Thursday, October 31, 2013

Little Birding Time!

Happy Halloween!!!

Apologies to my reader for the lack of updates over the past week but unfortunately other commitments have allowed me little time in the field.

Record shot of Mandarin at Brandon Marsh!
What birding I have managed has been mainly local with visits to Napton churchyard, Napton reservoir and of course Brandon Marsh.  Best I could manage at the churchyard on Monday was a trio of Mistle Thrush having a real set too, a couple of Siskin and several Lesser Redpoll. I did also manage to fit in an hours vigil at Woodford Halse, where a Hoopoe has been showing well over the past week, but sad to say not during my short stay! Mind you the black cat seen twice in the car park during that time may have had an input! Kudos must go to the site owner too, who I managed a short chat with, a very pleasant and accommodating guy and delighted to have a bird of this ilk on his property!

At Brandon later on Monday afternoon a pair of Mandarin Duck on East Marsh Pool was a pleasant surprise. So too a nice sighting of Marsh Tit (very scarce at Brandon) near the volunteers car park this afternoon, first heard and then found while I was packing up after another day battling the Crassula helmsii on Carlton Pool.

Carlton Pool - Finally the end is in sight!
Talking of Carlton Pool I think that with the superb efforts of the volunteers we can finally see daylight, as the image above shows. Hopefully another couple of weeks will see an end to the project. A lot more Lesser Redpoll and Siskin on the reserve today, along with Redwing, Fieldfare and Goldcrest. A lone Ruff still remains feeding up on east marsh, along with ♂Goldeneye. Also of note today: Several Skylark over, Grey Wagtail, Green Sandpiper and high numbers of Wigeon!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Brandon Marsh

Several visits to Brandon Marsh over the past week in wind, rain and shine and despite not throwing up anything too out of the ordinary, there's still plenty to be found.

Jay - remarkable birds!
Jays, one of my favourite and vastly underrated birds are up to their usual autumn tricks, fighting among themselves for territory and then off burying acorns in preparation for the forthcoming winter. In fact their probably responsible for most of the young oak trees around Brandon, often forgetting exactly where they've hidden most of their booty!

Lesser Redpoll 
Redwings continue to arrive in decent numbers, though mostly found deep in cover and currently very skittish, feeding in the lower levels of hawthorn. Fieldfare on the other hand are still in smaller numbers and during my Tuesday visit I only managed to record four birds, which flew south calling over Sheep Field.

Tuesday also produced more Siskin and Lesser Redpoll sightings and at one stage near the volunteers tool store at least a single Brambling was heard overhead. Goldcrests and Robins are also beginning to increase in numbers, with some of our continental visitors beginning to arrive and join our sedentary population, continental Blackbirds can also be found on the reserve.

Siskin can be found high in the alder!
Today a surprise on arrival just prior to dawn, with a Little Owl calling from across on Brandon Lane, a bird not often seen or heard on the reserve. The pools continued to host two hundred or so Wigeon, very unusual for Brandon to sustain such high numbers (we must be doing something right) and a first winter ♂Goldeneye remains on East Marsh Pool. Snipe numbers are low for the time of year, with only two birds noted today and Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail can also be heard, mainly from Carlton Pool. In fact these were quite vocal today while the team were clearing more of the dreaded Crassula helmsii. Today was also a good day for vis-mig (visible migration) and Skylark passage was constant, along with various numbers of Meadow Pipit, Siskin, Redpoll and Redwing.

My highlight of the week was undoubtedly my close encounter with an Otter this morning! As I walked past the primrose bank a huge splash alerted me to something on the fisherman's pool. Suddenly, what I suspect was probably a young animal, came out of the water and ran up the bank only feet away from me, before a change of mind had it launch itself back into the pool and away. Having seen Otters on the reserve on several occasions, this was a stunning sighting and I'm unsure as to who was the most startled by the event, the Otter or me!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Quick Update

After a few recent trips further afield the past week has been spent either at Brandon Marsh, continuing the fight to clear Carlton Pool of the dreaded pygmy weed, or birding locally. We seem to have made real inroads into clearing the pool and I would imagine that, weather permitting, we could even begin to let the water back in some time soon. We're under no illusions that this will actually cure the problem, Crassula helmsii is almost impossible to eradicate and will certainly return, but at least it will give us a standpoint and the opportunity to instigate an ongoing management plan.

Real progress at Carlton Pool
On the birding front the most noticeable thing at Brandon is the continuing influx of winter thrushes, with Redwing and Fieldfare noted in reasonable numbers, Siskin and Redpoll have also been building but more slowly. Shortly after leaving on Tuesday afternoon I received a phone call from George Wootton reporting eight Black-tailed Godwit on East Marsh, to my knowledge this is the first godwit sighting of the year.

Fieldfare's returning!
On Friday I decided on another morning visit to Draycote Water and met up with the usual Draycote regulars. The water itself is still extremely quiet, with only a small flock of Wigeon in flight of note, but visible migration was still very evident with Redwing, Blackbird and Skylark movement overhead and in among the dozen or so Meadow Pipit along Farborough Bank, my first Rock Pipit of the autumn. Another local autumnal first was a Merlin, which flew through while chatting to Richard, continuing on across towards the inlet. A short time after, while still chatting away, a phone call from Bob Hazell sent us scurrying along towards the hide in the hope of seeing a Black Redstart which he'd picked up. Sadly, even by the short time it took us to get there, the bird had been flushed by joggers and cyclists and despite a good search of the area we never managed to relocate.

A nice fall of Brambling at Napton Churchyard, with around twenty or so birds was a nice diversion on the way home from Draycote. During my stay Buzzard, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Green Woodpecker and Goldcrest were also noted and with no birding this weekend, a non birding visit to see friends in Suffolk, I'm looking forward to getting out on the patch again this coming week.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Norfolk dawn to dusk!

Temp - 9/13C - Drizzle Early - Sunny Intervals then Rain later - Wind ➝ SW @ 15 mph

A spur of the moment decision to head off to the Norfolk coast for a dawn till dusk birding session on Monday and what a spectacular day it turned out to be, so no excuses for the length of this post!

Driving up the dirt road towards the Holme Dunes parking area just before first light it was obvious, even at this early hour with low cloud and drizzle, that there had been a major fall of birds over the weekend. In fact as I was setting up the scope and enjoying an early cuppa, Robins and Thrushes could be heard from almost every bush. By the time I'd reached the pine wood along the boardwalk I'd flushed a Woodcock, had a brief view of a gorgeous ♂Ring Ouzel and lost count of the Robins, Song Thrush, Blackbirds and Redwings I'd encountered on the way! To be honest I'd spent so much time checking out the hawthorn and bramble I'd hardly devoted any time to checking out the shoreline. In addition, a constant passage of Skylark, Linnet and Meadow Pipit, along with the odd Redpoll, Brambling and Siskin, had also kept me occupied.

Goldcrests Everywhere!
A ♀Ring Ouzel or juvenile just prior to entering the pines, which immediately on arrival was awash with more Robins and as many Goldcrests you could shake a stick at, this probably explains why a Sparrowhawk appeared several times during my stay! After checking out literally everything that dared move I'd managed to pick out a half dozen Chiffchaff and a single Yellow-browed Warbler, before I headed off towards Thornham Bank. Mealy Redpoll and a couple of late Swallows, but the star of the show had to be a gorgeous Great Grey Shrike, sadly no opportunities for a photo (story of the day) but some excellent scope views before I headed back. A fifteen minute scout for the reported Bluethroat near the steps proved unsuccessful, but I noted that later in the day the bird was trapped and ringed and thereafter was showing well, according to reports, on the south side of the broadwater! Apparently, I also missed out on a couple of Black Redstarts, but hey I was happy with me lot.

Loads more Thrushes and Robins on the walk back to the car, this time along the dirt road and picking up Fieldfare, Blackcap, BullfinchRed-legged Partridge, Mistle Thrush, Snipe, Kestrel and Marsh Harrier to add to the list. Another little gem was added when I decided to walk up past the houses before heading off. Here flitting around in one of the adjoining gardens was a single Firecrest, in among a small foraging flock of Long-tailed Tits, could the day get any better?

A stop off at RSPB Titchwell next and a short stop at the Parrinder Hide, followed by a walk down to the beach. Pinging Bearded Tit within the reed bed and Cetti's Warbler refused to be found while on route to the hide. The freshwater meadow held Little Egret, with Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Shoveler, Teal, Shelduck and Gadwall on the pools, plus Common Buzzard over. Unfortunately, the recent rain had filled the freshwater marsh considerably, reducing the amount of mud and therefore waders, but still included Dunlin, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Lapwing, Snipe and Black-tailed Godwit, the saltwater marsh held Avocet and Grey Plover. A short sea watch only yielded a single juvenile Gannet and the shore held the usual Turnstone, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Curlew and Oystercatcher, plus my first Snow Buntings of the autumn. A quick walk around to Patsy's pool prior to leaving, where a Jack Snipe had been reported paid off, but sadly the bird was fast asleep during my brief stay.

Snow Buntings are back!
Holkham Pines next and after a sandwich and a short stop to catch my breath, into the woods I went. Again so many birds flitting around to get your teeth into, mostly Goldcrest but today and with patience my luck was certainly in. Another Yellow-browed Warbler to add to the one at Holme and thank you to the two gents who's names I forgot to ask, who picked out a Pallas's Warbler, my first clear view of this beautiful little bird.

Red-flanked Bluetail next reported at Warham Greens on route to Cley. NO! It wasn't a twitch, it was simply on my route! Sadly, after a fruitless thirty minute stint with a few dozen other expectant birders and lots more Goldcrest, Robins and several Chiffchaff, I duly gave up and headed off, nope the twitching lark is definitely not my bag!

My final stop of the day was Cley Marsh at high tide and after parking up I decided to head off along the East Bank past Arnold's Marsh. Here a large group of Greylag Geese had a half dozen Brent Geese and a single Barnacle Goose within. A dozen or so Black-tailed Godwit over, another couple of late Swallows and the usual waders on the pool. Off in the distance a Barn Owl was quartering and as I reached the sea wall reports of a Great Grey Shrike, eventually locating my second for the day perched in a bush, locally known as 'Billy's Clump'. Finally with the rain falling once more and the day drawing to a close I spent my last half hour in a deserted Bishop's Hide. Here some excellent views of a ♂Bearded Tit perched atop the reeds, a half dozen Pintail in with the usual selection of waterfowl and overhead nine Swallows and six Grey Wagtail, which appeared to come down to roost. My final birds of an extraordinary day were Marsh Harrier and Barn Owl looking for a late meal and skeins of Pink-footed Geese passing overhead, a typical Norfolk end to a stunning day!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Spurn Away-day

Temp - 21C - Sunny with Occasional High Cloud - Wind SW - WSW@ 5 mph

The use of the Trusts minibus on Monday and an away-day with the Brandon team to visit our colleagues at Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts, Spurn National Nature Reserve. Turns out that despite enjoying some glorious weather our visit coincided with one of the quietest birding days at Spurn this autumn.

Wheatear - One of two seen at Spurn
After parking up around 9am we took a quick look around the parking area, locating a couple of Wheatear near the static caravans and several Wigeon out to sea, along with a couple of Grey Seals. From here we took a walk back along Easington Road to the churchyard. The walk down provided a couple of late Swallows on the wires, Blackcap, Ruff feeding in a nearby field and overhead Linnet, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Skylark. The churchyard held Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and our one and only Yellow-browed Warbler of the day. Thanks to Jeff Wesson for the photo, someone who possesses infinitely more patience that I do.

Yellow-browed Warbler ( thanks to Jeff for the image)
From here a walk around the Kilnsea triangle and a chance to check out the thousands of waders, recording the usual selection with: Ringed Plover, Greenshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Golden Plover, Redshank, Turnstone, Curlew and Grey Plover. A stop at the Canal Scrape Hide, which overlooks a small wetland and reedbed, failed to yield the reported Jack Snipe. Geoff and Derek managed Whinchat just along from the hide and a walk along the sea front had a few young Gannet and a lone Red-throated Diver passing through offshore.

One of many Brent Geese
After lunch a drive down to the Spurn parking area, stopping off near Chalk Bank to investigate a few Firecrest sightings provided little of note, save for a group of Brent Geese feeding close in. In fact the most amazing statistic of the day was the weather, who can imagine birding in shirt sleeves on the east coast of the UK in early October! A walk around the point was extremely quiet, Common Scoter off shore and with little passage only Chiffchaff, Robin, Song Thrush and Goldcrest recorded, the highlight though was Pete's Mediterranean Gull, very nicely picked out! The large flock of Starlings near the VFN Tower kept me personally entertained, trying to pick out the real bird calls from these fantastic mimics. Final bird of note for me was a single Redwing, which showed briefly before heading deep into the sea buckthorn.

Record shot of Merlin
A couple more stops before heading home, firstly at Beacon Lagoons and walk around the area provided one of the highlights of the day, with excellent views of Merlin, record image from Jeff once again. The lagoon held a nice flock of Brent Geese, along with seven Little GrebeBlack-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher and Ruff. Returning to the car park Goldfinch, Reed BuntingLinnet and Meadow Pipit, with Peter B picking out a couple of Roe Deer in the adjacent field.

Finally and with the light fading, a drive along to Sammy's Point for a last troll of the hawthorn and surrounding fields. Amazing views of a Sparrowhawk chasing prey right alongside the minibus, perching for some stunning views close by before heading off. More of the earlier waders to be had, a Tern Sp. for me, which I duly lost in the murk and some large flocks of Shelduck as the tide rushed in. The fields provided views of more Roe Deer, a couple of Brown Hare and a flock of Golden Plover dropped in just prior to heading home.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Weekend Update

A phone call from Tim Marlow on Saturday morning had Dee and I making a short stop at Napton for a look at a Redstart Tim had located. Although Dee managed a good view of the bird on the gated road that runs down to the old quarry, I only managed a fleeting glimpse before the bird went into cover. Thermals over the hill had a mixture of four Raven and seven Buzzard circling during our stay.

Still Blackcaps to be found
Sunday at Brandon Marsh still had excellent numbers of Wigeon on East Marsh Pool and a Peregrine made a brief appearance, before making off empty handed. A single Green Sandpiper flew off as we approached the screen area and a half dozen Snipe were recorded around the reserve. A few warblers still to be found, these included a brace of both Blackcap and Chiffchaff, plus a late Reed Warbler in the reeds in front of Big hide. Visible migration was ongoing with over three dozen Skylark, thirty odd Linnet, a couple of Siskin and at few Meadow Pipit, three Grey Wagtail were also noted, with two over central marsh and a single near the farm area.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Staying Local

Temp - 18C - Breezy with Showers and Occasional Sunny Spells - Wind SW @ 14 Knots

I spent yesterday (Thursday 4th) with the work party at Brandon Marsh, where we finally began the painstaking process of ridding Carlton Pool of the dreaded Crassula helmsii. Otherwise known as New Zealand Pygmy Weed, an invasive pond plant first introduced to the UK in 1911 from Tasmania and damn near impossible to get rid off! Birding highlights: (149) Wigeon, (2) Grey Wagtail, (2) Chiffchaff and the first autumn flock of Siskin/Lesser Redpoll, with around forty feeding in the alder near the Baldwin Hide.

Tackling the dreaded Crassula helmsii on Carlton Pool!
Today and with recent early starts I decided to stay local and begin at a civilised hour this morning, taking in Draycote Water and Napton Reservoir. Arriving at Draycote around 8:30am my first birds of the visit were a couple of House Martin, which passed overhead while I was getting organised. As I came up the bank I met up with Keith Foster, who immediately put me on to a Ringed Plover which was feeding close in near the pontoons.

One of two ♀Goosander - Riding the wash
Conditions were quite blustery with cloud cover and there was a definite sign of showers in the vicinity. We set off along Farborough Bank with the usual Pied Wagtails recorded and along the grass banks around twenty or so Meadow Pipits. Overhead a dozen Skylarks, in fact by the time I returned to the car park there had been a decent passage, with around 40 or so seen during the visit. A couple of ♀Goosander and after a catch up with Tim Marlow, who'd been lucky enough to see a Great Skua here on Wednesday, we paused for a while to check out the fields to the back of Farborough Spit. Down by the fence in one of the nearby hawthorns, a small warbler turned out to be a Chiffchaff.

The dynamic duo of Richard and Pete next and stories of a Warwickshire first for delighted Richard, with a Four-spotted Footman in his moth trap the other morning, well done to him. Keith and I paused for a cuppa in the hide during a downpour, Toft Shallows having excellent numbers of Tufted Duck, Great-crested Grebe and at least a dozen Little Grebe. No sign of the now infamous, Albino Squirrel in the area!

Wheatear - Thank you to the lovely lady!
On route back to the car park, more Mipits and Skylark, plus a single Jay but nothing more of interest to report. A stop off in the cafe for a coffee, where a delightful lady who we'd met earlier in the hide mentioned a Wheatear she'd spotted on the grass bank along Farborough Spit. Not wanting to be outdone, Keith and I decided to back track slightly after coffee and picked up the bird just where the lady had said! Final bird of the visit while packing the gear away, a single Siskin calling overhead.

On to Napton Reservoir, which to be honest was almost devoid of any waterfowl, save for several Great-crested Grebe and a single Tufted Duck, plus the usual Mallard and Coots. Grey Heron over and more Meadow Pipits here on the fields with at least a couple of dozen, a single Skylark over and two Swallows passed through before the rain came! Still a few dragonfly on the wing despite the conditions, with Migrant Hawker and Common Darter recorded. Skipped Napton Hill and headed back aboard for a snooze!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Norfolk Lifer!

Temp - 16C/18C - Breezy, Clear, Occasional High Cloud - Wind ENE @ 14/20 mph

Now let me see, winds from the east, autumn migration in full swing, a few rarities around, where would you go, Spurn, Lincolnshire coast, Norfolk?

Holme Dunes
After meeting at the Brandon car park at 6am Pete, Jim, Trevor and I decided to take a punt on Norfolk. With the UK weather presently stuck between low pressure to the west and high pressure to the east, things looked ideal. On route a couple of Red Kite and Common Buzzard over, and both Pete and I recorded single Barn Swallows before arriving at Holme Dunes around 8.30am.

Good Passage Of Meadow Pipit
Armed with 'twitcher' Pete's pager we were getting up to the minute birding information but for the Norfolk area things seemed a little quiet to start. While getting organised at the Beach Road car park the adjacent field contained a few early ticks with Green Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush all recorded.

Greenshank skimming - One of a half dozen at RSPB Titchwell
From here we took the coastal footpath, with a plan to walk to the Holme Bird Observatory and back, it was a gorgeous morning with a stiff breeze but to be honest, great conditions for any migrants to simply pass straight over! A Chiffchaff was singing in the thicket, Pete and Jim also picking up a late Garden Warbler, which I got a fleeting glimpse of before it hit deep cover, Blackcap also heard. On the marsh flybys of Little Egret and within the pools a lone Bar-tailed Godwit was seen. Several Skylark and Linnet overhead, along with a constant passage of Meadow Pipit and a single Common Snipe. At one stage to the west a distant flock of Pink-footed Geese, lovely to see these iconic birds returning to our shores from their breeding grounds in Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland. Out to sea the Brent Geese are also returning in numbers to the east coast and waders included the odd Grey Plover, and various counts of Oystercatcher, Redshank, Knot, Dunlin, CurlewTurnstone, not to mention the odd Ringed Plover.

Spotted Redshank - RSPB Titchwell
At this time of year the pine wood a Holme can offer some mouthwatering prospects and so it was no surprise that we spent a good while exploring. Goldcrest could be heard constantly throughout our stay and on the edge of the pines towards the shore a lovely Redstart, elusive at times but offering the odd tantalising view. Offshore a group of at least eight distant Gannet passed through. At one stage a brief view of the rear end of a Muntjac Deer and a Kestrel perched beautifully, unfortunately with it's back to us for the whole time! A Sparrowhawk overhead shorty after and we paused, not for the first time, to check our more bird calls, with Willow Tit and Coal Tit located.

However, despite being  reasonably confident of hearing Yellow-browed Warbler on at least two occasions, we failed to connect with these elusive little characters. The final birds of note before eventually moving on were a couple of Brambling, which calling high in the pines moved off, but not before I managed an albeit too brief a view. The walk back to the car, this time along the dirt road produced Marsh Harrier and a good deal of visible migration, with occasional pockets of Thrushes moving through, these contained mostly Song Thrush but included several Redwing within, a couple more Brambling overhead just prior to returning to the car park.

Red-breasted Flycatcher - A 1st for me, Jim & Trevor!!
Our next stop was purely good timing as on route further up the coast a Red-breasted Flycatcher had been relocated at Warham Greens, only ten minutes away. Now I'm not a 'twitcher', I simply enjoy my birding, but I have to say that I can see the attraction for people travelling hundreds of miles to see species not that common to the UK, provided it's not an obsession! This little bird was a real stunner and a pleasure to see, but talking to Pete it appears not all twitching is this simple, thankfully we located the bird immediately on our arrival!

Grey Plover - Sadly not one of the summer plumage birds!
After the excitement of the flycatcher we decided to spend the remainder of the afternoon at RSPB Titchwell, deciding to forgo reports of Cattle Egret, Great Egret and Ring Ouzel in the area. A quick scout on arrival for the reported Yellow-browed Warbler in the car park proved fruitless and after joining the footpath the first Cetti's Warbler of the day. A flock of around 60+ Golden Plover to the west and a stop at one of the channels produced WigeonPochard, Tufted Duck, Teal and a lone ♀Red-crested Pochard.

The freshwater marsh was once again awash with waders and these included various counts of: Black-tailed GodwitAvocet, Ringed Plover, Knot, Dunlin, Ruff, Oystercatcher, Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew. A few Egyptian Geese were also present, Shelduck and the usual selection of gulls, with Yellow-legged Gull the pick of the bunch. The saltwater marsh held excellent numbers of Grey Plover, several still showing signs of summer plumage and before ending up at the beach, Spotted Redshank. A short sea-watch in the now chilly wind ended with a fly-by Great-crested Grebe, Gannet, a small flock of Common Scoter, a lone Red-throated Diver and several Eider Duck. On the beach Sanderling, Turnstone and Oystercatcher, plus a couple of Marsh Harrier over the wet meadow on the walk back.

With a species count of 95, fish, chips and a pint on route home, an altogether stunning day in Norfolk!