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, 29 April 2018

Arctic Redpolls and Little Gulls in the valley

On 4th April I finally got a chance to go and look for the Arctic Redpolls at Felthorpe.  The birds were mostly hidden in the crop/weed patch but every now and then a small part of the flock would fly up to the wires where they showed for a few nanoseconds before dropping down.  I was looking into the light and if there were more than a dozen birds on the wires I didn't even have time to scan along the whole flock before they were back down and out of sight again.  But I did manage a couple of views of single Arctic Redpolls, both different, as well as a snall number of Mealy Redpolls.  The total flock size was difficult to ascertain (most were Lessers) - at one point I had over 100 birds flying around.  This was more than I'd heard being reported here up to now, but now most of them were heading off into the distance.  It was now quite a long wait before birds started to reappear, but before long I was getting brief views of another Arctic Redpoll.  I say another - I am not 100% sure it wasn't the first one again as I didn't get any objective detail on it that ruled that out, but my overall impression was that this was a much smarter bird - verging on hornemanni almost.  I suppose it's just about possible that the first one looked duller in different light but I'm 95% sure this was a third Arctic Redpoll.

Later on I got a more prolonged view of another interesting Redpoll in one of the roadside trees, but although views were prolonged it was very obscured and I couldn't do much with it.  I was 99% sure it was Arctic but never saw its rump and didn't feel able to claim it definitely was one - however if it was then it was a different bird from the 3 I'd seen earlier based on the pattern of the undertail-coverts and flanks.  I was now strongly suspecting this was my 4th Arctic Redpoll of the morning.  Finally a Redpoll appeared on the ground and we got reasonable views of it on the deck.  It was perhaps on the dark side by Arctic standards, but not too dark, and it had a lot going for it.  Unfortunately I couldn't see either its undertail coverts or its rump at all, so I cannot claim it, but I've a strong suspicion this was a 5th Arctic Redpoll.  After over 5 hours with the flock I'd now managed 5 views of birds I thought were different Arctics but I could only be certain I'd seen 2 different Arctics, and even those weren't really seen well enough to put together a proper description of them had I been the finder.  All in all a bit unsatisfactory, though somehow enjoyable at the same time.

I've been hearing a nunber of reports from the coast suggesting low numbers of Little Egrets since the Beast from the East, but locally they seem to be in good supply and I've seen odd birds in some new places like the roadside pond at Broom Green.  The floodwaters between Billingford and Worthing have been a good place to see them too and as I drove past on 5th April there were 6 Little Egrets - the largest count I've ever had in the Wensum Valley.

Another bird that has been reported as having experienced something of a population crash as a result of the Beast is Cetti's Warbler.  They have been reported to have become much harder to find than usual along the coast and along the Yare Valley at least, but there have been several in the Wensum Valley including some in places where I at least hadn't seen them before.  One of those was singing at Bylaugh on 5th April and another singing at Guist on 7th.

Also at Guist on 7th was a pair of Garganey - there were in fact 2 pairs there the night before I think, and I think someone saw all four on 7th too, but I could only see the one pair.  Perhaps a better bird in local terms, or if not very close, a Black-tailed Godwit flew across the flood and began to feed right next to where the Garganey were.  If you squint hard enough and use plenty of imagination you can see both in this photo.

Black-tailed Godwit, Black-headed Gull and Garganey, Guist, 7th April

A Marsh Harrier was huting here and as I arrived a little while later at Great Ryburgh another Marsh Harrier was hunting over the scrape.  That meant there were few birds on the scrape (though I did arrive just in time to see 40+ Teal and 4 Snipe flying off).

 Goldfinch, Ryburgh, 7th April

I just had time to pop in to the patch before heading down to Minsmere, and 2 Avocet were the highlight there. At Minsmere I joined the group and headed first to Bittern Hide where a single flight view of a Bittern was all some of us managed, though there was plenty of booming going on all morning.  A couple of distant Swallows were my first hirundines of the year but Sand Martins soon appeared too (at least 35 by the visitor centre later on).  A brief snippet of Sedge Warbler song was also my first this year.  Scoping over to one of the pools over the back towards Island Mere I picked up a redhead Goosander.  A flock of 77 Barnacle Geese in the distance contained a hybrid but at that distance I couldn't be sure if it was Snow x Baracle or Ross's x Barnacle.

We saw a couple of Mediterranean Gulls from Island Mere but of course there were far more on the main scrapes - a very quick scan/count produced 80 birds but I believe there are well into triple figures here now.  A Sandwich Tern on the scrape was my first this year.  There was a pair of Stonechat near the sluice and a Red-throated Diver on the sea.  As we headed back along the north wall to the centre I looked back to see a Glaucous Gull flying along the beach.  Finally a Blackcap was singing and showing by the dipping pool.

I decided to take the slighltly longer route out via Eastbridge and in doing so ended up driving past the Glossy Ibis feeding in the floods there.  It wasn't very exciting quite honestly.

As I was driving back home through Beccles someone was photographing an American Bittern just down the road at Carlton Marshes.  Unfortunately I didn't know about it until later that evening, but to be fair neither did the photographer who thought he was photographing an ordinary Bittern.  The following day hopeful twitchers managed to get a couple of flight views of the American Bittern and so I headed down during the afternoon, ready to get there well before the time it had showed well the previous day.  A large crowd was assembled and they'd all got a reasonable if brief flight view of it as I was walking down the track.  It would only be a matter of time before it appeared again I though - at least I would get a decent flight view, and very possibly it would come out in the open where it had been photographed the night before which was more or less exactly where it had dropped in just before I arrived.  Well it did show - it walked across an open area in full view allowing half the crowd good if brief views.  Sadly I was in the other half of the crowd and secured absolutely no views at all.  Later a Bittern sp. was seen in flight, apparently coming up from a very different place, and it divided opinion.  Some were adamant that it was the American Bittern while others didn't see much contrast in the wings and were pretty sure it was an ordinary Bittern.  I didn't see it at all, so couldn't help with that one.  There was one final very brief and distant view of a Bittern in flight - I did see it this time but only momentarily and not clearly - I don't think anyone was claiming this one either way.  It wasn't really worth the drive plus several hours wait to see a few Chinese Water Deer and a Barn Owl.

American Bittern twitchers, Carlton Marshes, 8th April

A singing Blackcap returned to my garden on 9th April, followed by Chiffchaff the next day.

On 11th I joined Dave at Bylaugh so he could show me where some Butterbur was growing, a species of flower that I'd not previously seen but more importantly the host plant of a couple of micro moths that I've not seen.  As we returned to our cars I heard a call which instantly recalled White Wagtail.  The difference between the calls of White and Pied Wagtails is subtle at best and often I can't detect any differences at all between the two taxa's calls, but I have detected a slight difference on occasion.  It's hard for me to describe what it was about this one that made me call it as White Wagtail - perhaps a little flat?  Not sure, but I was oddly confident given that I don't think I've ever found one on call before.  We quickly found 2 Pied/White Wagtails at the sewage works, one Pied and the other more interesting, a candidate female White.  But we hadn't resolved it when they both flew off.  We spent a while longer there, seeing at least 3 Grey Wagtails and a few Pied Wagtails coming and going, but the original White candidate wasn't among them.  Finally it reappeared - the same bird we were sure, and this time it stuck around for a good grilling, and was indeed a White Wagtail.

We stopped briefly at Swanton Morley where Steve had seen a couple of Wheatears earlier.  No sign of them but a small fock of Redpolls dropped in briefly - 6 Lesser and 1 Mealy Redpoll.   There was a Common Tern, my first of the year, at Worthing.

Little Ringed Plover and Green Sandpiper were among the waders on the patch on 13th but a flock of 87 Golden Plovers were looking lovely in their varying extents of summer dress.

Golden Plovers, Bittering, 13th April

I took the scenic route home from Norwich on 15th and would have stopped to look over Sparham Pools even if I hadn't already heard that there were Little Gulls there.  From my vantage point I could see at least 17 Little Gulls, mostly adults but including at least one second and one third calendar-year birds.  I couldn't see the whole section of lake that they were using and suspected the true number was higher, and indeed Steve Chapman later counted 24 there.

Little Gulls, Sparham Pools, 15th April

Next day at Ryburgh Barn Owl and Kingfisher were the highlights.

Barn Owl, Ryburgh, 16th April

Great Spotted Woodpecker, Ryburgh, 16th April

Little Egrets, Ryburgh, 16th April

Willow Warbler, Ryburgh, 16th April

Goldfinch, Ryburgh, 16th April

Other birds worth noting that day included Nuthatch at Gateley and Green Sandpiper at Bittering.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Local Garganey and White Stork

A visit to Ryburgh on 21st March revealed that 2 drake Pintail had been seen on and off recently (and possibly also 2 females).  That would be a good bird for the site and it wasn't long before one drake Pintail appeared from behind one of the islands.  But as it upended at the back of the scrape I was sure I could see something amiss - one of its legs was bearing a white plastic ring.  There were no metal rings so this hadn't been rung in the wild - it was surely an escaped bird.

escaped Pintail, Ryburgh, 21st March

There were at least 31 Teal on the scrape too including a copulating pair.

Teal, Ryburgh, 21st March

Other wildfowl included at least 52 Wigeon but they were mainly out of view.  Also a single Snipe on the scrape.

There were more Wigeon at Bintree Mill (at least 112), and another Snipe, but almost the first bird I saw when I first put my bins up here was a lovely drake Garganey!

Garganey, Bintree Mill, 21st March

My first singing Chiffchaff of the year was at Bylaugh on 23rd and a Coot flew over the house calling on the night of 24th.  I took the scenic route home from Norwich on 25th March pausing to look over Sparham Pools from the Lyng Easthaugh road.  The Great White Egret was present and a Siskin was calling.  A Nuthatch was calling at Bylaugh.  I also saw my first butterflies of the year on this drive - what was probably a Small Tortoiseshell and 2 Brimstones.

Later on that afternoon I headed over to the patch where the first highlight was a Dunlin in with 75 Lapwings (and Starlings).  A wander through the boggy parts produced a total of at least 40 Snipe, my highest count to date at this site.

Dunlin flying off with Lapwings and Starling, Bittering, 25th March

leucistic Egyptian Goose, Bittering, 25th March

Nearby there were still 69 Wigeon and an interesting Peregrine.  I'm not overly familiar with the various plumages (ages, sexes, races) of Peregrine but the broad reddish barring on the rear belly and flanks seemed odd.  Unfortunately my views of it in flight were too brief to see the detail and then when it was on the ground this bit of the bird was largely obscured.  I moved round to get a better view but as I did so it must have flown without me seeing as I never found it again.  I grabbed some photos when it was on the deck and they seem to confirm my impression of the markings, but the detail is not clear enough for me to really see what's going on.  Are these markings normal for any age/sex/race of Peregrine?  I think it's probably just an adult Peregrine of the local race but I would like a closer look at it.

Peregrine, Bittering, 25th March

The next site had Green Sandpiper and then the final site had perhaps the rarest bird in patch-terms, a Redshank.  While I was watching that I received news from Matthew Shore of an escaped stork on Bintree Mill.  I decided to head up there next and could see before I'd even turned into the road that the White Stork was still up there.  It remained up there until dusk when it flew around and then down to feed on frogs in the flood on the other side from the main pool.

White Stork, Bintree Mill, 25th March

The drake Garganey I'd found a few days earlier was still there along with Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail.

I had to head over to east Norfolk on 28th.  I wasn't birding but did see another Peregrine perched up on a dead tree next to the A1151 at Beeston St Lawrence.

I saw 2 Barn Owls on the way up to Burnham Overy on 31st and then another 2 Barn Owls when I got there.

Barn Owl, Burnham Overy, 31st March

A number of Snipe were getting flushed off the saltmarsh as I walked down - the tide was very high and still coming in.  One bird caught my attention and proved to be a Jack Snipe.  Other waders included a flock of 444 Golden Plovers, many of them starting to look quite stunning.

There was just enough going on in the dunes to keep me interested.  There were quite a few Blackbirds scattered around, a couple of Song Thrushes and my first 2 Wheatears of the year (one at Gun Hill, one in the east dunes). 

Wheatear, Burnham Overy, 31st March

I could hear a Firecrest at the east dunes but it took a while to get views of it.  Eventually I got a nice view of it, and later either the same or another bird in a different place, this time accompanied by 2 Goldcrests.  A Siskin flew around here and earlier a Redpoll sp. had flown over.  Looking over to Holkham I saw a Spoonbill and a Great White Egret briefly.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Snowy Owl

A report of Snowy Owl at North Wootton early on 5th March had been intriguing - was it really a Snowy Owl, a misidentified Barn Owl, or given what one person investigating it found in the area, perhaps even a very pale Buzzard?  It was seen again at Heacham the next day but this only came to light on Thursday when someone showed a photo to Lizzie at Titchwell - she reported that it was indeed a Snowy Owl and people's interest picked up a bit.  But days had passed now - would it still be in the area?

I considered heading out that way on Friday but instead opted for starting at the local patch where 102 Wigeon was my highest count this winter.   It was very quiet though and I soon headed back home - until I heard the news I was hoping for - the Snowy Owl had been pinned down.  It was now on Scolt Head Island, viewed from Burnham Deepdale.  My first Snowy Owl had been the wintering bird in Lincolnshire in December 1990 - that bird had moved to Norfolk the following March before heading back north but its brief visit to the county that counts coincided with me being in Scotland.  I saw another in Suffolk in 2001 but there hasn't been another chance to see one in Norfolk until now.  So I didn't hang around and soon joined Chris on the seawall beind the White Horse car park.  The Snowy Owl was sitting on the shore at the edge of Scolt Head.  We watched it for a couple of hours or more during which time it never flew but shuffled around a little.  A few Carrion Crows showed an interest and more surprisingly so did a couple of Red Kites, one of which kept swooping down at it.  There were also a few Mediterranean Gulls in the harbour and at one point I had Snowy Owl, Red Kite and Mediterreanean Gull in the same field of view.

It was way too distant for photos, but that's never stopped me trying...

Snowy Owl (and Red Kite and Carrion Crows in the lower photos), Scolt Head from Burnham Deepdale, 9th March

Next day a Woodcock was the highlight on the patch, along with 49 Gadwall, Treecreeper and Marsh Tit at Creaking Gate Lake.  Later that day my wife alerted me to a 'funny bird' on next door's lawn just behind our property.  It was a Buzzard feeding on frogs from their pond - a bird I've not seen on the deck here before.  A Grey Heron also put in a brief appearance, another species I don't see from here all that often.

Buzzard, North Elmham, 10th March

A visit to London on 16th/17th produced a number of Ring-necked Parakeets at several locations.  A brief stop at Hyde Park failed to turn up any exciting species but a couple of Starlings posed for the camera:

Starling, Hyde Park, 16th March

Nearby St James's Park was more interesting, if only for its non-native wildlife. I'm not 100% sure but I think this White-fronted Goose x Bar-headed Goose hybrid is the same bird that hatched in 2006 making it nearly 12 years old.

White-fronted Goose x Bar-headed Goose hybrid, St James's Park, 16th March

This hybrid bred with a Bar-headed Goose in at least 2015 and 2016 producing at least one juvenile in 2015 and at least two goslings in 2016.  I'm not sure which ones survived but presumably this bird is one of those backcrossed hybrids - very similar to a pure Bar-headed Goose except for scattered dark feathers in the white areas and the body being just a touch darker and browner than normal.

(White-fronted Goose x Bar-headed Goose hybrid) x Bar-headed Goose backcrossed hybrid, St James's Park, 16th March

Here is the pure Bar-headed Goose, most likely this bird's parent I should think.  At least I am assuming it is pure but backcrossed birds can be very variable (more so than first-generation hybrids) perhaps potentially being unseparable from pure birds.  One side of its nail (bill tip) is pale which isn't typical for pure Bar-headed Goose, but on its own I don't see that as enough to suspect it is impure.

Bar-headed Goose, St James's Park, 16th March

Red-breaseted Goose, St James's Park, 16th March

Ringed Teals, St James's Park, 16th March

Smew, St James's Park, 16th March

Whtie Pelicans, St James's Park, 16th March

There were some birds here naturally, including a small flock of Carrion Crows.  The first bird below had raised its crown feathers giving it a steep forehead like a Rook.

Carrion Crows, St James's Park, 16th March

Little Grebe, St James's Park, 16th March

Pochard, St James's Park, 16th March

Leucism (or perhaps more likely some other kind of pigment deficiency) in this Egyptian Goose revealed some interesting markings in the feathers that are not normally visible.  I guess the dark marbling is always present but masked by a dark background so you can't make it out.

Egyptian Goose, St James's Park, 16th March