26 Feb 2020

Local birding.

The atrocious weather has put paid to any ringing or birding activity apart from walks around the patch and staring out the windows at the pond opposite the house and checking gull flocks for anything unusual.

As usual the pond is attracting a small number of wildfowl with Mallard and Teal being the commonest species but, as in other years, it's attracted some others as well. The highlight so far this year has been the presence of up to 9 Shoveler!

Its great to see these beautiful ducks from the comfort of the study window!
Two male Wigeon graced the pond for a few days before moving off - presumably to the Dee Estuary or Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB.

Another local pond (one we can't see from the house) has hosted up to 5 Tufted Ducks adding to the variety.

One of the more unusual records was the presence of Pink-footed Geese. Normally these are seen in flight heading inland from their roost on the Dee but for about a week good numbers were settling in the field with a maximum of 250+ being recorded. Initially there was a small flock of 8 but this gradually increased. Whether these were 'local' birds or ones that had moved into the area from another part of the UK I'll never know but it coincided with reports of Pinkfeet on the move.

Quite a few Greylags and Canada Geese were also present with a maximum count of 73 Greylags. A patch record.

Another early spring arrival are a pair of local Mute Swans that, as in other years, tend to come  and go spending a few hours on the pond and then moving off. Neither of these birds are colour ringed so theres no way of telling where they come from.

Unfortunately we have a local farmer who has zero affinity with wildlife and whose animal husbandry is appalling.  In a previous year I've witnessed him driving his pickup at the swans and throwing rocks at them to drive them off as he claims the 'geese' gives his sheep worms. The fact that the field is flooded half the time and the only water his animals have access to is the pond which has had dead sheep in seems to escape him.

This year he's gone a step further and actually started shooting the birds. So far as I know he's only shot two Canada Geese (I've seen him load a rifle by the field gate and chase off on his quad bike) and he probably doesn't even know about the new General Licence requirements. My main concern is if he identifies Mute Swans as 'geese' he obviously doesn't know what he's shooting at! I've taken professional advice on the situation and will be watching very closely.

Another early spring feature is the large number of gulls we get on the wet fields searching for earthworms. In previous years I've managed to unearth a Med Gull or two and this year was no exception. A single adult turned up with large numbers of Black-headed Gulls behind the house enabling to view from the comfort of the conservatory.

Its great having such a variety of wildlife locally and being able to view from the comfort of the house when its lashing with rain outside.

3 Feb 2020

Norfolk trip

With the Bird observatory Council annual general meeting again being held at the BTO's headquarters in Thetford Chris, Steve & I planned to go down a couple of days early and do some birding round the Norfolk coast to catch up on a few nice bits and bobs that had kindly hung around for us.

An early start was in order and Steve pulled up outside my house at 04.20 onThursday morning. First stop was going to be for the long staying Blue-headed (or Alaskan) Eastern Yellow Wagtail that had been frequenting a dung heap near Sedgeford and we duly rolled up around 08.30 and without even getting out of the car picked up the bird at the base of the dung heap. Getting scopes and cameras out we watched as it hunted for insects and occasionally flying round making its buzzy call.

After an hour or so and satisfied with the views we'd got wee decided to head across to a site near Wells where a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard had taken up winter residence. This bird wasn't as easy and after seeing a number of  Common Buzzards, Red Kites and Marsh Harriers, including a copulating pair who also did food pass, we got cold and decided to go to Holkham to look at the geese along Lady Annes Drive and walk down to Holkham Gap to see the Snow Buntings and Shorelarks.
Above: Marsh Harriers  - the male has a rat or vole and made a mid-air food pass to the female.

Driving the short distance back to Holkham  Chris spotted a raptor sat o na fence post in the middle of a field that looked interesting so we stopped and checked it out. It turned out to be the very pale headed Common Buzzard that we'd seen whilst looking for the Rough-legged Buzzard. We heard from a lady we met at Holkham that she and her husband had seen this bird and, along with a tour group, had ticked it off as the Rough-legged Buzzard.........

The Snow Buntings and Shorelarks proved to be distant but very easy to find. It was nice to see the rangers had fenced off their favoured area of salt marsh and put up signs asking people not to  disturb them or let their dogs run through the site.

Lady Annes Drive also gave us the opportunity to catch up with the Black Brant thats become a regular winter feature in among the flock of Dark-bellied Brent Geese.

Whilst checking out the visitors centre I scanned towards Wells with my binoculars and picked up to raptors along way off back towards Wells and Steve got his 'scope on them to confirm one was a Red Kite and one was the Rough-legged Buzzard. We watched as it landed and headed back to the original viewing point where we eventually had good views.

Satisfied with our views we decided to head to Salthouse to look for a Waxwing that had been see near the church. By now it was getting late in the afternoon and the light was fading so we didn't manage to see it. Parking near the visitors centre we scanned the salt marsh and took in the spectacle of dozens of Marsh Harriers coming in to roost. In the early 70's when I lived in Suffolk I think there were only 3 Marsh Harriers in the whole of the UK and the only place to see them was at Minsmere. Here, nearly 45 years later we had 9 in the air together! A fantastic conservation success story.

Heading back to Brancaster Staithe we checked into the White Lion for a well earned shower and a couple of pints before and excellent dinner.

Next morning, after a full cooked breakfast we decided to head back to Salthouse as the Waxwing had been sighted that morning. We arrived to be told we'd missed it by seconds and it had flown off!  Despite checking all the bushes with berries we could find there was no sign. Several hours later it made a brief appearance back at the top of a pine tree before flying off again! Probably the hardest I've had to work for to see a Waxwing.

We decided to head towards Sheringham to see if we could catch up with a 1st winter Caspian Gull that had been showing quite well, coming to drink with other gulls, by a freshwater outfall on t othe beach. Again, luck was with us! Expecting a long search we looked over the wall to the outfall and there it was. A really nice example of Caspian Gull and very distinctive.

With time pressing we decided to head towards Wroxham Broad where a Slav Grebe had been re[orted. It took some finding but we go tdistant views boefore heading towards Horsey Mere where we hoped t ocatch up with Common Crane before heading to our accommodation in Thetford. As it happened 5 Common  Cranes were reported at Billockby and we spotted 3 of them from the car first before the flew off and landed about a mile away. Following them we found they'd joined the missing 2 and we watched all 5 together before it go to dark and we decided to head off.

Arriving in Thetford we met up with old friends from other Bird Observatories and enjoyed a few more drinks and chatted before turning in ready for the next days meeting.

The meeting was well attended with 15 Bird Observatories being represented with one of the high lights being Alderney finally getting their accreditation and becoming a fully fledged Bird Observatory. Needless to say the conference dinner, held in a local Chinese restaurant, was a lively affair!

Next morning, after saying our goodbyes over yet another huge breakfast, we decided to call in at nearby Lynford Arboretum to try and catch up with the flock of 23 Hawfinches that had been reported regularly. Not really knowing where we were going and with the news that they were in 'the paddock' we wasted time looking in the wrong area before another birder told us were were at least 500 m away and to look in the paddock with the Long-horn Cattle! Still, our time wasn't wasted as we stood watching Ramblings and Yellowhammers at a feeding station.

After arriving at the correct paddock, the one with the cows in, we almost immediately picked up the Hawfinches that were buzzing around some hornbeams in the middle of the paddock before dropping to the ground to feed with Redwing and other finches. Although distant they were a fantastic sight and I don't think I've ever seen so many Hawfinches together!

By now the rain had well and truly set in so we decided to head off towards home after a very successful few days birding and a great meeting. A great trip and many thanks to Steve for all his hard work doing the driving.