Monday, November 23, 2009

My Birding Wife!

Out and about with my better half today we decided to have a late afternoon visit to the Brandon hides, after a coffee and snack at the Nature Centre.

The wife, who's more expert with mammals than birds, had never seen a Water Rail close up so the plan was to pop into the Big Hide where they are regularly seen in the nearby reeds. After a half hour vigil, with no Rails, we were delighted to observe a male and female Muntjac Deer on the bank opposite, which I have to say looked in fantastic condition in the late evening sun.

We moved on to the Carlton Hide, still with high hopes of Water Rail, and settled in for a final stint. Not a bad evening, the wind finally dropping and good light from the now partially clouded sky. Our first bird of note was a female Sparrowhawk which perched nicely on one of the dead trees to the left, probably in anticipation of an evening snack from one of the few Starlings now beginning to appear. She did try, but unsuccessfully!

Dee was delighted a short time later when a Barn Owl appeared from the box on the far side of Newlands and settled on the trees close by, ready for an evenings hunt. However, the highlight of the visit was the appearance of a Bittern, which flew right to left at the back of the Newlands Reedbed and settled just behind big dead tree. "Oh was that the Bittern" says the wife, "yes" says me "Ah, I spotted him earlier flying the other way but didn't want to disturb you while you were talking to those other guys!" I do love that girl, so polite!!!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Two Firsts

Three visits to Brandon Marsh this week which included two unexpected firsts for my Brandon list!

On my first visit of the week, Tuesday 17th, I was delighted to get my second sighting of Bittern for this Autumn. As I approached the Olive Bench near Newlands a single bird rose from the middle of the reedbed at around 7.36am and flew around 100 yards, dropping down at the rear of the Sand Martin structure, strangely enough roughly in the same spot I had it last week. It's always nice to add to your site species list and during a quick sortie across towards the Farm Area after lunch, with other members of the 'Tuesday Club', no less than 5 Red Legged Partridge (pictured) flew out from within Farm Pool Reedbed, it turns out the first sighting of this species on the reserve since 2004, and a first for me at Brandon.

For Thursdays visit I decided to arrive before dawn in the hope of tracking down a Barn Owl or two and began my search at Sheepfield at around 6.30am. After a fruitless 30 minute observation in one of my favourite spots I was preparing to move on when a single bird came through from the East, disappearing quickly into the wooded area near the concrete plant. Not the best view I've ever had but a Barn Owl nonetheless and always a pleasure to see. A quick trip back to the Big Hide at around 3pm, after the other work party members had departed, resulted in my second addition to my Brandon site list, this time in the form of a single Yellow Legged Gull. In amongst a dozen or so Common Gull but easily identifiable by a distinct red ring around the eye. The bird stayed for around 20 minutes.

On to this mornings visit , Saturday 21st, and on the look out for Great White Egret, a single bird being reported on site yesterday. After a good scan of Newlands at dawn I came up with a blank and decided to head for Big Hide and coffee. The reed area in front and to the left of Big Hide has had a section strategically cut out by the team, affectionately known to us as the 'Elephant Ride'. The area has now flooded nicely and has been cut with the intention of exposing Water Rail and Bittern as they move through the reed. Today I was delighted to observe 2 Water Rail feeding in this area, one species which I believe has had an exceptional breeding year at the reserve and is an accolade to Brandon.

Another bird which Brandon should be proud of is the wintering Bittern, or indeed Bitterns, and today I had yet another sighting of this magnificent bird as one flew high across East Marsh Pool at around 9am, fortunately observed by several other delighted birders. A Full-English in the Nature Centre around 1pm ended an excellent morning and I've since had word that the Great White Egret did in fact reappear at 2pm, well done to George for his Pictures.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Norfolk Weekend (Sunday)

As we left the comfort of the hotel after a hearty breakfast the weather had vastly improved from yesterdays storm.
Our first stop this morning was Wolferton Triangle to try for the infamous Golden Pheasant, and as luck would have it the possibility of Great Grey Shrike, currently reported at Dersingham Bog.

The best strategy for seeing the Golden Pheasant apparently is to sit quietly in your car and wait for the birds to cross one of the two minor roads which form the 'triangle', dawn or dusk are the best times but unfortunately we were a little late. We decided after a short and uneventful period to abandon car and head into the bog.

The reserve comprises of three distinct habitats, mire, heath and woodland. The wet acid peat of the mire is characterised by rare plants, including Bog Asphodel, Round-Leaved Sundew, Cranberry and White-Beaked Sedge. Rare insects thrive here too, including dragonflies such as the Black Darter, and moths such as the Light Knot Grass, of course Winter is not the best time to visit.

The woodland at Dersingham is quite recent and contains Scots Pine, Oak, Sweet Chestnut, Sycamore and Birch. The woodland glades attract birds such as Redpoll, Crossbill, Long-Eared Owl and Sparrowhawk but despite a pleasant walk the best we could come up with were Stonechat, Kestrel and Redpoll, no sign either of Great Grey Shrike, however a local birder did tell us that he'd had it from a distance a little earlier and he believed it was a wintering bird which was here last year.

We progressed further up the coast on what was now a beautiful day weather wise and arrived at RSPB Tichwell. Amazingly this was our first visit to this reserve and so we spent the remainder of the day on site exploring. We decided to take the walk from the visitor centre down to the beach, taking in the Island Hide enroute. The hide itself produces excellent views of the freshwater marsh and reedbed where we had good numbers of Pintail, Wigeon and Brent Geese, plus Redshank, Greenshank, Grey Plover, large flocks of Golden Plover, Avocet, Snipe and around 12 Ruff.

On the walk down to the beach overlooking the marshes we watched 2 Hen Harrier, one being a ring-tailed, plus Marsh Harrier overhead and had Cettis Warbler, Skylark, Meadow Pipit and several Little Egret. At the beach itself we had a nice stroll along the coastline with Sanderling, Black-Tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Dunlin and a small flock of Snow Bunting flew low over the sand. At sea we picked up good numbers of Goldeneye plus 1 Red Throated Diver, 6 Common Scoter in flight and a single Common Eider. A thoroughly enjoyable first visit.

Amazingly on the drive home we passed Wolferton once more and to our delight, there at the side of the road, we picked up a fleeting glimpse of a Golden Pheasant as it disappeared into the undergrowth, a terrific end to a diverse weekend!!

(Pictured above - Sanderling, one of Dee's favourite birds)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Norfolk Weekend (Saturday)

A weekend of contrast as I re-visited the Norfolk coast, a place that has special memories for me and where I lived and worked for several years after leaving home as a young man in the mid 70's.

RSPB Snettisham - We arrived in the early afternoon in gale force winds and horizontal rain, to be honest it would have been quite easy to have abandoned the visit all together and head straight for the comfort of the hotel bar! Notwithstanding, the wife and I donned our wets and headed in.

During the battling 1.5km walk to the first of 4 hides we'd had several Goldeneye and Little Grebe plus Curlew, Black-Tailed Godwit, Grey and Golden Plover, Rock Pipit and good numbers of Redshank, Dunlin and Shelduck on the mudflats. However, one of two reasons for visiting this particular sight was to see the spectacular views of thousands of Knot as they push ever closer following the tide inland. We were not disappointed with some excellent flocks on show, increasing in numbers as the tide drew ever closer.

On arrival at the first hide, where you have the choice to view either the mudflats or lagoons, we settled for a well earned breather. The lagoon produced some excellent numbers of Wigeon, at least 1000+, and upon inspection also yielded Little Egret, battling away in the wind and small numbers of Gadwall and Teal.

After completing the tour of the other hides, which produced nothing more on the species count other than a lone Hare, which bolted across the sea wall, we settled back in the now crowded first hide to witness the main event. Vast numbers, up to 40,000 on occasions, of Pink-Footed Geese, which roost each night on the mudflats and then fly back inland at dawn to feast on the remains of the sugar beet harvest. As we watched in awe, surveying the tide mark in the murk, we also had around 12 Pintail, distinguished by their white breasts against the darkness and gloom, but it wasn't until returning to the car, as the final light dissipated, that we were truly treated to this spectacle as the sky turned black with yet more Pink-Footed!!

Friday, November 13, 2009


I arrived at Brandon yesterday morning (Thursday 12th) around a half hour before sunrise on a beautiful autumnal morning.
Heavy rain overnight had given way to clear skies and the mist was rising off the Newlands reedbed as the sun poked it's head over the horizon. As I approached the reeds, emerging from New Hare Covert, I knew there was another reason for liking mornings like this, cobwebs! Not the obvious fact that lies within their beauty but the fact that I can actually see them. At 6'4" even when I try to walk behind other, shall we say, smaller chaps in the early morning, I always end up with several face fulls as the spiders weave their webs from one side of the path to the other!

Although today produced nothing out of the norm on the pools, (Tuesday I had Dunlin & Redshank on East Marsh), I have to say that I can't remember another time were I had so many smaller birds and such frenzied activity. Me thinks the natural food supply is beginning to run low?

From my vantage point over Newlands quite a number of mixed flocks containing Goldfinch, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll, plus the usual Tit flocks which contained Long Tail, Great and Blue, always worth more investigation as occasionally I find they produce Goldcrest, Willow or Coal Tit within. At one time the remaining 200 or so Starling from our roost flew East, probably from the West Marsh reedbed, and finally some further good numbers of Redwing, mingled with Fieldfare and the occasional tweet of Skylark.

After our work had been completed for the day, (Thursday is work party day), a large flock of around 150 Greylag came over the reserve as we made our way back to the Nature Centre for tea, too distant from my vantage point to check for other species within. Also today, as I reviewed JW's Website, another siting of Bittern.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


I thought a quick post was in order after today's early morning and frosty visit to Brandon Marsh, my reason for this is my first autumnal sighting of one of our wintering Bitterns. Having had an excellent track record of sightings last Winter I was beginning to worry about the poor start I'd made for this season. Therfore I was delighted to catch my first glimpse for this Winter of a single bird which made a short dart across Newlands Reedbed at around 7.20am. I'm now a happy bunny!!
Also worth a mention are yesterday's Female Goosander and lone Dunlin to East Marsh Pool, which I unfortunately missed due to my very enjoyable visit to Twycross Zoo!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Autumns Here!

As predicted the weather took a definite turn this week with more autumnal westerlies blowing in and some welcome rainfall. That said my usual working visits to Brandon Marsh have produced some good and unexpected sightings.

On Tuesday 3rd we took the opportunity to re site one of the several Barn Owl boxes on the top reedbed. Myself and 3 other members of the team were moving through the 'Tip' area of the reserve and spooked a unsuspecting Woodcock (pictured) from it's daytime roost. This is only the second time I've encountered a Woodcock at Brandon since joining the team last December and both times I've almost stood on him before he took flight! I should also mention that I had more Common Darter and a single Migrant Hawker Dragonfly. Amazing in the present conditions!

On Wednesday evening I took the opportunity with other members of the Conservation Team to pay a late evening visit, in particular to catch a glimpse of the current Starling roost. Having strategically positioned ourselves in the Carlton Hide, overlooking the Newlands reedbed, we were delighted to see around 2000 Starlings come in and were further treated to some excellent aerobatics. The main event though was watching the 3 Sparrowhawks that came in for a late evening snack. Fortunately for the Starlings all 3 were unsuccessful in there numerous attempts to wheedle out a lone member of the roost. We were also treated to some good glimpses of Water Rail on East Marsh Pool.

This morning, Thursday 5th, I arrived slightly later than normal and after a phone call from a colleague missed a perched Barn Owl on the oak tree box. I thought my luck was really out when I had a second call informing me of a Whooper Swan dropping in on East Marsh Pool. With a quick spurt I once again arrived too late as our resident territorial Mutes had chased it off.
I needn't have worried however because as I rounded the corner from Newlands an adult male Whooper with 4 juveniles came in from the West. Although never quite managing a landing they did spend about 30 minutes circling the reserve and delivered some excellent low flying views. I should also point out that there is some question over whether the juveniles were in fact Mute Swans but more on this I'm sure in a later post!

NB - Also of note today was another sighting of a single Chiffchaff near Carlton Hide, (not Siberian as some have suggested) and a lone Greenshank still remains on River Pool. Further sightings of Bittern were also recorded over the weekend.