Monday 22 November 2010

A weekend in Norfolk

Got back late last night from a relaxing trip to see family up in Norfolk. Saturday was very murky, and not particularly appealing for birding: I popped down the road to see the immature male Velvet Scoter on Filby Broad, and then spent a while at Strumpshaw hoping for views of Otters. There have been regular sightings of a female with two cubs over the last few weeks – either Brick or Fen Hide seems to be best. They’d been seen before we arrived, but there wasn’t a repeat showing – I’ll go back on a brighter day and give it more time.

Sunday started off at Cley, on a wild plover chase! The flock of Goldies was over 1500 birds, and very skittish, especially with a big female Peregrine around. Each time they were spooked it took about 10 minutes for them to gradually return, but often it would only be part of the flock that had landed before the next scare put them up again. Eventually I found the American Golden Plover on Simmonds Scrape… from North Hide! Think this variant on long distance ID is a site first for me! As I was leaving, news came through that the putative Northern Harrier had been seen between Morston and Stiffkey, so I headed west. Sadly, not quite quickly enough, as the harrier headed inland while I was en route. I consoled myself with lunch from the Wells Deli, and drove along to eat it overlooking Burnham Overy Dunes and marshes.

Arriving there I bumped into a familiar face: Gary Prescott, the Biking Birder. If you haven’t heard, he’s cycling the length and breadth of the UK this year for charity, taking in visits to every single RSPB and WWT reserve. Our paths last crossed in September on Fair Isle, where all the birders were clearly hard at work finding rarities: see pic number seven… ahem! I was fortunate to find the Rough-legged Buzzard as a contribution to his non-motorised year list, and then listened to some of Gary’s occasionally hair-raising tales: sleeping out in hides and bus stops in freezing temperatures, cycling the A17 in terrible weather with artics forcing him into the verge and getting robbed to cap it all! Our paths may yet cross once more this year, since apparently Howard’s talked him into a second visit to Rainham, with the lure of Caspian Gulls and bacon sarnies. In any case, there’s a well deserved tenner heading his way shortly, though – and maybe a few readers might like to chip in as well, it’s a very worthy cause.

Anyway, back to the birds. I spent the final couple of hours light at Burnham Norton marshes, hoping that the harrier would put in a repeat appearance after showing here in the previous two afternoons. It didn’t, but I enjoyed a superb raptor-fest:

  • Two more Rough-legged Buzzards, one showing pretty well in flight over the saltmarsh
  • Two Common Buzzards, one dark, one pale
  • A smart juv Hen Harrier looped around us twice – it clearly had some orange tones underneath, but this took the form of streaking, rather than the more uniform colouration that the Northern type shows
  • Plenty of Marsh Harriers as usual
  • a Barn Owl quartering the marshes
  • Kestrel hunting along the track out to the seawall
  • couple of Sparrowhawks rattling along the saltmarsh channels flushing waders in all directions
  • another Peregrine gave a brisk flypast
  • and best of all, a gorgeous little male Merlin, hunting pipits, and then perched up on a bush – superb scope views, easily the best I’ve had for several years.

Now it would be lovely to move on to illustrate all of this with frame-filling and pin sharp photos of these birds of prey. One topical approach would be to steal someone else’s shots, and pass them off as my own. But oh, no, not on this blog!

So, here are some ducks from Cley. You’ll just have to imagine the hooked bills and sharp talons as they swoop in on some hapless pondweed prey. Sorry… but they are quite pretty!

 mallard teal1 wigeongadwall

Sunday 14 November 2010

Not a weekend for photography…

It feels like it’s barely got light this weekend, so pictures have been hard to come by. The best one isn’t exactly a mega rarity (or even a mega photo), but a smart little bird nonetheless:


Saturday was spent twitching down to Devon, for a certain American visitor and some local specialities, depicted very badly thus:

american_robin cirl_bunting glossy_ibis

Today I was back to local birding. First, I checked out the redpoll flock in Thorndon Country Park, hoping for something white and fluffy. Sadly, it was not to be, though the flock was well over 100 birds and contained at least 5 Mealies. Although redpoll taxonomy and ID is a bit of a minefield, I rather like them (perhaps because they’re so scarce nowadays) and enjoyed spending a couple of hours searching through the mobile flocks. With a handful of Coue’s Arctics in the country, and a flock of 1000+ redpolls reported in Scotland yesterday it appears that birds are arriving in numbers this year, so I’ll try to return to the site and have another look soon.

By the time I’d reached Rainham, the rain had really set in, so the camera didn’t even leave the car. A Jack Snipe was good value bouncing away in front of the Ken Barrett hide, but after re-identifying someone’s Water Rail as a female Teal (yes, really) I decided it was time to move on…

Continuing on away from the centre, the visitor numbers tailed off and the weather worsened. Perhaps bizarrely, I enjoyed this even more: I had the new hide to myself (largely trying to find a Green-winged Teal to wind Hawky up!), and on the walk back I could really appreciate the range of outdoor gear I’ve built up. Waterproof jacket, trousers and boots have cost a pound or two in the last few years, but in foul conditions I was warm, dry and comfortable thanks to Ventile, eVent and Goretex. Similarly, with decent quality waterproof optics you don’t have to worry about getting soaked and can just carry on whatever the elements throw at you. I could completely forget about life and work outside birding, and just relax – this is what the hobby is all about, rain or shine!

Sunday 7 November 2010

Seawatching in Kent: sea showing well, though mobile


Taken at Leysdown-on-sea this afternoon (or should that be Leysdown-under-sea – it might be by now). A brief seawatch from the car was enlivened by the occasional face-full of salt water and squally showers driven in by north-easterlies. Why do I do this again?

A few minutes later, down at Harty Ferry, a Leach’s Petrel reminded me. Unfortunately it was much too distant for photos, but they’re always quality birds to see.