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.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Local Wood Sands, a Great Shearwater but no Thrush Nightingale

A singing Yellowhammer audible from my study was unusual on 22nd July.  Next day I met Dave at the patch at Bittering where Joe had found a nice selection of waders earlier in the day.  We found the Wood Sandpiper and Redshank (a good local bird) still present, along with at least 10 Green Sandpipers.  A flock of 253 Lapwings was also present in the area, and 2 Common Terns.

Wood Sandpiper, Bittering, 23rd July

Redshank, Bittering, 23rd July

Two days later I added a new bird to my garden list - a Curlew heard flying over at 3.55 am.

With that I headed up to Sheringham for a seawatch.  There were various waders moving offshore but no remarkable numbers or species.  I saw 670 Common Scoter which was a reasonable count but seabirds were few and far between.   The best were 8 Manx Shearwaters; there were also Great Skua and 3 Arctic Skuas, 4 Kittiwakes, Little Gull, 5 Auks (inlcuding Guillemot), 3 Fulmars and 120 Gannets.

On Thursday 27th July I'd arranged to meet Kevin Shepherd at Burnham Overy and we headed out to the dunes.  It was good to catch up with him - I see him from time to time mainly when seawatching but much less than I used to when I hammered the Bird Observatory with him in the mid to late 90s.  I think we must have seen 5 Spoonbills flying over in the end, a Barn Owl and a distant Hobby flying west inland.

Spoonbill, Burnham Overy, 27th July

Waders included Common and Green Sandpipers, Greenshank and 1-2 Whimbrels but the star bird was picked up by Kev while we were scanning over the beach and sea from Gun Hill.  Clearly a Stint species it went down with Sanderling, Dunlin and Ringed Plovers on the beach where it looked a peach - quite a bright individual in full summer plumage.  But was it definitely Little?  We hadn't seen anything to suggest it wasn't a bright male Little Stint but we needed to completely eliminate Red-necked, just in case.  It was too far off from our position (on the water's edge at low tide) so we stalked through the dunes until we were as close as we could get without flushing it.  Of course it was "only" a Little Stint but it was fun to work through all the features just to make absolutely sure, and probably this made us a bit more ready to nail it when one day a Red-necked Stint does pop up in front of us.

Little Stint (with Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Oystercatcher), Burnham Overy, 27th July

In the dunes there were a number of Stonechats including juveniles from two broods.  We also found a juvenile Wheatear, my first of the autumn.

Wheatear, Burnham Overy, 27th July

Sedge Warbler, Burnham Overy, 27th July

Next day 2 Green Sandpipers were the only birds of any note at Ryburgh.

Green Sandpiper, Ryburgh, 28th July

Kestrel, Ryburgh, 28th July

A Green Sandpiper was still showing well at Ryburgh on 3rd August.  Also a Barn Owl seen.

Green Sandpiper, Ryburgh, 3rd August

A visit to the patch on 7th August produced not one but 2 Wood Sandpipers, along with the more expected Green Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plovers.  Also a Greenshank called but wasn't seen.

The wind looked good for seawatching on Wednesday 9th August so I headed up to Sheringham, but I decided the afternoon looked best and I saved my energy by not rolling up until after lunch.  If I'd been there all day I would have logged an extraordinary count of over 200 Manx Shearwaters but I was happy with the 60 Manx Shearwaters I saw.  There were a few skuas too - I saw at least 20 Great Skuas and 16 Arctic Skuas.  We also saw 30 Fulmars east and a few duck including 111 Common Scoter.

I can't remember who it was who first saw a bird flying east in the distance which looked very interesting - it might have been me but in any case Kevin was onto it before I'd dared to call it as anything specific.  It was clearly interesting, shearing through in regular arcs and I was becoming increasingly certain that it was a large shearwater - and if so, then surely a Great Shearwater.  It was only visible every now and then at the top of its arcing and travelled some distance between arcs so it would have been hard to keep track of but for the fact that it was following a Gannet, and regularly appearing just after the Gannet.  I quickly realised that whenever the Gannet appeared (and then disappeared) I just needed to look a short distance behind it and the shearwater would appear just after, and that tactic enabled me to look really hard at it rather than wasting time looking for it.  But the distance was enormous - it was a very long way out towards the horizon.  There wasn't a hope of getting any meaningful plumage details or even much detail on the structure.  You could see that the long narrow wings were long in the arm and short in the hand; the pointed hands were angled back slightly and the wings weren't bowed like they are on Cory's Shearwater.  But that and the way it was flying was basically all we had to go on.  It wasn't flying like a Cory's at all - it all added up to Great Shearwater and I have no significant doubt that that was what it was.  Kevin called it as such pretty early on and I concur with that identification.

My only hesitation with this is probably down to my experience, or lack of it.  I've seen a handful of Cory's Shearwaters on sewatches (a few more Scopoli's in the Med) and a handful of Great Sherwaters but not lots.  I've seen less than half a dozen Cory's off Norfolk and only one previous Great in Norfolk (and that wasn't accepted) so can I really say that I know all the possible ways a Cory's Shearwater might fly in different conditions?  Can I really be 100% certain that a Cory's Shearwater would never fly like this in conditions like this?  The ones I have seen (mostly in similar conditions) have flown quite differently from this bird - and the Greats I've seen flew exactly like this bird, but that doesn't necessarily mean a Cory's could never fly like this bird.  Kevin was quite certain that in these conditions a Cory's would never fly like this, and he has more experience than I do.  I believe him, and I believe this bird was a Great Shearwater, but if I were personally to submit a description of this bird I would struggle to honestly say "Yes" to the "Is this record 100% certain?" question.  I do feel certain that it was a Great Shearwater, but 100% certain?  That's as certain as I would have been if I'd been recording a Hoopoe that I'd watched feeding on my lawn for an hour.

Being personally happy that it was a Great Shearwater is one thing, documenting it as an acceptable record of a Great Shearwater is another thing.  Kevin would argue that it was definitely a Great Shearwater and so it should be recorded as such - but he isn't submitting descriptions at the moment.  I believe it was a Great Shearwater, but in my mind for a record to be published it needs to be proven, and that means that an honest description of what we saw needs to be judged by peers as sufficient to prove the identification was accurate.  If views aren't good enough to be able to put such a description together then it's not a record.  It doesn't mean it wasn't one and it doesn't mean I can't put it down in my own notebook, but it's not a formally documented occurrence... unless of course Kevin decides to do a description after all and the rest of the records committee accept it.

Anyway, another go at sea watching on Thursday 10th August was less successful - a similar number of Scoter, a Red-thraoted Diver, Whimbrel, 30 Redshank and at least 4 Little Gulls, but hardly any seabirds (1 Arctic Skua).

Jackdaw, Sheringham, 10th August (not on a snowy mountain, honestly)

That afternoon my parents were down visiting and I took them up to Holt Lowes.  We were walking round looking at butteflies and things completely oblivious to the news that would have been coming from Salthouse had there been any Vodafone reception on the Lowes.  I took my parents home, sat down for tea and the phone alerted me that the Thrush Nightingale was still at Salthouse.  What?  Thrush Nightingale??  Salthouse???  Still????  Perhaps second to Black Stork, Thrush Nightingale is probably the most regularly recorded rarity in Norfolk that I've never seen in Norfolk - and there had been one ten minutes away from Holt Lowes while I was there, and I'd just driven home in the opposite direction.  I eventually packed my parents off to their guest house and sped up to Salthouse, arriving at the same time as Sue Bryan.  We both reached the crowd at the same time, Sue making a beeline for the middle of the crowd while I stopped at the near end.  The bird was on show and I immediately realised I wouldn't be able to see it from my position so moved two feet to the left, which must have taken less than a second.  That fraction of a second cost me the bird - Sue got there just in time to see it fly off round the bush and I didn't!  It was never seen again.

A visit to Burnham Overy on 11th was fairly unproductive - a Red Kite en route, a Mediterranean Gull, a count of 174 Redshank and the Great White Egret at Holkham were the closest things to highlights.

On Saturday 12th my brother and his wife came up and we met up with my parents at Scarning Fen.  We successfully found the Small Red Damselflies there and then moved on to Hills and Holes near Great Hockham.  Bird highlights included Kingfisher, Hobby and Marsh Tits but what looked like a Goshawk didn't show quite well enough for us to be sure.  We also encountered Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers and heard Treecreeper.

Kingfisher, Hills and Holes, 12th August

Friday, 1 September 2017

Corncrake from the garden and a Dowitcher

On Sunday 16th July Jake Gearty found a Long-billed Dowitcher along the East Bank at Cley.  This is a bird that rarely turns up in Norfolk and although I've seen a few elsewhere the only one I recall seeing in Norfolk before was the Pentney bird in April 1994.  On checking my records it turns out I also saw the juvenile at Titchwell in September 2007 - strange how that one seems to have completely disappeared from my memory.  I checked back on my diary page to see if I could jog my memory - weirdly I can remember well the Mallard x Egyptian Goose hybrids and Signal Crayfish I saw the same morning but even though I have a rubbishy photo of the dowitcher I still can't remember seeing it.  Must be old age.  Anyway, I can remember this one still, which I went up to see late afternoon - a fine bird showing well, if a little distantly, from East Bank.

Long-billed Dowitcher, Cley, 16th July

After a while it flew off west over the reserve and appeared to go down, much to the frustration of Penny who was just arriving.

Long-billed Dowitcher, Cley, 16th July

There were some nice cute baby Lapwings and Redshanks viewable from East Bank too...

Lapwing, Cley, 16th July

Redshank, Cley, 16th July

Penny heard from Eddie that the Dowitcher had dropped in to the central scrapes but in no time it had flown again.  We headed round to North Scrape in the hope that it would settle there but alas there was no sign.  I heard a Whimbrel at some point and a Mediterranean Gull flew past.

The area where people have been hearing Corncrakes calling in North Elmham is no more than 500m from my front door and I wondered if I might be able to hear one from my property at some point.  But I'm always up checking the moth trap before dawn and I'm often in my study with the window open facing that way and I'd had no luck.  Some neighbours had told me they'd heard one at the top end of my road a few times - the other way from the main site - and from their description I was pretty sure they meant it had been calling from my next-door neighbour's property (they have a lot of land).  After hearing this I made an even more concerted effort to hear them from my garden but still with no joy until the morning of Tuesday 18th July.  I went out to check the moth trap as usual at 3.40 am while it was still virtually dark, and almost straightaway I could hear the distinctive "crex crex" call.  The Corncrake continued to call for the next ten minutes or so by which time it was starting to get light, and then stopped completely - I was out there for an hour or so and didn't hear it again.  I presume it was calling from my neighbour's property although it sounded like it was coming from just up the road (where there are just houses and gardens).

The following night there was terrential rain from before dawn so there was no chance of hearing anything above the noise of the rain, not that there was any chance of anything calling anyway.  I never heard it again.