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, 19 May 2017

Stilts and Bitterns

I started off locally on Friday 5th May seeing Dunlin and hearing Greenshank at Bittering.  I then headed into the Fens and Brecks where I planned to spend the day checking a number of different sites.  In the end things didn't go according to plan, but not in a bad way.  Anyway, I had walk along Methwold Lode which overlooks High Fen.  There was a Green Woodpecker in the area, a Cuckoo calling and a pair of Stonechats along the path, but the best bird was in the large pool half way along to Wissington - a Grey Plover.  Must be a good local bird I thought, though found out later that it or another had been seen in the area already.

I moved on to Wissington where a family of Otters was playing in the river west of the beet factory.  From the north side of the river I looked over to Hilgay Fen seeing Common Sandpiper, 2 Greenshanks and 8 Avocets.  Good to meet Ben Rackstraw along here too - a name I've known for ages but not been able to put a face to it.

Back at Wissington I bumped into Carl Donner - had a good chat with him about all sorts of things and ended up popping round to his place to see his very impressive wildfowl collection.  Some really interesting birds there and a great opporunity to learn things.  A shame most birders look down on wildfowl collections with such disdain as they offer an oppotunity to find out all sorts of things that can be relevant to study of wild birds.  I particularly valued seeing the various forms of Bean Goose, White-fronted Goose and Cackling Goose, had some good discussion about Ruddy Shelduck plumages and mutations, and a whole lot more.  He showed me some amazing taxidermy too - Pallas's Sandgrouse and Great Bustard for example, and one that was bound to interest me - an American Wigeon x Pintail hybrid.

mounted American Wigeon x Pintail hybrid (captive origin)

captive White-winged Wood Duck, private collection, 5th May

captive Thick-billed Bean Goose (serrirostris), private collection, 5th May

captive 'Sushkin's' Tundra Bean Goose, private collection, 5th May

captive Ring-necked Ducks, private collection, 5th May

Once I left Carl's I knew I had to get home to label the photos I'd taken or else I'd have no chance of remembering what was what, so I abandoned my original intentions for the afternoon.  I did manage to get out again locally later on - this Common Sandpiper at Ryburgh being the highlight.

Common Sandpiper, Ryburgh, 5th May

Pied Wagtail, Ryburgh, 5th May

Next day I was scheduled to help with a group at Minsmere, but with easterly winds and rain I was keen to do some proper birding beforehand.  I arrived at Rush Hill Scrape at around dawn to find the Savi's Warbler continuing to sing and 3 Grasshopper Warblers reeling in the area.  A Cuckoo called and a Spoonbill was on the scrape but there were no passage waders there at all.  I walked on to Potter Heigham Marsh where there were lots of waders.  Two Whimbrel flew off with a Curlew.  There were 2 Dunlin, 4 Ruff, at least 6 Greenshank, the odd Snipe (6 flew over later), c30 Avocets and some Grey Plovers.  A flock of 21 Grey Plover flew around with a Bar-tailed Godwit and then at last the pair of Black-winged Stilts appeared from nowhere.  There were 6 Ringed Plovers, a Little Stint and a Curlew Sandpiper (plus 2 Spoonbills) on the farthest pool and a Common Sandpiper on the river.  Finally 3 Wood Sandpipers rounded the impressive list of waders off (others not mentioned were Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Redshank).  There were also 3 Garganey (a pair and a drake) there and one Crane flew past while another was calling.  What a fabulous site, for now at least.

Black-winged Stilts, Potter Heigham Marsh, 6th May

Now I needed to get a move on in order to get to Minsmere on time.  We headed up to Island Mere hide first, pausing to look at a couple of Treecreepers and a Whitethroat on the way.  I glimpsed a Bearded Tit and we kept hearing a Bittern booming.  There were 3 Hobbies on view and some Swifts over the back.  As we entered Bittern hide a Bittern was on view in front of the hide - we got fantastic views of it for ages, as well as at least 2 other Bitterns seen in flight.  At one point a Water Rail crossed in front of the Bittern.

Bittern and Water Rail, Minsmere, 6th May

Bitterns, Minsmere, 6th May

Hobby, Minsmere, 6th May

A find drake Mandarin was parading about in front of the first of the hides overlooking the scrape and other dodgy/feral wildfowl included 2 Bar-headed Geese and the inevitable Barnacle Geese.

Mandarin, Minsmere, 6th May

There was a lovely Whinchat near the sluice and a Stonechat nearby.  There were a few Kittiwakes and lots of (50 in a very quick count) Mediterranean Gulls.  One of a number of Knot was particularly obliging as it fed close to the hide.

Knot, Minsmere, 6th May

I dipped the main bird at Ryburgh that evening, which was initially annoying until I discovered it had had a red ring on its leg so presumably only travelled from as far as Pensthorpe.  Still annoying actually, in a weird sort of way I'd have quite liked to have seen it anyway.  It had only dropped out of view too, never to emerge again.  Sounds like it might have walked back to Pensthorpe going on a report from there a few days later.

Next day I finally saw the Greenshank at Ryburgh which had been popping in briefly several times over recent days (I'd seen it on a small roadside pond nearby but not on the scrape).  The Common Sandpiper was still there.

Greenshank, Ryburgh, 7th May

Common Sandpiper, Ryburgh, 7th May

Kingfishers are sometimes seen here too but while I've been down they've rarely perched close enough for photography, and when they have done they've stopped there barely long enough to focus the camera.  I just managed to get one slightly shaky shot this time.

Kingfisher, Ryburgh, 7th May

Dave's Wood Sandpiper and 2 Ringed Plovers were still present at Bintree Mill - very good local records.  The day after there were 2 Wood Sandpipers along with Greenshank and Snipe.  I had another Greenshank at Bittering the following day.

Not much else to report locally or from further afield up to 11th May - Little Ringed Plovers, Avocets, the odd Grey Wagtail, a pair of Hobbies and the same singing Firecrest were the best.

House Martins, Ryburgh, 11th May

Little Egret, Ryburgh, 11th May

Whitethroat, Brancaster, 11th May

Friday, 5 May 2017

Grasshopper Warblers, Woodlark and Firecrest

I checked the moth trap in the dark on Saturday 29th April as I did it before heading up to Burnham Overy for dawn.  So in the garden for 5 minutes in the dark at around 4.15 am - not the most promising opportunity for garden-birding activity.  But a Lapwing was calling continuously - something I don't see or hear at home very often and a Skylark was singing away as if it was sunny - again something I don't hear from home all that often.  Then a Moorhen called, apparently from the neighbour's small pond.  I've never seen Moorhens here though (before or since), and this was a new species for the garden (hot on the heels of a couple of nocturnal fly-over Coots earlier in the week).  Then what was almost certainly a Water Rail flew over calling - just a couple of calls though, too quick for me to press record on my iPhone, and I'm not putting it down as I'm not 100% sure.  Wowsers.  Who needs daylight?

Three visits to Burnham Overy over the bank holiday weekend or thereabouts produced a few birds worth seeing but generally lacked the "wow factor".  On Saturday 29th the star bird was a singing Grasshopper Warbler.  It was so close it sounded a little odd but it never really had any of the characteristics that would make it a different Locustella species.  In the end I managed a good view of its head which put to bed any lingering doubts that it might be something more unusual.  There were still at least 15 Ring Ouzels in the dunes, with a Fieldfare among them, and I kept hearing (and eventually seeing) a Tree Pipit in the east dunes - perhaps the same bird that I saw on 24th?  Other migrants present included at least 6 Wheatears, a Whimbrel and 2 Common Sandpipers.  At least 10 Little Terns were in and a Cuckoo was cuckooing.

Ring Ouzel, Burnham Overy, 29th April

Willow Warbler, Burnham Overy, 29th April

There was a bit of overhead passage (vis mig) too - though this didn't get underway until about 7.30 am.  I've not quite mastered how best to record vis mig at Burnham Overy but it seems things filter through on a narrower front at the west end around Gun Hill.  I'd stood there first thing for a couple of hours (a little bit of wandering round the immediate area during that time) and recorded practically no passage but as soon as I started wandering through the east dunes, where things seem to pass over on a broader front so are harder to pick up, things started moving.  Consequently my counts will be very low compared to the actual passage - 29 Yellow Wagtails and 32 Swallows, the odd Redpoll but not a lot else.

Stragglers from winter included 22 Pink-footed Geese.  A Long-tailed Duck flew west along the beach turning up the channel between Gun Hill and Scolt Head where it looked like it went down.  A pair of Pintail were perhaps leftovers, spring migrants or maybe they are breeding somewhere up here?  I haven't seen them since.  Other birds of note included Great White Egret, 1-2 Spoonbills, 5 Red Kites, Peregrine, 2 Bearded Tits and 5 Stonechats (4 males).

Red Kite, Burnham Overy, 29th April

These balloons were heading straight out to sea - yet more marine pollution...

balloons, Burnham Overy, 29th April

A nice surprise at another site I visited that day was a singing Firecrest holding territory.  I don't think many birders visit this site so I shall have to return and keep an eye on what happens.

Firecrest, 29th April

The best day of the weekend around the county was probably Sunday 30th, but typically this was the one day I didn't have much available time.  I did manage to do a cruise of a few local gravel pits in the afternoon with a view to picking up on some of the day's tern passage (extraordinary numbers of Arctic Terns and lots of Black Terns moving through the county).  I drew a blank everywhere until I reached Sparham Pools where it was nice to see 8 Black Terns bouncing around.

Back up to Burnham Overy early on Monday 1st and it was noticeably quieter despite rain which I had hoped would ground some migrants.  There were still 5-6 Ring Ouzels in the dunes and 8 Wheatear.  The Grasshopper Warbler wasn't singing at Gun Hill but as I headed back towards the car at lunch time I heard a brief snatch of Grasshopper Warbler  reeling from brambles in the freshmarsh.  There were 3 Common Sandpipers and 6 Whimbrel and now at least 20 Little Terns.  The Cuckoo was still calling but visible migration was almost non-existent - just 1 Yellow Wagtail west.  Great White Egret, Spoonbill, Red Kite, Barn Owl and 5 Stonechats were seen but the highlight of the morning was a Woodlark singing in the dunes.  Another 2 Spoonbills were watched from Joe Jordan hide at Holkham and another Cuckoo and a Mediterranean Gull or two heard calling.

Woodlark, Burnham Overy, 1st May

Wheatear, Burnham Overy, 1st May

Great White Egret, Burnham Overy, 1st May

Bar-tailed Godwits, Burnham Overy, 1st May

Next day (Tuesday 2nd) was even quieter - quite disappointing in fact.  There was Greenshank and Whimbrel in the channel, along with 10 Bar-tailed Godwits (mostly in summer plumage) and 14 Knot (none in summer plumage).  The sea was quiet and there wasn't much left in the dunes - probably only 3 Ring Ouzels (possibly 5) and 6 Wheatear (and still 5 Stonechats).

Sedge Warbler, Burnham Overy, 2nd May

On a recent visit I'd seen an interesting Brent Goose among the Dark-bellied Brents on the saltmarsh.  It had really conspicuous white flanks but not like your typical Black Brant hybrid.  The bird was no darker than the accompanying Dark-belllied Brents - paler and browner if anything - and the neck collar was small.  I wondered if it might be a Pale-bellied x Dark-bellied Brent Goose hybrid, but when I looked at my photos (very poor) that evening I started having doubts - it looked like a pure Pale-bellied Brent Goose!  I was all but sure it hadn't been one - the lower part of the belly which wasn't clear in the photos had been too dark, but I decided to try and see it again before putting it down as anything.  I'd failed to find it on the last couple of visits but it was back again on Tuesday, and I confirmed my original impressions, and presume it was indeed a Pale-bellied Brent Goose x Dark-bellied Brent Goose hybrid.  Given the number of single Pale-bellied Brent Geese that turn up among Dark-bellied Brent Geese we might expect these hybrids to be more frequent but unlike Black Brant hybrids they seem to be quite unusual.  There was a mixed pair that were accompanied by hybrid young at Cley in at least two consecutive winters recently, and perhaps this bird was one of those offspring?

apparent Pale-bellied x Dark-bellied Brent Goose hybrid, Burnham Overy, 2nd May

Interestingly this hybrid seemed to be paired with a colour-ringed Dark-bellied Brent Goose.  The left leg had a blue ring with white Ys and the right leg had a blue ring with two white horizontal bands.  It turns out that "BYB=" was ringed in Taimyr in July 2008 and has been reported in Norfolk (Burnham Norton or Burnham Overy) in at least 4 winters subsequently (though interestingly never earlier than 21st February).  There have been various reports of it from Netherlands in October/November over the years and one from France (Aquitaine) in November 2015 (it was at Burnham Overy the following spring).  It also spent a while in Germany one spring.

Hihglights of local birding have included up to 2 pairs of Avocets, a Greenshank, the continued (intermittent) presence of a White Wagtail at Ryburgh, occasional visits from up to 2 Grey Wagtails and a one-off visit by a Yellow Wagtail.  There have been a couple of days with good numbers of hirundines but nothing red-rumped among them just yet.  I've seen up to 10 Barnacle Geese at Ryburgh and 2 at Bittering but the straggling White-fronted Goose has perhaps finally departed, along with the Pink-footed Geese.  A flock of 10+ Yellowhammers one day was a surprise - I didn't manage to find many flocks that big throughout the whole of the winter when I was looking for them with the hope of finding an overwintering Pine Bunting.

Avocets, 26th April

White Wagtail, Ryburgh, 28th April

White Wagtail, Ryburgh, 3rd May

Pied Wagtail, Ryburgh, 27th April

Finally this pair of Bullfinches graced my garden yesterday afternoon - not the first time I've seen them here but the first time I've seen them feeding actually in my garden.

Bullfinches, North Elmham, 4th May