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