Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Norfolk Dawn til Dusk ~ 🍁

☀️⛅️13C Tuesday 22nd October 2019 ~ A hastily organised day trip to the Norfolk coast with Alan Boddington, Geoff Hood and Pete Worthy. The easterly winds over the last few days, always welcomed by any birder in the autumn months had unfortunately diminished and we'd returned to the usual westerly airflow by the time we arrived at Cley. Nevertheless, the Norfolk coast is always unpredictable at any time and a delight at this time of year. The weather today was glorious, with mostly clear skies throughout our visit.

Juvenile Gannet  One of a number fishing just offshore
We spent the entire morning at Cley seawatching from around the old shelter and walking along the shingle beach almost as far as Arnold's Marsh in search of migrants. There were plenty of Guillemot on the water and a number of Red-throated Divers, one still in almost full summer plumage and the odd Grey Seal would make an appearance. Occasionally small groups of Eider and Dark-bellied Brent Geese would come through but would pale into insignificance when the huge skeins of Pink-footed Geese passed overhead, one of the iconic sights of Norfolk at this time of year. Passerines were coming in off the sea regularly too but nothing unusual and seemed to be all Skylarks or Meadow Pipits.

Snow Bunting dropped down briefly directly in front 
The highlights while here had to be three Little Auks, a Snow Bunting, which dropped down right in front of us and a Grey Phalarope, the latter only a departing dot as I heard the shout-out a little late! Plus another highlight for me was the amazing sight of Gannets diving, mostly juveniles, which I'd never tire of seeing.
Other offshore observations included: DunlinRinged PloverCommon ScoterGreat Crested GrebeKittiwake and Razorbill.

Next stop was the relatively new North Point Pools at Wells where we enjoyed a leisurely walk and some hedge bashing. Best we could come up with was Blackcap, Goldcrest and Bullfinch along the hedges and on the water of note Egyptian GooseGreat White Egret and Black-tailed Godwit. Three Red Kite overhead, plus four passing Curlew were also noted.

Rock Pipit on the 'Tidal Marsh'
With the day fading away we headed on to RSPB Titchwell for a late Seawatch and to check out the Harrier roost. At the centre, there was a number of Siskin in the alders and a Brambling was heard calling but not seen. On route to the beach, Geoff and Alan visited the Island Hide briefly, where they managed to connect with a reported Water Pipit, while Pete and I headed on to the beach, noting a Rock Pipit on the Tidal Marsh.
Also of note on the Tidal & Fresh Marsh: StonechatRuffGrey Plover, Knot, Snipe, Avocet, and Little Egret,

Sanderling almost scurrying around my feet on RSPB Titchwell beach
There's was nothing new to add from the Seawatch which was particularly quiet but the beach was a hive of activity with Sanderling, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher and Turnstone.

Bearded Reedling  ~ Taken with high ISO in fading light
On route back, a Merlin darted across the Tidal Marsh before we settled on to one of the benches to watch the sunset and enjoy the wildlife. A couple of Chinese Water Deer were spotted opposite the West Bank Track on the Grazing Marsh and we were delighted when a pair of Bearded Reedlings began feeding almost within touching distance from our bench. They stayed the entire time until almost dark entertaining the passers-by before heading off to roost.

Wonderful sight of 100s of Golden Plover arriving at RSPB Titchwell
Hundreds of Golden Plover arrived onto the 'Freshwater Marsh' looking stunning when caught in the light of the setting sun, yet another highlight, along with a modest Starling murmuration. Just the five Marsh Harriers noted into the roost for us, along with twenty-two Little Egrets and a Pipperstrelle Bat as we departed after a long and enjoyable day.

Thanks To Alan, Geoff (loved the cake) and Pete for their excellent company.

Day-List:

Mute Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Brent Goose, Shelduck, Egyptian Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Pheasant, Red-throated Diver, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Little Egret, Great Egret, Grey Heron, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Merlin, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Grey Phalarope, Ruff, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Little Auk, Guillemot, Razorbill, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Skylark, Water Pipit, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Robin, Stonechat, Redwing, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler (h), Chiffchaff (h), Goldcrest, Blackcap, Blue Tit, Great TIt, Long-tailed Tit, Bearded Reedling, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Brambling (h), Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting, Snow Bunting

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Garden ~ 🇫🇷 France Part 3/3🍁

As I mentioned briefly in part 2, I really enjoy visiting Dazza's parents. Putting aside the excellent food and wine we enjoy while here their gardens and surrounding area is a birders delight. The many fruit trees shrubs and bushes, plus a significant wood at the bottom which boasts mixed forest, including pine and beech, are alive with activity at any time of the year we visit. It goes without saying then that I spend a lot of time in the early mornings and late evenings enjoying the wildlife.

The first Black Redstart of the visit showed up on the garage roof
On Friday evening I took the opportunity for my first short walk around the gardens before dinner. It wasn't too long before the small population of House Sparrows were noted and so too the local Black Redstarts. The latter regularly breed here and are always a feature at any time of year.

Asian Hornet's nest! ~ The photo doesn't do the size justice!
There are a few fig trees around the garden and one, in particular, with lots of overripe fruit held three Blackcap, two Chiffchaff and a Common Redstart all busy taking advantage. However, I was at a loss to identify a huge hive near the top of a nearby tree. It was, in fact, an Asian Hornet's nest Vespa velutina an invasive species in France where it is believed to have arrived in boxes of pottery from China in 2004. Thankfully not fully established yet in the UK this is a highly effective predator of insects and would be a real danger to our Honey Bees. This nest had been dealt with by the local pest control.

Red Squirrel playing hard to get.
Red Squirrels reside in the gardens here too and are a delight to see each day but aren't the most sociable I've ever come across, often hiding in the treetops if they know I'm about. While I was watching the squirrels a commotion in the nearby bush caught my attention and this turned out to be a Robin and I soon realised why he was upset as a Little Owl suddenly took flight along the treeline. I suspect this is a bird I've seen many times when visiting and used to roost in one of the neighbours log piles which sadly doesn't exist anymore so I'm not sure where he roosts now.

Black Woodpecker ~ Most likely the worst record shot I've ever taken!
With the sun now beginning to set I decided to head back to the house but was stopped in my tracks when a Black Woodpecker suddenly began to call from the woods, a bird I've only ever seen and heard in Northern Spain! After a brief search and more calls, I did eventually find the bird feeding on the edge of the wood and actually managed a distant record shot from the garden before it flew off, but with the setting sun almost directly ahead it was almost impossible to get much definition.

Cirl Bunting ~ A regular around the garden but rarely settle.
The following day (Saturday 12th) we planned to have a leisurely morning before heading off to La Brenne in the afternoon (see the previous post 2/3) so I took the opportunity for an early start in the garden. Well, I say early but the sun doesn't rise until 08:15 in these parts! My main target, of course, was to seek out last nights Black Woodpecker. There were a couple of Corn Buntings along the fence opposite the front of the house which I noticed from the bedroom window and another regular bird here is the Cirl Bunting and I managed to snap one just I came out of the house.

Firecrests are regular in the woods ~ this one from a previous visit
It was another beautiful start to the day with cloudless skies and a Woodlark was singing in the distance. Skylarks had already begun to pass overhead but amazingly these were vastly outnumbered by Chaffinch. It seemed never-ending with groups of around 30 or so birds passing every few minutes and I'm certain I heard the call of Brambling within. As I entered the wood a Short-toed Treecreeper was calling and a couple of Firecrest were also busy feeding. I took a walk deeper in where I had Marsh Tit, Treecreeper (both species are hereand Nuthatch. By the time I returned to the house for breakfast, no sight nor sound of a Black Woodpecker, although Green Woodpecker and Great Spotted Woodpecker were both heard.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker another first for France.
Later in the day I returned to the garden before dinner after our trip to La Brene and I was literally halfway down towards the woods when once again a Black Woodpecker began to call, perhaps he only visits at dusk? This time I had a good view as the bird flew directly over my head, a fantastic sight, these birds are as big as a crow and fly on a direct route with no undulating like other woodpeckers.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker ~ Only my 3rd ever sighting!
I had several more views once in the woods but simply couldn't get the dream shot I'd hoped for. However, a second woodpecker then appeared and at first, I dismissed it as a Great Spotted but when It eventually showed I knew this was different, could this be a Middle Spotted Woodpecker? I was pretty sure it was but this was only my third ever sighting, of course the photos would help: a shorter slender bill, red crown, although this doesn't show in the photos and a distinct lack of moustachial stripe, plus the streaking on the flanks had clinched it for me! Two firsts for France in the garden? It was unthinkable!

Another view side on of Middle Spotted Woodpecker
I spent more time in the garden during the remainder of our stay with a few list additions. There was still the odd Barn Swallow passing through, plus Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier over the nearby fields and Pied/White Wagtails, which come in at dusk to the farm opposite.

It's been an excellent short visit with lots of highlights once again and I've also posted a few photos below of an afternoon visit to La Pinnail on Sunday, another reserve just a short drive from the house which Daaza and I enjoy. Here we also managed a site first with Penduline Tit, which we were surprised to find so late in the season. au revoir pour le moment


Still a small number of Long-tailed Blues on the wing at La Pinnail

Dartford Warblers are a star attraction at La Pinnail and they appear to have had a good year with seven seen today.
Full List of Bird Species Seen During Our Visit...

Mute Swan, Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Pheasant, BLack-necked Grebe, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Great Egret, Grey Heron, White Stork, Spoonbill, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Common Buzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Knot, Sanderling, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Ruff, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Feral Pigeon, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Tawny Owl (h), Little Owl, BLACK WOODPECKER, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER, Skylark, Woodlark, Barn Swallow, Meadow Pipit, White/Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Dunnock, Robin, Black Redstart, Wheatear, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Firecrest, Wren, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Crested Tit, Marsh Tit, Penduline Tit, Long-tailed Tit,  Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Treecreeper, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting, Cirl Bunting, Corn Bunting

Database uploads...




Saturday, October 12, 2019

La Brenne ~ 🇫🇷 France Part 2/3🍁

☁️18C Friday 11th October 2019 ~After a five-hour drive south on Friday from Le Croytoy, we arrived at Dazzas parents house near Chavigny at around 5.30pm in glorious sunshine. We'll spend the remainder of our time here before heading back to Calais on Monday, then home Tuesday.

THE LOIRE
There's a saying in France 'Once you get south of the Loire (France's longest River) the weather will change for the best' This couldn't have been truer: When we left the coast at Croytoy this morning it was 18C and cloudy and within a half-hour of passing over the Loire the cloud had broken to produce clear blue skies and the temperature a balmy 26C.

Black Redstart ~ Breed in the gardens & often pose for the camera
I'm always delighted to stay at Dazza's parents, their gardens are vast with many fruit trees and wild areas, plus there's a significant wood at the bottom which they own part of and boasts mixed forest, including pine and beech. Over the years visiting I've spent many an hour roaming the grounds and have found it to be very productive. As you'll read in part 3 none more so than this visit!

☀️26C Saturday 12th October 2019 I love driving in rural France, you can pass through the many picturesque villages and never see a soul. In the afternoon Dazza and I took a slow steady drive across to La Brenne, normally around 30-minutes but it always takes us much longer with plenty of stops along the route. During one such stop, a male Hen Harrier drifted over one of the nearby fields and a Woodlark could be heard singing way off in the distance.

Such a treat to see Camberwell Beauties on the wing in October
It's fair to say that the Brenne is naturally more productive in the spring and summer but there's still plenty to find in the autumn. That said, with little rain in the region over the summer period we found that many of the Etangs (lakes) were devoid of water. Add this to the regular draining of some Etangs for regrowth and repair it can be pot luck as to whether you can find much water at all.

Short-toed Eagle ~ Only a few pairs are localised to La Brenne
We had an enjoyable afternoon visiting some of our favourite areas, Reserve Naturelle de Cherine, where we did find some water and Etang de Sous, where we 'did not' but we still managed a number of highlights. One, in particular, was some excellent views of Short-toed Eagle. With only a few pairs across the Brenne, we've been lucky enough to see single birds during our last two visits and in almost the same area.

Coypu ~ Not a native species in France and was introduced from South America in the 19th century for its fur.
With less water, Coypu, or Ragondin in French were easily found and we spotted at least a dozen during our stay, feeding happily on the lake fringes. There were plenty of Butterflies and Odonata on the wing and these including Camberwell Beauty, Small Copper, Clouded Yellow, Common Blue, Wall, Comma and Common and Small Darter.

La Brenne habitat is perfect for Stonechat
Despite an excellent afternoon stroll, I wouldn't say the birding was prolific today, likely down to the lack of water in some of our favourite areas but you can easily find all three Egrets here along with Marsh Harrier, plenty of Stonechats, Chiffchaffs and the odd Woodlark and Wheatear. There was visible migration too with many Skylarks overhead and small numbers of Barn Swallows still passing through.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Parc du Marquenterre ~ 🇫🇷 France Part 1/3🍁

⛅️💨18C Tuesday 8th October 2019 ~ Just a short 35-minute train journey through the Channel Tunnel and an hours drive along the French coast we arrived at Le Crotoy yesterday evening at around 7pm. We're currently on route to Dazza's parent's house, a further 5-hours drive from here. Completing the same journey last year, although a few weeks later this time around, we decided once more to break up the trip and spend a couple of nights in the Hauts-de-France region.

A large group of Spoonbills ~ A highlight of Le Parc du Marquenterre
After breakfast today, we took the short drive to Le Parc du Marquenterre. The Parc boasts over 200 hectares of dunes, pine forests and marshes and is situated within the Somme Bay nature reserve and offers the opportunity to visit thirteen hides. On arrival, I managed to catch up with one of the guides here, Alexander, who Dazza and I had met here last year and again by coincidence at this years 'Bird Fair'. Alexander gave us a reserve update, of which the most important news was that due to extensive rains recently most of the pools were at a very high level. A shame really as during our last visit there was plenty of waders to be found in the shallows and on the scrapes, including a Temminck's Stint.

A few White Storks still lingering ~A regular breeder here.
That said we managed a reasonable selection which included Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit and Common Sandpiper. Other highlights of the visit were Chiffchaff, Blackcap, FirecrestCrested Tit, Black-necked Grebe, all three Egrets and a few lingering White Storks but it was all about the Spoonbills really with over 150 birds throughout the reserve.


With plenty of sunshine, there were lots of Darters on the wing, all appeared to be common, along with Migrant Hawker and several Clouded Yellow butterflies.

Willow Emerald damselfly was also plentiful and easily photographable.

One of two Whooper Swans ~ Which I'm informed are long-staying birds from a local collection. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

📖 Productive Brandon

⛅️💨14C Tuesday 8th October 2019 ~ A few visits to Brandon Marsh since arriving back from Hungary, recording some good flocks of arriving Redwing but this morning was by far the most productive.

Black-necked Grebe ~ 1st site record since 2006
I arrived shortly after 7am and decided to head straight down to East Marsh Pool, where a Black-necked Grebe had been reported yesterday evening. After relocating to the Wright Hide after a short visit to the John Walton hide, where there was no sign, I eventually got eyes on this rare Brandon visitor, last recorded here in 2006, tucked away behind Tern Island.  I spent a short while with Alan Boddington watching the bird before once more relocated back to the John Walton hide.

Record shot of Bittern in flight
A good number of Wigeon (22) were spending most of their time asleep and while in the hide a Bittern was seen in flight over on Newlands reedbed heading towards the Carlton Hide, so I decided to head on down for a look.

Still a small number of Chiffchaffs to be found
At Carlton hide a couple of Grey Wagtails, Little Grebe and a couple of Chiffchaffs but sadly no sign of the Bittern.

One of my favourite birds this Jay has found his stash of acorns!
Back at the John Walton hide I met up with Jim Timms and had coffee while watching the Black-necked Grebe, which had ventured a little further out onto the pool. A Pintail had also appeared and a Jay was performing well in front of us, searching for and finding his stash of acorns! A small bow wave and lots of air bubbles alerted us to an Otter, which swam the entire time underwater from right to left in front of the hide, offering the briefest of views as it passed the 'Bittern' channel before disappearing out of view.

A cameo appearance of two Great White Egrets.
We left the hide for a walk around the reserve, pausing for a little while for better views of the Black-necked Grebe from the Wright Hide. While here a couple of Great White Egrets paid the briefest of visits before heading over the treetops and perhaps settling onto the central marsh.

The back end of Hobby over New Hare Covert
Just prior to entering New Hare Covert from the golf course side a Hobby appeared over the trees and made a couple of passes before heading off. There were, in fact, a good number of Dragonflies on the wing for the bird to be feeding on with many Common Darters and a least three Migrant Hawkers seen today.

Marsh Tit at Horsetail Glade bench from a previous visit

Record shot of today's Pintail
Another image of today's Black-necked Grebe


Thursday, October 03, 2019

📖 Birding Hungary ~ Part 2

☀️23C Sunday 29th September 2019 ~ After a morning visit to the Budapest Aeropark Museum, a great place to see some of the iconic soviet designs like the Tupolev TU~154B and the Ilyushin Il-14, we took a drive out to the northern part of Kiskunsag National Park

The Il-14 (NATO code: Crate) is a twin-engine, short-range transport aircraft developed in the Soviet Union in the early 1950s
Site Details For Kiskunsag National Park HERE...

The park consists of several scattered areas of steppe between Budapest and Szeged. Our main target was Great Bustard and the possibility of Eastern Imperial Eagle. Having researched we decided to concentrate on a specific area of the road to the south of Bugyi. Officially the area in question is outside of the national park but according to our research, this is one of the best places in Hungary to see them.

Part of a group of 27 Great Bustards ~ One of the heaviest birds alive today that can fly!
The first thing we noticed was the amount of Kestrels in the area and I don't think I'd be exaggerating if I said we saw at least 40 between Bugyi and Apaj. There are a number of hillocks that provide good panoramic views and we stopped at one in particular hill described in Dave Gosney's 'Finding Birds In Hungary' booklet.

Great Bustard ~ A straggler from the main group.
We spent a good while scanning without luck, noting more Kestrels, Common Buzzards, several Skylarks and a passing Raven. As usual, it was Dazza, who has infinitely more patience than I who came up with the goods! Surprisingly, these huge birds can be somewhat difficult to find but she had noticed movement behind some high grass and bushes and there were no less than 27 birds, mostly asleep. Fortunately, although perhaps not for the birds a motorbike passed along a nearby dirt track shortly after her discovery scattering the pack, a great opportunity to capture some of the birds in flight.

⛅️💨25C Monday 30th September 2019 ~ Our final day of this short break was spent back at Hortobagy National Park. The weather, although quite warm and sunny to begin with turned out to be often overcast and quite breezy. Having failed to connect with Eastern Imperial Eagle yesterday, perhaps we didn't venture far enough into the park, we were quite determined to connect before heading home tomorrow.

Juvenile Red-backed Shrike

Great Grey Shrike ~ found as it flew up from the roadside!
The day started well with both Great Grey Shrike, probably a new arrival for the winter and a juvenile Red-backed Shrike, likely heading south.

Black-necked Grebe
We'd had the foresight to buy a weekly permit during the previous visit, only an extra £2 so we spent most of our time driving some of the back roads. We came across a few small ponds and on one, in particular, we stopped for a while to enjoy a sandwich and to watch a Black-necked Grebe that had appeared. While here the sheer volume of Cranes passing overhead and the accompanying sound was nothing short of astonishing, we also noted an amazing 16 Jays and a small group of Tree Sparrows.

White-tailed Eagle
Just prior to heading off a White-tailed Eagle passed overhead and while back on the main road we noted a grounded Montagu's Harrier but it was too dangerous to stop.

Eastern Imperial Eagle 
Finally, while checking another small pool from the car we noticed a large bird on the ploughed field behind the pool, could this be one of our Eagles? As I edged the car forward slightly for a better look the bird rose into the air, an Eastern Imperial Eagle, a first for us both! We were enthralled for several minutes before the bird eventually departed over the treetops, job done.


Eastern Imperial Eagle ~ Closely related to the Spanish Imperial Eagle which was formerly considered a subspecies of the Eastern Imperial Eagle but is now treated as a separate species.
Our first visit to Hungary and a most enjoyable one. The people seem pretty friendly and many, maybe surprisingly do speak good English. We rented an apartment through Airbnb with parking and just a short 8-minute train journey from the sights and sounds of the city centre. By comparison to the UK, fuel and food are cheaper and we paid the equivalent of £1.10 per litre for diesel renting a Kia Sportage for the duration. A bottle of decent wine is less than £2.50, much to Dazza's delight!

From a birding perspective, May would be the time to visit (our original plan) as during our stay most of the summer breeding birds had moved on, we definitely plan to revisit!

More Images Of Our Short Time In Hungary...

Hooded Crow in Budapest centre ~ Photo by Dazza

Numerous Clouded Yellow butterflies throughout our stay.

White-tailed Eagles over Hortobagy

More Cranes pass overhead
Another unmistakable White-tailed Eagle