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, 26 February 2017

Half a ton of Corn Buntings

A wander round Sparham Pools on Monday was pleasant but uneventful - a Kingfisher was the highlight.  I had a good look for the Great Grey Shrike that's been commuting between here and nearby Sparham but couldn't find it at either location, once again.

On Tuesday I headed up to Blakeney and had a wander round the freshmarsh.  The Lesser Black-backed Gull x Herring Gull hybrid was at the duckpond on my arrival.

Lesser Black-backed Gull x Herring Gull hybrid, Blakeney, 21st February

A ringtail Hen Harrier was hunting over the saltmarsh and a Kingfisher was flushed by dog walkers.  There were 2 Stonechats along the path.

Stonechat, Blakeney, 21st February

Skylark, Blakeney, 21st February

Reed Buntings, Blakeney, 21st February

There was a flock of at least 73 White-fronted Geese sleeping on the freshmarsh and a Pale-bellied Brent Goose flew over with Dark-bellied Brent Geese.  Bearded Tits were calling as I returned to the car.  I'd seen a flock of Goldies on the marshes but when they took to flight they gave an opportunity to photograph the whole flock and count them later - 1796 Golden Plover.

The duckpond is always worth a look and it was fun watching and listening to the pair of Hooded Mergansers displaying.

captive Hooded Mergansers, Blakeney collection, 21st February

There are always lots of Collared Doves around the wildfowl collection...

Collared Doves, Blakeney, 21st February

From the entrance to Friary Hills another (or the same) Kingfisher perched up and showed nicely for a bit while I studied variation in female Wigeon plumage.  Quite a lot of variation in the extent of internal markings in the scapulars and two out of 22 had obviously grey outer secondaries.  No real contenders for American Wigeon though... I'll keep looking.

Kingfisher, Blakeney, 21st February

I headed up to Kelling Heath where Woodlarks were singing and Dartford Warblers were chasing Stonechats (well, two of the four were).

On Wednesday there were still 12 White-fronted Geese on the local patch.  Wigeon numbers seem to be falling though they do move around sites so they may not be going far; Shoveler numbers were up slightly.

I spent Friday in the Fens, starting at High Fen, a site I'd discovered recently and been impressed by the number of birds present.  It wasni't quite as good today but it wasn't dead by any means.  The plover flocks were more distant, but I counted 268 Golden Plovers.  I also heard a Curlew calling - perhaps one of the birds that breed in the Brecks area.  A lot of duck on the flash I didn't have time to reach last time - mostly Teal but I also counted 105 Shoveler, and that was almost certainly an incomplete count.  There were also 14 Pintail on there.  Passerines along the lode included a singing Treecreeper and Bullfinch.  Good to meet one of the local farmers here too, a chap who was clearly interested in the birds and wildlife on his land and doing his bit to encourage them.

I moved on to Wissington where a large flock of swans were feeding south of the beet factory.  Some were out of view so I didn't do a proper count but there were at least 120 Whooper Swans and the odd Bewick's too.  There were 5 Greylag Goose x Canada Goose hybrids on the fishing ponds which I walked round, finding Kingfisher and a nice drake Goosander on the river.

Goosander, Wissington, 24th February

I walked through the beet factory where a Grey Wagtail fed in a puddle but the pools visible from the path were far quieter than last time.  This time I continued along the riverbank (north side) until I could look across to NWT's new (not publicly accessible) reserve, Hilgay Fen.  There were another 6 Whooper Swans, a Glaucous Gull and a Yellow-legged Gull.  I failed to read the tag of a green wing-tagged Marsh Harrier.  Another Treecreeper was singing in one of the copses.

Glaucous Gull, Hilgay Fen, 24th February

By now I was getting hungry and had forgotten to bring any snacks with me, so I decided to move on to Welney for lunch.  As I drove out of Ten Mile Bank a small field was heaving with birds - Fieldfares and a very impressive 50 Corn Buntings.  That's by far the biggest flock of this declining species I've seen in Norfolk for many years - in fact I haven't seen more than single figures since the end of the last decade.  A little further on I spied a Short-eared Owl quartering the fields.

As I walked into the cafe at Welney one of the staff asked me if I'd seen the Kingfisher.  It was showing nicely just outside the cafe.

Kingfisher, Welney, 24th February

I didn't see nearly as much at Welney as I had on my visit earlier in the month but of course there are always plenty of common birds to enjoy.  I also ambled down Cock Fen Road at Lakes End but didn't see much except lots of Whooper Swans.

Tufted Duck, Welney, 24th February

Buzzard, Welney, 24th February

Next I checked the various bridges between Stowbridge and Saddlebow, the highlights being 2 Goldeneye and a Barn Owl at Magdalen and 3 Scaup (all drakes) at Saddlebow.  Another Barn Owl was by the road at Massingham on the way home.

Barn Owl, Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen, 24th February

Sunday, 19 February 2017

12 miles of Breckland magic

On Thursday I only managed a spot of local birding.  A flock of 10 White-fronted Geese were still present at one site but later when I returned to my car a flock of 12 White-fronted Geese were flying around.  They appeared from the direction of where I'd left the 10 so I have to assume they included the 10, but as there had been up to 32 in the are until recently maybe not.  Other than 475 Wigeon there wasn't much else to report.

White-fronted Geese, Bittering, 16th February

On Friday I had a lovely day in the Brecks.  I walked a total of 12 miles and saw plenty of birds along the way.  For the most part they weren't rare birds, but they did include some rare breeding birds including 2 Goshawks, 7-8 Woodlarks and, most unexpectedly, a pair of Cranes.  If the latter do indeed stay to breed it will be for the first time in this area.

I enjoyed watching one pair of Woodlarks that plonked themselves down on a fence not very far away from me and proceeded to display to each other, each bird dipping its head down and lifting it right back, swinging from side to side as one bird gradually moved closer to the other.  I was half expecting to see copulation when they eventually met but in fact they flew up and dropped to the ground out of sight (where who knows what they got up to) before flying up and continuing their display aerially while singing.  I'd never seen all that before - fantastic.

Other highlights included several small groups of Bramblings, lots of Siskins, the odd Redpoll flying over, Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Marsh Tits, Green and drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers, etc.  Also flushed a Woodcock and saw a Kingfisher.

Beside the A1075 near Wretham Camp I was surprised to see a Ruddy Shelduck paired with an Egyptian Goose right next to the road.  It was also next to a minor turn off allowing me to pull in safely and photograph it - it proved to be very tame.  On closer inspection I noticed the bird had dark vermiculations on its rear flank feathers and rear upper scapulars - features that should not occur on pure Ruddy Shelduck.  It also had a grey spot in the middle of the crown.  I've seen a few Ruddy Shelducks with some grey on the head and wondered about their genetic purity, but this one was more extreme than most.  Cape Shelduck (now often known as South African Shelduck) has a grey head of course, and also shows dark vermiculations where this bird had.  My assumption is therefore that this bird was a Ruddy Shelduck x Cape Shelduck hybrid.  I saw an identical bird - I suspect it was the very same bird - near Bittering in January 2015.  Maybe these apparent Ruddy Shelduck x Egyptian Goose hybrids that have been seen around the county recently are really trigens (Ruddy Shelduck x Cape Shelduck) x Egyptian Goose hybrids...?!

apparent Ruddy Shelduck x Cape Shelduck hybrid, East Wretham, 17th February

During the day I had a quick look at the gulls at Thetford but they wouldn't settle and if they had settled in the usual place the light wouldn't have been very good, so I decided to head on to Livermere to have a look at all the gulls in the pig fields there.  The only problem with that plan was that there weren't any gulls in the pig fields.  There were a few in one of the neighbouring fields, but very few indeed - just a handful of large gulls.  I had to make do with a tenebrosus Pheasant nearby...

Pheasant (var tenebrosus), Timworth, 17th February

I didn't do much yesterday but Bylaugh sewage treatment works produced Grey Wagtail and Nuthatch but no sign of the two wintering Chiffchaffs. 

This afternoon I spent some time on the local patch where at least 11 White-fronted Geese are hanging on.  I flushed a Jack Snipe and 9 Snipe from one private field though suspect a more methodical approach would have given a higher tally.

Jack Snipe, private site, 19th February

A wander round Beetley Common produced 1-2 Bramblings, Grey Wagtail and Treecreeper.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

A ton of longtails

I headed up to Holme early yesterday and made my way to Gore Point, taking care not to disturb the hundreds of waders roosting there over the high tide.  It was immediately apparent that there lots of Long-tailed Ducks on the sea but counting them was impossible - not only were they bobbing up and down behind the swell but they were diving too.  I got to a miminum of 90 but suspected there were double that many.  Eventually - after the best part of two hours - a lot of birds flew a short distance making it possible to count them.  Sadly they didn't fly very far and I'd only got to 42 before they went down again.  I wasn't anywhere near half way through the flock so I think it's safe to say there were over 100 Long-tailed Ducks.

In the meantime I had several sightings of Great Northern Diver flying past but it was difficult to know how many of them involved the same birds.  At one point there were 3 Great Northern Divers on the sea so a minimum of three, but I think it's likely there were 5-6.  There were a few Red-throated Divers out there and one diver flying east was almost certainly a Black-throated Diver though I decided I hadn't seen enough to claim it as 100%.

There were quite a few Great Crested Grebes offshore and after a while I picked up a Slavonian Grebe just offshore - the closest bird on the sea.

A single Scoter proved to be a Velvet Scoter.  A few Common Scoter flew in later but nowhere near as many Scoter off here as there have been off Titchwell.  Two groups totalling 37 Eider flew east at one point, the vast majority of birds being drakes.  Also a few Red-breasted Mergansers.

There seemed to be more Fulmars flying offshore than I've seen on recent visits to Titchwell - I suspect these weren't migrants but birds from Hunstanton.  As I headed back to the car I checked the flock of Pink-feet feeding opposite.  A young lad had seen a couple of White-fronts among them and sure enough there were 2 White-fronted Geese in there.

As I drove down past the barn at Thornham a Spotted Redshank was feeding next to a Redshank.  After spending some time from the raised car park area (seeing at least a dozen Red-breasted Mergansers and a Goldeneye) someone picked up another Spotted Redshank to the left - or was it the same one?  I headed off along the seawall back towards Holme finding 5 Twite next to the path.  Had a good view of them before they hopped over to the fields and disappeared.  From the dunes I could see another Great Northern Diver on the sea off Thornham and thousands of Wigeon.  Walking back to the car there was another Spotted Redshank - now is that 3 birds, 2 birds or 1 bird seen 3 times?  Having now analysed the photos of the first and third I'm satisfied that they at least were the same individual, so one or two at the most.

Spotted Redshank, Thornham, 15th February - the same bird methinks

Rock Pipit, Thornham, 15th February

I couldn't find much of interest around various lanes inland of here so continued on to the patch where the the first Oystercatcher had returned.  They always seem to appear inland in mid February, though unusually this one seemed to be alone - they normally arrive in pairs.

Red-legged Partridge, Choseley, 15th February

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Cruddy Shelduck and two halves of a Ferruginous

Yesterday I had a wander round Bintree Wood.  I used to go there a few times a year for a while when I lived in Bawdeswell but haven't been there much in recent years.  Willow Tit was regular there in 2007-2008 at a time when they had already disappeared from other sites in the Wensum Valley, but Marsh Tit was absent.  At the time I had several sites I watched regularly in the mid Wensum and I think this was the only one where I never saw Marsh Tit - or even where Marsh Tit wasn't common.  I didn't expect to see Willow Tit today - I suspect they are long gone - but it was interesting to find at least 3 Marsh Tits there now.  Also Treecreeper and Nuthatch, the latter also a species I didn't see there when I used to go there more often.  Siskin and Bullfinch were present and a Pink-footed Goose was heard flying over.

I had a quick stop at Bintree Mill on my way back estimating around 300-350 Lapwing before the flock flew when I was half way through counting them.  A photo of the flock in flight revealed 529 Lapwing - a few more than I'd thought!


 Lapwings, Bintree Mill, 13th February

There has been an apparent Siberian Chiffchaff at Cley recently and I've had it in mind to head up to see it for a while.  It hadn't been reported over the last week or so so my decision to head up this morning wasn't very inspired.  I started off at the coastguards where the sea was the most impressive thing to look at.  Still wild after yesterday's stronger winds even though the wind had now dropped.  A few gulls along the beach but apart from 4 Brents east nothing moving at all - not that I gave it very long.

The East Bank failed to deliver any Chiffchaffs but the Smew was showing.  A Cetti's Warbler sat out in the open, though too far away for my camera.  A walk through Walsey Hills produced a few birds but nothing scarcer than a Bullfinch.

Marsh Harrier, Cley, 14th February

Next stop Felbrigg where I first had a stroll through the woodland at Lion's Mouth.  Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Siskins were calling and a Sparrowhawk displayed overhead.  Round the lake more Siskin, Green Woodpecker and another Nuthatch called and 2 Marsh Tits were seen.  On the lake there was a feeding frenzy of Gadwall - obviously something tasty just below the surface in one particular spot (though moving around a bit I think).

Gadwall, Felbrigg Lake, 14th February

I counted 62 Gadwall in the end including one bird that showed a white collar.  Such birds are seen occasionally and often prompt questions about whether they might have some Mallard ancestry - I don't think they do though as they never show any other indication of impurity.

Gadwall showing white neck collar, Felbrigg Lake, 14th February

Gadwall, Felbrigg Lake, 14th February

There were a couple of hybrids there though - 2 Ferruginous Duck x Tufted Duck hybrids - both lovely males.

Ferruginous Duck x Tufted Duck hybrids, Felbrigg Lake, 14th February

This Mistle Thrush posed for photos.

Mistle Thrush, Felbrigg Lake, 14th February

Jackdaw, Felbrigg Lake, 14th February

I counted about 750 Lapwing at Wolterton, a good-sized flock for this sort of location I thought, and as the flock disappeared over the brow of the hill the true number may have been a lot higher.  Blickling Lake was more attractive to families making the most of half-term than birds, though a pair of Great Crested Grebes appeared to know it was Valentine's Day.

Brown Hare, Moorgate (Blickling), 14th February

Yesterday I'd seen photos of what was initially reported as a Ruddy Shelduck hybrid and indeed with its pink legs and apparently grey tones to the body it did look quite promising for Egyptian Goose x Ruddy Shelduck hybrid.  Subsequent photos looked more Ruddy Shelduck like and later observers got the impression that it looked good for that species apart from the legs.  I decided to head down to Ringland and have a look.  The bird was quickly located and to my slight surprise it really did look good for a pure Ruddy Shelduck, except for the legs.  At some angles the body did look grey, but on good prolonged views at a straightforward angle any sign of grey disappeared and it just looked orange-bodied like any other Ruddy Shelduck.  I started to suspect it was a pure Ruddy Shelduck after all, with some sort of mutation giving it pink legs.  I did think the structure looked a bit too much like Egyptian Goose but I couldn't convince myself of that.  It had a dark neck collar making it a male and it was clearly paired to, and displaying with, an Egyptian Goose.  If this wasn't a hybrid then we might see some soon, I concluded.

When I got home and looked at my photos a few things struck me.  Firstly the Egyptian Goose-like gait seemed to come across in the photos.  Secondly I compared with photos of pure Ruddy Shelduck and the latter weren't so pale-bodied as this bird.  Regardless of whether it was greyish, buffish or just plain orange, it was distinctly paler on the body than the breast.  At some angles it did look greyish, but side on there was no hint of that.  I'd noticed the head had got some greyish smudges on it but I've noticed this, albeit perhaps to a lesser extent, on otherwise pure-looking Ruddy Shelducks before so wasn't overly worried, but now I could see that this was a good match for some other (more obvious) Egyptian Goose x Ruddy Shelduck hybrids.  Another thing that struck me was that the blackish neck collar wasn't as black as I'd thought - it was reddish brown, and broad with a diffuse upper edge - further suggesting there might be Egyptian Goose influence after all.  Finally the white thighs might be significant - shown by some other Egyptian Goose x Ruddy Shelduck hybrids whereas I think they're always at least partly orange on pure Ruddy Shelduck.  So my conclusion is that it was an Egyptian Goose x Ruddy Shelduck hybrid after all.  It will be very interesting to see if it does produce more hybrids from the Egyptian Goose.  In general hybrids of more distantly related species tend to be infertile and so far I've not come across an inter-generic hybrid that has proved to be fertile, though I have no reason to believe it isn't possible.

presumed Egyptian Goose x Ruddy Shelduck hybrid (with Egyptian Goose), Ringland, 14th February

The 6 Tundra Bean Geese were still present too, though difficult to see as they were keeping down in the long grass (or behind long grass at least).

Robin, Ringland, 14th February