Monday, November 26, 2012

Norfolk Monday and Home!

Red-throated Diver Offshore @ Salthouse!
Our final day on this particular break was actually the best weather wise, in fact it was quite a pleasant day all around with light winds and occasional sun! To start we decided to stop off at Salthouse, move on to Cley Marshes for lunch and then wind our way back to land locked Warwickshire.

As luck would have it the recent Shore Lark was once again reported early on at Gramborough Hill and so after parking up at Salthouse we took an elevated stroll along the shingle and across the hill, returning to the car park at lower level along the marsh. The usual Turnstone were very obliging and a sea watch produced Red-throated Diver, Great-northern Diver and a lone adult Gannet heading south. Fourteen Snow Buntings flew low over the shingle heading east.

1 of 20 Snow Bunting @ Salthouse
While walking along the shingle Dee spotted something different dropping in below onto the marsh and a little while later we were rewarded with good views of Short-eared Owl, great spot from the ever vigil wife! When returning back at ground level along the marsh a flock of 20 or so Snow Buntings flew in offering a few photo opportunities but no Shore Lark. In fact the Shore Lark is my Norfolk nemesis bird, failing to connect on my previous 2 autumn/winter visits. During our walk at Salthouse the amount of Pink-foots and Brent on occasions turned the sky black with flock after flock passing over, a real sight to behold! Just prior to moving on to Cley the Short-eared Owl was once again quartering the marsh but sadly too distant for any photos, a Marsh Harrier was also recorded.
Teal at Cley Marshes
After lunch at the Cley Marshes Visitor Centre we walked down to the hides overlooking Simmonds Scrape and Pat's Pool. Conditions were ideal for spotting Bearded Tit in the reeds with flat calm winds and the sun shining, indeed we'd recorded 3 by the time we reached the hide, a Cetti's Warbler was also heard on route.

Overlooking the pools 4 Bewick Swan were in and feeding along with good numbers of Avocet (17), Ruff (21) and I would estimate around 1000 Golden Plover. A trio of Marsh Harrier were seen which included ♀♂ and Juvenile. The Juvenile perching for a while giving me the opportunity of a distant record shot. Also recorded of note before departing for home: Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Egret, Snipe, ♀Goldeneye (quite a rarity here a regular told me), Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, Brent and Pink-footed Goose.

Being a great mammal enthusiast Dee was delighted when a Field Mouse was running around the hide before making off with a discarded orange club biscuit wrapper, priceless and a fun end to our Norfolk break!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Norfolk Sunday

Spotted Redshank at Titchwell!
Overnight Saturday we were battered by gale force winds and even more heavy rain, in fact it was so bad when we woke we even abandoned our early morning walk, a very rare event!

Biting the bullet after breakfast we donned our lead boots and set off for RSPB Titchwell. It always seems to be blowing a gale when I visit Titchwell so you'd think I'd be used to it by now. By the time we arrived around midday thankfully the rain had moved on leaving a bright and breezy day.

Record shot ♀Brambling
The feeders at Titchwell are always a good place to start and yes there among the usual Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinch was my first Brambling of this autumn, a very pristine looking female. As you would imagine we were nearly blown off the West Bank Path but actually managed several Snipe and Black-tailed Godwit on the wet meadow and Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Linnet before taking refuge in the Island Hide for a brief respite. Here it was plain to see the impact of the recent deluge with very little mud showing close up for waders. A scan of the water produced ♂Goldeneye, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, ♀Red-crested Pochard and decent numbers of Brent and Pink-footed Geese.

Brent Geese In Off The Sea!
We continued on to the beach area for a scan offshore deciding to visit the Parrinder Hides on the return journey. When we arrived the bench area provided another welcome shelter from the wind and we settled down for a half hour stint. Offshore we were rewarded with 3 Long-tailed Duck, Slavonian Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and ♂Goldeneye, the shore area held Turnstone, Sanderling and Redshank. However, the best was when a Merlin flew low from right to left quite close in, settling on a piece of drift wood for a short while before heading off, magic!

By the time we began our walk back towards the centre the wind had dropped a good bit and in fact the rest of the afternoon was quite pleasant with clear blue skies. A Bar-tailed Godwit and Spotted Redshank quite close in on the Tidal Pool provided a good photo opportunity, along with a very obliging Little Egret, I've never seen one so tame!

White Greylag!
A visit to the Parrinder Hides enabled us to get a little closer to what was showing of the mud on the freshwater marsh and here at least 100 or so Oystercatcher were huddled up for the day. Curlew, Avocet, and good numbers of Golden Plover were also seen. At one point a large flock of Greylag arrived and within a white hybrid, conjuring up thoughts of Snow Goose but sadly not!

As we walked back to the centre in the fading light 2 Marsh Harrier on the wet meadow, along with what looked like a second or the same earlier Merlin, which briefly had a pop at the Harriers before making off. Barn Owl at Holkham on the way home ended a very enjoyable if not blustery day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Norfolk Saturday!

Pre-breakfast Stroll
With Dee in need of a little R and R we drove across to Norfolk Friday evening for a few days on the Coast. Living in a land locked midlands county its always nice to get away to any coastal area but from a birding perspective Norfolk is the gem.

Mind you the drive across wasn't without it's moments with several roads impassable due to flooding but after several diversions and a five hour drive we finally arrived at our cottage near Mundesley, a little knackered but thankfully in one piece.

Pipit In The Gloom!
Saturday morning began with a pre-breakfast stroll along the coastal path in the fog and despite the poor visibility a few Meadow Pipits and Turnstones were seen. However, the highlight of the short walk was the distinct trill of Waxwing overhead, sadly not picked up but encouraging non the less.

It looked pretty grim at one time from a birding perspective but by the time we reached Salthouse for coffee around mid morning things had brightened up considerably. The usual flock of around 30 or so Turnstone were on the shingle and shortly after commencing our walk north towards Cley we connected with a Sacred Ibis, probably the same bird of unknown origin recently seen at Brandon Marsh.

The occasional pause for a short sea-watch produced both ♂♀Goldeneye, Red-throated Diver, Great-Northern Diver and at one time 5 Gannet flew south, one a juvenile. The marsh produced Ruff, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Little Egret, Shelduck, Marsh Harrier (2) and wildfowl included Teal, Shoveler and good numbers of Wigeon, plus the usual selection of Brent and Pink-footed Geese constantly airborne.

A coffee and a chat with a few locals back at the car park had us briefly searching for a reported Shore Lark on Gramborough Hill. Sadly to no avail but as we returned to the car a flock of around 30 Snow Buntings dropped in briefly before moving off. The surprise of the day was a Red Admiral Butterfly which flew into nearby gorse, the pain of the day was the flat tyre we encountered in the car park which I just managed to change before the rain set in!!

Sunday and Monday posts to follow.........................

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thrushes Abound!!

Common Buzzard
An early start at Brandon Marsh on Sunday paid off with two Barn Owls quartering Sheepfield just before dawn. The ♀Smew was still on site along with 2 ♂Goldeneye but unfortunately Bittern sightings are still at a premium! Personally I've only managed a single sighting this autumn.

In the late afternoon Dee and I took a long stroll along the Napton Lock Flight which was just alive with winter Thrushes's. With the canal side hedges mainly Hawthorn this is currently a great place to see them in such huge numbers. The adjacent fields were also awash with good numbers of Linnet and Starling mingled in, goodness knows what the Buzzard made of it all!

I had a very early start this morning driving a friend to Heathrow Airport and when I finally arrived at Brandon around 7am it was still dark and dank. With the weather pretty grim I decided to drive down to the Saga sign (one of the benefits of working at Brandon) and walk straight down to Big Hide, which turned out to be an excellent decision! As I was dressing for the weather a Tawny Owl suddenly called in the Oak tree directly overhead and I watched the silhouetted figure for a short time before the bird made off. Quite a bonus to actually catch sight of one for a change.

Blackbirds A Plenty!
To be honest that was probably the best of only a few highlights on a pretty dismal day. The now long staying ♀Smew (day 16) was eventually spotted when she flew onto East Marsh Pool, Cetti's Warbler, Kingfisher, 5 Wigeon, ♀Pochard and 9 Snipe the other highlights.

The Carlton Hide had 3♂+3♀Bullfinch and around a dozen Redwing feeding in the Hawthorn along with Willow Tit. A walk to West Marsh Hide had Grey Wagtail, Goldcrest, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll before I finally gave up.

This afternoon while servicing the boat the marina was also mad busy with Fieldfare, Blackbird and Redwing and the feeders had the usual Tree Sparrow, House Sparrow, Reed Bunting and Chaffinch but Brambling still elude me!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Mad Dash!

A half decent shot of the ♀Smew - Now on day 13 of her visit!
I was planning a later than normal visit to Brandon Marsh this morning until a phone call from JR had me in a mad dash. The urgency was due to a small Wader on East Marsh Pool, difficult to identify in the morning gloom.

On arrival a quick burst down to Big Hide and I was on it soon after. However, not before I had the good fortune to connect with a Chiffchaff on the way through. I knew what the guys were thinking, a possible Little Stint and the bird did show signs but once the gloom lifted a Dunlin, made definite as the bird called as it headed off towards Teal Pool.

Also on East Marsh Pool a lone Golden Plover was in among the Lapwings and also of note 15 Snipe, 2 ♂Goldeneye and 3 Kingfisher which flew past one after the other. Carlton Hide held various numbers of Fieldfare, Redwing and Blackbird plus 2♂3♀Bullfinch, Willow Tit and Water Rail heard. JR reported a Peregrine showing well on East Marsh later in the morning but sadly I was down at the screen and missed out.

Also of Note: Sparrowhawk (1), Kestrel (1), Cetti's Warbler (2 heard), Goldcrest (4), Siskin (40+ flock), Lesser Redpoll (5), Green Woodpecker (1), GS Woodpecker (1), Pied Wagtail (1), Treecreeper (1), Coal Tit (1), Jay (3)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

On A High!

Next Canadian Trip - Nova Scotia 
Last night Dee and I had finally organised our RV and completed the final details of our next trip to Canada, Nova Scotia to be precise and so I was on a high when I left for Brandon Marsh this morning. Another bonus was the fact that it was my first time out with my new Canon 7D, so I'm now a birder with a decent camera!

It was a very mild morning with the temperature in double figures but unfortunately the early brightness didn't last too long before the cloud set in. The usual route around Brandon had the normal selection of Thrushes, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Linnet, Goldfinch and Chaffinch and I have to say that Brandon is currently very well off for Goldcrest at the moment, another 7 recorded during my stay.

The Elusive ♀Smew
At first the ♀Smew (now day 9) was nowhere to be found until a scan of the River Pool from Teal Hide found here skulking right at the back, what a mobile and elusive little thing she is! Later in the morning she was large as life on East Marsh Pool.

While in Big Hide Peter Berrill located a couple of Golden Plover flocks (12 & 70+) over towards Wolston and at least 40 dropped onto East Marsh briefly before making off.

Brandon Waxwing!
Carlton Hide and the screen area were very quiet but on the way back to Big Hide a stop off at the Carlton Overflow Ditch ( an area which the team has recently cleared) things got interesting.

I paused for a while watching and photographing a large Siskin/Redpoll flock enjoying the Alder seed, a tit flock which produced Willow Tit and a good number of Thrushes which had flown in. Among the Thrushes a lone Waxwing, firstly low in the Hawthorn before appearing near the top! Thankfully Martin Durkin had doubled back to see where I was, great timing as the bird was off within minutes!

Lunch in Big Hide after a tour of the reserve produced another surprise when a Chiffchaff firstly calling from the reed bed finally flew out and over towards Teal Pool. The bird was still calling as I passed the large Oak Tree near the River pool Path.

Other notable's seen today: Yellow-legged Gull (3rd winter!), Common Gull (7), Water Rail (2 heard), Buzzard (1), Sparrowhawk (2), Kingfisher (1), Great-spotted Woodpecker (1), Green Woodpecker (1), Jay (3), Song Thrush (1 singing), Treecreeper (1), Coal Tit (1), Cetti's Warbler (2 heard), Meadow Pipit (1 over), Skylark (1 over), Bullfinch (1♂2♀), Pied Wagtail (1), Wigeon (9), Goldeneye (♂2), Lapwing (200+)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Brandon Sunday

Brandon Sunrise over Goose Pool
I'm simply running out of superlatives to describe these wonderful autumnal mornings but once again as I stepped foot onto the pontoon this morning the air was crystal clear and the morning sky just stunning!

As I reached the car 3 Snipe silhouetted against the brightening sky flew east and the drive to Brandon Marsh wasn't without it's moments. A Barn Owl cutting across the road in front of me near Stockton and having to break hard at one time to avoid at least 3 Red-legged Partridge.

Plenty of birds on the move taking my normal route around Brandon with Goldcrest, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Linnet and the usual flurry of Thrushes. When I finally met up in Big Hide with the other guys I discovered that Derek B had accidentally flushed a Woodcock near the stream area, I then discovered I was only minutes behind him, bummer!

Entertaining Wren!
The ♀Smew is now into day 7 of her visit and although elusive could be seen skulking under the overhanging trees in between Baldwin and Wright Hide, occasionally coming out into the open. Sparrowhawk a couple of ♂Goldeneye, various numbers of Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, plus 7 Wigeon, 7 Snipe and 3 Kingfisher were the highlights until Chris Wilshier ably spotted a couple of Little Egrets passing over the reserve to the north. Two Wrens provided a little entertainment in front of Big Hide and a Cetti's Warbler was intent on avoiding me as it flew in and out of the reeds.

Water Rail
A trip to the screen and Carlton Hide added to the morning list with Willow Tit, 3♀ + 1♂Bullfinch and a couple of Skylark over. Finally before heading off a further brief look at Big Hide produced a Water Rail, which did the usual flight from left to right before disappearing into the reeds.

Just a quick mention to finish off as I've been asked a few times over the weekend about the large cages spread strategically around the reserve. This weekend the Trust are beginning a Badger inoculation programme along with the Badger Trust and the early signs are very encouraging so kudos to them!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

♀Smew Day Six

I've been amazed by the shear numbers of Woodpigeon on the move over the past week, a bird you wouldn't normally associate with migration. In fact a little research deepens the mystery with no one actually knowing where these birds come from or go to!

Reading the BTO migration blog there are two schools of thought. They may be British birds heading south and west for the relatively mild conditions that this part of the UK offers, although there doesn't seem to be a large influx of Woodpigeons into Devon and Cornwall during November. Alternatively they may be British birds that are heading south and on to France and Spain to spend the winter in southern oak woods, fascinating stuff.

Another bird in large numbers locally has been the Fieldfare with a flock of at least 200 over the marina on Friday. Yesterday evening also produced a small number of Golden Plover when I noticed about a dozen birds heading towards Napton Reservoir. The marina feeders have been busy with the usual Finches and both Tree and House Sparrow. Sadly still no Brambling to report!

At Brandon Marsh today Bob Lee and Jeff Hood reported 20 or so Golden Plover over the reserve around 8.30am. I managed 10 which dropped onto East marsh Pool, 3 of which moved on pretty rapidly leaving 7 birds still on site when I left. My first sighting of the ♀Smew today (now day six) was unusually on Swallow Pool when it was seen in the company of 4 Tufted Duck. Later she seemed to prefer the area around Baldwin Hide back on East Marsh Pool.

Blackbird numbers have increased and several large flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare were also recorded, plus a large flock of Siskin were also busy in the Alder and a small number of Lesser Redpoll were also recorded over the reserve.

Also recorded of note: Willow Tit (2), Coal Tit (2), Goldcrest (6), Linnet (2 over), Bullfinch (3♂2♀), Skylark (2 over), Mistle Thrush (1), Song Thrush (1), Snipe (4), Wigeon (8), Goldeneye (♂2), Kingfisher (2), Water Rail (1 heard), Cetti's Warbler (2 heard), Treecreeper (1), Nuthatch (2), Sparrowhawk (2)

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

New Arrival?

Siskin ( One of a dozen in the Alder)
It was beautifully frosty, clear and flat calm when I left the boat today with Venus to the east and both Jupiter and the 60% Moon heading towards the western horizon, I just love these crisp crystal clear mornings.

I deliberately arrived at Brandon Marsh prior to sun up in the hope of catching an Owl or two but a 45 minute vigil overlooking Sheepfield proved fruitless, save for 4 Jay, Common Buzzard and hunting Kestrel.

Shortly after Sheepfield I met up with Derek Bennett and we spent a little time watching a Goldcrest plus a number of Fieldfare and Redwing demolishing one of the Hawthorns now only half laden with berries. Martin Durkin soon joined us and we made our way along the usual route through New Hare Covert, past Newlands and on to Wright Hide.

The first excitement of the day was the unusual sight of a Bittern flying in quite high from the North-East. The bird flew over the covert before disappearing, appearing to descend towards the Newlands reed bed, which makes me think that this could well have been a new arrival.

Plenty of birds on the wing this morning with several flocks of Woodpigeon, Redwing, Siskin, Starling and Fieldfare, the latter of which were in good numbers with one flock containing around 60 or so birds. A first look at a very quiet East Marsh Pool had a couple of ♂Goldeneye, 5 Wigeon, various numbers of Tufted, Teal, Shoveler and Gadwall but only 2 Snipe. Two Kingfishers were also present but no sign of the recent ♀Smew at this stage.

♀Smew (Poor Record Shot!)
The fun came when we arrived at the Central Marsh Path where both Ken Sherlock and Keith Forster suddenly appeared having attempted to get down to Big Hide, unable to do so due to the rising water. Not to be defeated both Martin and I bit the bullet and wellies on managed to get through leaving the other wuss's to retreat to Wright Hide, great having the place to ourselves! Even better after opening the hide flaps and there fast asleep in the corner was the ♀Smew.

A visit to Carlton Hide, where on route a good number of Siskin and Redpoll were feeding in the Alder near the ditch, plus 2 ♂Bullfinch and a small Tit flock which produced 8 Long-tailed Tit and a single Willow.

Finally back to Big Hide before the rain arrived. Here the rest of gang had now joined us and we all enjoyed more superb views of the ♀Smew, plus a cameo visit from a Little Egret, which dropped in onto Newlands briefly before heading off east.

Other Notables: Linnet (2), Goldfinch (8), Nuthatch (2), Sparrowhawk (2), Skylark (2 over), GS Woodpecker (2), Song Thrush (1), Cetti's Warbler (3 heard), Water Rail (2 heard), Common Gull (6), Herring Gull (1)

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Brandon 1st!

Harry Potter Studio Tour!
With all efforts concentrated on a superb birthday Harry Potter weekend with my wife Dee we simply couldn't resist a text from JR that came through on route home from London this afternoon. '♀Smew on East Marsh Pool'

The last Smew recorded at Brandon Marsh was November 2004 and was also a Redhead and thankfully by the time we arrived at the Wright Hide she was still on site. In fact thanks to Dee we had it in the scope shortly after arriving, job done and a first for me at Brandon!

Having birding withdrawal symptoms I also a managed a dusk visit to Napton Reservoir this evening, something I haven't managed for a considerable time. I was hoping for a good Starling roost and despite a few thousand passing through during my stay all the birds moved through. Around 150 Fieldfare came through before moving off to roost elsewhere and plenty of Jackdaw were making their way to the nearby Calcutt Spinney.

Thousands of Gulls also moved through on route to the Draycote roost with a number of Pied Wagtails heading the other way towards the Marina roost. The water itself contained of interest: (60+)Wigeon, (14) Great-Crested grebe, (11) Gadwall, (6) Teal and thankfully with the muddy areas still in tact despite last nights downpour I managed (21) Snipe before darkness fell. Finally, a word of warning to anyone visiting!! There's now a huge BULL in the adjacent field at the top end of the reed bed so beware!!

Friday, November 02, 2012


First autumnal record of Bittern at Brandon Marsh today from the Steetley Hide! Thanks to Monica and Tony Shooter for the image!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Soggy & Sodden

What follows is the regular morning tweet from Meteo-Group for Birmingham and Coventry: 01/11/12 - Sunshine and showers, heavy at times during the morning. Cold. Max 8c Wind W 11mph Chance of precip: 90% Min 2c. Huh! Well I can tell you it was raining when I arrived at Brandon at 8am and it was still raining non-stop when I finally decided to call it a day around noon! Sunshine 0%.

Napton Reservoir
A Barn Owl which flew across Brandon Lane as I was arriving for a morning on the chain-saw was the only highlight on a really soggy and sodden day! After drying off with a bowl of chips and a hot coffee in the nature centre with Dave Evans, my apprentice chain-saw operator ;) I decided to stop off at Napton Reservoir for a stroll now that the sun had suddenly decided to show itself!

I'm delighted to see that after keeping the water level at extreme levels over the summer months the powers that be have finally decided to restock the canal system. This now means that gorgeous sections of muddy areas have now appeared and it wasn't long before a scan of these new areas started yielding results. 20 Snipe were feeding happily around the edges, a lone Grey Heron was fishing and a couple of Water Rail fed openly during my 90 minute stint.

Napton GC Grebe Taken In The Summer!
Wave after wave of Fieldfare were constantly chattering overhead and now outnumber the Redwing by a country mile. Unusually no Siskin or Redpoll to be found during my stay but Linnet, Dunnock, Meadow Pipit, Robin and Chaffinch were all recorded, plus a lone Green Woodpecker.

The water contained around (250+) Canada Geese , (60+) Widgeon, (25) Shoveler, (4) Teal, (8) Great-crested Grebe and (4) Little Grebe. The usual hoards of Coot and Black-headed Gull were also present along with around a dozen Common Gull.