Monday, March 11, 2019

📖 #9/2019 ~ Norfolk Weekend

🌦💨10C Saturday 9th March 2019 ~ Despite the strong winds, heavy showers and more prolonged periods of rain on Sunday, we can reflect on what turned out to be an excellent weekend on the North Norfolk Coast.

Staying at the Premier Inn Kings Lynn Friday/Saturday night we began Saturday morning with a visit to RSPB Titchwell. We decided to make straight for the beach for a quick sea-watch, despite a yellow warning of high wind speed. As expected the conditions were pretty challenging but having found a small area which afforded some protection we managed a half hour scan. Things were pretty quiet offshore with just a few Gannet passing through at distance, a single Common Scoter and Long-tailed Duck in flight. Onshore a good selection of waders along the tideline with Grey Plover, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher.

Close views of Knot on the Volunteer Marsh at RSPB Titchwell
Heading back for some shelter in the Parinder Hide a group of circa 100 Knot provided some close-up views on the Volunteer Marsh, before being flushed by a marauding Peregrine. Our timing was perfect as we reached the hide just as a heavy hail shower blew in.

A small group of the 24 Meditteranean Gulls seen at Titchwell
From the hide, our count of Mediterranean Gulls was briefly interrupted by a Little Gull, which flew through during the heavy showers. Resuming our count, we eventually managed an amazing (24) Med Gulls, mostly hunkered down in the strong wind. There was no sign of the Water Pipit from the Parinder Hide but a quick tally of other sightings, while drying off and having lunch in the centre, included of note: (6) Marsh Harrier, Water Rail, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Little Egret and many Brent Geese.

Red-legged Partridge & Hare taking shelter from the gales
Our next stop was Cholsey Barns for a Black Redstart, which unsurprisingly we didn't connect with, by this time the wind was at its peak but there were far more Yellowhammers than I've seen here during previous visits, plus several Hares, which delighted Dazza and a half dozen Red-legged Partridge taking shelter. 

From here on to Kelling Heath in search of Dartford Warbler and although we were sceptical of seeing any in the conditions we did, in fact, manage some brief views of a male just beyond the railway crossing, having first heard the bird calling close by in the gorse. A Stonechat also added to the day list, plus a brief stop in the fading light at Cley for Snow Bunting, where we also managed three Barnacle Geese.

💨☔3C Sunday 10th March 2019 ~ Although more strong winds were forecast the day started off wet but reasonably calm. Our first stop was Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve, having been thwarted yesterday by it's closure due to the high winds. It's our first visit here and I must say it's one the most well kept and organised reserves we've ever visited, a real shop window for the Hawk and Owl Trust who run it. There is a boardwalk throughout the reserve and feeders were everywhere (and full) including at most of the six hides and each one had plenty of activity around them, well worth the £5 entry fee, which helps maintain the costs.

Coues's Arctic Redpoll
One of the reasons for the visit was to catch up with an Arctic Redpoll which has been frequenting one of the feeders and it wasn't long before we connected. This along with some smart looking Siskin, Brambling and more Redpolls, both Mealy and Lesser. There are plenty of Marsh Tits and despite the conditions, a Barn Owl was seen quartering on the fen and a Marsh Harrier was also active during our three-hour stay.

Several Marsh Tits during our visit to Sculthorpe ~ This one a ringed bird

Gorgeous male Brambling at the Volunteer Hide, Sculthorpe
After a cuppa in the Nature Centre, we headed off back to the coast for a final look around Cley Marshes. The rain had now cleared through but the wind had returned. We managed a walk to the beach along the East Bank but the conditions for sea-watching were horrendous. However, we did manage to connect with three Pink-footed Geese and six Eurasian White-fronted, plus four Ringed Plover before we decided to call it a day and head home.

Three of six Eurasian White-fronted Geese at Cley Marshes

Friday, February 22, 2019

📖 #8/2019 ~ Springlike Brandon

☁️🌞14C Friday 22nd February 2019 A wonderful springlike day at Brandon Marsh after the mist cleared and despite being half term, when I rarely visit, it was quite bearable.

Song Thrush
The first highlight of the day was a singing Blackcap in Horsetail Glade, although it didn't last for too long, perhaps it suddenly remembered it was still only February. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming and lots of Great Tits singing too with Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush and Blackbird also clearing their throats. I just hope that the winter doesn't have any surprises still up its sleeve like 2018, particularly for a couple of Long-tailed Tits seen nest building today.

These two regular Whooper Swans have graced East Marsh Pool off and on for almost the entire winter thus far.
Over 60+ Wigeon on East Marsh Pool when I arrived at the hide, four Oystercatchers, eight Pochard including six Drakes and four Shelduck, two of which were on River Pool. The regular visiting Whooper Swans also dropped in shortly after I arrived and a Muntjac Deer on Wigeon Bank spent a little time feeding.

One of two Little Egrets today ~ This one on Teal Pool
The Teal Hide had a Little Egret which seemed to be foraging pretty well, catching the odd fish.

Small Tortoishell didn't offer the best photo opportunity
As Alan Boddington and I passed by the Baldwin Hide on our way for a stroll around the Farm Pool Reedbed our first Brandon butterfly of 2019 when a Small Tortoishell landed on the reeds in its attempt to soak up the sun.

Stonechat 'human watching'
At Farm Pool, a Stonechat flitting around the bramble and occasionally popping up on to the posts to check us out was nice and around the reedbeds, Reed Buntings were also singing. Over towards Brandon Lane at least three House Sparrows along the fence, quite a rarity for Brandon but now becoming more regular in this area.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

📖 #7/2019 ~ Brandon Away-Day

☁️13C Wednesday 20th February 2019 A second visit of the year for me to the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire and what turned out to be an excellent away-day with seven members of the Brandon Marsh Voluntary Conservation Team and guest young Theo de Clermont, our Gull expert 😀 Having been prevented last year from using the Trusts minibus for our days out with the lamest excuse known to man, "We've only insured it now for business use" ~ there's gratitude for yer and a nice kick in the teeth for the regular volunteers at Brandon who work tirelessly to make the reserve what it is today ~ we reverted back to the old ways of car sharing!

Despite being elusive Theo still managed this record shot of the Yellow-browed Warbler
Our first stop, Westbury-on-Severn sewage works for what turned out to be an initially elusive Yellow-browed Warbler. However, with patience and much searching of several spruce trees, plus the bird only calling once during our hours stay, everyone eventually managed to achieve some excellent views. While searching a couple of Chiffchaffs, the odd Goldcrest and two male Stonechats were also noted with Theo even managing to take a record shot of the Yellow-browed!

Dipper at Wenchford Picnic Area ~ Forest of Dean
From here on into the Forest of Dean, where a stop at Wenchford Picnic site produced Marsh Tit, Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Grey Wagtail, plenty of Siskins and the target bird Dipper.

Next stop New Fancy Viewpoint where unlike my previous visit with Dazza last month, when the low cloud and mist made observation impossible, the conditions were much more accommodating today. In fact, there was plenty of raptor activity throughout our stay with double-figure Common Buzzards, a single Sparrowhawk, great views of a Peregrine but of course, the highlight was the Goshawks, three in total, although always distant. At least four Ravens are also worth a mention.

We enjoyed our packed lunch at Parkend triangle while searching for Hawfinch, which unusually took some time to locate. Jim Rushforth finally connecting with just two birds, feeding in the ground vegetation below one of the trees. While here a couple of Bumblebees and a single Red Admiral, made for my first butterfly sighting of 2019.

Female Common Crossbill at Park End Church

Male Common Crossbill ~ Park End
Park End church next and this turned out to be a real treat with at least a half dozen Crossbills putting on a great display. The birds were constantly chattering away and dropping down to a nearby stream to drink, thus providing some close range views. We enjoyed the birds for sometime before heading off, but not before a further flock of some 25 birds passed overhead.

Drake Mandarin Duck Canop Ponds
Our final stop within the Forest of Dean was Canop Ponds for the well-known population of Mandarin Ducks, I didn't complete a count personally but at least a dozen birds were on view.

American Wigeon female ~ Church Farm Pool ~ Courtesy of Alan Boddington
With all the target birds now in the bag so to speak at only 2pm we decided to head over to Church Farm Pools at Grimley, Worcestershire for an American Wigeon. Being a female this was actually harder than we'd anticipated locating! However, there was plenty of expertise on hand to eventually find the bird and in fact, after we'd all agreed on the individual in question Alan Boddington managed to achieve a very respectable shot of the bird on his super 100X zoom Nikon Coolpix P1000. A top day out!

Other images of the day....

Chiffchaff by Theo de Clermont
Frisky Crossbills

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

📖 #6/2019 ~ Aberdeenshire

A weekend in Aberdeenshire househunting gave the opportunity for some coastal birding in between viewings, culminating in a Sunday afternoon visit to RSPB Loch of Strathbeg before flying back late evening.

Bar-tailed Godwit
Hooded Crow on the road while enjoying a coffee stop!
Saturday we spent time around the Ythan Estuary where large numbers of Eider had congregated and with the tide ebbing there were plenty of waders with large groups of Oystercatchers, along with Bar-tailed Godwits, Sanderling, Turnstone, Grey Plovers and over fifty Curlew!

Rock Pipit around Peterhead Harbour
Shag at Peterhead Harbour
Before heading off to Strathbeg on Sunday we stopped at the harbour at Peterhead to sift through the many Gulls, both Glaucous and Iceland can regularly be found around the fishing fleet. Unfortunately being Sunday there wasn't a lot of activity and so fewer Gulls but there was plenty on offer with many Shags, small groups of Eider and several Rock Pipits.

Purple Sandpipers around the rocks at Gadel Braes
Just around the corner from the harbour is Gadel Braes, a road which runs parallel to the rocky shoreline and a great place to stop and search for Purple Sandpipers. It wasn't long before we managed to find at least eight feeding around the kelp. Offshore more Eiders, a few fishing Gannets, Red-throated Diver and many Shag.

Tree Sparrow at the visitor centre feeders
We spent a few enjoyable hours at RSPB Loch of Strathbeg before heading off to the airport. Around the visitor centre feeders, a large population of Tree Sparrows is still evident, along with some stunning male Siskin but alas no Brambling on this visit.

Siskin at Loch of Strathbeg
There are still plenty of Whooper Swans to be found, along with 1000s of Pink-footed Geese and during our stay, a couple of Hen Harriers and a single Taiga Bean Goose were other highlights. As you would expect Goldeneye were plentiful, along with small numbers of Pintail but a distinct drop in Wigeon numbers since our last visit in November.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

📖 #5/2019 ~ Owl~Fest

Firstly, some sad news to report: John Walton, one of the founding members of the Brandon Marsh Voluntary Conservation Team passed away yesterday lunchtime, peacefully at the Town Thorns Care Home, Brinklow. I've known John since joining the team in December 2008 and spent many an hour in the hides and walking the reserve with him. His knowledge of the place was second to none. Brandon Marsh is his legacy and all the hard work and effort he put in to making it the place it is today should never be forgotten ~ RIP John.

For me, it was back to Brandon Marsh with the conservation team last week helping to clear invasive willow and birch from the farm reedbed on Tuesday and Thursday. Sunday was spent mostly in the East Marsh Hide sheltering from the persistent rain where the highlights were Ruff, Oystercatcher and two Shelduck, plus the briefest view of a Bittern as it flew across Newlands reedbed.

Spot the Little Owls ~ Love is in the air!
On Sunday afternoon Dazza and I enjoyed a late afternoon walk along the canal taking in the Shuckburgh and Flecknoe section. Daz wanted to catch up with the local Little Owl, which we'd failed to locate on our previous walk and we were delighted to find not one but two birds nestled in the usual place.

A busy start to the new week and a drive across to Lincolnshire (3 Red Kites on route) with Geoff Hood, John Raven and Kevin Coughlan from the Brandon team to visit Deeping Lakes, specifically to catch up with the roosting Long-eared Owls. I always feel that these are best seen here on cold crisp mornings with northerly winds but today despite a south-westerly we did manage reasonable views of two from the reported six!

Later in the morning, we arrived at RSPB Frampton Marsh to spend the remainder of the day. From the visitor centre, I managed to connect with a Short-tailed Field Vole (Microtus agrestis), which emerged briefly from under the bird feeders. Despite being one of the most common mammals in Europe I've actually not connected with that many of these over the years so it was a welcome sighting.

We enjoyed an excellent day's birding in what turned out to be gorgeous springlike weather. The only dip of the day was the Long-billed Dowitcher, which went AWOL shortly before we arrived and wasn't seen again for the remainder of the day.

Just the Canon SX50 with me today ~ Heavily cropped Short-eared Owl
Spotted Redshanks ~ RSPB Frampton Marsh

Merlin ~ Saltmarsh RSPB Frampton Marsh
However, there was plenty on offer as usual at my favourite reserve: Many Skylarks, with several in song, large skeins of Brent Geese and plenty of Ruff to be found. These along with Curlew, Ringed Plover, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Redshank and (2) Spotted Redshank. Plus (2) Short-eared Owls,♂/♀ Hen Harrier, (2) Merlin, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Barn Owl and the 1000s of Golden Plover and Lapwing made for a tremendous day out in good company.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

📖 #4/2019 ~ Hampshire Weekend

The plan was to travel down to Hampshire last Friday afternoon, staying at the Premier Inn in the New Forest that evening and with friends in Lymington on Saturday night. After the predicted heavy snow overnight Thursday (not at the marina I hasten to add) I checked the route down with the AA and Highways Agency live twitter feeds, which included the M40/A34 and M3 motorway. The route seemed clear and the weather forecast Friday morning from both the BBC and Met office, only predicting the odd snow flurry we decided to head off.

Mayhem on route to Hampshire
Leaving at 3:30pm the journey was pretty uneventful until shortly after passing the junction with the A34/M4, where it began to snow quite heavily. After 2 hours held up on the A34 in horrendous and quite frankly frightening conditions, it was plain to see this was not the forecasted snow flurry but a major weather event which took everyone by surprise and completely closed the M3 motorway in both directions due to jackknifed lorries and abandoned vehicles!! In fact, by the time we reached our destination 4 1/2 hours after leaving the marina, it was still snowing. How could those responsible for the forecast get it so wrong once again?

Black-tailed Godwit ~ Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve
After our horrendous journey, and a good nights sleep, thankfully not in the car Saturday was spent enjoying the Hampshire coastline with a visit to Titchfield Haven Nature reserve. The reserve itself was pretty quiet, probably due to the frozen pools, the best on the reserve some close-up views of a group of feeding Black-tailed Godwits, plus a gorgeous male Bearded Tit.

The Solent provided a sea-watching opportunity but this too was quiet, the only recordings of note several Red-breasted Mergansers and many displaced Great Crested Grebes, obviously escaping the frozen lakes and pools. After the tide receded around midday waders took advantage with Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Curlew and Turnstone feeding happily but the dog walkers soon put paid to that!

Drake Pintail at IOW Ferry Terminal

Grey Plover ~ IOW Ferry Terminal
We decided to head back across the estuary to Lymington, where we were staying the night to watch the sunset and stopped at the IOW Ferry Terminal for coffee. Here you can sit out with good views of the shallows and surrounding mudflats. Many Wigeon here, along with excellent numbers of Pintail. A couple of Grey Wagtails and several small flocks of Sanderling and Dunlin, plus the odd Grey Plover but the highlight was a Spoonbill which dropped in and began skimming in a nearby shallow as the light faded.

Spoonbill at Keyhaven
Sunday was spent at a busy Keyhaven and Lymington but with friends the priority the birding was hit and miss. There was no sign this year of any Dartford Warblers, perhaps too busy with cyclists and walkers, or just a little early in the year for much activity but another view of Spoonbill, likely the same bird as yesterday as it flew along the shoreline. A couple of Marsh Harriers during the visit and Water Pipit and Rock Pipit made for good finds considering the lack of effort. An adult drake Long-tailed Duck offshore was a nice find, along with Eider and more Red-breasted Mergansers but the weekend will be remembered for the horrible journey down!

More Images Of The Weekend....

Marsh Harrier


Little Egret


Sunday, January 27, 2019

📖 #3/2019 ~ Weekly Roundup

Winter finally arrived last week with a light flurry of snow on Tuesday plus a few frosty mornings. Daytime temperatures struggled to get above 5C until a warmer period Thursday/Friday sent the temperatures up into double digits, it's blowing a hoolie today Sunday!

Tree Sparrow 
Several visits to Brandon Marsh over the period with a snap decision to go and see the Great Grey Shrike at Hanging Houghton with Theo de Clermont on Wednesday 23rd. The Shrike remained elusive during a mid-morning session but a large flock of mixed Skylarks/Buntings, plus a few Red Kites kept the interest going. A Brambling at the barn on the way out was a bonus but we didn't manage to connect with the reported Corn Buntings or single Lapland Bunting.

Tree Sparrow at Pitsford Reservoir feeders
We did eventually connect with the distant Shrike later in the day after a return visit via Pitsford Reservoir, where I wanted to catch up with the Tree Sparrows on the feeders. Also of note during our brief stay sixteen Red-crested Pochards but no sign of the long staying Ring-necked duck!

Long staying Whooper Swans at Brandon Marsh
Bittern Brandon Marsh ~ Saturday 26th
The main highlights from the Brandon visits included the long staying, although sometimes absent, pair of Whooper Swans, 5 Shelduck (Saturday) a Peregrine and two Bitterns on Friday 25th, plus stunning views as one of the Bitterns flew directly out in front of East Marsh Hide. Also of note over the week 10 Golden Plover to the east on Saturday but didn't drop in, plus a single Ruff this morning Sunday, although I personally missed that one. 

Images Of The Week....

An elusive Cetti's Warbler ~ Brandon Marsh

Bittern ~ East Marsh Hide, Brandon Marsh