structurally it did look pretty good most of the time - actually the head shape was peaked enough to resemble male Ferruginous Duck, not just female which tends to have a less obvious peak.  But sometimes - quite a few times actually - it looked a bit wrong.  Sometimes it seemed to have a bit of a bump at the back of the head.  Maybe the feathering at the back of the crown was a bit looser than the feathering at the back of the head just below?  At other times this wasn't apparent at all.

Some have suggested it may be a Ferruginous Duck x Baer's Pochard hybrid, apparently common in captivity although I gather DNA analysis of some birds thought to be that hybrid have proved them to be pure Ferruginous after all.  That's not a bad theory and explains the dark head and even the green sheen.  I'm a little surprised there's no Baer's influence in the shape of the belly patch, but maybe that's possible, and I'm not sure my problem with the head shape is really explained by Baer's.  Not sure.

Another possibility I contemplated is that Tufted Duck is involved.  That would in theory explain the head shape although female Ferruginous Duck x Tufted Duck hybrids I've seen before have had a more obvious tuft, albeit much reduced compared to pure Tufted Duck.  Those birds also weren't so structurally good for Ferruginous Duck.

So for now this one isn't resolved, at least not to my satisfaction.

Also on Ranworth Broad were 8 Goldeneye.  I noticed one Tufted Duck with quite a bit of white round the face that looked a bit block-headed for a bit and wondered if that was the bird I'd seen on my previous visit.  It was just a Tufty though, and one of sevearl with a fair bit of white round the bill.  One of them even had white behind the eye - a leucistic bird.

 Tufted Ducks, Ranworth Broad, 18th January

Mallards, Ranworth Broad, 18th January

Ranworth Broad, 18th January

Another 5 Redpolls flew over, this time with deeper calls making me wonder if Mealy were involved though they didn't provide good enough views.  Two Water Rails called and another Kingfisher made an appearance.

I next headed up to Sheringham where straight away I saw two juvenile Glaucous Gulls feeding on a dead seal.

 Glaucous Gull, Sheringham, 18th January

Glaucous Gull, Sheringham, 18th January

One of the Glaucous Gulls flew off east and I headed west to see if the adult Glauc was off the RNLI or that way.  No sign so I headed off to the east end of the prom pausing to look at a confiding Purple Sandpiper.

Purple Sandpiper, Sheringham, 18th January

While I was watching that I met Robin who had seen the adult towards West Runton so I continued on that way.  I hadn't gone very far when I picked up the adult Glaucous Gull and a juvenile flying towards me.

 Glaucous Gull, Sheringham, 18th January

They returned to the dead seal so so did I.

Glaucous Gull, Sheringham, 18th January

A Shag flew past while we were enjoying the Glaucs.

Shag, Sheringham, 18th January

I then drove to Cley ignoring the road closed signs (it was easily passable) where I learned that the sparrow flock had only put in a brief appearance at the Cley Spy feeders.  I walked on to Steve Gantlett's garden knowing that he had still been seeing the hybrid at least up to a few days ago.  After some waiting the anticipated House Sparrow x Tree Sparrow hybrid finally appeared at his feeders.

House Sparrow x Tree Sparrow hybrid, Cley, 18th January

I drove on to Blakeney where I noticed the Herring Gull x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid at the duck pond.  Presumably this was the bird that spent last winter here though I hadn't been aware that it had returned this winter.

Herring Gull x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid, Blakeney, 18th January

Bayfield Lake failed to deliver anything better than a Sparrowhawk.  I was nevertheless pleased to see 2 Peregrines in a tree towards dusk at another location.  Do unpaired Peregrines roost together, and if not do paired Peregrines at this time of year suggest they might be thinking of breeding nearby?  Dunno.  Perhaps not, it is only January after all, but will be interesting to keep an eye out for them again.

Peregrines, undisclosed location, 18th January

Today I only managed the local patch where the highlight was 26 White-fronted Geese remaining.