Monday, February 29, 2016

Norfolk Conclusion!

The weather continued to behave during the rest of our Norfolk trip with some long periods of sunshine and only a brief shower on Sunday morning to spoil things.

Dee managed a record shot of Spoonbill as it drifted overhead.
A walk down to the beach at Titchwell Saturday morning for a sea-watch before breakfast produced Slavonian Grebe, rafts of Common Scoter, several Goldeneye and three Red-breasted Merganser. Later we parked up on the A149 and walked out across the fields and marshes to Gun Hill. We were well aware that the recent Shore Larks hadn't been reported for a few days but our cup is always half full and it's a very enjoyable walk. Two Red Kite and two Common Buzzard and as we were halfway across a Spoonbill flew directly overhead, did a few circles and then carried on towards Holkham fresh marsh. As expected no sign of Shore Lark but a lone Guillemot close inshore, probably exhausted with several gulls pestering, was a year tick, so too Red-throated Diver. On the walk back a detour located the Great White Egret on Holkham fresh marsh and a final look at the Pink-footed Geese before they head off!

Unlikely to be back in Norfolk before summer so a final look at the Pinkies!
A stop at Blakeney fresh marsh for Dee to take a look at the Lapland Buntings proved difficult, especially with photographers in the exact location I'd seen them on Monday! We did manage two individuals, along with Meadow Pipit, Skylarks and a single Rock Pipit, no sign of Twite this time!

Snow Buntings
On to Cley for a cuppa and a walk past Arnold's Pool to the seashore produced little of note but the several Snow Buntings along the shingle were worth the effort. At least four Red-throated Diver offshore and unbelievably on route back to the car a second Spoonbill of the day, heading north before disappearing from sight. The Titchwell harrier roost produced three 'ringtail' Hen Harrier and a Barn Owl out towards Thornham.

Brambling at RSPB Titchwell
Sunday was a more leisurely day and a little time at RSPB Titchwell before heading off for lunch in Hunstanton. A sea-watch produced more Goldeneye, Common Scoter and Red-breasted Merganser and the centre feeders still had three Brambling and male Siskin. Another look at Choseley Drying Barns produced a couple of boxing Hares, probably the same two I had Monday, plus a Norfolk first, when two Raven flew north cronking away!

Lots of Fulmar in residence at Hunstanton
A walk below the cliffs at Hunstanton gave us the opportunity to see the Fulmar colony, with many in residence. While here a Kittiwake drifted along the cliff face before heading back out to sea.

Species Seen:

Mute Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Canada Goose, Brent Goose, Graylag Goose, Shelduck, Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-legged Partridge, Grey Partridge, Pheasant, Red-throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Fulmar, Cormorant, Little Egret, Great Egret, Grey Heron, Red Kite, Hen Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Knot, Sanderling Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Ruff, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Kittiwake, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Guillemot, Rock Dove!, Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove, Barn Owl, Kingfisher, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, Rock Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Stonechat, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Raven, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Brambling, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Reed Bunting, Lapland Bunting.

Friday, February 26, 2016

North Norfolk!

Despite enjoying a day out with the Brandon Marsh team here on Monday a few days at the Briarfields Hotel in Titchwell gives Dee and I the opportunity to explore more of the wonderful North Norfolk Coast. Today we took a leisurely stroll around RSPB Titchwell in conditions you don't often experience in this neck of the woods in February, flat calm & mostly bright! Also bumped into Mr Keith Barnsley at Titchwell, another Brandon volunteer, although not sure what the major 'twitch' was!

Several Grey Plover at RSPB Titchwell.
All the usual waders and wildfowl were recorded, including Grey Plover, Avocet and Bar-tailed Godwit, plus a few year ticks in the form of Water Pipit and Common Scoter, with a whole raft of the latter offshore. While sea watching several Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and Dee's favourite Sanderling scurrying along the beach.

At least three Brambling on the Titchwell feeders!
While enjoying a coffee overlooking the feeders three Brambling and a nice looking male Siskin, before a Sparrowhawk scattered all asunder. Lots of Marsh Harrier activity with a least five birds on the wing at once, including a stonking looking male.

Later in the day another year tick, this time a Spotted Redshank at Thornham and on route here at least two day hunting Barn Owls. A walk to Holme and back produced some huge flocks of Brent Geese and Pink-footed Geese, with a large flock of Pinkies high and heading north at dusk, on their way home perhaps in these calm conditions?

As the hotel bar is calling rather than post a long list of species seen today I thought I'd leave you with a few of Dee's images of an enjoyable day!

Stonechat at RSPB Titchwell

Ringed Plover

Little Egret


Monday, February 22, 2016

Brandon Away-Day #2

I managed to secure the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust minibus at short notice and took twelve of the Brandon Marsh volunteers on our second, and very long, away-day of the year. The day took in various sites in both Cambridgeshire and Norfolk and ended with the traditional fish and chip supper at Eye on route home.

The team hidden and sheltering from the chilly wind!
While having breakfast at Peterborough services a Dartford Warbler popped up on BirdGuides and being only 10 miles from our current position was well worth a try. We arrived at Cow Way in the village of Coates, Cambridgeshire shortly after safely coaxing the minibus along the track that leads to the sighting location. This is off a bridal path that looks over an area of scrub. Two Stonechats and a very attractive Yellowhammer were immediately located, plus a Grey Wagtail over and distant Cranes calling were a bonus. Unfortunately after a half hour and the clock ticking we decided to move on, our first dip of the day wasn't really a surprise!

Superb flight shots of Cranes at Eldernell - Courtesy of John Osbourne
With Eldernell just around the corner, this was our next stop. Here a large group of Whooper Swans at distance, Marsh Harrier and a couple of Roe Deer before excellent views of two Cranes, probably the closest I've ever had here and superbly photographed by John Osbourne. Golden Plover were literally in there 1000s and constantly on the move, other notables included, Kingfisher, Shelduck and Common Buzzard.

One of several Brambling at Flitcham Abby Farm - Courtesy of John Osbourne.
Over the border into Norfolk and a stop at Flitcham Abbey Farm. A brief stay in the single small hide before being overwhelmed by our numbers and then on to take a look at the finch flock from the hay bale viewing area. Several Brambling, along with large flocks of Chaffinch and Linnet, plus Dave Green managed to photograph a female Chinese Water Deer before we all had an interesting raptor encounter! With the bird grounded, feeding on prey and in several scopes! Was this the Pallid Harrier, was it a Rough-legged Buzzard, sadly not but an extremely light phase Common Buzzard, the ID of which certainly gave even the most experienced of us a hard time nailing down!

Gorgeous Lapland Bunting at Blackeney - Photo by me!
With the day moving on fast our next stop was Blakeney Fresh Marsh for Lapland Bunting and as per usual the ingrates disappeared into the distance immediately on arrival, leaving only myself and trusty assistant Geoff Hood to secure the bus! If only they'd all waited for a few instructions having gone the wrong way!!! It's at this point that I must thank Pete Worthy for his superb directions and knowledge of the area, Pete wasn't with us today but helped immensely via telephone.

After a wasted eternity we eventually caught up with a half dozen Lapland Bunting and enjoyed some terrific views. Also among the group were several Skylark, at least two Twite, Meadow Pipit and a single Rock Pipit, a really enjoyable 45 minutes and the distant skeins of Brent Geese are well worth a mention.

Several Turnstone at Brancaster Staithe - John Osbourne
With time running out and being aware that we wanted to end the day at Roydon Common for the Harrier roost we decided on foregoing Shorelarks at Gun Hill, quite a walk, in favour of a visit to Brancaster Staithe. This turned out to be an excellent decision as immediately on arrival and even before I'd turned the engine off a Red-necked Grebe was located in the harbour. A very enjoyable 40 minutes produced a nice surprise, with an unexpected Mediterranean Gull, this along with: Grey Plover, (2) Ringed Plover, (5) Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Shelduck and a further surprise of Merlin! Along one of the channels (5) Red-breasted Merganser, which included a single male).

Black-tailed Godwit showing signs of summer plumage by John Osbourne
A stop on route to Roydon Common at Chalk Pit Lane near Cholsey Barns failed to yield any Rough-legged Buzzard but welcome sightings included boxing Hares, Grey Partridges and Red-legged Partridges, along with (2) Marsh Harrier and (3) Common Buzzard. Sadly Royston Common roost failed to deliver the Pallid Harrier (not reported for two consecutive days) but you can't complain when other sightings included (2) Barn Owls and (5) 'ringtail' Hen Harriers. A further bonus was the Badger than ran across in front of the bus as we returned to Brandon Marsh.

My thanks to John Osbourne, who always takes the time to send me his images of the day and helps immensely to enhance my blog!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Diary Entry #15

With time running out at Brandon Marsh to complete various projects before the arrival of our spring migrants the pressure is certainly on! I'm also in the process of editing the 2015 Brandon Marsh Report, along with Jim Rushforth, which we normally have ready for publication in April and so birding has been a little curtailed of late!

I've been spending a lot of time recently on the Farm Reedbed clearing invasive willow and birch. One of my long-term goals here is to produce a small area for growing seed crops. The work is ongoing and the aim is to eventually be able to feed seed-eating birds during the winter months. Of course with Brandon being a SSSI site there is a long way to go yet and various permissions need to be undertaken.

Amazed to snap these two Bewick's Swans on Saturday morning not far from the marina!
Closer to home I was alerted on Saturday morning by a fellow moorer to a group of swans that had gathered on the adjacent field. At first there was no sign so with time on my hands I decided to have a look a little further afield. You can imagine how amazed I was to snap two Bewick's Swans as they departed the area, thanks to Narrowboat Enigma for the heads up!

Green-winged Teal, Daventry CP - Courtesy of Alan Boddington
The same afternoon Dee and I had a stroll around Daventry Country Park and managed to catch up with the now long staying Green-winged Teal. Asleep on reeds in the small pool during our visit offered no photo opportunities but thanks to Alan Boddington for his record shot, who'd visited earlier in the day!

Gorgeous colours over Napton Reservoir during our walk!
Sunday afternoon Dee and I took a walk around Napton reservoir and the surrounding footpaths. The water itself held Circa 30 Tufted Duck, (10) Pochard, (5) Great-crested Grebes and the usual large selection of Gulls. Raven activity at the marina and in the general area has been obvious more recently and three birds passed noisily overhead during our walk.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Diary Entry #14

Just a very brief update for today! Barn Owl on route to Brandon Marsh this morning just prior to Birdingbury on the Stockton Road. Then spent more time willow bashing on the Farm Reedbed. Grey Wagtail on the Lafarge roof while parking up, Marsh Tit in New Hare Covert and with most paths flooded only had a short stay in the Carlton Hide. Notables on the pool (2) Great Crested Grebe, (3) Shelduck and a single Oystercatcher. Although 2 pair of Goosander were reported by a member of the team later in the day.

Grey Wagtail on the Lafarge roof early morning!
JR was ringing near the 'Olive Bench' early doors and captured a Yellowhammer, a rare visitor to the reserve with the last known sighting over a year ago. Finally tea in the Nature Centre after work produced of note a single Brambling near the feeders!

Finally suspicious activity has been reported, particularly around the reserves Owl boxes. On Friday last two photographers were seen directly under one of the Barn Owl boxes and recently I personally questioned two, possible the same two, who were found at one of the Tawny Owl boxes. Please report any suspicious activity to the Centre or drop me an email.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Diary Entry #13

Spent Thursday with the Brandon Marsh volunteers and worked with a small party willow bashing on the Farm Reedbed. Hopefully before this years breeding season commences most of the invasive birch and willow will have been cleared. While packing the gear away at the tool store a Brimstone butterfly was on the wing, my first species of the year!

Willow bashing on the Farm Reedbed at Brandon!
Today I spent a few hours at Brandon Marsh birding and completed a full species count with 52 seen throughout my visit! Species of note on the Pools included close up views of a ♀Goosander, Little Egret, (16) Pochard, Great Crested Grebe, (4) Shelduck, Pintail pair, Water Rail and a single Little Grebe at Carlton Pool.

♀Goosander having a bad hair day!
Other notables throughout the visit included a single Skylark over, Treecreeper, Nuthatch, (4) Siskin, (2) Redwing, Green Woodpecker, (6) Bullfinch and Kingfisher. Gulls were well represented and in among the hoard of Black-headed Gulls were: (11) Common Gull, (5) Lesser Black-backed Gull and (6) Herring Gull.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Brandon Away-day!

My first 'Away-Day' of the year with the Brandon Marsh Volunteers and my thanks to the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust one again for the use of their minibus, much appreciated. For our first outing I decided to take the guys for a 'twitch' before moving on to the Forest of Dean, where despite some challenging conditions #StormHenry we managed to have a reasonably fruitful outing.

Penduline Tit - Ably photographed by John Osbourne
After the traditional McDonalds breakfast, we are indeed a resourceful bunch, we arrived at our first stop at Horsbere Brook for the long staying Penduline Tits. Having personally visited a few weeks earlier it was a great chance to see these stunning birds for a second time. We had the whole place to ourselves and thankfully it wasn't long before the team enjoyed some excellent views, a lifer for several and getting the day off to a great start. While here several small flocks of Redwing/Fieldfare over and a Chiffchaff also recorded.

Mandarin Duck - Skulking among the debris away from the main pond - Photo by John Osbourne
Next stop the Forest of Dean starting at Cannop Ponds. These are actually a series of manmade ponds and lie, as the names suggests, along the Cannop Valley. Those who know it are aware that's its a great place to see Mandarin Ducks. Despite the apparent lack of these elegant birds on the main pond, which was a little disconcerting, several were soon located in among the debris and fallen trees in the adjacent flooded areas. The site also has an open grass area with benches where birds can be found ground feeding. Here a single Crossbill flew up into the canopy as we approached, unfortunately not relocated and after spending a good hour in the area I personally managed of note: (4) Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Marsh Tit, Song Thrush, Green Woodpecker, (2) Raven over and a distant Mistle Thrush in song.

Nuthatch by John Osborne at Cannop Ponds
Our next stop was New Fancy Viewpoint, formerly the site of the New Fancy coal mine and the old spoil heap now provides spectacular views across the Forest. It is an ideal place to watch birds of prey soaring above the woodland and in particular Goshawk. Sadly we abandoned this shortly after arrival, with #StormHenry now beginning to bite. It wasn't only pointless, it was becoming pretty dangerous too, Fred almost lost his hat for goodness sake!!

Grey Wagtail while visiting Wenchford Picnic Area - photo by John Osbourne
On for lunch at Parkend cricket pitch, where on other visits Hawfinch have been seen feeding at the base of the Yew trees. Unfortunately not today in the conditions and despite high spirits from the team and Sparrowhawk and Buzzard a somewhat despondent birding mood was beginning to descend. However, this was soon swept away, when after moving on to Parkend Church at least three Hawfinch, including a stunning male were briefly viewed before getting blown from the treetops. More Nuthatch here too, along with a stonking ♂Siskin.

A poor but welcome record shot of Dipper at Wenchford, Forest of Dean - by ME!
We abandoned a visit to Symonds Yat, pointless in the high winds and opted to move on through to Ashleworth Ham, but not before stopping off at Wenchford Picnic Site, where Dippers have been a feature. With spirits restored it wasn't long before a single bird was located and thankfully all the team managed excellent views, Fred's first this millennium! A gorgeous Grey Wagtail was also on view and photographed by John Osbourne, my official (unpaid) photographer during the visit!!

Ashleworth Ham, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust for those who are unfamiliar lies west of the River Severn, on the Ham Road between the villages of Ashleworth and Tirley. This is part of the floodplain and attracts, as you would imagine, lots of wildfowl in the winter. We spent an hour or so here recording of note (3) Egyptian Geese, (5) Pintail, (5) Snipe and various numbers of Gadwall, Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal and Greylags.

A final stop at Kempsey on route home for Short-eared Owls was uninspiring thanks to #StormHenry and the fish and chips at Alcester were equally so. However, despite the challenging weather conditions a very enjoyable and entertaining day out!