Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The end of Autumn

After the calm autumn weather of the previous week, it was something of a return to winter with low temperatures and blustery winds throughout the weekend. Saturday was spent at Snettisham searching the fields behind the inner bank in the hope of locating the Dersingham Rough legged Buzzard, with highlights for the day including 13 Barnacle Geese, two of the three female Scaup, 60 Snow Buntings and a single Peregrine. After searching the fields between the pits and the A149, it would seem that the most suitable vantage point (assuming that the bird heads out towards The Wash to feed) would be the narrow section of inner sea wall that leads to the pumping station at the southern end of the reserve.

Mealy Redpoll Titchwell RSPB

More obvious in the field, with the low evening sun enhancing the brown colour tones.

After an unsuccessful Bittern watch at Holme I caught the bus to Brancaster, to walk the section of coastal path towards Burnham Deepdale, in the vague hope of locating any Twite. Needless to say that I failed to see any (are there any reliable sites left on the North Norfolk coast other than Titchwell??) with two White fronted and four Barnacle Geese, feeding in the grazing fields opposite Brancaster golf course, providing the highlight of the walk. An afternoon visit to Titchwell produced an obliging Mealy Redpoll, feeding in the Alders behind the feeders, a ringtail Hen Harrier over the reedbed, and an Arctic Skua causing panick over the fresh marsh, with excellent numbers of Teal and a steady procession of Gulls and Lapwings coming in to roost.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Owl fest

A glorious weekend with clear blue skies, warm sunshine and, at times, hardly a breath of wind. Saturday morning was spent at Snettisham to catch the early morning departure of Pink footed Geese leaving The Wash, with the additional bonus of an adult Ross's Goose leaving the roost; the first one that I've seen at Snett that could vaguely be considered a genuine bird. A flock of 37 White fronted Geese were in the fields opposite the pumping station behind the inner bank, along with 19 Barnacle Geese, (not the regular feral flock) whilst two Purple Sandpipers on the pits bought up 180 for the Snettisham year list. Back in July I though that I stood a reasonable chance of reaching 190, but after only three patch year ticks throughout September and October (Wood Sandpiper, Whinchat and Merlin) I will need a fair bit of luck to reach my original target of 185.

Scaup Snettisham RSPB

Three Female Scaup showed well on the pits, between the southern end of the challets and the first hide, and a drake Goosander flew south past the sailing club spit, with 55 Snow Buntings feeding on the beach. A count of 13 Little Gulls feeding offshore from the Coastal Park was perhaps not too unexpected, with birds seen on a daily basis feeding just around the coast off of Holme, but was still an excellent figure, roughly doubling the number that I had previously recorded. Two Short eared Owl were hunting Ken Hill Marsh (also seen Friday afternoon) and at least 10 Woodcock were counted coming out to feed on the grazing marshes.

Barnacle Geese Snettisham RSPB

The highlight of the weekend occured Sunday afternoon, with a walk down to thornham Harbour revealing a Short eared Owl sat in the set aside fields beside the bank. Showing the bird to some passers by we watched a 2nd bird fly in and chase it off of the ground, followed in quick succession by the appearance of a 3rd, 4th and the 5th bird! With the sun still shining the birds put on an excellent display, spending a lot of time flying high over the fields, indulging in regular aerial scraps, both with Marsh Harriers and one another, where they were surprisingly vocal (somewhat like a muffled Grey Heron) With the exeption of the group of five that flew west offshore earlier on in the autumn, this was the highest number of birds that I have seen together at Holme (Five birds eventually became Six) in what has been one of the best Autumns/winters for Short eared Owls that I can remember. Lets hope the numbers continue to build!

Broadwater Holme

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Priory Gannet

Juvenile Gannet Priory Country Park

An excellent local record, just a few minutes from home, and the first individual to be recorded on the main lake (the only other sighting for the park involving a bird seen in flight from the sewage works) The bird appeared in good health and was seen to depart the following morning, where it was later relocated on the main lake at Willington.

Sat close inshore on arrival, it was watched diving into the lake on several occasions, and was frequently mobbed by Black headed Gulls whilst sat on the water. Perhaps the strangest sight was of the bird being actively pursued around the lake by a pair of Grey Herons (initially one bird to start off with) with necks fully outstretched in alarm!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Wheatears and Wildfowl

With the daylight hours drawing drawing in, we made the most of the Friday afternoon by leaving Bedford and heading straight for Holme, where we enjoyed good views of the male Desert Wheatear feeding along the strandline in the company of a rather late Northern Wheatear. The light may have been terrible but, with only one other person present, it made something of a change to be able to watch a new bird at close range without the crowds.

Saturday morning was spent ringing in the Coastal park for our last session of the season, with a respectable tally of 76 new birds and 8 retraps, including two Treecreepers that appeared out of the blue, which we had ringed during the summer and autumn. Blackbirds made up the bulk of the tally with 49 new birds, whilst other highlights included a young male Sparrowhawk and another three Bullfinch; a bird which has clearly enjoyed a successfull breeding season in the park with probably close to 30 birds being ringed.

Juvenile male Sparrowhawk Note the heart shaped breast markings and rufous tinged scapulars

Returning to Holme for a second look at the Wheatear, I quickly abandoned the wait for the Hoopoe, which had dissapeared into one of the ditches out on the grazing marshes, and continued onwards to the beach. In the end this proved to be the right decision, with the Wheatear dissapearing overnight and the Hoopoe not putting in another appearance for the rest of the afternoon!

Male Desert Wheatear Holme

Much closer views and in far better light. Not quite bright enough for the camera but still a pleasure to watch, with the bird feeding at a distance of less than 20 feet.

Sunday was a glorious day of warm sunshine and light winds, with a productive morning at Snettisham yielding two patch year ticks, in the shape of a fly past Great Northern Diver (only my 2nd Snettisham record) and a party of five Velvet Scoter. Three groups of Swans included two partys of five Bewicks and a group of six Whoopers, whilst the sea also offered three Scaup, two Guillemot, seven Red throated Divers, and several groups of Shelduck moving south. A party of four Barnacle Geese flew into The Wash off of Heacham, with another bird seen in the company of nine White fronted Geese flying in off the beach between Hunstanton and Holme.

A late Greenshank and a juvenile White fronted Goose, both on the saltmarsh opposite the boardwalk, offered some compensation for the lack of a visible Hoopoe, which had spent the afternoon hiding out on the grazing fields, whilst two Long tailed Ducks and a group of three Slavonian Grebes, together on the sea proided a fitting end to the day.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Late Autumn arrivals

October 27th: A day of overcast conditions, with light drizzle early morning and a light SE breeze, managed to produce a couple of nice surprises, with a Pallas's Warbler and a very late Wryneck both putting in an appearance at Holme. The Wryneck was first picked up in flight, dropping into the saltmarsh after flying from the sueada bushes below the paddocks, and later relocated feeding around the large patch of Sea buckthorn at the end of the golf course track. After showing well on the deck, it flew over the other side of the path towards Hunstanton and disappeared from sight. Given that there was noeone else around at the time its not that surprising that I was the only person to see it!

Convinced that there must be a Pallas's Warbler lurking somewhere nearby (how often do you find both Pallas's and Wryneck on the same day?!) I had just reached the Forestry when I received a call from my dad to say that he had just beaten me to the prize! Walking across the open dunes, I watched the unmistakable fluffball of green and yellow striped fly across in front of me and disappear into the cluster of Willows and Sea Buckthorn. After a short wait, it was relocated feeding in the Willows, where it remained for the afternoon. Thankfully it was still present the next day, where it gave good views feeding in the same trees in much better light.

October 28th: A relatively early start manage to produce an unexpectedly good seawatch off of Holme, with the following see on of Gore Point between 07:35 - 09:20

Red throated Diver 9W 2E
Black throated Diver 1W
GN/BTDiver 1W
Fulmar 1W
Gannet 67W 12E
Wigeon 2W
Teal 1W
Common Scoter 56W 21E
Eider 2W
Goldeneye 1W
Red-breasted Merganser 11E
Great Skua 3W 1E
Arctic Skua 1W 1 lingering
Auk sp 7W 10E
Kittiwake 5w 3E
Little Gull Minimum 140W with 120 birds later seen in single scan. True figure likely in excess of 300 birds

November 5th: After a mornings ringing in the Coastal Park (a new pair of Bearded Tits being the highlight) we headed out to Holme for the afternoon, where I walked through along the beach from Hunstanton and across the sand bars opposite the end of the Golf course, around to Gore Point. A seawatch from the dunes at the base of the cliffs produced a steady passage of Kittiwakes, with groups heading North out of The Wash close inshore (65 birds in total) along with 16 Little Gulls and a Shag, later seen sat on the sea off of Gore Point. A Short eared Owl flew up from the Sand bars and the first of several mixed flocks of Blackbird, Redwing and Fieldfare came in high off the sea and dropped straight down into the bushes behind the dunes.

Shortly after leaving the forestry (where I had not seen a single other birder) I disturbed a small passerine from the brambles on the edge of the path, that flew a short distance and immediately dived straight back into cover. Though I had only been offered a fleeting glimpse with the naked eye, its small size, dull faintly grey brown upperparts, and distinctive call had me virtually convinced off its identity as a Dusky Warbler. An anxious wait followed before it broke cover again, giving another tantalisingly brief flight view, but once again refusing to perch on the edge of the bushes. In total the bird was seen and heard by four observers that afternoon, but remained extremely elusive throughout its stay, feeding in typical Dusky fashion and staying hidden within the depths of the bushes. After a blank day Sunday it was heard and seen again on the Monday, but remained stubbornly quiet throughout the two hours that I spent waiting for it to show. A further two hours Tuesday morning proved equally fruitless...

November 6th : With a strong North wind blowing, I arrived at Holme before dawn with Connor and Billy, eagerly anticipating a long overdue autumn seawatch (I had only just seen my first Norfolk Great Skua the previous week!) Early signs for the day looked promising, with several thrushes seen along the entrance track in the headlights of the van, and several more heard calling around the car park and Observatory. Once the light had reached a stage of half decent visibility we headed out to the dunes where, between 06:40 - 08:10, we managed to record the following:

Red-throated Diver 4W
Gannet 51W 70E
Brent Goose 19W
Shelduck 245W
Pintail 4W
Wigeon 218W
Teal 42W 9E
Scaup 1W
Eider 7W
Common Scoter 120W
Velvet Scoter 3W
Red-breasted Merganser 3E
Great Skua 9w
Pomarine Skua 2W
Arctic Skua 3W
Little Gull 3W
Kittiwake 34W 19E
Razorbill 3W
Auk sp 24W 3E

Despite spending a couple of hours waiting around the patch of brambles that held the previous afternoons Dusky Warbler (a bird that I was more or less convinced would still be present in the morning) there was no sign throughout the day. Walking out to the far end of the dunes nearest Thornham channel, it was obvious that the morning movement of wildfowl had continued throughout the day, with groups of Teal and Wigeon still moving west close inshore. A 2 hour watch from 11:55 came up with the following:

Red-throated Diver 1W 1E
Gannet 24W 33E
Brent Goose 56W
Shelduck 46W
Mallard 6W
Wigeon 212W
Teal 238W
Pochard 6W
Eider 17W
Common Scoter 5W
Goldeneye 6W
Goosander 1W
Red-breasted Merganser 7W
Dunlin 40W
Purple Sandpiper 1W
Great Skua 2W
Arctic Skua 1W
Kittiwake 6W

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Squacco Heron

With the reserve being just a few minutes from Attenborough train station, the opportunity to finally catch up with a Squacco Heron (something I have failed to see on more than one occasion) was simply too good to resist. After a brief wait, I watched it fly in overhead and land further along the river behind the railway bridge, where it could be viewed from the grass bank below where we were standing, sat in one of the riverside Willows.

Visible as a pale blob, fishing from its favoured spot below the bridge, in the same place as the below pictures were taken

Apart from a brief appearance in the large Willow tree on the other side of the bridge, the bird mainly kept to its chosen fishing platform. Clearly not in the slightest bit bothered by the passing trains, it also seemed fairly tolerant of people, but could have probably done without photographers standing over the top of what would have been an ideal fishing platform below the bridge...

The quality of the scope views more than made up for the amount of vibration on the bridge, which proved something of a challenge when trying to get pictures.