Thursday, November 24, 2016

Norfolk Dawn till Dusk!

On a whim I decided to head off to the Norfolk coast on Wednesday! The weather looked good after recent storms and judging by recent reports the sea watching, one of my favourite birding pass times, was throwing up some excellent results.

Stonechat ~ Always one posing for a photo at Salthouse!
I began at Salthouse and arrived after a three hour drive at the Beach Road car park (or whats left of it after the 2013 flood) shortly after sunrise. Despite passing through some serious fog on route I was amazed to find an almost clear sky and good visibility! Early dog walkers were out in force, mostly controlled but I was aggrieved to see a Spaniel bounding across the marsh flushing everything in sight, it's idiotic owner blowing frantically on her dog whistle, the dog paying absolutely no notice! I won't publish my comments!

Snow Bunting ~ always brightens the day when these are around!
Notwithstanding my first thought was to check offshore and here at least four Red-throated Divers were found, impossible to miss almost glowing in the low sunlight. Good numbers of Gannet, both adult and juvenile passing through during my initial scans and a single Guillemot and Great Crested Grebe on the water. I walked west across the shingle towards whats known as 'Little Eye' and caught site of at least thirty or so Snow Bunting feeding on the shingle. On the fences close by Linnet, Meadow PipitReed Bunting and a pair of Stonechat, plus over towards the edge of the pools an excellent count of five Shore Larks, a great start to the day.

After a brew up I drove a little further around the A149 towards Cley, parking up at Walsey Hills NR. Crossing over I walked the East Bank passing Serpentine and Arnold's Marsh before another scan offshore. The walk down to the beach produced at least twenty or so Bearded Tit along the reed bed, the marsh and pools holding a selection of wildfowl and waders. The sea once again produced, with at least another half dozen Red-throated Divers passing through and more Gannets.

A stop for lunch at Cley beach car park in glorious sunshine and yet another sea watch. Here Red-throated Diver once again, they seemed constant today but two additions to the day list. Firstly a Velvet Scoter, which flew through with a group of Common Scoter and then a single Little Auk, which settled on the sea for a short period before heading off.

Pink-footed Geese
My final destination was RSPB Titchwell but I stopped for a look at the Pink-footed Geese at Holkham. Plenty to search through, but sadly nothing unusual among the flocks, although while scanning three Grey Partridge were a nice addition.

I spent the rest of the day enjoying Titchwell and managed to catch the high tide just before 14:30hrs. Before heading straight down to the beach a scan of the fresh marsh for Water Pipit was successful, but the bird was way to the back of the dry pool. A Greenshank was also a late bonus! The sea as hoped for offered rich pickings and an enjoyable 90 minutes with: (4) Velvet Scoter, (5) Long-tailed Duck, plus single Red-necked Grebe and Great Northern Diver plus various counts of Red-breasted Merganser, Common Scoter, Great Crested Grebe and Goldeneye, plus a fly by Little Gull.

An excellent day out ended with the Harrier roost and despite not connecting with any Hen Harriers, the sheer amount of Marsh Harriers coming in was a sight to behold!!

Species Seen:

Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brent Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge, Grey Partridge, Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Little Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Little Gull, Little Auk, Guillemot, Wood Pigeon, Kingfisher, Skylark, Shore Lark, Water Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Robin, Stonechat, Blackbird, Redwing, Fieldfare, Goldcrest, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Bearded Tit, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting, Snow Bunting

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Diary Update #55

Visits to Brandon Marsh Sunday and today, plus a stop off at Draycote Water on route home to catch up with Great Northern Diver.

Goldeneye ~ 2 Males and this female at Brandon on Sunday!
Sunday was the best of the two visits and yielded a good selection of wildfowl which included of note: Shelduck, (3) Goosander, (3) Goldeneye, (2) Pochard (160) Wigeon, (65) Teal and a good number of Shoveler, which went uncounted! Other notables included (2) Little Egret, Grey Wagtail and various counts of Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Redwing and Fieldfare.

Caspian Gull ~ The perfect opportunity to improve your ID skills!
A large number of Gulls on site included (55) Lesser Blacked-backed Gull but the stars had to be Yellow-legged Gull and Caspian Gull. I'm not a gull man myself but when you have a verified Caspian Gull on site its a perfect opportunity to study a bird that I'm totally unfamiliar with! In fact most of the Brandon regulars, apart from one or two, would say the same and this is perhaps why I'm certain the species is under-recorded here.

Caspian Gull ~ Alternative view!
Todays visit to Brandon was pretty dire! With the torrential rain over the past few days the reserve is beginning to flood, although we got off lightly with Storm Angus and so I don't think we'll suffer too much disruption.

A Loon in gloom! ~ Great Northern Diver at Draycote today!
On route home today I stopped off at Draycote Water to see if I could catch up with at least one of the three reported Great Northern Divers. As it happens it wasn't to much of a stress as I spotted Mr Draycote, Bob Hazell on top of Farborough Bank when I arrived. Bob was photographing a couple of Dunlin and as we were catching up on the gossip one of the divers was showing nicely just off the bank.

Yellow-legged Gull ~ A chance to check out the wing structure!

Yellow-legged and Caspian Gull together!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Scotland 2016

Another excellent week in Scotland over and although the birding, particularly around the coastal areas was pretty quiet, we still managed to nail most of our target species. Leading on from Wednesday's post, by the end of the stay we'd completed a second visit to WWT Caerlaverock, a day around Luce Bay and Wigton, plus an afternoon at RSPB Loch Laven.

Great views across the Solway Firth at sunset and Barnacle Geese heading off to roost!
More Barnacle Geese heading off...
WWT Caerlaverock failed to produce any additional bird species from our previous visit but did include a couple of Roe Deer and along with the spectacular Barnacle Geese and Whooper Swans, Scaup, Green-winged Teal and male Hen Harrier were once again recorded.

Rock Pipit ~ A constant throughout our stay!
Our day around Luce Bay began at Auchenmal, where the A747 begins to run along the shoreline and offers great views across the area. Our first stop of many during our visit immediately produced a couple of Red-throated Loons and further scans revealed 50+ Common Scoter, Guillemot, Shag and (2) Red-breasted Merganser. No matter where we stopped Rock Pipits were a constant companion and with plenty of scrub in the surrounding areas a Stonechat would occasional pop up along the route. Several small groups of waders could be found and within Dunlin, Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew.

Another Waxwing encounter!
Three Ravens were also noted during the day and other species included Sparrowhawk. Tree Sparrow, Waxwing, Goldeneye, Goosander and while at Port William, where we stopped for lunch, Great Northern Loon and Merlin! Our day ended in fading light at Wigtown and despite a decent list a notable absentee was Pink-footed Goose, this area being of national importance to the species!

On Saturday we made our way across to Dunfirmline for a family celebration and stopped for a few hours at RSPB Loch Leven. Here we visited the three hides and although an enjoyable visit only managed to add Pink-footed Goose and Great Crested Grebe to our holiday list!

Species Seen:

Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Greenland White-fronted Goose, Canada Goose, Barnacle Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Scaup, Tufted Duck, Eider Duck, Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Green-winged Teal, Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge, Red-throated Loon, Great Northern Loon, Slavonian Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Shag, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Red Kite, Hen Harrier, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Peregrine, Merlin, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Black Guillemot, Guillemot, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Dipper, Waxwing, Dunnock, Robin, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Wren, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Willow Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Raven, Starling, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Midweek Update ~ Scotland

We're over halfway through our week here in south-west Scotland and last night the snow arrived, albeit at slightly higher levels.

View across the Solway Firth from Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve
On Monday we drove out to Stranraer and Port Patrick in the hope of some decent sea watching, unfortunately with light winds this proved disappointing. On route we stopped off at Loch Ryan and here single Slavonian Grebe and Eider, plus small groups of Teal and Wigeon. Two Little Egrets were an interesting sighting with not that many to the area in general. Gannet, Black Guillemot, Shag, Rock Pipit, Rock Dove, Stonechat, Grey Wagtail, Buzzard, Kestrel and Peregrine were the best of note at Corsewell but the excellent lunch in the Corsewell Lighthouse Hotel more than made up for the birding!

View from Corsewell Lighthouse Hotel!
We've visited a number of reserves throughout the local area too over the last few days which have included the Caerlavarock National Nature Reserve and the RSPB sites at Mersehead Nature Reserve and today Ken-Dee Marshes, the latter to catch up with Greenland White-fronted Geese, which regularly winter here.

Stonechat ~ NNR Caerlaverock
We took the 3 mile return walk, habitat includes woodland, grassland and marsh with a single hide and viewing platform. After a good search of the surrounding fields we managed thirteen White-fronted Geese in total, plus eleven Meadow PipitRed Squirrel and a selection of woodland species pictured below! Loch Ken itself proved pretty quiet overall with the only species of note 30+ Eurasian Teal and a brace of Heron. The area is also well know as the 'Galloway Kite Trail', which was set up following the successful re-introduction of Red Kites into Galloway after an absence of 130 years. We managed at least eight today, along with three Buzzard and two Raven.

Red Squirrel
After Ken-Dee reserve we stopped off in the picturesque village of New Galloway for coffee and cake. We parked next to the bridge along the high street which passes over Mill Burn, a fast running stream and while having a quick look over Dee suddenly spotted movement. A Dipper, which we watched briefly but unfortunately by the time I returned with the camera there was no further sign.

The instant before this Willow Tit was clobbered by a Coal Tit!
On Tuesday we visited Mersehead Nature Reserve and took the 2.5 mile coastal trail. Before setting off coffee in the centre, which has great views of the bird feeders and the reserve beyond. Here the highlight was a Weasel, which happily scurried around right in front of the window on several occasions. There are two hides and the track that leads down to the Bruaich Hide held Yellowhammer, Redwing, Fieldfare and Reed Bunting in the hedgerows. From the hide huge flocks of the Svalbard Barnacle Geese population, 30+ Pintail and good numbers of Wigeon and Teal. The tide flows out for miles here and so the walk along the beach area was pretty quiet, save for a small flock of Dunlin, three Ringed Plover within. Sleet started to fall as we headed back to the centre but the best was saved until last, a Merlin, perched on a post offering great scope views was well worth getting soaked for!


Great Spotted Woodpecker

Coal Tit
Willow Tit ~ Unscathed!

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Sunday 'Twitch'

The last few days here in south-west Scotland have been spent enjoying the glorious, if not chilly weather and has even included a nearby 'twitch', Dee and I usually preferring to find our own birds.

Waxwings ~ Three of seven flighty birds
The unlikely 'twitch' took place on Sunday morning when we were informed that just 28 miles north in Moffat a small group of Waxwings were showing well. After breakfast we headed off and within the hour we were parked in the Old School car park, another lone birder also on site. Although unusually flighty we immediately spotted seven of these charismatic birds perched in the only tree in the car park. Within seconds they were off but after a short wait reappeared, this time in a bulging Rowan tree in the church grounds opposite.

Waxwing at Moffat
After enjoying the spectacle for nearly an hour and a coffee in the local coffee shop we headed off in search of Red Squirrels, one of Dee's favourite mammals.

We decided to check out Eskrigg Nature Reserve, which is located about 1.5 miles south-west of Lockerbie Town Centre, on the east side of South Turnmuir Plantation. Fascinatingly the reserve is on the site of a former curling pond built around the mid 19th century on land owned by the Castle Milk Estate. The site is now managed by Lockerbie Wildlife Trust and became a nature reserve in 1988. The area includes heathland, wetland and coniferous woodland and the Scots Pine is known to support a healthy population of Red Squirrel!

Red Squirrel ~ One of a number of Dee's photos!
It was a really enjoyable walk, encountering all the usual woodland species: Coal Tit, Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest, Siskin and even Raven overhead. Of course the target today was Red Squirrel and thankfully we had no issues finding them. Three in fact, which fed quite happily in front of us, almost coming to within touching distance, much to the delight of the wife!

Winter Break!

Every year Dee and I head off to spend a week away in a cottage to celebrate her birthday and this year we're based near the Solway Firth and the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust reserve, Caerlaverock in south-west Scotland.

Whooper Swans ~ Awaiting the 11am feed!
This is a huge reserve and covers a 587 hectare site at Eastpark Farm, on the north shore of the Solway Firth to the south of Dumfries. This particular reserve is not like WWT Slimbridge, in the sense that there are no separate compounds holding captive birds and mammals, so everything you discover is wild. Almost the entire Svalbard population of Barnacle Goose overwinters in this area, with many of the birds often at Caerlaverock for part or all of this period; their protection by the reserve has enabled the population to recover from just 500 birds in the 1940s, to over 25,000 now.

Whooper Swan
Waking on our first morning to clear blue skies we were left in no doubt as to our location with the surrounding fields resonating to the sound of Whooper Swans and Barnacle Geese. After breakfast we headed off down to the reserve, a stiff northerly breeze keeping the temperature in single figures. After familiarising ourselves with the layout our first stop was the Folly Pond Hide, where a Green-winged Teal had been reported recently. Here large numbers of Wigeon and around twenty or so Eurasian Teal, plus single Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit but at this point no sign of our target bird.

Scaup ~ Taking advantage!
At this particular time of year two feeds a day take place and so Dee and I headed off to the Peter Scott Observatory, which overlooks Whooper Pond and where the feed takes place. It's an excellent opportunity to see the wildfowl at close range, including a Scaup among the Tufted Ducks during our visit. A great touch is a computer within the observatory, which allows you to enter the details of any colour ringed Whoopers you can pick up on, offering a fascinating and detailed insight into the birds movements, age etc.

Green-winged Teal ~ Folly Pond Hide
Prior to a late lunch in the nature centre we decided on visits to the Avenue Tower and Saltcot Merse Observatories, stopping off at various lookouts: Pintail, Curlew and Shoveler noted. The observatories offer stunning views out towards the Solway Firth and the Lake District beyond and produced some spectacular views of 1000's of Barnacle Geese. A stonking male Hen Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine and Common Buzzard provided an amazing raptor fest and after lunch we eventually caught up with the Green-winged Teal back at the Folly Pond Hide.