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!